Day At The Track

King to extend reign over Matchmaker Series

05:06 AM 15 Mar 2019 NZDT
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Jim King Jr., harness racing
(Left to right) Jim King Jr. Tim Tetrick and JoAnn Looney-King

YONKERS, N.Y. – When harness racing trainer Jim King, Jr. thinks about returning to the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series at Yonkers Raceway, the trainer admits he’s, “going in with a better chance than most.” King will start a trio of mares in the series first leg Friday night (March 15), and the onslaught is led by Shartin, who will try to become the first mare to repeat in the Matchmaker Series.

Shartin’s victory in the $373,000 Blue Chip Matchmaker Series Final last April was the first of nine major Grand Circuit wins last year which propelled her to become the first mare to win over $1 million in a single season and earned her the Dan Patch Award for Older Pacing Mare. The experience is still fresh on the minds of King and his wife, Joann. 

“Between my wife and I we’ve got well over one hundred years in this business and to be in a position here where we get this kind of stuff, it’s still very exciting to us,” King said.

“This time last year (Shartin) was a real handful,” King remembered. “By now, we’ve kind of got a handle on her, but she started off real big because she won races in January for 11 months straight. That’s pretty good in that class to be doing that. She’s exceeded all our expectations time after time. As far as I’m concerned, she never got beat without a really good reason, not necessarily an excuse, but there was always an answer for why it didn’t work out and a couple were that she just plain old made a break. It’s probably a once in a lifetime go.”

While the answers were there each time Shartin tasted defeat, she rarely needed them. Shartin went 19-for-24 last year and took a mark of 1:48.2 in Lexington. She wrapped up her season with a win in the $175,000 TVG Mares Series Final November 24 at the Meadowlands.

Shartin made her first qualifying start this year February 13 at Dover Downs, winning in 1:56. She returned eight days later to qualify again in 1:52.

“I don’t see where she’s any worse for the wear,” King said. “She qualified back really good. Easy enough the first time, just a good trainer. Then we went back and qualified her like you would expect for a horse like her do to, so that was good.”

While Shartin came into the series last year with five races under her belt, Friday night’s start as the 7-5 morning line favorite in the ninth race, the $40,000 fifth and final division of the Matchmaker first leg, will be her seasonal debut. King couldn’t get a race into Shartin without shipping her north, so he opted to stay home in Delaware and wait. King thinks going into the series with a fresh horse is an advantage.

“We really couldn’t get her started without sending her to New York and that’s a pretty good trip. I’d be satisfied if we get six starts up there, or even five,” he said. “She’s ready. She always gets back ready when I had time in between. I didn’t go into a race three weeks out that I felt, ‘man I wish I had a race in her.’ She’s always been OK, but not off this long a break, but I feel pretty good about it.

“I do think you’re better off going in fresh because it’s such a long, grueling series,” King continued. “We leave home nine hours before a race. That’s a big deal to do that week after week after week. She’s always held up to that kind of stuff.

(Bettor Joy) I feel is really competitive also, I just don’t know if she’s that stout, I don’t know if she can stand it week after week, but we’re here to find out. Where they come from, they don’t race regularly like that, but they do ship around.”

Like Shartin, Bettor Joy is a New Zealand-bred mare imported to the United States by owner and managing partner Rich Poillucci. A new face in the series this year, Bettor Joy was a two-time Group 2 winner back home and won another two listed stakes. 

“Rich Poillucci, he does all the legwork, he does the homework, he finds these horses, he watches the horses that they race with,” King said. “We’ve got some pretty good connections over there now to go over them and give us their opinions on them. It’s a big team effort and we’ve got a pretty good team.” 

Bettor Joy, a 5-year-old mare by Bettor’s Delight out of the Road Machine mare Joyfulbelle, completed her final start in New Zealand November 16 and made her first stateside qualifying appearance January 23 at Dover Downs. She finished fourth in her first pari-mutuel start January 30, but returned a winner from post seven in the $27,500 Filly and Mare Open February 27.

“She was good enough we made all the payments on her. She’s quick, she’s handy,” King said. “She did what we expected. Dexter Dunn raced her (in New Zealand) and he said that she was all that, she was a really good horse. Her first start was just OK. They went pretty good and we just weren’t up to that kind of mile. Then we got her back in and she was ready to go.”

Although they are both New Zealand-bred and are both talented, Shartin and Bettor Joy have distinct personalities on the racetrack.

“Entirely different horse than Shartin; she’s just a bull and (Bettor Joy), she’s a lady. She’s a good girl,” King said. “She’s very drivable. You can leave with her, you can take her off, she can step around horses. Shartin, when you get her cranked up she’s ready to roll. You don’t want to be changing course in the middle of a straight, that’s for sure. Bettor Joy’s a lot more professional in that aspect. She lets the driver be a lot more part of the game there.”

Bettor Joy will make her Yonkers debut in the sixth race, the $40,000 second division of the Matchmaker first leg, as a 9-5 morning line choice. Her start will come one race after Newborn Sassy kicks off King’s chances in the series at 9-2 in the first division.

Perhaps overshadowed by her New Zealand-bred counterparts, Newborn Sassy placed in two preliminary legs of the Matchmaker Series last year before winning a $40,000 consolation shortly before Shartin captured the final. The 6-year-old Western Ideal daughter went 9-for-36 last year and made $289,290, boosting her career tally to $1,036,455.

Newborn Sassy

“She’s a good girl. She can’t do what the other two can do, but she’s a half-mile track specialist,” King said. “Last year we came up with just one (win in the series), the other starts went wrong. They had just taken out the passing lane, we got locked in a couple times in the two hole and just didn’t work out for her, but still ended up OK. She came back real good, she can do her job good enough.”

Tim Tetrick will drive all of King’s starters in the series Friday night. The driver purchased an ownership interest in all three mares, a move that gave King confidence.

“Timmy thought enough of them that he decided he’d like to own part of them. I think that’s saying something because that puts him in a position where he doesn’t have any choice, he has to go with them,” King joked.

“All those girls, I think they’ll all go out and do their job even if they don’t all come home a winner. If they do their job and we come back and do it again next week, I’m really going to be happy with them,” King said. “We’ve got a good team and that’s what it takes.”

Friday night’s card features five divisions of the Matchmaker Series First Leg while the George Morton Levy Series kicks off with six splits Saturday, March 16. 

Live harness racing is featured at Yonkers Raceway every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night.

First post time is 6:50 p.m. For entries to the races, click here.

By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY
 

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