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JUNE 5, 2019 - Three-year-old trotting colt Esa's path to the Ontario Sires Stakes winner's circle was a winding one, but the harness racing youngster finally made it with a 1:58.4 effort in the first $22,800 Grassroots division at Grand River Raceway on Wednesday evening. Sold for $145,000 at the 2017 Lexington Selected Yearling Sale, the regally bred youngster encountered his first trial soon after arriving at trainer Jimmy Takter's New Jersey farm. "The first day he got to Jimmy Takter's farm he went through four or five fences and he ended up in the next village. They had to stich his face, all kinds of trouble," said Guelph, ON resident Ben Baillargeon, who took over training duties on Esa last fall. "Then he got sick all year last year and by the time I got him last year - he was finally healthy - Jimmy said race him a few times and see what he's made off." Esa would race a total of eight times at two, two for Takter in July and six more for Baillargeon in October and November, recording one win and five thirds. The son of E L Titan and Christiana Hanover made his sophomore debut at Woodbine Mohawk Park on May 27, finishing seventh in a field chock full of Gold Series horses, so rather than joining those colts in the Goodtimes Stake eliminations this Friday Baillargeon opted to send Esa to Wednesday's Grassroots test on the Elora half-mile. The decision proved fruitful as Esa and driver Mario Baillargeon of Acton, ON left smartly from Post 6, traded places at the front with fan favourite LA Magic through the first half and then took command of the race, cruising home to a two and one-quarter length victory over the rain soaked oval. LA Magic settled for second and Warrawee Usain was three more lengths back in third. "Last week I was pleased with his first race. He raced real good. I was expecting a good race today and that was a very good mile over there today, 1:58.4, and he did it handy with the plugs in," said Baillargeon, who trains the colt for Christina Takter of East Windsor, NJ, John Fielding of Toronto, ON, R A W Equine Inc. of Burlington, ON and Hatfield Stables of Columbus, OH. "I don't know how good he'll get, but there's a lot more in him than he did today, because he did it handy." Driver Sylvain Filion piloted the winners of the last two Grassroots divisions, using a front-end strategy with both heavy favourites. Starting from Post 2 in the third division with Encarnacion, Filion sent the Archangel son straight to the front and the pair never had to look over their shoulders, romping home to a six and one-quarter length victory in 2:01.1. The Great Farini trotted into second and Titan M Up completed the top three. "He's a real nice horse. He's real handy and he can leave the gate like a rocket. I knew if I could get on the front without rushing him too much I had a really good chance of winning that race," said Filion, who drives Encarnacion for trainer Rod Boyd of Cambridge and numbered company 1187422 Ontario Inc. of Ottawa, ON. "And it's funny, for a big horse, he gets around the turns like nothing. He's really big and rugged, but he seems to like the half-mile." The Milton, ON resident picked up his second Grassroots win of the night, and third overall, with Raising Royalty. The pair took command before the halfway marker and cruised home to a two and one-half length victory in 1:59.4. King For Life, owned by trainer-driver Bruce Richardson of Fergus and his partners Peter Irwin of Ayton and Joseph Coffey of Orangeville, ON, finished two and one-half lengths back in second, just ahead of Super T. "He's been very nice so far this year. Last year he showed a lot of potential but he had a hard time keeping it together," said Filion of Raising Royalty. "He's matured a lot and he's much better now. He still has his little things he needs to work on, but he's got tons of speed and he's way handier than last year." Wednesday's win was the fourth in four sophomore starts for Raising Royalty, who also swept his elimination and the final of the City of London Trotting Series at The Raceway at Western Fair District. Stephen Bossence of London trains the Royalty For Life son for Stephen Palermo of Etobicoke, ON. The other division went to E L Titan son Gold Edition, who was steered to a 1:58.3 score over Priceless Ruler and Herbs Journey by Alfie Carroll of Iona Station, ON. Carroll crafted the win for trainer Blair Burgess and his wife Karin Olsson Burgess of Campbellville, ON and their co-owner Stirling Fisher of Waterloo, ON. The three-year-old trotting colts will make their second Grassroots start of the season at Clinton Raceway on June 23. Ontario Sires Stakes action returns to Grand River Raceway on July 3 with the second Gold Series event for the three-year-old trotting fillies. Complete results from Wednesday night's program are available at https://standardbredcanada.ca/racing/results/data/r0605grvrn.dat.     OSS Program Information For rules, notices, Program changes, up-to-date point standings, race replays, and more, visit: www.ontariosiresstakes.com   OSS Program Administration Ontario Racing c/o Woodbine Mohawk Park

