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Saturdays finale of the Jim Grundy Trotting Series is named for the driver/trainer who was a California mainstay for four decades. He passed away in 2009 at the age of 74. Jim Grundy made 2,617 trips to the charmed enclosure as a driver, with more than $10.3 million in earnings and was inducted into the California Hall of Fame in 2007. Originally a hockey player in his native Canada, a knee injury forced Grundy to hang up his skates and stick in 1958. Going into the family business of harness racing, he found his second niche in life as a driver/trainer. Grundy apprenticed under famed horsemen Eddie Cobb, Clint Hodgins and Frank Popfinger before going out on his own in the early 1960s. He was the leading driver at Monticello for three straight years beginning in 1971 before heading west with his wife Deborah, a former schoolteacher and bookkeeper for the stable. It was here that Grundy blossomed into one of the states top harness horsemen. Teaming with owners like Chris Bardis, Lloyd Arnold and Ron Zumbrun, he won countless stakes races with the likes of Googie, Hugabear, Steam and Easel. He was especially noted as an outstanding trainer of young trotters. Steve Desomer, Gene Vallandingham and Rick Kuebler competed against Grundy for many years and have high praise for his skills. Jim was not only our friend, but partners with us on many memorable horses, Desomer said. He was an exceptional horseman and that resulted in a long and successful career. Vallandingham related, I knew Jim from the time he came to California. He was a nice guy and a great horseman and I always enjoyed his company. Kuebler also did battle with Jim on many occasions at Cal Expo, Hollywood Park and Los Alamitos. Id have to say he was the most accomplished trainer of young trotters weve ever had in the state. Even after his retirement, horsemen would seek him out to get advice in shoeing and balancing a trotter. It was all about his expertise and passion and he is missed. Jim Grundy Series final, Open Pace, Sire Stakes set A $10,000 California Sire Stakes headed by Rikybrnthegaragdwn and King Of The Crop; the $12,300 finale of the Jim Grundy Trotting Series and an Open Pace featuring One And Only are the highlights on Saturday evenings 14-race card at Cal Expo. Rickybrnthegaragdwn and King Of The Crop have divided up the first four stakes races at the meeting for the 3-year-old pacing colts. Rikybrnthegaragdwn races for Maryann Plano with Luke Plano driving and training, while King Of The Crop carries the banner of his breeder Frank Nevarez and is trained and driven by James Kennedy. A son of Living It Up out of the Sportsmaster mare Sports Bra, Rikybrnthegaragdwn captured the first stakes race of the season for this group on January 18, then was second and third in the next two big-money events while King Of The Crop was posing for pictures. In the most recent stakes two weeks ago, he made every pole a winning one, holding safe by nose over King Of The Crop in a 1:55 2/5 clocking, two ticks off the mark he established in his previous decision in a conditioned affair. The latter is by Little Steven accounted for back-to-back stakes on February 1 and 15 in game fashion, including a 1:55 1/5 tally. Sent off the 4-5 choice in that last added-money clash, he sat the pocket behind his arch-rival and just missed while coming a :26 3/5 final quarter. In the Open Pace, One And Only is a 6-year-old son of Bettors Delight who carries the banner of Richard Morita and David Yamada, takes his lessons from Lino Pacheco and will once again have Luke Plano giving directions. He comes into this assignment having posed for pictures following five of his seven starts on the year and is closing in on the $100,000 mark in career earnings with a 1:52 2/5 standard. The field for the Jim Grundy finale will line up this way from the rail out: Axle, with David Siegel at the controls; Donna Letsgo, Luke Plano; Try This with Williams Hernandez; High Dollar for Tim Maier; Giles L S Hanover, Mooney Svendsen; and Silverlode, to be guided by Steve Desomer. By Mark Ratzky, for Cal Expo Harness  

After mixing it up with the likes of El Azteca and Inside Broadway in his previous two outings, Franky Provolone got some class relief last weekend and responded with a solid victory for owner Robin Clements, trainer Vickie Desomer and pilot James Kennedy. The 7-year-old trotter has carried the Clements banner for the last two years and the victory put him over the $115,000 earnings mark. After getting shuffled at the midway point in that mile, he got clear sailing when it counted and motored home in :28 and change to seal the deal. When he came back from Minnesota last summer, he was pretty tired and not 100 percent, Robin noted. I raced him one time at the opening of this meet and he was no good, so I turned him out. In the past, Clements would have given Franky Provolone some time at the Desomer ranch, but that was no longer an option and her fields were filled up with broodmares. Jennifer Sperry is a good friend of mine and she ended up taking him to her farm down in Patterson for a well deserved break. Franky became part of the Sperry family, hanging with retirees Pussy Cat and her Claudius Augustus filly Sassy Catitude along with 30 yr old Steroid Stallion. He was turned out for two months and put on about 150 lbs. Jennifer and her husband Steve did a great job as Franky is a horrible eater and hard to get that weight on. Jennifer was patient and found out Franky is a buffet kind of guy and doesn't like to eat the same thing everyday. When he came back we stuck to the same plan on his feeding and switched him up a lot. I raced him in the Open Trot, but he wanted no part of El Azteca, and then I was finally able get him in a class where he belongs. James Kennedy did a great job with him the other night and I was very happy how things worked out. Sire Stakes, Open Trot, Distaff Pace headline card A pair of $10,000 California Sire Stakes for 3-year-olds featuring De Valeria and Snuff N Beer, an Open Trot headed by El Azteca and an Open Distaff Pace hold the spotlight Friday night at Cal Expo. El Azteca, who recently over the $100,000 mark in earnings, eyes his sixth straight win while once again doing his work from the assigned No. 10 post. The 5-year-old son of Panama Hanover is owned, trained and was bred by Marco Rios and will have Luke Plano in the sulky. De Valeria is a daughter of Little Steven and the Fandango Fella mare Princess Kiara who has captured three of the four stakes races for the sophomore pacing fillies at this meeting. She is owned by Eugene Afentoulis and is reined and trained by Luke Plano. The dark-hued miss used track-and-attack tactics to draw away through the stretch in the first two Sire Stakes clashes, then had to settle for third as the 3-5 choice in the February 14 gathering. She got her revenge in the most recent big-money joust two weeks ago, having no trouble with the sloppy track as she rallied smartly to the lane and pulled away by two and a half lengths. Duet accounted for the other stakes and goes postward for owner/trainer Rick Cisco and pilot Tim Maier, while Clara Bea carved out all the pace in that last Sire Stakes before checking in second and carries the banner of Schwartz, Axelrod, Rachford and trainer Junior Wilkinson with James Lackey guiding. Looking at the trotting event, Snuff N Beer and Placer have each earned two stakes trophies to this point while establishing themselves as the leaders of the division. Snuff N Beer is a Mary Harris homebred from the Kennedy Lindsey barn with Luke Plano in the bike, while Placer is a Desomer Stables homebred with Steve Desomer handling the lines. In the most recent get-together on February 28, Snuff N Beer appeared to relish the off going as he dueled to the stretch and then came away late for a two and three-quarter lengths score. He also posed for pictures following the first stakes of the year on January 17 with a strong finish. by Mark Ratzky, for Cal Expo Harness    

