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WASHINGTON, PA, March 20, 2017 -- Dapper Dude stalked Mykindachip from the pocket, then blew by him in the lane to capture Monday's $20,000 Preferred Handicap Pace at The Meadows. Dapper Dude chased Mykindachip through a 1:23 three-quarters before Aaron Merriman vacated the pocket and asked the millionaire for pace. The 8-year-old son of The Panderosa-Dress To Suggest responded by wearing down Mykindachip and downing him by 1-1/4 lengths in 1:50.4. Heavenly Knox shot the Lightning Lane for show. Bill Bercury trains Dapper Dude, who boosted his lifetime bankroll to $1,060,520, for Renee Bercury. In Monday's companion feature, the $20,000 Filly & Mare Preferred Handicap Pace, Rockin Rum Springa cut out a brutal 25.3 opening panel but had enough to hold on and triumph by 1/2 length in 1:52.1 for Eric Goodell, trainer Ron Burke and owners Burke Racing Stable and Weaver Bruscemi LLC. Dime A Dance and Southwind Roulette, a Doug Snyder-trained entry, finished second and third, respectively. A 4-year-old daughter of Rockin Image-Deferred Comp, Rockin Rum Springa now boasts $185,611 in career earnings. Dave Palone piloted four winners on the 13-race card while Burke fashioned a triple. by Evan Pattak, for the Meadows  

WASHINGTON, PA, March 14, 2017 -- DD's Comet moved three wide into the final turn and left the field 5 lengths in his wake in capturing his second straight victory in Tuesday's Ken Weaver Memorial Trot at The Meadows. Claire And Kenny took the other $12,500 second-leg split in the series for harness racing 3- and 4-year-old colts, stallions and geldings. The 3-5 favorite, DD's Comet briefly followed the first-over cover of Bourdain before Aaron Merriman sent him on his decisive move. The 3-year-old son of Crazed-Deedee's Destiny prevailed in 2:00.1, with a fine 28.4 closing panel on a "good" surface. Bourdain saved place while Photo Bomber earned show. Chris Beaver trains DD's Comet and owns with Synerco Ventures. In the $20,000 Filly & Mare Winners Over $10,000 Life/Preferred Handicap Trot, Barn Girl collected a front-end victory for Merriman, trainer Bill Bercury and owner Renee Bercury in 1:58. Bessie, who saw her three-race winning streak snapped, rallied from last to be second, a neck back, with the first-over Homepage third. The 5-year-old daughter of Cash Hall-Turquoise Sweetie now boasts a lifetime bankroll of $414,696. Dan Rawlings piloted three winners, including a pair for trainer Dirk Simpson, on the 13-race card while Dave Palone also enjoyed a three-bagger, among them two wins for trainer Ron Burke. The Meadows Racetrack & Casino

WASHINGTON, PA, March 6, 2017 --Shuffled to sixth along the pylons with no path out, Hard Headed Women barreled through the Lightning Lane and scored the 8-1 upset in Monday's opening leg of the Donna Dunn Memorial Pace at The Meadows. Terrortina took the other $12,500 split in the series for harness racing 3 and 4-year-old fillies and mares. The event honors the memory of the late Donna Dunn, longtime Standardbred owner and wife of the late Walter "Boots" Dunn, prominent trainer, driver, breeder and United States Trotting Association director. Hard Headed Women got away fourth from post 9 for Aaron Merriman but was buried inside down the backside. Merriman sent her around one horse into the final turn before pointing her to the Lightning Lane. She prevailed in a career-best 1:55.4, 1-1/2 lengths better than Bella Ragaza, with Jade Bangles third. Bill Rhoades trains the 4-year-old daughter of Riverboat King-Dragon's Georgette for Leah Rhodes. In the $20,000 Filly & Mare Preferred Handicap Pace, Spreester, a 13-time winner in 2016 who had been shut out in her first eight starts this year, survived a miserable trip to score for Merriman, trainer Bill Bercury and owner Renee Bercury. Early leader Lakeisha was second, 1/2 length back, with a rallying Medusa third. The 6-year-old daughter of American Ideal-Rodeo Spree extended her career bankroll to $594,656. It was one of three wins for Merriman on the 12-race card. The Meadows Racetrack & Casino