Highly regarded Hambletonian hopeful Swandre The Giant begins his 3-year-old harness racing campaign Thursday (May 30) in the first round of the Indiana Sire Stakes at Harrah's Hoosier Park. The Ron Burke-trained colt is the No. 6-ranked horse in Meadowlands Racetrack announcer/analyst Ken Warkentin's second Road to the Hambletonian released Tuesday. Last year, Swandre The Giant won nine of 12 races and finished second twice while earning $255,180. The colt won his first seven starts, all in Indiana, for trainer-driver Brandon Bates before being sold to the ownership group of Diamond Creek Racing, J&T Silva Stables, and Howard Taylor. He immediately tested the Grand Circuit, finishing second in his elimination of the William Wellwood Memorial at Ontario's Woodbine Mohawk Park and going off stride a week later in the $308,000 final. He returned to Indiana, where he won twice on the sire stakes circuit before ending the season with a second-place finish behind It's A Herbie in the $220,000 ISS Super Final. Swandre The Giant, who was trained by the now-retired Jimmy Takter for the second half of 2018, prepped for his 2019 debut with two wins in qualifiers at The Meadows. He competes in the first of two ISS divisions Thursday and is the 6-5 morning-line favorite in his group, with Ricky Macomber Jr. in the sulky for trainer Burke. "We're looking forward to it," Diamond Creek Racing's Adam Bowden said. "He's come back well this year and filled out and matured. He had a few little issues last year and those all seem to be resolved. We went over him with a fine-tooth comb and everything looks good. "He's a clean-gaited horse and he's got a good cruising speed. He's the kind of horse that gives you a lot of confidence. He's not a laidback horse, he's intense, but he knows what you're trying to do with him, and I think that's important. I give Brandon a lot of credit, he brought him along slowly and was able to teach him." Swandre The Giant dominated in Indiana during his first seven starts, winning a maiden and six ISS events by a minimum of one length and an average margin of three. All seven of the races were at Hoosier Park, where his career-best time of 1:54.2 was two-fifths of a second off the track record for a 2-year-old male trotter. "He was a homebody to that point, and I think shipping around might not have been best for him," Bowden said, referring to the trip to Canada for the Wellwood. "We might have asked a little too much of him and he wasn't ready for it mentally or physically, but we wanted to see what we had. We might have been better just staying in-state for the rest of the year and letting him develop against the competition there. But hindsight is 20/20." Swandre The Giant is a son of Swan For All, who sired 2017 Horse of the Year Hannelore Hanover and 2017 Breeders Crown 2-year-old colt trotting champion Fiftydallarbill. Diamond Creek was among the owners of Swan For All during his racing career and remains part of the stallion's syndicate. The colt's dam, Adagio, was a Kentucky Sire Stakes champion in 2011. In addition to the Indiana Sire Stakes and August's $1 million Hambletonian, Swandre The Giant is eligible to a number of races including the Tompkins-Geers, Canadian Trotting Classic, Breeders Crown, Carl Erskine Trot, and Matron. "We have options," Bowden said. "He can race in Indiana, or if he proves himself up to it, he can go on to the Grand Circuit. You can make a lot of money racing in Indiana, but I think the ownership group is thinking bigger. We'll see how he does Thursday and Ron can make a decision about what's next. We'll let the horse tell us what he is." Swandre The Giant is one of three Hambletonian-eligible trotters participating in Thursday's Indiana Sire Stakes races. The others are Lite Years Away (20-1 in the first division) and Sign Here N Here (12-1 in the second division). It's A Herbie, who is making his seasonal debut, is the 5-2 second choice in the second division, behind 2-1 favorite Airman Kelly. The purse for the first division, with a nine-horse field, is $48,000; for the second, with a 10-horse field, $48,500. Racing begins at 6:30 p.m. (EDT). For complete entries, click here.   Ken Weingartner Media Relations Manager U.S. Trotting Association www.ustrotting.com

CHESTER PA - The Explosive Matter gelding Scirocco Rob sat a pocket trip behind favored Buen Camino, then drew away from the 1-5 shot by three lengths in taking the $18,000 featured harness racing trot on Thursday afternoon at Harrah's Philadelphia. Buen Camino, a winner of $692,231, went right to the front around Scirocco Rob and put up fractions of :28, :56.3, and 1:24.4, with Sky Marshal applying midrace first-over pressure. That foe would tire, but Scirocco Rob was still quite fresh, and when tipped outside at headstretch he roared right by the chalk in his second start of the year, raising his earnings to $305,898. Mark Silva now handles the conditioning of the winner for owners Kathleen and Lewis Whitaker Jr. Hall of Famer Jimmy Takter made his first pari-mutuel drive since his "retirement" at the end of last season (he had guided Manchego in her qualifier last Saturday at The Meadowlands), and Jimmy got the job done with Malibu S, but he probably didn't miss the sometimes-necessary sweating out an inquiry before posing in the winners circle. The son of Muscle Hill, out of the dam of Walner, was inside two pylons early, but the judges ruled that he was there because of pressure from an outside breaker, so the result stood, and Mailbu S now has a mark of 1:58.1 for trainer Per Engblom and Crawford Farms Racing. We mentioned Manchego a few sentences back, and the former PA Sire Stakes champion makes a good bridge into noting that the trotting fillies come to Philly tomorrow to contest the first preliminary of their Sire Stakes and Stallion Series three-year-old action - four divisions of Sire Stakes races and five of Stallion Series action. There will also be a carryover of $21,824.68 into the Jackpot Hi-5 pool Friday. On Sunday, Rodeo Rock and Donttellmeagain will start side-by-side from outer slots in a very competitive open pace event in the Great Northeast Open Series.   PHHA / Harrah's Philadelphia Jerry Connors

WILKES-BARRE PA - The best of the Pennsylvania-sired Standardbreds in the sport's glamour division - the three-year-old pacing colts - spend their second of four consecutive weekends within the confines of the Keystone State this Saturday, inaugurating the 2019 Pennsylvania All-Star harness racing Series at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono with three $30,000 divisions. In the eighth race first division, the Sweet Lou colt Blood Money is held as the 5-2 favorite as he begins from the middle of the nine-horse field for driver Scott Zeron. Trained last year by Hall of Famer Jimmy Takter, who retired in the off-season, Blood Money is now handled by his daughter, Nancy Johansson, and based on his 1:50 season debut victory at The Meadowlands on April 27, where he came from over ten lengths behind in the last half, Blood Money appears to have lost nothing in the change of conditioners. In the tenth race second division, the majority of the crowd seems likely to follow one of two horses, Lyons Night Hawk (5-2) and Branquinho (3-1). Lyons Night Hawk, another Sweet Lou colt who will start from post seven for trainer Gareth Dowse and driver Tim Tetrick, came his own last half in a blazing :53.4 while winning his 2019 debut in 1:51.3 at Philly, while the Somebeachsomewhere colt Branquinho, starting from post five for trainer Ray Schnittker and driver Tyler Buter, is two-for-two this season, and comes off a 1:50.4 victory in Stallion Series competition at The Meadows. The twelfth race third division seems the most wide-open of the three, with the Somebeachsomewhere colt Air Force Hanover accorded a slight 3-1 favoritism in the early line despite having to start from the outside post eight. Going in favor of the sophomore is a 1:51 victory last year, early speed, and driver George Napolitano Jr., the latter two of which may mesh nicely to get Air Force Hanover in good position during the contest. After having started their PA season in Sire Stakes/Stallion Series action last Saturday at The Meadows, the sophomore colts are here this Saturday and then again next Sunday in the Sire Stakes; they will then move on to Philly for Sires action during the Super Stakes Sunday on May 26 that includes three $100,000 Invitationals. The Sunday card at Pocono is a sensational gathering of talented horses, mostly on the trot. The features on the card are $30,000 divisions of the Great Northeast Open Series, one for Mares Open pacers and one for Open trotters. The Great Northeast action will be previewed in a later release, after Philly draws its Open pacers division tomorrow. But the overall quality of the Pocono Sunday card deserves an extra mention: it has 18 horses who won over $100,000 during 2018, and 17 horses who have won over $500,000 in their careers, including four millionaires. There are so many full field upper-level trots besides the Great Northeast race that afterwards it may be possible to put together a field of trotters who don't get a check Sunday, and there is a decent chance that such a field would be about as good as any trotting field to be assembled during all of 2019 at many North American ovals. ATTRIBUTION - PHHA / Pocono Jerry Connors

