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With just a week before the eliminations for the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks, Broadway Donna and All The Time have emerged as the top contenders to capture one of the most treasured prizes in harness racing for 3-year-old fillies, but there is a lass in the Empire State that might very well travel to New Jersey to stake her claim to divisional honors. She is Fad Finance. “She is eligible to the Hambletonian Oaks,” said Trond Smedshammer, her conditioner. “But she would have to win the Zweig (this Sunday) impressively for me to think about entering her. Vernon Downs is a nice track and it looks like we will have nice weather for the race this weekend, so they should be able to go in 1:54 to win. She would need to trot in the area of 1:53 for me to send her there so it is up to her.” A daughter of Credit Winner and the Sierra Kosmos mare Armbro Vanity, Fad Finance was purchased for $60,000 at the 2014 Standardbred Horse Sale in Harrisburg by Purple Haze Stables, Marc Goldberg and Rojan Stables. The filly, who sports a career record of 14-7-3-1 and has quietly amassed $129,988 in purse money, will face eight rivals in the $140,000 Zweig Memorial Filly Trot at Vernon Downs on Sunday (July 24). Fad Finance will leave from post position two with Jim Morrill Jr. holding the lines. She is the 7-2 second selection on the morning line behind Julie Miller’s charge Womans Will (5-2) and will face stiff opposition from Paul Kelley’s Straight A Student (8-1), as well as Paul Reid’s Flowers N Songs (9-2), and George Ducharme’s Swinging Royalty (5-1). Fad Finance has won three of her six starts this year, with earnings of $83,038. She defeated 2015 New York Sire Stakes champion Non Stick in their $12,500 Empire Breeders Classic elimination on June 10 at Vernon Downs. Non Stick returned to dominate the $225.000 final the following week, but Fad Finance got the measure of her again on July 10 at Tioga Downs in a $40,600 New York Sire Stakes contest. Fad Finance followed that performance with a track-record-equaling 1:58.2 spin around Buffalo Raceway’s oval on July 17 in a $60,200 sire stakes split. It was a gritty effort, as the filly was locked in for most of the stretch and was able to put her nose down on the wire for her third win of the season. “I raced her in the Excelsior Series last year so she would learn some manners,” Smedshammer said. “She was on the line of being hot and I would try to keep her in the pocket to teach her some lessons. If you look at her lines you can see where she was on the front because she was aggressive and then would tire in the last quarter coming home. I think she is a better horse off the helmet and this year she is minding her manners. The only race we were not pleased with was the Empire Breeders Classic final (fifth). She was on the lead and went some fairly fast fractions before getting tired late. That’s when the other fillies passed her.” Despite Smedshammer’s admission that Fad Finance could be a bit headstrong, as many fillies can be, he was drawn to her because of his affiliation with her pedigree, which is excellent. This filly is a half-sister to Vanity Plates (Conway Hall, $164,878), who competed in the 2007 Matron final (sixth) and was eighth in that year’s eliminations for the Breeders Crown. Another half-sibling, Monkey Man (Glidemaster, $92,220) was talented enough to finish second to world champion Muscle Network in an $86,500 division of the International Stallion Stakes at The Red Mile in 2013 and was the runner-up to the very talented Rose Run Parker in a $45,250 division of the Madison County Stake at Hoosier Park 22 days later. “I trained her mother,” Smedshammer said. “I actually picked her out as a yearling and bought her, then sold her to her current owners. She had ability and was very well-mannered, unlike many Sierra Kosmos horses. Unfortunately she had some soundness issues, but I knew she had some foals that had done well. I think Chris Ryder did well with one of her first fillies (Vanity Plates) so when this one was available (Fad Finance) I was looking forward to the opportunity to train one of her foals. The pedigree on her female side is very good.” Although Armbro Vanity only earned $63,365 on the racetrack and her dam, Armbro Haughty, collected $375 in her racing career, these mares hail from the tremendous Armbro Flight. In fact, Armbro Haughty was that Canadian superstar’s final foal. That blood courses through Fad Finance’s veins and demonstrates she may just very well belong with the elite in her division as 2016 draws to a close. “We will see what happens with her,” Smedshammer said. “She is eligible to things outside of New York, such as the Breeders Crown, and if she shows us she can mind her manners, we will allow her the opportunity to take on those kinds of fillies. She has improved this year and we hope she will continue to improve.” Below is the field for the $140,000 Zweig Memorial Filly Trot, in post position order, with listed drivers and trainers. PP-Horse-Driver-Trainer-Line 1. Earn Your Wings-Jason Bartlett-Anette Lorentzon-8/1  2. Fad Finance-Jim Morrill Jr-Trond Smedshammer-7/2  3. Lindylicious-Chris Lems-Gilbert Garcia-Herrera-8/1  4. Straight A Student-Mark MacDonald-Paul Kelley-8/1  5. Open Access-Matt Kakaley-Robert Baggitt Jr.