After making a clean sweep of the Sire Stakes for his division at this meeting, the 4-year-old trotter Freedombird has added two more conditioned victories to the resume, including a dominating score at even-money with Luke Plano last weekend. "He's still a work in progress, but hes very game and all business when that gate starts rolling," trainer Gordie Graham related. "He likes to have a target, because when hes out in front he has a tendency to think his work is done. The key with trotters is to relax, and hes definitely getting there. Luke said when he moved with him the other night he only needed two fingers, which is a great sign. Hes late maturing and Im sure we havent seen his best yet. Freedombird is a son of Panama Hanover out of the diminutive Sacramento mare Kimmie Girl, an extremely popular performer who carried the banner of Walt and Patty Petersen. Like Freedombird, she retired with a slew of Sire Stakes trophies on her mantle. Gordie is an excellent trainer and Luke does a great job driving Freedombird, Patty related. This horse is very lucky to have them on his team. Patty reports that Kimmie Girl is at home right now and enjoying life. She has a 2-year-old filly named Pattycakepattycake by Claudius Augustus who is the process of being broken, Petersen informed. Shell come home during the break and be given some time to grow. She doesnt look a all like Kimmie, as she is very big but light on her feet and fleet of foot with a lot of spring in her step. Sounds like another nice trotter could be coming down the line. El Azteca puts streak on line in Open Trot El Azteca, who went over the $100,000 mark in earnings while registering his fourth straight victory two weeks ago, heads the cast set for Saturday nights featured $5,500 Open Handicap Trot at the Watch and Wager LLC meeting at Cal Expo. A 5-year-old son of Panama Hanover, El Azteca is owned, trained and was bred by Marco Rios and will have Luke Plano in the sulky. For the second straight time, he will be asked to get the job done from the demanding No. 10 post position this weekend. The razor-sharp performer won an Open Pace at 22-1 in June at Hoosier Park in a sparkling 1:55 with Scott Cisco at the controls, but then went to the sidelines until mid-January, when he returned with an easy win in an Open Handicap here with Tyler Smith driving. Luke Plano took over two weeks later and it was a curtain call for the Rios charge. El Azteca was then assigned that.10 post for his most recent tour on February 21 and was up to the task as the 1-2 choice. Plano dropped in early with the trotter, made a big move past the half and after opening five lengths in midstretch, came to the wire with a length and a half on Franks Best that evening. Owner/trainer/breeder Bob Johnson sends out the main threats in the uncoupled pair of Inside Broadway with James Kennedy giving directions and Franks Best with Mooney Svendsen at the controls. They are also half-brothers, both being out of the American Winner mare Inside Edition. Franks Best was 3-5 when facing his stablemate last week, but it was Inside Broadway who got the barn bragging rights. He went right to the front for Kennedy and won easily, while Franks Best had too much work to do from last and had to settle for second money. Looking for an upset are Sharpshootennorris, who has the inside slot and Steve Wiseman guiding; High Dollar for Tim Maier; and Hellogottagobuhbye, who gives the Maier barn two looks at the outcome. The 14-race card will begin at 5:45 p.m. by Mark Ratzky, for Cal Expo Harness      

Rikybrnthegaragdwn and King Of The Crop put on four great battles in the California Sire Stakes series for the 3-year-old pacing males at this standat Cal Expo Harness, ending up with two trophies each once the dust had settled. The Luke Plano reined-and-trained Rikybrinthegaragdwn drew first blood on January 18, but had to be happy with a second and a third in the next two stakes clashes behind King Of The Crop and driver/trainer James Kennedy. Rikybrnthegaradgdwn evened the score last weekend, carving out all the fractions and then coming a :26 and change final quarter to hold safe by a head over his pocket-sitting arch-rival in a very game performance. They're both nice horses, but still green, Plano related after his colt scored in 1:55 2/5, a week after motoring by conditioned foes in a 1:55 tour. Even though Riky is a stud, hes as mild-tempered a horse as youre ever going to be around. Hes got a great personality and a toddler could jog him. By Living It Up out of the fine racemare and producer Sports Bra, Rikybrnthegaragdwn was broken last year in Florida by Lukes dad Rick and has really developed in the last few months. Hes getting better all the time, the younger Plano noted. I think hes going to turn out to be a good one. Of course, one cant interview Luke without asking about the name, which it turns out goes back many years and involves his dad, his uncle and his grandfather. The story goes that my dad burned down the garage when he was a kid, but my grandfather was never told who did it. Anytime my uncle Fran wanted something from my dad and he didnt get it, he would ask my grandfather, Who do you think burned down the garage? and my dad would have to give in. We now have an answer to that burning question. Haggin Oaks has top billing in Open Distaff Pace Haggin Oaks, who returned to her winning ways with a solid score at most recent asking, gets the top billing in Friday nights $5,000 Open Handicap Distaff Pace at Cal Expo. A 13-race card is on tap, with first set for 5:45 p.m. The main event will go as the second contest on the evening with Haggin Oaks leaving from the assignment outside post with trainer James Kennedy at the controls. An 8-year-old daughter of Hi Ho Silverheels from the Incredible Finale mare Ladyladybemybaby, Haggin Oaks races for the partnership of Shari Burns, Ferris Funk and Gerald Cimini. She comes into this assignment with $158.000 in the bank and a 1:52 3/5 mark that was established last year at Tioga Downs. After recording a smart win here on November 22, the dark-hued mare had to settle for a series of place and show finishes while chasing home the likes of Show Runner and Strings. Both of those mares have headed East, leaving Haggin Oaks as the big gun in the division. Sent off at 50 cents on the dollar in her last appearance two weeks ago in the Open, the Kennedy trainee lived up to the backing as she made the lead at the quarter, took complete control at that point and came home with a length and a half to spare in a 1:54 3/5 performance. Ladys Art hits hard with her top mile and has to be respected. James Wilkinson conditions the daughter of Art Major for owner/breeders Kenneth Seastron and James Kouretas and Chip Lackey will be in his usual spot in the sulky. Her last score came in a conditioned affair on January 17. Completing the field are Sea Bug, who leaves from the rail with Patrick Galbraith; Windsun T Bird, to be handled by Luke Plano; and Pismo Beach, who will have the services of Mooney Svendsen. by Matt Ratzky, for Cal Expo Harness  

