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The road to harness racing victory in last weekend's Cal Expo Bill Conlin Pace by Rue Hanover and Chip Lackey is an interesting one. The Pennsylvania-bred 3-year-old miss was purchased as a yearling by John Glenn at Harrisburg and was then sent to Canada for her 2-year-old season, where she had to settle for minor awards in her first 10 starts. Lackey picks up the story. "It was the first of August and I got a call from John, who is a good horseman and an even better friend. He knew I was desperate for horses and said he had a maiden I should come take a look at up in Toronto." After checking out Rue Hanover, Chip bought the pacing filly for himself and Kenneth Seastrom and promptly brought her with him to Hawthorne Park, where she recorded two wins before once again hitting the road and arriving in Sacramento last month. "I was very impressed with her win in the Conlin leg on opening night," Lackey noted. "She'd been off for five weeks and traveled across the country." Rue Hanover came right back and accounted for the Conlin final last week, leaving sharply from the No. 8 slot to get position before challenging first over past the half and gamely getting the job done "She's a bit of a firecracker, high strung and all, but she's shown she has guts," her mentor praised. "Her dam is a half-sister to Rock N Roll Hanover and Royal Flush Hanover, who were both millionaires, so she has class in her pedigree." Bettor in the Bank eyes hat trick Bettor in the Bank, who has started the meet with back-to-back wins, looks to keep the momentum going in Friday night's $5,000 pacing feature. First post for the nine-race card is 6:40 p.m. A 9-year-old son of Bettor Tuwin, Bettor in the Bank is owned by Debra McCarthy, hails from the Gordie Graham barn and will once again have James Kennedy giving directions as he steps up another notch in class and leaves from the demanding No. 9 slot. The dark-hued performer, who has captured 45 of his 184 starts with a 1:51 2/5 mark established here last season, left little doubt on opening night as he waltzed home by two and a quarter lengths on the class drop. Bettor in the Bank had to work a lot harder in last week's tally as the 2-5 chalk, surging when it counted for Kennedy to up by a nose in a 1:53 1/5 mile where the first three finishers were separated by a neck. Friday's eighth race is a very interesting affair that will be decided at the elongated distance of a mile and a half, with last week's coast-to-coast victor Blue Star Maverick squaring off against Al's Briefs, who was Bettor in the Bank's most immediate victim last weekend. By Mark Ratzky, for Cal Expo Harness

Silverhill Volo is feeling awfully good these days, coming off back-to-back scores in the Open Trot over something other than a firm surface. The 8-year-old son of Muscle Hill is owned, trained and driven by Chip Lackey and has accounted for the last two clashes at the head of the class for the trotting set, one over a sloppy track and the other over a course labelled good. "I've had him a little over two years," Lackey noted. "He's bred to be a good one. He's by Muscle Hill, his dam won the Hambletonian Oaks and he brought $170,000 as a yearling." Things didn't get off to the smoothest of starts when Chip bought the gelding back in November of 2016, but he's been a solid performer in the interim. "When I first brought him to Cal Expo from the Midwest, he had a real bad fever, but eventually he recovered and he's been a solid trotter for us. "One of the things that used to make my stomach churn is when we would turn to come to the gate and he would switch from the pace to the trot," Lackey informed. "It wasn't always smooth, but eventually it wasn't a problem. "Because of that, I was able to lighten him up front, which has allowed me to leave with him and gives us more options in the early part of the race." And what about his prowess on off tracks? "He's a strong horse. I think when the track gets tiring, it takes less of a toll on him and that's why he does so well." Lackey also related that Silverhill Volo has a secret weapon, something you won't see in the pedigree or past performances. "That would be his caretaker Fern Wald. She deserves a ton of credit for what this horse has been able to do here." Duly noted, Chip. Distaff Open Pace, Goudreau Prep featured A $6,000 Filly and Mare Open Pace that brings out Brighten Your Life and the Shelly Goudreau Prep are the main events on Saturday evening's Cal Expo program. Watch and Wager LLC will present 11 races, with the Open going as the third race and the Goudreau Prep occupying the seventh-race slot, and things get under way at 6:10 p.m. Brighten Your Life is a 6-year-old daughter of Shark Gesture out of the Falcon Seelster mare Our Inheritance who is owned, trained and driven by Nate Sobey. She came into last week's top dance for the pacing fillies and mares having finished second in six straight outings, including the Alan Horowitz Final, but returned to her winning ways with a huge effort over the sloppy going. Leaving from the outside post, Brighten Your Life brushed to command for Sobey with a big move before the half, took complete control of things from that point and came home with four and half-lengths to spare. The Kathie Plested shedrow will be strongly represented with Outrageiousdelightn and Dancingonthesand in the line-up. Steve Wiseman will chauffeur the former and Mooney Svendsen has the assignment behind Dancingonthesand. Rounding out the cast for the Open are Misspanderosajones, who will have the services of Dean Magee; and Lookslikewemadeit, who leaves from the cozy rail slot with James Kennedy guiding. By Mark Ratzky, for Cal Expo Harness

