CAMPBELLVILLE, Ont. - Artspeak showed Saturday night why he's considered North America's top two-year-old pacer.
The son of Western Ideal-The Art Museum easily captured the $667,000 Metro Pace at Mohawk Racetrack to improve his career record to 6-0. And Artspeak seemed to barely break a sweat when driver Scott Zeron of Oakville, Ont., asked the heavy 1/9 favourite to go as he easily surged into the lead and cruised to an easy 3 1/2-length win in 1:50.2 on a fast track.
The win was worth $333,500 and was the biggest of Artspeak's career, boosting his earnings past $460,000. And so far, Artspeak's smallest margin of victory has been one-and-three-quarter lengths.
"To be second over was a dream trip for that horse," Zeron said. "He follows horses so well.
"I've always had to put him out front because he is 1/9 but tonight I was able to 'trip' him up behind a really nice horse (Go Daddy Go, driven by John Campbell of Ailsa Craig, Ont.). And when I showed him some air down the lane he was game. He's a freak of nature."
Zeron's first career Pace victory was especially sweet given it marked his return to Mohawk. He decided last fall to move to the U.S. and this season is driving regularly at the Meadowlands in New Jersey.
"I stuck my neck out there going down there all by myself," he said. "This is the reason why I did it, to go down there to get a horse like this.
"He's once in a lifetime."
Lyons Levi Lewis, a 51/1 longshot, finished a distant second, followed by Lyons Again, a 12/1 pick. The remainder of the field, in order of finish, was: Traceur Hanover; Go Daddy Go; Pierce Hanover; Trading Up; Amora Beach; Lone Survivor; and Dudes The Man.
Artspeak paid $2.30, $2.10 and $2.10 while Lyons Levi Lewis returned $14.90 and $11.40. Lyons Again paid $3.10.
Winning trainer Tony Alagna spoke with Zeron when he was mulling over the move and gave the Canadian something more to ponder.
"I told him if he wanted to come down and try it, I was willing to give him a shot," Alagna said. "He made the commitment, he's done the farm training, baby racing, training before qualifiers so he deserves the win."
This race has been won by such champions as Captaintreacherous (2012), Sportswriter (2009), Somebeachsomewhere (2007) and Rocknroll Hanover (2004). Alagna also trains Captaintreacherous and the horse's ownership also owns Artspeak.
"The funny thing about it is when we had Captaintreacherous, when he started his career, it was such an amazing ride with that horse," Alagna said. "To come back and have this colt after that, it's amazing, it's very surreal."
A fact not lost upon part-owner Marvin Katz, a Toronto businessman and three-time Metro Pace winner.
"It never gets old," he said. "This is a thrill, this is an absolute thrill and to be enjoyed."
American Dave Miller drove Modern Legend, a 66/1 longshot, to a shocking win in the $634,000 Canadian Pacing Derby, registering a stakes-record time of 1:47.2 that also tied the track and Canadian mark. The victory in Canada's oldest harness race was the fourth this year and 18th for the six-year-old gelding.
"I was a little surprised around the last turn I had a lot of horse," said Miller, inducted earlier this year into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame. "We came into the stretch extremely well and the horse did the rest.
"He raced tremendous."
Modern Legend denied 1/5 favourite Sweet Lou an 11th straight victory. Sweet Lou went ahead at about the half-mile mark but faded badly down the stretch as Foiled Again finished second ahead of Clear Vision and Captive Audience.
"I've been racing him like that every start now and the track is lightning fast," said Ron Pierce, Lucky Lou's driver. "If I had it over to do again naturally I would've sat but then we would've wound up first over so I figured I might as well move to the top.
"There's a couple of sick ones in the barn . . . so maybe he has a touch of the flu. He wasn't himself tonight."
The win was huge for trainer/owner David Drew of St. Catharines, Ont., as Modern Legend is the only horse in his stable.
"This is an absolute top horse for me, a horse of a lifetime," he said. "He's been racing on the Grand Circuit for the last couple of years and come close but never really put it all together.
"David Miller gave him a great trip and he was right on his game. Just a super night for him."
Modern Legend paid $135.70, $43.20 and $142.70 while Foiled Again returned $8.90 and $12.70. Clear Vision paid $30.90.
Also on the card, Yannick Gingras of Sorel, Que., drove unbeaten JK Shesalady to an emphatic win in the $480,000 She's A Great Lady Stakes final for two-year-old pacing fillies. The 2/5 favourite posted a track-, Canadian- and world record-tying time of 1:50.1 to improve to 6-0.
Bedroomconfessions was second while Shakai Hanover took third. JK Shesalady paid $2.90, 2.50 and $2.10 while Bedroomconfessions returned $8.30 and $6.10. Shakai Hanover paid $9.90.