Day At The Track

Italian Delight tries Yonkers Open

07:00 AM 16 Feb 2020 NZDT
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Yonkers Raceway, Harness Racing
Yonkers Raceway

YONKERS, N.Y. – When it comes to the success of New Zealand-bred Italian Delight in the U.S., Darran Cassar says there are no secrets. Italian Delight is 3-for-4 since making his American debut in mid-January and the harness racing trainer says the addition of Lasix has been a key in the horse living up to his potential.

“Lasix helps him a lot and he’s just a professional horse,” Cassar said. “Nothing bothers him. He makes my life, everyone’s life a lot easier. He’s good-gaited. He just does everything right. No headpoles and he wants to do it. I have to give credit to the horse, really. He’s made my job easy because he really doesn’t take a lot of work. It’s just a matter of keeping him happy.”

Cassar began watching Italian Delight in 2018 when an agent informed Cassar the Bettor’s Delight gelding was for sale. Cassar’s interest piqued after seeing Italian Delight beat Seaswift Joy in Auckland April 6, 2018. However, at that time Cassar felt the price was too high and Italian Delight was sold to Australia.

“The first thing is he’s a Bettor’s Delight. Usually I’m a big fan. They usually make good racehorses once they’re over here,” Cassar said. “If you go back through his form in New Zealand, he actually beat a horse called Seaswift Joy. She’s a good Open mare over here for Tony Alagna. He sat on her back and beat her fair and square and that was when I started paying attention.”

Italian Delight’s Australian performances lacked luster. He only won two races in 26 starts Down Under between Oct. 20, 2018 and Nov. 23, 2019. Cassar again had the opportunity to purchase Italian Delight, and this time he and owner Windermere Stable took the chance, despite a late modification to the deal.

“When you’re buying them for the right price, you can always take a chance on a horse like that,” Cassar said. “He was up in the classes, in the Opens or just below it, and he was still functioning without being as good as he probably could have been. If he was more money, maybe I wouldn’t have taken a chance, but I’ve bought a few horses off the same trainer before and he’s usually steered me in the right direction.”

Italian Delight arrived in Cassar’s barn in early December. He looked the perfect size for a Bettor’s Delight, but was just OK in his first training trip. Cassar’s experience told him the horse had a bleeding problem.

“The second time (training), I gave him Lasix and he was a totally different horse. Ever since then, we really haven’t trained him too hard because of the bleeding situation. It just seems to be working,” Cassar said. “We took care of the bleeding and got him on a program where we don’t stress him, he doesn’t injure himself during the week and we just race him from there.”

After that second training trip, Cassar knew the deal they had struck to buy Italian Delight would pay off.

“We had him bought and then they came back and said, ‘no, we want (more),” Cassar recalled. “Usually, I walk away from things like that, but I told the owner, you know what, let’s just buy him. I texted him a week before the qualifier and said, ‘that $5,000 you just spent is the best $5,000 you will spend for a long time.’ ”

Italian Delight qualified Jan. 4 at the Meadowlands, a couple weeks ahead of schedule. With Dexter Dunn driving, Italian Delight finished fourth and qualified in 1:55.4 with a :27.0 final quarter. One week later, Italian Delight made his pari-mutuel debut in a $16,000 overnight at the Swamp and kicked home in :25.4 to score an off-the-pace 1:50.1 victory.

“He never kicked the earplugs. I think it was a bit of a drop in competition from what he was racing, but he was a pretty good closer back in Australia and the race setup right for him,” Cassar said. “I give credit to the horse because he’s so professional. There’s no fancy equipment, no headpoles, he just goes on the track and wants to do it. When they don’t stress themselves, it makes a big difference.”

Italian Delight stepped up in class Jan. 18 and doubled up when making another late move, but was only third Feb. 1 in a $37,500 Meadowlands overnight when he raced on the lead.