Chip Lackey worked out a perfect trip with his trainee Silverhill Volo in last weekend's Jim Grundy Final at Cal Expo, getting up by a head over harness racing favored Silverlode in the fixture. The trotter is co-owned by Lackey and Roland Dekeyser Jr. and was recording his biggest victory since joining the barn back in November of 2016. Silverhill Volo came into the Grundy final off back-to-back tough beats, finishing second in the Prep after carving out all the fractions and then dropping a nose decision to division leader Pridecrest in the Open Trot one start back. "Roland likes trotters and we got this one from Joe Anderson," Chip related. "He always tries hard, but up until recently, he could be a little silly. He's learned to sit in a hole now and I was also able to work out some shoeing issues with some very useful help." Chip mentioned that a lot of credit for Silverhill Volo's success goes to Fern Wald, who has a very special bond with the trotter. "I honestly think he digs a little deeper because of her," he said. Lackey admits he wasn't happy when the post positions came out for the Final and he was in the No. 6 slot, while main rival Silverlode was a cozy draw in the No. 2 post. "We got lucky and were able to get a good trip, and then he came the fastest final quarter of his life to get up." What made the win extra special was it being named for longtime California driver/trainer Jim Grundy, against whom Chip competed for many years and had the utmost respect. "It was a big thrill to win a race named for Jim Grundy, because he was the best horseman I've ever known, in every sense of the word." Allymx'sliventexas, Gorgeous For Real battle A solid $4,400 Open III Pace gets the marquee treatment Friday night, with Allmyx'sliventexas and Gorgeous For Real among the major players. The feature will be decided as the fourth race on an 11-race card under the banner of Watch and Wager LLC with a first post of 6:10 p.m. Allymx'sliventexas and Gorgeous For Real are one of five members of the his cast who chased home favored I'm An Athlete in last week's Open Pace, checking in second and fifth, respectively, in that contest. Allymx'sliventexas is a 5-year-old homebred son of Hi Ho Silverheel's who races for Wayne and Rod Knittel with Bob Johnson the conditioner and Mooney Svendsen handling the lines. Two starts back with Nick Roland at the helm, the Knittel charge was a dominating winner of a conditioned event, and then last week he turned in a solid effort to complete the exacta behind I'm An Athlete in a 1:52 4/5 tour. Gorgeous Fore Real has a pair of Open victories to his credit at this meet and found himself with too much work to do from last place in that mile and had to settle for a minor check. He is owned by Schwartz, Wilkinson, Axelrod and O'Neill with Junior Wilkinson training and William Hernandez in the sulky. Rounding out the field, from the rail out: Pancetta with Luke Plano; Julerica, Richard Remillard; One And Only, to be guided by Ryan Grundy; Almost Cut My Hair, also with Svendsen named; and Ragin's Flight, who will have the services of Steve Wiseman. By Mark Ratzky, publicity - Cal Expo Harness                        

After failing to make the exacta in his first 11 starts this season, Gorilla Monsoon got the job done last weekend when ending up on the right end of a nose harness racing photo. Owned by Ron Rettig-Zucchi, trained by Lino Pacheco and handled by veteran Chip Lackey, the 5-year-old son of Cam's Card Shark was a 1:52 winner last year at Running Aces. You could say that at the wire in last week's assignment, this pacer got his foes in a submission hold Wresting fans with a few years on their driver's license will no doubt recognize the name Gorilla Monsoon, as he was one of the most popular participants in the sport for many years before becoming a commentator and backstage manager during the 1980s and 1990s. Known to his friends and family as Robert James Marella, he died on October 6, 1999 at the age of 62 but lives on through this Pennsylvania-bred pacer who got back to business in his most recent trip to the post. *** A reminder that there are two wagers offered here each night that come with a reduced 16 percent takeout rate, offering great value for the players. They are the 50-cent Pick 5, which is decided on the first five races; and the 20-cent Pick 4, which also features a $30,000-guaranteed pool on Fridays and a $40,000-guaranteed pool on Saturdays and is decided on the penultimate four races on the program. Trot brings out Lodi Dorian Blues Lodi Dorian Blues, who has been knocking heads with Silverlode and Fort Valley AS in his last two starts, gets some class relief and a cozy rail draw in Saturday night's featured Trot. The main event will go as the fifth event on an 11-race card under the Watch and Wager LLC banner with first post at 6:15 p.m. There will also be a pair of California Sire Stakes for 4-year-old pacers to be decided as non-betting events prior to the regular card. Lodi Dorian Blues is an 8-year-old son of New Age Hanover who races for Scott Ehrlich and George McChrystal, hails from the Kathleen Plested barn and will have Steve Wiseman doing the honors. The hard-knocking performer recorded his most recent victory on March 3, as he sat a tracking trip to the stretch and then put in his patented last move to win going away by two and a quarter lengths that evening. His last two starts have come at the Open level, where he finished fourth behind Silverlode two back and then checked in third behind Fort Valley As last week while competing over a sloppy track. In the Sire Stakes for the pacing males, the very talented Allymx'sliventexas will look add to another trophy to his mantle. A homebred son of Hi Ho Silverheel's, he races for Wayne and Rod Knittel, hails from the Bob Johnson barn and will as usual have Mooney Svendsen giving directions. He has dominated his Sire Stakes rival this season, including a sizzling 1:51 4/5 romp by 11 lengths in the February 4 big money dance for the division. He cruised home by nearly 10 lengths in the most recent Sire Stakes, and has since added a conditioned victory and a runner-up finish behind the red-hot Barbarian in last week's Open Pace. By Mark Ratzky, publicity - Cal Expo Harness

