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YONKERS, N.Y. – Mike Napoli hit 267 home runs during his Major League Baseball (MLB) career, has 28 victories as a Thoroughbred racehorse owner, and now the 37-year-old is chasing his first win as a harness racing owner in the claiming ranks at Yonkers Raceway. A first baseman and catcher during a 12-year MLB run that included stints playing for the Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox, and Cleveland Indians, Napoli is also a lifelong horse racing fan. Growing up in South Florida, Napoli frequently attended the races at Calder Race Course with his grandfather as he chased his dreams of becoming a professional baseball player.  Napoli was drafted in 2000 at age 19 and played in the minor leagues until 2005. Napoli made his MLB debut in 2006 and hit a homerun in his first MLB at-bat. Napoli was behind the plate for the post season in 2011 with the Rangers, in 2013 for the Red Sox, and in 2016 for the Indians.  When Napoli retired from baseball in December 2018, he sought action of a different kind. Through mutual friends, Napoli met a racing manager at Gulfstream Park during the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. Napoli realized for the amount he was wagering on the races, he could get involved as an owner. The pair hit it off and exchanged numbers.  Napoli claimed his first Thoroughbred in January 2019. One quickly grew to seven and seven grew to 12. Within four months, the stable stood at 25-strong. Year-to-date, Napoli’s runners have won 28 races from 65 starts and placed another 19 times, good for $553,170. Napoli’s horses compete mainly in Florida, New Jersey, and New York.  Napoli took his first owner’s title at the Gulfstream Park meet that concluded June 30, topping the list with 16 victories. He also won his first stakes race when Heading Home took the $75,000 Jersey Girl Handicap at Monmouth Park July 7.  An avid racing fan and bettor, Napoli and his racing manager were enjoying an evening watching harness racing at the Meadowlands and Yonkers via simulcast. Whether fueled by the need for more action, the desire to try something new, or just too many beers, Napoli and his manager decided to dive into the harness game. New to the harness business, Napoli’s racing manager received Jenn Bongiorno’s number from a friend. He saw the trainer’s high win percentage and Italian heritage and was sold. Bongiorno recommended claiming the roan 10-year-old pacer Gypsy Leather and Napoli, a particular fan of gray horses, and his manager concurred. Knowing Yonkers was the place they wanted to be due to the good drivers, trainers, and purses, Napoli was in the box June 14. He claimed the 42-time winner from Brittany Robertson for $20,000.   Gypsy Leather debuted for Bongiorno and Napoli June 21, finishing second for a $25,000 tag after a pocket-sitting trip. He was the runner up again July 5 after setting the pace in a $25,000 claiming handicap and last out July 12, closed from 12 lengths behind to finish second by a nose from post eight. Napoli and his manager immediately noticed the primary difference between owning a Thoroughbred and a Standardbred is the timing between races. They often wait a month between starts at the flat track, but get action every week at the harness track. Although their business and expertise are anchored in the Thoroughbred game, Napoli’s racing manager conceded the economics of harness ownership appear to make more sense. Gypsy Leather will be back in action Friday night (July 19) at Yonkers. He will start from post four in a $25,000 claiming handicap and is the 8-5 morning line favorite in the six-horse field. Should Napoli get his first win as a harness owner in this spot, his racing manager, who wished to remain anonymous, predicts the star will be celebrating from South Florida. “I would say he’ll probably jump through the TV. He gets real excited,” he said. “We’ve had discussions about hitting a home run or about winning a race. He says it’s close to being the same. The racing, he gets butterflies in his stomach, he gets real excited and nervous. We discussed hitting a home run with 50,000 people in the stands and millions watching on TV. He says that was his job, it wasn’t really the same thing. Even though we’re a claiming operation right now, to us, you get that ‘W’ and it’s still a great feeling to win.” With continued success, Napoli could expand his harness stable. He is looking forward to visiting Bongiorno’s New Jersey stable, where he will doubtlessly enjoy another perk of harness racing: jogging his own horse. If his brief history as a Thoroughbred owner is any indication, Napoli could be at the top of the harness owners’ leaderboard in no time. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. First post time is 6:50 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY    

YONKERS, N.Y. – When harness racing trainer Kevin Lare purchased Freedom Warrior off trainer Jimmy Nickerson in mid-June, the freshman gelding came with a warning. Although he already qualified twice with Tim Tetrick in the sulky, including a 1:52.4 second-place finish with a :26.4 final quarter, the American Ideal son had yet to race and was still green. “When I bought him, I had been told by Timmy Tetrick and the gentleman I bought him from that he’s just a 2-year-old, that he hadn’t learned yet and it didn’t take much for him to get really hot-headed, run away, stuff like that,” Lare said. However, to Lare’s surprise, he experienced no issues with Freedom Warrior leading up to the gelding’s first start in the eliminations of the Lawrence B. Sheppard Pace last Saturday (July 6) at Yonkers. Freedom Warrior was two fingers when training with cotton-stuffed ears and an ear hood. However, for his first race, Lare opted for pop-out ear plugs. “The other night, I warmed him up, he was fine,” Lare said. “I passed somebody warming up, somebody passed me. I actually had to tap him with the whip because I wanted to go a good last quarter warming him up to make sure he was OK to get around that track. “I made an equipment change,” the trainer continued. “Now I’m in a race going for money, I go to the pop-out earplugs. I know he can hear through the ear plugs some from putting them in him at the farm; they’re not completely soundproof.” Just before the start of Freedom Warrior’s elimination, the last of three that evening, fireworks went off near the racetrack. Freedom Warrior heard them and became a runaway with Jordan Stratton in the sulky. As the race began, the fireworks went off again, and Freedom Warrior took off. “They set off some fireworks about 30 seconds before he went to go to the gate and Jordan said he lost his mind when he heard that,” Lare explained. “Jordan put him to the gate, and as the gate folded, Jordan said they set some more fireworks off as they hit the first turn, and he lost his mind again and Jordan was just a passenger.” Freedom Warrior pulled Stratton along, unratable and barely controllable. He was 3 lengths clear of the field past a quarter of :27.1 and after a half-mile in :54.4, the first-time starter was 10 lengths ahead of his nearest rival. Lare watched from the paddock, bracing for the worst. “I knew he was going to stop and that he was getting ready to come home in 40 seconds if he doesn’t fall. I’m thinking that he’s going to fall because he’s going to choke him off,” Lare recounted. “I thought he was going to choke, flip a palate, hopefully he doesn’t fall, but I just know he’s coming home in :35 tops. I just know he’s getting ready to pull up to a walk.” However, Freedom Warrior stayed on top by 7 lengths through three-quarters in 1:23.4. But fatigue soon began to set in. Waiting in the wings, a trio of rivals – Columbo, Hunter Hill, and Roll With JR – took their aim. Columbo took the first shot, edging to the outside at the top of the stretch as he appeared poised to go past the tiring leader. Meanwhile, Hunter Hill and Roll With JR loomed close behind. With only the top two finishers guaranteed to advance to the final, Lare was ready to pack his bags. “I know at that point in time the best he’s going to be is fourth, that these three are going right by him,” Lare said. “But when the first one got to him, he took back off and raced that horse. That was awfully impressive to me. I couldn’t believe it and Jordan couldn’t believe it either.” Freedom Warrior dug in, only letting Columbo past in the final sixteenth. The others never got to him and Freedom Warrior finished second by 1 ¼ lengths to earn a place in the $120,250 Sheppard Final this Saturday (July 13).  “Is he fast? Yeah, he’s fast. We saw that the other night. Without a doubt, he is a nice horse, but he doesn’t need many trips like that, for sure,” Lare said. “Jordan never did pull the plugs on him or touch him with the whip. He felt bad for the horse, as I did. I definitely was not coming back for the final at the half. I thought he was getting ready to walk across the wire. I did not see that coming at all. “I hope it’s that easy of a fix, that I can just go back and put the cotton in his ears. I can only hope,” Lare said. “You jog him without the cotton, the stone hits the wheels, here where we’re at, trains hook up right behind us and he does freak out. But when he’s got his ear hood on and the cotton in his ears, I can send my 12-year-old kid out to jog him and he wouldn’t be a problem.” Bred by Curran Racing, Adam Michael, and Heidi Rohr and trained down by Rohr’s husband, Freedom Warrior came onto Lare’s radar after being contacted by an agent. Lare and owner Forrest Bartlett have been searching for a talented 2-year-old for several years, and the pair felt Freedom Warrior was that horse. “I’ve been telling an agent for the last couple years that I’ve been looking for a top-notch 2-year-old if they could find one. The owner, Forrest Bartlett, we’ve actually tried to buy a few in the last couple years here,” Lare said. “He was always willing to step up to the plate. Forrest wasn’t interested in one that just looked OK, he wanted one that had a chance of being a top-ten horse. (The agent) called me and that was it, we got the job done from there.” Although one might pass Freedom Warrior by on looks alone, Lare was immediately impressed by the gelding’s gait and his ease of motion. “He’s not a big, strappy-looking horse or anything like that. He’s a gelding, so he’s not built like a stud horse or anything,” Lare said. “He’s not a looker, he’s not one that you’re going to turn your head and say, ‘wow, look at that horse.’  “But on the racetrack, he covers so much ground,” Lare continued. “When I sat behind him and trained him, I was impressed because he covers the ground so easy and he covers so much of it. When he picks them up and puts them down, horses that wear a longer hopple than he does, he’s covering more ground than they are every stride. He does it very easily and effortlessly. I really like that about him.” After purchasing Freedom Warrior, Lare took the gelding to Ocean Downs to qualify June 27. Although the heavy half-mile track was not ideal for the 2-year-old, it was the trainer’s last chance to get a trial in before the Sheppard. Lare expected a slow mile, but got more than he bargained for when finishing second a half-length behind Breeze Away B in a 1:56.2 mile. “The track was really deep. Jonathan said that was a 54-and-a-piece mile at Yonkers. So, I was very impressed with him that day,” Lare recalled. “I did have to make a couple equipment changes after qualifying that day, but that’s why I went down there, to find out exactly what I needed to do.” Freedom Warrior drew post six in the Sheppard Final and will again have Stratton in the sulky. Elimination winners American Rebel, Columbo, and Save Me A Dance drew posts two, four, and five, respectively while elimination runner ups Han Solo and Manticore will start from post one and post eight, respectively. Hunter Hill and Level Up, the two fastest third-place finishers in last week’s eliminations, drew posts three and seven, respectively.  “Of course, I would have liked to draw the rail in the final too. After what happened last week, I think he would have gained a lot of respect leaving the gate. I’m sure he’s going to be headed in the same direction anyway, we just hope it isn’t as fast fractions,” Lare said. “Of course, the six hole is no advantage there, but with his gate speed, it’s not going to hinder him that much. He is quick off the wings, but we just want to be able to settle him back down. “I think he’s got a huge chance. Personally, I think he’s the best, I really do,” Lare continued. “They’ve got him to beat in my opinion. All he’s got to do is get some honest fractions. He can pace as fast home as he was leaving the gate last week, he just can’t do it off those fractions.” For Lare, a victory in the Sheppard Final, the first open Grand Circuit stakes final for 2-year-olds this year, would be especially meaningful. The trainer hopes to see owner Bartlett rewarded for his purchase. “It would be great for Forrest Bartlett. He stepped up to the plate, he spent money buying this horse. He’s been a great owner for me,” Lare said. “I’ve had great horses before; he’s not the first one, nor do I hope he’s the last one, nor do I hope he’s the last one that Forrest buys. It would be great to win the first major stakes race the horse is in. That would be great for Forrest and great for me.” Saturday night’s card also features the weekly $46,000 Open Handicap Trot and Open Pace, along with the $37,000 4-Year-Old Open Handicap Pace. First post time is 6:50 p.m. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Monique Cohen will start two horses in the harness racing eliminations of the Lawrence B. Sheppard Pace Saturday night at Yonkers Raceway: homebred Han Solo and Harrisburg buy Level Up. While the latter’s journey to the races was smooth sailing, Han Solo narrowly survived a brush with death to become the 8-5 morning line favorite in an elimination of the first open 2-year-old stakes of the season. By Mister Big out of the Jet Laag mare Leah, Han Solo is Cohen’s first homebred. Cohen owned Leah in partnership and campaigned the mare across the east coast from 2007 through 2012. When the partnership finally dissolved, Cohen kept the mare who’d won 27 of 181 starts and earned $124,264, primarily in the pre-slots era.  “She did it the hard way. She was my pet and every time she raced in a claimer, I was cringing that she would get claimed,” Cohen said. “When the partnership dissolved, I bought her out and we traded a pretty expensive trotter for a piece of her for just so I could keep her. “She was just a little ATM machine,” Cohen continued. “She didn’t make a lot of money, but she was always sound, she was always wanting to do her job, and she was just an all-around good little mare. She’s not a big mare, but she was just a friendly little mare that was my pet.” After retiring Leah to her farm in 2013, Cohen decided to give the gray mare a chance at a second career as a broodmare. On March 24, 2017, ‘Princess Leah,’ as Cohen affectionately calls her, had her first foal, Han Solo. “He looked like a donkey,” Cohen recalled. “He was pitch black and had so much hair. The only gray was around his eyes and his muzzle. He had the thickest hair you’ve ever seen and he was huge, huge. I felt so bad for this mare. “That summer, he started shedding that black fuzz and he started getting lighter and lighter as the summer went on,” Cohen continued. “By September, he was pretty gray. He was still dark gray, but not that black.” When it came time to wean Han Solo from Leah, Cohen sent the colt to the farm of nearby owner Nick Vamvilis of Seafood Delight Stable.  “[Nick] had a yearling he was weaning, Seafood King, and he said, ‘can you bring your baby over here because our baby is alone and he needs a friend.’ He’s only 15 minutes from our farm, so we turned him out there,” Cohen said. “Nick was going to switch Han Solo from one paddock to another paddock. He said he just went down and he couldn’t get him up and he called me to come out there.” Cohen and her daughter raced to Han Solo’s side and tried in vain to get the horse back on his feet. After some time, the vet arrived and pulled blood, but nothing physically wrong could be found with the colt. “My daughter, Sheena McElhiney, who’s a trainer said, ‘let’s throw everything and the kitchen sink at him, anything. At this point, what does it matter,’ ” Cohen recalled and the team began administering strong antibiotics in a last ditch effort to save Han Solo. “My daughter and I sat in the field with him overnight. He was trying to get up the whole night and he was just throwing himself 30 or 40 feet in the field. We put a tent over him the next day because it was so hot,” Cohen remembered. “In the morning the vet came, and the blood work just showed a little elevation in his white count, but he had no clue. He was calling doctors in Kentucky, New Bolton, everywhere trying to figure out what this was.” About 30 hours after Han Solo collapsed, Cohen made the difficult decision to euthanize the colt. Preparations were made and the vet was summoned. Just before the injection was administered to end Han Solo’s suffering, Vamvilis made a final plea. "By 4:30 or 5 o’clock that night, I called the vet back and said, ‘I can’t see him like this anymore,’ ” Cohen said. “We called everybody and we got the flatbed ready to haul him away. The doctor came and his assistant was getting ‘the blue shot’ ready. He had his head on my lap and Nick came over and just grabbed his halter and said, ‘come on Han, just get up, one more time.’ ” Han Solo leapt to his feet.  The somber crowd stared mystified as the colt’s legs trembled under his weight once more. After about five minutes of standing, Han Solo was steady again and walked across the paddock to the fence to see Seafood King. One month after his near-death experience, Han Solo began training alongside Seafood King and Level Up. Although he had a tricky disposition, Han Solo took to his work well. “He has a personality. He was good line-driving in only a couple days and then we put him in the cart. He likes to jog with other horses because he likes to play with them and plod along with them. As fast as they go, he’ll go. He loves his work,” Cohen said. “In the barn, he’s kind of rambunctious, but as soon as you put the harness on him, he’s ready to go. The first thing when you pull him out of the stall, you throw the harness on him.”  By June 1, 2019, Han Solo was ready to qualify. He won his first baby race on the front end in 2:03.1 at Saratoga and returned to the Spa the following week to score in another trial in 2:01.2. The results encouraged Cohen. “We qualified him up at Saratoga and he’s a little bit lazy. He’ll go as fast as he needs to go. I knew he could go faster because he’s gone faster at home on our five-eighths track. He had to get experience behind the gate, and he wasn’t afraid of the gate, he got right up on the gate, so that was nice to see,” she said. On June 19, Han Solo made his pari-mutuel debut in a $5,750 2-year-old maiden at Saratoga. Han Solo raced 4 ¾ lengths behind 1-5 favorite Herecomesbullville early and stuck to the pylons behind a :57.3 half-mile. As rival Shade Thrower took on Herecomesbullville nearing the three-quarters, driver Bruce Aldrich, Jr. put Han Solo in gear.  Angling three-wide around the final turn, Han Solo ranged up within 2 lengths of the leaders. Fully extended, Han Solo stormed down the center of the track and surged past Herecomesbullville in the shadow of the wire to win his debut at odds of 5-1. “That was very exciting. Everybody who knows him is so happy,” Cohen said. “He’s got a good following around here and they’re just so happy to see him on the track. After what happened to him, we just didn’t know what to expect.” After finishing second to 3-year-old Fargo Hanover in his second start at Plainridge June 28, Cohen entered Han Solo in the Lawrence B. Sheppard Pace. The colt drew post one in the first of three $25,000 eliminations. The top two finishers and the two fastest third-place finishers in each elimination will advance to the estimated $120,250 final July 13. “The only thing he’s eligible for was the Massachusetts Sire Stakes, so we wanted to get him a little more experience. We thought this was a good race,” Cohen said. “After this, we’re going to give him a little break and then bring him back for the Mass. Sire Stakes. He’s just Mass. bred, so there’s not a lot of races for him. We wanted to get a little more mileage under him and he’s doing well and competing well, so we thought, why not, let’s take a shot.” Cohen will also start Level Up in the second elimination of the Sheppard. The Art Major colt drew post two and is 3-1 on the morning line.  Vamvilis purchased Level Up out of the 2018 Harrisburg Yearling Sale for $55,000. After two impressive qualifiers at Saratoga, a 16 ¾-length win in 1:59 at first asking and a 3 ½-length score in 1:57.3 second time out, Level Up finished on the board in two legs of the New York Sire Stakes at Yonkers and Monticello June 20 and July 1, respectively. “He likes to do his job. He can leave. He’s an easy one. We were really happy with getting him,” Cohen said. “He’s been doing well in the New York Sire Stakes. We’ve been really happy with him. “Both of them have been drawing really well so far. We’re just so excited that we have two babies we can really go out there and compete with.” Saturday night’s card also features the weekly $46,000 Open Handicap Trot and Open Handicap Pace, along with the $37,000 4-Year-Old Open Handicap Pace. First post time is 6:50 p.m. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. For entries to the races, click here.   By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

 YONKERS, N.Y. – The rich 4-year-old Open Pace returns to the regular Saturday night harness racing lineup at Yonkers Raceway June 29 and trainer Randy Bendis has been eagerly awaiting the class’ return. Although his pupil Bettor Than Spring held his own in facing older horses in the top classes at the Meadows, Bendis thinks the weekly $37,000 features will suit the gelding perfectly. “He’s raced really well here, but we’ve really been waiting on the 4-year-old Open,” Bendis said. “We knew Yonkers generally started that up around July 1, so as soon as we saw that on the condition sheet, we were heading back to New York for the year.” Bettor Than Spring came on Bendis’ radar last December after longtime owner Lewis Hauber expressed interest in acquiring a new horse before the end of the year. Bendis came across the Bettor’s Delight son, who Scott Di Domenico had listed for sale, and soon realized the horse had a special pedigree. He soon struck a deal and purchased the horse in partnership with Hauber and Jack Piatt. “I actually trained his mother. His mother was a very good horse for me,” Bendis remembered. “I didn’t realize that at first, but then we did a little more investigating and I saw that he’s out of Spring Break, who I campaigned for probably four years at the Meadows.” Bendis campaigned Spring Break at the Meadows from 2009 to 2012. She made 85 pari-mutuel starts under Bendis’ tutelage and earned $363,256 of her $787,057 career total in his stable. With 39 wins and another 72 placings from 178 lifetime starts, Bendis admired Spring Break for her robustness, a trait he sees replicated in Bettor Than Spring. “She was an invite kind of mare. Just honest, showed up every week kind of mare,” Bendis recalled. “She didn’t win all the time, but she gave her best just about every race and had staying power. I thought if he was anything like her, we could keep him around for four or five years and have a lynchpin for the stable. “He’s really a great horse to be around, a lot like his mother,” Bendis continued. “He doesn’t really look like his mother at all; she’s kind of a plain-looking, medium-sized bay and he has a big, striking, dark brown warhorse kind of look. But he does have a lot of her attributes: the gate speed, very good gait, and consistently gives you whatever his best is.” Bendis sent Bettor Than Spring to Ed Hart for a winter campaign at Yonkers to start the year. Bettor Than Spring recovered from an early break to finish second in his debut for the stable in a $20,000 overnight January 7. He then won three straight races, the last coming against older horses for $29,000 February 9.  After breaking again in his next start, Bettor Than Spring shifted focus to the Sagamore Series, which Bendis thought would fit him like a glove. Although Bettor Than Spring scored a gate-to-wire 1:54.2 victory in leg one, he went offstride the following week. He overcame post eight in the final preliminary leg to finish third. However, Bettor Than Spring pulled up and did not finish in the $60,200 final, his last outing at Yonkers. “He got off to a real good start. He was eligible to the Sagamore and he looked to be a layover kind of horse there,” Bendis said. “He ran into some health problems there. He had atrial fibrillation; his heart went out of rhythm.” Bendis brought Bettor Than Spring home to Pennsylvania, where he took up the gelding’s training. After some time off, Bettor Than Spring resumed his work and successfully qualified at the Meadows May 2. In addition to his atrial fibrillation recovery, Bendis made minor adjustments to help address Bettor Than Spring’s breaking issues. “I changed his shoeing a little bit and I think – fingers crossed – that shouldn’t be an issue in the future. I think he’s pretty much over that,” Bendis said. Bettor Than Spring was second-placed-first in the $20,000 Open Pace at the Meadows in a lifetime best 1:51.4 in his return May 11. He then rattled off three straight runner-up finishes before placing fourth and fifth in his last two outings. Bendis feels Bettor Than Spring has matured greatly after facing more seasoned horses. “He’s been racing some really classy older horses here and it will be nice to get away from them and back to the 4-year-olds,” Bendis said. “He’s been able to put himself in good spots and been able to sit two holes behind some pretty good horses. He’s giving his best just about every time. The last eighth, these older horses can kind of scoot away. He’s learning to do that, he’s getting better at it, but it’s different racing 6-, 7-, 8-year-olds who have made a million dollars.” Bettor Than Spring shipped back to Ed Hart this Wednesday (June 26) after drawing post five for his Yonkers return. He is 9-2 on the morning line with George Brennan set to drive. Albergo Hanover, who won four straight races at the Meadowlands to start his season and enters off two off-the-board finishes, will start as the 5-2 morning line favorite for the Bongiornos while Turbo Hill, who is 10-for-15 this year racing mainly at Pocono Downs, drew post seven and is 9-1. Skyway Quinton seeks three straight wins at the Hilltop and is 9-2. Mach And Cheese drew the inside in his Yonkers return and consistent check-getters Babes Dig Me and No Easy Day complete the lineup from posts two and three, respectively. “There’s some good horses in there. Yonkers is a great place to race, the money is great and if he holds up the way he seems to, he’ll make his money in there. He won’t win every week, but he’ll be a factor in there,” Bendis said.  Although several of Bettor Than Spring’s early season victories came on the front-end, Bendis thinks the gelding is more versatile now. Although he’s been leaving the gate at the Meadows, driver Mike Wilder has kept Bettor Than Spring off the lead, racing in the pocket in four of his last six starts. “He kind of gets lost on the lead. He just kind of relaxes on the lead and loses his attention a little bit. I think he’s a more seasoned horse now,” Bendis said. “I think he’d be OK if George decides to put him there, I think he’d be fine there, but 10 or 15 starts ago, he would make the lead and just wait on horses.  “He got caught one time, a horse rushed at him up the backside and got halfway by and he made a break coming out of the last turn there,” Bendis continued. “I think a lot of it was inexperience on the lead. He hasn’t been on the lead here at home at all; he’s been up close, but not on the lead. I think he’s a more versatile horse than he was back in February. He’s been racing top-class horses. “That’s the good thing about this horse, I don’t think you can put him in a bad spot. If they’re honking out of there, he can sit fifth or sixth and come with cover and be a factor,” Bendis said. “He likes a helmet more than doing the work himself, at least at this point. I’m really not concerned about the trip; I’ll leave that up to George.” Saturday night’s card also features the weekly $46,000 Open Handicap Pace and Open Handicap Trot.  First post time is 6:50 p.m. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. For entries to the races, click here By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY.

