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YONKERS, N.Y. – Harness racing trainer Paul Stafford feels fortunate to have worked in large stables and train many horses throughout his career. He’s trained good ones and inevitably, slow ones, too. Even among the good ones, there are those who need to be made to do their work or who don’t train well. However, when it comes to star trotter Stormy Kromer, Stafford says, “he trains me.” “The more horses you train, the more good horses you train, they’ll train you,” Stafford said. “You turn the right way to go and the further you go in a mile, the more interested they get. When you come out of the turn and for the last quarter, you just hang on for dear life because they know it’s time to go fast and they do it themselves. “He’s a very easy horse to maintain, he doesn’t take a lot of work. He makes my job easy because he’s very low maintenance.” Stormy Kromer joined Stafford’s stable in spring 2019 and since then, has exceeded expectations of being a high-level conditioned trotter. Stormy Kromer rose to the open ranks near the end of last year and won a $35,000 preferred trot at Yonkers Raceway Nov. 23. This year, he’s been even better. Since returning to racing June 25 after the coronavirus shut down tracks across America, Stormy Kromer is 6-for-9 with his last three victories coming at the preferred level at Yonkers and Freehold. In his career, Stormy Kromer is 28-for-104 with $397,224 earned. Stormy Kromer’s streak started with a 5 1/4-length, win at Harrah’s Philadelphia July 16 in which the 6-year-old gelding set a 1:51.4 lifetime mark. Stormy Kromer then came to Yonkers July 24. With Dan Dube in the sulky, he trotted to a 5-length victory in 1:53.3, establishing a North American record for an aged gelding on a half-mile track. Stormy Kromer lowered his own record next out July 31, posting a 4-length victory in 1:52.3, the fastest trotting mile in the history of Yonkers Raceway (besting the previous 1:53.1 mark jointly held by Six Pack and Plunge Blue Chip). Despite all those victories coming on the front end, Stormy Kromer got away with another pace-setting win in the $22,000 preferred handicap trot at Yonkers Aug. 7 before the competition caught on. Next out Aug. 21, Stormy Kromer had a target on his back and was parked the mile after leaving from post five. Succumbing to the trip delivered by the wisening competition, Stormy Kromer finished last beaten by 15 lengths. He rebounded next out at Freehold Aug. 28, taking the $12,000 preferred handicap by 6 1/2 lengths. “Most horses, trotters especially, can’t leave as well as he can and be up 5 lengths the whole mile. Horses like that, you think are basically out of control and that’s the way they have to go. But he’s such a gentleman on the track. He’s two fingers, he’s doing that all on his own, which is awesome,” Stafford said of the open-length victories and blazing miles. Arguably Stormy Kromer’s biggest victory came in his most recent start in the preferred handicap at Yonkers Sept. 9. Starting from post seven and not desiring another ride on the rim, Dube and Stormy Kromer took back to sixth as Obrigado set the tempo. Stormy Kromer angled to the outside passing the half, but faced a 7 1/4-length deficit as Obrigado got soft fractions. Following the cover of Muscle M Up, Stormy Kromer advanced to within 3 lengths of the lead at the three-quarters, but began to gap the cover entering the final turn. Straightening away, Obrigado and Muscle M Up battled for the lead while Stormy Kromer was still 3 lengths behind. Dube tugged on the right line and Stormy Kromer saw open road ahead. Under a right-handed whip Stormy Kromer kicked into gear, trotting home in :28.1 to collar Muscle M Up for a neck victory. “He’s been racing well for us to say the least. He’s beat some good horses. His last start, that was a nice group of horses that he beat in there,” Stafford said. “He did it from off the pace; he came from behind for the first time in a while. It was a testament to him that he’s learned to race both ways. “He was gapped and Obrigado was on the front. Normally, Obrigado would put him away with that kind of a trip. That was impressive,” Stafford continued. “Going into it with the outside and all the speed on the inside, I thought if we sorted out a second- or third-over trip, we could be second or third in there. Stormy Kromer decided that wasn’t going to be good enough.” Stafford attributes Stormy Kromer’s standout summer campaign in part to the trotter’s continued physical development. Stormy Kromer got a break over the winter, making his last start Dec. 14, 2019 before requalifying Feb. 28.  Stormy Kromer got one race in at Yonkers March 7 before the coronavirus shutdown sent him back to the sidelines until June. “He raced the one time and he was third in an open. He was a good third, then we shut down. During the shutdown, he put on some weight. For me, there’s weight and there’s good weight. He put on good weight, he put on a lot of muscle,” Stafford said. “He filled out a lot over those three months because we didn’t do a lot of work. They all jogged every day, but you weren’t doing a lot of speed work. It got him to put on some good weight and it made him stronger, definitely.” Stormy Kromer seeks his seventh win this year and his third straight in the $22,000 preferred handicap trot at Yonkers Raceway Friday night (Sept. 25). After the early scratch of Warrior One, Stormy Kromer will start from post six in a condensed field, which is comprised of New Heaven, Nows The Moment, Lindsey’s Pride, The Last Chapter, and Obrigado. “I think it’s a good spot. The scratch helps, starting one position closer,” Stafford said. “I don’t know what the game plan will be. I think there’s still enough speed in there, we’re not looking to get torched again. We pretty much leave it up to Dube.” Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights through Dec. 22. First post time is 7:12 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – When Hudson Phil started his 2020 harness racing campaign with three straight losses in the open handicap pace at Saratoga from June 21 to July 5, longtime owner Wayne Kellogg of Kellogg Racing Stable was afraid the talented pacer had tailed off or that a long 2019 campaign had taken its toll. However, the 5-year-old gelding has since won four of his last six starts, including two Saratoga opens and two Yonkers overnights. Friday night (Sept. 18), Hudson Phil will make his first start in the open handicap pace at Yonkers Raceway. “He’s getting into a groove,” Kellogg said. “It takes a few starts to get in a groove when you’re racing at that higher echelon. He seems to be there now.” Kellogg Racing acquired Hudson Phil out of the 2018 Harrisburg Mixed Sale. The Shanghai Phil son caught the eye of Janie Kellogg, Wayne’s wife. Hudson Phil had won a leg of the Ontario Sire Stakes and placed in the Battle of Waterloo, the Nassagaweya, and the Champlain at 2 in the barn of Mark Steacy. At 3, Hudson Phil won the Quebec Series Final at Hippodrome 3R and took three legs of the Ontario Grass Roots Series. In his last three starts before the sale, however, Hudson Phil finished no better than sixth. “The last 10 years, we’ve been buying most of our horses out of Canada. My wife does the research on them. She’s really diligent; she watches the replays, she looks at the equipment, she does a lot of that work and makes the suggestion,” Kellogg said. “She went to Harrisburg. I said, ‘come home with a horse.’ Hudson Phil was her number one pick as far as a pacer.” Janie kept bidding on Hudson Phil even after trainer Jackie Greene had bowed out. With a final hit at $58,000, Kellogg brought Hudson Phil home. Hudson Phil began racing at Saratoga for Kellogg and Greene in late November 2018. While he accumulated wins in the overnights and even the open pace, Hudson Phil initially lived in the shadow of Kellogg’s three-time Saratoga Pacer of the Year Artful Way. However, when Hudson Phil recorded a 1:50.2 victory in the Saratoga feature May 25, 2019, Kellogg was impressed. “It was a pretty big challenge for Hudson Phil to do as well as he did last year,” Kellogg said. “The race secretary said to me one night, ‘who do you think is better, Artful Way or Hudson Phil?’ and I said, ‘Artful Way. There’s no quit in him. He just grinds it out.’ Then Hudson Phil put up a couple pretty big miles. Driver Frank Coppola said, ‘I didn’t think there would ever be another Artful Way, but maybe Hudson Phil is as good.’ ” Hudson Phil took seven Saratoga opens from March 16 to Aug. 24, 2019, but went just 1-for-13 in his subsequent starts last year for a seasonal tally of 36-11-8-1 with a bankroll of $134,362. “He had such a good year last year and toward the end of the year, he tailed off,” Kellogg said. “We try to not race them more than 25 or 30 starts. Last year for some reason, we raced him more than normal. Maybe because the stable is smaller than it was. Maybe we’re pushing a little too hard. I always try to do what’s right by the horse. I try to err on the side of the horse all the time.” After a three-month winter break, Hudson Phil qualified back at Saratoga March 14, just before racing shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. He also returned to the races a gelding, which helped settle him down. Previously as a stallion, Hudson Phil was a handful in the paddock and on the racetrack. Hudson Phil resumed racing at Saratoga beginning June 21, finishing second in three straight open handicap paces. Hudson Phil earned his first win of the year with a head win on the lead in the Saratoga open July 12. He doubled-up at Yonkers July 24, scoring in a $17,250 overnight off a pocket trip in 1:52.1.  Hudson Phil earned his third win of the season in the Saratoga open Aug. 25, grinding out a first-over victory by a nose, beating rival Crockets Cullen. Last out at Yonkers Sept. 4, Hudson Phil worked out a pocket trip behind Caviart Luca and sprinting through the final quarter in :27.2, rocketed past the pacesetter to post a 1 1/4-length win in 1:52.4. Like the betting public who dismissed him at 13-1, Kellogg was surprised. “I was hoping to finish second or third. Last week, he really surprised me closing that well. It was very, very, very good. Extremely exciting,” Kellogg said. His record standing at 4-for-9 this year with another three seconds, Hudson Phil will try the $25,000 open handicap pace for the first time Friday night. He drew post four in the weekly pacing feature and will have Pat Lachance in the sulky. The pair are 7-1 on the morning line. None Bettor is the 9-5 favorite on the morning line despite post seven. The Andrew Harris trainee finished second in this open Aug. 21 and was fourth in a division of the ‘#SendItIn’ Invitational at Scioto Downs Sept. 6.  Micky Gee beat None Bettor here Aug. 21 with a 1:50.4 score and was also fourth in another division of the ‘#SendItIn’ at Scioto last out. He will start from post eight tonight. Ideal Jimmy returns to the open after finishing first or second in four straight $15,500 overnights locally. He will start from post two.  Mac’s Jackpot will make his third start of the season and his second start off a February layoff after qualifying at Pocono Sept. 2 and finishing sixth here from post eight last out Sept. 12. The Jeffrey Smith trainee will start from post three tonight. Heaven’s Gait and Shnitzledosomethin complete the lineup. “I don’t know what to expect Friday night. It’s a pretty big jump up from last week,” Kellogg said. “I’m just going to keep my fingers crossed and hope he gets a good trip. Based on the way he finished last week, I’m hoping he’ll be right there.” Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights through Dec. 22. First post time is 7:12 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – For Ron Buker, part of the fun of owning Standardbred racehorses is sharing the experience with the whole family. That’s why on race nights, Ron, his wife Briana, and their three children all gather in front of the TV to root the harness racing horses on and share quality time together. “What really got me into buying more horses was I have three kids. When we turn the TV on to watch the horses race, they would say, ‘daddy, there’s your horse.’ I would say, ‘no, this horse is all of ours.’ That’s priceless, a bond like that,” Buker said. “The kids absolutely love horses. When the horses do race on TV, we all sit together and watch, get excited. Win or lose, it’s a priceless moment with everybody together having a good time.” Buker was a longtime patron of Dover Downs before he relocated to South Carolina for work. He always dreamed of being more than just a fan and took the plunge in January 2019, becoming an owner on the Delaware circuit. In the short time since, Buker or his Bukers Stable expanded to racing across the U.S., starting horses in 289 races. Horses owned wholly or in part by the Bukers have won 56 races, placed in another 86 and earned $634,009. The stable has also raced horses in Australia.  “I owned one and it wins, then you get the itch; you buy another one and then the next thing you know, you have a bunch of them,” Buker said. One of the stars in Buker’s current lineup of 12 horses is Lady Dela Renta, an Australian-bred Well Said daughter who’s won three straight races at Yonkers and will try to make it four in a row in the $25,000 filly and mare open handicap pace Thursday night (Sept. 17). Imported to the U.S. last summer, Lady Dela Renta made an immediate impact, earning a 1:49.2 lifetime mark at Pocono in just her third Stateside start Sept. 3, 2019 for Blindswitch Racing and Dolne Farm. Bukers Stable joined the partnership this February and as of Aug. 27, assumed sole ownership of the standout mare. Lady Dela Renta looked to be a rising star last fall and winter, scoring a neck win in the local filly and mare open handicap Oct. 4, 2019 and three open wins at Saratoga from October to December. She entered the first leg of the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series at Yonkers March 13, but when the series was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, she headed to the Midwest. Lady Dela Renta was winless in four starts in the distaff open at Scioto Downs before her connections made a change. “When she was out there in Ohio, she wasn’t racing to her full potential. Since she is an Australian horse, I knew the one trainer who would be the best for her was (Shane and Lauren Tritton’s) Team Tritton. I called (Shane) up and said, ‘I want to send her to you, you’re going to be the best for her.’ He said he liked her in Australia and they would gladly take her,” Buker said. “They take really, really good care of her. I think she’s Lauren’s pet,” Buker said. “They key behind it all is taking care of the horse. They’re not out there racing her every single week and hard racing her. It’s not all about drying all the money out of her right away, it’s taking care of a good horse.” After making her last Scioto start July 10, Lady Dela Renta qualified with Lauren Tritton in the sulky at Yonkers July 31. She scorched the track with a 1:52.2 victory, pacing a final quarter of :27.2. Lady Dela Renta then posted three straight pari-mutuel wins at Yonkers with Jordan Stratton driving: a 3 3/4-length win in a $15,500 overnight Aug. 13 and back-to-back wins at the $18,000 level by 1 length and 3 1/4 lengths, respectively Aug. 20 and Sept. 3. “With her, it’s the right trainer for the right horse,” Buker said. “It just goes to show that if you take care of the horse - because they aren’t machines - they’ll take care of you and then they show their full potential. “When they qualified her, that was a wow factor. She came back and won the first race, second race, and then the last race. This is for real here, she’s on a roll,” Buker said. “I think the first race stood out because I was anxious to see her in the first start with Shane and Lauren. After the first race, there was a lot of excitement. I think the last race stood out because she was in with a good group of horses and it looked like she won with ease.” Lady Dela Renta drew post three in Thursday night’s feature and will have Stratton in the bike again. The pair are the 3-1 second choice on the morning line. Favored at 5-2 is Snobbytown, a Ron Burke trainee who twice won and twice finished second in this local feature in four starts between June 23 and July 30 (her last pari-mutuel outing). She will return tonight off a runner up finish to Caviart Ally in a Meadowlands qualifier Sept. 5.  