Barn Girl, Dapper Dude, Tamarind and two other harness racing horses live on a farm in Slippery Rock. When they see the horse trailer, they get very excited because they know they are going to The Meadows racetrack. “They really, truly, love to race,” said William Bercury, who trains the horses that are owned by his wife, Renee Bercury. I “met” Barn Girl in January when she calmly stepped off the track after trotting faster than seven other mares and fillies to win the featured race of the day. I thought she looked small, as horses go, and dainty. The 5-year-old bay mare is 15.1 hands high and 815 pounds, Bercury told me. Proving that in her case, neither size nor sex matters. Barn Girl “beat the boys” on Feb. 15, Bercury said in a telephone interview. The only mare in the Preferred Handicap Trot, Barn Girl beat stallions and geldings, which is easier said than done because they generally are 100 pounds heavier and 4 inches taller than she is. Barn Girl is almost diminutive compared to the famous thoroughbred Secretariat. The Triple Crown winner nicknamed “Big Red” was 16.2 hands high and 1,155 pounds. Growing up without a horse of my own, I was entranced by the Walter Farley horse books, especially “The Black Stallion” and “The Black Stallion’s Sulky Colt.” Hanging out in The Meadows paddock on Jan. 18 with people who live the kind of lives that Farley wrote about, I got to ask and Bercury and their driver, Aaron Merriman, a series of dumb questions that they patiently answered. Do you talk to the horses when you are racing? Do they listen to you? How smart are horses? Do you have a favorite horse? Are the horses happy if they win? How do you communicate with them and control them when you are riding in a sulky behind them rather than sitting astride their backs? Merriman, the winningest harness racing driver in the country in 2015 and 2016, says he talks to horses during races, and they listen. “When they flick their ears back, they’re listening. But when their ears go flat on their head, they’re mad. You don’t want to see that,” he said. Bercury is always watching Barn Girl’s ears because they are often edging toward flat. “She’s a mare, and she is a very wary mare,” he said. Not to be sexist, but horse people generally agree that mares are moodier and harder to handle than geldings, which are neutered males. “Around mares you need to be attentive and do things their way,” Bercury said. “If you want a nice, easygoing horse, go with a gelding.” Since the couple bought Barn Girl in October, “she has adapted well to her surroundings, and we have adapted well to her ways,” Bercury said. “Mike, our assistant, treats her like a pet. We often enter the barn and find him singing or talking to her in the mellow tones of true love.” Since she moved into the Bercury stables, Barn Girl has had 11 starts and seven first-place wins, two seconds and two third-place finishes. Her lifetime record for 61 races is 30 wins, 10 seconds and 12 thirds. Her lifetime earnings are $394,196. Bercury said they bought Barn Girl from Ron Burke, “the top trainer in the country and perhaps the world. He sold us this horse because he had several mares in the same category … Ron Burke and his staff have been Barn Girl’s biggest fans since we bought her and have cheered us on as friends and first-class competitors.” Many animal lovers don’t think horses are as smart as dogs. Some people don’t think they’re smart at all. “Oh, they’re smarter than you’d think,” said Merriman, 38, who has been driving since 1999. Horses are especially smart about “picking up on people who fear or dislike them. They respond well if you’re relaxed and confident.” “Absolutely I have favorite horses,” he said. “They’re not necessarily the fastest horses. They’re the ones that try the hardest.” Merriman drives all of the Bercury horses, including Dapper Dude, an 8-year-old stallion with more than $1 million in lifetime earnings. He also drives horses for many other trainers and diplomatically did not provide the names of his favorite or least-favorite horses. “Some horses are happy when they pass a horse on the track,” Merriman said. “Some seem to enjoy being out in front.” Bercury, who with his wife has owned horses since 1978, is convinced “they want to win. I think they know the object is to beat the other horses. If they have confidence in the driver, they go.” “Aaron is not just a driver. He’s a horseman,” Bercury said. “He knows horses and he likes them, and that makes a difference. I have never seen him put a whip to a horse.” The driver uses the reins to guide the horse during the race. There are horses who would prefer to pick their own race route, Bercury said with a chuckle, but “their way is usually not the smart way.” So how do drivers and trainers communicate with harness racing horses? When you ride astride a horse, your legs are used to control and send signals and cues to the horse. You can put your hands on their necks to calm or encourage them. You can learn forward to talk to them. In a sulky or job cart, driver only have their hands. “When I drive or train, I really only have two fingers on the reins,” Bercury said. So some of the communication between drivers and race horses is akin to some form of magic that can neither be explained nor taught. The stalls of each of the Bercury horses open up into their own individual pastures. The horses are able to visit each other over the the fences. Tamarind, 9, is currently in the final weeks of what Bercury calls his “vacation.” The stallion wasn’t sick or lame when Bercury gave him six weeks off from training and racing. A vacation is just something Bercury believes a horse needs, now and then. “These horses give it their all. They work very hard, and they need time to be horses. They roll in the snow or do whatever they want to do. It’s their choice.” “Some people say they can’t afford vacations. I say I can’t afford not to.” By Linda Wilson Fuoco Reprinted with permission of The Sun-Gazette