Chip Lackey comes into this week's action with 3,524 wins and over $15 million in earnings, and the 64-year-old harness racing pilot has been adding nicely to those totals of late. "It's been a good year," Lackey related. "I had to make a decision after the meet closed here last spring whether I was going to Minnesota or Chicago, and I decided on Chicago because I knew a good farm where I could take my horses." Lackey explained that for several years he stayed here during the break in racing to take care of his ill mother, who passed away in September of 2014. He spent last year's "summer vacation" in Pennsylvania and had a very good session at Hawthorne this summer. "I don't want this to come off the wrong way, but I've always taken care of myself and have confidence in my skills," Chip explained. "I took four horses when I went to Chicago and they did well. I was very pleasantly surprised with the way the meet went." In addition to driving as much as possible, Lackey has a half-dozen performers under his care here and is due to have some more ship in shortly from Indiana. "I still love it," he added. **** Now that Thanksgiving is over, how about feasting on the two reduced 16 percent takeout wagers offered each night on the trotting and pacing events here at Cal Expo. The 50-cent Pick 5 is decided on the first five races of the evening, while the 20-cent Pick 4 will be conducted on Races 8 through 11 on Saturday's program. Jump right in, the pool is fine. Open Pace brings out Windsong Jack Windsong Jack, nailed on the wire in his most recent appearance at the top rung after carving out all the fractions, heads the cast for Saturday night's $5,500 Open Pace. The feature will go as the third on a 12-race that is conducted by Watch and Watch LLC and will get underway at 6:10 p.m. A 6-year-old son of Santanna Blue Chip out of the Million Dollar Cam mare Milliondollarsmile, Windsong Jack is owned by Little Bapa LLC, takes his lessons from Gene Vallandingham and will once again have Mooney Svendsen in the sulky. The dark-hued performer comes into this assignment with $624,000 in his bank account and a sparkling 1:49 2/5 mark that was established two years ago. He was making his first start since July when he suited up here on November 12 with a pair of solid qualifiers under his belt. Sent off the 4-5 favorite that night, Windsong Jack set all the pace in that affair and was collared on the wire by Just Bettor, who will not be in the cast this time around. He will leave from the No. 3 post in the compact cast. Barbarian was third behind Just Bettor and Windsong Jack in the most recent Open and looms large for owner Robert Orr, trainer Sparky Clarke and pilot Tony Succarotte. He was an impressive winner here opening weekend off a stalking journey and he has the No. 2 slot this weekend. The field is completed by Stable Eyes, who leaves from the cozy rail slot for driver/trainer Tim Clevenger; American Venture, who calls the George Reider barn his home; and the James Kennedy reined-and-trained I'm An Athlete, who is back up in class after a victory last week. By Mark Ratzky, publicity - Cal Expo Harness

Flameon, fresh from winning for the third time from his last four starts in the Keith Willey Memorial; and Silverlode, who lost a heartbreaker to that rival, figure to get the majority of the attention in Sunday night's $6,600 Open Trot. A 10-race program is on tap with the action scheduled to get underway at 6:25 p.m. The main event occupies the third-race slot on the evening. Flameon is a 6-year-old Canadian-bred son of Angus Hall out of the popular Valleymeister mare Benn's Fire. She races for her breeder Mark Anderson, hails from the Gordie Graham barn and will once again be guided by Chip Lackey. The gelding score his richest win of the meeting when he made every pole a winning in the $10,000 Stan Bergstein Trot on March 13, gliding over the sloppy track that evening. He was fourth in his next try after making a miscue while doing his work from the assigned No. 10 post, then was a handy winner the following week on firm footing. It was another sloppy track last week when Flameon suited up for the Keith Willey Memorial. He was parked to the lead by the quarter, showed the way to the stretch with a clear advantage and had enough left to hold safe by a nose over Silverlode. The latter is a 7-year-old daughter of British Sterling out of the excellent producer Charlotte's Web who races for breeders Desomer Stables and will have Steve Desomer at the controls. Silverlode comes into this race with $129,000 in earnings and a 1:56 3/5 mark that was established her two weeks ago when she took the measure of an Open III field in handy fashion. She turned in another big mile to come with a nose of upsetting Flameon in the Keith Willey with Steve Wiseman guiding. Reduced takeout wagers spotlight real value Value players should pay special attention to the Pick 5 and the Pick 4 here at Cal Expo, both offering a reduced 16 percent takeout rate. The Pick 5 is a 50-cent wager conducted on the first five races on the card, while the Pick 4 is a 20-cent bet that includes the final four contests on the evening. Last Saturday night's Pick 5 is a great example. While the sequence featured a $2.20 winner in Flameon in the Keith Willey Memorial and Cadet at $5, it returned an eye-catching $8,886 for each 50-cent investment thanks to wins by Double L Fab ($34), Onesportonly ($38) and Hotel Motel ($19). Using the regular takeout rate, the Pick 5 would have returned $7,934, which is a difference of a cool $952 in each winning player's pocket. James Kennedy, who earned victory No. 1,000 in his career earlier this month, guided Double L Fab to his upset, while brother Mark did the honors behind Onesportonly and Cadet over the sloppy track. Mark Kennedy added another picture for the hat trick when he scored a come-from-behind win in the nitecap for her owner/breeder Cindy Tupper and trainer Lester Smith. By Mark Ratzky, for Cal Expo Harness

My Little Susie, who accounted for the first two harness racing stakes dances for the division; and Kissed The Boys, who upset her in the most recent big-money clash two weeks ago, get another chance to settle the score in Saturday night's $15,000 California Sire Stakes for 3-year-old trotters. An 11-race card will be presented under the Watch and Wager LLC banner with the action starting at 6:15 p.m.. The Sire Stakes will go as second event on the evening. My Little Susie is by Claudius Augustus out of the S J's Photo mare Sue's Photo and she goes about her business for A Piece Of the Action LLC with Gene Vallandingham training and Chip Lackey in the sulky. The bay miss left little doubt in the first two stakes for this group in February, on both occasions sitting a tracking trip to the lane and then igniting when it counted to win going away. The most recent Sire Stakes was decided over a sloppy track two weeks ago and this time it was Kissed The Boys prevailing for Team Desomer, while My Little Susie had to settle for the place money as the 3-5 favorite. Kissed The Boys is a homebred who is also by Claudius Augustus who has won three of her seven starts, with each of those decisions coming over an off track with veteran Steve Desomer at the controls. Rounding out the field are Lodi Bank Robber, Delta Breezeoflodi, Sixtringsandapick and CW Raisinette. ******* There will be no live racing Easter Sunday, with next week returning to the regular Saturday and Sunday night schedule. By Mark Ratzky  