Pinkman, who won the 2015 Hambletonian on his way to being named Trotter of the Year, is ready for a new season and trainer Per Engblom is optimistic that "the old man" is poised for a solid harness racing campaign. The 7-year-old gelding makes his seasonal debut Friday (April 5) in the preferred handicap trot at The Meadowlands, which could be the first of two preps for Pinkman ahead of May's Arthur J. Cutler Memorial at the Big M. For the past several years, Pinkman has been troubled by chronic throat and breathing issues; he made a total of only 14 starts at ages 4 and 5. Last year, he enjoyed his healthiest campaign since age 3 and equaled his career high for starts with 17. Pinkman heads to Friday's race off a 1:54.2 win in a qualifier at the Meadowlands on March 30. He starts from post six in an eight-horse field and is 5-1 on the morning line with Yannick Gingras in the sulky. Sutton, with Andy Miller driving for trainer Julie Miller, is the 5-2 favorite. "The old man is doing good," Engblom said about Pinkman. "He had a good winter, actually a little bit better winter than he's had the last couple years. We didn't miss any training with him. He's been staying healthy, he's been breathing well, and he qualified great. "You have to take him for what he is. He's an older horse and you can't really push him. But if he's feeling well, he will give you what he's got." Engblom is well acquainted with Pinkman. A native of Sweden, Engblom is in his first year running his own stable in the U.S. following six seasons as the top assistant in Jimmy Takter's stable, where Pinkman has spent his career. Pinkman, a son of Explosive Matter out of Margie Seelster, has won 19 of 56 career races and earned $2.73 million for owners Christina Takter, brothers John and Jim Fielding, Joyce McClelland, and Herb Liverman. He was a Dan Patch Award winner at ages 2 and 3 and counts the Canadian Trotting Classic, Kentucky Futurity, and Beal and Zweig memorials among his victories in addition to the Hambletonian. Despite his health woes in recent years, Pinkman has earned $270,212 since turning 4. He won a Group 2 race in Sweden in 2016 and was stakes-placed last year. He trotted 1:49.2 in Homicide Hunter's 1:48.4 world-record mile in the Allerage Open Trot at Lexington's Red Mile, where he finished third. "He had a little bad luck last year," Engblom said, referring to eight starts from posts eight, nine, 10 or the second tier. "At the end of last year, he was doing pretty well. He trotted (1):49 and a piece in Lexington. He's still got it, we just need to manage him. That's the key. "He's been so solid (preparing for this season). I really think he's going to do OK. I'm really confident he can have a pretty good year. He's a sound horse. His legs are as tough as they come. It's fun to work with classy old horses like him. It's a thrill every time you train him." Friday's card at the Meadowlands also includes the start of the Walner Series for trotters and the Wiggle It Jiggleit Series for pacers. Each series features three preliminary rounds followed by an April 27 final. Racing begins at 7:15 p.m. (EDT). For complete Friday entries, click here.   Ken Weingartner Media Relations Manager U.S. Trotting Association www.ustrotting.com

Marcus Melander's name will be on the U.S. Harness Writers Association's 2018 Rising Star Award, but the 27-year-old trainer says the recognition extends beyond one person. "It's a great accomplishment, but it's not really just my award," Melander said. "It's my whole barn. If I didn't have all these people working with me, I wouldn't do any good. That's why we've been having success; it's a lot because of them. We have a good team. And then you need to have owners that support you. That's very important, too. I'm lucky to have owners that support me a hundred percent." Melander, who joined Nancy Johansson as the only trainers to receive the Rising Star Award in the past 20 years, saw his stable earn $2.86 million in purses last year, good enough to finish 15th among all trainers in North America despite having the fifth-fewest starts (219) among all trainers in the top 50. His top horse was undefeated male trotter Gimpanzee, who saw his 9-for-9 campaign at age 2 rewarded with the division's Dan Patch Award. Gimpanzee's victories for owners Anders Ström's Courant Inc. and Lennart Agren's S R F Stable included the Breeders Crown and New York Sire Stakes championship. Melander's stable also saw 2-year-old male trotter Green Manalishi S win the William Wellwood Memorial and finish second in both the Breeders Crown and Peter Haughton Memorial. Another male 2-year-old trotter, Greenshoe, won the New Jersey Sire Stakes title. "We had a really good year, especially with the 2-year-olds," Melander sad. "We didn't have that many 3-year-olds, but the 2-year-olds did great." In addition, older trotters Cruzado Dela Noche and Crazy Wow -- both July additions to Melander's stable -- posted top Grand Circuit triumphs, with Cruzado Dela Noche capturing the Yonkers International Trot and Crazy Wow the Maple Leaf Trot. Those wins came at odds of 30-1 and 31-1, respectively. "We had a little luck getting Crazy Wow and Cruzado Dela Noche in the middle of the summer," Melander said. "You've got to have a little luck in the races, but both those horses raced great on those particular days." Melander, who employs a staff of a dozen people, enters 2019 with 60 horses in training and is looking to build off last year's success. "(Gimpanzee and Green Manalishi S) are doing very good," Melander said. "I brought them back in early December so they've been training for over a month now. They filled out very nicely. They're probably going to grow a little bit more during the winter. I'm very happy with how they're feeling so far." Greenshoe, Gerry, and Demon Onthe Hill add depth to Melander's group of male 3-year-old trotters. Greenshoe was limited to four starts last year because of immaturity and sickness while Gerry and Demon Onthe Hill both were winners on the Pennsylvania-stakes circuit. "Hopefully (Greenshoe) will mature more during the winter and develop a little bit too," Melander said. "He's a very fast horse, probably the fastest of any of my horses out of the 3-year-olds, but he was a little too anxious last year. He's been very quiet here at home. He's doing good. I couldn't be any happier with him at this moment. We'll see in three months. "The 3-year-old colts look really good. Gerry was a really good horse last year and Demon Onthe Hill is a nice horse too. He might be a little bit under the best, best ones, but I think we have at least four of them that could be top Grand Circuit horses." Among Melander's 2-year-olds are two high-priced female trotters, Fifty Cent Piece (who sold for $500,000 at the Standardbred Horse Sale) and Bellareina Dolce ($400,000 at the Lexington Selected Sale). Both are owned by Lennart Agren's S R F Stables. Melander, the nephew of trainer Stefan Melander, came to the U.S. from Sweden less than six years ago and worked for trainer Jimmy Takter before starting his own stable in late 2014. He is based in New Egypt, N.J., at a farm that was home previously to each the legendary Stanley Dancer and Continental Farms stables. He got his first Grand Circuit win in 2016 with trotter Long Tom, who was a 2-year-old at the time. The following year, Long Tom was joined by 3-year-old Enterprise and 2-year-old Fourth Dimension in adding to Melander's Grand Circuit resume. Fourth Dimension, who was injured last year and retired, ended 2017 as the Dan Patch Award winner for best 2-year-old male trotter. "We built (the stable) up, no rush really," Melander said. "The first year we had 10 horses, then 25, then 40 to 45 and now we have 60. And you get better horses. It really started that year we got Long Tom and Enterprise. They had success. And then we had Fourth Dimension. Those horses really put you on the map. "Everything has been developing great, really. I'm still developing too. I still have things to learn, it will come with age. Hopefully I've got many years left in this sport." Melander will be among the honorees at the U.S. Trotting Association's Dan Patch Awards banquet on Feb. 24 at Rosen Shingle Creek resort in Orlando, Fla., at which time Trotter, Pacer and Horse of the Year will be revealed. For more information about the resort and banquet visit the U.S. Trotting Association's website.   Ken Weingartner Media Relations Manager U.S. Trotting Association www.ustrotting.com @harnessracenews @HarnessKenW      