WASHINGTON, PA, Feb. 15, 2017 -- The only harness racing mare in the field, Barn Girl stalked TSM Photo Bugger from the pocket, then blew by in the lane to capture Wednesday's $18,000 Preferred Handicap Trot at The Meadows. Aaron Merriman kept Barn Girl under wraps until the top of the stretch, when she brushed past the tiring leader and scored in 1:54.3. Valley Of Sin followed cover well for second, a neck back, while Trustworthy Kid, the 1-2 favorite, rallied for show. Bill Bercury trains Barn Girl, a 5-year-old daughter of Cash Hall-Turquoise Sweetie who extended her career bankroll to $394,196, for Renee Bercury. It was one of three wins for Merriman on the 13-race card.   The Meadows Racetrack & Casino

WASHINGTON, PA, Jan. 18, 2017 -- Trailing by 7-1/2 lengths at the half, Barn Girl unleashed a sustained bid for Aaron Merriman that carried her to an impressive harness racing victory -- her third straight and sixth in her last seven starts -- in Wednesday's $20,000 Filly & Mare Preferred Handicap Trot at The Meadows. A determined Whata Donato, who was parked to the three-eighths before getting the lead, appeared to have the field put away heading into the stretch. But Barn Girl rocketed by her, drawing off to defeat her by 2-1/2 lengths in 1:56.4 over a "good" surface. Early leader Unefoisdansmavie earned show. Bill Bercury trains Barn Girl, a 5-year-old daughter of Cash Hall-Turquoise Sweetie who triumphed for the 29th time in 58 career outings (50 percent) and extended her lifetime bankroll to $377,796, for Renee Bercury. Wilbur Yoder and trainer Norm Parker teamed for a pair of wins on the 13-race card while Dave Palone, Dan Rawlings and Merriman also enjoyed two-baggers. The Meadows Racetrack & Casino