Chip Lackey gave the Gene Vallandingham-trained Giant Sculpture a perfect drive in last weeks Open Handicap Pace, working out a two-hole trip with the son of Village Jolt and posting a four-length decision in a lifetime-best 1:52 clocking. "I dont have many winners circle pictures on my wall, but this is one Ill be proud to put up there," said the veteran Lackey. "Winning an Open Pace and having the picture taken with Gene and Lou Pena was very special." Vallandingham and Lackey go back to 1973, when Gene first came to California. I went to work for Gene when he first got out here, and then I went back with him to Maywood Park the next year and he was the leading trainer. The victory with Giant Sculpture was the second in five starts with Lackey in the sulky. The first time I drove him back in January he was 11-1 and put in a real game, first-over effort and got there by a nose. He had also put in some solid races coming into last week, giving me a good finish every time. According to Chip, post position played a big role in his strategy last week. We had been drawing outside Docs Zippy every week and I didnt want to battle with him early, but this time we were inside and I sent my horse and was able to work out a pocket trip. They may have been going :55 to the half that night, but I knew I had a ton of horse. I made sure to ease out a little early so we didnt get trapped in, and he gave me a super kick. It was very gratifying to go out there and win a race like this for such great people. Sire Stakes, Open Pace, Jim Grundy Series on tap A $10,000 California Sire Stakes for 3-year-olds that finds King Of The Crop and Rikybrnthegaragdown renewing their rivalry; the opening leg of the Jim Grundy Trotting Series featuring Donna Letsgo and an Open Pace are the main attractions at Cal Expo Saturday night. King Of The Crop had to settle for second in the first stakes clash for the sophomore pacing colts on January 18, but has posed for pictures following the last two big-money events. The Little Steven homebred carries the banner of Frank Nevarez with James Kennedy doing the driving and training. The bay performer left little doubt in the February 1 clash, drawing off by five and a half-lengths that evening in a snappy 1:55 1/5 mile. Backed down to 1-5 for the most recent gathering of this group two weeks ago, he had to work much harder as he opened up on the lead at the head of the lane and held by a head over Rikybrnthegaragdown. The latter is by Living It Up out of the Sportsmaster mare Sports Bra and races for Maryann Plano with son Luke reining and training. He made every pole a winning in the first Sire Stakes of the season on January 18, was a distant third in the next one and then fell just short of catching his arch-rival in that last added-money affair two weeks ago. He returned last week to post a convincing score in a conditioned event. Last weeks Open Pace saw Giant Sculpture pulling off the upset. He is a 6-year-old son of Village Jolt who carries the banner of A Piece Of The Action LLC, is conditioned by Gene Vallandingham and will once again be handled by Chip Lackey. He was able to work out a perfect trip in the most recent clash at the head of the class, sitting the pocket and then exploding in the stretch for a four-length score in a lifetime-best 1:52 performance. One And Only had to settle for the exacta completion that evening while leaving from the outside post as the 1-2 favorite for owners Richard Morita and David Yamada, conditioner Lino Pacheco and pilot Luke Plano. He rattled off five straight victories at this top rung between December 21 and January 21, including a score from the demanding No. 10 post. By Mark Ratzky, for Cal Expo Harness    

When Get Down Tonight ignited in the stretch at nearly 12-1 last weekend with Mooney Svendsen in the sulky, it was the second straight victory for the pacer and his owner/trainer Karen Isbell and Earl Kennedy. Get Down Tonight, a 6-year-old son of Red River Hanover, was haltered by the pair in January. After a few starts of getting to know the gelding, they have sent him out for back-to-back impressive wins from off the pace. Last year Earl helped me with my trotter Boo Coo Blush, who was having some issues with a quarter crack, jockey/turned harness conditioner Isbell related. He was the one who picked out Get Down Tonight and thought it would be a good idea for us to go partners on him. What he liked was that he had some good races in the past back East and seemed to be a pretty easy horse to train. The night we claimed him he was 1-2 and won off pretty easy. With James Kennedy at the helm, Get Down Tonight looped a field of $3,000 sellers to get the job done two weeks ago, then came to test deeper waters at most recent asking and was up to the task at those healthy odds with Svendsen giving directions. Meanwhile, Isbell is looking forward to one of her passions, which is competing under saddle with the standardbreds. I think the first competiton will be coming up this summer at Pocono Downs, she said. They are always a lot of fun. A reminder that there are three wagers offered here each night with a reduced 16 percent takeout rate. They are the 50-cent Pick 5; the 20-cent Pick 4 with a $20,000 guaranteed gross pool on Friday and a $25,000 guarantee on Saturday; and the 10-cent Hi-Five on the finale Sire Stakes. Open Trot heading the marquee A pair of $10,000 California Sire Stakes for 3-year-olds and an Open Trot featuring stablemates Inside Broadway and Franks Best are the highlights on Friday evenings Watch and Wager LLC card at Cal Expo. The Sire Stakes for 3-year-old fillies finds the rapidly-improving Duet, who captured the most recent big-money dance for the division, taking on two-time stakes victress De Valeria. Duet is a daughter of Disco Devil and the Tulane mare Harmony who is owned and conditioned by Rick Cisco with Tim Maier at the controls, while De Valeria is a Little Steven offspring who carries the banner of Eugene Afentoulis with Luke Plano doing the reining and training. Duet was a promising third in her January 31 debut, then caught a sloppy track at next asking and made a break. She put it all together two weeks ago in the most recent Sire Stakes, as he did her work in first-over fashion for Maier and went on to a convincing two and three-quarter length decision with a solid 1:57 2/5 clocking. De Valeria proved clearly best in the first two stakes clashes on January 17 and 31. On both occasions she did the stalk and pounce to perfection for Plano while coming away at the end, then had to settle for a third-place finish as the 3-5 favorite in that last added-money gathering for his group. The dark-hued miss came back last week in a conditioned affair and overcame the No. 9 post to get the job done. Well back early, De Valeria came rolling in the stretch to prevail by three-quarters of a length in a lifetime best 1:56 3/5 final clocking. In the Sire Stakes for the sophomore trotters, Placer is eyeing his third straight trophy. The Panama Hanover homebred is trained by Vickie Desomer with husband Steve in the sulky and has been very impressive getting the job done with his peers in the last two stakes appearances. By Mark Ratzky, for Cal Expo Harness  

