Day At The Track

Confidence key to Alagnas three

06:48 AM 29 Oct 2019 NZDT
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Trainer Tony Alagna, caretaker Rebecca Rose and driver Andy McCarthy,Harness racing
Trainer Tony Alagna, caretaker Rebecca Rose and driver Andy McCarthy in the Breeders Crown winner’s circle with Reflect With Me.
USTA/Mark Hall photo

Hightstown, NJ -- Tony Alagna entered this past weekend's Breeders Crown finals without an elimination winner, without a harness racing favorite, and, in some cases, without a favorable post position. He did, though, enter with confidence.

The result was a memorable couple of nights at Woodbine Mohawk Park.

Alagna became the fourth trainer in the 36-year history of the Breeders Crown to win three or more trophies in a year when Ramona Hill, Reflect With Me, and American History captured their finals at Mohawk. The other trainers in that group are Jimmy Takter, Ron Burke, and Bob McIntosh.

"That's great company," Alagna said. "The horses showed up and did what we thought they could do. It turned out to be a phenomenal weekend for us. The drivers stayed confident, I stayed confident, my staff stayed confident; if you get all that together, then anything can happen."

Ramona Hill got the fun started with a victory in the Breeders Crown's first race, winning Friday's 2-year-old filly trot from post 10 at odds of nearly 15-1. In the next race, the 2-year-old filly pace, Reflect With Me won from post eight at 27-1. On Saturday, American History captured the Open Pace at 5-1.

"We didn't win any eliminations, but I was really happy with all the horses," Alagna said. "You don't panic. You set a goal for the horses and you don't stray from your goal even though everything is not perfect along the way. You know you have a quality horse, you do the right thing, and you hope it pays off. The majority of the time, it will.

"You learn that over time. The best thing is I've got a tremendous group of owners that don't waiver. They don't want to do this or that if the horse didn't have a good race. They keep the faith and let us do our job. They know that we're going to do the right thing."

Robert LeBlanc was among Alagna's owners who tasted Breeders Crown success over the weekend. LeBlanc, who grew up in Toronto and now lives in Austin, Texas, got his first-ever Breeders Crown with Ramona Hill.

Robert LeBlanc (center) with Brittany Farms’ George Segal (left) and Ramona Hill’s co-owner Brad Grant (right) after her Breeders Crown victory.
USTA/Mark Hall photo

"I was probably 8 or 9 years old when I first came to Mohawk, so to come back here for the Breeders Crown is something special; I am on cloud nine," said LeBlanc, a retired vice president at IBM who has partnered on horses in Alagna's stable for three years. "This is what it's all about. You want to be there at the end of the year when all the best horses are there and beat the best. It's fantastic."

Ramona Hill started from post 10 but was hustled from the gate by driver Andy McCarthy and landed on the lead. She was third at three-quarters before bursting through the stretch to win by four lengths over Sister Sledge.

"We knew that if she could get off the gate and into a position, she would be there at the end," LeBlanc said. "But your expectation is that (post) 10 against the best fillies in the country, you're hoping to get a good piece of it. But in the back of your mind, you're thinking maybe she can do it.

"What a great mile, what a great drive by Andy, and what great preparation by Tony. This is fun."

McCarthy's win with Ramona Hill was his first Crown triumph, and he would add three more (including with Reflect With Me) before the weekend was finished. Joe Bongiorno, who drove American History, also picked up his first win in a Crown final.

Joe Bongiorno picked up his first win in a Breeders Crown final with American History.
USTA/Mark Hall photo

Bongiorno put American History in front from post three in the race's early stage, marking only the second time in 18 starts this season the 4-year-old stallion was on top at the first quarter.

"I wasn't planning on leaving but when (Jimmy Freight in post two) wasn't taking off, I changed my plan," the 26-year-old Bongiorno said. "I had confidence, but I knew this was a great group of horses and I had to have him in the right spot. We put him in the right spot. The whole mile he was alive and felt great. He's a special horse; he knows what his job is.

"To win a Breeders Crown, I'm just so thankful to Tony and his owners for having faith in me and trusting me with their horse. It's something I didn't even dream of. It's unbelievable."

Alagna's stable now has won six Breeders Crown trophies. His previous victories came with Captaintreacherous (2013), Racing Hill (2016) and Stay Hungry (2017).

"It just goes to show that the barn has matured," Alagna said. "The owners kept the faith, the drivers had confidence, and everything came together."

USTA/Mark Hall photos


by Ken Weingartner

USTA Media Relations Manager

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