Two veteran harness racing horsemen and a talented 3-year-old trotting filly joined forces last weekend at Cal Expo, as the Gene Vallandingham-trained, Chip Lackey-driven My Little Susie captured the first Sire Stakes of the season for the division. A daughter of Claudius Augustus, My Little Susie carries the banner of A Piece Of The Action LLC and was winning for the fifth time in 14 lifetime appearances. Last year saw the bay miss scoring in 1:59 at Lexington, and she lowered her mark to 1:58 1/5 with last week's stakes score. In that latter decision, Lackey sat a stalking trip to the stretch, unleashed the filly once straightened for home and she came a sharp :27 3/5 final quarter to seal the deal by two lengths over Kissed The Boys and favored Lodi Bank Robber. "She's a small filly, but has a big motor and quick speed," praised trainer Vallandingham following the win. "I'm only going to race her in stakes races here at Cal Expo." My Little Susie actually used front-end tactics to capture the Alan Kirshenbaum finale in her previous start, but her versatility on display with the come-from-behind score in the Sire Stakes at most recent asking. "I told Lackey before the race that if she was within three of four lengths of the leader at the top of the stretch, she would smoke them down the lane," Vallandingham said. "She has a big turn of foot and Lackey did a good job." Both Gene and Chip have been mainstays in California for the last five decades, with Vallandingham electing to concentrate on the training things these days, while Lackey continues to guide home his share of winners, including My Little Susie for his longtime friend. Open Trot brings out Northern Stormont A $6,600 Open Trot that finds Northern Stormont seeking his fourth straight victory is the highlight on Sunday evening's program at Cal Expo. An 11-race card is on tap and first post for the Sunday action is 5:05 p.m. The headliner is the fourth event on the program and Northern Stormont will be asked to do his work from the demanding No. 10 post position for the second straight time. Northern Stormont is a 5-year-old son of Earl Of Stormont who carries the banner of George McCrystal, Mark Kremen and Scott Ehrlich with Steve Wiseman doing the driving and training. He set his 1:54 4/5 mark last year at Hoosier Park. The long-fused sidewheeler is perfect in 2016, starting the streak with an Open III score on January 3 in which he was adding Lasix. He was unhurried early that night as is his custom, ignited when the question was asked and prevailed by a length with Luke Plano at the controls. Off as the even-money favorite in his next try three weeks later, he came with cover to the stretch and flew by the leaders to get the job done by two lengths with Wiseman handling the lines. Leaving from the assigned No. 10 post at most recent asking two weeks ago with his trainer in the sulky, Northern Stormont once again used his powerful late kick to reward the chalkplayers at 1-5 with a two and three-quarter lengths tally. Taking him on this weekend are Bankers For All with Mark Kennedy; Big Baller, David Siegel; Franks Best, Mooney Svendsen; Commandergalleon for James Kennedy; Winsom Kelly, Luke Plano; and It's Not Over with Chip Lackey at the helm. By Mark Ratzky

Jessesjo has turned in two big efforts at this harness racing meeting following a 17-month layoff, finishing second to El Azteca on both occasions, but wont have that rival to worry about when he suits up for Sundays featured Open II Trot. Jessesjo is an 8-year-old son of Jailhouse Jesse who is owned by Mark Anderson and races out of the Gordie Graham barn. He has really impressed his veteran pilot Chip Lackey, who had never sat behind the trotter before his October 24 qualifier. I was told he was returning from an injury and a long layoff and to see how he finished, Lackey related. I have to tell you, Ive driven some very nice trotters, but Ive never had one give me the acceleration he did in that qualifier. After easily capturing a second qualifier, Jessesjo has completed the exacta behind course-loving El Azteca in two clashes at the head of the class. He actually showed the way to deep stretch before getting collared in their meeting two weeks ago, then sat the pocket behind that rival at most recent asking through some pedestrian fractions and once again had to be happy with second money. He made a little break at the start in that first race, but it was mostly my fault because I tried to rush him away from there, Chip explained. Last time, I took a little hold for the first few steps to let him settle and he was away perfectly. El Azteca, who was leaving from the assigned No. 10 post for the second straight time, was able to make the top by the half in a crawling 1:01 for Luke Plano, with the pocket-sitting Jessesjo trying hard but unable to cut into the margin in the stretch. We got bottled up and never really got a clear shot, and he did come home in :26 and change, Lackey said. You cant ask for more than that. Open II Trot getting marquee treatment Jessesjo, who has raced in the shadow of El Azteca in his first two appearances at this stand, looms the solid favorite in Sunday nights featured Open II Trot. There will be a 10-race program presented under the Watch and Watch LLC banner with the headliner going as the sixth event. First post will be 6:10 p.m. Jessesjo is an 8-year-old son of Jailhouse Jesse who comes into this assignment with $236,000 in his bank account and a 1:53 4/5 career standard. He will be making his third start since returning for 17-month layoff. Mark Anderson owns, he hails from the Gordie Graham barn and Chip Lackey will once again do the honors. In both his local tries he has completing the exacta behind El Azteca in solid efforts. He showed the way into the stretch in the first of those match-ups but was unable to contain the winner, then sat a pocket trip after being used early in their last meeting and could not overtake the favorite while holding off the rest. Flameon will give the Mark Anderson/Gordie Graham team two strong looks at the outcome Pat Galbraith handling the lines. The Angus Hall homebred took the measure of conditioned company two weeks ago, then put in a good mile to be third behind El Azteca and his stablemate in last weeks Open I Handicap event. Franks Best comes into Sundays main event with $230,000 in earnings and he has several Sire Stakes trophies on his mantle. Bob Johnson owns, trains and bred the son of Armbro Scribe and Mooney Svendsen will be in his usual spot in the sulky. Completing the field are Franky Provolone, who is making his second start on the comeback trail with Steve Wiseman guiding; and a pair from the Marissa Tyler barn in Claim Jumper and Quantum Uptown Boy. By Mark Ratzky, publicity Cal Expo Harness

