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YONKERS, NY – When trainer John Butenschoen purchased Destined To Dance at the 2019 Lexington Selected Yearling Sale, he thought the filly would be perfect for the New York Sire Stakes program. Nearly a year later, Destined To Dance enters the $225,000 NYSS Final for 2-year-old trotting fillies with a 5-for-5 harness racing record in the statebred stakes program and has a chance to sweep the series with a win on the Night of Champions card Sept. 12. By Chapter Seven out of the multiple stakes winning mare Go Go Dancer, Destined To Dance was bred by Crawford Farms. Butenschoen bid $100,000 to take the filly home for owners Heritage Standardbreds and Richard Preziotti. The group also offered a piece back to Crawford Farms, who obliged. “She’s not very big, but she’s put together very correctly. Conformation wise, she had the right type of physical appearance that I like to see,” Butenschoen said. “I was up there at the farm and saw her turned out. Then her video showed exactly what I saw when she was turned out, just very light on her feet, quick, just acted very athletic. I thought she would be a really good fit for the New York Sire Stakes program. She’s not too big and with the athleticism she showed me, I thought she would handle things and do real well.” Destined To Dance trained down well throughout the winter and spring and showed professionalism on the racetrack. Although Butenschoen does not like to get too high on babies before they qualify, Destined To Dance looked the part. “She’s not a mean filly or anything. She’s a little standoffish, but she’s been a pleasure to work around. She’s pretty good on the racetrack, she’s pretty simply rigged, we don’t have to do much to her,” Butenschoen said. “She just goes out and she’s very professional about her work, even training down. Any time you ask her to go, she’ll go. If you want to go slow with her, she’ll go slow. She’s been a real treat that way.” Destined To Dance qualified at Windgate Farm June 15, winning by a neck in 2:02 with Corey Callahan in the bike. She then made her first start in a $10,400 overnight at Harrah’s Philadelphia June 26, finishing third beaten a neck while trotting the mile in 1:57.3. Then her NYSS streak began. Destined To Dance went straight to the lead in the series first leg at Saratoga July 8. She cruised through the first three-quarters and when driver Tyler Buter asked her at the top of the stretch, Destined To Dance put up 2 lengths on the field in an instant. With whip tucked away. Destined To Dance powered away with a :29.1 final quarter to post a 1:59.4 win.  “I’ve been more pleased than surprised,” Butenschoen said. “More often than not you’re fooled by the ones you think are good. You never know until you race them. You always hope they have that amount of ability. It was fun to see her race well her first start at Chester. Then we went to Saratoga and she won. We were thinking we had a filly who’s competitive.” Destined To Dance came to Yonkers Raceway for the series second leg July 21. Floating out from the inside post, she rode the cones in third until Buter pulled on the right line hitting the backstretch the final time. Trotting past the three-quarter pole, Destined To Dance took flight. She zipped past leader Me Three and barreled around the final turn 3 lengths clear of the field. Destined To Dance was strong through the stretch, scoring a 4 1/4-length victory in 1:58.3. “Tyler said when he pulled her, she was great. The only nervous moment he had at Yonkers was when he pulled her up the backstretch, she was trotting into that last turn too fast. He said when he pulled her, she just took off,” Butenschoen recalled. Destined To Dance overcame post eight in her next start at Batavia Aug. 2 before putting up back-to-back 1:54.4 miles in wins at Vernon Aug. 15 and Tioga Aug. 23. Destined To Dance has earned $103,456 in her six starts to date. “She’s just getting a little better each time,” Butenschoen said. “We don’t know where the bottom is or what’s going to happen, but we’ll keep marching forward with her. Every time we’ve raced her or any time we’ve asked her to do something, she’s stepped up to the plate and done it.” Destined To Dance and Buter drew post three and are the 6-5 morning line favorites in their NYSS Final, the third race on the Saturday night card at Yonkers. The field also includes Aela Jamieson, who drew post one and enters the final with two straight wins for Julie and Andy Miller. Broad Strokes, Iteration, Insured AM, and Splash Blue Chip each won a single division of NYSS this season and made the final. NY Excelsior division winner Credit Income and maiden Ifnomewho complete the lineup. While Ifnotmewho and Credit Income made pari-mutuel starts between the last NYSS leg Aug. 23 and the Sept. 12 Final, Destined To Dance trained at the farm Aug. 28 before shipping to Pocono Downs for another training mile last week. She trained at the farm again Tuesday (Sept. 8) to prepare for her championship bid. “She seems good, she’s had a good week, she trained good. Now we just hope for the racing gods to look out for us so we can get a decent trip out of there,” Butenschoen said. “You hope nothing happens. That’s all you can hope for everybody, a big night of racing to showcase your New York Sire Stakes horses, you want to see everybody get a fair shot, nobody make a break. You like to see everybody get a shot and let the horses figure out what’s going on, on the racetrack. Hopefully things will work out.” First post time for the $1.8 million Night of Champions card is 7:12 p.m. Free full card past performances are available here. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights through Dec. 22. First post time is 7:12 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – When Leonidas makes his Yonkers Raceway debut Friday night (Sept. 4) in the $18,000 pacing feature, it will end a long wait for owner Steve Finklestein of Jesmeral Stable and trainer Sheena McElhiney. An Australia-bred 5-year-old by Mach Three, Leonidas was purchased by Finklestein this spring as a Yonkers prospect, but owing to interruptions in travel caused by the coronavirus pandemic, was marooned in his home county until this summer. Leonidas moved to the David Aiken stable in Australia and continued to race Down Under. He finished first or second in nine straight races at Tabcorp Park Menangle, Shepparton, and Bendigo between March 14 and June 26. Leonidas’ streak included a 1:51.7 victory at Bendigo June 6, which established a track record for the 1,650-meter distance at the Victoria oval and two second-place finishes to Australian pacing star and three-time Group 1 winner Lochinvar Art. “With all the restrictions and the tracks being closed down, we couldn’t get him over right away,” McElhiney said. “One of (Steve’s) lifelong friends, David Aiken, took over training. He broke some track records there and we were excited to get him over here because we knew the caliber of horse he is.” Leonidas was finally exported to the United States July 6. He received some downtime after arriving in McElhiney’s stable, but acclimatized quickly and was back to work in short order. Leonidas proved himself to be a professional on the track once his training resumed. “Obviously, we couldn’t wait to get him over here. The time we had to wait for him just seemed like forever. Just watching him race over there, he’s a really good-caliber horse,” McElhiney said. “When he came here, he looked great, he was in great shape, he adjusted pretty well. He had a winter coat already when he came over. We gave him a little time and let him hang out in the paddock and just be a horse before we started really training him down again. “He had been racing pretty consistently over there,” she continued. “It wasn’t too tough to get him back into shape. He’s a nice horse to train. He went right out on the track like he’d been here forever.” Leonidas qualified Aug. 7 at Yonkers Raceway with Jason Bartlett in the sulky. Leonidas raced in third for the first 6 furlongs before moving to the lead and powering away from the final with a :27.4 final quarter to win the trial by 12 1/4 lengths in 1:55. McElhiney then entered Leonidas to race at Pocono Downs Aug. 20. “He qualified well, Jason was happy with him. The plan was to race him at Yonkers, but we could get him in (at Pocono) right away. We decided to put him in there.” Leonidas drew post seven and faced a Grand Circuit-quality field that included Filibuster Hanover, Western Joe, Dancin Lou, San Domino, and Southwind Ozzi in his first American start. Although he was dismissed at odds of 39-1 and got away seventh, Leonidas angled to the outside on the backstretch and latched onto third-over cover. Bartlett angled Leonidas four-wide into the stretch and he paced past San Domino and Dancin Lou to finish third individually clocked in 1:48.4 with a :27 final panel. “The plan was to just race him easy his first start and then bring him to Yonkers. I think he had to go a little bit more than we expected, but he definitely didn’t disappoint,” McElhiney said. “Just watching, I knew he was the horse that we thought he was. He came out of it great, no issues with that. He just did it easy. Jason said he wasn’t pushing him, he was kind of doing his thing out there. It was nice to have him go out there in the first start and be impressed with him. It makes you excited for the rest of the year, for sure.” Leonidas drew post two in the Friday pacing feature at Yonkers, for horses who are non-winners of $25,000 in their last five starts. Jason Bartlett will drive again and the pair are 2-1 on the morning line.  The field includes Hudson Phil, who won the Saratoga open pace in his last start Aug. 25, Heaven’s Gait, who won two straight at this level July 17 and 31 before finishing fifth in the local open Aug. 21, and Caviart Luca, who won the local open handicap pace two back Aug. 7. Speed Man, Rodeo Rock, Capozzo, and One Off Delight complete the lineup. “We trained (Leonidas) Tuesday and went a slow trip with him because we put the miles on him jogging,” McElhiney said. “When we train him, he’s just two fingers and really easy. He’s a little bit lazy, but you chirp to him a little bit and he’s ready to go. “Steve has some quality horses, but this one is pretty special.” Yonkers Raceway’s revised schedule features live harness racing Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday (Sept. 8 – 10) and New York Sire Stakes Night of Champions on Saturday, Sept. 12. First post time is 7:12 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. - “He gives me a sense of something special.” That’s how Matt Kakaley describes American Courage, a 2-year-old colt who’s undefeated in six starts, all with Kakaley in the sulky, including the elimination and final of the MGM Springfield Stakes at Yonkers Raceway and three legs of the New York Sire Stakes. The pair will put their win streak on the line again Tuesday night (Aug. 18) at Yonkers in the fourth leg of the NYSS for freshman pacers. Kakaley first heard about American Courage from trainer Travis Alexander while the colt was still training in Florida, with the conditioner indicating, ‘he thought he had a pretty nice colt.’ Kakaley, who is based in Pennsylvania, intended to travel to the Sunshine State to train American Courage, but never got the chance once the coronavirus pandemic effectively halted travel throughout the United States in mid-March.  Once American Courage shipped north for the racing season, Kakaley trained American Courage twice, once at the farm and again at Pocono Downs. “He was nice, but I don’t try to get too high on them when they’re training down because they’ll prove us wrong more times than not,” Kakaley said. “He was smart on the track. The one time I trained him at the farm, he could just sprint out of a hole real quick, no problem. Good gait. Everything was good about him, there wasn’t really any knocks about him. He was a professional to sit behind, he was good like that right from the beginning.” American Courage qualified June 24 at Pocono Downs. The colt raced in third throughout before charging home with a :29 final quarter to win by 2 1/2 lengths in 1:57.2. “The qualifier, he was good, he wasn’t great,” Kakaley said. “He had an ear hood on and he was really quiet. He was good, not great, but I was very happy with him, it was a perfect first qualifier for him.” Alexander entered American Courage in a $10,400 overnight at Pocono June 30 and the race proved eventful. Starting from post six, American Courage kept about a half-length off the starting gate and took back into fifth early as rivals Big Luciano and Sir Lovealot BC battled through a :27.1 quarter.  American Courage angled first over at the half, but was soon forced three-wide as 50-1 Spellbinding pulled in front of him nearing the backstretch. Kakaley took back, then sent American Courage three-wide again up the backstretch. American Courage put a head in front of Big Luciano by the three-quarter pole and kicked away in the stretch under Kakaley pistol grips to win by 6 lengths in 1:54.1.  “I just wanted to get away in mid-pack, make one run with him, and try to give him a good learning experience and teach him a little bit,” Kakaley said. “It was kind of a messed-up race and for him to handle the whole thing the way he did, I came off the track and I told Travis, ‘he’s better than I thought he was.’ Travis never really gave me a notion that he was really high on him because I don’t think he wanted to get let down if something happened with him. “I got shoved three-wide at the half, someone came out underneath me. I backed up, waited a little bit and then swung him three-wide around the three-eighths pole and he cleared in three steps,” Kakaley continued. “He just did it really good and professional. The way he handled a horse coming out underneath him, me grabbing him up, and then starting him back up, I was very impressed that day.” American Courage aired by 7 1/4 lengths in his elimination of the MGM Springfield Stakes in his next start July 6 and returned for the $104,250 final a week later. After settling in fourth around the first turn, Kakaley gunned 2-5 favorite American Courage to the front up the backstretch, pocketing 5-1 shot Town Gossip and driver Joe Bongiorno. The backfield failed to make an impression and American Courage rounded the final turn with Town Gossip breathing down his neck. “The only time anyone has really gotten close was the final of the Springfield,” Kakaley said. “That was the only time I popped the ear plugs. Joey was right on my back on the last turn, I pulled the plugs out at the top of the stretch and I thought it was going to be a really tight finish, but he just hit another gear halfway down the stretch.” While Town Gossip was all-out down the lane, Kakaley gave American Courage a few whip-taps at the top of the stretch and again halfway to the wire. Although Town Gossip got within a half-length, he never went by. The pair were 6 3/4-lenghts in front of the third-place finisher Crystal Beach in a 1:53.3 mile. “After the wire, he wasn’t even done then. He was just going around there and when I asked him for some pace, he gave it to me and I was never worried. He was super,” Kakaley said. Since the MGM Springfield Final, American Courage rattled off three more wins in NYSS; he won at Saratoga in 1:54.3 by 6 3/4 lengths, paced 1:51.3 at Tioga while winning by 4 1/4, and most recently posted a 1:54.2 win by 10 1/2 lengths at Batavia Downs Aug. 9. American Courage has amassed $145,108 for owner and breeder Fiddler’s Creek Stable.  American Courage is a son of American Ideal out of the Feel Like A Fool mare Nota Fool Bluechip, a full sister to millionaires Feel Like A Fool and Fool Me Once. Fiddler’s Creek Stable and Travis Alexander bought Nota Fool Bluechip at the 2014 Lexington Selected Yearling Sale for $60,000. Although she only went 1-for-14 in her racing career, American Courage is her first foal to race.  “It’s a special horse to be a part of. I thank Travis and I thank Fiddler’s Creek. It’s a great operation they have and they’ve spent a lot of time and put a lot of money breeding these horses,” Kakaley said. “He would go to the sales and keep the mares and breed them. I’m really happy for him because he deserves a horse like this for all the time and money he’s put into the business. He deserves to get rewarded with a horse like this. “Travis and Alaina (Alexander) do a great job with him, they take great care of him,” Kakaley continued. “I think Alaina goes back and gives him a walk every night after dinner time just to spoil him a little bit. He’s a very cool horse, too. He’s very calm in the paddock, relaxed. He doesn’t get riled up or rattled by much and on the track, he’s all business. He’s what you want, for sure.” American Courage is the 4-5 morning line favorite in the penultimate NYSS leg for 2-year-old colts and geldings Tuesday night. He will start from post four in a six-horse field that includes I’ll Drink To That, a $75,000 buy at the 2019 Lexington Selected Yearling Sale for Craig Henderson and co-owners Lawrence Minowitz, Robert Mondillo, and Oompas Farm who enters off a 1:53.3 win in NYSS at Tioga Aug. 1. Dexter Dunn will drive I’ll Drink To That for trainer Chris Ryder. Bottle Rocket, Major Makeover, Sexy Blue Chip, and King James Express complete the lineup. “I’ll just play it how it is,” Kakaley said. “If anybody is getting real crazy, I don’t need to be in any speed battle or anything like that. He’s a really good horse and he’ll let me do whatever I need to do. However it looks is what I’ll do. We’ll have him on the gate and figure it out from there. Just float him around and when it’s time to go, we’ll just hit the gas pedal. Yonkers Raceway’s revised schedule features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, Friday nights through Sept. 12. First post time is 7:12 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. by Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Since the husband and wife training duo of Lauren and Shane Tritton arrived in the United States this spring, their harness racing stable has been on a tear, winning 10 of its first 35 starts, including a 4-for-17 start at Yonkers Raceway. Of the 12 horses the Trittons brought over from Australia, none have adapted quicker or been more consistent than My Ruebe Star, who brings a four-race win streak to the $33,000 filly and mare open handicap Thursday night (July 30). “The horses have done pretty well,” Shane Tritton said. “We’re still learning and we’re still trying to work out the changes between training in Australia and here, but we’re trying to mold it as we go. The horses have been getting better; we knew they’d get better as we went because we are still trying to work out exactly where to race them and where they needed to be. “(My Ruebe Star) has been the horse that’s acclimatized the quickest. She looks a million dollars and she adapted to the way we’re training here better than the rest. We’re pretty happy with her and hopefully she can keep the ball rolling,” Tritton said. “There’s a couple of little things there that you need to adjust and some horses pick up on it quicker than others. She’s been one that you can just tell by looking at her, she’s dappled up and she’s full of beans. I knew she’d keep getting better, we just don’t know where that will end up.” My Ruebe Star is a 6-year-old New Zealand-bred daughter of Falcon Seelster out of the New York Motoring mare Zenola Star. After showing promise in New Zealand for breeder and co-owner Mike Siemelink, My Ruebe Star was exported to Australia in May 2019 and joined Tritton’s ranks. My Ruebe Star won on debut for her new connections with Lauren Tritton in the sulky in a $14,280 overnight at Menangle June 22, 2019. My Ruebe Star racked up another five wins through the end of February 2020 as she climbed the class ladder. She also finished fourth in the Group 3 Garrards New Years Gift Final at Menangle Jan. 11, in which winner Bright Energy was clocked in 1:50.1. “The guy that owned her in New Zealand sent her over to us just to see how she’s shape up at Menangle and she came to us almost a maiden and she raced right through her grades at Menangle,” Tritton said. “She was probably a season shy of going to the top. She ran fourth in a 1:50.1 mile back home a month before we came over. She was just starting to break into some of the better mares’ races and then we shut her down to bring her over here.” Among My Ruebe Star’s best attributes is her gait. Tritton knew she would fit the American style of racing and the half-mile track at Yonkers Raceway, he just needed to persuade the owners, who had their eyes on stakes races in Australia and breeding her later on. “She’s certainly a horse we were desperate to bring,” Tritton said. “It took a bit of convincing of the owners to bring her over. Once we explained that she should do well here, they were happy enough to give us a crack with her and now they’re obviously pretty happy with the decision. We know she can’t keep winning forever, but she’s certainly got the qualities to take out a big race if she can get the right run. “We just knew that with her gait, she would suit the tracks here and she’s probably fitting them better than we could have imagined,” Tritton continued. “We think she’s only going to get better with a season of racing under her belt here. She really hasn’t taken any harm out of the runs she’s had so far, so hopefully she’s still got a bit in the tank and she can keep stepping up.” My Ruebe Star qualified a runner-up at the Goshen Historic Track June 4 before making her first stateside start in a $10,000 Meadowlands overnight June 12, becoming the first pari-mutuel starter and winner for Team Tritton in America. My Ruebe Star took a lifetime mark of 1:50.1 in repeating a week later. “She was a little bit fresh and needed to get that race start under way,” Tritton said. “First two starts, she came through really well at the Meadowlands and we wanted to get her to Yonkers as soon as we could because we knew she was so good-gaited that she’d have a bit of an advantage there over most horses. Once we got her there, she’s come through those runs brilliantly and it hasn’t really taken much of a toll on her.” Tritton moved My Ruebe Star to Yonkers July 9, where she overcame post eight in a $17,250 overnight, riding a pocket trip behind favorite Feelin Red Hot and utilized a :27.0 final quarter to glide past the pacesetter in the stretch for her third consecutive win. In her latest start at the Hilltop July 16, My Ruebe Star went gate-to-wire in 1:52.3 in a $20,250 overnight to make in four in a row.  My Ruebe Star drew post seven in an open draw in this week’s distaff feature and is 8-1 on the morning line with regular driver Jordan Stratton. Snobbytown, twice a winner and once the runner-up in this class in her last three starts for George Brennan and Ron Burke, is the 3-2 morning line favorite after drawing the inside. The field also includes Imprincessgemma, who’s lone win this season came in the filly and mare open handicap Feb. 14 and who has since finished second in this class three times, including twice behind Snobbytown in her last three starts for the Bongiornos. She drew post eight and is 6-1 on the morning line. Monica Gallagher, Lispatty, Kaitlyn, Robyn Camden, and Diamondtoothgertie complete the field. “It’s a tough draw this week and we know these are the best mares going around Yonkers at the moment, so it’s going to be tough,” Tritton said. “We just know that she’s good enough to mix it with them. When she gets the right run, she’ll certainly be good enough to stick her nose out, that’s for sure.” By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – A pair of $60,000 series finals and $30,000 consolations headline the July 20 harness racing program at Yonkers Raceway. The M Life Rewards Ladies and M Life Rewards Gents Pacing Series will each conclude Monday evening after being interrupted and postponed by the efforts to contain the coronavirus in March. The M Life Rewards Ladies Pacing Series was originally scheduled with three preliminary legs March 2, 9, and 16 with a $50,000 added final March 23. However, due to the coronavirus lockdown that halted racing at Yonkers beginning March 10, only the first two preliminary legs were contested. A pair of 4-year-old mares top the standings heading into the rescheduled final, Affluent Seelster and I’m Very Special, who each won divisions of both preliminary legs. Affluent Seelster took advantage of a pocket trip from the inside post position to post a 33-1 upset in her division of the first preliminary leg March 2. The Paul Stafford trainee utilized a :28.2 final quarter to track down pacesetter North Star Ideal in a neck victory. Affluent Seelster proved the shocking result was no fluke when she repeated a week later as the 3-5 favorite. Affluent Seelster has made three starts since harness racing resumed in the Northeast, most recently connecting with a head win on the front end in a $12,800 overnight at Harrah’s Philadelphia July 8. Affluent Seelster drew post four in the M Life Rewards Ladies Pacing Series Final and is 9-2 on the morning line with Brent Holland programmed to drive. Unlike Affluent Seelster, I’m Very Special was heavily favored in her divisions of both preliminary legs of the M Life Rewards Ladies Pacing Series and made good both times for trainer Peter Pellegrino and driver Jason Bartlett. The American Ideal daughter scored by 2 lengths in the first leg, second division and 3/4 lengths in her second leg split, each time clocking 1:53.4 with a :27.3 final quarter. Affluent Seelster (Seen here winning on the 9th of March this year) I’m Very Special has a pair of placings at the Meadowlands and Harrah’s Philadelphia June 24 and July 3, respectively since returning to racing post-lockdown. In her latest start July 16 at Yonkers, she finished sixth in the non-winners of $25,000 last five condition. I’m Very Special drew post eight in the M Life Rewards Ladies Pacing Series Final and is 8-1 on the morning line. Although sixth in the series standings after a narrow loss to Affluent Seelster in leg one and a fifth-place finish in the second leg, North Star Ideal was installed as the 6-5 morning line favorite in the final. The Tom Milici owned and trained mare qualified an 11 3/4-length winner locally June 29, pacing a 1:55.3 mile with a :27.3 final quarter. The Western Ideal daughter then posted a front-stepping win in 1:53.4 in a $13,500 Yonkers overnight July 13. North Star Ideal drew the inside post in the $60,000 final and will employ the driving services of Matt Kakaley after Jason Bartlett opted for I’m Very Special. Kakaley drove North Star Ideal to a pair of open-length victories at Yonkers earlier this year before Greg Merton piloted in the preliminaries and Bartlett drove last time out. The field for the M Life Rewards Ladies Pacing Series Final also includes Platinum Pearl, who returns to Yonkers after racing in the overnights at Northfield Park since late May