“He’s definitely better closing. I think we saw that at the Meadowlands when he had to cut that mile,” Cassar said. “Saying that, I don’t think he was quite 100 percent that night. He was sick after that second win and I just don’t think was quite right for that Meadowlands start when he ran third.”

Last week (Feb. 8), Italian Delight made his Yonkers Raceway debut in a $27,000 overnight. After warming Italian Delight up, Cassar felt confident when handing the lines to Brent Holland.

“I spoke to Brent before the race and said, ‘listen, nothing fancy, just take him off the gate, first-over and he’ll win,’ and I was pretty confident when I told him that.”
Everything went according to plan as Holland watched from 5 lengths behind as Anythingforlove set the tempo in :27.4 and :56.4. Holland tipped Italian Delight first-over as the field straightened away into the stretch the first time around. Italian Delight advanced willingly and drew even with Anythingforlove through three-quarters in 1:24.1.

Racing around the final turn, Holland sat statuesque as Italian Delight headed Anythingforlove. In the lane, Holland put the whip on Italian Delight’s tail and the horse took off, leaving his competition 2 1/2 lengths behind in a 1:52.4 mile.

“He got around Yonkers perfect,” Cassar said. “He just did it pretty easy in the end. It was a perfect situation where he just got the job done. There was no traffic, he just got to do his own thing and he was good enough to do it. It was a stress-free race considering he had to go first-over in 52.”

Although the MGM Borgata Pacing Series, formerly the George Morton Levy Memorial Pacing Series at Yonkers Raceway, wasn’t initially on Cassar’s radar, the trainer and owner made the decision this week to nominate Italian Delight.

“It’s a tough series for a horse that just came over considering he’s only had four or five starts since he’s been here and there’s good horses in there,” Cassar said. “But after we spoke about it, there may not be another place to race. The other tracks aren’t all open, plus they’re not really going to fill Opens, so if you don’t go to the Levy, you really don’t have any other places to race. Is he good enough? I think so, but we’re just going to have to manage him the right way. It’s a tough series. But as of now, he’s going to be in there.”

Italian Delight will face his toughest test to date Saturday night (Feb. 15) in the $40,000 Open Handicap Pace. He and Holland will start from post three in the pacing feature and are 7-1 on the morning line.

The competition includes Trump Nation, who exits a 1:49.4 victory in the Meadowlands Preferred Feb. 8. George Brennan will drive the 5-year-old from post seven for Ron Burke. Jack’s Legend won last week’s local pacing feature at odds-on and will look to repeat from post six for Jason Bartlett and Rich Banca.

Ostro Hanover’s win 4-race streak snapped with last week’s runner up finish to Jack’s Legend; the Rene Allard trainee will look to start a new streak from post five. Joesstar Of Mia, Harambe Deo, and Tookadiveoffdipper complete the lineup.

If Cassar has his way, Italian Delight will make a first-over move again and try to duplicate last week’s win.

“I’ll leave it up to Brent now that he’s driven the horse once. He knows the competition,” Cassar said. “Personally, I’d like to see the same thing. It’s tougher competition, it’s probably going to be the toughest he’s faced. Whatever Brent does, he does. I’m sure the horse can be used a little bit early, but after last week, if it ain’t broke, I wouldn’t fix it.

“Every week you just don’t know who’s going to show up. It’s the Open, that’s just how it is. If he doesn’t face (Trump Nation) this week, he’s going to have to face him in a month in the Levy. He’s pretty exciting right now, but if that’s his limit, that’s his limit,” Cassar said.

“We’ll just take care of the horse. He’s been good to us so far, we want to do the right thing by him. I’ve got a lot of horses there now that are 9, 10, 11 years old that are still racing because we do the right thing by them. They show up to Yonkers week in and week out and that can be a little bit tough on them, but if you do the right thing, they can last a long time and make a lot of money.”

Saturday night’s card also features the $40,000 Open Handicap Trot.

Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. 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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