Meadowlands Pace Tops Big Saturday Night Card at the Big M

By John Furgele

From 1998-2005, few trainers were better than Brett Pelling. And then, just like that, he was gone.

From 2005-2017, Pelling, a New Zealand native, moved back to Australia, where he had trained with success before coming to the United States in the 1970s. He wanted to raise his children back home and frankly, needed a break from the rigors of North American racing.

“I guess I was a bit burned out,” said Pelling, “and I wanted my children to be near their grandparents when they were growing up.”

In 2017, it was time to come back to New Jersey and the Meadowlands, a place where he was the leading trainer 10 times.

“My kids moved back here, and my grandparents passed away,” he said. “I missed it and it was an easy decision for me to come back.”

McWicked – Photo courtesy of Mike Lizzi from

Pelling is well accomplished in harness racing. His resume includes four Little Brown Jugs; four Meadowlands Paces; three North America Cups; nine Triple Crown race winners; eleven Breeders Crown winners and 20 horses that became million dollar earners. Despite that success, neither he, nor any trainers from Down Under (New Zealand and Australia) are in the Harness Racing Hall of Fame in Goshen (New York), which is astonishing.

“You’re asking the wrong guy,” he said. “There are several Europeans in the Hall, but not a single Aussie or Kiwi. I’m not trying to sound arrogant, but my achievements are worthy.”

At one time, Pelling had 90 horses in training; that was unwieldy and today, he is quite happy with a 27-horse barn.

“That’s all I want, it’s the perfect number,” he said, “I need that control and because of that, a 27-horse barn suits me perfectly.”

Two of his horses — Papi Rob Hanover and Allywag Hanover — will be running in the $636,650 Meadowlands Pace on Saturday. Both are talented, but Papi Rob Hanover is the most accomplished, so good that Pelling ranks him as the third-best horse he’s trained.

“He’s a beautiful colt,’’ he said of Papi Rob Hanover, who crossed the line first in last year’s Breeders Crown 2-year old pace only to be disqualified and placed second behind Tall Dark Stranger, the Nancy Takter trained colt who will be the morning-line favorite in the Pace.

“He’s not there yet, but at this point in his career, he is at least as good as any that I’ve ever had,’’ said Pelling. “He has graduated to manhood this year.”

Allywag Hanover is no slouch either. Because the colt ranked in the top two in earnings, he didn’t have to race in last week’s elimination; instead he tuned up by winning a race at the Meadows in western Pennsylvania.

Papi Rob Hanover leaves from post 9 and is currently listed as the 4-1 second choice while Allywag Hanover is the 9-2 third choice, both behind 7-5 Tall Dark Stranger.

Pelling has those four Meadowlands Pace wins; nobody would be surprised to see him pick up number five on Saturday evening.

The field has changed since post positions were drawn on July 10. Chief Mate is out with an injury and that means Captain Midnight gets in for trainer Tony Alagna and driver Andy McCarthy. Alagna has three chances with Captain Barbossa and Captain Kirk joining the other Capt (Midnight) in the 10-horse field.

Meadowlands Pace Odds

Post Horse Trainer Driver Odds
1 Roll With JR Jeff Cullipher Corey Callahan 20-1
2 Catch The Fire John Ackley Mike Wilder 12-1
3 Captain Barbossa Tony Alagna Brian Sears 10-1
4 Allywag Hanover Brett Pelling Tim Tetrick 9-2
5 Tall Dark Stranger Nancy Takter Yannick Gingras 7-5
6 Monticore Bruce Saunders Jordan Stratton 15-1
7 Capt Midnight Tony Alagna Andy McCarthy 15-1
8 Major Betts Mark Harder Dexter Dunn 12-1
9 Papi Rob Hanover Brett Pelling David Miller 4-1
10 Captain Kirk Tony Alagna Joe Bongiorno 15-1

There are nine other stakes races totaling $2.56 million in purses on the biggest night of racing at the Meadowlands:

Miss Versatility Trot, open mares

Purse: $40,000

Favorite: Manchego

Horse to Watch: Plunge Blue Chip

Of note: Two of the best mares in training renew their battle at age 5

Del Miller Trot, 3-year old fillies

Purse:  $253,250

Favorite: Hypnotic Am

Horse to Watch:  Love a Good Story

Of note:  Hypnotic Am cruised in the Empire Breeders Cup at Vernon last time out, Love A Good Story might be just that……a good story

Stanley Dancer Trot, 3-year olds, leg 1

Purse: $142,250

Favorite: Play Trix On Me

Horse to Watch: Third Shift

Of note: Ake Svanstedt is unpredictable, but sometimes that can be good. This could be one of those times for he and Third Shift

Stanley Dancer Trot, 3-year olds, leg 2

Purse: $142,250

Favorite: Hollywood Story

Horse to Watch: Chestnut Hill

Of note: Wide open here, the Tim Tetrick/Marcus Melander duo with “Story” is the appeal here.

Mistletoe Shalee Pace, 3-year fillies

Purse: $194,400

Favorite: Rocknificient Big Night Ahead

Horse to Watch: Jk First Lady

Of note: Yannick Gingras drives Jk First Lady, that’s good enough for me on what undoubtedly is the coolest race name on the card.

William Haughton Memorial TVG Free-for-All Pace

Purse: $391,300

Favorite: Backstreet Shadow

Horse to Watch:  The rest of them

Of note: This is a tough race to handicap; the pandemic has limited the number of starts for each in this big race, but every horse in the field has cache. This will be a fun one for bettors; Backstreet Shadow with Tim Tetrick and Ron Burke deserves the slight edge.

Hambletonian Maturity Trot, 4-year olds, open

Purse: $464,900

Favorite: Gimpanzee

Horse to Watch: Reign of Honor

Of note: Gimpanzee is as good as any horse in training, should cruise, but Reign of Honor has earned $78,000 with 1-1-2 in four starts and always competes.

Dorothy Haughton TVG Free-for-All Open Mare Pace

Purse: $172,850

Favorite: Shartin N

Horse to Watch: Soho Burning Love A.

Of note: Caviart Ally is also in the race, but Soho just got here from Australia and won impressively two weeks ago at the Big M.  I think she’s going to do some big things in North America.

William Haughton TVG Free-for-All Open Pace Consolation

Purse: $123,100

Favorite: Sintra

Horse to Watch: Trump Nation

Of note: Great veterans here, all a bit past their prime, but all capable of good performances. Sintra is 4-3-1 in eight starts and gets top billing.