EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Hall of Fame driver John Campbell will go for his eighth win and trainer Bruce Saunders will look for his biggest victory when Rock N Roll Heaven takes on nine rivals in the $1 million Meadowlands Pace on Saturday night.
While the track's signature race for 3-year-old pacers is wide open, Rock N Roll Heaven is clearly the colt to beat after setting a Pace elimination record in winning his heat in 1:47.3 last weekend.
"I'm always a big believer that elimination winners are the horses to beat," said Campbell, who last won this race in 2002 with Mach Three. "There are about a half a dozen horses in the mix that are hard to separate."
Saunders is a little wary. His colt was the morning-line favorite for the recent North America Cup in Canada but came up flat in the final and finished fourth. A trip to the vet disclosed a respiratory problem that has since been fixed.
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"That's the downfall of racing horses," he said. "You think you have them as good as you can but deep in the stretch something happens that you couldn't prepare for. You never think about those things, the negativity, but we all know they're there and you keep your fingers crossed."
While he has had a trainer's license since 1979, Saunders did not start out in the racing industry. He spent a tour in the Army and served in Vietnam, worked as a stockbroker and later was the director of economic development for Delaware from 1972-76.
After getting an advanced degree in finance in 1980, he opted to become a trainer, and this is his best chance to win a major.
As an elimination winner, Campbell opted to take post No. 3 in the draw Wednesday. They have been made the 5-2 morning-line favorite
"We earned the right to pick that," said Campbell, who has posted a record $270 million in purse earnings. "He's a horse going in sharp off the best performance of his life. Going into a major stakes, that's all you can ask of a horse. I'm certainly optimistic that he's going to race very well."
Rockin Image, who took his elimination in 1:48.4, was made the 3-1 second choice after trainer Jimmy Takter chose the No. 2 post.
The third elimination winner, OK Commander, has been scratched because of an abscess in the right front leg. His spot in the final was taken by Delmarvalous.
The other posts were determined by an open draw and North American Cup winner Sportswriter had bad luck, drawing the outside No. 10 post. The champion 2-year-old pacer last year is the 6-1 fourth choice.
One More Laugh was made the 9-2 third choice after drawing post No. 8.