and HP Xanadu, who enters off a neck loss in a $7,500 Meadowlands overnight July 3. Red River Jane, Triple Dip, and How About Murph complete the lineup. Like its distaff companion series, the M Life Rewards Gents Pacing Series was originally scheduled with three preliminary legs beginning weekly March 3 and culminating in a final March 24. As the March 10 Yonkers program was the first to fall to the coronavirus lockdown, only the first preliminary leg was contested. There were four divisions of the series first leg, and all four winners from those four splits entered the final. Semi Tough overcame post seven in the first division of the preliminary leg to post a 1 1/4-length victory in 1:54.2. Trained by Ron Burke, the 4-year-old Somebeachsomewhere son competed in legs of the Graduate Pacing Series at Tioga Downs and the Meadowlands June 21 and July 4, respectively, before posting a 1:51.1 win in a $10,400 Meadows overnight in his most recent start July 13. Semi Tough drew post six in the M Life Rewards Gents Pacing Series Final and is 7-5 on the morning line for driver George Brennan. The Andrew Harris-trained Tap Tap Tap took advantage of a pocket trip to track down heavily favored rival East Beach in the second division of the preliminary leg to post a mild 4-1 upset in 1:54. A homebred for S S G Stable, Tap Tap Tap finished seventh from post seven, beaten 3 3/4 lengths in the non-winners of $25,000 last five condition at Yonkers in his return June 25. Tap Tap Tap was caught as the pacesetter in his most recent start in a $9,000 overnight at Harrington July 13. Tap Tap Tap and driver Jason Bartlett will start from post one in the M Life Rewards Gents Pacing Series Final. The pair are 5-2 on the morning line. The third M Life Rewards Gents Pacing Series preliminary leg division went to Razor’s Edge by a nose over Lying In Cash and Shamma Lamma, who dead-heated for second in a blanket finish. Razor’s Edge was trained by Ron Burke when last seen at Yonkers in the preliminary, but since moved to the Gilbert Garcia-Herrera stable. Razor’s Edge finished second in a dead heat for his new conditioner in a $13,600 overnight at Pocono Downs June 27 and was up the track in his last start at Harrah’s Philadelphia July 12 after starting from post eight. He is 20-1 on the morning line for Austin Siegelman and will start from post five. Virgin Storm was the only wire-to-wire winner in the series preliminary, having scored by 3/4 lengths for Jason Bartlett and Chris Marino. Now in the barn of Michael Spaccarelli Jr., Virgin Storm has been racing in the Pocono conditions and was most recently third on Independence Day. Mike Simons will drive Virgin Storm in the final at 12-1. First leg runners-up Shamma Lamma, Ehrmantraut, Lying In Cash, and Apex Seelster comprise the field. Yonkers Raceway returns to its normal five night per week live harness racing schedule beginning July 20 and continuing through Dec. 19. First post time is 7:12 p.m. The complete revised racing calendar is available online here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Trainer Erv Miller entered three colts in the eliminations of the MGM Springfield Stakes (formerly the Lawrence B Sheppard) eliminations: Carrythetorchman, Crystal Beach, and Not Today. All three made the $104,250 final, set for Monday night (July 13) at Yonkers Raceway; Carrythetorchman by virtue of a victory and Not Today with a fourth in the second elimination and Crystal Beach with a third-place finish behind American Courage in the first elimination. With Carrythetorchman unbeaten in two baby races and his first pari-mutuel start, he leads the pack against the race’s 8-5 morning line favorite American Courage. By American Ideal out of the Astreos mare Kattimon, Carrythetorchman is a half to Classic Pro, a winner of two Ontario Sire Stakes legs and an earner of over $500,000 to date, and a full to Grand Circuit winner and New York Sire Stakes standout Devil Child. Carrythetorchman was a $70,000 buy from the 2019 Lexington Selected Yearling Sale for Miller and owners Ronald Michelon and War Horse Stable. “He’s a good conformation horse. You might want one a little bigger for the big stuff, but for New York, I thought he was about the right size for getting around the half,” Miller said. “So far, he’s proven that. He doesn’t wear any boots and just gets around the half-mile track real easy.” Although Miller says Carrythetorchman showed class from the beginning of his training, the colt began to develop a bad habit while training in Florida over the winter and into the spring as he dealt with minor foot trouble. “Early on, he was really good. Then he went through a phase and I think it was more his feet than anything just had him where he wasn’t happy with what he was doing,” Miller said. “He wasn’t easy to keep under control when they jogged. He’d switch back and forth from the pace to the trot and we got that under control by leaving the hopples on him all the time.  “He was really fussy on the track at one time, but now he doesn’t do anything wrong,” Miller continued. “Since we got him close, a couple weeks before qualifying, he gotten over everything and it seemed like he was way better.” With that hiccup behind them, Miller shipped Carrythetorchman and the rest of his stable from Florida to Pennsylvania’s Wingate Farm uncertain when the horses would be able to qualify. With efforts to contain the coronavirus closing racetracks across North America, Wingate improvised, like many training centers throughout the country. “With COVID-19, it was just one of those things that we had to come up with a new solution. We couldn’t go anywhere to get qualified, so we came up with the next best plan,” Miller said. “I saw it coming when we left Florida, PA is shut down, things aren’t moving, so we better see if we can get our farm OK’d to qualify. That worked out good. We had a couple weeks of qualifiers that got things going.” Carrythetorchman was one of the horses who benefited, qualifying at home over the five-eighths mile track at Wingate June 15. He led his field of four gate-to-wire, stopping the clock in 1:59.2 with a :28 final quarter.  Nine days later, Miller was able to ship to Pocono Downs for a second baby race. Carrythetorchman left from post eight and utilized a :28.2 last quarter to power away from the field to win by 10 3/4 lengths in 1:57.  “He did really well. Because of training and knowing what kind of horse he was, we wanted to get a little faster mile in him there that day than what he did (at the farm) and expose him a little more. We did that and he just handled it really well,” Miller said. Carrythetorchman debuted July 6 at Yonkers, 20 minutes after American Courage posted a blowout 7 1/4-length win in the first MGM Springfield Stakes elimination in 1:55.2. Carrythetorchman left in between horses and glided to the front reaching the backstretch the first time. Driver Scott Zeron was simply a passenger as Carrythetorchman cruised home a 1 1/2-length winner in 1:55.4. Carrythetorchman drew post position three in the MGM Springfield Stakes Final and at 9-5, is the second choice on the morning line. American Courage will start from post four with Matt Kakaley as the 8-5 morning line favorite. “(American Courage) looked really sharp in his qualifier for this race, too. We just have to see how it plays out,” said Miller, who wasn’t sure what will happen when the two unbeaten colts face each other Monday night. Crystal Beach drew post two in the final and is a 20-1 morning line after finishing 9 lengths behind American Courage last week. Crystal Beach left hard from post five in his elimination, but was denied the lead by Major Makeover and was forced to take back into third heading to the quarter. With Crystal Beach keen in the hole, driver Marcus Miller angled to the outside turning into the stretch the first time and brushed to the top before being forced to yield again as American Courage forged to the lead at 1-5. “(Crystal Beach) really raced well the other day, but he was moved a lot, so it’s hard to tell how much he will go when he gets a nicer trip, maybe not used up quite as hard,” Miller said. “He’s also a very handy horse and gets around a half really good.” Crystal Beach was a $36,000 purchase from the Lexington Selected Yearling Sale and is owned by Miller and Tanah Merah Farm. Crystal Beach impressed training down and won his first baby race by 7 3/4 lengths at Wingate June 15 before finishing second behind Carrythetorchman June 24 at Pocono ahead of his debut in the Springfield elimination. “He’s been a really nice horse. He’s always trained like just a top, top colt. When you’re getting ready to race them, sometimes you don’t get quite what you expect or quite as much as you thought they trained like,” Miller said. “His biggest attribute is he’s just so handy, he’s very handy on a half-mile racetrack.” Not Today is also 20-1 on the morning line after drawing post six and will employ the driving services of Jason Bartlett. A $77,000 purchase as the Harrisburg Sale last fall, Not Today is owned by Anderson, Willinger, and Golemes.  Not Today was second behind Crystal Beach June 15, but won his trial at Pocono June 24 by 2 3/4 lengths in 1:58.4. He finished seventh 10 lengths behind American Courage in an overnight at Pocono June 30 before his fourth-place effort in the Springfield elimination last week. “He’s a little but more of an immature horse, not quite as mature as the other two, but he’s a little bigger, stronger horse. Hopefully at some point, he’ll catch up to the other guys a little bit,” Miller said. Town Gossip, Victory Move, Coalition Hanover, and Major Makeover complete the lineup for the MGM Springfield Stakes Final, carded as the fourth of eight races Monday night. “I think it’s a nice race to have. With everything going on, it’s nice for the 2-year-olds to be able to race for $100,000 right now,” Miller said. “With all the COVID-19, all the races being cut, and schedules being redone, it’s nice to still have this race.” 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

YONKERS, N.Y. – Since harness racing resumed in the Northeast United States in late May, Rich And Miserable has not had much luck racing at the Meadowlands. The talented trotter drew post position 10 in his first start back June 12, got stuck following a blazing 1:50.1 mile by Guardian Angel As in his second start June 20, then drew post position 10 in the Cutler Memorial last time out on Independence Day. As a result, Rich And Miserable failed to take home a check in any of those three starts.  Rich And Miserable made one bid away from the Swamp so far this season, heading to Pocono Downs June 27. He drew post two in the featured $20,000 trot and scored a 2 1/2-length win in 1:52.4. Now, Rich And Miserable looks to capitalize again in the $33,000 open handicap trot at Yonkers Raceway Friday (July 10). He is already having better luck at the Hilltop, drawing post four, but moving inside to the three after the early scratch of Photo Bomber.  “We threw him in with the big guns and we got a couple 10 post positions and that wasn’t a very good starting point. We did take him once to Pocono and he raced very well there, so now we’re going to try the half-mile track again at Yonkers,” said trainer Todd Buter. “The first start over there in the open, he had the 10-hole and just followed along,” Buter continued. “Last week in the Cutler, had the 10-hole and in with those type of horses, it’s tough from the 10, but we’re hoping to turn things around.” Besides the advantageous post position, Rich And Miserable has the resume to compete at this level. The Explosive Matter son always showed promise for Buter, but last year at 4, had a breakout season. After posting a 5 1/2-length win and earning two other placings in the preliminary legs of the SOA of NY Bonus Trotting Series, Rich And Miserable won the $73,000 series final by a nose last April.  Rich And Miserable also won a leg and the final of the Mr. Muscleman Series at the Meadowlands, won the $100,000 Great Northeast Open Series Final at Pocono, and captured a local $42,000 open handicap trot from post position eight last fall. The $305,125 Rich And Miserable earned last year boosted his career tally to $417,922 for owners Buter Farm, Lynette Buter, and William and Carol Fuhs. “Last year was a very pleasant surprise. He showed good things as a 3-year-old and as a 4-year-old, things just kept falling in place and we got a couple nice draws in some big purse races, got good trips, and he lived up to what we were hoping for. It was a great year,” Buter said. “He was always a sound horse as a 2- and 3-year-old and it seemed like he just got bigger, stronger, matured more and could race either way; race on the front, race from the back,” Buter continued. “He just ended up being a very smart horse, very easy on himself. We’re hoping we can turn things around back at Yonkers.” Rich And Miserable raced through the end of December last year before getting some well-earned time off. He was ready to qualify by mid-March, but due to the response to the coronavirus pandemic, harness racing across North America shuttered. Like the rest of the industry, Buter was forced to wait. “We just got put on hold and it was, ‘maybe next week,’ so you’d train them light. ‘Maybe next week,’ so you’d train them a little harder. The next week just train them easy, maybe it will be next week,” Buter said. “Everybody was in the same boat, nobody knew what was going on, so we just had to sit back and wait for them to turn the lights back on and I tried to have him as good as we could.” Rich And Miserable was finally able to qualify May 30 before his bad-luck streak at the Meadowlands began. Friday night will be Rich And Miserable’s first local start since finishing 10th in the $250,000 Harry Harvey Invitational Trot Oct. 12. Regular driver Tyler Buter will be in the sulky and the pair are 5-2 on the morning line. Rich And Miserable will face six rivals, including 2-1 morning line favorite Melady’s Monet, who will start from post four. The 11-year-old and earner of $1.6 million twice finished second in the local open trot and won a local preferred from post seven before the shutdown. He posted a front-stepping qualifying win in 1:58 at Magical Acres Training Center June 23 in preparation for his first start since March 7.  Swansea earned three wins in the local open before the shutdown and picked up right where he left off in his return June 25, tallying a fourth victory in six starts this season in 1:55.3 for trainer Scott DiDomenico. Swansea was assigned the outside post Friday night and is 3-1 with Austin Siegelman programmed to drive.  Paul Kelley’s 10-year-old Obrigado continues to deliver after emerging from retirement late last year. The $1.8 million-earner won an $18,750 overnight in 1:51.2 at the Meadowlands June 5 and was second to Rich And Miserable in his most recent start at Pocono June 27. Obrigado drew post six Friday night. Mostinterestingman, Elysium Lindy, and Lean Hanover complete the lineup.  “We’ll just have to see how it shakes out,” Buter said of Rich And Miserable’s chances. “He’s raced on the front at Yonkers and won and he’s raced from the back at Yonkers and won. He seems good and healthy and sound, so we’ll hope for the best.” Friday night’s eight-race card also features the $33,000 open handicap pace. 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