Aaron Merriman led all harness racing drivers in wins for the second consecutive year, setting career highs for victories and purses in the process, but his favorite sports-related moment of 2016 came away from the track. It came when Merriman's beloved Cleveland Cavaliers won their first NBA title and brought the city of Cleveland its first championship in 52 years. "It's not even a contest," said the 38-year-old Merriman, a northern Ohio native and lifelong Cleveland sports fan. "It was phenomenal, for the city and our state and the franchise. Cleveland is actually on a big resurgence; it's getting to be a place to go and to travel to. "Everybody in my family likes sports," he continued. "This is something I grew up with. It's just like racing to me. Sports are something to bring people together. That's one of the main reasons I think I like it. There's some rivalry involved, and there are friendly arguments and friendly competition. It's just enjoyable to be a part of it." Merriman is a Browns season-ticket holder and gets ticket packages for the Cavaliers. He also is a big fan of the Indians and manager Terry Francona (who spent his early childhood in Cleveland while his father Tito played for the Indians) and was proud of the team's run to the World Series, even though it ended with a seven-game loss to the Chicago Cubs. "One thing about me, I bleed my city," Merriman said. "I love the Browns, as bad as we are, it doesn't even bother me too much. I don't give up on my teams. That's for sure." He doesn't give up on much. In 2016 Merriman led all drivers in starts for the third consecutive year - he was the only driver to surpass 4,000 in any of those seasons - and he joined Tony Morgan as the only other driver in history to win at least 800 races in three consecutive years. Merriman won a career-best 891 races last year, on the heels of posting 874 victories in 2015 and 841 in 2014. Horses driven by Merriman earned $7.67 million in purses, topping his previous high of $7.42 million set in 2015. Not that Merriman would know, unless told. "I know it's hard to believe, and no one wants to believe it, but I don't look," Merriman said. "If you start thinking you have to be at (a certain number) you start psyching yourself out for no reason. There becomes this imaginary pressure and sometimes it can get to you. I don't care who you are, you begin to press. "I try to take it, not even day by day, but card by card. Even race by race, if possible, but that's sometimes tough when you have a bad day. I just try to maximize my performance by race card." Merriman drives regularly at Northfield Park, near Cleveland, and at The Meadows, near Pittsburgh. Three times a week, he drives at both tracks --- The Meadows in the afternoon and Northfield in the evening. "Physically it's tough," Merriman said. "But mentally, to me, it's a lot easier to turn the page when I don't have to wait three days for another race. If I have a couple days off, I'm happy, but a lot of times I've got 20 horses to drive. I've got the opportunity to put a bad day behind me and fix it immediately." On Jan. 21, Merriman will be honored by the Ohio chapter of the U.S. Harness Writers Association with the Winner's Circle Award, given for outstanding accomplishments in the previous year. In February, Merriman will be honored in Las Vegas by the national USHWA organization for leading all drivers in North America in wins. While Merriman can easily identify his favorite sports moments away from the racetrack, he has difficulty picking favorite accomplishments resulting from his work. Each day at the track produces its own moments. "Just being able to stay healthy and race all year, to me, is an accomplishment," said Merriman, who missed several months of action in 2010 after an accident in which he broke both wrists and an elbow. "To stay at a high level and stay as fresh as possible throughout the year. "I don't pride myself on what I've won. I'd rather just be known as a guy that works hard, stays focused, and is determined to do the best I can. I have more pride in showing up and giving maximum effort every day." Merriman got 2017 off to a fast start, winning eight races at Northfield Park on New Year's Day. He leads North America in wins with 41. "New Year's Day, a few guys didn't show up and I had the opportunity to drive some good horses," said Merriman, who has won 8,771 races in his career, which is good for 21st place among all drivers in history. "When you have the opportunity to drive nice horses in good spots, you're going to win races. It's opportunity, opportunity, opportunity." And while Merriman focuses his energy on racing at The Meadows and Northfield, he also has picked up Grand Circuit stakes drives at tracks around the country. He would like to possibly expand his Grand Circuit schedule this year, but it's not a priority. "We'll see what opportunities come along," Merriman said. "Everybody wants to follow a great horse. But I've driven a lot of good horses. I've never had 'The One,' but I'm blessed to drive any horse in any race that has desire to do good. Hopefully I do, but if I don't, I'll take advantage of every other opportunity I get. "It's not necessary for me to be at any certain place at any certain time --- except the winner's circle, ideally." Ken Weingartner