A $24,192 carryover in the Jackpot 6 and a $30,000-guaranteed gross pool for the Pick 4 are among the wagering highlights on Fridays harness racing program at Cal Expo. The Jackpot 6 and the Pick 4 are both offered with a reduced 16% takeout rate, along with the Pick 5 and the Hi-5. The Jackpot 6 and Hi-5 are 10-cent wagers; the Pick 5 is a 50-cent bet and the Pick 4 comes with a $30,000 guaranteed pool and can be purchased in 20-cent increments. Going into Fridays program, the carryover on the Jackpot 6 stands at just shy of $25,000. The 10-cent minimum wager pays out 70% of the net pool to the tickets with the most winners, with the remaining 30% designated for the carryover on those nights. When there is only one unique winning ticket selecting on all six winners, the entire net pool for that night and the carryover is paid to the holder of that ticket. There was a mandatory payout when the last meet completed on December 21, with a carryover of $22,655 going into that program. A total of $45,33 was wagered that evening and the payout was $2,106 for each 10-cent ticket. Racing will be conducted this week on Friday and Saturday nights, with no racing on Super Bowl Sunday, February 1. Next week, there will be Saturday and Sunday night programs, February 7 and 8. Following that, there will be back-to-back three-night weeks with cards on Friday through Sunday, February 13, 14, 15; and Friday through Sunday, February 20, 21, 22. Open Trot, Distaff Pace, Sire Stakes set An Open Trot headed by El Azteca and Its Not Over; a Distaff Open Pace and a trio of $10,000 California Sire Stakes are on tap Friday night at Cal Expo. First post for the 14-race card is 6:10 p.m. Looking at the 4-year-old Sire Stakes Trot, Placer, Ahh Panama and Bank Of Lodi are the major players after finishing in that order in the most recent stakes clash for this division two weeks ago. Placer is a homebred son of Panama Hanover out of the Website mare Charlottes Web who races for Desomer Stables Inc. with Vickie Desomer the conditioner and husband Steve in the sulky. He prevailed by a neck over Ahh Panama in that last added-money clash on January, adding another trophy to his display case. Ahh Panama is a daughter of Panama Hanover who races for Hank Wieseneck, Marty Garey and Bob Johnson with Johnson training and Steve Wiseman doing the honors. A stakes victress last season, she is looking for some revenge after just missing in that stakes two weeks ago. Bank Of Lodi has been a stakes winner at 3 and 4 for his owner/breeders Mary Harris and Pierre Girard, with Girard training and Luke Plano in his usual spot in the bike. The New Age Hanover mare accounted for the December 14 stakes clash in coast-to-coast fashion, and then carved out the fractions in that last stakes get-together and was no match for Placer and Ahh Panama in the stretch. The 3-year-old pacing filly stakes will be a rematch between Avila Beach and Smash, who were one-two in the initial big-money affair this division, while the Sire Stakes for the 3-year-old trotters goes as a non-betting affair prior to the regular program. The Open Trot is set as the third race on the evening and should provide another great battle between El Azteca and Its Not Over, who have dominated things at the head of the class during this meeting. James Kennedy guides the former for owner/breeder/trainer Marco Rios, while Chip Lackey will be in his usual spot behind Its Not Over for trainer Bob Johnson. By Mark Ratzky, publicity Cal Expo Harness