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  

YONKERS, N.Y. – One of the biggest rivalries in harness racing resumes with another round Tuesday night (June 30) at Yonkers Raceway as Horse of the Year Shartin and reigning Breeders Crown Pacing Mare Champion Caviart Ally headline the featured $33,000 filly and mare open handicap pace. The pair of star mares were assigned the outside post positions, with Caviart Ally starting from post seven for driver Andy McCarthy and trainer Brett Pelling while Jim King Jr.’s Shartin will start from post eight with Tim Tetrick. “I actually think when you’re racing in those divisional races, when you’re in a rivalry, a rivalry is by far the greatest thing we have in the sport. It’s great,” Pelling said. “You know the other horses inside and out, the drivers get to know the horses inside and out. I think it’s cool.”  With 20 rounds between Shartin and Caviart Ally completed to date, the record stands at 15-3 Shartin with only two occasions where another horse has won when they have both been in the field. However, Caviart Ally has proven victorious in three of the last four matchups: the Filly and Mare Allerage Pace at the Red Mile Oct. 6, the Breeders Crown Open Mares Pace Oct. 26, and the TVG FFA Mares Final Nov. 23, the pair’s most recent faceoff. “Last year, it took us different attempts at different ways of trying to beat Shartin. I’m not saying we figured it out, but we got better at it,” Pelling said. “It was trial and error on Andy’s part, my part, everyone’s part. We never gave up trying to beat her. “I think one of the big things was not going full gas out of the gate. We found that (Caviart Ally) was just better to be put in position rather than trying to out-speed (Shartin) because Shartin gets off the gate extra-good and they have a lot of speed, so they take advantage of that speed. If you have three horses that are trying to race the same way, something has to give.  “A lot of times, we were drawn outside of her, so you had work that little bit harder early and you’re put in the wrong spot, sitting in the two-hole,” Pelling continued. “The two-hole is not actually a good spot to race against Shartin because she’s so quick at the top of the lane, she’d just put a length on us and we’d never really get close enough. Getting away in the three or the four spot and being able to work up close to her, that seemed to help. Sometimes the two-hole is not the best place to be; they have you stuck where they want you and horses are so good these days, they only need an eighth-of-a-mile breather and they’re tough to beat.” While Shartin is a Yonkers veteran, owning seven victories in 10 local starts, including back-to-back Blue Chip Matchmaker Series Finals in 2018 and 2019, Tuesday night will mark Caviart Ally’s first start at the Hilltop since logging a pair of third-place finishes in the Lismore Pace Eliminations and Final in May 2017 for previous trainer Noel Daley. “I had nowhere else to race, it’s as simple as that,” Pelling said of the decision to enter at Yonkers.  Caviart Ally was entered multiple times at multiple tracks since her last start June 5 at the Meadowlands, but Yonkers proved to be the only venue carding a filly and mare open. As such, Pelling was not surprised when Shartin also showed up in the entries. “They had the same issue that we had, so I kind of expected that,” he said. “I nearly raced her the week before, but I just tried to time it a little bit as well. We always planned on racing there through the winter. She was in the Matchmaker, we had her all ready for the Matchmaker, that was a real goal. The best laid plans have gone awry this year I’m afraid.” Caviart Ally Caviart Ally, a 26-time winner and earner of $1.8 million for owner Caviart Farms, qualified twice in February before winning her 2020 debut in 1:49.4 in a $30,000 filly and mare preferred at the Meadowlands March 6. She was entered in the first leg of the Matchmaker March 13, the same week racing halted at Yonkers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With no way of knowing when racing would be allowed to resume, Pelling kept Caviart Ally in training throughout the interruption.  “We never missed a day, we just kept right on going,” Pelling said. “I didn’t bike them up and go (1:) 53 or any of that stuff, I just couldn’t do that. We basically treated every day as if it was an off week and just let her cruise along, just keeping her on hold. I never buzzed her or anything. She had a good time; for a horse, it was a good time. It might have been a bit boring, but she definitely wasn’t put under any stress.” Pelling describes Caviart Ally as “a machine” and says the most difficult part of training her is managing her weight. “Every time I look at her, I think she’s carrying twins. People that see her can’t believe she’s a racehorse because she carries so much condition,” he said. “She thrives on racing because she’ll just eat anything. She’s one of the best eaters you’ve ever seen in your life,” Pelling said. “Keeping the weight off of her is always the goal, it’s really nothing else; no soundness issues, no health issues, it’s all about keeping the weight off her. She was all up and ready to go in March and she really hasn’t done a lot. You can only train them so much.” Caviart Ally qualified behind Kissin In The Sand May 30 before finishing third behind the same rival upon her return to racing in a $22,500 filly and mare preferred at the Meadowlands June 5. While Kissin In The Sand dictated the pace in that start, Caviart Ally was followed the cover of Imprincessgemma, who never got closer than 1 3/4 lengths of Kissin In The Sand. Although Caviart Ally closed with a :25.4 final quarter after kicking off the cover, she could not make up the ground. “She got away fourth, she got away in the right spot and then a horse who was (10-1) pulled in front of her and basically just got in her way,” Pelling said. “She would have been much, much better just coming first-over and I think if she had got to Kissin In The Sand’s wheel, it would have been a dogfight, but she just never got close enough.” Caviart Ally tuned up with a 1:51 qualifying win at the Meadowlands June 20 ahead of her return to Yonkers.  Like Caviart Ally, Shartin had one start in March ahead of a planned attempt at a third conquest of the Matchmaker Series. Shartin earned a neck victory in 1:50 in a $50,000 filly and mare invitational at Dover Downs March 4 before the shutdown hit. She qualified twice for her return Tuesday night, scoring a 2-length win in 1:53.3 at Magical Acres training center June 3 and another qualifying win in 1:51 at Harrah’s Philadelphia June 18. Owned by Poillucci, King, and Tetrick, Shartin is a 42-time winner and earner of $2.1 million. In addition to the two heavyweights, Tuesday night’s pacing feature also includes last week’s winner Snobbytown, who drew post three for George Brennan and Ron Burke, and last week’s runner up Imprincessgemma, who will start from post five for the Bongiornos. Machnhope scored a 1:51.4 victory in a local $20,250 overnight June 23 and will start from post four for Dexter Dunn and Noel Daley. Delishka, Sandy Win, and Anytime complete the field.  “I’d just like to stay in front of Shartin, that’s all,” Pelling said. “I’m sure that will mean moving forward. (Caviart Ally) will get around there like a hoop around a barrel. She won the Jugette, so I’m not concerned about how she gets around there or anything. She’ll be fine. She also has a long stakes season coming up, so this is another race, and it’s a race because we need to race. “It’s a good race. I’m really thankful to Yonkers for going with the filly and mare open,” Pelling continued. “No one else is. For a Tuesday night, I can guarantee you that the harness racing world will be watching Yonkers, and I think that’s a good thing. Good on them for doing that.” The amended Yonkers Raceway calendar will see live harness racing conducted Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights until July 2. Beginning the week of July 6, the schedule will add Friday nights. Saturday night racing will resume the week of July 20 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

YONKERS, N.Y. – The lucrative weekly features return to Yonkers Raceway June 23 as the filly and mare open headlines the Tuesday night harness racing program. Major Occasion is the 9-5 morning line favorite in the $33,000 feature after drawing post four off an impressive mile last time out at the Meadowlands. Major Occasion made her first start post-coronavirus shutdown in the filly and mare preferred at the Meadowlands June 5. While Grand Circuit performer Kissin In The Sand played catch me if you can, and won, Major Occasion made it close. Major Occasion raced on the inside in fifth 5 lengths behind Kissin In The Sand throughout before closing in the stretch with a :25.3 final quarter. Kissin In The Sand had an open-length lead at the sixteenth pole, but Major Occasion lunged under Dexter Dunn urging, closing within three-quarters of a length at the finish. The effort surprised both the bettors who dismissed Major Occasion at 17-1 and trainer Nifty Norman, who thought Major Occasion would need a start having just one qualifier on May 30 since her last race March 4. “She was very good. I was pleased,” Norman said. “It was like having a win there racing against that caliber of horse and she was good and strong through the wire, too. I was really happy with the way she finished up. She’s a really nice mare. “I thought she was probably going to be a run short and she went even better than I expected,” Norman continued. “She’s been a real pleasant surprise since she came over. She’s been good every start really, so I’ve been really happy with her.” Although Major Occasion was individually clocked in a blistering 1:48 in her runner-up effort, Norman tries to avoid obsessing over the timer. “We’re seeing a lot of it now. The Meadowlands, the miles they go there are crazy. It doesn’t even pay to look at the clock anymore because it’s just crazy what they’re doing,” he said. “Now 48 is just acceptable, no one even talks about it; it’s commonplace to go 48, which is just amazing.” Major Occasion is a 6-year-old Art Major daughter out of the Fake Left mare Fake Occasion. The Australia-bred was a stakes performer before exporting to the United States last October, having won the Group 2 Sibelia Stakes at Menangle Feb. 16, 2019 before finishing second in the Group 1 Ladyship Mile a fortnight later. Major Occasion also finished second in the Group 1 Empire Vicbred 2-Year-Old Fillies Stakes at Melton in 2017. “I had some owners that wanted to buy the mare and she really wasn’t for sale,” Norman recalled. “I got talking to the owners and we just hit it off really good, ended up having several conversations with them. The trainer (Chris Frisby) and the owner (Peter Ward) are just really top guys. They decided to send her over to me and it’s working out great for me and for them.” Norman heard from many Down Under horsemen that Major Occasion was a good mare and when she arrived stateside, Norman could see why. “When she arrived, she was such a specimen,” he said. “She’s an absolutely beautiful, big, strong, good-looking thing, fantastic nature and when you sit behind her, it’s like sitting behind a bus. There’s nothing bad about her. She’s nice to look at, she’s nice to drive, she’s nice to be around. She’s just a perfect horse. “She’s a big mare, but she’s well put together,” Norman continued. “She’s got good conformation; she’s an Art Major, so Art Major’s are pretty good-looking. She carries a lot of weight, wears a big hopple, just impressive to look at.” Major Occasion made seven