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - McWicked completely dominated his foes for a third straight stakes start, and in the process, likely wrapped up Horse of the Year honors Saturday night at the Meadowlands after taking the $350,000 TVG Open Pace by 2 lengths over Dealt A Winner in 1:48 over a sloppy track. Filibuster Hanover was third. "He was absolutely awesome," said winning trainer Casie Coleman. "He's been awesome all season long. I was a little worried when Filibuster got to the front and nobody was coming, I thought we might go a little bit slow fractions up front, but he kept rolling along and it set up great." She needn't have been concerned. Sent to the gate as the 1-9 public choice with the heavy rains from earlier in the evening having diminished to a steady drizzle, McWicked, who was an easy winner in the Dan Rooney on Oct. 13 before following that up with a crushing Breeders Crown score two weeks later, was away in third as Filibuster Hanover reached the quarter in :27 and the half in :54.2. Driver Brian Sears activated McWicked, a 7-year-old son of McArdle-Western Sahara, with about three-eighths of a mile to go, moving quickly after the leader, and was just a length to the bad at three-quarters in 1:21.2. McWicked then powerfully, methodically wore down Filibuster Hanover and went on to an easy victory, his 12th in 19 starts this year. His earnings for 2018 stand at $1,575,364, while his lifetime bank account is a gaudy $3,896,876. He's won 34 of 93 starts over his career. As the heavy favorite, McWicked returned $2.20 to his backers. He is owned by the S S G Stables. Coleman explained after McWicked's win in a Big M overnight event last week that the horse will return for his 8-year-old season. "We've had a lot of offers to go to stud, but his owner, Ed James, is loving this and he said McWicked is racing next year." Will McWicked be chosen as Horse of the Year? "I sure hope so," said Coleman. "We'll see what the voters think, so hopefully." In the $350,000 TVG Open Trot, Tactical Landing completed a marvelous 3-year-old season by besting rival sophomore Six Pack as the pair finished 1-2 facing seven older foes. "He's really, really special. I'm so proud of this horse," said winning trainer Jimmy Takter. "I can't praise a horse more than I praise this guy. He's one of a kind." Strong words. But deserving ones. Six Pack, the 8-5 second choice, was away third in the early going before driver Ake Svanstedt brushed the Yonkers Trot and Kentucky Futurity winner to the top at the three-eighths. Sears was patient with 7-5 public choice Tactical Landing, moving the son of Muscle Hill-Southwind Serena off the rail from fifth at the half. Tactical Landing chipped away at Six Pack's lead until the duo were on even terms at three-quarters. They went at it nose-to-nose from there until Tactical Landing powered clear inside the eighth pole, going on to a 2½-length score in 1:51.4. Will Take Charge finished third. "In the beginning, he was a real project," said Takter of Tactical Landing, an $800,000 Lexington Select Sale purchase who earned only $1,500 as a 2-year-old. "He did not have confidence in himself." That would come when Tactical Landing, who paid $4.80 to win, moved into Takter's barn at the start of this year, one during which his prized pupil has won nine-of-14 starts and bankrolled $810,800 for owners The Tactical Landing Stable. Alluding to his impending retirement at the end of the year, Takter wasn't sure what lies ahead for the horse. "It's something we have to decide. I'm going to be out of the picture for most of it. I don't know." A LITTLE MORE: One astute player betting at Pompano (Fla.) Park was the lone winner of the 20-Cent Survivor Pick-10 and took home $15,488 for surviving nine legs. ... The great Foiled Again finished fourth in his Meadowlands finale. ... All-source handle on the 13-race card was a meet-high $2,764,913. ... Racing resumes Friday at 7:15 p.m. By Dave Little, Meadowlands Media Relations

On Friday (November 2) it was announced that star New Zealand harness racing pacer Lazarus will stand stud in 2019. The announcement was jointly made by the stallion's owner, Duncan Taylor of Taylor Made Sales and Stallions and Mike Gulotta of Deo Volente Farms. The "Wonder from Down Under" will stand in New Jersey at Deo Volente Farms. The richest pacing stallion in Australasian harness racing history, Lazarus (Bettors Delight-Bethany) had a record of 2-3-0 in six North American starts. He retires with a lifetime summary of 37-8-4 from 51 starts and more than $3.1 million in earnings.   Further details as to stud fee and syndication information will be announced as they become available.