Lebanon, OH. - Miami Valley Raceway launches its fourth season on Friday night (Jan. 6) with the highest projected purses in its brief history, plus an abundance of horse supply, a newly reconditioned racetrack surface and a number of new promotions on its "Winter Racing Festival" calendar. Following a pair of full-field 14-race programs on Friday and Saturday (Jan. 7) nights, Miami Valley will introduce the first-ever $25,000 North American Drivers Challenge on a trio of consecutive matinees from Sunday (Jan. 8) through Tuesday (Jan. 10). Thirty of the continent's winningest drivers will compete in a dozen races on the first two programs with the top ten point-getters advancing to the championship round on the third day. Included in the field are two-time defending national dash champion Aaron Merriman and Grand Circuit stalwart Brett Miller, who is also the hottest current driver at The Meadowlands. They will be joined by a host of track dash champions from throughout the United States and five Canadian reinsmen, including Bob McClure and Alfie Carroll, the two winningest north-of-the-border drivers in 2016. The opening night feature on Friday is a $22,000 Fillies and Mares Open Pace featuring a trio of $100,000-plus 2016 winners. All three took 1:50.3 seasonal speed badges while racking up double digit win totals. Safe From Terror notched 13 victories including four of the last six distaff Opens at Pompano Park. Rock The Look won two of the final four Opens at Dayton Raceway on her way to a ten win campaign. American Girl also copped ten triumphs, including several at both Hoosier Park and Dayton. The nine horse field has accumulated 165 lifetime wins and over $2.5 million in earnings. The male Open pacers will take center stage on Saturday in a slugfest that also features three $100,000 winners last season. Mykindachip will be the likely favorite after capturing the final feature at Dayton a week ago. My Buddy Ninkster, who won the two previous Saturday night features in the area will surely provide a stern test, as will E R Rudy, who finished second in his last open attempt, beaten a half-length and clocked in 1:51. The featured field has totaled 133 winner's circle visits and earned just shy of $1.7 million to date. The random draw for drivers assignments for the first two days of the North American Drivers Challenge was completed by the judges on Wednesday afternoon. Using a formula that assigns equal value to both a five-hole and a ten-hole (second tier) start, Jim Pantaleano got the best of the post positions draw with an average post position starting position of 3.25. Others with fortuitous starting slots will be Bob McClure (3.62), Josh Sutton (3.75), and Aaron Merriman, Simon Allard and Marcus Miller (all with 4.0). On the other end of the spectrum, John Cummings Jr. didn't fare as well at the draw, with the highest average starting post position of 6.62 over the course of his eight preliminary drives. The quartet of Brett Miller, Randy Tharps, Alfie Carroll and Nick Roland also will have a steeper hill to climb, with an average starting slot of 6.12. Eight late closing events dubbed the "Claim To Fame Series" will be featured during the final three weeks of January at Miami Valley. Multiple divisions of each is expected for $8000, $12,500 and $20,000 claiming pacers divided by gender. A new $30,000 claiming series for horses and geldings should provide some extremely spirited competition as well. Trotters will be the focus of series for $8000 claimers. Track Superintendent Jimmy Shelton and team have completely reconditioned the racing surface in recent weeks ready to welcome some swift miles as well as hold up to whatever winter weather is thrown its way over the next couple months. Post time for the Friday and Saturday cards is 6:05 p.m. Post time for the three matinee programs that contain the North American Drivers Challenge is 2:05 p.m. From the Miami Valley Media Department

WASHINGTON, PA, Jan. 4, 2017 -- Barn Girl continued to dominate The Meadows' distaff trotting elite, defeating them for the fifth time in her last six starts by capturing Wednesday's $20,000 Filly & Mare Preferred Handicap Trot. Aaron Merriman hustled Barn Girl from post 8 to the lead, where she faced a menacing backside challenge from Wendy's Girl. But the 5-year-old daughter of Cash Hall-Turquoise Sweetie refused to yield, reasserting in the lane and scoring in 1:56.3. Unefoisdansmavie rallied from last for second, 1-1/4 lengths lengths back, while Wendy's Girl saved show. Bill Bercury trains Barn Girl, who pushed her career bankroll to $367,796, for Renee Bercury. Dave Palone continued his strong start to the 2017 season, piloting five winners that pushed his total to 15 for the year's first three programs. Dan Rawlings enjoyed a triple on the 13-race card. by Evan Pattak, for the Meadows

Aaron Merriman is harness racing's dash winning driver for both 2015 and 2016. Flipping the calendar to 2017 has not changed his winning ways. In fact, Merriman won eight races on Sunday (January 1) at Northfield Park. Aaron's triumphs were with King Muscles ($2.40) in race 1, Jude Hall ($2.60) in race three, Ewald Hanover ($3.60) in race five, Beauty Chip ($2.20) in race six, Stevie Diamonds ($3.20) in race eight, Doc Betts' Buckeye ($2.40) in race 10, SR Radar ($3.00) in race 12 and Avanza ($2.60) in race 14. Merriman won his first race in 1998, a $2,200 condition event in 1:58.3, at the former Raceway Park in Toledo, Ohio aboard Albert's Filly. Since breaking his maiden, Aaron has scored 8,737 more times with purse earnings approaching $53 million. Ayers Ratliff