Out of 31 races last week, a grand total of three were won in coast-to-coast fashion, and one of those was turned in by China King and harness racing pilot Chip Lackey while capturing the Open Pace at juicy 19-1 odds. The East Coast invader, who races for Gary and Jennifer Sabot and trainer Gene Vallandingham, had suffered brutal beats at the hands of the streaking St Lads Lotto in his previous two efforts, but was able to turn the tables last weekend with his 1:52 1/5 tour. To be honest, I didnt go into that race with the same confidence I had the previous two starts when he was just nipped, Lackey explained. Hed missed a couple of starts, it looked like there was plenty of other speed in there and after a night and a half of racing to that point, there hadnt been a horse win on the front end. On top of that, Id been having some pretty bad luck with my drives. That said, I always try to be optimistic when I go out there and I will say that Jen (Sabot) and Gene were pretty confident about China Kings chances and did a terrific job to have him ready. Lackey was able to buzz the pacer right to the front and cut out fractions of :27 2/5, :54 4/5 and 1:22 3/5 en route to the three-quarters of a length upset over the 1-2 St Lads Lotto, who had his seven-race win streak snapped in the process. This is a very nice one, Chip noted. There are a lot of horses who like to roll away from there and then you have to wrestle with them, but hell pretty much do anything you want and is very ratable. Everything considered, I thought they might want me to take back with him last week, but they said to let him fire out and thats what we did. It was a tremendous effort when you remember he hadnt raced in three weeks, and it also did a lot to raise my spirits after some tough luck. High Bet Hanover eyes another snapshot Sundays distaff pacing feature goes in two divisions, with High Bet Hanover and Js Littlerockstar heading their respective races. A 10-race card is set with first post at 4:50 p.m. High Bet Hanover comes into her contest having posed for pictures following four of her last five starts, with her only setback coming two weeks ago when she took on some very tough male rivals. The Bettors Delight mare, who races for Kc C Carvalho, is conditioned by Tim Brown and will have Luke Plano guiding, rattled off three straight victories here between December 22 and January 2, then had her work cut out versus the likes of A Real Miracle at next asking. Returning to face fillies and mares last week, High Bet Hanover was hammered down to 1-2 and did not disappoint her many supporters. Plano left into a tracking trip with his charge, took aim on the leaders in the stretch and swept by when it counted for a length and a half score. Js Littlerockstar has been a gem of consistency and will be well backed in the co-feature. James Kennedy owns, trains, drives and bred the Little Steven mare, who has multiple Sire Stakes trophies on her mantle. The bay miss has accounted for the last two stakes engagements for her division, getting the January 4 score after the disqualification of arch-rival Brewski, then hung a head decision on that foe in last weeks Sire Stakes clash in another big mile. Next week will find the trotters and pacers in action under the Watch and Wager LLC banner on Friday and Saturday nights, with no racing on Super Bowl Sunday, February 1. By Mark Ratzky, publicty Cal Expo Harness                                          

Kenny Fowler doesnt mind if you call him a backseat driver. In fact, hes downright proud of the fact. Fowler is plying the trade of harness starter for the first time in his career at this meeting, making sure the trotters and pacers get off to a clean and fair start to their one-mile journey. Even though Kenny was born in Sacramento some 53 years ago, it wasnt until he was in college that he truly got exposed to harness racing and realized its what he wanted to do with his life. I was going to Sierra College and I went to work during the summer for my brother Donnie, who owned the Winners Circle cafeteria at the track, Kenny related. I found I really liked the horses, and eventually I left college and started learning about the sport from the ground up. Originally it was Al Sleva and Dick DeSantis who took a young Fowler to Lodi and gave him the chance to get hands-on experience with the standardbreds. He eventually went to work for Chip Lackey and had the chance to go to Canada and win some races under that stables banner. From there, Kenny went to work for the late Bob Gordon and had the chance to be around some very nice performers. He even had some thoughts about becoming a driver, but then fate intervened and he found himself on a different path. It turned out they needed someone to drive the starting car, and the qualifications were you had to speak English and have a drivers license, Fowler recalled. Bobby heard about it and told me I should try it. Kenny got the job, and recalls in only his second night on the job he was guiding around the car for a stakes race at Los Alamitos. He drove for Larry Jones, John Wilson and Todd Nixon before Bill Vallandingham became the starter in 1994 and held that position for 20 years before health issues forced him to take his leave this fall. Vallandingham recently underwent successful lung transplant surgery and is doing very well, and with Fowler moving to the starters position, Larry Dana is filling in his old spot as the driver. As part of his job and continuing a proud California harness tradition, Fowler was the fellow in the tuxedo leading the winner into the charmed enclosure for a picture following each race. It took a little while to get used to the tuxedo, but then I got to like it, Kenny said. I owe everything to Billy, he continued. I miss him being here so much. Hes been a like a father to me, helping me through my personal problems and all the time teaching me about the starting car and everything thats involved. Billy and I have been pretty much joined at the hip for the last 20 years. It was about three years ago that I started working with schoolers and then last summer I passed the USTA starters test, meaning I could be the starter at any track in the country. A Real Miracle heads main event A Real Miracle, who has spent the majority of the meeting in the shadow of St Lads Lotto and China King, gets the top billing in Saturday evenings $5,000 featured Pace. The headliner goes as the third event on a 10-race program that will get underway at 6:40 p.m. A reminder that through January, the guarantee on the 16% takeout Pick 4 has been raised to $30,000. The Pick 5, Jackpot 6 and Hi-5 are also come with that reduced 16% takeout. Racing is being conducted this week under the Watch and Wager LLC banner on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Next week will find Friday and Saturday action, with no racing on Super Bowl Sunday, February 1. Looking at Saturdays feature, A Real Miracle should have more than his share of backers. The 5-year-old son of Real Desire races for Junior Wilkinson, Billie Schwartz and Ivan Axelrod with Wilkinson training and Luke Plano once again at the controls. While A Real Miracle has had to settle for most minor awards while squaring off against a couple of very tough customers in St Lads Lotto and China King in the Open Pace, but gets away from those foes for the second time in the last three weeks. On January 10 in a conditioned affair, the Wilkinson trainee proved a punctual 1-2 favorite as he made every pole a winning one and prevailed by a neck in a 1:53 tour. He came back last weekend to finish fifth in the Open Pace behind the top performers on the grounds after being well back in the early stages. Taking him on Saturday are Announcement and Bubs Desire, who are both hail from the Ray Burt shedrow; Enee Weene And Me for Tim Brown and the James Kennedy reined-and-trained Allamerican Solo. By Mark Ratzky, publicity – Cal Expo Harness

