YONKERS, N.Y. - Trainer Jerry Riordan remembers working as a groom at Roosevelt Raceway in the 1980s. He was fortunate enough not only to race there in the track’s heyday, but to be there when the great French trotter Ideal Du Gazeau won the International Trot three consecutive years from 1981 to 1983.
“We met the groom of Ideal Du Gazeau and took him out one night. They were a couple of French guys who couldn’t understand a word we were saying, but they were good old guys,” Riordan fondly remembered. “We ended up going down to Jones Beach and drinking a few beers. They were happy as can be, hanging out with us, smoking cigarettes.”
Soon after, Riordan witnessed Ideal Du Gazeau in one of his International Trot triumphs. It was the moment the American-turned-Italian-turned-Swedish trainer was first exposed to international racing.
“You’re a little awestruck when you see those horses first hand,” he recalled. “Watching Ideal Du Gazeau with those legs that went flying every direction. It was like something from another planet. The equipment, the way they trotted, and the way they were indifferent to the rest of the race. They just did their thing, and then they’d win. That’s when I realized there’s a whole ‘nother type of horse out there besides ours.”
In those nights at Roosevelt, Riordan couldn’t have imagined he would get the chance to race a horse in the International Trot himself. And after the race was discontinued in 1996, the idea couldn’t have crossed his mind. Yet, when Yonkers Raceway revived the International Trot in 2015 and offer a $1 million purse, Riordan received an invitation with Rod Stewart.
“It was fabulous the amount of hospitality they put on,” he said. “Everybody was enthused about being part of the old Roosevelt International. It’s a race that’s a legend by now. What it meant at that time, the Roosevelt International was a race that went out and got horses from all over the world and nobody else did that, not even the thoroughbreds back then. They were ahead of their time with that race.”
The longest shot in the field, Rod Stewart made a break shortly after the start of the 2015 International and finished eighth of 10. This fall, Riordan will get another chance at International Trot glory when he crosses the Atlantic with Twister Bi.
Riordan got the opportunity to train Twister Bi by chance. After moving his stable from Italy to Sweden, he got a call from the horse’s owner, Pasquale Ciccarelli. Ciccarelli knew the Varenne colt had talent, but needed to mature to unlock his full potential.
“They said he could go like hell but he needed to get raced properly. He was a little bit aggressive. He has a pedigree that’s predisposed to being aggressive,” Riordan explained. “Sweden is the best in that type of situation. The way they race here, the tracks are so soft. If a horse is going to have a chance to calm down and learn how to be a racehorse, Sweden is a great place for that.”
As time went on, Twister Bi settled into his new surroundings and began to transform from just another fast horse into a good horse. Twister Bi grew stronger and began to understand what his trainer was asking from him.
“Mentally, he’s just gotten so much better. That was the last step,” Riordan said. “Now he’s filled in that part of the whole equation. He’s gotten so much better on race days. He’s got it all together, he’s not wearing himself out. He’s the whole package right now.”
Twister Bi’s breakthrough race came in the Group 3 Prix de La Mayenne at Vincennes Racecourse February 26. Carefully handled early in the 2,700 meter race by driver Björn Goop, Twister Bi raced in last early. Kept in the clear, Goop bided his time until the final turn when he tipped Twister Bi three-wide. The 5-year-old’s stride extended. He reached his neck out and accelerated past half the field in a dozen strides.
“The gamblers there are sharp. He was the favorite in the race even though he hadn’t raced in three months,” Riordan remembered. “The pace was really slow and when he tipped out three-wide, they all started yelling ‘aller, aller, aller.’ Go, go, go. He’s out in the middle of the racetrack and it’s him against nine Frenchmen.”
Twister Bi sustained his rally and by the top of the stretch, drew on even terms with leader Caly Loulou. Tango Negro joined the pair along the pylons and in a thrilling stretch drive, Twister Bi struck the lead in the final few meters and prevailed by hard-fought head.