WASHINGTON, PA, Dec. 27, 2016 -- Barn Girl quarter-poled to the lead, then held off the menacing challenge of Princess Pablano to capture Tuesday's $18,000 harness racing filly & mare Preferred Trot at The Meadows. Barn Girl was on a seemingly easy lead at the three-quarters when she was confronted by the first-over Princess Pablano, who drew even into the final turn. Barn Girl dug deep for Aaron Merriman and prevailed in 1:56.2, a neck better than the game Princess Pablano. Unefoisdansmavie shot the Lightning Lane for show. Bill Bercury trains Barn Girl, a 4-year-old daughter of Cash Hall-Turquoise Sweetie who won for the fourth time in her last five starts and extended her lifetime bankroll to $357,796, for Renee Bercury. Dave Palone piloted three winners on the 14-race card, including a pair for trainer Ron Burke. Because Wednesday's program at The Meadows closes the current meeting and the 2016 live racing schedule -- no carryovers are permitted. Therefore, the Pick 4 (races 4-7 with a $5,000 total-pool guarantee), Pick 5 (races 9-13 with a $2,483.89 carryover from Tuesday) and the final superfecta on the card are all "must pay." In addition, the day's first superfecta features a $3,886.26 carryover, as Tuesday's final superfecta was uncovered.   The Meadows Racetrack & Casino

WASHINGTON, PA, Dec. 26, 2016 -- Tipitina stalked Shady Caroline from the pocket, then rolled by her in the lane to capture Monday's $13,500 harness racing filly & mare Not Listed Preferred Pace at The Meadows. Shady Caroline cut honest fractions of 27.1/56.2/1:24.4 over a "good" surface but couldn't shake Tipitina, who pulled the pocket out of the final turn for Aaron Merriman. The 6-year-old daughter of Rocknroll Hanover-Hi Ho Molly scored in 1:52.4, 2 lengths better than Shady Caroline. Classic Carpet rallied for show. Mark Goldberg trains Tipitina, who won her second straight and extended her career bankroll to $351,549, for Rags To Riches Of PA. Merriman collected four wins on the 14-race card while Dan Rawlings and Goldberg each enjoyed a triple.   The Meadows Racetrack & Casino

AARON MERRIMAN TAKES TOP DRIVING HONORS

WASHINGTON, PA, Dec. 6, 2016 -- After a challenging first quarter, Barn Girl glided effortlessly through the slop en route to her third straight harness racing victory in Tuesday's $20,000 Filly & Mare Preferred Handicap Trot at The Meadows. Leaving from post 8, the 1-2 favorite won a three-ply battle for the lead for Aaron Merriman. She easily parried the first-over thrust of Manhattan Miss and scored in 1:57.1. Bessie split horses to finish second, 1-1/2 lengths back, while Unefoisdansmavie rallied for show. Bill Bercury trains Barn Girl, a 4-year-old daughter of Cash Hall-Turquoise Sweetie who now has won 26 of 54 lifetime starts (48.1 percent) and earned $344,296, for Renee Bercury. It was one of four wins for Merriman on the 13-race card. The Meadows Racetrack & Casino

Spreester won for the 13th time this year Monday at The Meadows when she turned back two determined harness racing challengers and captured the $20,000 Filly & Mare Not Listed Preferred/Preferred Handicap Pace. Spreester retook the lead at the quarter pole for Aaron Merriman, then had to withstand the first-over bid of Shady Caroline. That accomplished, the 5-year-old daughter of American Ideal-Rodeo Spree blunted the charge of Medusa and prevailed in 1:53.2 over a "good" surface. Dime A Dance finished second, 1/2 length back, while Classic Carpet rallied for show. Bill Bercury trains Spreester, who now boasts $553,176 in career earnings, for Renee Bercury. Tony Hall collected three wins on the 14-race card. The Meadows Racetrack & Casino

WASHINGTON, PA, Dec. 3, 2016 -- Kingofthejungle moved smartly first over for Aaron Merriman and went on to capture Saturday's $20,000 Preferred Pace at The Meadows. It was one of five wins on the harness racing card for Merriman, including a pair for trainer Mike Dowdall. Kingofthejungle was third near the three-quarters when Merriman sent him after the leader, Atta Boy Dan. The 5-year-old Well Said-Allamerican Calico gelding overtook Atta Boy Dan around the final turn and held off the rallying Doctor RJ by a neck to prevail in 1:52.2. Atta Boy Dan saved show. Jack Smith trains Kingofthejungle, who extended his career bankroll to $359,316, for Fox Racing Inc. and Darius Oshidar. Rags To Riches Of PA enjoyed an ownership triple on the 13-race card. The Meadows Racetrack & Casino

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