Those who remembered that Vari Forgetful was once a very good trotting mare have been rewarded to the tune of 58-1 and 14-1, respectively, in her last two trips to the post for harness racing driver/trainer Bruce Clarke. The 6-year-old homebred daughter of Armbro Variable carries the banner of Jack Coffey and has over $105,000 in her bank account with a 1:56 4/5 mark that was established at Pompano Park two years ago. That said, she did come into her January 11 assignment off a series of less-than-stellar efforts and had the 9 post to boot that night. No problem, as Vari Forgetful left into a stalking position and motored by everyone for the $119 shocker. Last week from the cozy rail, she did a curtain call at nearly 15-1 under Clarkes direction, again winning easily. Shes always been a very nice mare, but just like last year, it took her awhile to come around at this meet, her mentor noted. It was actually my fault the first couple of starts here because I should have changed her shoeing, then the race before her first win she had the second tier and got run into and lost any chance. Even though she had the 9 hole for that race two back, she had been training very well and were able to leave into a good spot. She finished strongly, and no question it helped that was in pretty cheap. While the 58-1 odds that evening didnt seem out of line, Bruce did say he was surprised she was such a big number in last weeks outing, especially considering she was moving from the 9 slot to the rail. I told the owner I thought she couldnt get beat in there because she was definitely back to her old self, Clarke said. With the inside, the plan was to float out of there and sit in the two or the three hole, and thats exactly how it worked out. El Azteca, Its Not Over head marquee El Azteca and Its Not Over, who have divided up the eight clashes at the head of their class at this meeting, are spotlighted in Fridays Open Trot. A 10-race card is on tap with first post at 6:40 p.m. and racing will be conducted this week under the Watch and Wager LLC banner on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. A reminder that through the month of January, the guarantee on the low-takeout Pick 4 has been raised to $30,000. The Pick 4 is one of four wagers offered each night with the reduced 16% takeout rate, the others being the Pick 5, the Jackpot 6 and the Hi 5. El Azteca has prevailed in the last two Open Trots for his owner/trainer/breeder Marco Rios and pilot James Kennedy. He comes into this assignment with $134,000 with a 1:54 3/5 career standard that was established last year at Hoosier Park in Indiana. In the most recent clash, El Azteca left into a stalking position for Kennedy, brushed to the lead turning for home and proved clearly best by two and a half lengths that evening. He has been assigned the outside slot in the field of five. Its Not Over is 5-year-old son of Panama Hanover who carries the banner of Richard Dryden and Debra Budahn with Bob Johnson the conditioner and Chip Lackey in his usual position in the sulky. Its Not Over made his most recent trip to the winners circle following the December 27 Open Trot, lost his best chance with an early break in the next appearance and then checked in second behind his arch-rival at most recent asking. Winsom Kelly, A Crown For Lindy and Franks Best complete the field. By Mark Ratzky, publicity Cal Expo Harness                

A $5,600 Open 2 Pace is the featured attraction Saturday night, as the curtain falls on the winter/spring Watch and Wager LLC meeting at Cal Expo. We want to thank the horsemen and the fans for their support, said General Manager Chris Schick. "We look forward to returning in October for our third year of racing and are planning to implement some exciting new things, including a Jackpot Pick Six. Im An Athlete gets top billing in the main event. The 4-year-old son of Art Major is owned by Ronald Retting-Zucchi with Gretchen Smith the conditioner and Tim Maier handling the lines. The hard-hitting gelding has posed for pictures following four of his 18 appearances on the season. His most recent victory came in an Open 3 event on April 11, where he prevailed by two and a quarter lengths with Patrick Galbraith at the controls and lowered his lifetime mark to 1:53 2/5 in the process. Since that outing, Im An Athlete has had to settle for a second and a pair of thirds, including a show finish behind Shax in last weeks Open Handicap Pace. He should be very much at home in this line-up. Taking him on are Ladys Art with Chip Lackey Lifetime Louie, David Siegel; Gold Duece for Gene Vallandingham; Scarboro Hanover; Silver Spir, Sean Smithpeters; Split Ticket, Mooney Svendsen; Oompa Loompa; Laissez Moi Passer, Williams Hernandez; and Ideal Smile, Steve Wiseman. A 13-race card is on tap with first post set for 5::45 p.m. with the feature going as the seventh event on the evening. Axle taking his show on the road Axle finished up this meet strongly for trainer George Reider, handling a conditioned field two weeks ago and then just missing to Sharpshootennorris in the Open Trot at most recent asking. Hes going to Running Aces in Minnesota along with 11 of his barnmates, Reider said. Thats where we claimed him last year and he won his first start for us back there. He really seems to like that track, because its five-eighths with a different surface. While assistant trainer Kim Hines was on site last year at Running Aces, George explained that he will be joining her for this summers assault. Ive decided to come along this year and hopefully well have a good meet. In the meantime, Reider reports that he will have plenty of performers remaining in California and they will be eyeing the return of racing here in October. Ive leaving a half-dozen 2-year-olds and some race horses at the farm here, and Ill be back in August to resume their training schedule. Im really looking to forward to coming back and getting them ready for the next meet. As this is closing night, which means there will be a mandatory payout in all wagers. A remember there is a reduced 16 percent takeout rate on the 50-cent Pick 5; the 20-cent Pick 4 and the 10-cent Hi=-Five on the nightcap! by Mark Ratzky, for Cal Expo Harness