The field also includes Neverforgetwhour, who like Lady Dela Renta, streaks into this filly and mare open handicap with three straight wins; she won local $15,500 overnights by a head, nose, and 1 length Aug. 13, Aug, 27, and Sept. 3, respectively. With regular driver Stratton opting for Lady Dela Renta, Scott Zeron gets the call on the 9-2 shot on the morning line. Coral Bella, who steps up off a win in the non-winners of eight condition last out, Robyn Camden, Apple Bottom Jeans, and Imprincessgemma complete the lineup. “I know we’re in with good company, but if any horse is ready to go 4-for-4, it’s her. She’s got the perfect draw, perfect spot. Jordan is the key man. He knows the horse, loves the horse, and when you can get a driver that loves and knows the horse like he does, you can’t lose,” Buker said. “We haven’t seen her best yet,” he continued. “She hasn’t been unleashed yet; Her best definitely is yet to come. She hasn’t let it all out and I think we’re going to see a little glimpse of it (tonight).” Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights through Dec. 22. First post time is 7:12 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. by Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. - “She’s pretty. She’s worth taking a photo of,” trainer Brett Pelling said, describing standout 2-year-old harness racing pacing filly Test Of Faith ahead of her bid in the New York Sire Stakes Final Saturday at Yonkers Raceway. “She’s not a chestnut, but she’s close. She’s very graceful, beautiful balance. She’s a very attractive horse.” Not just a pretty face, Test Of Faith has shown talent to back up her physical. She’s 4-for-5 in the New York bred series and finished second in her only loss. Her earnings stand at $145,250 for owners Melvin Segal, Kentuckiana Racing Stable, and Eddie Gran. And Test Of Faith is the 9-5 favorite on the morning line in $225,000 championship Saturday night (Sept. 12). Bred by Frederick Hertrich, III, Test Of Faith is by Art Major out of the Cam’s Card Shark mare Cannae Cammie, who placed in multiple stakes and earned $538,140 on the racetrack. Test Of Faith is a half to Alexis Faith, 2017 NYSS Champion 2-year-old filly and multiple Grand Circuit stakes winner, and to Cant Beach That, who Pelling trained to a runner up finish in the Kentucky Sire Stakes Final for 3-year-old pacing colts and geldings last year.  The pedigree put Test Of Faith on Pelling’s short list at last year’s Harrisburg Yearling Sale and Pelling went to $92,000 to bring the filly home.  “It’s a very good family. She has really good strength, she’s a very strong filly. She’s not really like her brother; her brother goes to a knee a little bit, but she paces very clean,” Pelling said. “One’s a girl, one’s a boy. He’s a big, strong, rugged horse. She’s quite tall, but she’s very graceful.” Test Of Faith trained down without a hitch. As the time to qualify grew closer, Test Of Faith stood out from her peers for her reliability and professionalism.  “She’s been bullet proof. Right from the very beginning, she showed good ability. She’s always trained well. The biggest thing with her is, there’s never been any problem of any kind, which for a 2-year-old is a rarity. She’s been push button right from day one,” Pelling said. “The first time we asked her to go quick, she was perfect. She trains great in front, she trains great behind. Probably her number one quality is she’s very relaxed, she’s very sensible. A lot of these fillies, you race them on the front end and they might get a little aggressive. She could not be more opposite to that. She’s as loose-lined as a horse can be and that’s a good horse.” Test Of Faith qualified at Magical Acres Training Center June 16. She drew in with Farady Hanover, a $275,000 Harrisburg purchase and full sister to Filibuster Hanover trained by Noel Daley, prompting Pelling to be conservative. With Brett’s son Jack in the bike, Test Of Faith stayed inside as Farady Hanover wired the field. Test Of Faith finished last of four, pacing her mile in 2:00 with a :27.3 final quarter. Pelling liked what he saw. “We knew she was good in her qualifier. We locked her in and I knew some of the other fillies that she baby raced with were high-priced fillies with good trainers and I knew they had to be pretty decent,” Pelling said. “I could see she was just sitting there watching them and I felt she could move by them at any time. I think right from the beginning, I knew she was pretty good” Test Of Faith qualified again at Magical Acres June 23. This time, she rode the pocket and with a :27.4 final quarter, sprinted past rival Heart Of Mine to score a 1 3/4-length win in 1:58.1.  Test Of Faith made her pari-mutuel debut in NYSS at Vernon Downs on Independence Day. Floating out from post five, driver Jim Marohn, Jr. had had few options but to forge to the front as two rivals left to his inside. Test Of Faith worked to the top in a :26 opening panel, clearing midway around the first turn. Despite the swift fractions, Test Of Faith turned away the first-over challenge of Major Houlihan before pacing clear of the field in the stretch. She won by 1 1/4 lengths in 1:52.2. “The first time we raced her up at Vernon, that was never the intention to go down the road in 52. But the horse inside of her really pushed forward, (Marohn) didn’t have a spot to put her, and he just ended up going on to the front. I think the first race was the only race that stung her a little bit. She got through that OK and ever since then, she’s been fine.” Test Of Faith’s second start didn’t go as planned either. Racing around the first turn at Tioga in the next NYSS leg July 19, Marohn tried to place her in the pocket, but as the pace slowed, Test Of Faith collided with the leader’s wheel and made a break. She caught back pacing and raced in fourth before recovering for a second-place finish. “We were trying not to bust her out of there. She left in 26 seconds in the first start of her life. The obvious thing is not to do that again,” Pelling said. “It was a shame she got ran into because she would have won. That’s racing. You try to be cute and sometimes being cute doesn’t work.” Since then, Test Of Faith has taken no chances. She’s led at every call in the last three preliminary legs of the NYSS Aug. 4 at Yonkers, and Aug. 12 and 24 at Saratoga, winning by 3 1/2, 4, and 4 lengths, respectively. Pelling pointed out the Aug. 12 start, in which Test Of Faith made a three-wide move to the lead in a :27.3 opening quarter. “She’s been on high-idle, just absolutely cruising. One of the races was very impressive, the one before last,” Pelling said. “They took a shot to leave her out there a little bit. The horse in front had one parked, but Jimmy just pulled her three-wide and he just went to the front. She did that in three or four steps. She’s got a very, very quick step, she’s very reliable.” Test Of Faith drew post six in the NYSS Final, the first of nine races on the $1.8 million program Saturday night at Yonkers. She will face seven rivals, six of which she has beaten at least once in the preliminaries: DC Batgirl, Party Queen, Heart Of Mine, Think Of Galaxies (who beat Test Of Faith at Tioga July 19), Spicy Covina, Rightfully Mine, and Albergita Hanover. “She’s