Casie Coleman had been firm in her stance not to take on any new owners or horses before longtime friend Ed James asked her to train McWicked.
For more than a year, this harness-racing trainer avoided adding to her commitments while, in fact, reducing them from 120 horses to 41 -- trading quantity for quality, she explained.
But Coleman had seen McWicked race before, and knew he was too good to pass up. She began training the horse in early May.
"Which was a good thing I took him," she said, with a laugh.
Standing in the winner's circle at The Meadows Racetrack Saturday with McWicked draped in a blanker of purple orchids, that decision paid off again for Coleman. McWicked raced to a 1:49.1 first-place finish in the Delvin Miller Adios Pace for the Orchids, making Coleman the first female trainer to win the track's signature race.
Following the win, she spoke highly of the horse that made good on his morning-line odds to win his fifth race in six starts.
"He's got all kind of strengths," she said. "He's a great, big, good-looking, sound horse. Very good wind in him, very good gaited. If I was to change something on the horse, I really don't know what it would be because he's just an awesome individual."
Somewhere in L.A. finished second with a time of 1:49.2. He was followed by locally-owned Cammikey, commissioned by Washington County-based owners Cam Land LLC, at 1:49:4. Jimmy Takter, who trained the Adios winner a year ago, had to settle for a second this year.
Canonsburg resident Ron Burke, who had two horses in the race, saw At Press Time finish fifth (1:50.0) and Carracci Hanover eighth (1:50.4).
After the elimination races last week, Coleman expected Somewhere in L.A. and Let's Drink On It, who finished seventh, to be the biggest competition for McWicked. Somewhere In L.A. lived up to that billing.
But after hitting the halfway mark with the lead and a time of 55.4, Coleman knew that it would be difficult for any horse to catch McWicked. She was right.
"I felt pretty confident at that point," said winning driver David Miller, not even three weeks removed from his Hall of Fame induction.
"He always feels pretty confident," he added of his horse, laughing.
It was no secret that some of the top 3-year-olds skipped the race because of recent and frequent races at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. That led to speculation about where McWicked fit among his racing classmates.
While Coleman was not upset about the absence of certain competitors, she expects McWicked to race against them eventually and knows that will be another test for her horse.
"Oh, for sure," she said. "There are obviously some more tough horses, we'll all join up pretty soon I'm sure."
Miller said he believes McWicked belongs in the conversation about the sport's top 3-year-olds.
"I don't think they can count him out, that's for sure," he said. "I know there were a couple of them that weren't here today ... I'm sure he'll meet them later on down the road."
For now, McWicked will have 10 days of rest -- which is important, Coleman said, for a horse after racing in 83-degree heat. He will go to Chester, Pa., for a sire stakes race Aug. 7. After that, it's back to the Meadows for another sire stakes Aug. 27.
As for Coleman, there was very little time to celebrate. She had horses competing Saturday night at the Mohawk Racetrack in Toronto and needed to catch her jet.
"We'll be on a plane celebrating," she said, with a smile.
Jourdon LaBarber: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @jourdonlabarber First Published July 26, 2014 12:00 AM