Day At The Track

Trotters wrap up Southland Festival

05:46 PM 02 Aug 2010 NZST
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Merry High uncorked a big closing burst Muscatine and driver Dale Hiteman
Merry High uncorked a big closing burst - to take home top honors
Merry High uncorked a big closing burst to take home top honors in the $44,000 Fox Valley Evita Stake on Sunday night.
Muscatine and driver Dale Hiteman - pulled off a mild upset
Muscatine and driver Dale Hiteman pulled off a mild upset in Sunday's $46,500 Kadabra Stake for three-year-old trotting colts.

After a very big Saturday night of harness racing action it was time for Illinois conceived and foaled trotters to take center stage as the $46,500 Kadabra Stake and the $44,000 Fox Valley Evita Stake shared top billing on Sunday, August 1st bringing this year's Southland Festival of Racing to a close.

The Kadabra Stake provided a thrilling finish as Miranda Lyon & Paula Smith's Muscatine shook loose late and came charging through the lane to collar the heavily favored Rock Hollywood, winning by a length in a career best of 1:54.3 for driver Dale Hiteman.

Using the three-year-old son of Tequila Spur-Star Slinger's gate speed to perfection Hiteman zipped his charge away from post position four and wound up sitting right on the back of the 3-5 favorite Rock Hollywood as they trotted by an opening quarter in 28.4.

"My horse is pretty handy getting away from the gate and that helped tremendously tonight," said the winning pilot. "We got a good jump going out of there and wound up landing in the perfect spot."

The Joel Smith trainee continued to ride along in the pocket as Rock Hollywood led the field through middle splits of 57.3 & 1:26.0. A first over Showmeyourstuff (Marcus Miller) was also looming boldly just outside of the leader as the trotters turned for the money.

In the stretch Rock Hollywood continued to cling to a short lead with Showmeyourstuff right alongside in second. A patient yet confident Hiteman was still biding his time in third while continuing to save ground the entire way with Muscatine.

"I felt we had a pretty good shot to get there at that point because the top two were going at it pretty hard," said the veteran reinsman. "I didn't know how much Rock Hollywood was going to have left in him after battling those tough horses up in Canada and then shipping all the way here. With the mile my horse trotted last week I thought we had a big shot as long as I could shake loose."

Finding room with a sixteenth of a mile to go the Joel Smith trainee uncorked a 28.2 final quarter zipping by the embattled leaders in the closing yards to pick up his fifth win in 14 starts this year. Dutch Commander (Mike Oosting) rallied up the inside to finish second while Rock Hollywoood was forced to settle for third.

The Fox Valley Evita Stake wound up turning into a showcase for young trainer Trenton Watson as his entry of Merry High and St. Louis Holiday wound up taking home the top two spots with Merry High rallying for an impressive three-quarter-length score in a lifetime best of 1:57.0 with Mike Oosting at the controls.

Reserved near the back of the pack as Southern Maebelle (Brian Carpenter) and Fox Valley Sienna (David Avenatti) battled through an opening quarter in 28.4 Oosting wasn't sure this was going to be Merry High's night.

"She kind of gave me a early on because she seemed very sluggish at that point even though they weren't going that fast up front," said a relieved Oosting. "But she's a very versatile filly who rarely throws in a bad race so I was hoping she'd pick things up as the race progressed."

Swinging into a live outer flow Merry High had made her way up to fourth as a hard charging Powerful Bella (Marcus Miller) and Fox Valley Click battled tooth and nail through middle fractions of 58.2 & 1:26.3.

Swinging three wide for the stretch drive Merry High quickly found her best stride and began to reel in the tiring leaders. Picking off one rival after another the daughter of High Falls-Merry Game zipped right by the top pair and then held firm to the wire as her stable mate St. Louis Holiday (Art Gregory Jr.) came flying from eighth to be the bridesmaid. Fox Valley Click held on for third.

With the victory Merry High now boasts a record of four wins and four seconds in 13 starts this season with earnings of $51,545 for owner-trainer Trenton Watson and his mother Brenda.

The win also caught the attention of Oosting who had yet another big weekend of stakes winners at the Crete oval.

"She really didn't pick up the bit until I tipped her off her cover at the head of the stretch," he said. "But once she did she surprised me by how hard she grabbed a hold of me and then she just took off from there. Trenton's done a very nice job of always having her ready to go as well and that showed with both of his fillies tonight."


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