absolutely perfect. She’s looks fabulous. She hasn’t had any issues, that’s the bottom line,” Pelling said. “I imagine she’ll just roll out of there and how much they want to hurt their horses to be the one following her, I don’t know, but she’ll be in front.” Pelling hopes Test Of Faith can make amends after his Allywag Hanover finished fourth as the 3-5 favorite in the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes Final for 3-year-old pacing colts and geldings at Harrah’s Philadelphia Sept. 6. This is also the biggest race of Test Of Faith’s season as she is not eligible to the major fall stakes. “I had one on Sunday over at Chester who was the favorite in his Sire Stakes final and he came up sick, so that was really, really disappointing. There’s only so many races for them,” Pelling said. “This filly is not staked through the end of the year. The owner is quite conservative. “This is the big one for her. She has four starts left and this is the biggest purse she’s going to go for all year,” Pelling continued. “I wish her the best. She deserves to win it, I think she’s been the best filly right through. That’s what it’s all about, when they get there if the best horse can come through and get it, that’s the way it should be.” First post time for the $1.8 million Night of Champions card is 7:12 p.m. Free full card past performances are available here. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights through Dec. 22. First post time is 7:12 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. by Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

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

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

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

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

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

YONKERS, N.Y. – Trainer Erv Miller entered three colts in the eliminations of the MGM Springfield Stakes (formerly the Lawrence B Sheppard) eliminations: Carrythetorchman, Crystal Beach, and Not Today. All three made the $104,250 final, set for Monday night (July 13) at Yonkers Raceway; Carrythetorchman by virtue of a victory and Not Today with a fourth in the second elimination and Crystal Beach with a third-place finish behind American Courage in the first elimination. With Carrythetorchman unbeaten in two baby races and his first pari-mutuel start, he leads the pack against the race’s 8-5 morning line favorite American Courage. By American Ideal out of the Astreos mare Kattimon, Carrythetorchman is a half to Classic Pro, a winner of two Ontario Sire Stakes legs and an earner of over $500,000 to date, and a full to Grand Circuit winner and New York Sire Stakes standout Devil Child. Carrythetorchman was a $70,000 buy from the 2019 Lexington Selected Yearling Sale for Miller and owners Ronald Michelon and War Horse Stable. “He’s a good conformation horse. You might want one a little bigger for the big stuff, but for New York, I thought he was about the right size for getting around the half,” Miller said. “So far, he’s proven that. He doesn’t wear any boots and just gets around the half-mile track real easy.” Although Miller says Carrythetorchman showed class from the beginning of his training, the colt began to develop a bad habit while training in Florida over the winter and into the spring as he dealt with minor foot trouble. “Early on, he was really good. Then he went through a phase and I think it was more his feet than anything just had him where he wasn’t happy with what he was doing,” Miller said. “He wasn’t easy to keep under control when they jogged. He’d switch back and forth from the pace to the trot and we got that under control by leaving the hopples on him all the time.  “He was really fussy on the track at one time, but now he doesn’t do anything wrong,” Miller continued. “Since we got him close, a couple weeks before qualifying, he gotten over everything and it seemed like he was way better.” With that hiccup behind them, Miller shipped Carrythetorchman and the rest of his stable from Florida to Pennsylvania’s Wingate Farm uncertain when the horses would be able to qualify. With efforts to contain the coronavirus closing racetracks across North America, Wingate improvised, like many training centers throughout the country. “With COVID-19, it was just one of those things that we had to come up with a new solution. We couldn’t go anywhere to get qualified, so we came up with the next best plan,” Miller said. “I saw it coming when we left Florida, PA is shut down, things aren’t moving, so we better see if we can get our farm OK’d to qualify. That worked out good. We had a couple weeks of qualifiers that got things going.” Carrythetorchman was one of the horses who benefited, qualifying at home over the five-eighths mile track at Wingate June 15. He led his field of four gate-to-wire, stopping the clock in 1:59.2 with a :28 final quarter.  Nine days later, Miller was able to ship to Pocono Downs for a second baby race. Carrythetorchman left from post eight and utilized a :28.2 last quarter to power away from the field to win by 10 3/4 lengths in 1:57.  “He did really well. Because of training and knowing what kind of horse he was, we wanted to get a little faster mile in him there that day than what he did (at the farm) and expose him a little more. We did that and he just handled it really well,” Miller said. Carrythetorchman debuted July 6 at Yonkers, 20 minutes after American Courage posted a blowout 7 1/4-length win in the first MGM Springfield Stakes elimination in 1:55.2. Carrythetorchman left in between horses and glided to the front reaching the backstretch the first time. Driver Scott Zeron was simply a passenger as Carrythetorchman cruised home a 1 1/2-length winner in 1:55.4. Carrythetorchman drew post position three in the MGM Springfield Stakes Final and at 9-5, is the second choice on the morning line. American Courage will start from post four with Matt Kakaley as the 8-5 morning line favorite. “(American Courage) looked really sharp in his qualifier for this race, too. We just have to see how it plays out,” said Miller, who wasn’t sure what will happen when the two unbeaten colts face each other Monday night. Crystal Beach drew post two in the final and is a 20-1 morning line after finishing 9 lengths behind American Courage last week. Crystal Beach left hard from post five in his elimination, but was denied the lead by Major Makeover and was forced to take back into third heading to the quarter. With Crystal Beach keen in the hole, driver Marcus Miller angled to the outside turning into the stretch the first time and brushed to the top before being forced to yield again as American Courage forged to the lead at 1-5. “(Crystal Beach) really raced well the other day, but he was moved a lot, so it’s hard to tell how much he will go when he gets a nicer trip, maybe not used up quite as hard,” Miller said. “He’s also a very handy horse and gets around a half really good.” Crystal Beach was a $36,000 purchase from the Lexington Selected Yearling Sale and is owned by Miller and Tanah Merah Farm. Crystal Beach impressed training down and won his first baby race by 7 3/4 lengths at Wingate June 15 before finishing second behind Carrythetorchman June 24 at Pocono ahead of his debut in the Springfield elimination. “He’s been a really nice horse. He’s always trained like just a top, top colt. When you’re getting ready to race them, sometimes you don’t get quite what you expect or quite as much as you thought they trained like,” Miller said. “His biggest attribute is he’s just so handy, he’s very handy on a half-mile racetrack.” Not Today is also 20-1 on the morning line after drawing post six and will employ the driving services of Jason Bartlett. A $77,000 purchase as the Harrisburg Sale last fall, Not Today is owned by Anderson, Willinger, and Golemes.  