Day At The Track

Four-Year-Old Open returns at Yonkers

06:10 AM 30 Jun 2019 NZST
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Yonkers Raceway
Yonkers Raceway

 YONKERS, N.Y. – The rich 4-year-old Open Pace returns to the regular Saturday night harness racing lineup at Yonkers Raceway June 29 and trainer Randy Bendis has been eagerly awaiting the class’ return. Although his pupil Bettor Than Spring held his own in facing older horses in the top classes at the Meadows, Bendis thinks the weekly $37,000 features will suit the gelding perfectly.

“He’s raced really well here, but we’ve really been waiting on the 4-year-old Open,” Bendis said. “We knew Yonkers generally started that up around July 1, so as soon as we saw that on the condition sheet, we were heading back to New York for the year.”

Bettor Than Spring came on Bendis’ radar last December after longtime owner Lewis Hauber expressed interest in acquiring a new horse before the end of the year. Bendis came across the Bettor’s Delight son, who Scott Di Domenico had listed for sale, and soon realized the horse had a special pedigree. He soon struck a deal and purchased the horse in partnership with Hauber and Jack Piatt.

“I actually trained his mother. His mother was a very good horse for me,” Bendis remembered. “I didn’t realize that at first, but then we did a little more investigating and I saw that he’s out of Spring Break, who I campaigned for probably four years at the Meadows.”

Bendis campaigned Spring Break at the Meadows from 2009 to 2012. She made 85 pari-mutuel starts under Bendis’ tutelage and earned $363,256 of her $787,057 career total in his stable. With 39 wins and another 72 placings from 178 lifetime starts, Bendis admired Spring Break for her robustness, a trait he sees replicated in Bettor Than Spring.

“She was an invite kind of mare. Just honest, showed up every week kind of mare,” Bendis recalled. “She didn’t win all the time, but she gave her best just about every race and had staying power. I thought if he was anything like her, we could keep him around for four or five years and have a lynchpin for the stable.

“He’s really a great horse to be around, a lot like his mother,” Bendis continued. “He doesn’t really look like his mother at all; she’s kind of a plain-looking, medium-sized bay and he has a big, striking, dark brown warhorse kind of look. But he does have a lot of her attributes: the gate speed, very good gait, and consistently gives you whatever his best is.”

Bendis sent Bettor Than Spring to Ed Hart for a winter campaign at Yonkers to start the year. Bettor Than Spring recovered from an early break to finish second in his debut for the stable in a $20,000 overnight January 7. He then won three straight races, the last coming against older horses for $29,000 February 9. 

After breaking again in his next start, Bettor Than Spring shifted focus to the Sagamore Series, which Bendis thought would fit him like a glove. Although Bettor Than Spring scored a gate-to-wire 1:54.2 victory in leg one, he went offstride the following week. He overcame post eight in the final preliminary leg to finish third. However, Bettor Than Spring pulled up and did not finish in the $60,200 final, his last outing at Yonkers.

“He got off to a real good start. He was eligible to the Sagamore and he looked to be a layover kind of horse there,” Bendis said. “He ran into some health problems there. He had atrial fibrillation; his heart went out of rhythm.”

Bendis brought Bettor Than Spring home to Pennsylvania, where he took up the gelding’s training. After some time off, Bettor Than Spring resumed his work and successfully qualified at the Meadows May 2. In addition to his atrial fibrillation recovery, Bendis made minor adjustments to help address Bettor Than Spring’s breaking issues.

“I changed his shoeing a little bit and I think – fingers crossed – that shouldn’t be an issue in the future. I think he’s pretty much over that,” Bendis said.
Bettor Than Spring was second-placed-first in the $20,000 Open Pace at the Meadows in a lifetime best 1:51.4 in his return May 11. He then rattled off three straight runner-up finishes before placing fourth and fifth in his last two outings. Bendis feels Bettor Than Spring has matured greatly after facing more seasoned horses.

“He’s been racing some really classy older horses here and it will be nice to get away from them and back to the 4-year-olds,” Bendis said. “He’s been able to put himself in good spots and been able to sit two holes behind some pretty good horses. He’s giving his best just about every time. The last eighth, these older horses can kind of scoot away. He’s learning to do that, he’s getting better at it, but it’s different racing 6-, 7-, 8-year-olds who have made a million dollars.”

Bettor Than Spring shipped back to Ed Hart this Wednesday (June 26) after drawing post five for his Yonkers return. He is 9-2 on the morning line with George Brennan set to drive. Albergo Hanover, who won four straight races at the Meadowlands to start his season and enters off two off-the-board finishes, will start as the 5-2 morning line favorite for the Bongiornos while Turbo Hill, who is 10-for-15 this year racing mainly at Pocono Downs, drew post seven and is 9-1.

Skyway Quinton seeks three straight wins at the Hilltop and is 9-2. Mach And Cheese drew the inside in his Yonkers return and consistent check-getters Babes Dig Me and No Easy Day complete the lineup from posts two and three, respectively.

“There’s some good horses in there. Yonkers is a great place to race, the money is great and if he holds up the way he seems to, he’ll make his money in there. He won’t win every week, but he’ll be a factor in there,” Bendis said. 

Although several of Bettor Than Spring’s early season victories came on the front-end, Bendis thinks the gelding is more versatile now. Although he’s been leaving the gate at the Meadows, driver Mike Wilder has kept Bettor Than Spring off the lead, racing in the pocket in four of his last six starts.

“He kind of gets lost on the lead. He just kind of relaxes on the lead and loses his attention a little bit. I think he’s a more seasoned horse now,” Bendis said. “I think he’d be OK if George decides to put him there, I think he’d be fine there, but 10 or 15 starts ago, he would make the lead and just wait on horses. 

“He got caught one time, a horse rushed at him up the backside and got halfway by and he made a break coming out of the last turn there,” Bendis continued. “I think a lot of it was inexperience on the lead. He hasn’t been on the lead here at home at all; he’s been up close, but not on the lead. I think he’s a more versatile horse than he was back in February. He’s been racing top-class horses.

“That’s the good thing about this horse, I don’t think you can put him in a bad spot. If they’re honking out of there, he can sit fifth or sixth and come with cover and be a factor,” Bendis said. “He likes a helmet more than doing the work himself, at least at this point. I’m really not concerned about the trip; I’ll leave that up to George.”

Saturday night’s card also features the weekly $46,000 Open Handicap Pace and Open Handicap Trot. 

First post time is 6:50 p.m. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.

For entries to the races, click here

By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY.

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