YONKERS, N.Y. – Although Solvalla Travbana sat under gray skies that intermittently pelted the harness racing track with heavy rains on the last Sunday in May, the dreary and unseasonably cold weather couldn’t put a damper on the celebration of a newly crowned an Elitlopp Champion. About 20 minutes after the finish of Sweden’s biggest race, the crowd of more than 21,000 clapped and cheered in rhythm while upbeat victory music blasted over the sound system.  On the apron, fans leaned over the fence, craned their necks, and waded into puddles along the rail to catch a glimpse of Dijon as he made his way back to the stabling area from the winner’s circle.  The striking bay horse’s arrival was preceded by a wave of photographers and media that swarmed around him. With a bright pink blanket draped over his back and a matching wreath around his bowed neck, Dijon bore the unmistakable air of a champion among this entourage. Flanked on either side by majestic white horses whose riders bore the blue and yellow colors of the Swedish flags they hoisted into the air, Dijon was the hero of the day. As Dijon made his procession along the track, his trainer and driver, Romain Derieux, savored the moment. Midway down the stretch, Derieux climbed onto the seat of his sulky and stood proudly over Dijon as he absorbed the praises of the Swedish crowd. With the lines in his left hand, Derieux thrust his right fist triumphantly toward the sky and the crowd’s roar intensified. This moment of pure elation was a dream that Derieux thought was dashed a week earlier when Dijon drew post position eight in the second of two Elitlopp eliminations. Starting from the far outside while rivals like Aubrion Du Gers and Propulsion drew favorably, Derieux braced for the worst as he and Dijon faced the starting gate for the first time on Elitlopp Day in need of a fourth-place finish or better to advance to the Final. “I thought I had a good chance, but when I saw number eight, I thought I was finished. It’s so hard to qualify for the final,” Derieux said. “Before the race, in my head, I thought, ‘start slowly,’ because with the eight, it’s so hard to take the lead. I started slowly and waited behind. And just the last 300 meters from the finish, I thought if I was fourth in the first race, it’s OK and if I wasn’t, I would return next year.” Derieux took off the gate and raced in seventh early. As Propulsion and Milliondollarrhyme moved to the outside with 1,000 meters to trot, Dijon stuck to the pylons. Shooting the gap third on the inside behind Milligan's School, he advanced within 3 ½ lengths of leader Aubrion Du Gers with 800 meters remaining.  Dijon kept to the inside around the final turn and when Milligan’s School moved into the two-path turning for home, Dijon found room to advance. Derieux went to the whip and cracked the lines against Dijon’s hindquarters. Dijon extended and advanced into third to make the final at odds of 17-1. After drawing post five in the Group 1, 3,000,000kr final, Derieux was determined to give Dijon his best chance to win. Dijon does his best work on the front end and that’s where Derieux intended to put him. With the scratch of first elimination pacesetting winner Readly Express out of the post parade, Dijon’s job got easier. “I didn’t think about Readly Express before the start. For the final, in my head, I decided to take the lead and make a very fast start. Without knowing about Readly Express, it was the same for me,” Derieux explained. “I think (Dijon) is better when he takes the lead. He likes that and he likes to start very fast. It’s easy for him to take the lead because he’s very fast at the start.”  Dijon blasted off the wings of the gate and crossed over to the pylons in the first 100 meters. Although he got leg-weary in the stretch, Dijon never looked back. He held off a late rally from Aubrion Du Gers to win the Elitlopp Final by a neck. “The last 300 meters, I go fast because I feel Propulsion, who has a lot more speed, and Aubrion Du Gers is behind him,” Derieux remembered. “I asked Dijon and in the last 100 meters, Dijon was a little tired, so I had to be careful about that. The track is so hard, so he didn’t like that. The track on Saturday was perfect and on Sunday with the rain, it was very hard. “It was superb. Before the race, I thought if I was third or fourth, it would be good. To win, it was incredible.” After Dijon’s Elitlopp victory, Derieux is considering the stallion for North America’s biggest race for older trotters, the Yonkers International Trot, slated for October 12 at Yonkers Raceway. Although there are logistical issues to overcome, such as the mandatory quarantine for foreign horses, before he would be willing to accept an invitation, Derieux feels the $1 million race would fit Dijon well. Bred by Derieux’s father, Louis, Dijon is a 6-year-old son of Ganymède out of the Coktail Jet mare Sonate d'Aunou. Derieux and owner Mauricette De Sousa purchased Dijon as a 2-year-old. “It was perfect for all because my father is the breeder and one of my best owners is the owner,” Derieux said. “I’ve had Dijon since he was 2 years old. I started with him in the qualification and the first race and every time after. It was perfect for me as the trainer and driver.” Dijon won his first start in an 11,000€ overnight at Nantes with Derieux in the sulky November 29, 2015 and won for 35,000€ at Vincennes two starts later on Christmas Eve. After placing fourth and fifth in a pair of Group 2 races and galloping in the Group 1 Prix Comte Pierre de Montesson to start his 3-year-old campaign, Dijon rattled off three straight victories at Cagnes-Sur-Mer before returning to Paris to finish fourth in the Group 1 Prix de l'Etoile. Dijon’s breakout performance came in his 13th start in the Group 2, 120,000€ Prix Abel Bassigny at Vincennes November 7, 2016. Derieux sent Dijon to the top in the 2,175-meter stakes, but was confronted by favorite Django Riff, who took the lead heading into the backstretch. Derieux angled Dijon out of the pocket straightening away and Dijon wore down the 3-year-old Champion to score a hard-fought victory. “At this moment, I knew he was a special horse,” Derieux remembered. At 4, Dijon beat Django Riff again in the Group 2 Prix Gaston Brunet. He also traveled to Italy where he captured the Gran Premio Tino Triossi and Gran Premio Giuseppe Biasuzzi. At 5, Dijon took a pair of Group 3 victories in Paris and Enghien before beating Orlando Jet and Django Riff in the Group 1 Championnat Européen des 5 ans at Vincennes December 12, 2018. After his Elitlopp conquest, Dijon is 13-for-51 with 1,046,762€ earned.  In addition to his speed, Dijon excels on smaller tracks. Derieux sees this as an advantage should he receive and accept an invitation to the Yonkers International Trot. “I think he’s better on the small tracks. I went one time in Bologne, Italy and it’s an 800-meter track like Yonkers,” Derieux said. “He likes to take the lead, so it’s easier to take the lead on the small track than a track like Vincennes. It’s difficult at Vincennes to take the lead the whole race. He’s very fast at the start, so it’s easy for him to take the lead and on the small track, when you take the lead, it’s better.” Should Dijon come to the Yonkers International Trot this fall, he would be the third Eliltopp winner to cross the Atlantic for the historic stakes since its revival in 2015, joining Timoko and Ringostarr Treb.  The $1 million Yonkers International Trot will be held October 12 at Yonkers Raceway. Invitations will be officially extended to participants by the Yonkers race office as the race draws closer. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. First post time is 6:50 p.m.    By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Champion trotter Gimpanzee will bring his undefeated record to Yonkers Raceway Tuesday evening (June 25) in a division of the New York Sire Stakes for harness racing 3-year-old trotting colts and geldings. The Dan Patch Award winning 2-year-old of 2018 will take to the track in a non-wagering split of the NYSS at approximately 6:10 p.m. Gimpanzee went 9-for-9 as a freshman, capturing victories in NYSS at Monticello, Tioga, Saratoga, Vernon, and two legs at Yonkers before scoring a 1:56.3 win in the $225,000 NYSS Final at the Hilltop September 22. The Chapter Seven son then posted consecutive 1:54.4 victories in the Breeders’ Crown Elimination and $600,000 Final at Pocono Downs October 19 and 27, respectively, to take divisional honors and give trainer Marcus Melander his first Breeders’ Crown win. “We turned him out after the Breeders’ Crown for a month, roughly. We brought him in early December and started training him,” Melander said. “He filled out very, very good. He didn’t grow so much, he’s not the biggest horse, but he filled out really nice. He definitely showed some speed now this year as well. He’s been having a lot of qualifiers and just one start so far, but I think he’s developed good.” Despite his impressive record on the racetrack and his Champion title, Gimpanzee keeps a low profile at Melander’s farm. However, one of Gimpanzee’s greatest assets is understanding when it’s time to race. “He’s very lazy. He’s like a 10-year-old gelding, he’s been like that his whole life,” Melander said. “He has no hurry at all. He’s a very nice horse to be around, but when he trains, you don’t think that he’s undefeated in 10 starts and made almost $700,000. You don’t feel that when you train him at home, but then he’s a totally different horse when he goes to the track. “When we train him down, he always feels good, he’s just lazy. But as soon as you bring him to the Meadowlands to train or qualify, he really knows what’s going on,” Melander continued. “I think that’s a good personality to have. He doesn’t get too excited at home, he does his work and he knows when it’s time to race.” Gimpanzee returned to the track April 27 in a Meadowlands trial, finishing fifth while individually timed in 1:58.3. He returned May 4 to win a qualifier in 1:55 and Melander pointed Gimpanzee to his first target, the Empire Breeders’ Classic eliminations at Vernon Downs. However, after only nine trotters declared for the $215,200 stakes, the race went straight to the final and Melander was forced to qualify Gimpanzee again May 18. “I just want to race him, but when he went to the Empire Breeders’ Classic, there was no eliminations needed for that race,” Melander said. “I didn’t plan that; I planned that he was going to race in there, so I maybe should have raced him at Vernon the week before in the Sire Stakes. Then the Sire Stakes went to Monticello and Buffalo and I didn’t want to bring him there.”  After tuning up in another qualifier in 1:53.0 with a :27.1 final quarter, Gimpanzee traveled to Vernon for the Empire Breeders’ Classic. He relaxed in third 3 ¾ lengths behind Mt Viktor early before driver Brian Sears mounted a first-over challenge nearing the half. Gimpanzee inched closer to Mr Viktor around the final turn and took the lead straightening away. With Sears motionless in the bike, Gimpanzee extended his advantage to 3 ¼ lengths to win in 1:54.0 at odds of 1-20. “It was good. He had qualified good going into that race, but you don’t know; it’s horse racing,” Melander said. “He was very good that day. He raced off the pace and he won easily. Brian was happy with him and it was a good first start. “For him, (the trip) doesn’t matter, honestly,” Melander continued. “He loves his work, it doesn’t matter where he comes from. Of course, on those bigger tracks, it doesn’t matter where you come from, but those half-miles, it’s easier if you go to the lead.” Gimpanzee’s Empire Breeders’ Classic win extended the colt’s undefeated streak to 10 and boosted his earnings to $695,730 for Courant Inc. and S R F Stable. With Courant owning Melander’s other two top Hambletonian hopefuls, Greenshoe and Green Manalishi, who each won eliminations of the Beal at Pocono Downs June 22, Melander doesn’t feel extra pressure to keep Gimpanzee’s record perfect. “My other horses are really good. Greenshoe is super-fast, he’s maybe a better horse, or at least faster than (Gimpanzee),” Melander said. “We try to keep them apart as much as we can here in the beginning. They’ll race each other in a lot of races later in the fall, but if we can keep them separated in the beginning, that’s great. “If I raced (Gimpanzee) in New York all year, he’d probably stay undefeated, but I’m not going to do that because he is more than just a New York Sire Stakes horse,” Melander continued. “But we wanted to start him out there in the New York circuit and we’re going to race him against those other colts late summer. Maybe start with one race before the ‘Hambo’ and then we have all of those other races all fall.” The deciding factor in Melander’s choice to bring Gimpanzee to Yonkers Tuesday was NYSS points. The colt hasn’t started in any NYSS events yet this year after bypassing legs at Vernon, Monticello, and Buffalo and needs victories in the series to get into the rich Sire Stakes final this fall.  “It’s really important for Gimpanzee to get some points for the New York final in September,” Melander said. “They go for a lot of money and we haven’t raced in any Sire Stakes so far, so we need some points. Yonkers is a track he goes around very good, so that’s why we’re racing him there.” Gimpanzee tuned up with a 1:53.4 qualifier at the Meadowlands June 15. He will start from post six with Brian Sears in the bike and will face five rivals in his $54,833 spit of the NYSS Tuesday evening: Chip Chip Conway, Cavill Hanover, Kredit Karma, Big Money Honey, and Lucky Weekend. Melander is confident. “I don’t see why I shouldn’t be,” he said. “It’s horses that he beat before and should beat again. Of course, he got the six hole all the way out, but for him, it’s a field he should beat. I’m confident. He’s been training good since the qualifier. If everything is right and he doesn’t make a break or anything, he should have a good start in there.” Tuesday’s 12-race wagering card includes two other divisions of the NYSS. First post time is 6:50 p.m. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Since Trotting Grace arrived on the east coast this spring, she’s quickly made a name for herself harness racing in the top conditions at Yonkers Raceway. The 4-year-old is 2-for-5 at the Hilltop and has a pair of runner-up finishes. Her last outing resulted in a victory in her Open Handicap debut, but trainer Travis Alexander thinks the mare is still improving. “I think her best races are yet to come,” the trainer said. “I don’t think we’ve seen the bottom yet.” Trotting Grace spent the first two years of her career racing in the barn of Steven Searle in Illinois and Indiana. She won five races and finished second in the $135,000 Fox Valley Flan Series Final at 2. At 3, Trotting Grace earned another seven victories, including five straight in stakes company.  Trotting Grace moved to the barn of Walter Haynes early in 2019 before shipping east for her first start with Alexander May 3. The Cassis daughter’s ownership group, comprised of Brian Carsey, John McGill, and Adam Friedland, sent the mare to Alexander with their eyes on the lucrative purses at Yonkers. “She was a very good-looking mare and she was clean-gaited,” Alexander recalled of Trotting Grace’s arrival in the barn. “That’s the first thing I noticed; she’s very good-gaited. She can get around the turns so well. That’s what helps her so much, she handles those turns beautifully. That just goes along with her good gait.” Although Trotting Grace finished sixth in her Yonkers debut in a $23,000 overnight, Alexander was encouraged. The start proved to be a learning experience for both the mare and her new trainer. “I was very happy to have a chance to see what she could do. As soon as they sent her out, we actually put her in the box before she arrived in the barn. She raced OK, she came first-over, needed a headpole, little things. We got to know her a little better,” Alexander said. Trotting Grace finished second in the same class the following week after riding the pocket. She was the runner up again May 24 after pouncing on longshot leader Warrawee Shipshape on the third turn and getting caught late by 1-2 favorite Winning Shadow in the stretch of the 1 1/16-mile race.   Trotting Grace broke through in her next start with Brent Holland in the bike, scoring a dominating 4-length victory on the front end at the $29,000 level June 8. She took advantage of an inside draw last week (June 15) to post a front-stepping win in the $44,000 Open Handicap Trot over Smalltownthrowdown in a lifetime mark of 1:54.1. The victories improved Trotting Grace’s record to 15-for-43 with $249,591 earned.  “I think that first start, she had to figure out the half and from there, she got it down,” Alexander said. “After that, she really started to click in our program. Getting better, and better, and better. Her last two starts, she was good. I feel that she’s improving. “With the rail last week, I knew we’d be up close. I didn’t know we’d be on the front, but it just worked out,” he continued. “Brent did a great job rating a nice mile and it couldn’t have worked out any better. She responded and that’s what good horses do, they respond when you give them the trip.” Trotting Grace will start from post five in the $44,000 Open Handicap Trot Saturday night (June 22). Brent Holland will be back in the bike and the pair are 9-2 on the morning line. Alexander feels Trotting Grace is continuing to improve and thinks Holland has played a key role in managing her energy on the track. “She trained very well (Wednesday). So, we’re taking it a race at a time,” he said. “She jogs and we train her a mile-and-a-half Wednesday for Saturday. She’s actually pretty calm and relaxed at the farm, not overly aggressive. At Yonkers, she gets pretty keyed-up. In the post parade, she can get pretty warm. Brent has done a great job getting her to relax in the race and it’s worked out pretty well.” The field for this week’s trotting feature also includes In Secret, who returns to the Open after a runner-up finish in the Preferred trot last out June 15 and is the 5-2 morning line favorite from an assigned post one. Smalltownthrowdown drew post four for Jim Marohn, Jr. and Rene Allard while Will Take Charge, the Open victor two weeks ago who was handicapped by post seven last week, moves inside to post three; the pair are each 3-1 on the morning line.  Ten-year-old Melady’s Monet returns off about a month’s freshening and will start from post two. Chasin’ Dreams, third in last week’s feature, completes the field from post six. “It’s post five in a six-horse field, so it’s not as bad. It’s going to be very interesting to see because I don’t know how Brent is going to approach it,” Alexander said. “There’s a lot of speed on the inside of her, but she can race off the pace, she can race off a helmet. I wouldn’t be surprised if he tried that this week.  “I’m not going to tell him what to do,” Alexander continued. “The owners, they like to go forward, they like to race and be aggressive. Sometimes you think everybody’s leaving and nobody leaves. It’s so hard to know how it’s all going to play out.” Saturday night’s card also features the weekly $44,000 Open Handicap Pace. First post time is 6:50 p.m. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY  

YONKERS, N.Y. – Twenty-nine two-year-old pacing colts and geldings will make their harness racing pari-mutuel debuts in four divisions of the New York Sire Stakes Thursday night (June 20) at Yonkers Raceway. Among the roster of freshman is Oreo Dream Extreme, an American Ideal son bred by Michelle and Al Crawford. Seeing the babies finally hit the track is thrilling, Michelle said. “It’s exhilarating. You have a checklist,” she said. “They sold, they sold well – check. They got into the right hands and are going to have a real shot – check. They made it all the way to qualifiers – check – and they made the races. You want the owners and the trainers to have a good experience so they come back to the well.” The Crawfords have invested heavily into the breeding side of the game in recent years; they bred 47 mares last year, 65 this year, and have 71 back in foal for 2020. It is a calculated move to fill a void in the spot. “When you look at the business as a whole, you really have a shortage of good horses. We felt that we would step up and be one of those breeders that would provide the market with quality horses that would go to the sales,” Crawford said. “The numbers have been historically down; however, when you have the mares that we have acquired at this point, it’s very, very exciting to see them go to the market.” Oreo Dream Xtreme’s dam is Spotlight On, a Western Terror daughter out of Southwind Laurel. After winning seven races and earning $83,967 on the track for John Butenschoen and John MacDonald, Spotlight On joined the growing broodmare band at Crawford Farms. The Crawfords were attracted to her family, which produced one of the sport’s recent stars.  Spotlight On is a half sister to The Art Museum, the dam of 2014 Champion 2-year-old Artspeak.  “Somebody tipped me off on that breeding,” Crawford said. “I thought she could have thrown anything.” The Crawfords matched Spotlight On with American Ideal, the sire who produced one of their most successful New York breds to date, Funknwaffles. Crawford loved the match and as a result, had a penchant for Oreo Dream Xtreme from the beginning. Crawford even let her son Max name the colt after his favorite ice cream flavor. “I liked him because I am a huge fan of American Ideal. I have an affection for American Ideal,” Crawford said. “(Oreo Dream Xtreme) just really had a good personality all the way around. Nothing was crazy or different about him, he was just one that I really wanted to see. He wasn’t huge and I don’t like huge for New York. Funknwaffles, by American Ideal, is lightly-built. He’s not necessarily the same build, but he’s a medium-sized horse.” The Crawfords offered Oreo Dream Xtreme at the Lexington Selected Yearling Sale and were thrilled when the colt hammered down for $60,000 to John Butenschoen. The trainer put an ownership group together, which included offering a piece back to Crawford Farms Racing. The partnership also includes James Crawford, Happy Hour Racing, and Richard Preziotti. “John is great. John supports our farm quite a bit. He really, really liked this colt; we loved the colt and we’ve always said we would support a trainer who supports us by taking a piece of the horses that go through the sale,” Crawford said. “I think it’s good business. They take the time to look at our horses and bid on our horses. We really believe in what we take to the market, so we’re always happy to stay in on them. “It was exciting because I really hate to see my babies go,” she continued. “Sometimes, I get ‘no, you can’t stay in’ and that’s tough, but it’s just the way it goes.”  About nine months after the sale, Oreo Dream Xtreme will make his debut in a $38,650 division of the New York Sire Stakes Thursday night. The colt drew post two and is a 9-2 morning line chance with Corey Callahan programmed to drive.  Oreo Dream Xtreme enters off a pair of third place finishes in qualifiers at Pocono Downs and Harrah’s Philadelphia in which he paced 2:01.0 and 1:56.3, respectively. Oreo Dream Xtreme posted a final quarter of :27.4 in both trials. “He seems to be doing everything right, and that’s all you can ask for. You start to hear more and more and he’s promising; he’s a nice little colt,” Crawford said. “I don’t think anyone can tell you what their bottom is until they hit the track. And you have to hope that the horse is going to get around a half. He did well on a five-eighths when he qualified, but at the end of the day, you don’t really know what their bottom is until they’re out there competing. “I think in the first few Sire Stakes you start to figure out who is going to stand out, if they’re going to stay in the Sire Stakes, what the competition is like,” she continued. “You just hope that based on the qualifying miles they’ve put in already that they’re going to be competitive. So, fingers crossed.” First post time is 6:50 p.m. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – When Swansea joined the ranks of Scott Di Domenico’s stable last September, the harness racing trainer had high hopes for the Swan For All son. The gelding began his career last July as a sophomore racing in the non-winners classes in the barn of Lester Haber at Hoosier Park. Despite the late start to the gelding’s career, Swansea made an immediate impression. He finished second on debut before rattling off consecutive wins and took a mark of 1:55.4 in only his third start.  “My number one agent found him,” Di Domenico recalled. “He watched the horse go and he had a relationship with the guy that trained him and we bought him. He liked the way he trotted. He was a big horse, had a clean gait, he kept coming. At that time, we were trying to find a non-winners horse to race in New York and we just thought he would be a horse that fit that ticket.” Despite the praise from Di Domenico’s top recruiter, the trainer received a shock when Swansea arrived in the barn. The horse was physically impressive as indicated, but the clean gait which was the basis of purchasing the gelding was missing.   “My first impression looking at him was he was gorgeous. My first impression training him was that we were in trouble,” Di Domenico said. “He was hitting and hitching and hopping and did about everything he could do wrong the first time I trained him.  “It was disappointing. I went out and trained him and he was just all over the place. I was thinking, ‘oh my gosh, what did I get into,’ ” Di Domenico continued. “It almost didn’t look like the same horse from the horse we watched on TV.” After his troubling training debut, Di Domenico went to the drawing board and formulated a plan to get Swansea back on track. A change in shoeing was deemed necessary and after being reshod that same day, an immediate change was noted. “Between me and my blacksmith, we came up with a plan of making a few changes to him and it really clicked,” Di Domenico said. “We put our heads together and we made a couple changes in his shoeing and it’s been smooth sailing since.” Swansea earned four straight checks for Di Domenico before breaking through with a victory in a $14,000 overnight at Harrah’s Philadelphia November 9. By year-end, he won three more times and lowered his mark to 1:55.0. Then, after a 1:54.3 score at Dover Downs January 22, Do Domenico decided to bring Swansea to New York. “At that time, just trying to get speed into him and stretching out and making him go fast was helpful,” Di Domenico said. “We raced him at Chester toward the end of last year and then took him to Dover. By about the time he was out at Dover, he was ready to go the half and do something.” Swansea connected in his first local try, capturing the winner’s share of a $20,000 overnight January 31. He doubled up in the same class the following week and after a runner-up finish while up in class on Valentine’s Day, returned to the winner’s circle for $26,000 February 28.  Swansea continued to improve as his 4-year-old season progressed. His talent showed in the SOA of NY Bonus Trotting Series. Swansea won all three $25,000 preliminary legs of the series in convincing fashion, leading at every call and scoring in 1:55.1, 1:55.4, and 1:55.0. However, after being engaged by in a speed duel Joey Bats in the $73,000 series final, Swansea lost a photo finish with Rich And Miserable. “He was wonderful. The night of the final of the trotting series was a hard pill to swallow. That wasn’t exactly what I dreamt up, trip wise, but it is what it is,” Di Domenico said. “It was tough that he got beat an inch; he certainly deserved to win, but that’s racing and prior to that and after that, it’s been ‘A-1’ efforts every time.” After the trotting series, Swansea made the jump into the open trotting ranks. Despite being handicapped by post seven and post six in his first two bouts, the 4-year-old managed to earn a check in each of his first two attempts in the weekly $44,000 feature. Then May 18, Swansea earned his first victory at the open level with Joe Bongiorno in the sulky. Since then, Swansea has hit the board in each of his last two starts. The gelding is 14-for-34 with $207,320 earned. “It was a little bit discouraging coming out of that series because they handicapped me the outside in the Open for a couple weeks,” Di Domenico said. “He trotted home, he stormed home and got money both times. He did a little bit better the night Joe drove him and he won and the next week he got nailed right at the wire by a really good horse in Weslyn Dancer. She’s a Grand Circuit mare, so not much you can say. “The biggest thing about him was he was really, really green when we got him and he’s figured it out now. You can leave the gate, you can take him off, you can race him just about any way you want. His versatility and his handiness is great. He’s really, really good that way.” Di Domenico said. “He’s a trotter that’s really matured and he’s figured it out and he’s got it. The one thing that you can be sure you’re going to get from him is a hard-trying effort.” Swansea will start from post six in the $44,000 Open Handicap Trot Saturday night (June 15). Mark MacDonald will take the lines behind the 12-1 morning line chance. The field includes Will Take Charge, who came from well off the pace to win last week’s trotting feature, and Winning Shadow, last week’s runner-up who drew advantageously in post three.  Smalltownthrowdown, who tired after setting the pace last out, will start from post two while Lean Hanover, who could not overcome post eight last out, drew better in midfield in post five. Trotting Grace and Chasin’ Dreams complete the lineup. “It’s a tough spot,” Di Domenico said. “There’s a lot of speed inside of him. It looks like he’ll have to race off the pace. It will probably take somebody else to do something silly for him to win, but that being said, I think he’ll be going forward late and I think he can get money.” Saturday night’s card also features the weekly $44,000 Open Handicap Pace. First post time is 6:50 p.m. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. For entries to the races, click here By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY.

YONKERS, N.Y. – When Al-Mar-Got A Fever came to Scott Di Domenico’s barn, the harness racing trainer was skeptical. Although the 5-year-old mare built an impressive resume in the Midwest, winning 12 of 48 starts and earning $226,231 while racing primarily in the barn of Steven Carter, Di Domenico knows doing it against top competition in New York is a tougher task.  Despite his early reservations, Al-Mar-Got A Fever is 4-for-4 since entering Di Domenico’s barn and will take on open company for the first time since shipping east Friday night (June 14) in the $44,000 Filly and Mare Open Handicap Pace at Yonkers Raceway. “She’s been a really pleasant surprise,” Di Domenico said. “Sometimes, it seems like Ohio is a little bit cheaper than what New York is. To think she was going to come out here and win four in a row and go in 52 a couple of times, I’d be lying if I said that was how I forecasted it.” By Kentucky stallion Third Straight, Al-Mar-Got A Fever began her career in Kentucky Sire Stakes and finished second in the $175,000 KYSS Final as a freshman. At 3, Al-Mar-Got A Fever made the Fan Hanover Final with a second-place finish in her elimination and again was the runner up in the KYSS Final.  Last year at 4, Al-Mar-Got A Fever competed regularly in the distaff open ranks at Northfield Park. Although she didn’t win any of those features, she finished second or third in seven tries and was four times beaten by Feelin Red Hot, a standout of the Burke stable who made the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series Final in April. As Al-Mar-Got A Fever grappled with Feelin Red Hot, she caught the attention of Foulk Stable. “A buddy of mine bought her from Ohio and he had been telling me about her,” Di Domenico said. “He was watching her last fall, she raced a bunch against Feelin Red Hot; raced her tooth-and-nail a lot of times out in Ohio. Feelin Red Hot came out here and did really well. He mentioned that he was looking to buy her, he ended up getting her bought, and he sent her over. Since she arrived in Di Domenico’s barn, Al-Mar-Got A Fever has been perfect in four races, leading at every call while continuously stepping up in class. Her streak began in a $7,000 overnight at Harrah’s Philadelphia May 4, when she cruised in 1:53.0 as the 1-10 favorite with Trace Tetrick in the sulky. “I liked her. The first time I trained her, she trained well. The first start, I got her in a cheap race at Chester and Tim wasn’t around, so Trace came over. She won pretty handy,” Di Domenico commented. Di Domenico then brought Al-Mar-Got A Fever to Yonkers, where she wired the field at the non-winners of $10,000-, $20,000-, and $30,000-last five levels with George Brennan in tow. Her last two victories came in 1:52.4 and 1:52.3, respectively and she recorded a 4-length score last out June 7. “That’s hard to do. They were terrific,” Di Domenico said. “She beat some really quality mares. She set the tempo and you can’t say enough about her. She’s really done a good job. She’s adapted to the Yonkers racing, she’s adapted to the track and she handles it very well and that’s reassuring.” For her efforts, Al-Mar-Got A Fever added $38,700 to her bankroll this season and will face her toughest test yet Friday night when she takes on open competition. She will start from post six as a 6-1 morning line chance. However, she will get a new driver in Joe Bongiorno as Brennan opted to drive her old rival, Feelin Red Hot, who won the $44,000 feature May 17 and will start from post seven at 5-1. The field also includes Alex’s Power, who won the local feature May 10 and was fourth last out in the Great Northeast Open Series at Pocono Downs and starts from post four. Lispatty won the distaff feature May 3 and was sixth last out in the Betsy Ross Invitational at Harrah’s Philadelphia and drew post five Friday night while Golden Orchid drew the inside off a fifth-place effort in the Rainbow Blue at the Meadowlands last out. Matchmaker competitor Twinkle tuned up with a qualifier at Yonkers June 7 and landed post three. Lance Hudson’s Glenferrie Blade won her first local feature May 24, but drew post eight Friday night. Rockstar Angel completes the lineup from post two. Although all four of Al-Mar-Got A Fever’s wins this season have come on the front end, Di Domenico doesn’t think she’s a one-dimensional horse. With plenty of early speed in the field, the trainer isn’t sure how her trip will set up. “She doesn’t need to be (on the lead). She can win any way,” he said. “Just those races set up to where it looked like the front end was her best option, and that’s what George did. It paid off. “If you do leave, how hard will it be to get to the front and if you take her off, who’s going to leave to make the race for you? It’s certainly a little bit tougher than what it’s been,” the trainer continued. “It’s her fourth jump up in a row. You’ve just got to play it by ear and see how it goes. It doesn’t look like there’s a shortage of early speed in there, so we’ll see.” First post time is 6:50 p.m. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. For entries to the races, click here. Twenty-five large, people. A friendly reminder from Yonkers Raceway that Friday evening's (June 14th) Pick 5 wager starts with a carryover of $9,416.12 and a $25,000 guaranteed pool. The guarantee, approved by the New York State Gaming Commission, is in conjunction with the U.S. Trotting Association's Strategic Wagering Program The Pick 5 is a 50-cent base wager comprising races 7 through 11 Friday night. It has no consolation payoff, meaning if no one selects all five winners (as was the case Thursday night), the entire pool (minus takeout) moves to the next racing program. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY  

YONKERS, N.Y. – When Chris Ryder pulled up his entries Monday evening and saw that Bettor’s Wish drew post six in the $300,000 Art Rooney Final, the harness racing trainer was dismayed. However, the isolated snippet of Bettor’s Wish’s post position didn’t tell the whole story. After Ryder saw the full field, he was intrigued. “When I saw I had the six hole on my USTA entry line, the full field wasn’t there, it just showed my horse having the six hole, I thought, ‘here we go again with a bad draw in the final, as usual,’ ” Ryder said. “But then when the full field came out and I saw the good ones were outside of me, I thought, ‘well, maybe it’s not so bad.’ When you have the six hole at Yonkers, the good thing about that is it’s not the seven and it’s not the eight. I think it’s very interesting. It’s definitely opened up the race.” Bettor’s Wish drew inside fellow Rooney elimination winner Air Force Hanover, who will start from post eight in the open-draw stakes. Blood Money, the runner-up to Bettor’s Wish last week, will start from post seven.  “I’m sure there’s going to be action in this race,” Ryder said. “It’s going to be a very interesting race. I think it’s a driver’s race.” Although Bettor’s Wish figures to be at the forefront of the action, the colt initially wasn’t eligible to the race. A $20,000 buy from the 2017 Lexington Selected Yearling Sale, Bettor’s Wish didn’t stand out as a yearling or a 2-year-old and had limited stakes engagements, primarily in Canada. “We bought him off of Brittany Farm,” Ryder remembered. “I liked his video before I went to the sale, I liked his pedigree page. When I saw him, he was a bit small, but that didn’t really put me off. “He didn’t particularly stand out,” Ryder continued. “He’s always trained well, but did he really stand out? Not completely. But he qualified well straight away at Chester. Even now, you wouldn’t know he’s in the barn. He’s really quiet, he’s not a flashy colt. He just does everything pretty well.” After starting his career with a pair of qualifiers at Harrah’s Philadelphia last June, Ryder sent Bettor’s Wish to Chantal Mitchell in Canada. The colt won on debut in a Mohawk overnight July 5 before placing in two Ontario Sire Stakes legs in the following weeks. Bettor’s Wish won an elimination of the Battle of Waterloo at Grand River and was second in the final before notching a victory in OSS August 15.  