Silver Spir comes into this weeks action having rattled off back-to-back victories for harness racing owner Maureen Pittaro and trainer Gretchen Smith, equaling his lifetime mark of 1:54 1/5 on both occasions. The 5-year-old Michigan-bred son of Cheyenne Rei was handled by Tim Maier in the first of those scores, with Gretchens son Sean Smithpeters handling the lines in the most recent outing. I cant say enough nice things to say about this horse, Gretchen related. He is such a pleasure to have in the barn. He is very quiet for a stud and he takes very good care of himself. He takes his morning nap everyday as well as one in the afternoon. He doesn't get in much of a hurry jogging either. Im certain that is the reason for his soundness. He only puts out an effort when duty calls. Even right after a race he just moseys back down to the paddock to be hooked back to the jog cart for his return to the barn area. According to Smith, Silver Spir is the kind of horse that makes a very difficult job much easier. He is every trainer and owners dream because what you see from him on the track is all him. No expensive vet bills, no fancy rigging, he isn't even a picky eater. How can anyone ask for any more than that? Hes definitely a special kind of horse. Silver Spir will step up in class for Saturday nights Open Pace with Smithpeters once again doing the honors. Dont let those easy-going ways around the barn fool you, hes all business when its starter call for the pacers. Open Pace entices Shax, Smith pair Shax, a winner of two straight for trainer Tim Brown; and the sharp Gretchen Smith-trained pair of Im An Athlete and Silver Spir get the marquee treatment in Saturday evenings $5,000 Open Pace. Shax races for Kc C Carvalho and David Siegel will once again handle the 6-year-old Florida-bred son of Red River Hanover. He got the job done two weeks ago under Open 3 conditions stalking the pace to the lane and then finding a path along the cones to motor through for the score. Racing at the Open 2 level last week while racing over a sloppy track, Shax sat last in the early stages, rallied second-over to the stretch and hung a neck decision on Haggin Oaks, who was making the final start of her career. Im An Athlete is a 4-year-old son of Art Major who carries the banner of Ronald Retting-Zucchi and will have the services of Tim Maier. The Smith trainee is looking for his fourth trip to the charmed enclosure from his last seven trips to the post. His most recent decision came on April 11 in the Open 3 with Pat Galbraith at the controls, with his 1:53 2/5 clocking not only being the nights fastest but a new lifetime standard. He was second to One And Only at next asking and third as the 4-5 choice behind Shax at most recent asking. Silver Spir gives the Gretchen Smith barn two solid looks at the outcome. He has captured his last two starts in sharp style, doing the track-and-attack to perfection on both occasions with identical 1:54 1/5 final clockings. Sean Smithpters has the return assignment. Rounding out the field are A Real Miracle, who leaves from the cozy rail slot with Chip Lackey giving directions; and Laissez Moi Passer with Williams Hernandez in the bike. First post is 6:15 p.m. By Mark Ratzky

With Gary Seibel taking a week off for a family obligation, Cal Expo is pleased to have Frank Mirahmadi handling the announcing duties on Friday and Saturday. Mirahmadi, who began his career at Hollywood Park in 1992, just wrapped up another season as the voice of the prestigious Oaklawn Park meeting in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and will once again be calling the action on the Northern California fair circuit this summer. Frank is also well known as a TVG racing analyst, for his appearances in several racing movies and his spot-on impressions of personalities both in and out of racing. "I started going to harness races at Hollywood Park and Los Alamitos in the 80's when I was in high school." he noted. "We had a blast and I still remember many of the horses. "My favorite was Courageous Red. He was so talented and very consistent. I always bet on him and was frequently rewarded." It may surprise some people that Mirahmadi will actually be calling his first harness race Friday evening. "I attempted to call one harness race, at a fair in Michigan," Mirahmadi said, "from the infield in the voice of Marv Albert back in 1999. This will be my debut as I can't really even consider that an official call. "It's definitely going to be a challenge. My top priority is to never use the words run or running in my calls. Im really looking forward to it and was very happy to get the call from management." Sophomore Sire Stakes get marquee treatment A pair of $10,000 California Sire Stakes featuring Brewski in the pacing event and Placer in the trotting affair headline the Friday night Cal Expo program that gets under way at 6:15 p.m. Brewski is a homebred daughter of Little Steven and the Tulane mare Wooski who races for Billie Schwartz and trainer Junior Wilkinson with Chip Lackey at the controls. She picked up her first stakes trophy two weeks ago when she made every pole a winning one while equalling her mark with the 1:57 3/5 clocking. De Valeria was runner-up in that affair is another offspring of Little Steven and is a multiple stakes victress for owner Eugene Afentoulis and driver/trainer Steve Wiseman. Her most recent added-money decision came on February 28 over a sloppy track with former trainer Luke Plano in the sulky. Js Littlerockstar rattled off back-to-back Sire Stakes tallies in March, but made a break as the 3-5 choice in that last gathering on April 11. James Kennedy owns, trains, drives and bred the bay filly. She will be looking to return to her best form while back with her peers. Placer is a homebred son of Panama Hanover who carries the banner of Desomer Racing Stables Inc. with Steve Desomer in his usual place in the bike. He has accounted for four of the last six Sire Stakes for the division, including two weeks ago when he hung a neck decision on Snuff N Bear as the even-money favorite. The latter is a New Age Hanover colt who is owned and was bred by Mary Harris, takes his lessons from Kennedy Lindsey and will be guided by James Kennedy. He was a dominating winner of the February 28 get-together for this group and has just missed in the last two stakes clashes behind Ahh Panama and Placer. The racing continues Saturday evening with a Sire Stakes contest for the 3-year-old pacing colts that rematches the most recent trophy earner Laissez Moi Passer with previous stakes victors King Of The Crop and Rikybrnthegaragdwn. By Mark Ratzky, for Cal Expo Harness

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