-6/1  6. Womans Will-Andy Miller-Julie Miller-5/2  7. Spicedbourbongirl-Jeff Gregory-Jeff Gregory-10/1  8. Flowers N Songs-Yannick Gingras-Paul Reid-9-2  9. Swinging Royalty-Tim Tetrick-George Ducharme-5/1 Earn Your Wings and Straight A Student will race as an ownership entry. by Kim French, USTA Internet News Editor 

Most people in this day and age operate on a budget and understandably so. They want some bang for their buck and that is especially true in harness racing. Frank Baldachino, however, is emphatic that splurging on Hannelore Hanover and not sticking to the bottom line may have very well been the best investment he has ever made. "Ron (Burke) and I always have a set limit on what we will spend when we look at horses," said Baldachino. "You have to stick with that line because it is easy to over spend, so for this filly we had $30,000 as our price (at the 2013 Standardbred Horse Sale), but I looked at Ron and said let's go up one more tick for her. So we went in for $2,000 more and that made her ours. It was the best $2,000 I have ever spent." Baldachino and his partners, Burke Racing Stable and Weaver Bruscemi, decided to open up their wallets yet again in regards to this world champion when they footed the $50,000 bill to supplement her to the $471,200 Hambletonian Maturity on Saturday (July 16) at the Meadowlands. The 4-year-old daughter of Swan For All and the Dream Vacation mare High Sobriety will begin trotting from post position four with Yannick Gingras in the bike. The Indiana champion is 3-1 on the morning line in the 1-1/8 mile contest and is only the third female to participate in this event after Bee A Magician and Shake It Cerry. She is certainly a top contender to have her picture taken after the field crosses the line. She possesses the swiftest season's mark of her 10 rivals (1:51) and only the Graduate Series final victor, Musical Rhythm, has earned more cash this season ($270,573 to her $224,505). "It really was not a difficult decision to supplement her," Baldachino said. "We kept a close eye on the race last week (the Graduate Series final) and felt none of the colts stood out over her. She has been simply terrific this year and has done everything so easily without even being really asked. With those kind of performances we felt now was the time to put her against the colts. No one from that division has proved to stand out and with what she has accomplished at this point, she deserves the opportunity." With only two starts at age two, Hannelore Hanover was given an extended vacation after a 10th place finish in the $75,000 Indiana Sire Stakes final on July 5, 2014. The filly was stabled at Hoosier Park and under the watchful eye of Jamie Macomber, one of trainer Ron Burke's stellar staff and her husband, Rick. Hannelore Hanover had her hooves full competing against the likes of Indiana champion Churita as a sophomore, but as the year progressed, so did this filly. On Aug. 5, 2015 she demolished her rivals in a $20,000 Indiana Sire Stakes leg while coming home in :27.4. That triumph was the first of seven straight wins to close out her 3-year-old season and since then she has only tasted defeat in one event, which was a second to the seasoned Allie Labrook at Hoosier Park on June 2. The mare was timed in :26.4 for her last quarter-mile in that contest and she finished in front of Natural Herbie. She then traveled to Canada where she dominated her fellow females in the elimination for the $208,260 Armbro Flight final and then equaled the world record of 1:51, which was also a stakes and track record, in the final itself. The next engagement on her agenda was another romp in a $23,100 leg of the Miss Versatility Series, also at Mohawk Racetrack, on July 1. Hannelore Hanover stopped the clock in 1:53.4 without being seriously tested. "She is just a big, strong, perfectly made animal," Baldachino said. "She has all the parts and they are all put together. She looks exactly like a trotter should look. Everything she has done this year has just been outstanding. She did require some patience to grow into herself and Jamie, Rick and Ron all deserve credit for bringing her along. They gave her everything she needed and she has rewarded us with how she has performed. "We are all excited about Saturday night and for the rest of the year with her. To do what she has done already without being asked makes you wonder what else she has to show. Like I said, putting up that extra $2,000 to get her was