This weekends three series finales at Cal Expo honor the memory and contributions of Alan Kirschenbaum, Richard Staley and Marvin Shapiro. The Alan Kirschenbaum Series is named for the longtime owner and breeder and past president of the California Harness Horsemens Association, who died in October 2012. Kirschenbaum was a major factor in California as an owner, breeder and amateur driver for many years. With his stallions Little Steven and British Sterling standing at Cherry Tree Farm in Wilton, he helped support the industry in California. In the past, he had even waived his stallion fees to help the California horsemen breed their mares to help the horse population survive in the Golden State. He was also a huge supporter of the California Sire Stakes and amateur races. Richard Staley, who passed away in 1997 at the age of 66, was one of the top owners to ever campaign trotters and pacers in California. He was involved in the sport for more than 25 years and during that entire period had only one trainer, Hall of Famer Doug Ackerman. Over the years Staley and Ackerman would regularly go to the major sales to select and purchase the regally-bred years that became the bulwark of the Staley Stable and provided California harness racing with many of his classiest performers. Marvin Shapiro was the son of L.K. Shapiro, who owned the Hall of Fame thoroughbred and California-bred champion Native Diver. He was the president of Western Harness Racing Inc. in the 1960s and spearheaded legislation that sanctioned night racing in California. He died in 2003 at the age of 83. Marvin Shapiro Finale, Open Pace in spotlight A contentious $7,350 finale of the Marvin Shapiro Pacing Series and an Open Pace headed by One And Only are the main events on Saturday nights Watch and Wager LLC program at Cal Expo. Itsabouttonight and Plum Crazy Baby captured the two divisions of the first leg of the Shapiro, while last week saw one division and it was Majestic Lass who come rolling late to post a $47 upset. An 8-year-old daughter of Art Major, Majestic Lass is owned by Kimberly Andres, is conditioned by Salvador Wenceslao and will have Mooney Svendsen in the sulky. No threat in the first leg of the Shapiro, she came back last week to be up by a head over another longshot in Pips Jenny G., with the $1 exacta returning a cool $515 in that affair. Itsabouttonight will represent owner/trainer Gretchen Smith with Tim Maier at the helm. The Illinois-bred mare dominated her division of the opening leg over a sloppy track, then was a close third last weekend after opening up a large lead at the head of the stretch that evening. Plum Crazy Baby is a 6-year-old Relentless Yankee mare who carries the banner of Derick Takahashi with Dario Solares training and Dave Siegel doing the honors. She was a very convincing victress in the first leg, then was first over in her most recent appearance and had to settle for the fourth as the 8-5 favorite behind Majestic Lass. Completing the field are Red Star Gilda with Williams Hernandez; No Mo Parking for Mike Jarvis; Curvacious with Luke Plano in the sulky; Pips Jeeny G, Patrick Galbraith; and Little Schoolgirl, who leaves from the outside slot with James Kennedy at the helm. One And Only gets top billing in the Open Pace for owners Richard Morita and David Yamada, trainer Lino Pacheco and driver Luke Plano. The son of Bettors Delight rattled off five straight wins between December 21 and February 1 before having the streak broken at most recent asking after doing his work from the demanding No. 10 post position. By Mark Ratzky, for Cal Expo Harness    

There was one winning ticket in last Saturday nights Pick 5, returning $9.968 for what proved to be an excellent 50-cent investment. The Pick 5 is one of three wagers offered here nightly with a reduced 16 percent takeout rate. The others are the 20-cent Pick 4 with a $20,000-guaranteed pool on Friday and a $25,000 guaranteed pool on Saturday; and the Hi-Five on the finale. Had last Saturdays winning ticket been paid out under the regular takeout rate, it would have returned just over $9,000, a difference of some $920 to the winner. "We have had these low takeout bets in place since we took over the meeting in the fall of 2012," said General Manager Chris Schick. "We are very pleased with the response to these wagers." Last Saturdays Pick 5 sequence got off to a pretty formful start as 2-1 second choice Orlandos Express got the job done for James Kennedy, followed by co-favorite Diva Las Vegas clicking at $6.60 with Tim Maier and 2-1 second choice Alpine Hawk posing for pictures with Rich Wojcio. It got a bit tougher when Hi Ho Disguise prevailed at $11.20 in the penultimate leg with Dave Siegel at the controls, then kicked into overdrive after Majestic Lass upset the second leg of the Marvin Shapiro Series at 22-1 with Mooney Svendsen giving directions. There is another chance to pick up a nice piece of change for a minor investment here Friday night with the reduced takeouts of the 50-cent Pick 5; the 20-cent Pick 4 with a $20,000-guaranteed pool; and the 10-cent Hi-Five on the final contest. Kirschenbaum, Staley Series Finales headline program The $7,200 finale of the Alan Kirschenbaum Series headed by Nutmegs Davey and Larry Horse; the $6,600 Richard Staley Series finale featuring Melboy and Big Guy To Win; an Open Trot and and Open Distaff Pace are on tapFriday night program at Cal Expo. Nutmegs Davey has captured the opening two legs of the Kirschenbaum in convincing style and looms the favorite in Fridays finale for owner Osman Carrera, trainer Dario Solares and pilot Luke Plano. The 5-year-old son of Jennas Beach Boy went coast-to-coast in his division of the first leg with Dave Siegel in the sulky while competing over a sloppy track, then held safe by a neck in last weeks penultimate leg over Larry Horse as the even-money favorite with Plano at the controls. Larry Horse is a popular 12-year-old who goes about his business for Jessie Pacheco and Kristin Swab with Lino Pacheco the conditioner and Gerry Longo handling the lines. The son of Sportsmaster comes into this assignment with $230,000 in his account and a 1:52 2/5 mark. With Plano in the bike in his division of the first leg, Larry Horse proved a punctual 6-5 choice in the slop, then was handicapped by the No. 9 post last weekend with Longo at the helm and fell just short of catching Larry Horse that evening. Melboy and Big Guy To Win accounted for their respective divisions of the first leg of the Staley Series, then finished one-two in last weeks clash. Melboy is an 8-year-old son of Western Hanover who is owned by Lili Tremblay, trained by Nathalie Tremblay and driven by Tim Maier; while Big Guy To Win is a 9-year-old from the George Reider barn who carries the Kimberley Hines banner and has Mooney Svendsen giving directions. The Open Trot finds El Azteca looking for another win at the head of the class for owner/trainer/breeder Marco Rios and driver Luke Plano while leaving from the assigned No.10 post position. Haggin Oaks heads the Open Distaff Pace with trainer James Kennedy in the sulky. By Mark Ratzky, for Cal Expo Harness  