Wilkes-Barre, PA - The track at Mohegan Sun Pocono may have been sloppy but the effort from Tactical Landing was pretty neat as he took the $500,000 Breeders Crown Three-Year-Old Trot in a speedy 1:52.1. Harness racing driver Brian Sears got Tactical Landing away second as Met's Hall took the field to the quarter in 27.1, but he cruised to the front en route to the 55.4 half mile marker. Tactical Landing hit three-quarters in 1:23.4 and drew off from Met's Hall and Crystal Fashion in the stretch, winning by open lengths. Met's Hall and Crystal Fashion were second and third, respectively. The presumptive favorite, Six Pack, was scratched from the race due to sickness. Hall of Famer Jimmy Takter, who is retiring at the end of this season, trains Tactical Landing for the Tactical Landing Stable of Perrysburg, Ohio. An $800,000 yearling, the son of Muscle Hill from the Varenne mare Southwind Serena, was bred by Steve Stewart, Black Creek Farm and Andrea Lea Racing Stables. He has now earned $644,300 in his career as he won for the eighth time. The win was the second Crown title of the night for driver Sears. Takter was pleased, but philosophical in the winner's circle. "This horse, he's been battling a lot of issues. I have trained a lot of great horses, but the way he carries himself in this weather, I know he's by far the best three-year-old out there. I know Six Pack is a good horse, and it's too bad he got sick, but he would not have a shot with this horse. This horse is a level above anything. This was number 34 (Breeders Crown win), and I was very nervous going into it. This is my last year so I'd like to get at least one Crown before I get out of here." In taking home the John Cashman Jr. Memorial Trophy, sponsored by Brittany Farms, favored Tactical Landing paid $2.80 to win. by Keith Gisser, for The Breeders Crown

Champion trainer Jimmy Takter believes Lazarus may have something just as important as fitness and class on his side heading into Sunday’s US$430,000 Breeders Crown.  Lazarus has the perfect draw at barrier two with his only major concern being a recent cold that saw him miss his final lead-up race at Yonkers two weeks ago, a race won effortlessly by his arch rival McWicked, who has barrier three on Sunday. Takter admits Lazarus has thrived when able to get consistent racing in his five-start North American campaign, which has resulted in two wins and three seconds, the latest in the second fastest race mile in history three weeks ago. But while a lead-up run would have suited Hall of Fame trainer Takter, he says he is going into the race at 3.45pm (NZ time) with a happy and more importantly sound horse. “At this time of the season a lot of horses start to get a few little problems because they have had so much hard racing,” says Takter. “But Lazarus has never taken a sore step. He is a very, very sound horse and that can be really important at this stage of the season.” But even after his recent slight setback Takter says Lazarus’s recent work has been good and he was going to work him a fast 800m on Thursday (US time) to clean out his lungs before a race which will be crucial to Lazarus’s future dual hemisphere stallion career. The formline for Sunday’s race looks relatively straight forward as many of the key players have now met each other on several occasions. Filibuster Hanover has drawn the ace and has blazing gate speed but has handed the lead to Lazarus when pressured in the past, which suggests the former Kiwi hero could find the lead on Sunday, ideal on the super fast Pocono circuit. “I think that will give him a really good chance and I think the track there will suit him better than McWicked,” offers Takter. McWicked and Don’ttellmeagain look the two biggest, and maybe only realistic, dangers to Lazarus if he is able to lead and driver Yannick Gingras can rate him how he wants through the middle stages of the race.  Lazarus won’t be the only Kiwi star on show at the 14-race Crown meeting, with Shartin, who has been the best open aged pacing mare in North America this season favourite for her US$270,000 final at 2.05pm. You can watch the interview Michael has with Jimmy Takter here Michael Guerin

As soon-to-be-retired trainer Jimmy Takter prepares for his final Breeders Crown appearance Saturday at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, he is focused on his harness racing horses in the hopes of adding to his astounding accomplishments in the series, which in recent years has become his playground. "I enjoy big races," said the 58-year-old Takter, who has won at least three Breeders Crown trophies in each of the past six years and at least one in each of the past eight. "It's a challenge to me. This week is very important. We have to come up with some good ideas, look at where we are and make sure no stone is unturned." Takter has 14 horses in the Breeders Crown finals. All 12 championships, with $6.4 million in total purses, will be raced Saturday at Pocono. Post time is 5:30 p.m. (EDT) for the first race. "Those horses are my focus this week," Takter said. "I want them as good as they can be. Whatever that brings, it brings. Hopefully I have a little luck and can win one of them. That would be sweet to do." Takter's 33 Breeders Crown wins lead second-place Bob McIntosh by 17 and third-place Ron Burke and Chuck Sylvester by 20. Takter won his first Breeders Crown in 1993 with 2-year-old filly trotter Gleam and his champions include three horses that were named Horse of the Year - Malabar Man, Moni Maker, and Always B Miki. In 2015, on a night Takter calls his Breeders Crown career highlight, he won a record six finals and more than $2 million in purses at Woodbine Racetrack. "It felt like I robbed a bank," Takter said with a laugh. "I won half the card and felt like I could have won two more. I think that's one record that's unbeatable." Takter's Breeders Crown finalists this year include past champions Ariana G (Mare Trot), Manchego (3-year-old filly trot), Pinkman (Open Trot), and Pure Country (Mare Pace) as well as elimination winner Tactical Landing (3-year-old male trot) and a group of stakes-winners such as Lazarus N (Open Pace), The Ice Dutchess (2-year-old filly trot), Thinkbig Dreambig, and Grand Teton (both 3-year-old male pace). "We have a bunch of nice horses, but it's not that easy," said Takter, who has been named Trainer of the Year a record six times and was inducted into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 2012. "Things have to work your way. It's tough to keep these horses sharp. It is such a fine line between winning and losing. It really is. But we have a bunch of horses in the final. Tactical Landing, the way he looked, I'm optimistic about him. "You train quality horses over the years like I do, it adds up. I've been lucky too, getting these horses right at the right moments. Hopefully I can do it again this year, the last Breeders Crown." For Saturday's complete card, click here. by Ken Weingartner, for the Breeders Crown  