“After that race, that was the thing I noticed about him. Normally it takes five guys to slow him down for the picture and all that stuff. For the first time, the horse was cool after the race,” Riordan explained. “I was thinking, he just had a really great race and now he seems like he’s not all stressed about it. I was hoping that meant something, and it did.”
Since his Prix de Mayenne success, Twister Bi earned his first Group 1 win in Seinäjoki, Finland April 22 before finishing unplaced in his Elitlopp elimination against Nuncio May 28. He achieved Group 1 success again the Oslo Grand Prix in Bjerke, Norway June 11. Starting from the post seven, bettors dismissed Twister Bi at odds of 96-1. Riordan saw the race as an opportunity to try something new.
“It was the first time we put earplugs on him, it was the first time we put the American sulky on him,” Riordan said. “I had always been saving that stuff because we were always more concerned about just having him be manageable. I never wanted to be pulling plus on him. We always tried to keep him calm.”
Despite his wide draw, driver Christoffer Erkisson put Twister Bi in the race and tracked the cover of Your Highness. Lionel followed, but soon launched a three-wide bid that saw him move to the first-over spot pressing leader Aubrion du Gers.
In the second lap of the 2,100-meter race, Lionel drew closer to Aubrion du Gers while Eriksson wheeled Twister Bi three-wide. Entering the final turn, Lionel put his white blaze in front just as Eriksson popped the plugs on Twister Bi, who advanced within a length of the lead. In the stretch, Twister Bi again stuck his neck out and reached for the wire with every sinew in his body. He passed Lionel in the final sixteen and powered away to a length victory.
“When he tipped him out and pulled the ear plugs, he reacted really well. He’s always raced really well in Norway. There are no whips there and he doesn’t need a whip,” Riordan said. “And the 2,000 meters suits him too. He doesn’t have that extreme speed like some of the other horses do, but when he hits his top gear, he stays there for a long time.”
Twister Bi’s most impressive performance to date came in the Group 1 Ulf Thoresen Grand International at Jarlsberg. Changing tactics, Eriksson let rival Oasis Bi blast off the gate to the front, but soon drove up on the outside and cleared the lead. Entering the last of four turns in the 2,100-meter stakes, Eriksson popped the plugs and Twister Bi’s lead grew from 2 lengths to 3. Then 4, then 5. He sprinted away from Oasis Bi, Lionel, and Carabinieri, leaving multiple Group 1 winners far behind. He won by 6 1/2 lengths.
“He eased away gradually, got to the front and just kept that rhythm up,” Riordan said. “(Eriksson) wanted to make sure he didn’t let Lionel get close. When he pulled the plugs, he just exploded. The last 500 meters were like a 1:50 shot or something.”
After his romping victory, Riordan received an invitation to the $1 million Yonkers International Trot slated for Saturday, October 14. Although the trip could interfere with the winter meet at Vincennes, Riordan’s decision was an easy one.
“I was a little concerned about the trip jeopardizing the winter, but it’s a lot of money and it’s an honor to be participating in the race. I thought about it for about 10 seconds and I said, ‘we’ll go.’ ”
Twister Bi finished third in Tuesday’s (July 25) Hugo Åbergs Memorial at Jågersro behind Propulsion’s herculean 1:49.2 effort. Before shipping to New York, Riordan hopes to race Twister Bi two to three more times. The Group 1 Jubileumspokalen for 5-year-olds at Solvalla August 16 is next and the Group 2 UET Trotting Masters Series at Vincennes September 9 could be after that, although Riordan is reluctant to face Bold Eagle before flying across to New York.
“That race in France, Bold Eagle will probably be there. That’s obviously going to make things difficult for anybody in that race,” he said. “That’s a possibility, but I’d personally prefer to find races where we can duck those guys and keep him fresh.”
Twister Bi victorious in a 1:51.4 rate in Sweden in May
Saturday, October 14, 2017