starts for Norman and owner Enzed Racing Stable before the shutdown, earning three wins and a lifetime mark of 1:49.4. She came within a neck of Shartin in a $50,000 filly and mare invitational at Dover Downs March 4. Major Occasion, an 18-time winner and earner of $241,105, was then entered into the first leg of the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series March 13, which was indefinitely postponed as the coronavirus ceased harness racing in North America. “It was very tricky to manage. The hard part was, there were rumors that we would get going, so you’d go train your horses up a little bit thinking maybe we’re going to race in two weeks,” Norman said. “It dragged on and on. I kind of wished I had turned the horses out since owners were paying bills while nothing was happening and they had no money coming in. “It was a difficult period, but I basically backed off, didn’t do a whole lot with them, just tried to keep them fit,” Norman continued. “You could tell the horses were getting sour like us. They were ready to get back to work, too. They were sick of just training, and training, and training. It was a strange time. I don’t think anyone really knew what the right thing was to do.” Major Occasion will make her second start post-shutdown in Tuesday’s feature and regular driver Dexter Dunn will be in the sulky. With the fate of Yonkers’ winter series still uncertain and with no distaff feature carded at the Swamp since June 5, Norman chose to test Major Occasion over the smaller track at Yonkers. “I elected to go to Yonkers and find out whether she can get around there. Obviously, she’s great at the Meadowlands, but going 1:48 every week isn’t the greatest plan either,” Norman said. “I thought I would try to avoid those big miles, try her on a shorter track and see how she handles it. I trained her on a half-mile track and she got around it good. She runs in a little bit, but most horses do. I don’t have any concerns, I think she’ll be fine.” Major Occasion will face seven rivals in the Tuesday feature, including three who exit the same race: Snobbytown, Imprincessgemma, and Gold Orchid. Snobbytown finished ninth last out, but earned $150,635 last year for trainer Ron Burke and won the local distaff feature Feb. 28. She is the 3-1 second choice on the morning line and will employ the driving services of George Brennan. Imprincessgemma won the local filly and mare open handicap impressively by 2 3/4 lengths Feb. 14 and was second in the feature the following week. She is 9-2 for the Bongiornos. Gold Orchid earned $120,170 last year for Mark Harder, won the local filly and mare preferred March 6, and will make her third start of the season. She and driver Brian Sears are 6-1 on the morning line. The field also includes Diamondtoothgertie, Sandy Win, Crystal Sparkles, and Dibaba. “I think, like a lot of foreign horses, (Major Occasion) is better with a target,” Norman said. “She could come first-up or she’s got good speed on the end too, it wouldn’t matter if she came from off the pace. I’d imagine Dexter, since he’s coming over to drive her, is going to be reasonably aggressive. I’ll leave it up to him.” The amended Yonkers Raceway calendar will see live harness racing conducted Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights until July 2. Beginning the week of July 6, the schedule will add Friday nights. Saturday night racing will resume the week of July 20 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  

YONKERS, N.Y. – Expectations were low when Affluent Seelster started in the first division of the M life Rewards Ladies Pacing Series first leg March 2 at Yonkers Raceway. Despite starting from the inside, the public dismissed the 4-year-old harness racing mare at 33-1 in favor of Darn Tooth Hanover, who was the even-money favorite, and North Star Ideal, who was the 6-5 second choice. Both favorites entered on three-race win streaks. Despite Affluent Seelster’s long odds, she left from her inside spot, but yielded to North Star Ideal to ride a pocket trip. Turning for home, Affluent Seelster was still breathing down the neck of the longtime leader and straightening away, driver Joe Bongiorno pulled the ear plugs and angled Affluent Seelster inside. With a few right-handed whip taps, Affluent Seelster glided past North Star Ideal to post a neck win in a lifetime best 1:53.4 and kick off the series with a $69 mutual. “I thought that was maybe a little bigger number than she needed to be from the rail,” trainer Paul Stafford said. “Her qualifier was OK. She’s a big mare. Going into the series, she had raced there before, so we knew she could get around the half-mile racetrack, as big as she is. It just worked out perfect, Joey put her in a great spot getting a two-hole trip.” Stafford and Tom Ceraso purchased Affluent Seelster online last fall. The Mach Three daughter had five placings in eight starts racing for Richard Moreau in Canada and fit the bill for the conditions at Yonkers. However, Affluent Seelster’s size gave Stafford pause. “She’s big, so when she showed up, obviously you have a question mark about whether she would get around Yonkers,” Stafford said. “Really lightly raced, which is what we like to see. We like to buy 3-year-olds with not very many starts, non-winners of two-, non-winners of three-type horses.” Affluent Seelster debuted for Stafford at Yonkers Nov. 18, finishing second in a $14,000 overnight. She broke her maiden from post seven in the same class one week later, and then doubled up from the same post Dec. 9. In all three of those starts, Affluent Seelster left the gate hard and got wound up. “She was one who would get excited behind the gate because she thought she was going to leave every week,” Stafford said. Training back this winter, Stafford pointed Affluent Seelster to the M life Rewards Ladies Series and focused on teaching her to relax in her races. When she returned in a qualifier Feb. 21, Affluent Seelster came from off the pace to finish third. Stafford was happy to see the mare comfortable in the pocket in her first start of the season. “She trained back exceptionally well and we taught her a few manners training back so she wasn’t a front-running thing, which is how we finished up the year with her,” Stafford said. “That’s what we worked on training her back the last six weeks, teaching her that’s is OK to sit in, you don’t always have to be on the front. That transitioned into her qualifier and into her first race.” Affluent Seelster drew the inside post again in the second leg of the series Monday (March 9) and will again have Bongiorno in the sulky. The pair are the 3-2 favorites on the morning line. One race after Affluent Seelster’s upset win last week, Stafford sent out Windsong Parisian to a runner up finish in the second series split. Like her stablemate, Windsong Parisian and driver Matt Kakaley started from the inside and got a pocket trip. After chasing 3-5 favorite I’m Very Special around the track, Windsong Parisian finished second beaten 2 lengths and was 9 1/4 lengths clear of third-place finisher Saskatoon. An acquisition for Patricia Ceraso last fall, Windsong Parisian came to Stafford’s barn with more experience than Affluent Seelster, having logged 23 starts and four wins. Despite showing half-mile track experience at Grand River, Flamboro Downs and Western Fair, Windsong Parisian struggled in her first two starts at Yonkers in October. She made breaks in each start and was well beaten. “We bought a horse that showed half-mile racing, so we brought her to Yonkers and for whatever reason, she just decided that she wasn’t going to participate at Yonkers Raceway, she couldn’t get around the first turn for whatever reason,” Stafford said. The trainer decided a change of scenery was needed and Stafford took Windsong Parisian to Harrah’s Philadelphia. Despite starting from post seven and getting away 8 1/2 lengths behind the field, Windsong Parisian posted a :27.4 final quarter to rally for third beaten just a length. She won her next start at Harrah’s Philadelphia Nov. 29 and finished second in her final 2019 start Dec. 13. “We decided to change her look and took her to Chester,” Stafford said. “We had the seven hole, Tim Tetrick raced her like he should, ducked her last and she was flying on the end of it. She finished third, but she almost got there. She definitely showed she was OK at Chester.” Despite Windsong Parisian’s lackluster performances at Yonkers, she just made the earnings cutoff to be eligible for the series, so Stafford nominated for the low $200 fee. The move proved prudent. “She trained back well, you couldn’t ask for them to train back any better. For whatever reason, I can’t explain it, maybe it was just a matter of growing up, but she was good the other night. I think that was a little better than we expected. I thought maybe she would have been third or fourth in there, but she was good. Matt was happy with her.” Windsong Parisian will start from post five in Monday’s first series division in race one. With Kakaley opting for rival Lovin Cocoa, Brent Holland will drive Windsong Parisian as the 8-5 morning line favorite. “I think she drew into a good division. I think she’ll be OK in there,” Stafford said. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. The M life Rewards Series for Ladies and Gents continue with their second legs Monday (March 9) and Tuesday (March 10), respectively. The Blue Chip Matchmaker Series will return Friday, March 13 and the Borgata Pacing Series starts Saturday, March 14. First post time is 7:05 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Stormy Kromer will make his first start of the year Saturday night (March 7) in the $44,000 Open Handicap Trot at Yonkers Raceway. The Dejarmbro son rose through the harness racing ranks last year, earning eight wins and $154,195 in 2019, and became competitive in the weekly trotting features, exceeding the expectations of his trainer, Paul Stafford. A private trainer for Tom Ceraso, Jr. since Aug. 2018, Stafford manages a 26-strong stable at Gaitway Farm. When the duo shop for horses, they have Yonkers Raceway in mind. Such was the case when they acquired Stormy Kromer last spring. “I’ve known Tom for probably 10 years, maybe a little longer,” Stafford said. “I had trained a horse for him in Chicago and we’ve been friends ever since. Never really had any discussions about training his horses out here, but opportunity presented itself, and here we are. “We race primarily at Yonkers,” Stafford said. “We like to race at Yonkers. It’s the best money. We try to buy horses that can go around a half-mile racetrack.” Stormy Kromer raced for Pete and Melanie Wrenn in the Midwest and at Pompano during the winter. Stormy Kromer won his last three starts for the Wrenns, including two legs and a final of a late-closing series at Hoosier Park in April 2019, all on the front end and all by open lengths. His victory in the $16,000 series final came by 8 3/4 lengths. “He looked like a nice horse on the track,” Stafford said. “It’s tough to adjust times off a five-eighths or a seven-eighths to a half, but we knew were buying a horse who obviously had a ton of gate speed because the horse was always on the front for Pete when he was good. It was just a matter of if he was going to be OK for the half.” Stormy Kromer made his first start for Stafford at Yonkers Raceway May 3, 2019 and removed any doubt. Starting from post seven in a $23,000 overnight, the gelding made the lead and never looked back, cruising to a 1 3/4-length win in 1:56. “When I talked to Pete, it was ‘what you see is what you get.’ The horse wears almost no equipment. It’s nice to take a horse that you’re going to race on a half-mile racetrack and not have to put any additional equipment on,” Stafford said. “First impressions were maybe he wouldn’t be able to go the other way, maybe he would just be able to go on the front, but about five or six starts in for us, he raced out of a hole and he was good and it was like, ‘OK, maybe we have a horse who can do it both ways now.’ " After his triumphant Hilltop debut, Stormy Kromer was unplaced in two Open Handicap tries before posting a pair of seconds in $29,000 overnights. Ten starts after his initial victory, Stormy Kromer found the winner’s circle again in an $18,500 overnight July 30 after posting a 13 1/4-length win in 1:54.4. By late-fall, Stormy Kromer became competitive in the higher classes. He finished second in a Preferred Handicap Nov. 9 and rode a pocket trip to a 1:54.0 victory in the same class two weeks later. Stormy Kromer earned checks in two of three Open Handicap tries late last year. “We thought we were buying a middle condition horses, non-winners of $10,000, non-winners of $20,000, maybe jump up in (non-winners of) $30,000 every once in a while, but Stormy Kromer has decided otherwise for us that he wants to be an Open trotter,” Stafford said. “I think he’s maybe a step below the top, top trotters, but he’s definitely shown us that he can compete either way. He can go on the front or he can race off the pace, which those horses are tough to come by.” Despite his acceleration off the gate, Stormy Kromer doesn’t get headstrong and settles for his driver after a quick opening quarter. “Once you get in the Opens and the Preferreds, you’re not going to be able to have your own way on the front like he was in those lower classes,” Stafford said. “Those are great horses that make a lot of money up there because they’re going to come after you, they’re not just going to let you stay up there. “One of the luxuries of ‘Stormy’ is when he leaves the gate, he comes right back to you, which is another thing you don’t usually see with horses, especially trotters. Usually, if you get them wound up a few weeks in a row, you have to reel them back in otherwise they get too excited behind the gate thinking they’re going to leave every week. ‘Stormy’ isn’t like that. He can leave in :27 with the car or he can duck and get away sixth if you need him too.” Stormy Kromer raced through the end of the 2019 season at Yonkers and got three weeks off before resuming training. He had one qualifier with regular driver Brent Holland in preparation for his return Saturday, winning the trial gate-to-wire by 7 1/4 lengths in 1:56.4 at Yonkers Feb. 28. “So far, he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. I thought he qualified really well. Brent was happy with him,” Stafford said. “When you start talking about a horse that you know is going to have to go into an Open in his first start, you have to get them a little tighter. I spent some extra time at the farm and trained him fast one more time because we knew we had to go a little quicker qualifier than you normally would like because of where he had to go.” Stormy Kromer drew post two and is a 5-1 morning line in his return. He will face five other trotters, including Melady’s Money, who was handicapped the outside off a 1:54.3 victory in the Preferred Feb. 22 and Weslynn Dancer, who looked like her old self winning a $27,000 overnight by 5 1/2 lengths Feb. 29. Elysium Lindy was beaten a nose by Lean Hanover in last week’s Open and drew post one. Arabella’s Cadet and Mostinterestingman complete the lineup. “I think he should be OK. He got a tough bunch. I know it’s only a six-horse field, but that’s a nice group of horses that we’re in with,” Stafford said. “He did draw the inside. I think with the qualifier and the way he came out of his qualifier, I think he’s competitive in there.” Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. The M Life Rewards Series for Ladies and Gents continue with their second legs Monday and Tuesday night, respectively. The Blue Chip Matchmaker Series will return Friday, March 13 and the Borgata Pacing Series starts Saturday, March 14. First post time is 7:05 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. by Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Stormy Kromer will make his first start of the year Saturday night (March 7) in the $44,000 Open Handicap Trot at Yonkers Raceway. The Dejarmbro son rose through the ranks last year, earning eight wins and $154,195 in 2019, and became competitive in the harness racing weekly trotting features, exceeding the expectations of his trainer, Paul Stafford. A private trainer for Tom Ceraso, Jr. since Aug. 2018, Stafford manages a 26-strong stable at Gaitway Farm. When the duo shop for horses, they have Yonkers Raceway in mind. Such was the case when they acquired Stormy Kromer last spring. “I’ve known Tom for probably 10 years, maybe a little longer,” Stafford said. “I had trained a horse for him in Chicago and we’ve been friends ever since. Never really had any discussions about training his horses out here, but opportunity presented itself, and here we are. “We race primarily at Yonkers,” Stafford said. “We like to race at Yonkers. It’s the best money. We try to buy horses that can go around a half-mile racetrack.” Stormy Kromer raced for Pete and Melanie Wrenn in the Midwest and at Pompano during the winter. Stormy Kromer won his last three starts for the Wrenns, including two legs and a final of a late-closing series at Hoosier Park in April 2019, all on the front end and all by open lengths. His victory in the $16,000 series final came by 8 3/4 lengths. “He looked like a nice horse on the track,” Stafford said. “It’s tough to adjust times off a five-eighths or a seven-eighths to a half, but we knew were buying a horse who obviously had a ton of gate speed because the horse was always on the front for Pete when he was good. It was just a matter of if he was going to be OK for the half.” Stormy Kromer made his first start for Stafford at Yonkers Raceway May 3, 2019 and removed any doubt. Starting from post seven in a $23,000 overnight, the gelding made the lead and never looked back, cruising to a 1 3/4-length win in 1:56.0. “When I talked to Pete, it was ‘what you see is what you get.’ The horse wears almost no equipment. It’s nice to take a horse that you’re going to race on a half-mile racetrack and not have to put any additional equipment on,” Stafford said. “First impressions were maybe he wouldn’t be able to go the other way, maybe he would just be able to go on the front, but about five or six starts in for us, he raced out of a hole and he was good and it was like, ‘OK, maybe we have a horse who can do it both ways now.’ ” After his triumphant Hilltop debut, Stormy Kromer was unplaced in two Open Handicap tries before posting a pair of seconds in $29,000 overnights. Ten starts after his initial victory, Stormy Kromer found the winner’s circle again in an $18,500 overnight July 30 after posting a 13 1/4-length win in 1:54.4. By late-fall, Stormy Kromer became competitive in the higher classes. He finished second in a Preferred Handicap Nov. 9 and rode a pocket trip to a 1:54.0 victory in the same class two weeks later. Stormy Kromer earned checks in two of three Open Handicap tries late last year. “We thought we were buying a middle condition horses, non-winners of $10,000, non-winners of $20,000, maybe jump up in (non-winners of) $30,000 every once in a while, but Stormy Kromer has decided otherwise for us that he wants to be an Open trotter,” Stafford said. “I think he’s maybe a step below the top, top trotters, but he’s definitely shown us that he can compete either way. He can go on the front or he can race off the pace, which those horses are tough to come by.” Despite his acceleration off the gate, Stormy Kromer doesn’t get headstrong and settles for his driver after a quick opening quarter. “Once you get in the Opens and the Preferreds, you’re not going to be able to have your own way on the front like he was in those lower classes,” Stafford said. “Those are great horses that make a lot of money up there because they’re going to come after you, they’re not just going to let you stay up there. “One of the luxuries of ‘Stormy’ is when he leaves the gate, he comes right back to you, which is another thing you don’t usually see with horses, especially trotters. Usually, if you get them wound up a few weeks in a row, you have to reel them back in otherwise they get too excited behind the gate thinking they’re going to leave every week. ‘Stormy’ isn’t like that. He can leave in :27 with the car or he can duck and get away sixth if you need him too.” Stormy Kromer raced through the end of the 2019 season at Yonkers and got three weeks off before resuming training. He had one qualifier with regular driver Brent Holland in preparation for his return Saturday, winning the trial gate-to-wire by 7 1/4 lengths in 1:56.4 at Yonkers Feb. 28. “So far, he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. I thought he qualified really well. Brent was happy with him,” Stafford said. “When you start talking about a horse that you know is going to have to go into an Open in his first start, you have to get them a little tighter. I spent some extra time at the farm and trained him fast one more time because we knew we had to go a little quicker qualifier than you normally would like because of where he had to go.” Stormy Kromer drew post two and is a 5-1 morning line in his return. He will face five other trotters, including Melady’s Money, who was handicapped the outside off a 1:54.3 victory in the Preferred Feb. 22 and Weslynn Dancer, who looked like her old self winning a $27,000 overnight by 5 1/2 lengths Feb. 29. Elysium Lindy was beaten a nose by Lean Hanover in last week’s Open and drew post one. Arabella’s Cadet and Mostinterestingman complete the lineup. “I think he should be OK. He got a tough bunch. I know it’s only a six-horse field, but that’s a nice group of horses that we’re in with,” Stafford said. “He did draw the inside. I think with the qualifier and the way he came out of his qualifier, I think he’s competitive in there.” Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. The M Life Rewards Series for Ladies and Gents continue with their second legs Monday and Tuesday night, respectively. The Blue Chip Matchmaker Series will return Friday, March 13 and the Borgata Pacing Series starts Saturday, March 14. First post time is 7:05 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Of the 19 entrants to the M Life Rewards Ladies Series first leg at Yonkers Raceway Monday (March 2), Lovin Cocoa is the least experienced with just nine pari-mutuel starts under her belt. However, harness racing trainer Travis Alexander hopes she will make up for it on speed and talent. She is also one of four starters in the series for Alexander. The 4-year-old Rock N Roll Heaven mare enters the M Life Rewards Ladies off an 8-length victory in a local $14,000 overnight Feb. 11, an effort that caught even her trainer by surprise. Lovin Cocoa had bar shoes on in that start, a move Alexander was sure was a mistake after she warmed up that night. “To be honest, before the race I was absolutely petrified because I had put bar shoes on her and she was absolutely terrible warming up, to the point where we almost scratched her,” Alexander said. “I told Matt (Kakaley) just to be careful, that it was my fault, not hers, she doesn’t like these bars, she doesn’t like the frog pressure. She’s not lame, she just doesn’t like the shoes.” Lovin Cocoa raced in fifth early 9 1/2 lengths off the pace. She moved to the outside straightening away the first time and advanced without cover. Reaching the backstretch, rival Thaneeya pulled the pocket, forcing Lovin Cocoa three-wide approaching the three-quarters. Passing the 6-furlong marker, she glided past the leaders effortlessly and opened up a pair of lengths. Lovin Cocoa kicked clear in the stretch under Kakaley pistol grips to post the dominating score at 1-9. Although Lovin Cocoa enters the M Life Rewards Ladies as a first-leg morning line favorite, last summer, she was a longshot to race at all. A homebred for Mark and Leslie Wasserman’s Fiddler’s Creek Stable, Lovin Cocoa is out of Scrapping Beauty, the first horse the Wassermans and Alexander had together in 2008. Lovin Cocoa and DD Delicious, Alexander’s other M Life Rewards Ladies entrant, grew up together in the same field. Prone to making breaks at 2, Lovin Cocoa was unraced as a freshman. Last year at 3, Lovin Cocoa had one qualifier June 5 before starting in the New York Excelsior B Series over a sloppy track at Tioga Downs June 10. She finished sixth beaten 6 3/4 lengths and came out of the race with an injury, forcing her to the sidelines. “She bowed both front tendons in the mud at Tioga. She hurt both tendons that night,” Alexander said. “It’s a kick in the butt because that day, DD Delicious won the sire stakes and then two races later, that happens. Highs and lows. It wasn’t terrible, but it was enough to where we had to shut her down. We just did the right thing and Lovin Cocoa is one of Mrs. Wasserman’s favorite horses. That’s been her filly since she was born and so we did what we had to do to go forward. “We healed her tendons and lo and behold, here we are. Honestly, she shouldn’t be racing. Her legs were bad. We didn’t give up, we gave her time, healed her up. Her caretaker (Armando Barragan) does an amazing job, he works hard on her legs. She wants to race, she’s fast enough, it’s just a matter of keeping her sound and happy.” Lovin Cocoa qualified back at Yonkers Nov. 15. She paced her mile in 1:55.4 with a :28.2 final panel. The effort took Alexander and Kakaley by surprise. “Once we had the legs set up and the ultrasounds were good, I knew we were looking good. I didn’t know if she’d get around the half and I didn’t know how much speed she truly had and how much she would have lost due to injury,” Alexander said.  “I qualified her the first time at Yonkers and she paced 55. To be honest, I was mind-blown. Matt and myself were like, ‘where did this come from? What in the world?’ ” Despite the encouraging result, Lovin Cocoa made breaks in her next three starts, all at the Hilltop. Alexander regrouped, sending the filly to the Meadowlands. With Alexander in Florida training babies, Roy Marohn drove Lovin Cocoa to a qualifying win at the Swamp in 1:55.3 Dec. 21. Six days later, she finished third in a $15,000 overnight, pacing the mile in 1:52.4 with :27.2 on the end. “She has a temper. That’s why she was making those breaks early. I had too big of a head pole and I was trying to make her do it our way instead of letting her do it her way,” Alexander said. “I took her to the Meadowlands to get her mind right and I took everything off. Roy Marohn did an amazing job getting her qualified and going. “After that 52 mile at the Meadowlands, I knew,” Alexander continued. “She’s always had speed, her whole family has had speed. The colts of that family have the same temper, but they’re a lot tougher to deal with. I knew she’d be more than competitive in this series. Once we got her racing good, we set her up for that.” Lovin Cocoa enters the M Life Rewards Ladies first leg off nearly three weeks rest. Alexander was forced to make adjustments after her outing with bar shoes and then prepped her for this start. “I had to take the shoes off because the day after, she was sore, so we had to adjust again,” Alexander said. “Young horses or lightly raced horses are a learning curve. You have to find what they will tolerate, you have to find a balance. We went back to the drawing board and I’m very happy with what we came up with. “She’s missed two weeks on purpose just to get her right,” the trainer continued. “She’s trained up very well. I expect a big effort on Monday and going forward. Four weeks in the series, I didn’t want to race her, so we’re managing her and we have high hopes for her.” Lovin Cocoa will start from post four with Matt Kakaley in Monday’s fourth race, the third division of the M Life Rewards Ladies Series. The Series kicks off in race two, where Alexander will send out DD Delicious. DD Delicious started her career last year with two straight overnight wins before jumping into New York Sire Stakes competition. She won one leg at Tioga June 10 and placed in five others to earn a berth in the $225,000 NYSS Final at Batavia Sept. 14. After drawing post eight, she earned a check finishing fifth, boosting her earnings to $140,470 for Fiddler’s Creek Stable, and was pointed to the M Life Rewards Series. “She’s special. She’s a very nice mare. We had some issues last year with some sickness, unfortunately a couple bad posts in the wrong stakes races,” Alexander said. “It worked out because now she fits this series. As soon as she didn’t win the sire stakes final, I shut her down and aimed her just for this series because it’s a good starting point for her 4-year-old year.” DD Delicious spent a couple months turned out in Ohio before shipping to Alexander’s Florida stable to train back. She qualified a winner in 1:56 at Pocono Downs Feb. 12 and prepped for the M Life Rewards Ladies with one start at Yonkers Feb. 18, finishing second in a $16,000 overnight from post eight with Kakaley in the bike. “We sent her down to Florida and she prepped as well as any horse could. Her first start, that was beautiful,” Alexander said. “He sat as long as he could, she sprinted home, had pace on the end of it. She trained very, very well (Friday), couldn’t be happier.” Unraced at 2, DD Delicious had 14 starts at 3. Now entering her 4-year-old season, Alexander feels DD Delicious is coming into her prime. “She’s much stronger, she grew, she put on a lot of muscle. I could tell all winter in Florida and when we qualified her at Pocono, that was the first time (Matt) drove her and he even said he could feel she’s just stronger than last year,” Alexander said. “They race the first year at 3, not having those starts at 2 does hinder them a little bit as far as strength goes.” DD Delicious is the 5-2 morning line second choice behind Tom Milici’s North Star Ideal, who enters off three straight wins. Alexander will also send out two starters in the M Life Rewards Gents Series first leg Tuesday (March 3). Marco Beach will start from post four with Joe Bongiorno and is the 5-2 morning line favorite in the first division. Despite his 6-for-19 record and $51,400 in earnings, Alexander doesn’t feel Marco Beach has lived up to his potential yet. “He’s probably one of the smartest horses I’ve ever had, but he’s the hardest horse I’ve ever broke,” Alexander said. “He’s been a challenge to get to this point. “He would notice any change. If a tractor moved, he would stop and try to figure out what was different. If somebody’s truck was parked on the side of the hill and then the next lap was gone, he would sit there for 20 minutes and try to figure out what was different, and you couldn’t make him move. He would sit there and just stare,” Alexander explained. “Last year, there was a race where he was crossing over to the front and he saw the starting gate and went to the outside of the track to go behind the starting gate again,” Alexander continued. “It was bad. That’s why John Kakaley drove him a lot last year because I needed someone that I could get every start that would educate him. He’s so fast, I haven’t even scratched the surface. I can’t train him by himself, his mind wanders. Mentally, he’s a tough horse.” Alexander has seen improvement in Marco Beach from 3 to 4. He qualified in 1:56.4 at Pocono Downs Feb. 12 and won his seasonal debut at the Wilkes-Barre five-eighths-mile track by a neck in 1:53.4 with a :27.3 final quarter Feb. 23. The M Life Rewards Gents first leg will be Marco Beach’s first start on a half-mile track. “I don’t know how he’ll get around the half because he’s never seen a half. Not that he’s bad-gaited, he’s very good-gaited, but you just never know. He is a big horse. That’s the only thing that concerns me is him not being on Yonkers before the series started,” Alexander said. “The reasoning was just more the way things fell in place as far as timing,” Alexander explained. “I shipped him north and qualified him at Pocono and I didn’t want to short rest him and race him at Yonkers with the series coming up. It was better to race on Sunday at Pocono. It was scheduling.” Alexander’s final series entrant is Tellitsabb, a 4-year-old Tellitlikeitis gelding who recently came to Alexander’s stable for owner Brian Carsey. After going 3-for-13 last year in Ohio with Ernie Gaskin, Tellitsabb is 3-for-3 with $24,000 earned already this season. “He’s a fantastic horse. The Gaskins did a great job with him. When they sent him out, he was ready to go. I liked him, so Brian Carsey bought him because I liked him so much,” Alexander said. Tellitsabb’s victories have each come by at least 2 lengths and he’s paced his miles in 1:53.1, 1:53.4, and 1:54.0 with Matt Kakaley and Joe Bongiorno alternating drives to this point. Despite the impressive results, Alexander sees room for improvement. “He’s a horse that wants to lean in on the turns. The last two starts, I’ve tried to help with that and it’s made him worse, so I have to take everything off and go back to how it was the first start,” Alexander said. “I don’t know how fast he is. Joe and Matt are both very high on him. It’s just how he is on the turns and the more you rig him, the more he tries to fight you,” Alexander continued. “I’ll have to leave it to the drivers, let them earn their money a little bit. Speed wise, he’s extremely fast.” Tellitsabb is a 5-1 morning line with Matt Kakaley set to drive. He drew post eight, but with valuable points at stake, Alexander expects the gelding to leave. “We’ve got to go forward. I don’t know how forward we’re going to go, but we can’t just duck and sit and wait,” he said. “We’ve got to race, so we’ll see. I’ll leave that to Matt though.” Alexander hopes to build on early-season success in the M Life Rewards Series. His stable is 11-for-44 at Yonkers this year with an additional 14 seconds and thirds. He credits his wife, Alaina, and caretakers Wilder Allverz (Marco Beach), Lucia Sanchez (Tellitsabb), and Barragan (DD Delicious and Lovin Cocoa). “We’ve had a very good start to the year. We’ve had a lot of horses fit the right spots, that always helps. Nice diversity from non-winners of two up to non-winners of $30,000 trot. It’s been a very good winter and hopefully it keeps going,” Alexander said. “My crew has done a tremendous job. I have to thank them. I’ve been going back and forth between here and Florida. My wife Alaina, she’s amazing. She runs the northern barn. I have no worries when she’s up north. She treats these horses like they’re her kids and it shows. She’s the reason they’re all racing the way they are. She does an amazing job.” Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. The M Life Rewards Ladies Series begins Monday night, March 2 while the M Life Rewards Gents Series kicks off Tuesday, March 3. The Blue Chip Matchmaker Series will return Friday, March 13 and the Borgata Pacing Series starts Saturday, March 14. First post time is 7:05 p.m. By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – The Standardbred Owners Association of New York will make a presentation to the 2019 leading drivers and trainer at Yonkers Raceway Monday night (March 2). Drivers Jason Bartlett and George Brennan, who dead-heated for the most wins last season with 427 each, and trainer Scott Di Domenico, who dominated the trainer’s standings with 180 victories, will each be recognized for their achievements on the racetrack The driver’s race became one of the highlights of the 2019 season at Yonkers and put an unexpected twist on the final few days of racing. After nearly 11 months of competition and over 2,000 starts by the track’s leading drivers, there is typically little left to be settled in the meet’s final weeks. For instance, by Dec. 1, 2018, Jason Bartlett had a 104-win edge on Jordan Stratton. In 2017, Bartlett came into the stretch of the meet with a 153-win margin. However, with two racing days left in the 2019 season, Jason Bartlett and George Brennan were locked in a tight battle for the Yonkers driving title. At Dec. 1, the duo was separated by just three wins, with Brennan ahead 406 to 403. After trading blows throughout December, Bartlett brought a three-win margin into the penultimate night of competition (Dec.16) with 423 wins. It was the closest race in Bartlett’s memory. “Usually by this time, everything is cut and dry of who’s going to get it and who’s not,” Bartlett said. “Between me and George, we drive hard against each other. We’ve always done that. At the end of the day, we still respect each other on and off the track. It’s a good competition, but at the end of the day, we still have a job to do and that’s to win races and get as much money as we can for the trainers.” Bartlett drove four winners on the penultimate card to Brennan’s two, giving the former a 427-423 edge going into the final night of racing Dec. 17. Adding a further complication to the contest, Bartlett missed the final card due to a previously scheduled family vacation. Brennan won four of the first 10 races on the Closing Night program, tying the standings at 427 and had a chance to take sole possession in the final race with Lord Of Misrule. However, when that pacer finished fourth, the standings were final. After 2,657 races from January 7 through December 17, the contest ended in a dead heat. “It was very exciting. I’ve been leading driver before, but this was the most exciting driving race I’ve been involved in. It was a lot of fun,” Brennan said. “I just went about my business and that’s how it ended. It’s a lot of work, a lot of dedication, good clients. It means a lot. “You can’t really think about it. You just have to go about your business and try to stay safe and win races,” Brennan said. “There was something going on with the driving title, but in a sense, it’s secondary because you still have to get the job done, you still have to get the most amount of money for your owners and trainers you’re driving for. That’s the number one priority there.” Bartlett and Brennan both experienced memorable wins in the final week of racing. Bartlett drove Mach It A Par to victory Friday, Dec. 13 in her final career start. The $1.1 million-earning mare aired by 4 1/2 lengths in her bow, her 82nd start and 17th win with Bartlett. Brennan scored with 11-year-old millionaire trotter DW’s NY Yank on the final night of racing in the pair’s 82nd start and 25th win together. Bartlett, 38, won his ninth Hilltop title while Brennan, 52, earned his third. Bartlett saw Brennan as a mentor and an inspiration growing up, making the contest even more meaningful. However, the pair can leave the competition on the track and focus on their work. “He’s a driver that I’ve looked up to my whole life,” Bartlett said. “Being in a competition against him, running for number one, is a pretty big deal for me. Growing up and knowing George and looking up to him. “For me, it means I’m doing my job. I’m there to win races and business is good. Every year, you shoot for it. You’ve got to have a little luck along the way and get some horsepower,” Bartlett said. “It’s a job that I love to do, I’m very competitive at it and it’s really nice to go to work and know every race matters. There’s no messing up. I know a lot of people are watching it.” “I just want to thank all the trainers and owners and caretakers that look after and train the horses, because I can’t do it without them. A big thank you to them,” Brennan said. While Bartlett and Brennan battled to the wire for the driving title, Scott Di Domenico enjoyed an insurmountable lead in the training ranks. The 38-year-old harnessed 180 winners at Yonkers in 2019, 27 more than 2018 champion Rene Allard. It is Di Domenico’s first training title at Yonkers, a goal the he has been working toward for years. He was second in the standings last year with 160 wins and third in 2017 with 117. “It was great. To do that, it’s been something that I’ve been close to a few times over the last three or four years, but never got it solidified. To be able to get it done last year was really special,” Di Domenico said. “It was never anything that I was praying every night that I would get, but you work hard every day and you strive for goals and you strive to win races. When it all comes together like it did, it was really gratifying.” Allard topped the standings through July, but Di Domenico took over a narrow lead in August. Di Domenico extended the margin through the end of the season. However, which such a long season, the title wasn’t something Di Domenico focused on nightly. “Never gave it a lot of thought. Just tried to have our head down working hard and tried to come to work every night prepared and tried to win races,” he said. “The rest of it, it was going to