Harness racing trainer Jimmy Takter has confirmed that Lazarus has been scratched sick from the $250,000 Dan Rooney Invitational Pace at Yonkers Raceway Saturday afternoon. “He started coughing yesterday and continued today,” Takter said. “I was not going to take any chances of hurting him. Now we can make sure he is OK for the Breeders Crown.” Lazarus was to start from post six and rival McWicked drew inside of him (post 2) for their fifth battle. The score now is tied 2-2. The two horses should battle once again in the Breeders Crown at Pocono Downs. By Steve Wolf, for Harnesslink

It appears Lazarus can not only walk the walk but talk the talk. The Kiwi pacing hero faces one of the toughest challenges of his North American career when he starts from a daunting wide draw in the US$250,000 Dan Rooney Pace (one mile) at Yonkers, New York tomorrow morning (10am NZ time). On the tight Yonkers track Lazarus needs to get handy or more ideally lead inside the first 600m to give himself the best chance of a revenge victory over arch rival McWicked, who beat him in the second fastest race mile in history in Kentucky last week.  As was the case when he was trained in New Zealand, Lazarus has thrived on hard racing and is showing no signs of lightening off in condition, looking muscled and with a stunning summer sheen on his coat at trainer Jimmy Takter’s New Jersey property this week. “I think the hard racing has really brought him on,” says Takter. “He felt very good in his work on Wednesday and he will be hard to beat this Saturday even though he has a tough draw.” But Lazarus’s work on Takter’s straight sand track track on Wednesday wasn’t the only reason the Hall Of Fame trainer was smiling afterward. He was shaking his head in amazement at a story from Kentucky last Saturday relayed to him by fellow top trainer Ross Croghan. Croghan is the trainer of Lazarus’s former stablemate Heaven Rocks and the pair raced each other for the first time in the United States last Saturday. “Ross told me the most amazing story,” says Takter. “He said when Lazarus walked into the barn last week he stopped dead in his tracks when he saw Heaven Rocks, who apparently he used to travel with Down Under, and started yelling out to him. “It wasn’t a stallion thing because the other horse is a gelding but Lazarus started yelling at Heaven Rocks like he was an old friend and Heaven Rocks starts calling back to him. “It was like too old friends seeing each other and Ross said it was incredible to see and there was no doubt they were happy to see each other. “When I heard that story it made the hairs on my arms stand up. I know this horse is smart but they really are incredible animals.” Coming from a small-time trainer who spends all his time with the one horse that might sounds cooky, hearing it was Takter and Croghan is a magical equine moment. But Takter isn’t finished. “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised because one of the first things I loved about this horse was he is always talking to the other horses. “When you are out there working him he is making noises at them, again not as a stallion but just cause he likes his job. The top horses always have charisma, he has a lot of it.” It is the same at Takter’s stables where Lazarus has become protective of the juvenile trotting filly he is stabled next too, not in an amorous way but as the big brother. “Any time we do anything with her he comes over to make sure she is all right and he gets really annoyed when we take her away. He misses her,” said Lazarus’s main handler Helen Engblom. It seems regardless of what happens at Yonkers tomorrow Lazarus is making a big impression in North America, on and off the track. Michael Guerin

YONKERS, N.Y. – Training wrapped up on a hot and humid morning Sunday at the Red Mile. There were few clouds to provide cover from the beaming sunshine; the old barns and trees in the backstretch providing a reprieve from the sweltering conditions.  Jimmy Takter brought a horse in off the track and returned to his barn around 10 a.m. Relaxed a day after sending Lazarus to a second-place finish in the Allerage Farms Open Pace and the morning before starting Manchego and Tactical Landing on the Kentucky Futurity Card, Takter joined assistant Per Engblom at a table on the patio at the end of his barn facing the racetrack.  Still in his black, white, and green driving colors, Takter sat back. Legs crossed and comfortable in the shade, he pulled up a replay on his phone of Great Vintage’s second-place effort in the $44,000 Open Handicap Pace at Yonkers the night before and smiled as he watched the 10-year-old battle with Bit Of A Legend in the stretch while pacing a 1:51.1 mile. “This is one of my favorite horses,” Takter said, his eyes glued to the screen. “To do what he’s done and still be going at 10 years old is amazing.” Although Takter’s Hall of Fame resume includes four Hambletonians, six Hambletonian Oaks, 33 Breeders Crowns, an Elitlopp and a Prix d’Amérique just to name a few, Takter still has items on his bucket list as the Grand Circuit season winds down in his final year of training. Namely, he has never won the International Trot. It’s a race he’s dreamed of winning since he started his career in Sweden.  “It was a race that I saw a lot before I even came here. The French horses came over and won. This was a classic, classic race. I’m really glad they brought it back. People love it,” Takter said. “This was long before I came over here that I knew about the race and then it unfortunately disappeared for a while and wasn’t on the radar. Now of course, we just have two $1 million races in the sport, the Hambletonian and this one. “It would mean a lot. I would be really, really excited,” he continued. “This is my last year of training and to end up winning, that’s another stripe on my shoulder. It would be something.” Takter has competed in the International Trot twice before. He trained and drove Whiteland Image to a sixth-place finish in the 1995 edition, the last before the race would be revived in 2015. Takter started Creatine in the Yonkers International Trot’s reappearance; the Andover Hall stallion returned from a European campaign to represent the United States, finishing third after setting the tempo. “Long, long time ago. I don’t even remember it to be honest with you. I don’t think my horse was any good that day. They used me in the last spot, they had an opening or whatever,” Takter said of his International debut with Whiteland Image. “That was the year Melander won, His Majesty. Then I raced Creatine three years ago. He was third, so it’s time to do it now.” This year, Takter will start Ariana G in the $1 million stakes. The 4-year-old mare will represent the United States for owners Marvin Katz and Al Libfeld. One of the last of the 10 competitors to be announced, Takter accepted the invitation from Yonkers Raceway race secretary Steve Starr just after her win in the Dayton Trotting Derby September 28. “I had it in the back of my head that it would be interesting to race her there,” Takter said. “I know she’s only 4 and you never know, but she showed she could compete against the aged horses. Especially now that she won at Dayton, I feel very good about it. “I talked to Steve before Dayton and I told him, I don’t want to go unless the filly is good,” Takter continued. “He actually called and invited me for the $250,000 (Harry Harvey Invitational), and I told him I’m not going to jeopardize the Breeders Crown for that race, but I’d do it for the International Trot. I waited to see how she raced at Dayton and when she won there, then I knew.” Ariana G entered the Dayton Trotting Derby off a third in the Maple Leaf Trot September 1 and a sixth in the Preferred at Mohawk September 11. She tipped three-wide off the turn in the $150,000 stakes, grinding down Guardian Angel AS and holding off Warrawee Roo to post a 1:52.1 victory and establish a new track record. “I thought she was going to race good, but we were a little bit nervous because we had sick horses up in Canada and she hadn’t raced good the start before, so we were really a little bit worried going into it that she wouldn’t be herself,” Takter admitted. “I think she was 90 percent and I think with this start in her, I think we’re going to be good.” Ariana G’s off-the-pace win in the Dayton Trotting Classic is the 26th of her 37-race career. Victories in the Doherty Memorial, Peaceful Way, Hambletonian Oaks, Elegant Image, the Breeders Crown at 2 and 3, the Graduate Final, and Hambletonian Maturity contributed to her $2.3 million bankroll.   “She’s been a World Champion from 2 years old and she’s just been phenomenal,” Takter remarked. “Every year, she just gets a little bit more mature. Now she’s a 4-year-old, she’s starting to look more professional, but she’s been a class horse from day one.” Despite her impressive record, Ariana G has never raced on a half-mile track and has never raced further than 9 furlongs. She will have to navigate the turns of Yonkers’ half-mile oval five times in the 1 ¼-mile International Trot.  Ariana G will face nine rivals in the Yonkers International Trot: Arazi Boko (Italy), Cruzado Dela Noche (Sweden), Lionel (Norway), Marion Marauder (Canada), Pastore Bob (Sweden), Ringostarr Treb (Italy), Slide So Easy (Denmark), Up And Quick (France), and Will Take Charge (Canada). She drew post four and is a 5-1 morning line with Yannick Gingras in the sulky. “She’s never raced on a half-mile, but I don’t think it’s going to be an issue. She’s pretty handy,” Takter said. “I really don’t know the European horses too much. There’s a couple of horses who can really bust out of the gate good and I don’t know if they have the stamina. I think the two horses that are big contenders are ‘Ariana’ and Marion Marauder. Whoever gets the best trip is going to be close there. “I don’t think I want to see her do the dirty work too much,” he continued. “It’s a mile-and-a-quarter. If she’s sitting fourth or fifth with decent horses in front of her, maybe working out a second-over trip the last lap, would be the dream spot.” The $1 million Yonkers International Trot is slated for Saturday, October 13 at Yonkers Raceway. The card will also feature a pair of $250,000 invitationals, the Harry Harvey Trot and Dan Rooney Pace. For more information on the event and its participants, click here. By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