Itsabouttonight found the conditions of the Marvin Shapiro Pacing series made to order, going coast-to-coast in last weekends opening leg for owner/trainer Gretchen Smith and driver Tim Maier. It had been awhile between drinks for the 5-year-old mare, who recorded a 1:53 3/5 victory as a sophomore. She made only four starts last year without a snapshot and was getting the job done for the first time in six appearances here this season. Gretchen noted that both she and her pacer are Illinois-breds who joined forces late last year. I bought her at the Delaware Sale in November and its funny how you can race so far from where youre from and end up with a horse that was born and raised in your home state. It turns out that old trainer is also someone that I used to race with in Illinois and her previous trainer is good friends and partner with a friend from Illinois as well. Its truly a small world and we are just two Illinois-born and raised girls who are far from home. Smith relates things did not go all that smoothly when Itsabouttonight first joined the barn. I struggled with her when she first got here. She can be pretty strong in the bit and she didnt want to rate very well. We made some minor equipment adjustments and finally she is racing like we hoped. Having a good driver like Tim Maier, who is patient and gets along well with her, certainly makes all the difference in the world. I am very thankful for his efforts with her. Itsabouttonight will be back in action in Saturdays second leg of the Sharpiro, which goes as the seventh race on the program. If all goes well, she should be a major player when the finale rolls around next week. California Sire Stakes, Shapiro Series highlighted A $10,000 California Sire Stakes headed by King Of The Crop and Rikybrnthegaragdwn and the second leg of the Marvin Shapiro Pacing Series are the main events at the Watch and Wager LLC meet at Cal Expo on Saturday night. King Of The Crop and Rikybrnthegaragdwn, have accounted for the first two Sire Stakes for the 3-year-old pacing males, while last weeks opening leg of the Shapiro saw Plum Crazy Baby and Itsaboutttonight prevailing in the two divisions. King Of The Crop is a homebred son of Little Steven who carries the banner of Frank Nevarez while being trained and driven by James Kennedy. Rikybrnthegaragdwn is by Living It Up and races for Maryann Plano with son Luke reining and training. Plum Crazy Baby is a 6-year-old mare by Relentless Yankee who carries the banner of Derick Takahashi, hails from the Dario Solares barn and has Dave Siegel in the bike for a return engagement. She made two moves to the lead on the sloppy track from her outside slot and went on to a convincing three and three-quarter lengths decision. Itsabouttonight is a 5-year-old daughter of Armbro Mackintosh and the Life Sign mare Churchbell Sign who is owned and trained by Gretchen Smith and will once again have Tim Maier giving directions. The bay miss had actually been winless for quite some time coming into last weeks opening leg of the Shapiro, having recorded a 1:53 3/5 career-best mile two years ago. She had been making menacing noises in her past few starts here and put it all together last weekend. Sent off the 5-2 second choice, Itsaboutttonight went right to the front from her outside slot and left little doubt over the sloppy going. She opened up over four lengths on the field on the final bend and came to the wire with five and a quarter lengths to spare in an overpowering performance. by Mark Ratzky, for Cal Expo Harness            

An $8,400 Pick 5 Carryover with a $25,000-guaranteed gross pool and a reduced 16 percent takeout rate; and the first leg of the Alan Kirschenbaum and Richard Staley Pacing Series are the highlights at Cal Expo Friday night. A 14-race card is on tap with first post set at 5:20 p.m. The Pick 5 is a 50-cent wager and there is also a reduced 16 percent takeout on the 20-cent Pick 4 with a $25,000 guaranteed pool on Friday and a $25,000 guaranteed on Saturday; and the 10-cent Hi-Five on the finale. The first leg of the Kirschenbaum goes as the third race on the evening, while the opening of the Staley Series occupies the fifth-race slot on the program. The co-featured Trot is a conditioned affair that finds Axle dropping out of the Open Handicap and getting away from the likes of the streaking El Azteca and stablemates Inside Broadway and Franks Best, which he should very much appreciate. A 5-year-old son of Hard Rock N Roll, Axle is trained by George Reider and driven by David Siegel, and they are co-owners along with Robert Thronson and Greg Robinson. He was a six-time winner last season, including a lifetime-best 1:57 4/5 performance over the five-eighths Running Aces oval. Axle made his most recent appearance in last weeks clash at the head of the class, crossing the wire fourth but placed third through disqualification. He has recorded a second and a third in his two starts outside of the Open ranks this season and will be very much at home with this group. The co-featured Pace is for distaffers and brings out the likes of Strings, who has been having some tough battles with arch-rival Show Runner; and the classy and hard-hitting Haggin Oaks from the James Kennedy shedrow. Desomers add another trophy to mantel When Steve Desomer guided the 3-year-old homebred Placer to victory in last weekends Sire Stakes, it was first win for the trotter and tally No. 2,610 for the 77-year-old Desomer. As far as stakes trophies go, Steve and wife Vickie stopped counting those many years ago. Placer is one in a long line of top performers bred, owned and raced by Team Desomer, and this gelding is obviously starting to get the hang of things. Hes by Panama Hanover and hes out of a divisional champing in Charlottes Web, Vickie related. That makes him a half-brother to Silverlode, who is by British Sterling. Silverlode is a 5-year-old mare who captured several Sire Stakes in her younger days, has put over $80,000 into her bank account and sports a 1:58 standard that was established here last season. Placer showed good early interest but was no match for Snuff N Beer in the first stakes clash for this group on January 17, then made a miscue at next asking in a conditioned affair. He put it all together last week in the second stakes gathering and got the job done nicely. Lets just say that the effort was certainly a pleasant surprise for both Steve and myself, Vickie explained after adding yet another Sire Stakes victory to the Desomer scrapbook. Desomer, along with the rejuvenated Gene Vallandingham and the recently-returned Gerry Longo, continue to show their young racing rivals a thing or two about driving and training winners. Those may be modern sulkies out there, but these guys help add a cool, old-school vibe to these Cal Expo nights. By Mark Ratzky, for Cal Expo Harness  

