Day At The Track

MacIntosh trio targets MGM Springfield Stakes

02:08 AM 07 Jul 2020 NZST
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Blake Mcintosh, harness racing
Trainer Blake Macintosh
Chris Gooden photo

YONKERS, N.Y. – The Grand Circuit returns to Yonkers Raceway with the eliminations of the MGM Springfield Stakes Monday night (July 6). For many trainers across North America whose stables are heavily invested in 2- and 3-year-olds, the resumption of stakes racing post-coronavirus lockdowns has been a huge relief. Blake MacIntosh, who will debut three 2-year-old colts in the Springfield eliminations, includes himself in that group.

“For two months there, I was worried. I didn’t have any money coming in and we make all of our money over the summer with the stakes races,” MacIntosh said. “I have 70-something in training and I own at least a quarter of 65 of them, so it’s nerve-wracking. You’re worried about racing coming up and we’re lucky enough all the governing bodies let us start racing and to just have money coming in, cash flow coming in. I can sleep again at night.”

Originally scheduled for July 4 with a final July 11, the MGM Springfield Stakes (formerly the Lawrence B. Sheppard Pace) was minimally displaced by measures to contain the coronavirus, with the eliminations and final moving to July 6 and July 13, respectively. There were 16 entries to the stakes for 2-year-old pacers, resulting in two full fields of eliminations racing for $25,000 each.

MacIntosh feels his trio is led by Major Makeover, part of a coupled entry in the first elimination who drew post position three with George Brennan. A $25,000 purchase out of the 2019 Harrisburg Sale for MacIntosh, Hutt Racing Stable, and Touchstone Farm, Major Makeover shares a stallion with MacIntosh’s 2018 Meadowlands Pace winner Courtly Choice and will be the first foal to race for the Cam’s Card Shark mare Mako Wish.

“He’s an Art Major. With ‘Courtly’ being an Art Major, we always look at all the Art Majors,” MacIntosh said. “He was a very good looking individual. He looked very much like ‘Courtly’ I thought. He stood good and he’s just a nice colt.

“To drive, he does everything perfect. He does nothing wrong,” MacIntosh continued. “You can do whatever you want with him. He was really good that way. In the barn, he seems like a nice horse. He was actually right close to my office, so I saw him every day. He didn’t do anything wrong as far as I know and was pretty easy to handle.”

All three of MacIntosh’s entries sport a pair of qualifiers June 12 and 20 at Woodbine Mohawk Park. Although their times may not appear flashy on paper in comparison to the baby racing at venues like the Meadowlands, MacIntosh says that is by design.

“I don’t tell the drivers anything when we qualify them. I don’t want them rolled is the whole thing, I want to make sure their last quarters are their best quarters, sit them in, try to get away third, fourth and let them pace for home is usually what I like to see,” MacIntosh said. “The second qualifier, we may let them go a little more, but up here, it’s not like the Meadowlands where they go fast qualifying. We teach them a little more the first couple times than they do down there. There’s no specific time or anything set for the horse, it’s just teaching them so they can learn.”

Major Makeover finished second in his first outing, clocking a mile in 2:00.2 with a :29.2 final quarter. In his second trial, Major Makeover was more aggressively handled, leaving from the gate and initially sitting the pocket before brushing to the lead upon reaching the backstretch. Major Makeover opened up a 4 1/2-length lead under confident handling by driver James MacDonald on the final turn. 

MacDonald put the whip on Major Makeover’s tail straightening away and cracked the sulky shaft once with a furlong to pace. Major Makeover finished with a :27 final panel to post a 1:56 win.

“He’s probably the best of the three,” MacIntosh opined. “He qualified really well last week, he was under wraps. He’s been very consistent all winter and we’ve been very happy with him. Just a nice little guy.”

Ole Joe comprises the other half of the entry in the first elimination. A son of Roll With Joe out of the unraced Western Hanover mare Bandolera Hanover, MacIntosh and partners Hutt Racing Stable and Steve Heimbecker paid $14,000 for the colt at the 2019 Goshen Yearling Sale.