After a pair of placings in Kentucky Sire Stakes and a fourth in the final, Bettor’s Wish shipped back to Ontario, earning another win and finishing second in the Gold Final to cap his freshman season. Ryder gave Bettor’s Wish a break before he returned to the barn to train down for his 3-year-old season. The colt had started to grow up and he made a good impression. “He’s grown up a little bit, he’s physically filled out. He’s still not a big horse, but he’s big enough,” Ryder said. “We gave him six weeks out in the field, left him alone completely. We trained him down normally. We were happy with him training back. He just trained really well.” Ryder was so pleased with Bettor’s Wish, that when the February 15 deadline came to supplement the colt to the Art Rooney Pace, he pulled the trigger and paid the $6,000 fee, favoring the Hilltop stakes over an OSS leg. “When I was doing the staking, I noticed there was a supplement to the Rooney,” Ryder said. “I saw it was available and I thought, ‘you know what, we might as well take a shot.’ It’s $300,000 instead of $80,000 or $90,000 Canadian on the same day. So, we opted to cough up the extra $6,000 to make him eligible.” After a qualifying win in 1:53.3 April 16 at Harrah’s Philadelphia, Ryder brought Bettor’s Wish to Yonkers to test the waters in a $20,000 overnight April 29. Sent off as the 6-5 favorite, Bettor’s Wish raced in the pocket, but driver Dexter Dunn edged him to the outside with five-sixteenths to pace. He advanced alongside leader Twin B Tuffenuff passing the three-quarters and extended through the stretch, winning by 1 ¾ lengths in 1:52.0. "Obviously, I brought him to Yonkers to race him in that overnight race specifically because we were going to the Rooney,” Ryder commented. “He’s been on a half in Canada in the Battle of Waterloo and he handled it, so that made it easier to supplement.” Seeing that Bettor’s Wish was ready for the Rooney eliminations May 18, Ryder opted to qualify the 3-year-old at the Meadowlands May 11 rather than race again. Bettor’s Wish then cruised in his elimination, scoring a gate-to-wire win in 1:53.2 with a :27.1 final quarter. “We just went to the Meadowlands to qualify because I really didn’t think he needed a race,” Ryder said. “He was ready, just qualified him wanting to keep him fresh. That’s all he needed, particularly when you have an elimination and a final. “I was really happy with his elimination,” Ryder continued. “I was happy with the way he got away from the gate and happy with the way he finished. It wasn’t a particularly tough race, which I was pleased about. You’d rather have an easier race than a tougher race with the final coming up. The driver was happy and I think the horse is happy.” Entering the final Saturday night (May 25), Bettor’s Wish is 7-for-14 for Bella Racing Ltd., Fair Island Farm, and Ken Solomon, who own in partnership with Ryder. Dexter Dunn, who has driven Bettor’s Wish in each start so far this year, will take the lines again. Ryder is happy to be paired with the New Zealand transplant. “He’s been dedicated to driving since he was a little fellow, and he’s always been good at it. I’m not surprised to see him doing as well as he is. And I’m very happy to have Dexter on the horse,” Ryder said. “His father was a good friend of mine growing up. I kind of encouraged him to come over here. It’s not an easy decision for the guy who’s the leading driver in New Zealand to come somewhere where you might struggle for a few years. He’s done extremely well.” The full field for the $300,000 Art Rooney Final is listed below. 1 – Captain Malicious – Mark MacDonald – Ray Schnittker – 8-1 2 – Rollwithpapajoe – Joe Bongiorno – Jenn Bongiorno – 7-1 3 – Branquinho – Tyler Buter – Ray Schnittker – 7-1 4 – Buddy Hill – Brian Sears – Marcus Melander – 6-1 5 – Price Hanover – Dan Dube – Tom Cancelliere – 12-1 6 – Bettor’s Wish – Dexter Dunn – Chris Ryder – 7-2 7 – Blood Money – Scott Zeron – Nancy Johansson – 5-2 8 – Air Force Hanover – David Miller – Brian Brown – 5-1 Saturday night’s card also features the $109,234 Lismore Final, along with the regular $44,000 pacing and trotting co-features.  First post time is 6:50 p.m. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. For entries to the races, click here.   By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Although Montrell Teague has established himself as one of the top drivers on the Delaware circuit and became a household name after pairing with Wiggle It Jiggleit on a conquest of the Grand Circuit from 2014 to 2016, the young reinsman desired to have more skin in the game than just being a catch driver. Inspired by his father George and driven away from the sales due to rising prices, Teague turned to breeding his own racehorses. “I’ve got about five broodmares now. I bought two for myself and I bought three off of dad,” Teague said. “I’m getting into that a little more, just trying to own a couple more to make more money than just the five percent from driving.” Teague’s foray into breeding began with multiple stakes-winning mare Ella Fitz Hanover. A freshman standout in 2004, Ella Fitz Hanover earned a special place in Teague’s heart. However, after the mare failed to produce a star of her own, Teague sought to expand his fledgling broodmare band. “I fell in love with (Ella Fitz Hanover), so he just gave her to me to breed,” Teague said. “’Ella Fitz’ was the lone broodmare I had, so I went on eharness.com and saw Chausettes Blanche. I raced against her with one of dad’s horses; she was an open mare,” Teague recalled. Chausettes Blanche, a 32-time winner and earner of $329,250, came with a catch, however. After multiple seasons of trying, the mare’s previous owners were unable to get her in foal. Listed for just $1,000, Teague decided to take a chance on her.  “Dad said, ‘you might as well just try it. We’ve got a bunch of broodmares already, what’s one more,’ ” Teague said. “Out in the field, dad has about 40 broodmares already, so to throw another one out there doesn’t make a whole lot of difference.” Teague bought the Christian Cullen daughter and immediately took her to Tommy Cugle’s farm with the intent to live-breed her to Mr. Wiggles. About a week later, Teague was stunned when he came off the track at Harrington. “I just came off a horse that won and dad said, ‘congratulations, I’ve got better news, your horse just got in foal,’ ” Teague remembered. “I just couldn’t believe it because they tried two or three years and couldn’t get her in foal. That made my day way more than winning that race.” Chausettes Blanche produced Goldberg, a bay colt. Although he failed to make an impression early in the breaking process, Goldberg soon stood out from the pack for his desire to work. “Once we brought him in and started hooking him up, we started noticing that he had more energy than the other ones. Once we got him ready to go out, we couldn’t really put the bridle on him because he would rear up and he wanted to be the first one out of the stall,” Teague explained. “It didn’t tell you that he was going to be a good one, but it just reassured you that he actually loved doing what he did.” By the time Goldberg was training down at 2, Teague knew he had a budding star in his stable. However, an extra boost of confidence from his father provided the encouragement needed to aggressively stake the colt. “I had been going with him the majority of the time. Dad always knew he was one of the better ones, so we just set him up to sit on the outside and brush right on by and he would always win the training miles,” Teague remembered. “Finally, dad sat behind him and said, ‘you’ve got a great one here. I’ve trained a lot of good horses, but he ranks right up there with them.’ That made staking him up a whole lot easier. “He’s sat behind a bunch of great ones, Rainbow Blue, Wiggles, I can’t even name them all, but to come by after a training mile and say ‘woah, he’s special,’ it just reassures you that we definitely should take a chance staking him up.” After an impressive qualifying mile in 1:51.3 at the Meadowlands last July, Goldberg won his debut as a 1-20 shot and placed in two stakes before finishing third in an elimination of the Metro Pace. Goldberg’s manners on the racetrack impressed his owner and driver. “He feels like a classy horse. He’s very playful when he trains down and when he’s jogging, but when he steps out onto the track and he knows he’s suited up to race, he’s all class and he wants to race,” Teague said. “He’s two fingers, he doesn’t really go on any lines. He loves what he does, which is definitely a plus. He definitely reminds me of some of the better horses I’ve driven.” However, when Teague saw Goldberg in the paddock before the Metro Pace Final, he sensed something was amiss. The energetic colt who dazzled in his training miles and qualifiers appeared to be a shell of his former self. “He had his head down in the crossties and he just looked like he wasn’t even there. Something was wrong with him,” Teague remembered. Goldberg scratched sick out of the $685,000 stakes with a fever of 103 degrees and spent the next eight days recovering at Guelph University. After finally shipping home, Teague turned the colt out and shut him down for the year.  Teague was relieved when Goldberg felt like his old self training back at 3. The colt qualified a winner at Dover Downs February 21 and finished third in an overnight at the Meadowlands from post 10 on debut before taking on the Delaware Standardbred Breeders Fund eliminations. Goldberg took the first elimination in 1:53.2 March 21 and finished second to Chillaxin Away a week later in the second leg. Goldberg returned to capture the $100,000 final in gate-to-wire fashion in 1:51.2 March 4.  “I’ve won the Delaware stakes a couple times, but never with a horse that I own myself. It was going through the wire getting $50,000 instead of $5,000,” Teague said. “In the final, he just put everything together. He was strong out there, he left really strong and carried me through the whole mile. Once I popped the earplugs, he felt like he was supposed to, like he did last year. “It just puts everything into perspective of how much work we do put into these horses,” Teague continued. “Seeing him born, to breaking him as a yearling, to training him down as a 2-year-old, and finally bringing him back for 3-year-old stakes and you have to pay a lot in entry fees to stake him. You definitely see where your money is going and it’s definitely gratifying when you win a $100,000 race and he pays you back for all the work. It made everything perfect.” Off a pair of third place finishes at the Swamp that boosted his earnings to $101,150, Goldberg will set his sights on the $300,000 Art Rooney Pace at Yonkers Raceway May 25. Goldberg drew post one in the first $40,000 elimination Saturday night (May 18) and is the 5-2 second choice on the morning line. Brian Brown’s Air Force Hanover is 7-5 off a 1:50.1 victory in the Pennsylvania All Stars Series while Captain Malicious is 3-1 from post three. Buddy Hill, Price Hanover, and Melanie’s Teddy complete the sextet.  “It looks like it sets up pretty good,” Teague said. “You can’t beat drawing the rail at Yonkers. It’s definitely a perfect position. Couldn’t be more happy with him. I put him in at the Meadowlands and he raced good twice and I’ve been giving him a week off between every race, so he should be good. “Definitely when you have the rail, you have to protect position and be as close as you can. But you only have to beat two horses to get into the final, so that’s definitely going to be the number one thing.” If Goldberg wins the Rooney Final, it would be a meaningful win for Teague. After Chausettes Blanche tragically passed away with her second foal, Teague hopes Goldberg will honor her memory. “He’s definitely a very, very special colt to me. The bad thing is that when I bred her back, I lost her baby and I lost her,” Teague said. “Everything was great, and everything was gone, just that fast. One year, you got him, and he looks to be one of the better ones I’ve ever had. You bred her right back to Mr. Wiggles hoping for the same thing, but the next time, she was gone. “He’s the one and only one. He’s the only one I’ve got. I hope that he lives up to his potential and does her proud.” In addition to the regular $44,000 Open Handicap Pace and Trot, Saturday’s card features two $40,000 eliminations of the Art Rooney Pace and two $20,000 eliminations of the Lismore Pace.  First post time is 6:50 p.m. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. For entries to the races, click here.    