unbelievably worth it." Baldachino also has another horse competing on Saturday evening's card in All Bets Off. The son of Bettor's Delight and the Dexter Nukes mare Armbro Penelope will leave from post position 12 in the $471,800 William R. Haughton Memorial. He will have to contend with the likes of Always B Miki, Wiggle It Jigglieit and Freaky Feet Pete, but this horse has earned more than $1.9 million and should never be dismissed. "It's not the best post position and he has not had the best luck with the draws this year," Baldachino said. "But he is a very nice little horse. He has speed and has demonstrated he can use it if the trip works out for him. "He's a horse we purchased that was already developed and we did not get him as a yearling like Hannelore, but how can you ever be disappointed with a horse that has done the things he has? We know no matter what he will go out there and give it his best. That's all you can ask for." Following is the field for the Hambletonian Maturity. PP-Horse-Driver-Trainer-Line 1. Fashion Creditor-David Miller-Tom Fanning-30/1 2. Centurion ATM-Trace Tetrick-Ake Svanstedt-20/1 3. Wings Of Royalty-Brian Sears-George Ducharme-10/1 4. Hannelore Hanover-Yannick Gingras-Ron Burke-3/1 5. Crescent Fashion-Scott Zeron-Ake Svanstedt-15/1 6. Muscle Up The Goal-Aaron Merriman-Christopher Beaver-6/1 7. Crazy Wow-Tim Tetrick-Ron Burke-4/1 8. Lookslikeachpndale-Brett Miller-Luc Blais-25/1 9. Musical Rhythm-John Campbell-Benoit Baillargeon-5/2 10. Honor And Serve-Ake Svanstedt-Ake Svanstedt-25/1 11. Canepa Hanover-Corey Callahan-Jimmy Takter-8/1 by Kim French, USTA Internet News Editor

In harness racing, a pretty horse doesn't always mean a fast horse. However, in the case of Type A Grey, pretty does mean fast. The 2-year-old daughter of Art Official stormed to a wire-to-wire 1:57.2 victory in her $40,000 Ohio Sires Stakes on Sunday night, July 3 at Northfield Park for driver Chris Page in her pari-mutuel debut. Trained by Brian Brown for Emerald Highlands Farm of Mount Vernon, Ohio, Type A Grey lead through fractions of :29.1, :59.1 and 1:28.3 to sweep under the wire unchallenged. Owner Bruce Trogden purchased the lanky filly as a yearling at the 2015 Standardbred Horse Sale at Harrisburg for $20,000. "I liked her pedigree," Bruce said. "She comes from a strong, old maternal family. The fact that she was grey was a plus because I really like grey horses and have purchased many of them over the years. When I saw her in the flesh I was surprised she was as good looking as her pedigree suggested." "Bruce bought her after I had already gone home," Brian admitted. "She's a very sound, sensible filly and one of those that you can jog all day long. In fact, if you don't take a whip out there with you to jog, you will be out there all day long. "She's kind of lazy in that regard, and really didn't show a lot of spunk until her last two training sessions and then she just kind of put it all together. Having Chris (driver Page) handle her is an added bonus because he really takes care of these young horses and babies them along. Sometimes I have to ask him not to baby them so much and to get after them a little bit, but Chris is one of those who is always thinking of the horse and their early education." A total of 14 Ohio Sires Stakes events were contested at Northfield on July 3, and a complete recap will be forthcoming. by Kimberly Rinker, for the OSDF

On a steamy Saturday (June 11) evening at Scioto Downs, Obrigado fended off the late charge of track record holder and harness racing world champion Natural Herbie to claim the trophy for the $210,000 Charlie Hill Memorial Trot. The 6-year-old gelding, piloted by regular reinsman Mark MacDonald, was the beneficiary of a perfect pocket trip, which the duo parlayed into a powerful 1:53.3 score. “He is just such a great horse,” said MacDonald. “You can do anything you want with him and all he wants to do is win. For some reason, I’m not sure why, we just get along. Tonight you could not have asked for a better position and then he did all the rest.” Leaving from post six, the gelded son of Boy Band and the Malabar Man mare Malimony, settled into second behind the leader and recent world champion Muscle Up The Goal. Content to allow the hometown favorite and the public’s selection at 4-5 to set the pace, Obrigado simply followed that rival around the Columbus oval behind fractions of :27.1, 57.3 and 1:25.3 before he was pulled out of the pocket at the top of the stretch to commence his drive to the wire with a :27.4 final panel. Obrigado glided by Muscle Up The Goal and completed his victorious journey to the wire seemingly well in hand. Natural Herbie placed pressure on the property of conditioner Paul Kelley, SRF Stable, Linwood Higgins, and Stable 45, however, his first over bid rendered him unable to match strides with the victor. Flanagan Memory, the 2013 O’Brien Award winner, closed