Day At The Track

Exceeding expectations in Pacing Series

06:42 AM 10 Mar 2020 NZDT
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Affluent Seelster, harness racing
Affluent Seelster seen here winning at Yonkers
Georgia Panagi Photo

YONKERS, N.Y. – Expectations were low when Affluent Seelster started in the first division of the M life Rewards Ladies Pacing Series first leg March 2 at Yonkers Raceway. Despite starting from the inside, the public dismissed the 4-year-old harness racing mare at 33-1 in favor of Darn Tooth Hanover, who was the even-money favorite, and North Star Ideal, who was the 6-5 second choice. Both favorites entered on three-race win streaks.

Despite Affluent Seelster’s long odds, she left from her inside spot, but yielded to North Star Ideal to ride a pocket trip. Turning for home, Affluent Seelster was still breathing down the neck of the longtime leader and straightening away, driver Joe Bongiorno pulled the ear plugs and angled Affluent Seelster inside. With a few right-handed whip taps, Affluent Seelster glided past North Star Ideal to post a neck win in a lifetime best 1:53.4 and kick off the series with a $69 mutual.

“I thought that was maybe a little bigger number than she needed to be from the rail,” trainer Paul Stafford said. “Her qualifier was OK. She’s a big mare. Going into the series, she had raced there before, so we knew she could get around the half-mile racetrack, as big as she is. It just worked out perfect, Joey put her in a great spot getting a two-hole trip.”

Stafford and Tom Ceraso purchased Affluent Seelster online last fall. The Mach Three daughter had five placings in eight starts racing for Richard Moreau in Canada and fit the bill for the conditions at Yonkers. However, Affluent Seelster’s size gave Stafford pause.

“She’s big, so when she showed up, obviously you have a question mark about whether she would get around Yonkers,” Stafford said. “Really lightly raced, which is what we like to see. We like to buy 3-year-olds with not very many starts, non-winners of two-, non-winners of three-type horses.”

Affluent Seelster debuted for Stafford at Yonkers Nov. 18, finishing second in a $14,000 overnight. She broke her maiden from post seven in the same class one week later, and then doubled up from the same post Dec. 9. In all three of those starts, Affluent Seelster left the gate hard and got wound up.

“She was one who would get excited behind the gate because she thought she was going to leave every week,” Stafford said.

Training back this winter, Stafford pointed Affluent Seelster to the M life Rewards Ladies Series and focused on teaching her to relax in her races. When she returned in a qualifier Feb. 21, Affluent Seelster came from off the pace to finish third. Stafford was happy to see the mare comfortable in the pocket in her first start of the season.

“She trained back exceptionally well and we taught her a few manners training back so she wasn’t a front-running thing, which is how we finished up the year with her,” Stafford said. “That’s what we worked on training her back the last six weeks, teaching her that’s is OK to sit in, you don’t always have to be on the front. That transitioned into her qualifier and into her first race.”

Affluent Seelster drew the inside post again in the second leg of the series Monday (March 9) and will again have Bongiorno in the sulky. The pair are the 3-2 favorites on the morning line.

One race after Affluent Seelster’s upset win last week, Stafford sent out Windsong Parisian to a runner up finish in the second series split. Like her stablemate, Windsong Parisian and driver Matt Kakaley started from the inside and got a pocket trip. After chasing 3-5 favorite I’m Very Special around the track, Windsong Parisian finished second beaten 2 lengths and was 9 1/4 lengths clear of third-place finisher Saskatoon.

An acquisition for Patricia Ceraso last fall, Windsong Parisian came to Stafford’s barn with more experience than Affluent Seelster, having logged 23 starts and four wins. Despite showing half-mile track experience at Grand River, Flamboro Downs and Western Fair, Windsong Parisian struggled in her first two starts at Yonkers in October. She made breaks in each start and was well beaten.

“We bought a horse that showed half-mile racing, so we brought her to Yonkers and for whatever reason, she just decided that she wasn’t going to participate at Yonkers Raceway, she couldn’t get around the first turn for whatever reason,” Stafford said.

The trainer decided a change of scenery was needed and Stafford took Windsong Parisian to Harrah’s Philadelphia. Despite starting from post seven and getting away 8 1/2 lengths behind the field, Windsong Parisian posted a :27.4 final quarter to rally for third beaten just a length. She won her next start at Harrah’s Philadelphia Nov. 29 and finished second in her final 2019 start Dec. 13.

“We decided to change her look and took her to Chester,” Stafford said. “We had the seven hole, Tim Tetrick raced her like he should, ducked her last and she was flying on the end of it. She finished third, but she almost got there. She definitely showed she was OK at Chester.”

Despite Windsong Parisian’s lackluster performances at Yonkers, she just made the earnings cutoff to be eligible for the series, so Stafford nominated for the low $200 fee. The move proved prudent.

“She trained back well, you couldn’t ask for them to train back any better. For whatever reason, I can’t explain it, maybe it was just a matter of growing up, but she was good the other night. I think that was a little better than we expected. I thought maybe she would have been third or fourth in there, but she was good. Matt was happy with her.”

Windsong Parisian will start from post five in Monday’s first series division in race one. With Kakaley opting for rival Lovin Cocoa, Brent Holland will drive Windsong Parisian as the 8-5 morning line favorite.

“I think she drew into a good division. I think she’ll be OK in there,” Stafford said.

Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. The M life Rewards Series for Ladies and Gents continue with their second legs Monday (March 9) and Tuesday (March 10), respectively. The Blue Chip Matchmaker Series will return Friday, March 13 and the Borgata Pacing Series starts Saturday, March 14.

First post time is 7:05 p.m. For entries to the races, click here.

By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

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