Not Today was second behind Crystal Beach June 15, but won his trial at Pocono June 24 by 2 3/4 lengths in 1:58.4. He finished seventh 10 lengths behind American Courage in an overnight at Pocono June 30 before his fourth-place effort in the Springfield elimination last week. “He’s a little but more of an immature horse, not quite as mature as the other two, but he’s a little bigger, stronger horse. Hopefully at some point, he’ll catch up to the other guys a little bit,” Miller said. Town Gossip, Victory Move, Coalition Hanover, and Major Makeover complete the lineup for the MGM Springfield Stakes Final, carded as the fourth of eight races Monday night. “I think it’s a nice race to have. With everything going on, it’s nice for the 2-year-olds to be able to race for $100,000 right now,” Miller said. “With all the COVID-19, all the races being cut, and schedules being redone, it’s nice to still have this race.” The amended Yonkers Raceway calendar will see live harness racing conducted Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday nights until July 17. Beginning the week of July 20, the schedule will add Saturday nights as the track returns to its normal five night per week schedule through Dec. 19. First post time is 7:05 p.m. The complete revised racing calendar is available online here. By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Since harness racing resumed in the Northeast United States in late May, Rich And Miserable has not had much luck racing at the Meadowlands. The talented trotter drew post position 10 in his first start back June 12, got stuck following a blazing 1:50.1 mile by Guardian Angel As in his second start June 20, then drew post position 10 in the Cutler Memorial last time out on Independence Day. As a result, Rich And Miserable failed to take home a check in any of those three starts.  Rich And Miserable made one bid away from the Swamp so far this season, heading to Pocono Downs June 27. He drew post two in the featured $20,000 trot and scored a 2 1/2-length win in 1:52.4. Now, Rich And Miserable looks to capitalize again in the $33,000 open handicap trot at Yonkers Raceway Friday (July 10). He is already having better luck at the Hilltop, drawing post four, but moving inside to the three after the early scratch of Photo Bomber.  “We threw him in with the big guns and we got a couple 10 post positions and that wasn’t a very good starting point. We did take him once to Pocono and he raced very well there, so now we’re going to try the half-mile track again at Yonkers,” said trainer Todd Buter. “The first start over there in the open, he had the 10-hole and just followed along,” Buter continued. “Last week in the Cutler, had the 10-hole and in with those type of horses, it’s tough from the 10, but we’re hoping to turn things around.” Besides the advantageous post position, Rich And Miserable has the resume to compete at this level. The Explosive Matter son always showed promise for Buter, but last year at 4, had a breakout season. After posting a 5 1/2-length win and earning two other placings in the preliminary legs of the SOA of NY Bonus Trotting Series, Rich And Miserable won the $73,000 series final by a nose last April.  Rich And Miserable also won a leg and the final of the Mr. Muscleman Series at the Meadowlands, won the $100,000 Great Northeast Open Series Final at Pocono, and captured a local $42,000 open handicap trot from post position eight last fall. The $305,125 Rich And Miserable earned last year boosted his career tally to $417,922 for owners Buter Farm, Lynette Buter, and William and Carol Fuhs. “Last year was a very pleasant surprise. He showed good things as a 3-year-old and as a 4-year-old, things just kept falling in place and we got a couple nice draws in some big purse races, got good trips, and he lived up to what we were hoping for. It was a great year,” Buter said. “He was always a sound horse as a 2- and 3-year-old and it seemed like he just got bigger, stronger, matured more and could race either way; race on the front, race from the back,” Buter continued. “He just ended up being a very smart horse, very easy on himself. We’re hoping we can turn things around back at Yonkers.” Rich And Miserable raced through the end of December last year before getting some well-earned time off. He was ready to qualify by mid-March, but due to the response to the coronavirus pandemic, harness racing across North America shuttered. Like the rest of the industry, Buter was forced to wait. “We just got put on hold and it was, ‘maybe next week,’ so you’d train them light. ‘Maybe next week,’ so you’d train them a little harder. The next week just train them easy, maybe it will be next week,” Buter said. “Everybody was in the same boat, nobody knew what was going on, so we just had to sit back and wait for them to turn the lights back on and I tried to have him as good as we could.” Rich And Miserable was finally able to qualify May 30 before his bad-luck streak at the Meadowlands began. Friday night will be Rich And Miserable’s first local start since finishing 10th in the $250,000 Harry Harvey Invitational Trot Oct. 12. Regular driver Tyler Buter will be in the sulky and the pair are 5-2 on the morning line. Rich And Miserable will face six rivals, including 2-1 morning line favorite Melady’s Monet, who will start from post four. The 11-year-old and earner of $1.6 million twice finished second in the local open trot and won a local preferred from post seven before the shutdown. He posted a front-stepping qualifying win in 1:58 at Magical Acres Training Center June 23 in preparation for his first start since March 7.  Swansea earned three wins in the local open before the shutdown and picked up right where he left off in his return June 25, tallying a fourth victory in six starts this season in 1:55.3 for trainer Scott DiDomenico. Swansea was assigned the outside post Friday night and is 3-1 with Austin Siegelman programmed to drive.  Paul Kelley’s 10-year-old Obrigado continues to deliver after emerging from retirement late last year. The $1.8 million-earner won an $18,750 overnight in 1:51.2 at the Meadowlands June 5 and was second to Rich And Miserable in his most recent start at Pocono June 27. Obrigado drew post six Friday night. Mostinterestingman, Elysium Lindy, and Lean Hanover complete the lineup.  “We’ll just have to see how it shakes out,” Buter said of Rich And Miserable’s chances. “He’s raced on the front at Yonkers and won and he’s raced from the back at Yonkers and won. He seems good and healthy and sound, so we’ll hope for the best.” Friday night’s eight-race card also features the $33,000 open handicap pace. The amended Yonkers Raceway calendar will see live harness racing conducted Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday nights until July 17. Beginning the week of July 20, the schedule will add Saturday nights as the track returns to its normal five night per week schedule through Dec. 19. First post time is 7:05 p.m. The complete revised racing calendar is available online here. By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – The Grand Circuit returns to Yonkers Raceway with the eliminations of the MGM Springfield Stakes Monday night (July 6). For many trainers across North America whose stables are heavily invested in 2- and 3-year-olds, the resumption of stakes racing post-coronavirus lockdowns has been a huge relief. Blake MacIntosh, who will debut three 2-year-old colts in the Springfield eliminations, includes himself in that group. “For two months there, I was worried. I didn’t have any money coming in and we make all of our money over the summer with the stakes races,” MacIntosh said. “I have 70-something in training and I own at least a quarter of 65 of them, so it’s nerve-wracking. You’re worried about racing coming up and we’re lucky enough all the governing bodies let us start racing and to just have money coming in, cash flow coming in. I can sleep again at