from eighth to nab the show spot. Sent off at odds of 3-1, Obrigado paid his supporters $8.20. Natural Herbie, dismissed at 22-1, provided $14.40 to place and Flanagan Memory at 9-1 offered $7.40 to show. The exacta was $68 and the trifecta a generous $475.80. “I could not have asked for a trip around this track that was any better,” MacDonald said. “It was like a dream and honestly, I was shocked it worked out that well for us. I knew Natural Herbie was coming down on us and I respect him because he is such a nice horse, but my horse had the advantage off how this race set up. This was a very strong group of horses and it is a great win for us.” A Maine champion as a freshman and sophomore, Obrigado is the pride of Kelley’s stable and rightfully so, as the horse has now banked enough from his career record of 67-37-14-6, including this evening’s purse, to be roughly $4,000 shy of millionaire status. Purchased by Kelley, who was drawn to what an exemplary physical specimen he is, for $53,000 at the 2013 Standardbred Mixed Sale, Obrigado has been a winning machine before and after leaving the confines of his home state. Although Kelley shied away from top competition at age four, he placed the horse with the elite of his division last year as a 5-year-old and he has excelled. In 2015 he earned $405,535 with a record of 4-6-3 from 18 trips to the gate and knocked heads with all the best trotters currently competing in the sport. This year Obrigado has trotted five miles with three victories, one second and one third. Despite it being only June, the gelding has already collected just under $250,000 in purse money. The win in this Grand Circuit event is the second consecutive triumph for Obrigado in 2016 and comes immediately subsequent to his huge victory in the $200,000 Maxie Lee Memorial at Harrah’s Philadelphia on May 29. “I think he is even better than last year,” MacDonald said. “It is like he is in a zone and in peak form. It was not like he was bad by any means last year. He is a very smart horse that does nothing wrong and I think this season is going to be very fun with him and might be his best yet. “Paul (Kelley) wanted me to drive him as a 4-year-old, but circumstances did not work out to enable me to. Paul protected him and kept him up at Saratoga that year so he did not have to face many of the best trotters. I think that strategy is working out now, as he is so sharp and I know I can count on him for many more appearances in big races this season. Paul has really done a tremendous job with this horse and the horse himself just has all the tools. There is no denying he is right there with the best racing right now and he continues to make me very happy.” by Kimberly French, USTA Internet News Editor

It took exactly three decades for Jo Ann Looney-King and her family to discover a horse that would return them to the winner’s circle at the Meadowlands. That feat alone renders Maestro Blue Chip as a special animal to the family, however, they are also extremely attached to the 4-year-old harness racing stallion because they feel he is the most talented trotter ever to grace their shedrow. “My sister (Susan Looney) was the youngest driver to ever win a race at the Meadowlands when she was 16,” said Looney-King. “That was 30 years ago, so you cannot imagine how thrilling it was for us to finally return there when Maestro won the first leg of the Graduate Series. Our entire family was there to enjoy it and it only made it even sweeter that he beat a horse like Pinkman to get us there. That win really was like a dream come true. Any time you win it is so exciting, but when you win like that it makes it an unforgettable evening. Especially when Jim (her husband) thinks this horse is the best trotter we have ever had.” Purchased by Richard Poilluici for $90,000 at this year’s Tattersalls January Select Mixed Sale, the son of Credit Winner and the SJ’s Caviar mare Up Front Hotsey will attempt to collect his 11th victory since entering the Kings’ barn on Sunday (June 12) when he competes in the $75,000 third leg of the Graduate Series at Tioga Downs. Maestro Blue Chip will commence his journey from post position eight with Tim Tetrick holding the lines and is the 5-1 third choice on the morning line. He will have to face champion Pinkman (2-1), who will leave from post position six, and one of the hottest horses in harness racing in Musical Rhythm (3-1), who will begin trotting from the rail. Despite amassing the highest seasonal bankroll in the contest ($154,000) and serving notice he is a top contender in his division after holding Pinkman at bay at odds of 30-1 on May 21, Maestro Blue Chip appears to remain a bit under the radar, not only at the betting windows, but within the industry. In fact, his triumph over Pinkman and Crescent Fashion was shocking to many who follow the sport, but his endeavors and success were not shocking to his connections. “The