work out one way or the other. I’m glad it worked out the way it did, but it was never something that you sat there every night getting your voodoo doll out and hoping the other guy didn’t win any races.” By mid-November, when he enjoyed a lead of more than 30 victories, Di Domenico could finally step back and look at the big picture. “It was looking promising, it really started to set in, in the middle of November. I was paying more attention to it than I had been at any other point in the year,” Di Domenico said. “But you still try to work hard, and you didn’t want to let up on the gas any to not be able to win. Just tried to stay on the same plan we were on the whole year and tried to keep buying horses and have fresh horses coming in and out all the time and doing the best we could.” Di Domenico averaged 60 to 70 horses in his stable throughout 2019, most of which were pointed to Yonkers, where he made 810 starts last season. Di Domenico credits owners Dana Parham and Jo Ann Fucci not only for being great clients, but also for being great for the industry. “Last year we took kind of a step up. As always, as it’s been since I’ve been out here, Yonkers was my main focus,” Di Domenico said. “All of (the owners), they’re the key to any success. If you don’t have good clientele behind you and guys that are ambitious about buying horses, ambitious about racing, then it is what it is. You’ve got to have people that are ambitious about it and want to win as much as you do.” One of the highlights to Di Domenico’s season was the development of trotter Swansea. The Swan For All gelding joined Di Domenico’s stable in late 2018 and rose through the ranks in 2019. He won three preliminary legs of the SOA of NY Bonus Trotting Series last spring before finishing second in the $75,000 Final. Swansea then made the leap to the Open Handicap, winning three local trotting features before year-end. For the season, he went 14-for-29 and earned $255,815. “He was a horse that came from Indiana that nobody had any real high expectations of and to see him come here and make $250,000 and win a lot of races,” Di Domenico said. “He had a little bit of bad luck in the Trotting Series Final in the spring where the trip didn’t work for him as well as we were hoping that night. That horse, he’d have to be at the top of the list. “That series, three horses that really stood out to me now that you can look back on it, Swansea, Joey Bats, and Rich And Miserable,” Di Domenico continued. “It says a lot about that series and it shows how tough that racing can be at Yonkers.” Di Domenico also praised his team for the training title win. “It’s special, those guys work hard every day and certainly they deserve a lot of the credit,” he said. “They’re in the thick of going to the races every night, getting home late, up early, and taking great care of the horses. They certainly deserve a lot of credit for that.” Looking ahead to 2020, Di Domenico hopes for continued success and has his sights set on a repeat. “I’d like to do it again,” Di Domenico said. “It was fun and just the fact that you go to the track and most nights you feel like you’re prepared and you have as good a chance as any to win is a very good feeling. Going home after winning a race or two races is very gratifying.” Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. The M Life Rewards Ladies Series begins Monday night, March 2 while the M Life Rewards Gents Series kicks off Tuesday, March 3. The Blue Chip Matchmaker Series will return Friday, March 13 and the Borgata Pacing Series starts Saturday, March 14. First post time is 7:05 p.m. For entries to the races, By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – At around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday night, the door to Alex Dadoyan’s office opened and an employee provided an update: the main camera still didn’t have power, but the electrician was on the way. With about a half-hour to first post and an electrical issue threatening to sabotage the nightly simulcast, Dadoyan remained level and calm. Dealing with such urgent issues is part of the job for the Director of Racing at Yonkers Raceway. “Otherwise it’s going to be hard to show the races,” Dadoyan said with a laugh. Since taking on the role of Director of Racing in Sept. 2019, Dadoyan has made several changes: published post times are now more accurate and there was a shakeup to the betting menu. The nightly pick fours now start in race one and race seven, the sequences no longer overlapping. The pick five moved to race five each night, whereas in the past, its starting point varied depending on the number of races offered. Superfectas are now offered on even races only and there are seven pick threes on a 12-race program. “The biggest thing that I couldn’t stand was overlapping pick fours. It just made all the sense in the world to have an early and a later pick four,” Dadoyan said. “We’ve done really well on the early pick four. It’s averaging around $10,000 a night. The late one is not as strong, but they’re both stronger than they were last year. It just makes sense to split them up and give people different races to look at. “I just made a wagering format I liked and wherever there was nothing else, I put a pick three. I lowered the frequency of supers. That was another thing I felt strongly about,” Dadoyan continued. “I just wanted to build up the pools as best as I could. I think you see it in some races where there’s no super, the tri and exacta pools are really strong. If you can get a $35,000 tri pool at Yonkers, that’s pretty good. I was happy to see that.” If Dadoyan gets his way, another change to the betting menu could be coming soon. The track submitted a proposal to add a nightly pick six wager to the offerings and Dadoyan feels the New York Gaming Commission is close to approving the bet. “We had a traditional pick six at the Meadowlands when I was there and I was a huge fan of it. Everyone wanted to get rid of it and I was the one trying to fight to keep it,” Dadoyan said. “It stayed there until I left and then they replaced it with a jackpot bet. But now years later, they brought it back, but they’re at 20 cents.” The proposal Dadoyan submitted would see the pick six at Yonkers offer a $1 minimum stake, which will boost payoffs to those who hit it and boost the frequency of carryovers. The wager was proposed with a 20-percent takeout rate, the lowest the NYGC will allow on exotic harness wagers. If approved as proposed, the bet would include a 25-percent consolation payoff and 75-percent carryover provision on nights when it is not hit. “I had been trying for a little while to get a pick six in at Yonkers. We had some slight delays but I’m hoping that in the next month we could offer it,” Dadoyan said. “There’s no doubt that any time there’s a carryover, there’s going to be far more eyes on your product. Especially if you’re not the top signal out there, you need to try to get more eyes on your product and a carryover is one of the best ways to do that. “We’re not allowed to offer carryovers in the pick four, we’re not allowed to offer carryovers in the superfecta, so all we’ve got is the pick five, and that’s great, but it’s one race a night. And there’s plenty of nights where you’re not going to get a carryover. A slightly harder bet has the ability to produce more carryovers. Dadoyan sees the $1 minimum as the key to success for the pick six at Yonkers, a half-mile track with eight-horse fields. “Other tracks go for the lower minimums and that’s fine, but Yonkers being smaller fields and more winning favorites, I think the dollar makes more sense,” Dadoyan said. “The drawback is the pools may be smaller at a dollar minimum, but I think the potential for having carryovers is better than having slightly bigger pools each night with a lower minimum.” Dadoyan also hopes the $1 minimum fuels more carryovers, which produce value for horseplayers by reducing the effective takeout of the wager. He cited Tuesday’s $8,300 pick five carryover, which attracted over $46,000 in new money wagered and returned $331.50 for a 50-cent bet, to explain how the pick six may behave differently. “If you have what we have tonight, an $8,000 carryover in the pick five, it’s getting hit tonight. Whatever comes in, it’s getting hit with a 50-cent minimum and a five-race sequence,” Dadoyan said. “If it’s a dollar bet in a six-race sequence, it might not get hit and now your carryover is really big. That’s the goal. “The more carryovers you can create and provide value, you can get more eyes on the product and the better you’re going to do,” Dadoyan continued. “Whether it’s just that night or hopefully in the future too if people follow horses, or want to bet back a horse, whatever it might be. That’s the way horseplayers operate.” One of the most visible and polarizing changes to take place since MGM acquired Yonkers Raceway is the rebranding of many stakes races this season. Notable examples are starting soon: The Petticoat and Sagamore Pacing Series are now the M Life Rewards Ladies and Gents Series and begin Monday (March 2) and Tuesday (March 3), respectively. The George Morton Levy Memorial Pacing Series is now the Borgata Pacing Series and begins March 14. The changes are more than just new names. Dadoyan revealed they are part of a broader marketing strategy by MGM that is designed to cross-promote its properties. Complete details will be announced by the track soon, but Dadoyan teased some of the promotions to come. “We renamed a bunch of the stakes races to incorporate the MGM name. Part of the reason for that is because there is going to be marketing support for the new events,” he explained. “Those events are now upon us. The M Life Rewards Series starts next week and the Borgata Series starts the week after that. We have a bunch of promotions for those events. I don’t think anything like that has been done at Yonkers around racing.” Each night of the series, horseplayers making a racing bet at Yonkers will receive a coupon to enter in a drawing. There will be six drawings nightly and prizes include cash and trips to the MGM Borgata in Atlantic City. “That’s the whole point of it, they can leverage their properties to support each other. Hopefully racing fans can participate and take advantage of it,” Dadoyan said. “MGM is an entertainment company and racing can be a form of entertainment in their properties and they’re going to try to support it.” The most astute viewers of racing at Yonkers will have noted small tags adorning the horses’ saddle pads over the last few weeks. The tags are part of the Trakus system and are part of another initiative in the works at the Hilltop. Trakus is a tracking system which determines the exact location of each horse throughout the entire race via tags carried by the horses. The system can provide real-team graphics showing the exact location of each horse throughout the race, along with handicapping information, such as sectional times for each horse throughout the race and ground loss. “I was a Trakus fan from day one. I was trying to get it at the Meadowlands back in the day and it was really expensive. When the tracks got privatized, I was trying to work out a deal to get it at Meadowlands and Monmouth together, but we couldn’t work it out,” Dadoyan said. “Trakus has a new version of the product that they wanted to demo at a smaller track, so they asked us. That’s all we’re doing right now, you don’t see it on the graphics or anything,” he continued. “It remains to be seen whether we would pursue it because there would be a cost involved, but I’m a big fan of the product, so hopefully assuming everything works out OK with the testing, maybe there’s a way we could implement it.” Although Trakus hasn’t been used extensively on a half-mile track to this point, Dadoyan takes the stance that any additional data that can be provided to horseplayers is a positive. “The data it provides is so much more than what we have in harness racing now. I think it would be a great addition,” he said. “I understand that everyone watches races differently and things like ground covered or top speed, or speed at a point in the race, those are all factors that people might or might not see value in,” Dadoyan continued. “The data for all that stuff just doesn’t really exist right now. On a smaller track, you don’t have as much going on, but still, people might be interested in how much ground is covered. On a half-mile track, some horses are outside a lot longer than others. There is probably a lot of variation in the distance covered. “I’ll be excited to see some of the test results and see how it turned out. I saw a couple the first week, but I think they’ll be more to see before we’re done.” The changes that have been implemented and those still to come are part of Dadoyan’s strategy of incremental improvements and the philosophy that a series of small changes can make a big difference in handle. “There’s so many different things to address and try to take care of. You have to pick your spots and pick your battles, you can’t do everything at once.” Dadoyan said. “I try to tell people it’s small, incremental, gradual changes to make it overall better. You can’t come in and change everything at any racetrack, but especially one that’s been around a long time. Hopefully we can continue to make gradual improvements.” Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. First post time is 7:05 p.m.  By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY  

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