Illinois conceived and foaled three-year-old pacing colts were on display in Friday night's featured harness racing event at Maywood Park as a field of eight sophomores lined up behind the gate for the $12,000 Gosox Stake.
Coming off a tough luck third place finish in a conditioned event here at Maywood last week Stevanna Turner and John Fletcher’s NJ’s Big Deal avenged that defeat as he stormed right to the front and proceeded to make every call a winning one as he reported home with a three-quarter-length decision in a snappy 1:52.2, equaling his lifetime best.
Leaving from post position three for driver Ronnie Gillespie, the son of-A Passing Breeze shot right to the top, leading the field through an opening quarter in 28.0.
“They wanted him on the front end tonight and he drives perfect on a half-mile oval so that made my job pretty easy,” joked Gillespie. “Once he got to the front so easily I was pretty confident that he was going to be hard to catch given the way he felt out there tonight.”
Pacing along comfortably in control of the proceedings the John Fletcher trained colt was in complete command as led the field through a half-mile in 56.3.
“While he did show good early speed in his last few starts I backed him off after the first quarter in those races and tried to teach him to race out of a hole,” said winning driver Ronnie Gillespie. “I think those races helped to “braven” him up a bit which is why he looked so at ease out there tonight.”
Heading down the backstretch for the final time NJ’s Big Deal faced his first challenge as the favored Al’s Hammered (Robert Smolin) came storming up on the outside of horses. Unfortunately for the chalk player’s, disaster struck as Al’s Hammered made an uncharacteristic break leaving NJ’s Big Deal with a 1 ¼ length advantage as he cruised by the three-quarter-mile mark in 1:24.3.
The issue was never really in doubt from that point on as NJ’s Big Deal paced away from a pocket sitting King’s Legend (Marcus Miller), rolling home in a brisk 27.4 to post his second win in eight starts this season. King’s Legend finished second while Fox Valley Mahalo (Todd Warren) finished third.
In the winner’s circle a very happy Gillespie was quick to praise his colt’s performance.
“He really felt strong at every point in the mile,” said Gillespie. “He’s got the Cardinal eliminations coming up next and I think this colt can be a big factor in this division all season long especially if we can get him a few weeks off here and there to keep to him fresh.”
Sent off as the third choice in the wagering NJ’s Big Deal returned $10.20, $4.00 & $3.80 while winning for the 10th time in 29 career starts and upping his career earnings to $47,880.
by Tom KELLEY