night.” Originally scheduled for July 4 with a final July 11, the MGM Springfield Stakes (formerly the Lawrence B. Sheppard Pace) was minimally displaced by measures to contain the coronavirus, with the eliminations and final moving to July 6 and July 13, respectively. There were 16 entries to the stakes for 2-year-old pacers, resulting in two full fields of eliminations racing for $25,000 each. MacIntosh feels his trio is led by Major Makeover, part of a coupled entry in the first elimination who drew post position three with George Brennan. A $25,000 purchase out of the 2019 Harrisburg Sale for MacIntosh, Hutt Racing Stable, and Touchstone Farm, Major Makeover shares a stallion with MacIntosh’s 2018 Meadowlands Pace winner Courtly Choice and will be the first foal to race for the Cam’s Card Shark mare Mako Wish. “He’s an Art Major. With ‘Courtly’ being an Art Major, we always look at all the Art Majors,” MacIntosh said. “He was a very good looking individual. He looked very much like ‘Courtly’ I thought. He stood good and he’s just a nice colt. “To drive, he does everything perfect. He does nothing wrong,” MacIntosh continued. “You can do whatever you want with him. He was really good that way. In the barn, he seems like a nice horse. He was actually right close to my office, so I saw him every day. He didn’t do anything wrong as far as I know and was pretty easy to handle.” All three of MacIntosh’s entries sport a pair of qualifiers June 12 and 20 at Woodbine Mohawk Park. Although their times may not appear flashy on paper in comparison to the baby racing at venues like the Meadowlands, MacIntosh says that is by design. “I don’t tell the drivers anything when we qualify them. I don’t want them rolled is the whole thing, I want to make sure their last quarters are their best quarters, sit them in, try to get away third, fourth and let them pace for home is usually what I like to see,” MacIntosh said. “The second qualifier, we may let them go a little more, but up here, it’s not like the Meadowlands where they go fast qualifying. We teach them a little more the first couple times than they do down there. There’s no specific time or anything set for the horse, it’s just teaching them so they can learn.” Major Makeover finished second in his first outing, clocking a mile in 2:00.2 with a :29.2 final quarter. In his second trial, Major Makeover was more aggressively handled, leaving from the gate and initially sitting the pocket before brushing to the lead upon reaching the backstretch. Major Makeover opened up a 4 1/2-length lead under confident handling by driver James MacDonald on the final turn.  MacDonald put the whip on Major Makeover’s tail straightening away and cracked the sulky shaft once with a furlong to pace. Major Makeover finished with a :27 final panel to post a 1:56 win. “He’s probably the best of the three,” MacIntosh opined. “He qualified really well last week, he was under wraps. He’s been very consistent all winter and we’ve been very happy with him. Just a nice little guy.” Ole Joe comprises the other half of the entry in the first elimination. A son of Roll With Joe out of the unraced Western Hanover mare Bandolera Hanover, MacIntosh and partners Hutt Racing Stable and Steve Heimbecker paid $14,000 for the colt at the 2019 Goshen Yearling Sale. “Ole Joe was a pretty cheap yearling. We had some luck with Roll With Joe in the past with Groovy Joe and a couple others,” MacIntosh said. “He’s a nice-looking little guy, wasn’t an overly striking horse, but I’ve had some luck with them in the past. He’s a nice little horse.” Ole Joe finished third in both of his qualifiers and paced a final quarter of :28.3 each time. In his first outing, he clocked in in 2:00.1 and he paced a mile in 1:57.2 in his latest baby race. Although not charted as a break, Ole Joe was a bit steppy around the first turn in his latest outing.  “Last time qualifying, he wasn’t as good as he should have been I felt because training down he’s been a lot better than what he showed qualifying,” MacIntosh said. “I think he got on the big track and got lost. I think he’ll be more of a half-mile track specialist.” Jim Marohn, Jr. will drive Ole Joe from post four. The coupled entry of Major Makeover and Ole Joe is 9-5 on the morning line. The first elimination also includes American Courage, one of only two horses in either elimination to make a pari-mutuel start. The Fiddler’s Creek Stable homebred son of American Ideal won his debut by 6 lengths in 1:54.1 in a $10,400 overnight at Pocono Downs June 30. Matt Kakaley will drive the Travis Alexander trainee. Owned by the same connections as Ole Joe, MacIntosh’s Victory Move will start as part of an entry with Erv Miller’s Carrythetorchman in the second Springfield Stakes elimination. By American Ideal, Victory Move is out of the Powerful Toy mare Ireneonthemove, a multiple Delaware-sired stakes winner of the mid-2000s and later a consistent open-type who earned $846,091. She has produced three winners to date, including 10-time winner and $155,848 earner Carly Girl. MacIntosh and partners paid $65,000 for Victory Move at the 2019 Lexington Selected Yearling Sale. Victory Move finished second in his first qualifier, clocked in 1:59.2 with a :28.3 last quarter. He was fourth in his second trial timed in 1:58.1 with a :27.3 final panel despite being charted with broken equipment.  “Training down, he was in the top set,” MacIntosh said. “His two qualifiers were as good as we expected out of him.  You have to work him a little more. I think being in New York will be a lot better for him than being up here whereas you can get after them a little more, chase them a little more because he’s a little lazy. Other than that, he’s got a great gait to him and does everything pretty good. “In the qualifiers up here, I wasn’t disappointed, but there was one time I thought he was going to blow by them and he sort of waited on them,” MacIntosh continued. “I know what talent he’s got and I think he’ll be fine. I think Matt (Kakaley) will get the best out of him this week.” With travel restrictions in place at the U.S.-Canada border, the trio of Major Makeover, Ole Joe, and Victory Move shipped to MacIntosh’s New York stable in Middletown, which is headed by Jessica Dowse.  “We stayed on track with the 2-year-olds. The only difference right now is I’m not going down to the barn down there. I train them all up here and then send them down. Usually, I’d be down every week splitting my time 50-50. This year, I won’t be down until they lift the border restrictions because when I come back I have to quarantine 14 days,” MacIntosh explained. “Jessica Dowse will be running the stable down there full time. She sends me videos and we talk every day; she’s a great communicator and we’re able to talk throughout. That’s the only difference right now, but we’ve got them hung up the way we want them and our training track is a tight track, so when I send them down, they don’t have to change much.” With 2-year-old racing commencing across North America, MacIntosh already has four freshman winners this season, including two in Woodbine Mohawk Park overnights and two in the Stallion Series at Harrah’s Philadelphia. The trainer hopes his luck will continue in the Springfield Stakes.  “It’s a little nerve-wracking. You work so hard all winter, you hope everything goes well. You hope you have a couple that can make the money and do well for you,” MacIntosh said. “We’re fortunate enough to have had some luck right out of the gate with the 2-year-olds. We just hope everything keeps going good. We have a big chunk of money out there that we have to make back. If we can win in the first couple and do well and keep going forward and get the bills paid, we’ll be happy.” The amended Yonkers Raceway calendar will see live harness racing conducted Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday nights until July 17. Beginning the week of July 20, the schedule will add Saturday nights as the track returns to its normal five night per week schedule through Dec. 19. First post time is 7:05 p.m. The complete revised racing calendar is available online here. By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY  