LEXINGTON, KY--Kiwi harness racing sensation turned North American phenomenon Lazarus N will make his fifth start in the west of the Atlantic when he faces nine challengers in the $179,000 Mister Big Allerage Farms Pace, sponsored by Muscara Standardbreds, on Saturday, Oct. 6 at The Red Mile. A six-year-old stallion by Bettor's Delight, Lazarus N shipped to trainer Jimmy Takter towards the end of May. He paced his first mile on American soil in a qualifier at the Meadowlands on July 28, going in 1:48.3 with a :25.3 final quarter. He has since won the $325,000 Dan Patch Invitational and $177,000 Hoosier Park Pacing Derby and finished second in the $462,000 Canadian Pacing Derby and a $26,180 Preferred Pace at Woodbine Mohawk Park. Taylor Made Stallions, a thoroughbred consignment, purchased Lazarus N in early May from trainer Mark Purdon with the intent of lowering Always B Miki's 1:46 world record, established in the Allerage at The Red Mile in 2016, in the same race as his stablemate. The winner of 37 races in 49 starts and over $3 million in earnings races from post five with Yannick Gingras in the bike. Will Take Charge, off an eighth-place finish in the $150,000 Dayton Trotting Derby after losing stride, leads the field of seven racing in the $145,000 What The Hill Allerage Farms Trot, sponsored by Jeff and Paula Gural. A winner of nine races from 20 starts this season and 21 from 70 overall, the Jeff Gillis-trained five-year-old gelding by Kadabra has earned $840,866 for owner Mac Nichol. Tim Tetrick, who steered Will Take Charge to a second-place finish in the $286,650 John Cashman Jr. Memorial and a 1:51.2 four-length victory in the $186,000 Crawford Farms Trot, will sit in the bike from post three. Wisdom Tree, entering off a 1:53.2 victory in the $225,000 New York Sires Stakes final, fronts the opening division of the $225,000 Glen Garnsey Memorial, sponsored by Diamond Creek Farms, from post four with Matt Kakaley in the bike for owner-trainer Jeff Cullipher and co-owner Thomas Pollack. Winning 11 races from 14 starts this year, including a lifetime-best 1:49.4 win in the $142,000 Nadia Lobell at Hoosier Park, the three-year-old filly by Betterthancheddar has earned $447,445. The big three sophomore pacing fillies, Youaremycandygirl, Kissin In The Sand and Alexa's Power, congregate in the other split of the Garnsey. In their last meetup, Youaremycandygirl, a millionaire filly by American Ideal trained by Ron Burke for owner William Donovan, won by a nose in the $96,600 Shady Daisy on Hambletonian Day at the Meadowlands. Youaremycandygirl will make her first start since breaking in the $230,700 Jugette, won by Alexa's Power, and will start from post four with Yannick Gingras behind. Kissin In The Sand won the lone split of the Bluegrass filly pace as the 1-9 favorite under wraps in the 1:50 mile. The Nancy Johansson-trained filly by Somebeachsomewhere, owned by Marvin Katz and Hatfield Stables, was second to Youaremycandygirl in the Shady Daisy but outfinished her when Shower Play stormed home to take the $114,757 Simcoe Stakes at Woodbine Mohawk Park on Sept. 8. Scott Zeron gets the drive from post six behind the winner of 16 races in 27 starts and $904,795 in earnings. Alexa's Power, third by a neck in the Shady Daisy, races from post seven with Tim Tetrick driving for owners Jeff and Michael Snyder and trainer Jim Campbell. The Somebeachsomewhere filly, with nine wins from 16 starts this season and 12 from 29 overall, as amassed $520,545 in earnings and enters off a 1:51.2 win as the favorite in the Jugette. Freshman pacing colts occupy most of the Saturday program with five divisions of the $312,000 Captaintreacherous International Stallion Stakes (ISS), sponsored by the Captaintreacherous Syndicate and Hanover Shoe Farms, on tap. Brian Brown's undefeated Captaintreacherous colt Workin Ona Mystery goes for his fifth-consecutive win when starting from post eight in the opening division. Racing for James Stambaugh, Alan Keith, Milton Leeman and Wingfield Brothers LLC, Workin Ona Mystery enters off a two-and-a-half length 1:50.3 victory in his division of the Bluegrass, which pushed him towards $70,000 in earnings. Tim Tetrick sits at the reins. Runner-up to Stag Party in the $685,300 Metro Pace, Semi Tough ships to Lexington and starts from post one in the second ISS split. Owned by Burke Racing Stable, Frank Baldachino, Jerry and Theresa Silva Stable, Purnel & Libby and Weaver Bruscemi, the colt by Somebeachsomewhere has only one win to his credit from eight starts--a 1:51.1 win in a division of Pennsylvania Sires Stakes--and $264,464 in earnings. Matt Kakaley will drive. Formerly-undefeated Captain Ahab, handed his first loss with a last-place finish in the Metro Pace, returns to the track in the third ISS division, starting from post six with Andrew McCarthy in the bike. The Tony Alagna-trained colt by Captaintreacherous entered the Metro unbeaten in seven starts, with wins including a $70,938 division of the Nassagaweya, a $53,982 division of the Champlain and his Metro Pace elimination, all good for over $100,000 in earnings. He races for owners Brittany Farms, Brad Grant, Vincent Barbera and Captain Ahab Racing. Losing as the 1-9 favorite in his Bluegrass division, Proof comes back to Lexington in the fourth ISS division. A winner of five races in eight starts, the Brian Brown-trained A Rocknroll Dance colt has accrued $278,495 in earnings mostly on the Pennsylvania Sires Stakes circuit--including from his 1:51 upset in the $253,000 championship. David Miller gets the drive for owner Diamond Creek Racing. Covered Bridge leads the final ISS split after shooting off cover in his Bluegrass division and pacing home in :25.4 to post a lifetime-best 1:52 victory. Competing for owners David Smith and James Giannuzzi, the Jessica Okusko-trained American Ideal gelding has three wins overall from 11 starts and $116,259 in earnings. David Miller will sit in the sulky from post four. Saturday's Grand Circuit program, the penultimate of the fortnight meeting, gets underway with first-race post at 1:00 p.m. (EDT). By Ray Cotolo, for The Red Mile    

