Marcus Johansson's night at Yonkers Raceway was not unlike that of many of the harness racing track's patrons. He ate some food, watched some races, and scored a nice win. OK, the win kind of set his night apart.
Johansson guided the undefeated 3-year-old filly pacing sensation See You At Peelers to her 16th consecutive victory Saturday night in the $307,734 Art Rooney Pace at Yonkers and drove her straight into the record book. See You At Peelers, trained by Jimmy Takter and bred by his wife Christina, became the first filly to win the race, beating a field of five male pacers in the process.
The last time a filly pacer beat the boys in a race worth $100,000 or more came in 1990 when 2-year-old Armbro Justify won the $100,000 Ontario Sire Stakes at Windsor Raceway. According to U.S. Trotting Association records, since the start of 1992, female pacers -- regardless of age -- were 0-for-31 when challenging the boys in six figure races.
Johansson, who drove in nine qualifiers at Meadowlands Racetrack on Saturday morning, had only one drive Saturday night at Yonkers. The Rooney was race No. 9 on the card, and went off a little after 10 o'clock. As rocker Tom Petty noted, the waiting is the hardest part.
"It's kind of hard because it's so exciting," Johansson said. "You just want (the race) to get here and have fun, especially when you have a good one like her. It's not like a regular race. There's some thinking going on before, but I don't mind it at all. I warmed her up, which helped. That's like semi-racing to warm her up. It was fine just the way it all worked out."
To pass the time, Johansson watched the night's other races and enjoyed a quick meal.
"I was hungry when I got here, so we ordered pizza -- ham with onion," said Johansson, who is married to Takter's daughter Nancy (who was taking care of another Rooney participant, Rollwithitharry). We baby raced this morning and I didn't have time to eat. I just took a shower and changed clothes."
When asked if he might want to eat the same meal before any future big races, the 32-year-old Johansson, who notched the most lucrative win of his career with the Rooney triumph, laughed.
"I can't change the ingredients on that now," he said. "And I like to mix it up, but I can't change it now."
See You At Peelers, who is 3-for-3 this year and has earned $881,353 in her career, was coming off a world-record-equaling performance on May 29 at Tioga Downs. She won the Rooney by 3-1/2 lengths in 1:53.1, just three-fifths of a second off the track record for 3-year-old fillies. She paced the final half-mile in :55.1.
"I know she's tough and all, but she raced pretty hard at Tioga and it was only six days out; you never know how they'll come out of a race like that," Johansson said. "But she proved how tough she really is.
"She's so athletic. The difference in how you feel when she's going a quarter in :29 and a quarter in :27, it scares me sometimes because not all the time can you feel it. It's a little easier to feel speed on a half-mile track, but when you ask her to go she's like a low-flying jet coming around there."
The jet got to the front in the Rooney without too much difficulty. Johansson moved her quickly from post No. 5 to a spot on the rail in third position. He held that spot only briefly, moving See You At Peelers to the front before the field reached the first quarter and never looked back.
"I know I have speed enough to get to the front, but when you get position like that, I didn't have to use her that hard early and it worked out perfect," Johansson said. "She's so handy. (When she got to the front) she thought it was over right there. I had to settle her down and talk to her. I talk to her in Swedish; I think she likes that."
Johansson said there was no question that See You At Peelers was the best horse he has driven.
"To me, she will always be No. 1," he said, "and by the end of the season I hope she'll be No. 1 to everyone around."
by Ken Weingartner, Harness Racing Communications