A Stitch In Time has won 13 of his 19 starts, with a growing number of harness racing stakes trophies on the mantle, but his runner-up finish in last week’s Open Pace impressed pilot Lemoyne "Mooney" Svendsen as much as any of those victories. The 4-year-old homebred son of Kent’s On Nuke, who carries the banner of Mark Anderson and hails from the Gordie Graham barn, flew home for Svendsen in last week’s assignment but came up short of catching the free-wheeling front end favorite One And Only that evening. “That was as a good a race as he’s ever gone for me,” Svendsen related. “He came that final quarter in :26 2/5 and he would have definitely won if we would come first over and not had a roadblock ahead of us. “This is one of the best horses I’ve driven since I’ve come out here and an amazing California-bred. I knew he was something special right off the bat, when he broke his maiden at Running Aces last year in 1:54 and absolutely flew by everybody once I pulled him out.” A Stitch In Time has rattled off four straight Sire Stakes victories since the middle of November, proving clearly best on each occasion as the prohibitive favorite. “He just stands out with that group,” Mooney noted. “You can pretty much do anything you want with him. I just want to make sure I don’t make any mistakes and he’s going to do the rest. “You have to remember that he’s only just turned 4 and is lightly raced, so his best races figures to be still ahead of him. He’s a real nice one to have and it should be a lot of fun down the road.” Open Trot, Distaff Pace, Sire Stakes set An Open Trot that pits El Azteca versus a strong Bob Johnson pair; an Open Distaff Pace and a trio of $10,000 California Sire Stakes are the featured attractions on Friday night’s Watch and Wager LLC program at Cal Expo. First post for the 14-race program is 5:20 p.m. The Open Trot will go as the third; the Distaff Open occupies the fourth-race slot; the Sire Stakes for the 3-year-old pacing fillies is set as the eighth and the other two Sire Stakes will be decided as non-betting events prior to the regular card. Freedombird looks for another trophy and headlines the 4-year-old trotting stakes, while Snuff N Beer eyes an encore in the 3-year-old trotting contest. Looking at the sophomore pacing fillies Sire Stakes, De Valeria edged out odds-on J’s Littlerockstar in the first added-money clash for the division two weeks ago. De Valeria is daughter of Little Steven and the Cr Fandango Fella mare Princess Kiara who is owned by Eugene Afentoulis and is reined and trained by Luke Plano. She sat a stalking trip in that first stakes gathering, rallied second over to the lane and overpowered the pace-setting J’s Littlerockstar. The latter is another by Little Steven and she is owned, trained, driven and was bred by James Kennedy. She carved out all the fractions in that event two weeks ago as the 3-5 chalk, dug in late but could not quite hold off the winner’s rally. She was a sharp 1:57 4/5 victress on January 3 to earn her maiden diploma. Looking at the Open Trot, El Azteca is a 5-year-old son of Panama Hanover and the Jonathan Lobell mare Jonathan’s Girl who made a very impressive 2014 debut in the most recent gathering for the head of the class. Marco Rios owns, trains and bred the performer and Luke Plano will handle the lines. Sent off the 3-2 favorite in the most recent Open Trot despite the fact that he was making his first start since June at Hoosier Park, El Azteca was a solid first-over victor and had a length and three quarters advantage at the wire. A multiple Sire Stakes winner here in California, he is working his way to the $100,000 earnings plateau and sports a 1:55 mark. by Mark Ratzky for Cal Expo Harness

Your eyes are not deceiving you, Gerry Longo is back in California and competing here at Cal Expo. Once a fixture at or near the top of the driver standings at this track, Hollywood Park and Los Alamitos, the 68-year-old driver/trainer has returned to the West Coast for at least the foreseeable future. Its been over 30 years since I raced out here, said Longo, who recently passed the 2,600-win plateau with over $11 million in earnings. Ive come to California quite a bit to visit my mother, who lives in Garden Grove, and my daughter in Riverside, but this is the first time Ive raced here in a long time. I can tell you that the weather is nice, the people are great and Im impressed with the way theyve upgraded the facility since I was here the last time. Longo explained that he made the move to Chicago at a time when it looked like harness racing was about to go down for the count in California. I did some racing back there in 78, 79 and 80, then I bought a place and started racing in Chicago full time, he said. I like to travel, so Ive also been racing at tracks in Virginia and Minnesota. Gerry has brought out six performers and is almost treating the visit like a vacation. Right now the plan is stay at least under March, but well see how it goes. Open Pace, Sire Stakes, Joe OBrien set An Open Pace spotlighting One And Only; a trio of $10,000 California Sire Stakes and the first leg of the Joe OBrien Pacing Series are the main events on Saturday nights 15-race program at Cal Expo. The Open Pace is the third race on the evening with One And Only looming large. He is a 6-year-old son of Bettors Delight out of the Western Hanover mare Gallie Too who carries the banner of Richard Morita and David Yamada with Line Pacheco the conditioner and Luke Plano handling the lines. He is looking for his Third Straight win at the top level. The bay performer got a perfect pocket trip with Plano on December 21 and drew off by five lengths when push came to shove in a lifetime-best 1:52 2/5 mile. Sent off at 40 cents on the dollar in the most recent top dance two weeks ago, One And Only took matters into his own hands and went coast-to-coast by a two and a half lengths to the delight of his many backers. Set to challenge One And Only are Its Getting Hairy for Tim Maier; Phantom Dan with trainer James Kennedy in the sulky; Docs Zippy, Tyler Smith; and Winsmith Syd, who leaves from the rail with Steve Wiseman. A Stitch In Time and Show Runner are strictly the ones to beat, respectively, in the Sire Stakes for the 4-year-old pacers, while the 3-year-old colts get their first chance to race for added-money at the meeting. By Mark Ratzky, for Cal Expo Harness

