Day At The Track

Ponder The Odds faces toughest test yet

01:16 AM 16 Oct 2020 NZDT
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Yonkers Raceway, Harness Racing
Yonkers Raceway

YONKERS, N.Y. – After posting three straight victories at Yonkers Raceway, Ponder The Odds will get her toughest test yet Thursday night (Oct. 15) as she steps up into the $25,000 filly and mare open handicap pace for the first time. Whatever the outcome, she’s already exceeding the expectations of her trainers, owners, and breeders, Kathleen and Donald La Montagne.

“To tell you the truth, it’s been shocking,” Donald La Montagne said. “Jimmy (Marohn, Jr.) has been getting along with her better than anyone who has ever driven her. She’s a nice filly, but she’s doing a lot more than I ever thought she could.”

Despite going 10-for-27 last year, including a win in the $70,000 New Jersey Sire Stakes Standardbred Development Fund Final for 3-year-old pacing fillies, Ponder The Odds’ 2020 season started slowly. She qualified back after the coronavirus shutdown July 17 and went winless in her first six starts, including a three-race rift in which she didn’t earn a check between Aug. 20 and Sept. 9.

Ponder The Odds dropped into a $12,500 overnight at Yonkers Sept. 17 and had a change of drivers to Jim Marohn, Jr. Something clicked. Ponder The Odds raced in fourth until moving first-over with three-eighths to pace. She advanced steadily and passing the three-quarter mile marker, Ponder The Odds took the lead and took off. Her stride quickened and she put up 5 lengths on the field turning for home. Kept to task by Marohn through the stretch, Ponder The Odds extended her margin to 7 lengths, stopping the clock in 1:52.4.

Ponder The Odds stepped up to the $15,000 level in her latest two starts Sept. 24 and Oct. 1. In both races, she beat the Ron Burke trained standout Feelin Red Hot, first with a pocket trip and then with a pacesetting effort after leaving from post seven and assuming the lead through fast early fractions. She stayed the course for a 1:52.3 seasonal mark, improving her resume to 13-for-40 with $141,843 earned.

“She had a good year last year and she didn’t really come back that good,” La Montagne said. “She wasn’t even getting checks. And then Jimmy just got along with her. We were stunned. She beat a really nice, classy old mare (Feelin Red Hot). She’s not at her best either, that one, but she’s got a lot of class. I was shocked that she won that one when she came first-over. She had some luck in those races, but last week, she did all the work and she got it done. We’re really happy with her. We’re kind of stunned about the whole thing.”

Ponder The Odds’ legacy goes back three generations with the La Montagnes. A self-described ‘mom-and-pop’ outfit, the La Montagnes have been breeding, raising, breaking, training, and racing their own horses on their farm for 45 years as a passion, not as a career. Their stable has had two key broodmares over the years, the pacer Motivation, and the trotter Motivational. 

The La Montages purchased Motivation for $7,200 in the 1990s. She went 12-for-52, became a multiple stakes winner, took a mark of 1:52.3 at the Meadowlands, and earned $300,847 before retiring to the La Montagne’s farm to breed in 1996.

“She was the fastest Direct Scooter mare of all time and she was the New Jersey 3-year-old pacer of the year in 1995. She was a top stakes mare,” La Montagne commented.

Motivation produced seven foals to race between 1999 and 2010. Four of them earned six figures, including her 2000 foal Figure The Odds, who went 17-for-74 and banked $247,641 racing from 2002 to 2005. A multiple stakes winner herself, Figure The Odds’ biggest win came in the $70,756 Rose of Tralee Stakes at Yonkers July 12, 2003, when she stopped the clock in 1:55.

“Figure The Odds won there and took Bunny Lake’s record (of 1:56.1) in the Rose of Tralee. She was a really top mare herself, a really good stakes filly,” La Montagne said. “From her time as a 2-year-old, she was a top filly.”

Figure The Odds produced five foals to race between 2007 and 2016. Three of them have earned six figures. Now 20 years old, Figure The Odds is retired on La Montagne’s farm. Her last foal was Ponder The Odds. While Ponder The Odds hasn’t lived up to her family legacy yet, she inherited some of the most coveted intangible traits among mares and La Montagne hopes she will continue to improve.

“This filly comes from a good filly family. I do like her a lot, but there’s plenty in her family that are better than her,” La Montagne said. “Her sire, Ponder, he got much better when he was older. He did his best work for McIntosh when he was 5, so we’re hoping she will come around. That horse gets better with age.

“Her mother (Figure The Odds) was much bigger-gaited and faster than (Ponder The Odds), but they’re all similar. All easy to get along with, just good racehorses, no tying up,” La Montagne continued. “There’s an old saying among horsemen, ‘good fillies come from filly families and good colts can come from anywhere.’ The credit goes to this family, all the fillies in this family have been very good. She comes through that family and to get a good filly that tries is hard to do. She tries very hard, that’s how that family is. They have a lot of ability and they try. Those are hard things to put together for a mare.”

After her three-race win streak, the La Montagnes gave Ponder The Odds last week off before entering back in the filly and mare open handicap.

“That was a very tough race (Oct. 1), they parked her in 27-flat and she didn’t weaken at the end, she hung on” La Montagne said. “There were three tough starts in a row, so she didn’t race last week, that was by design. She got her week off, I trained her in 2 minutes, and that’s it. Hopefully, it’s going to sharpen her, I want to keep her fresh.”

Ponder The Odds drew post position three in Thursday’s distaff feature, the seventh race on the program. With Marohn opting for the Rob Harmon trained Robyn Camden, Jason Bartlett picked up the drive and the pair are 9-2 on the morning line.

The field includes Lady Dela Renta, who’s won four of her last five starts, including a win in this class last out Oct. 1. She drew post eight and is 7-2 with Jordan Stratton set to drive for Team Tritton. Ron Burke trained Snobbytown enters off four consecutive runner up finishes at this level and is the 3-1 morning line favorite with regular reinsman George Brennan. Robyn Camden upset this bunch with an off-the-pace win at 7-1 Sept. 17. She is 7-1 on the morning line from post five. Alexa’s Power, Wishy Washy Girl, Neverforgetwhour, and Bye Bye Michelle complete the lineup.

“I looked at the program and everyone in the race could win, they’re all good horses,” La Montagne said. “It’s our first time moving up in that class, so we have a lot to prove. She went fast a couple times her last three starts, but that’s not the same as going against ones that can stay with you. This will be her true test. 

“She’s got a top driver, hopefully she gets along with him like she did with Jimmy. Speed is one thing, class is another. She’ll have her test of class, we’ll see if she can go with these; for a 4-year-old to go against these seasoned mares, that’s the true test. I’m not disappointed if she doesn’t win, she earned her way up in there.

“She has really surprised me her last three starts. She seems to be a horse for the course. We’ll see. She has overachieved my expectations.”

Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights through Dec. 22. First post time is 7:12 p.m. For entries to the races, click here.

By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY
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