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Surick Dreaming Big with Ella Christina in Lady Maud Pace
When Ella Christina prepared to make her first start for new trainer Nick Surick in a split of the Adioo Volo Stakes for 3-year-old pacing fillies at The Meadows July 29, Surick was home feeling sick as a dog.
He wasn't worried about missing the race. He didn't think his filly had a shot anyway and the public agreed, sending her off at odds of 56-1. Surick propped one eye open and watched the race in bed.
Ella Christina started from post seven and raced 7 lengths off the pace past the half. Heading up the backstretch, driver Jim Pantaleano kept her along the pylons in seventh. Ella Christina advanced within 4 1/2 lengths of the leader at the three-quarters and passed four tiring rivals to her outside.
"I just saw everybody coming off the rail and she's coming up the inside around the last turn," Surick remembered. "I was like, we'll get a fifth or a fourth out of this. Hey, we,ve got a shot, we'll be third."
Ella Christina raced into the passing lane off the turn and Pantaleano put her to a right-handed drive. Inside the final sixteenth, she extended and sprinted past Colorful Jasmine. Ella Christina's :27.0 final quarter propelled her to a half-length victory in 1:52. in the $62,475 stakes. It was Surick's second win in the Adioo Volo Stakes. He also conditioned 2011 division winner Whats New Pussycat.
"I jumped up out of bed and halfway down the lane I said, I got a shot to win this," Surick said. "I didn't feel sick for the next hour or two, but then it caught up with me again that night. But it was OK. It was quite a thrill and that was the second time I've raced one in the Adio Volo and I've won it both times."
Surick's first start with Ella Christina was a long time in the making. Surick had been trying to purchase the daughter of Western Ideal since he watched her win a $49,200 division of the Standardbred at the Delaware County Fair last September for Nancy Johansson. Surick and Johansson finally came to a deal about a week before the Adioo Volo.
'I watched her race in last year as a 2-year-old in Delaware, Ohio and she won that stakes down there. She won in 54-and-a-piece and I thought that was pretty good for a 2 year old," Surick explained. "I think Nancy is one of the more honest trainers in the business and I just think it's a good place to shop. You get a horse with a good foundation and I think you get an honest purchase when you buy from them."
Although he was happy to finally bring Ella Christina into his stable, Surick's first impression of her wasn't glowing. Although she had a good attitude, she was on the small side. Surick wasnít thinking about stakes, but an overnight at Yonkers, for her first start.
"There's not really much to her, she's kind of a smaller horse and just a lovely horse to be around. She's got a great personality, she's a cool little filly. I never thought for her to be this much," Surick said. "I dropped her in at Yonkers and she didn't get in. By chance, I just dropped her in the Adioo Volo because last year it was a five horse field. I thought maybe that might be the case again this year and then it ended up being two fields of eight or nine and I drew the seven hole and I said, 'Well, my plan backfired,' going into it. I thought I had no shot."
After Ella Christina's Adioo Volo upset, Surick got on the phone and staked the filly to everything he could, including a supplement to the $113,950 Shady Daisy Stakes on Hambletonian Day. She finished fifth beaten 10 lengths in that race, sending Surick back to the drawing board with Ella Christina's training.
"The first week I had her, I didn't do anything with her. I literally just jogged her a few miles a day, sent her to the Meadows, raced her, and she came up super," he said. "After that win, I couldn't help myself and I knew I was going in for big money next week and I trained her real hard two trips in between the Adioo Volo and the Shady Daisy. She kind of came up a little flat on me there. I didn't think she could win, but I thought she'd be closer and she just flattened out a little bit and I wasn't happy with her performance.
"I thought back to what I changed from week one to week two and the difference was the hard work in between starts. She doubled jogs every day. I jog all my horses 6 miles, but instead of jogging her a straight 6 miles, she'll go out and jog 2 miles, come back in, sit in the stall for a half-hour, go back out and jog her next 4. It just seems to break up her routine a little bit and she enjoys it. Since I've done that, she's really turned the corner."
Under her light training regime, Ella Christina enters Saturday's $113,880 Lady Maud Pace at Yonkers Raceway off a second and a win in the Pennsylvania Stallion Series in her last two starts, respectively. Her last win came in 1:53.1 with a :27.3 final quarter. Although Tim Tetrick drove Ella Christina in her last three races, George Brennan will get the call for the first time Saturday night as Tetrick will be driving in Canada.
"My filly, she's a small filly, she's put together nice. I think the smaller the track, the better her game," Surick said. "I'm not happy that I lost Tetrick. I'm one that likes to stick with a driver. He's really gotten a lot out of her, but I've won some good races with George Brennan, he knows his way around the track, so by no means am I downgrading in a driver, but I just like to have a driver that knows my filly. When I'm forced to make a driver change, I"ím never going to be upset with George Brennan."
Ella Christina will face six rivals in the Lady Maud, including Scott Di Domenico's Angel's Pride, who won the Empire Breeders' Classic Consolation at Tioga Downs in her last start August 20 and will start along the pylons. Linda Toscano's World Apart finished second against older competition in an overnight at Philadelphia August 18 and won the Thompson Geers at Tioga in July. She drew post seven. Tony Alanga will send out the double threat of Tori Hanover and Awash. Gurl Band K and Robin J complete the field.
If Ella Christina can beat her rivals in the Lady Maud, Surick will be dreaming big with his new filly.
"I have big ambitions for her down the road this year and going into those races, I just want her to feel like she's somebody. I want her to beat up on horses right now and I just want to keep her confidence up right now," he said. "Now the Lady Maud and then she's got Liberty Bell, Jugette, and then she's off to Lexington for two weeks. She's got Courageous Lady and Matron at the end of the year."
The Lady Maud Pace is one of four stakes on the card Saturday night at Yonkers Raceway. The card also features the $500,000 Yonkers Trot, $500,000 Messenger Stakes, and the $119,010 Hudson Trot. First post time is 7:10 p.m. For entries for the card, click here.
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