YONKERS, N.Y. – One of the biggest rivalries in harness racing resumes with another round Tuesday night (June 30) at Yonkers Raceway as Horse of the Year Shartin and reigning Breeders Crown Pacing Mare Champion Caviart Ally headline the featured $33,000 filly and mare open handicap pace. The pair of star mares were assigned the outside post positions, with Caviart Ally starting from post seven for driver Andy McCarthy and trainer Brett Pelling while Jim King Jr.’s Shartin will start from post eight with Tim Tetrick. “I actually think when you’re racing in those divisional races, when you’re in a rivalry, a rivalry is by far the greatest thing we have in the sport. It’s great,” Pelling said. “You know the other horses inside and out, the drivers get to know the horses inside and out. I think it’s cool.”  With 20 rounds between Shartin and Caviart Ally completed to date, the record stands at 15-3 Shartin with only two occasions where another horse has won when they have both been in the field. However, Caviart Ally has proven victorious in three of the last four matchups: the Filly and Mare Allerage Pace at the Red Mile Oct. 6, the Breeders Crown Open Mares Pace Oct. 26, and the TVG FFA Mares Final Nov. 23, the pair’s most recent faceoff. “Last year, it took us different attempts at different ways of trying to beat Shartin. I’m not saying we figured it out, but we got better at it,” Pelling said. “It was trial and error on Andy’s part, my part, everyone’s part. We never gave up trying to beat her. “I think one of the big things was not going full gas out of the gate. We found that (Caviart Ally) was just better to be put in position rather than trying to out-speed (Shartin) because Shartin gets off the gate extra-good and they have a lot of speed, so they take advantage of that speed. If you have three horses that are trying to race the same way, something has to give.  “A lot of times, we were drawn outside of her, so you had work that little bit harder early and you’re put in the wrong spot, sitting in the two-hole,” Pelling continued. “The two-hole is not actually a good spot to race against Shartin because she’s so quick at the top of the lane, she’d just put a length on us and we’d never really get close enough. Getting away in the three or the four spot and being able to work up close to her, that seemed to help. Sometimes the two-hole is not the best place to be; they have you stuck where they want you and horses are so good these days, they only need an eighth-of-a-mile breather and they’re tough to beat.” While Shartin is a Yonkers veteran, owning seven victories in 10 local starts, including back-to-back Blue Chip Matchmaker Series Finals in 2018 and 2019, Tuesday night will mark Caviart Ally’s first start at the Hilltop since logging a pair of third-place finishes in the Lismore Pace Eliminations and Final in May 2017 for previous trainer Noel Daley. “I had nowhere else to race, it’s as simple as that,” Pelling said of the decision to enter at Yonkers.  Caviart Ally was entered multiple times at multiple tracks since her last start June 5 at the Meadowlands, but Yonkers proved to be the only venue carding a filly and mare open. As such, Pelling was not surprised when Shartin also showed up in the entries. “They had the same issue that we had, so I kind of expected that,” he said. “I nearly raced her the week before, but I just tried to time it a little bit as well. We always planned on racing there through the winter. She was in the Matchmaker, we had her all ready for the Matchmaker, that was a real goal. The best laid plans have gone awry this year I’m afraid.” Caviart Ally Caviart Ally, a 26-time winner and earner of $1.8 million for owner Caviart Farms, qualified twice in February before winning her 2020 debut in 1:49.4 in a $30,000 filly and mare preferred at the Meadowlands March 6. She was entered in the first leg of the Matchmaker March 13, the same week racing halted at Yonkers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With no way of knowing when racing would be allowed to resume, Pelling kept Caviart Ally in training throughout the interruption.  “We never missed a day, we just kept right on going,” Pelling said. “I didn’t bike them up and go (1:) 53 or any of that stuff, I just couldn’t do that. We basically treated every day as if it was an off week and just let her cruise along, just keeping her on hold. I never buzzed her or anything. She had a good time; for a horse, it was a good time. It might have been a bit boring, but she definitely wasn’t put under any stress.” Pelling describes Caviart Ally as “a machine” and says the most difficult part of training her is managing her weight. “Every time I look at her, I think she’s carrying twins. People that see her can’t believe she’s a racehorse because she carries so much condition,” he said. “She thrives on racing because she’ll just eat anything. She’s one of the best eaters you’ve ever seen in your life,” Pelling said. “Keeping the weight off of her is always the goal, it’s really nothing else; no soundness issues, no health issues, it’s all about keeping the weight off her. She was all up and ready to go in March and she really hasn’t done a lot. You can only train them so much.” Caviart Ally qualified behind Kissin In The Sand May 30 before finishing third behind the same rival upon her return to racing in a $22,500 filly and mare preferred at the Meadowlands June 5. While Kissin In The Sand dictated the pace in that start, Caviart Ally was followed the cover of Imprincessgemma, who never got closer than 1 3/4 lengths of Kissin In The Sand. Although Caviart Ally closed with a :25.4 final quarter after kicking off the cover, she could not make up the ground. “She got away fourth, she got away in the right spot and then a horse who was (10-1) pulled in front of her and basically just got in her way,” Pelling said. “She would have been much, much better just coming first-over and I think if she had got to Kissin In The Sand’s wheel, it would have been a dogfight, but she just never got close enough.” Caviart Ally tuned up with a 1:51 qualifying win at the Meadowlands June 20 ahead of her return to Yonkers.  Like Caviart Ally, Shartin had one start in March ahead of a planned attempt at a third conquest of the Matchmaker Series. Shartin earned a neck victory in 1:50 in a $50,000 filly and mare invitational at Dover Downs March 4 before the shutdown hit. She qualified twice for her return Tuesday night, scoring a 2-length win in 1:53.3 at Magical Acres training center June 3 and another qualifying win in 1:51 at Harrah’s Philadelphia June 18. Owned by Poillucci, King, and Tetrick, Shartin is a 42-time winner and earner of $2.1 million. In addition to the two heavyweights, Tuesday night’s pacing feature also includes last week’s winner Snobbytown, who drew post three for George Brennan and Ron Burke, and last week’s runner up Imprincessgemma, who will start from post five for the Bongiornos. Machnhope scored a 1:51.4 victory in a local $20,250 overnight June 23 and will start from post four for Dexter Dunn and Noel Daley. Delishka, Sandy Win, and Anytime complete the field.  “I’d just like to stay in front of Shartin, that’s all,” Pelling said. “I’m sure that will mean moving forward. (Caviart Ally) will get around there like a hoop around a barrel. She won the Jugette, so I’m not concerned about how she gets around there or anything. She’ll be fine. She also has a long stakes season coming up, so this is another race, and it’s a race because we need to race. “It’s a good race. I’m really thankful to Yonkers for going with the filly and mare open,” Pelling continued. “No one else is. For a Tuesday night, I can guarantee you that the harness racing world will be watching Yonkers, and I think that’s a good thing. Good on them for doing that.” The amended Yonkers Raceway calendar will see live harness racing conducted Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights until July 2. Beginning the week of July 6, the schedule will add Friday nights. Saturday night racing will resume the week of July 20 as the track returns to its normal five night per week schedule through Dec. 19. First post time is 7:05 p.m. The complete revised racing calendar is available online here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – The lucrative weekly features return to Yonkers Raceway June 23 as the filly and mare open headlines the Tuesday night harness racing program. Major Occasion is the 9-5 morning line favorite in the $33,000 feature after drawing post four off an impressive mile last time out at the Meadowlands. Major Occasion made her first start post-coronavirus shutdown in the filly and mare preferred at the Meadowlands June 5. While Grand Circuit performer Kissin In The Sand played catch me if you can, and won, Major Occasion made it close. Major Occasion raced on the inside in fifth 5 lengths behind Kissin In The Sand throughout before closing in the stretch with a :25.3 final quarter. Kissin In The Sand had an open-length lead at the sixteenth pole, but Major Occasion lunged under Dexter Dunn urging, closing within three-quarters of a length at the finish. The effort surprised both the bettors who dismissed Major Occasion at 17-1 and trainer Nifty Norman, who thought Major Occasion would need a start having just one qualifier on May 30 since her last race March 4. “She was very good. I was pleased,” Norman said. “It was like having a win there racing against that caliber of horse and she was good and strong through the wire, too. I was really happy with the way she finished up. She’s a really nice mare. “I thought she was probably going to be a run short and she went even better than I expected,” Norman continued. “She’s been a real pleasant surprise since she came over. She’s been good every start really, so I’ve been really happy with her.” Although Major Occasion was individually clocked in a blistering 1:48 in her runner-up effort, Norman tries to avoid obsessing over the timer. “We’re seeing a lot of it now. The Meadowlands, the miles they go there are crazy. It doesn’t even pay to look at the clock anymore because it’s just crazy what they’re doing,” he said. “Now 48 is just acceptable, no one even talks about it; it’s commonplace to go 48, which is just amazing.” Major Occasion is a 6-year-old Art Major daughter out of the Fake Left mare Fake Occasion. The Australia-bred was a stakes performer before exporting to the United States last October, having won the Group 2 Sibelia Stakes at Menangle Feb. 16, 2019 before finishing second in the Group 1 Ladyship Mile a fortnight later. Major Occasion also finished second in the Group 1 Empire Vicbred 2-Year-Old Fillies Stakes at Melton in 2017. “I had some owners that wanted to buy the mare and she really wasn’t for sale,” Norman recalled. “I got talking to the owners and we just hit it off really good, ended up having several conversations with them. The trainer (Chris Frisby) and the owner (Peter Ward) are just really top guys. They decided to send her over to me and it’s working out great for me and for them.” Norman heard from many Down Under horsemen that Major Occasion was a good mare and when she arrived stateside, Norman could see why. “When she arrived, she was such a specimen,” he said. “She’s an absolutely beautiful, big, strong, good-looking thing, fantastic nature and when you sit behind her, it’s like sitting behind a bus. There’s nothing bad about her. She’s nice to look at, she’s nice to drive, she’s nice to be around. She’s just a perfect horse. “She’s a big mare, but she’s well put together,” Norman continued. “She’s got good conformation; she’s an Art Major, so Art Major’s are pretty good-looking. She carries a lot of weight, wears a big hopple, just impressive to look at.” Major Occasion made seven starts for Norman and owner Enzed Racing Stable before the shutdown, earning three wins and a lifetime mark of 1:49.4. She came within a neck of Shartin in a $50,000 filly and mare invitational at Dover Downs March 4. Major Occasion, an 18-time winner and earner of $241,105, was then entered into the first leg of the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series March 13, which was indefinitely postponed as the coronavirus ceased harness racing in North America. “It was very tricky to manage. The hard part was, there were rumors that we would get going, so you’d go train your horses up a little bit thinking maybe we’re going to race in two weeks,” Norman said. “It dragged on and on. I kind of wished I had turned the horses out since owners were paying bills while nothing was happening and they had no money coming in. “It was a difficult period, but I basically backed off, didn’t do a whole lot with them, just tried to keep them fit,” Norman continued. “You could tell the horses were getting sour like us. They were ready to get back to work, too. They were sick of just training, and training, and training. It was a strange time. I don’t think anyone really knew what the right thing was to do.” Major Occasion will make her second start post-shutdown in Tuesday’s feature and regular driver Dexter Dunn will be in the sulky. With the fate of Yonkers’ winter series still uncertain and with no distaff feature carded at the Swamp since June 5, Norman chose to test Major Occasion over the smaller track at Yonkers. “I elected to go to Yonkers and find out whether she can get around there. Obviously, she’s great at the Meadowlands, but going 1:48 every week isn’t the greatest plan either,” Norman said. “I thought I would try to avoid those big miles, try her on a shorter track and see how she handles it. I trained her on a half-mile track and she got around it good. She runs in a little bit, but most horses do. I don’t have any concerns, I think she’ll be fine.” Major Occasion will face seven rivals in the Tuesday feature, including three who exit the same race: Snobbytown, Imprincessgemma, and Gold Orchid. Snobbytown finished ninth last out, but earned $150,635 last year for trainer Ron Burke and won the local distaff feature Feb. 28. She is the 3-1 second choice on the morning line and will employ the driving services of George Brennan. Imprincessgemma won the local filly and mare open handicap impressively by 2 3/4 lengths Feb. 14 and was second in the feature the following week. She is 9-2 for the Bongiornos. Gold Orchid earned $120,170 last year for Mark Harder, won the local filly and mare preferred March 6, and will make her third start of the season. She and driver Brian Sears are 6-1 on the morning line. The field also includes Diamondtoothgertie, Sandy Win, Crystal Sparkles, and Dibaba. “I think, like a lot of foreign horses, (Major Occasion) is better with a target,” Norman said. “She could come first-up or she’s got good speed on the end too, it wouldn’t matter if she came from off the pace. I’d imagine Dexter, since he’s coming over to drive her, is going to be reasonably aggressive. I’ll leave it up to him.” The amended Yonkers Raceway calendar will see live harness racing conducted Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights until July 2. Beginning the week of July 6, the schedule will add Friday nights. Saturday night racing will resume the week of July 20 as the track returns to its normal five night per week schedule through Dec. 19. First post time is 7:05 p.m. The complete revised racing calendar is available online here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY  

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

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

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