Her post-position advantage turned out to make the difference, but no matter how you look at it, Haggin Oaks is one tough harness racing cookie. Winners-Over pacers, racing for a purse of $6,800, were featured at Cal Expo on Saturday night (June 2), on which Haggin Oaks, the lone lady in the race, won for the 25th time in her fine career.
In advance of starting from her assigned post-one in the field of six, trainer James Kennedy was well aware of a couple of things.
"Of course I knew Albion (Luke Plano) had won four in-a-row and was the horse to beat," stated Kennedy. "But he was assigned the ten-hole and I had the one-hole. As a result I thought I had a very good shot."
Accelerating after a sixteenth of a mile and taking the lead into the first-turn with Split Ticket (Scott Cisco) & Tax Relief (Dave Siegel) two and three-wide for the lead as well, Kennedy had a plan.
"I was just trying to let one horse go and not let everyone go. As it worked out I was able to let Tax Relief go."
Just a head back at the quarter-pole after pushing hard, how did Kennedy feel about the hot :27.2 opening quarter?
"I was okay with it because she has done that numerous times and has been fine."
Yielding the lead at the 5-16ths mile pole for the pocket with the pace now slower, but with the field still reaching the half-mile juncture in :56, Kennedy had the nose of his mare on the back of Siegel's helmet - - which was part of the plan.
"I was just trying to keep Siegel and Tax Relief going at a good pace because I didn't know where Albion was and I was hoping if I could push the pace that Albion would have a long ways to come."
Bottled up and anxious on the final-turn because of a :30 third-quarter, Kennedy was glad that there was movement for the lead.
"We were both anxious, and I was happy to see Split Ticket come hard because that allowed me a chance to get out when Tax Relief went on."
Slipping out second-over to the three-quarter mile station, timed in 1:26, Kennedy was confident, but also respectful.
"I thought my chances were good, but I was still concerned about Albion because I didn't know where he was (6°5¼) because I hadn't seen him yet and figured he'd be coming hard."
Moving three-wide with 3-16ths of a mile to go and starting to close, Kennedy's biggest fear was now on the scene and gaining very quickly.
"When I moved her three-wide and popped the earplugs, she took over the lead, and that's good because I know she doesn't like it when horses pass. Albion, however, was getting closer and I started yelling out 'come on mare,' and she responded and was going strong."
Leading at the seven-eighths mile marker, but with Albion flying, the six year-old mare dug in and went on at mid-stretch and looked a winner, but Albion would have none of that.
"I tried not urging her hard tonight because I always urge her strongly and I thought I might have been making her a little sour doing that. So I was trying not to urge her as hard as I usually do and let her race her own mile - - but it almost cost me."
Appearing that she'd hold on, Albion put in one final surge at the wire and forced a photo.
"I thought I might have lost, but as it turns out she did very well."
Owned by Shari Burns, Ferris Funk & Jerry Cimini, Haggin Oaks won ($15.80) by a diminishing nose, in 1:56.1. Albion had to settle for second, and an improving Split Ticket finished another 6-3/4 lengths farther back, in third.
"She's my superstar and raced magnificent," finished a proud and happy Kennedy.
Live racing resumes at Cal Expo on Friday (June 8) & Saturday (June 9) at 6:00 p.m. (PDT). On every live card, Cal Expo offers free parking & free admission after 4:30 p.m. On Friday, Cal Expo offers Happy Hour from 4:00-7:00 p.m. on which Beer; Well Drinks & Wine are offered at $4 each, while a Burger with fries is offered at $5.
Cal Expo currently offers a reduced 15 percent takeout rate on all Pick 4's. Additionally, all Late Pick 4's now come with an increased $20,000-guaranteed gross pool. Also, the Friday Late Pick 4 will offer a 0% takeout on all winning wagers made on track or at Twinspires.com, while the Saturday Late Pick 4 will be broadcast on TVG.
by Scott Ehrlich, Publicity - Cal Expo