Day At The Track

Elitlopp winner considering Yonkers Invitational Trot

01:14 AM 27 Jun 2019 NZST
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Dijon,Harness racing
Brandon Valvo photo

YONKERS, N.Y. – Although Solvalla Travbana sat under gray skies that intermittently pelted the harness racing track with heavy rains on the last Sunday in May, the dreary and unseasonably cold weather couldn’t put a damper on the celebration of a newly crowned an Elitlopp Champion.

About 20 minutes after the finish of Sweden’s biggest race, the crowd of more than 21,000 clapped and cheered in rhythm while upbeat victory music blasted over the sound system. 

On the apron, fans leaned over the fence, craned their necks, and waded into puddles along the rail to catch a glimpse of Dijon as he made his way back to the stabling area from the winner’s circle. 

The striking bay horse’s arrival was preceded by a wave of photographers and media that swarmed around him.

With a bright pink blanket draped over his back and a matching wreath around his bowed neck, Dijon bore the unmistakable air of a champion among this entourage. Flanked on either side by majestic white horses whose riders bore the blue and yellow colors of the Swedish flags they hoisted into the air, Dijon was the hero of the day.

As Dijon made his procession along the track, his trainer and driver, Romain Derieux, savored the moment. Midway down the stretch, Derieux climbed onto the seat of his sulky and stood proudly over Dijon as he absorbed the praises of the Swedish crowd. With the lines in his left hand, Derieux thrust his right fist triumphantly toward the sky and the crowd’s roar intensified.

This moment of pure elation was a dream that Derieux thought was dashed a week earlier when Dijon drew post position eight in the second of two Elitlopp eliminations. Starting from the far outside while rivals like Aubrion Du Gers and Propulsion drew favorably, Derieux braced for the worst as he and Dijon faced the starting gate for the first time on Elitlopp Day in need of a fourth-place finish or better to advance to the Final.

“I thought I had a good chance, but when I saw number eight, I thought I was finished. It’s so hard to qualify for the final,” Derieux said.

“Before the race, in my head, I thought, ‘start slowly,’ because with the eight, it’s so hard to take the lead. I started slowly and waited behind. And just the last 300 meters from the finish, I thought if I was fourth in the first race, it’s OK and if I wasn’t, I would return next year.”

Derieux took off the gate and raced in seventh early. As Propulsion and Milliondollarrhyme moved to the outside with 1,000 meters to trot, Dijon stuck to the pylons. Shooting the gap third on the inside behind Milligan's School, he advanced within 3 ½ lengths of leader Aubrion Du Gers with 800 meters remaining. 

Dijon kept to the inside around the final turn and when Milligan’s School moved into the two-path turning for home, Dijon found room to advance. Derieux went to the whip and cracked the lines against Dijon’s hindquarters. Dijon extended and advanced into third to make the final at odds of 17-1.

After drawing post five in the Group 1, 3,000,000kr final, Derieux was determined to give Dijon his best chance to win. Dijon does his best work on the front end and that’s where Derieux intended to put him. With the scratch of first elimination pacesetting winner Readly Express out of the post parade, Dijon’s job got easier.

“I didn’t think about Readly Express before the start. For the final, in my head, I decided to take the lead and make a very fast start. Without knowing about Readly Express, it was the same for me,” Derieux explained.

“I think (Dijon) is better when he takes the lead. He likes that and he likes to start very fast. It’s easy for him to take the lead because he’s very fast at the start.” 

Dijon blasted off the wings of the gate and crossed over to the pylons in the first 100 meters. Although he got leg-weary in the stretch, Dijon never looked back. He held off a late rally from Aubrion Du Gers to win the Elitlopp Final by a neck.

“The last 300 meters, I go fast because I feel Propulsion, who has a lot more speed, and Aubrion Du Gers is behind him,” Derieux remembered.

“I asked Dijon and in the last 100 meters, Dijon was a little tired, so I had to be careful about that. The track is so hard, so he didn’t like that. The track on Saturday was perfect and on Sunday with the rain, it was very hard.

“It was superb. Before the race, I thought if I was third or fourth, it would be good. To win, it was incredible.”

After Dijon’s Elitlopp victory, Derieux is considering the stallion for North America’s biggest race for older trotters, the Yonkers International Trot, slated for October 12 at Yonkers Raceway. Although there are logistical issues to overcome, such as the mandatory quarantine for foreign horses, before he would be willing to accept an invitation, Derieux feels the $1 million race would fit Dijon well.

Bred by Derieux’s father, Louis, Dijon is a 6-year-old son of Ganymède out of the Coktail Jet mare Sonate d'Aunou. Derieux and owner Mauricette De Sousa purchased Dijon as a 2-year-old.

“It was perfect for all because my father is the breeder and one of my best owners is the owner,” Derieux said.

“I’ve had Dijon since he was 2 years old. I started with him in the qualification and the first race and every time after. It was perfect for me as the trainer and driver.”

Dijon won his first start in an 11,000€ overnight at Nantes with Derieux in the sulky November 29, 2015 and won for 35,000€ at Vincennes two starts later on Christmas Eve. After placing fourth and fifth in a pair of Group 2 races and galloping in the Group 1 Prix Comte Pierre de Montesson to start his 3-year-old campaign, Dijon rattled off three straight victories at Cagnes-Sur-Mer before returning to Paris to finish fourth in the Group 1 Prix de l'Etoile.

Dijon’s breakout performance came in his 13th start in the Group 2, 120,000€ Prix Abel Bassigny at Vincennes November 7, 2016. Derieux sent Dijon to the top in the 2,175-meter stakes, but was confronted by favorite Django Riff, who took the lead heading into the backstretch. Derieux angled Dijon out of the pocket straightening away and Dijon wore down the 3-year-old Champion to score a hard-fought victory.

“At this moment, I knew he was a special horse,” Derieux remembered.

At 4, Dijon beat Django Riff again in the Group 2 Prix Gaston Brunet. He also traveled to Italy where he captured the Gran Premio Tino Triossi and Gran Premio Giuseppe Biasuzzi. At 5, Dijon took a pair of Group 3 victories in Paris and Enghien before beating Orlando Jet and Django Riff in the Group 1 Championnat Européen des 5 ans at Vincennes December 12, 2018. After his Elitlopp conquest, Dijon is 13-for-51 with 1,046,762€ earned. 

In addition to his speed, Dijon excels on smaller tracks. Derieux sees this as an advantage should he receive and accept an invitation to the Yonkers International Trot.

“I think he’s better on the small tracks. I went one time in Bologne, Italy and it’s an 800-meter track like Yonkers,” Derieux said.

“He likes to take the lead, so it’s easier to take the lead on the small track than a track like Vincennes. It’s difficult at Vincennes to take the lead the whole race. He’s very fast at the start, so it’s easy for him to take the lead and on the small track, when you take the lead, it’s better.”

Should Dijon come to the Yonkers International Trot this fall, he would be the third Eliltopp winner to cross the Atlantic for the historic stakes since its revival in 2015, joining Timoko and Ringostarr Treb. 

The $1 million Yonkers International Trot will be held October 12 at Yonkers Raceway. Invitations will be officially extended to participants by the Yonkers race office as the race draws closer.

Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. First post time is 6:50 p.m. 


By Brandon Valvo

for the SOA of NY

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