An Open Trot headed by stablemates Inside Broadway and Franks Best and a trio of $10,000 California Sire Stakes share the marquee Friday night at the Watch and Wager LLC meet at Cal Expo. A 15-race card is on tap with first post set at 5:20. The Open Trot goes as the eighth race on the evening, the Sire Stakes for 3-year-old pacing fillies occupies the sixth spot while the other two stakes will be decided as non-betting events prior to the regular program. Inside Broadway started off the new year in winning fashion by capturing the top dance for the trotting set on January 3 for her owner/breeder/trainer Bob Johnson and regular pilot James Kennedy. He made a huge move down the backside to go from fifth to first and came home powerfully to seal the deal in a 1:58 flat performance. Franks Best is also owned, trained and was bred by Johnson and is a half-brother to Inside Broadway with both being out of the American Winner mare Inside Edition. An earner of over $185,000 with a 1:56 2/5 career standard, the 7-year-old has several Invite wins at the meet and will once again be guided by Mooney Svendsen. Rounding out the field are Bet It All from the rail for Steve Wiseman; Rich Dessert with trainer Tim Maier in the sulky; El Azteca, to be guided by Tyler Smith; and Axel with Dave Siegel at the controls. The Sire Stakes for the sophomore pacing fillies will give that group their first added-money opportunity at the meeting. Trainer Junior Wilkinson will send out an uncoupled pair in Brewski, who has the inside slot with Tyler Smith; and Clara Bea with Chip Lackey at the helm. They will be challenged by Js Littlerockstar, Merlot, De Valeria and Perfect Pitch. The other two Sire Stakes are for the trotting set. Kimmie Girls offspring Freedombird looks to add another trophy to the mantle for trainer Gordie Graham and pilot Luke Plano in the 4-year-old affair, while Ahh Panama is among the major players in the 3-year-old contest. by Mark Ratzky for Cal Expo Harness  

After quite a bit of nibbling, I'm Confident got his picture taken last week for trainer Bob Johnson and pilot Tyler Smith. He'll attempt a curtain call in Saturdays Cal Expo headliner while facing a slightly tougher group. The 8-year-old son of The Panderosa comes into the assignment with $272,000 in his bank account and a 1:53 mark that was established last season at Hoosier Park. The fact that he gamely re-rallied to get the job done last week will not be lost on the bettors. "He was one of three horses I bought last summer in Indiana from Gilbert Herrera.", said Johnson, who co-owns the performer with Marty Garey and Hank Wieseneck. "All three had over $200,000 on their card, but hes the only one who really worked out. "He has that back class working for him and I was actually shocked he was on the lead last week and then re-rallied to beat the favorite. As far as Tyler Smith is concerned, Ive never seen a driver with so much talent at such an early age." Last summer at age 20, Smith became the youngest driver in harness racing history to reach 1,000 victories. He has been dividing his time between Northfield Park in Ohio and Cal Expo of late, although the nasty weather back East shut down Northfield earlier this week. "I was driving for Bob this summer and he suggested I look into coming to Cal Expo," said Smith, who will turn 21 later this month. "After talking with (General Manager) Chris Schick, I was very excited about the opportunity." Smith, who captured the Hoosier Park driving crown, noted that he actually prefers to race on a mile track. On a half-mile track, post position can be a big handicap and you almost always have to be moving. I like the chance to be patient and think a little more out there. It's Getting Hairy gets the marquee treatment It's Getting Hairy, who has been doing all his recent work at the Invitational level against the likes of Pancetta and One And Only, gets some class relief and earns the top billing in Saturdays pacing feature at the Watch and Wager LLC meet at Cal Expo. Among the major rivals in the main event are the hard-knocking Split Ticket, who will go postward for trainer Lino Pacheco and Chip Lackey; Phantom Dan and recent victor Giant Sculpture. A 14-race card is on tap with first post set for 5:20 p.m. A 5-year-old son of Relentless Yankee from the Troublemaker mare Camden Flora, It's Getting Hairy is owned by Denise Maier with Tim Maier driving and training. Last year saw him capturing nine of his 24 appearances, including a lifetime-best 1:52 3/5 clocking at Running Aces. The dark-hued performer was razor sharp earlier in the meeting, including back-to-back wins at the Open 2 level in November where he used a wicked stretch kick to prove a punctual favorite on both occasions. It's Getting Hairy has had to settle for minor awards in the interim, however, while facing some pretty tough customers in Pancetta, One And Only and Stuebuen Jumpinjack. He figures to be much more at home with this weekends rival and could easily return to his winning ways under these conditions. Like Its Getting Hairy, Phantom Dan was an Open 2 victor earlier in this session and is a nice fit at this level. James Kennedy drives, trains and co-owns the son of Little Steven with Jennifer Burns and he was beaten a head last weekend in a solid effort. Giant Sculpture is moving up in class after posting a convincing score from well off the pace at most recent asking. The 6-year-old Village Jolt gelding goes about his business for A Piece Of The Action LLC with Gene Vallandingham the conditioner and Steve Wiseman making a return engagement in the sulky. By Mark Ratzky for Cal Expo Harness                                  