“Ole Joe was a pretty cheap yearling. We had some luck with Roll With Joe in the past with Groovy Joe and a couple others,” MacIntosh said. “He’s a nice-looking little guy, wasn’t an overly striking horse, but I’ve had some luck with them in the past. He’s a nice little horse.”

Ole Joe finished third in both of his qualifiers and paced a final quarter of :28.3 each time. In his first outing, he clocked in in 2:00.1 and he paced a mile in 1:57.2 in his latest baby race. Although not charted as a break, Ole Joe was a bit steppy around the first turn in his latest outing. 

“Last time qualifying, he wasn’t as good as he should have been I felt because training down he’s been a lot better than what he showed qualifying,” MacIntosh said. “I think he got on the big track and got lost. I think he’ll be more of a half-mile track specialist.”

Jim Marohn, Jr. will drive Ole Joe from post four. The coupled entry of Major Makeover and Ole Joe is 9-5 on the morning line. The first elimination also includes American Courage, one of only two horses in either elimination to make a pari-mutuel start. The Fiddler’s Creek Stable homebred son of American Ideal won his debut by 6 lengths in 1:54.1 in a $10,400 overnight at Pocono Downs June 30. Matt Kakaley will drive the Travis Alexander trainee.

Owned by the same connections as Ole Joe, MacIntosh’s Victory Move will start as part of an entry with Erv Miller’s Carrythetorchman in the second Springfield Stakes elimination. By American Ideal, Victory Move is out of the Powerful Toy mare Ireneonthemove, a multiple Delaware-sired stakes winner of the mid-2000s and later a consistent open-type who earned $846,091. She has produced three winners to date, including 10-time winner and $155,848 earner Carly Girl. MacIntosh and partners paid $65,000 for Victory Move at the 2019 Lexington Selected Yearling Sale.

Victory Move finished second in his first qualifier, clocked in 1:59.2 with a :28.3 last quarter. He was fourth in his second trial timed in 1:58.1 with a :27.3 final panel despite being charted with broken equipment. 

“Training down, he was in the top set,” MacIntosh said. “His two qualifiers were as good as we expected out of him.  You have to work him a little more. I think being in New York will be a lot better for him than being up here whereas you can get after them a little more, chase them a little more because he’s a little lazy. Other than that, he’s got a great gait to him and does everything pretty good.

“In the qualifiers up here, I wasn’t disappointed, but there was one time I thought he was going to blow by them and he sort of waited on them,” MacIntosh continued. “I know what talent he’s got and I think he’ll be fine. I think Matt (Kakaley) will get the best out of him this week.”

With travel restrictions in place at the U.S.-Canada border, the trio of Major Makeover, Ole Joe, and Victory Move shipped to MacIntosh’s New York stable in Middletown, which is headed by Jessica Dowse. 

“We stayed on track with the 2-year-olds. The only difference right now is I’m not going down to the barn down there. I train them all up here and then send them down. Usually, I’d be down every week splitting my time 50-50. This year, I won’t be down until they lift the border restrictions because when I come back I have to quarantine 14 days,” MacIntosh explained.

“Jessica Dowse will be running the stable down there full time. She sends me videos and we talk every day; she’s a great communicator and we’re able to talk throughout. That’s the only difference right now, but we’ve got them hung up the way we want them and our training track is a tight track, so when I send them down, they don’t have to change much.”

With 2-year-old racing commencing across North America, MacIntosh already has four freshman winners this season, including two in Woodbine Mohawk Park overnights and two in the Stallion Series at Harrah’s Philadelphia. The trainer hopes his luck will continue in the Springfield Stakes. 

“It’s a little nerve-wracking. You work so hard all winter, you hope everything goes well. You hope you have a couple that can make the money and do well for you,” MacIntosh said. “We’re fortunate enough to have had some luck right out of the gate with the 2-year-olds. We just hope everything keeps going good. We have a big chunk of money out there that we have to make back. If we can win in the first couple and do well and keep going forward and get the bills paid, we’ll be happy.”

The amended Yonkers Raceway calendar will see live harness racing conducted Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday nights until July 17. Beginning the week of July 20, the schedule will add Saturday nights as the track returns to its normal five night per week schedule through Dec. 19. First post time is 7:05 p.m. The complete revised racing calendar is available online here.

By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

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