By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – The harness racing team of trainer Kevin Lare and owner Frank Chick have a good history with broodmare Lionness Hanover. The pair bought the Western Ideal mare’s second foal, Well Lets See, for $4,500 at the Harrisburg Sale in 2014. Despite being an undersized gelding, Well Lets See won 15 races at 2 and 3 while racing primarily on the Pennsylvania fair circuit.  Off Well Lets See’s success, Lare and Chick purchased Lionness Hanover’s next foal, Roaring To Go, a year later at Goshen for $16,000. The filly became a force on the New York Sire Stakes circuit at 2, finishing first in the NYSS Final before being disqualified for a pylon violation. She also had Grand Circuit success, winning divisions of the Bluegrass and International Stallion Stakes at the Red Mile and a Breeders Crown elimination at 2, but was only fourth as the 1-2 favorite in the final after coming down sick. Roaring To Go went 9-for-28 and earned $431,999 in her career, prompting Lare and Chick to tap the well one more time. The Delaware-based connections traveled to the Ohio Select Sale in 2017 with their sights set on buying Queen Of The Pride, the fourth foal out of Lionness Hanover. “We wouldn’t have gone to the Ohio Sale if it wasn’t for her being in there,” Lare recalled. “We’ve had other ones in her family that had done us well, and we were just going back to the same well again.” Although they came specifically to purchase Queen Of The Pride, the McArdle daughter quickly climbed beyond Chick’s budget. But Lare managed to squeeze one more bid out of Chick, convincing the owner to offer $62,000 for the filly. The hammer fell and Lare was thrilled. “That was his last bid. If there had been another one, I don’t think he’d have won,” Lare said. “I was standing next to him and I was like, ‘come on Frank, one more time.’ He hit it one more time and I wouldn’t have gotten him to go again.That was it. If it wasn’t for the history with the family, we definitely wouldn’t have been there, but we went there for the purpose of trying to buy her and it worked out.” Queen Of The Pride hasn’t disappointed. She won her first four starts as a 2-year-old, including three Ohio Sire Stakes splits, and went on to score a wire-to-wire victory in the $275,000 OSS Final at Scioto Downs last September.  “As a 2-year-old. When she got down in the 2:15 range, she showed that she had talent,” Lare remembered. “Frank loved her from the word ‘go’ and he paid her into all the big stakes races and he just kept on paying. He had faith in her, and she kept going. “It was very sweet winning the Ohio Sire Stakes Final,” Lare said. “We had a lot of fun racing out in Ohio, the people treated us great. Winning the final was a nice race win for Frank.” After graduating from state-bred competition, Queen Of the Pride moved to the Grand Circuit. She finished fourth in the She’s A Great Lady Final at Mohawk September 22 and posted two runner-up finishes in the Bluegrass and ISS at the Red Mile. However, after qualifying for the Breeders Crown with a third in the elimination, she finished eighth in the final, suffering the same fate as Roaring To Go. “Bad luck for the family there,” Lare said. “Roaring To Go went of favored in the Final at the Meadowlands and she got sick that week after not being sick all year. Queen Of The Pride wasn’t sick all year long and she got sick that week in the Breeders Crown. We’ve had bad luck as far as the Breeders Crown.” Queen Of The Pride bounced back with a second in the Matron at Dover to cap her freshman year and has returned strong in 2019. She won an elimination of the Hackett Memorial at Miami Valley on debut April 12 and was second in the final a week later. Queen Of The Pride won the $50,000 Scarlett & Gray Invitational in 1:51.2 April 26 and doubled up with a 1:51.4 score in OSS in her latest start May 3. She’s 8-for-18 with $421,454 earned. “She’s come back very sharp from the qualifier to all her races,” Lare said. “She was a little off form there the one week when she got beat in the final of the Hackett. It really wasn’t her fault, I’m going to take the blame for that. She rebounded from it very well in her next two starts. She set the season’s record out there, she’s doing everything that’s being asked of her.” Queen Of The Pride will make her Yonkers Raceway debut Saturday, May 11 when she starts in a $22,050 division of the W.N. Reynolds Memorial for 3-year-old fillies. Lare is using the start as a test drive for the Lismore Pace eliminations May 18. It will be Queen Of The Pride’s second start on the half-mile track after she won an OSS division at Northfield Park last year. “If everything goes well this week, we’re coming back next week for the Lismore,” Lare said. “This will be the second start I’ve ever raced her on a half-mile racetrack. I’ve trained her on a half. She trained a very good mile on a half this week and I don’t see that being a problem. I really don’t.” Queen Of The Pride will start from post three and is the 7-5 morning line favorite with Jordan Stratton in the sulky. Her rivals include Abigail Dawn, who is 3-for-3 this season and posted a 1:51.2 win at Harrah’s Philadelphia last time out.  “She’s won three races this year, all from the three hole,” Lare said. “We got the three hole this week and I said, ‘maybe that’s a good sign. Maybe that’s an omen.’ There’s a nice group of fillies in there all around. Chris Ryder’s filly looks like she’s come back very well this year. It looks like she’s come back really strong with the mile she put in at Chester in her last start. “Queen Of The Pride is very manageable. She’s all racehorse,” Lare continued. “She has gate speed, but that doesn’t mean she can’t race from off the pace. Tony (Hall) raced her in a hole two starts ago. She doesn’t have to have the front-end; actually, I like her better out of a hole. But I’ll leave that up to Jordan. He knows everything about Yonkers Raceway, I have all the faith in Jordan.” On Accident Vies for Stakes Win in Last Start for Lare and Chick In addition to Queen Of the Pride, Lare and Chick will start On Accident in a division of the Reynolds for sophomore colts and geldings. Chick’s purchase of the Well Said gelding for $20,000 at Harrisburg was an unintended one.  “Frank buys the horses, we go and look at them and pretty much figure that some of them are going to be out of his price range,” Lare explained, remembering Chick pointing out a horse in the catalog. “He asked me, ‘did you look at this horse? He’s got to be worth that, isn’t he?’ He turned around and he bid. I said, ‘Frank, that’s not him in the ring, that’s the horse before him.’ Then the hammer went down and we bought him. We got him home and he was training pretty good, so we changed his name to On Accident. The horse that he wanted to buy brought over $100,000, I think.” On Accident went 0-for-5 at 2, but is 2-for-13 this year with another eight placings. After being placed first in a leg of the Sagamore and finishing third in the Final and placing in three legs of the Weiss Series at Pocono this spring, the gelding’s earnings swelled to $54,084.  The Reynolds will be On Accident’s last start for Lare and Chick as he is entered in the Blooded Horse Spring Mixed Sale May 14. He enters the Reynolds off a fourth-place finish in a $16,000 overnight at Yonkers April 29.  “He’s done OK. He was an OK 2-year-old. He’ll follow a horse, he’s not big on cutting a mile at all,” Lare said. “He’s progressed a lot from his 2-year-old to his 3-year-old season. “He was actually eligible for the Weiss Final at Pocono, but we elected not to race him and took him to Yonkers instead to take him back there before this race and we got blessed with the eight hole,” Lare continued. “He finished fourth out of the eight hole in a respectable mile. He’s in with some nice horses, but he’ll be close, I’m sure.” Saturday night’s card features two divisions of the Reynolds for fillies and two divisions for colts and geldings, along with the regular $44,000 pacing and trotting co-features.  First post time is 6:50 p.m. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Although Jay Hochstetler works alongside his father training a stable of 22 harness racing horses, it’s rare that he purchases one for himself. However, when Hochstetler was shopping at the 2017 Harrisburg yearling sale, he came across an attractive pedigree in Bro, a Rock N Roll Heaven son out of the Pro Bono Best mare Gro. When Hochstetler laid eyes on the colt, he did a double take.  “I actually watched his mom race a lot. She raced in New York and Chicago and so did the rest of her family. I really liked her. I knew the maternal line was strong from a speed standpoint,” Hochstetler said. “When he came out of the stall, he was just a big, strong, black colt. He just had that presence that people talk about when they first walk out, you take a second look at them because they just have a look to them. There was nothing wrong with him, he had a good conformation, but when he took those first few steps out of the stall, he just had that big, strong look to him.” But Bro’s presence also came with an attitude. He quickly developed a dangerous reputation at the sale and after the hammer fell for $22,000, Hochstetler was surprised to find the staff would no longer enter Bro’s stall. However, when considering Bro’s pedigree, Hochstetler wasn’t put off by the colt’s temper. “He was really mean; the girls at the sale were scared of him,” Hochstetler recalled. “He wouldn’t let you in the stall, he was really territorial. He would try to kick you if you came in his stall. When I went to put him on the trailer, they wouldn’t go in and get him, I had to get him myself. The girl was having a lot of problems walking him to show him to people. He was a rambunctious, tough, big, strong colt. He’s still got an imposing figure; he’s had that since day one. When he is angry, he can toss you around. “The Rock N Roll Heaven’s tend to have that temperament, so it didn’t really phase me,” Hochstetler continued. “I’ve had a few that were alright horses that had that same disposition. I don’t mind my pacing colts being nasty once in a while. They have to have a mean streak in them to go the miles that they have to go.” Hochstetler hoped Bro’s disposition would improve after the sale, but at first, Bro didn’t relent. After some time, however, he acclimatized to his new surroundings and came out of his shell. “I thought maybe he was just being a jerk that day at the sale, but no, he meant it. He took a little getting used to when we first had him,” Hochstetler said. “Once he finally figured out you were the person that fed him and weren’t going to hurt him, he was really good. He hasn’t given me a problem ever since.” Bro proved to be a promising 2-year-old in training and was ready to qualify June 8, 2018. He finished second in his pari-mutuel debut nine days later, pacing a 1:57.0 mile with a :27.1 final quarter with Jay’s father Homer in the sulky. But after another runner-up finish in a New York Excelsior Series “A” split at Yonkers June 26, Hochstetler shut Bro down. “I really liked him last year. He had a little bone cyst that was really hurting him after his second start, so we stopped with him and just let that heal up,” Hochstetler said. “It was one of those things where think if I did a bunch of vet work, I could have pressed him on that year. But from day one, I knew he was a big colt, so I wasn’t afraid to stop with him from that standpoint because he needed time regardless. For his long-term future, I think it’s best that I didn’t race him a lot at 2. He didn’t tear himself up much. If I want a horse for the long run, that might have been the best thing that could have happened.” Bro filled out and matured during his time off. After x-rays came back clean last winter, Bro was ready to begin training back in early December. Sharp from his first training mile, Bro cruised through the winter in Pinehurst, North Carolina. With Hochstetler in the bike, Bro turned heads with a 1:54.4 qualifier at the training facility April 10. “That’s probably my favorite thing about him. Even when he was just a yearling, he’s always been a nice horse to drive,” Hochstetler said. “He’s never loose-lined, but he never pulls too hard. He drives straight. A 1:54.4-mile at Pinehurst is really a big mile, especially with a strong back half. It’s a good track, but you never usually see that type of speed down there.” After shipping back to Hochstetler’s base at Vernon Downs, Bro earned his maiden-breaking win April 27, again with his owner in the sulky. Although the 5 ½-length score in 1:57.0 doesn’t stand out on paper, given the slow conditions that evening, Hochstetler was impressed. “I really enjoy the training side a lot more than the driving side, but I had trained him all year myself. I figured, especially at my home track, I was OK with driving him,” Hochstetler said. “That race at Vernon, I was pretty confident I would win it and it was 1:57, but the wind was absolutely howling that night and it was still pretty sloppy. To come a back half like that, that was a deceivingly fast mile.” Hochstetler hoped for a good learning experience in Bro’s last start in a $15,000 overnight at the Meadowlands. But after being parked from post eight, Hochstetler’s hopes faded. Despite the 1:51.3 clocking with a :26.2 final panel, the eighth-place finish made the 4-hour ride back to Vernon agonizing. “He got thrown to the fire there a little earlier in his career than I wanted him too,” Hochstetler said. “The mile that he went was still pretty impressive to pace that fast for home afterwards. He had every excuse to just call it off and he still came a pretty good back half and last quarter. His own performance wise, I was encouraged.” With two starts under his belt this season, Bro will vie for his first stakes victory Saturday night (May 11) at Yonkers in a $24,250 division of the W.N. Reynolds Memorial. The colt drew the inside post and is a 9-1 morning line for driver Brent Holland. “I had a choice between here and the first Sire Stakes leg at Monticello and I chose Yonkers,” Hochstetler said. “It’s seven days back from when he was raced before, and I like that I can go over a good surface like Yonkers. Especially since he had an injury last year, I didn’t want to risk anything, so I figured I’d go to the best surface I could. I thought it was the right way to go, and I got the rail. So far, luck’s on my side, so hopefully it’s the same way when we go to post.” Although Bro hasn’t shown a penchant for a particular style of racing in his four career starts thus far, Hochstetler thinks the 3-year-old can be aggressive from the inside if needed.  “I’ve never really left with him hard, but he has quick speed, so I think he has that in his arsenal. It’s definitely something he’s going to have to learn if he’s going to race in New York,” he said. “This is a spot where if you have to, I wouldn’t be hesitant to try it. He’s going to try no matter what you do. He isn’t one that needs a specific trip from what I can tell. He’s still green, but the way he trained, there wouldn’t be a problem with either way he would have to race.” Saturday night’s card features two divisions of the Reynolds for fillies and two divisions for colts and geldings, along with the regular $44,000 pacing and trotting co-features.  First post time is 6:50 p.m. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Although harness racing driver / trainer Trond Smedshammer has always felt trotter Perlcuky possessed talent, the Lucky Chucky son developed a knack for making mistakes at unfortunate times. He jumped offstride in his career debut as a 2-year-old and after earning a spot in the New York Sire Stakes Final, made a break in the $225,000 championship. Perlucky also galloped in the Dexter Cup Final and the NYSS Final again as a 3-year-old.  “There are easier horses to drive,” said Smedshammer, who’s been in the bike for 28 of Perlucky’s 34 races and qualifiers. “He can get a little aggressive at times and can get a little bumpy on the turns. He usually doesn’t make a mistake, but he’s not the easiest one to drive. Right now, we seem to have him rigged and set up in a way that is a little bit better, but at times, he can be tough to sit in a hole with and follow horses. That’s why I’ve driven him myself most of the time.” Despite his mistakes, the $15,000 Harrisburg buy still earned $178,519 at 2 and 3 and now at 4, has started to put all it all together. Perlucky began his 2019 campaign with five wins in his first eight starts as he climbed the class ladder at Yonkers, winning out of the non-winners of 4, 6, and 8 conditions.  Perlucky’s biggest win this year came against older horses at the non-winners of $30,000 last five level April 13. Smedshammer gave up the lines in favor of George Brennan in that start, and Brennan sent the gelding straight to the top. Perlucky opened a 4-length advantage past the three-quarters and maintained his lead in the stretch to win in a career-best 1:54.4. “That’s the first time he’s really been let go,” Smedshammer said. “In the beginning, he had a few miles on the front end. Most of the times after that, I’ve been sitting back and racing the last half. He’s pretty strong, he can carry his speed a long way, so I wasn’t surprised. He won in 56-and-one as a 3-year-old and now this year, he’s a better horse. He can definitely go better now under the right circumstances. “He showed talent both as a 2- and 3-year-old, but he wasn’t as fast as he is now” Smedshammer continued. “Another year, he’s just more mature. Mostly physically. He got bigger and stronger.” Although Brennan’s aggressive tactics paid off, Smedshammer cautioned that it’s all or nothing when sending Perlucky off the gate.   “If you fire him up leaving, you have to be prepared to go to the front,” he explained. “If you fire him up leaving, you’re not going to be able to sit in a hole with him, you’re not going to be able to let someone retake. That’s not his style. He’s not going to like that. Either you take him off the gate, or if you leave hard, you have to be prepared to go to the front.” Off an impressive runner-up finish to Melady’s Monet in the same class last out April 20, Perlucky boosted his career tally to $272,349 and earned a spot in the $44,000 Open Handicap Trot Saturday, May 4. Paired with Brennan again, the duo will start from post four.  The field includes Smalltownthrowdown, who will start from post five and looks to improve off a sixth-place finish last out when handicapped by post eight, and Eye Ofa Tiger As, who won last week’s trotting feature. New Heaven, a winner of two Open Handicaps in March and the third-place finisher last week, drew post six while SOA Bonus Trotting Series runner-up Swansea drew post eight. Lord Cromwell, Fearless Man, and Mostinterestingman complete the lineup. “It’s a decent spot. It’s not the toughest Open. A lot of times, the non-winners of $30,000 is tough. His last start, he faced one of the best Open horses there all winter, Melady’s Monet. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter too much. It’s not a huge difference between those classes,” Smedshammer opined. “I think he’s in a decent spot. He’s been training good this week. I think George is going to have a good run with him. I’m not saying he’s going to win, but he’s going to show a good race.” Saturday night’s card also features a $44,000 Open Handicap Pace. First post time is 7:15 p.m. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – The betting public wasn’t optimistic about Mach N Cheese’s chances when the 4-year-old made his harness racing seasonal debut April 6 at the Meadowlands. It was the gelding’s first pari-mutuel start since he did not finish in the New York Sire Stakes Consolation for 3-year-old pacers September 21 and he entered with just one qualifier March 26 at Harrah’s Philadelphia for new trainer Chris Choate.  Despite starting at odds of 28-1, Mach N Cheese won his first start after racing first-over to the half and tipping three-wide early on the final turn. He overpowered his rivals in the stretch with a :26.3 final quarter, kicking away to a 2¾-length score in 1:50.0. He surprised not only the wagering public, but his trainer as well. “When I looked at the teletimer, I was kind of shocked,’ Choate said. “I only trained him a 2-minute mile before I qualified him at Chester, and even the Chester qualifier impressed me a little because he was a little misbehaved over there, and he went 1:55-flat off a 2-minute training mile, so he dropped 5 seconds there. Then he dropped 5 seconds right off the bat in his first start, so I was pretty impressed with the 1:50 mile for sure.” Mach N Cheese had a solid sophomore campaign last year, going 6-for-21 and earning $99,741 in the barn of Rob Harmon. After a long season that included a third in the Sagamore Hill Series Final, a runner-up finish in the Weiss Series Final, a victory in the Reynolds, and a NYSS win, Mach N Cheese pulled up in the NYSS Consolation after breaking at the start. When he was again misbehaved in a qualifier a week later, the horse went on the shelf and Owner Frank Profaci decided to make a change. “We had a little relationship talking over the phone at the end of last year. He called to congratulate me on Western Joe, and we just talked here, talked there,” Choate remembered. “He just asked out of the blue if I would be willing to take the horse and train him down this year. I said sure. I liked him, he showed some ability at 3, of course he raced against some good colts. When he went to the five-eighths last year, he showed some 1:50 miles, not winning, but pacing 50-and-change as a 3-year-old is pretty impressive, so I liked him.” Taking on Mach N Cheese doubled the size of Choate’s stable. His only other horse is Western Joe, who won the McKee Memorial on Hambletonian Day last year and has earned $510,569. Choate enjoys his work as a full-time trainer for Tom Cancelliere at Magical Acres Farm, but feels lucky to have two talented horses of his own. “He has 15 babies and I’m on the track all day for him. I’m pretty much in charge of his babies right now,” Choate said. “He buys top-bred 2-year-olds and it’s a lot of fun. He has a beautiful farm that we’re at every day to come to work at. It’s good right now. “I only have two right now. I really can’t take any more than that and work for Tom, so I have to keep it at that, and we’ll see what the future brings,” Choate continued. “I’m very blessed to have both of these horses. They’re nice horses and to only have two horses and to have two horses like that, you’ve got to be thankful.” Despite his trouble last fall, Mach N Cheese proved a treat to train when he came to Choate this January. Choate’s biggest obstacle proved to be earning back the trust of drivers, who heard of Mach N Cheese’s potentially dangerous reputation on the racetrack. “In the barn he’s great, he was so easy to train down,” Choate said. “Very athletic. It took me no time to get him to the qualifiers. He’s a very good horse to be around, has a nice gait on him, he’s not a real big horse, medium sized, but he can fly. “He gets a little crazy on the track every once in a while, very playful out there. You can see it in the post parade when the drivers get on him. That’s his only downfall,” Choate continued. “The only concern I had was getting the drivers’ confidence again. Once the drivers lose confidence when he does stupid stuff on the racetrack like that, there are a lot of drivers that don’t feel comfortable with him, and without the drivers, you’re going to have a hard time competing. “I try to warm him up really good to take the edge off, but sometimes, it’s not enough. It worries the drivers because he goes up like he may kick, but he never does kick. That’s what the drivers worry about.” Despite his antics, Mach N Cheese has been impressive this year. After his upset victory to start the season, he won a $29,000 overnight at Yonkers in 1:51.3 April 13 and scored again in a 4-year-old Open at the Meadowlands April 20 in 1:49.4, pacing a final quarter in :25.2.  Off these efforts, and in the absence of stakes eligibility, Mach N Cheese will step up into the $44,000 Open Handicap Pace at Yonkers Raceway this Saturday (May 4). Despite being assigned the inside in a field that includes Levy Consolation winner Somewhere In L A and runner-up Pacing Major, as well as Levy standout Ideal Jimmy, Choate feels confident. Mach N Cheese will be paired with Jim Marohn, Jr. Saturday night. The reinsman has been aboard for four of the Betterthancheddar son’s previous victories, including his recent local win. “I’m glad Jimmy is on him this week because he knows the horse better than anyone. When you put a new face on him, he kind of has a reputation and you have to explain to the drivers. But Jimmy knows him, gets along with him great,” Choate said. “You have to love the rail at Yonkers; I know he was assigned the rail, but it does help. There are some tough ones in there, but I think he’s going to hold his own for sure,” Choate said. “I think if we get away close, he’s going to go with them. I really do. He’s been on the outside every start. If he can just get a rail trip and get around the track, I don’t see him having any problems pacing 51-and-change over there. I don’t know if that’s enough to win, but it’s definitely enough for him to be close. I don’t think he’ll be embarrassed, that’s for sure.” Saturday night’s card also features a $44,000 Open Handicap Trot. First post time is 6:50 p.m. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

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