Day At The Track

It's not easy bein' Western Fame

05:44 AM 19 Apr 2018 NZST
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Western Fame
Mark Hall Photo
Western Fame
Nigel Soult Photo

If Western Fame were human, harness racing driver Mark MacDonald could envision him fidgeting with his necktie while bemoaning a lack of respect.

A multiple-stakes-winning pacer, Western Fame has not been the favorite in his most recent six victories (five at odds of 9-2 or higher) and has been the betting public's top choice only five times in his past 39 races. When he was the favorite during that span, he produced three wins and missed a fourth by a nose.

In his past three starts, all in preliminary rounds of the George Morton Levy Memorial Pacing Series at Yonkers Raceway, Western Fame won twice and finished second by a half-length. On Saturday, the 5-year-old stallion competes in the $532,000 Levy championship, leaving from post No. 1 with MacDonald driving for trainer Jimmy Takter.

Western Fame is 7-1 on the morning line.

"He's always been a little bit of a Rodney Dangerfield; no one gives him a whole lot of respect," MacDonald said. "I don't think people realize what a nice horse he is. He's always been a little under the radar."

Western Fame has won 12 of 46 career races and earned $750,618 for breeder/owner Brittany Farms. Last year, he won the Prix d'Ete and Confederation Cup, and in 2016 he won a heat of the Little Brown Jug (where he was second to Betting Line in the final), a division of the Bluegrass Stakes, and an elimination of the Breeders Crown.

In addition to his runner-up Jug finish in 2016, he was second in the Matron Stakes (at 23-1), Pennsylvania Sire Stakes championship (from post seven at 29-1) and a division of the Tattersalls Pace (by a neck at 9-2).

"He's been a lot of fun," MacDonald said. "He didn't race much at 2 and didn't really start coming into his own until September of his 3-year-old year. He's a lightly raced horse and he's really turned into a nice racehorse."

Prior to this year, Western Fame was a horse that needed to be raced aggressively from the start. Half of his wins were gate-to-wire and only twice was he worse than second at the race's midpoint. This season, he has not led prior to the stretch and only once was he better than third after three-quarters.

"I found that as a 3- and 4-year-old he was kind of a one-trick pony; he really liked to be on the front," MacDonald said. "He's matured and is more versatile now. He seems to really have the will to go forward and likes a target. He's won all different kinds of ways. I really like the way he's coming into the race."

The Levy brings together a number of harness racing's top older male pacers. Last year's divisional Dan Patch Award winner and defending series champion Keystone Velocity is the race's 5-2 morning-line favorite, followed by Mach It So at 4-1, Dr J Hanover at 9-2, and Somewhere In L A at 5-1. Evenin Of Pleasure follows Western Fame, at 8-1.

New Zealand-bred Bit Of A Legend, who won the 2016 Levy championship, topped the points at the end of the five preliminary rounds. He drew post seven for the final and is 9-1. Rockin Ron -- who joined Bit Of A Legend, Somewhere In L A, Dr J Hanover, Mach It So, and Western Fame as multiple winners in the prelims -- will start from post eight.

"It's wide open," MacDonald said. "There are not too many horses in that race that you could say would be a total head-scratcher if they won. If any horse can win from the outside, it would be Bit Of A Legend. Rockin Ron got the eight hole, but he's a good horse too. That race is so competitive.

"At the end of the day it's going to come down to whoever gets the best trip or a lucky break. That's it. Whoever can work out the best trip is going to win."

Also on Saturday's card is the $373,000 Blue Chip Matchmaker Series championship for older female pacers. New Zealand-bred Shartin, who posted a series-best three wins in the preliminary rounds, is the 8-5 morning-line favorite from post No. 1 with Tim Tetrick driving for trainer Jim King Jr.

Racing begins at 6:50 p.m. (EDT) with the Matchmaker championship carded as race nine and the Levy as race 10 on the night's 12-race card. For complete entries, click here.

Ken Weingartner

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