Steve Desomer will be guiding his mare Silverlode in Friday nights finale of the Dr. Gary Budhan Trotting Series, hoping to pick up another nice check with the 5-year-old homebred daughter of the late British Sterling. Silverlode, who has some Sires Stakes trophies on her mantle, is attempting to win her second series finale at this meet having captured the Joe Lighthill final in late November. She was second and third in the first two legs of the Budahn behind Donna Letsgo and Hooray Katie. For the 77-year-old Desomer, he will be making sulky appearance No. 12,701 in a career that has seen him land in the winners circle on 2,609 occasions while banking nearly $11 million in the process. The veteran, who runs the barn along with his wife Vickie, was asked how things have changed since the days of Western Harness Racing at the soon to be demolished Hollywood Park. The racing has changed dramatically since the days of Hollywood Park, Steve related. Back in the 70s, most of the drivers were also trainers. The horsemen were more complete in that they had knowledge of shoeing, soundness, driving, rigging and training and entering. Today many of the drivers specialize in just driving. Driving against the likes of Tyler Smith and other young drivers puts the older drivers at a distinct disadvantage in that they do not react as quickly as needed. Most know the drivers and horses they race against, but making that split second decision becomes more difficult with the passing of time. GUARANTEES INCREASED PICK 5- $10,000 BOTH NIGHTS PICK 4 - $20,000 FRIDAY PICK 4 - $25,000 SATURDAY Dr. Gary Budahn Trotting Series finale in spotlight The $13,750 final of the Dr. Gary Budahn Trotting Series, with first and second leg winners and stablemates Hooray Katie and Donna Letsgo figuring to get the majority of the attention, is the main event on Friday nights Cal Expo program. A 14-race card is on tap Friday evening, with the Budahn final set as the seventh event on the program. First post is 5:20 p.m. The Dr. Gary Budahn Series honors the memory of a mainstay of California harness racing for over 30 years who passed away in 2009. Dr. Budahn served on the board of directors of the California Harness Horsemens Association (CHHA) for over 12 years, including President of the organization for three years. He was a strong voice for harness racing in the state and was always there for the horsemen, helping them in any way he could. Looking at the field, Hooray Katie is a 5-year-old daughter of Chip Chip Hooray who is owned by William Neumeister, takes her lessons from Bob Johnson and will once again be guided by Tyler Smith. She proved best in her divisions of the first two legs of this event, last week showing the way home by a half-length over Silverlode. Donna Letsgo gives the Johnson barn two solid looks at the outcome in the headliner. The Keystone Blitz mare is owned by the trainer, Marty Garey and Henry Wiesenstock with Luke Plano doing the honors. In last weeks penultimate leg, the bay miss made every pole a winning one and came home with two and a quarter lengths to spare. Completing the field are High Dollar for Tim Maier; Bar Back, who has the services of Steve Wiseman; Lodi Dorian Blues, Chip Lackey; Silverlode with Steve Desomer; Sky Keeper for James Kennedy; Ali De Vie, to be handled by Gene Vallandingham; and Southwind Kean, who leaves from the outside with Marc Mosher at the controls. By Mark Ratzky for Cal Expo Harness            

They say age is just a number, but sometimes those numbers can really add up. As the field passed the opening quarter in last Friday nights ninth race, Tour Guide showed the way with Rather Be Playing In The Pocket and Early Boy looming in third. Nothing really unusual there as the field straightened for the backstretch in the conditioned trot. However, trackman Marty Bridges pointed out something interesting about the three drivers who were guiding these leaders Steve Desomer, Pierre Girard and Gene Vallandingham. If you add their ages together, thats 219 years and that might be some kind of a record. We checked Marty's math and he was right on. Steve Desomer is 77, Gene Vallandingham turned 73 in September and Pierre Girard had 69 candles on his last birthday cake. By the way, Gene ended up winning the race while relative youngster Luke Plano completed the exacta and 20-year-old driving sensation Tyler Smith finished in the show spot. Vallandingham comes into this weeks action needing just 22 victories to reach the 3,000 plateau while sporting over $13 million in earnings. He was asked what its like to come down the stretch with a 20-year-old who could easily be his grandson whipping and shouting in the sulky next to him. It doesnt make any difference, Gene related. Heck, I only feel about 29 when Im out there, so I dont mind driving against somebody whos only nine years younger. By the way, the kid (Smith) is doing a very good job. A Stitch In Time headlines Sire Stakes A Stitch In Time, a romping winner of the last two big-money gatherings for the division, looks to add to his reputation in Saturday nights $10,000 California Sire Stakes for the newly-turned 4-year-old pacing males. A 15-race card is on tap with first post set for 5:20 p.m. The headliner will go as the second race on the evening, with the co-feature being a $5,000 Invitational Pace that occupies the third-race slot on the program. A Stitch In Time is a son of Kents On Nuke who is owned and was bred by Mark Anderson, takes his lessons from Gordie Graham and has Mooney Svendsen handling the lines. He comes into this contest having posed for pictures in 11 of his 16 starts, including a 1:53 3/5 lifetime-best performance at Fraser Downs in October. The dark-hued pacer was a prohibitive favorite in the two stakes decided so far as this meeting and did not disappoint on either occasion. He waltzed home with 10 lengths to spare in the November 16 affair, then came back two weeks later as the 1-9 choice and had six and a quarter lengths on his nearest rival when all was said and done. Lining up against him this weekend are Hi Ho Disguise, who will have Dave Siegel at the controls; Kablooie with Luke Plano; Orlandos Express, who has the services of Chip Lackey; Bit Player, Steve Wiseman; and Me Tarzan with James Kennedy giving directions. Looking at the Invitational Pace, One And Only has been assigned the outside slot after posing a convincing victory at this level two weeks ago. The 5-year-old son of Bettors Delight carries the banner of Richard Morita and David Yamada with Lino Pacheco training and Luke Plano in the bike. One And Only was able to work out a pocket journey behind pace-setting Steuben Jumpinjack in that last Invite clash, engaged that rival at the top of the stretch and drew off to a five-length score in a sharp 1:52 2/5 tour. Stueben Jumpinjack will again be among his rivals along with Docs Zippy, Its Getting Hairy and Party Cove.  By Mark Ratzky for Cal Expo Harness  

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