Plainville, MA — Three time Breeders Crown champion Manchego will return to the scene of her 1:49.3 world record harness racing performance when she starts in the $250,000 Spirit of Massachusetts Trot at Plainridge Park on Sunday (July 25). The lone mare in the field will take on five formidable foes in the Grand Circuit event that highlights the Massachusetts racing season.
Prior to the race being drawn Manchego was not a listed eligible, but the $20,000 supplemental fee was paid and she entered the box on Tuesday morning (July 20) and drew post five.
Manchego’s trainer Nancy Takter, who was unanimously selected as Trainer of the Year in 2020 by members of the United States Harness Writers Association, explained that the mare was originally nominated to the race, but then taken out.
“We actually made the first payment but took her out after the second payment because the race last year took a little bit of a toll on her. So we weren’t really sure if we wanted to race her that hard again. But we noticed there weren’t that many horses in the race this year so we’re hoping it doesn’t go 1:49.3 again,” explained Takter.
“She left out of there fast in that race and there’s no reason to do that this week. Plus she’s a
lot more versatile now than she was then. She needed a race this week and this one fit her schedule. And really they go so fast everywhere these days so she can go fast at Plainridge for $250,000 or go fast at the Meadowlands for $50,000, so we brought her back.”
Manchego’s world record performance at Plainridge last year was an epic mile that is still talked about a year later. Where the final time was amazing, perhaps the most memorable thing was the first quarter.
“When the quarter flashed :25.2 I was ready to kill Dexter,” laughed Takter. “But she got along great after that and was just super that day.”
Manchego (Muscle Hill) added another notch to her be
lt after she tied the Meadowlands track record for older female trotters last Saturday night in the Miss Versati
lity with her 1:49.4 victory, which was also the first sub-1:50 trotting mile of the year. After the race her driver Dexter Dunn said “She’s better than she was last year. Her gait has always been great, but it’s even better.” And her trainer agrees with that assessment.
“I think so. I think she is better. You know, she’s finally done growing and she is now what she’s going to be physically. Plus she’s a much smarter horse too. They say wisdom comes with age and it’s the same with horses. She seems to be able to do anything you want to do in the mile now,” said Takter.
This year, Manchego’s only loss was by a neck to Forbidden Trade and Lindy The Great in the Crawford Trot at the Meadowlands and they will both be competing against her again Sunday in the Spirit. But in that win both horses benefited from Mancheg
o’s first-over cover and were just a neck ahead at the wire. So strategy in a short field may come into play.
“I don’t think about how she’s going to be driven, that’s Dexter’s job. Those are both very nice horses but they did trip out behind her and she went a long way first-up; she was out before the half. And she was off three weeks before that start and maybe wasn’t as sharp as she could have been. I can expect she will perform well this week and we’ll see how the race goes,” said Takter.
Manchego’s career has been highlighted with a great number of awards and accolades, but to put her greatness in perspective, she is the only trotter in the history of the sport to win in a sub-1:50 time in three different years (2019, 2020, 2021). Six Pack is the only other horse to do it in multiple years (2018 and 2019). Takter pointed out that Manchego was beaten in 1:49.4 in a very tight photo in July of 2018 by Plunge Blue Chip at the Meadowlands. She was a nose away from having that distinction four years in a row.
“She’s been exceptional over those four years of racing which is really unheard of,” Takter concluded.
Manchego currently ranks number one in the Hambletonian/Breeders Crown Standardbred poll with 33 out of 35 first place votes.
The Spirit of Massachusetts Day kicks off on Sunday (July 25) with a 2 p.m. post time. The card is also highlighted with the $100,000 Clara Barton Distaff Pace and the $50,900 Bert Beckwith Memorial Pace and with total purses totaling in excess of $500,000, it’s the biggest day of harness racing in Massachusetts this year.
By Tim Bojarski, for Plainridge Park