Cruzado Dela Noche regained his footing and trotted his final quarter-mile in :26.3 to cap a :54.4 second half in a division of the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes at The Meadows.
Kindergarten Classic Series champion French Laundry is the 5-2 favorite followed by Peter Haughton Memorial runner-up Uncle Lasse at 3-1. Both horses are trained by Johansson’s father, Jimmy Takter.
Takter’s Pinkman, the Valley Victory Stakes winner, is the 2-1 favorite in the first elimination, followed by Matron Stakes winner Habitat at 5-2 and Peter Haughton winner Centurion ATM at 4-1.
The top five finishers from each elimination advance to the $500,000 final on Nov. 22. Elim winners will draw for posts one through five for the final.
Known around the stable as “Nacho,” Cruzado Dela Noche has won three of 10 races and earned $164,040 for owner Courant A B of Sweden. He is a son of 2010 Hambletonian winner Muscle Massive, a Takter-trained colt for which Johansson was the groom, out of the mare Alidade.
Cruzado Dela Noche beat French Laundry by three-quarters of a length in 1:53.4 in a division of the International Stallion Stakes in October. Only two 2-year-old male trotters have posted a faster winning time this season, Centurion ATM and Pinkman.
“He raced enormously,” Johansson said about the International Stallion, which was contested in a rainstorm at The Red Mile. “He trotted (1):53.4 in the pouring rain on the front end and did all the work himself. He’s very honest.”
Cruzado Dela Noche finished third in the Matron Stakes last week, beaten a half-length by Habitat, in his first start since the International Stallion.
“He was really good,” said Johansson, who also trains 2-year-old female pacer JK She’salady, the No. 1-ranked horse in harness racing’s weekly Top 10 poll.
“He hadn’t raced since Lexington so he was a little short, but I was happy with the race. “I think he fits (in the Breeders Crown). I think he’s just as good as any of the other ones. I don’t think there’s anyone I’m really afraid of. I think if things work in his way he could just as well be the winner at the end as anyone else. I think he deserves a little more credit than he’s gotten. He’s living in Lady’s shadow a little bit I think.
“I like him a lot. Not only that, but he’s a Muscle Massive, which is very close to my heart.”