Trainer Domenico Cecere didn't have to rebuild Hat Trick Habit, just tinker with some equipment, but like television's "Six Million Dollar Man," the horse has come back better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster.
And the colt wasn't too bad to begin with.
Hat Trick Habit, unbeaten in two starts this season, is preparing for Friday's eliminations of the Goodtimes Stakes at Woodbine Mohawk Park in Ontario. The Goodtimes is one of the stepping stones toward August's $1.2 million Hambletonian, the sport's premier race for 3-year-old trotters.
A total of 21 horses entered the Goodtimes, so the group was divided into two eliminations and the top five finishers from each group will advance to the June 16 final. Hat Trick Habit, with driver David Miller, is the 3-1 second choice on the morning line in the first elimination, which is the 11-horse field. Wolfgang, from the stable of trainer Jimmy Takter, is the 5-2 favorite.
O'Brien Award-winner Alarm Detector, trained by Benoit Baillargeon, is the 2-1 favorite in the second elimination, followed by Bill Crone's Breeders Crown champion Fiftydallarbill at 3-1.
There are 12 Hambletonian eligibles in the eliminations: Hat Trick Habit, Wolfgang, Alarm Detector, Lawmaker, Joey, Story Time Hanover, Winning American, Cruising In Style, War Story, Smokee Mirrors, Hill Street, and Missle Hill.
Hat Trick Habit, the winner of five of 11 lifetime starts and $181,724 for the Fred Monteleone Stable, enters the Goodtimes off a career-best 1:52.4 victory in a conditioned race June 1 at the Meadowlands.
"Last year he showed he was a nice horse, but he was kind of a little bit hot, a little grabby," said Cecere, who changed Hat Trick Habit's bridle this year, going from closed to open. "This year he's got a better attitude and is more quiet. He is nicer to drive. It looks like we're in good shape. He looks good.
"I think we're going into the Goodtimes with good confidence."
Hat Trick Habit, a son of Donato Hanover out of Habit's Best, is a half-brother to O'Brien Award-winning millionaire Habitat. His family also includes millionaire Civil Action.
Last year, Hat Trick Habit's three wins included the Kentucky Sire Stakes championship. But the colt went off stride in his elimination of the Breeders Crown and the final of the Valley Victory Stakes.
"I think we have a little bit different horse from last year to this year; more strong and more mature," Cecere said. "He has a lot of speed. He showed it to me at the Meadowlands. All of us are happy with how he's raced. Hopefully he can go all the way. He's been a nice horse."
Two of the past four winners of the Goodtimes have gone on to capture the Hambletonian, Marion Marauder in 2016 and Trixton in 2014. In addition, last year's winner International Moni won an elimination.
Woodbine Mohawk Park also hosts two eliminations for the Armbro Flight Stakes for trotting mares on Friday. Defending Horse of the Year Hannelore Hanover is the 2-5 morning-line favorite in the first elimination, followed by Dream Together at 3-1. Celebrity Ruth is the 2-1 choice in the second elim, followed by Emoticon Hanover at 7-2. The top five finishers from each division advance to the June 16 final.
Racing begins at 7:30 p.m. (EDT) Friday at Woodbine Mohawk Park. For complete entries, click here.
by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA