Day At The Track

Half-sisters doing their dam proud

10:36 AM 19 Feb 2016 NZDT
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Bob Johnson
Bob Johnson

It was a good weekend for half-sisters Avila Beach and Moonstone Beach, as the former crushed a conditioned crew in impressive fashion while Moonstone Beach accounted for the first California Sire Stakes of the season for the harness racing 3-year-old pacing fillies.

Both are Wayne and Rod Knittel-owned and bred offspring of the Beach Towel mare Bj's Beach Fire who are trained by Bob Johnson and handled by main man Mooney Svendsen.

Avila Beach was involved in one of the closest finishes we're likely to see all meet in the first Sire Stakes for the 4-year-old pacing distaffers on February 5, missing by a nose while finishing third behind dead-heaters Smash and Speak English that evening. She came back with a dominating overnight score and the barn is eagerly awaiting the next stakes dance for a little revenge.

"She had to take all the worst of it in that last stakes, coming first over against a couple of real nice ones, and she just kept on trying in what turned out to be a great race," Johnson said. "I thought her win the other night was super, because she came first up and then just drew off at the end."

The 3-year-old Moonstone Beach looks to be following in her half-sister's footsteps, winning two of her three starts including a solid score in the first stakes dance for her division last weekend.

"She's still green, but she's an awfully nice filly and I really like the way she's raced to this point. Her first couple of starts set her up perfectly for the first stakes and she came through."

As far as comparing the two, Johnson noted that while Avila Beach is on the skinny and somewhat frail side, Moonstone Beach is completely different and a big, muscular filly.

Both have the same great attitude, he added, which includes the will to get to the wire first.

Marvin Shapiro, Open Pace headline marquee

The $7,700 Marvin Shapiro Pace headed by Hi Ho Houdini and a $6,000 Open Pace featuring I'm An Athlete are the main events on Saturday night's Cal Expo program. First post for the 12-race card is 6:15 p.m.

Marvin Shapiro was the son of L.K. Shapiro, who owned the Hall of Fame thoroughbred and California-bred champion Native Diver. He was the president of Western Harness Racing Inc. in the 1960s and spearheaded legislation that sanctioned night racing in California. He died in 2003 at the age of 83.

Hi Ho Houdini should be tough in the Shapiro after picking up his first Sire Stakes trophy two weeks ago. The son of Hi Ho Silverheel's is owned by Lujuanna Lopez with Gordie Graham the conditioner and Luke Plano once again handling the lines.

Meanwhile, the Open Pace will find I'm An Athlete eying his fourth straight trip to the winner's circle while doing his work from the assigned No. 10 post position. A 6-year-old son of Art Major out of the Cam's Card Shark mare Femal Champs, he is owned by Ronald Rettig-Zucchi and is reined and trained by James Kennedy.

The hard-hitting performer kicked off his hat trick in the January 23 Open over a "good" track, as he did the track-and-attack to perfection for Kennedy and was driven out to a two-length score that evening.

Wheeled back a week later at the head of the pacing class, he once again played the role of stalker and turned in a sparkling :26 1/5 final quarter to seal the deal and prevail by a length and a half as the 3-2 favorite.

I'm An Athlete made his most recent outing two weeks ago in the Open and once again proved a punctual favorite. He sat next-to-last in that affair while some very snappy fractions were being rattled off, then swooped in the stretch and won going away by a length and a quarter while lowering his career standard to 1:51 2/5 in the process.

By Mark Ratzky

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