The ladies have been champions of women's rights to win in the famed International Trot, indelibly etching their names among the greatest performers in the history of the global classic.   The American standouts, two-time winner Delmonica Hanover and Classical Way; and the French flag-carriers Une de Mai and Roquepine, both two-time titlists. The names ring true to rank among the greatest of International Trot champions. Canadian stalwarts Armbro Flight and Fresh Yankee, are part of that history, too. These mares dominated the boys, an assault on the best male trotters in the world by winning six in a row and eight of nine International titles from 1966-74, before the six-year gap to Classical Way in 1980. Upon the move of the International to Yonkers Raceway in 1988, Kit Lobell (1989) and Peace Corps (1991) added their signatures to the ladies tour de force. This sets the stage for this year's United States flag-carrier Ariana G., the four-year-old mare who shoulders the hopes of America in the $1 million Yonkers International Trot on Saturday afternoon, October 13th. The millionaire twice-over has 26 career victories in 37 starts, good for a 70 % win percentage. Owned by Marvin Katz and Al Libfeld, the homebred daughter of Muscles Yankee and grand-daughter of Muscles Yankee comes off a track-record (1:52.1) effort in the Dayton Trotting Derby, beating the boys, on September 27th with catch-driver Brian Sears in the bike for trainer Jimmy Takter. It was her fifth win in 11 seasonal starts to boost her career earnings to a loft $2,367.709. Empire City Casino's historic oval at Yonkers Raceway becomes the 11th venue where Ariana G has raced, but her first attempt on the half-miler. She's a two-time Breeders Crown champ, two-time Dan Patch Award recipient, and a Hambletonian Oaks victory leading her gaudy resume. Now, she prepares to meet the elite trotters in the world. As Sinatra musically put it: "That's why the lady is a champ," and "luck be a lady, tonight." Ariana G. will try to beat the boys again while carrying the U.S.A. flag on October 13th. Most recently, since the return of the Yonkers International following a 20-year hiatus, the mares Hannelore Hanover (2016) and Bee A Magician (2015) were both thwarted in their attempts to join the ladies brigade of champions. More history: The powerful, French flag-carrier Ideal du Gazeau, with his white blaze and an amazing burst of speed, was the only three-time International champion under the reins of Eugene Lefevre. Holding his head high in a unique and exciting trotting style, Ideal du Gazeau pulled off the Pat Riley-esque "Three-peat" consecutively in 1981, '82 and '83, after finishing second to the American mare Classical Way (John Simpson, Jr.) in his debut in 1980. Legendary U.S.A. standard-bearers, the gelding Su Mac Lad (1961 and '63/Stanley Dancer) and the Del Miller-trained mare Delmonica Hanover (1973-74/Johnny Chapman), and the French champions Roquepine (1967-68) and Un de Mai (1969 and '71), both mares from France driven by JeanRene Gougeon, were the quartet of two-time International titlists during the late sixties and early seventies. Mares won six in a row and eight of nine International titles from 1967-74. Speedy Crown, driven by Howard Beissinger, interrupted the distaff dominance in 1972. The alphabetical field for the mile-and-a-quarter International Trot, with country of representation... Arazi Boko (Italy) Ariana G (United States) Cruzado Dela Noche (Sweden) Dreammoko (Netherlands) Lionel (Norway) Marion Marauder (Canada) Pastore Bob (Sweden) Ringostarr Treb (Italy) Slide So Easy (Denmark) Up and Quick (France) By John Cirillo, for Yonkers International Trot

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