minute Jim saw him at the sale he wanted him,” Looney-King said. “It is absolutely impossible not to fall in love with him at first sight. He is such a handsome horse and carries himself with such class. When a horse like that becomes available at the sale, you always wonder why, but this horse was co-owned by Michael Andrew and Purple Haze Stables. “I have experience with Michael’s horses and when I talked to him about this one, he said the only reason he was in the sale was because he had 30 babies at home and it cost money to feed them. That made perfect sense to us as we have been there and sold hoses that went on to do well for other people. That is what you want to see and we were just tickled to get the opportunity to have a horse like him.” Prior to his arrival in his new residence, Maestro Blue Chip, the second foal out of his dam who earned $433,643 during her racing career, was trained by Trond Smedshammer. He performed primarily on the New York Sire Stakes circuit and compiled a record of 13-2-2-2 with just over $78,000 in purse money. After joining the Kings’ stable, the stallion won 10 consecutive races, including the $73,500 Yonkers Raceway/SOA of New York Bonus Trotting Series final on April 26. The only blemish on his record in 2016 came when he finished behind his elders Obrigado and Il Sogno Dream in the Maxie Lee Memorial on May 29 at Harrah's Philadelphia in his last start. “We probably should not have skipped the second leg of the Graduate for the Maxie Lee,” Looney-King said. “But when a race goes for $200,000 and it’s close to home with no starting fee, it is difficult to turn down. Also, we always try to help out when the race office needs horses. We were very pleased with how he trotted and are looking forward to bringing him to Tioga. “This is the first time we have ever raced there and I hate to talk about (post) positions, because that is part of the sport, but we are hoping he works out a nice trip for himself from that spot. We are also fortunate to have one of the best drivers in the business that is terrific at always providing horses with the opportunity to win whenever they are on the track in Tim (Tetrick). Our goal is just to make the final and we could not be more pleased with how our horse is right now. We expect him to race very well even though it is a tough field.” Although his presence in the series final at the Meadowlands on July 9 has yet to be determined, the Kings have quite the season planned for Maestro Blue Chip as the horse is staked to contests such as the Cleveland Trotting Classic, Chip Noble Memorial, Centaur Trotting Classic, and Dayton Trotting Derby. “Jim believes in the horse enough to have him eligible to five $250,000 races after this series,” Looney-King said. “We know it’s a long season and Maestro will always tell us where to go. It always depends on the horse and how he is doing, but we are so excited to have him. He really is such a pleasure in every capacity. I can’t explain how enjoyable he is and what he has already accomplished in such a short time has been amazing for us.” Maestro Blue Chip is not the only member of the King stable that will be performing in a stakes event this weekend. The duo also have last year’s Matron victor, Newborn Sassy, in-to-go in a C$35,000 elimination for the Fan Hanover at Mohawk Racetrack on Saturday (June 11). The daughter of  Western Ideal and Sass Newton, an accomplished offspring of Storm Compensation, went through the ring at the 2014 Lexington Selected Sale for $38,000 as a yearling. The Kings own her in conjunction with CC Racing LLC and the filly has proved to be quite a bargain as she has earned $263,569 with a resume of 14-8-2-2. She has yet to have her picture taken from four trips to the gate this year, but she has placed twice and nabbed the show spot on one occasion. On Saturday evening (June 11), Newborn Sassy will start pacing from post six in the third race on the card. Tetrick is responsible for steering the 5-1 morning line selection when she faces the likes of L A Delight (2-1, post seven), Darlinonthebeach (9-5, post two) and Lindwood Beachgirl (9-2, post three). “We have her because Timmy (Tetrick) was familiar with her dam and just loved her,” Looney-King said. “We were shocked he kept putting up his hand to bid on her at the sale and then he told us she would be a terrific acquisition for us. He really wanted us to have her and it ended up he was 100 percent correct about how good to us she would be. “She got a bit of a late start last year because she had chips removed, but she was rolling at the end of the season. We realize this is a very strong division with fillies like Pure Country and Darlinonthebeach, but we really feel Sassy can not only compete but when she receives the right trip she can win. “We are just hoping for that with her this weekend so we can make the final. Again, it’s a long year with a lot of racing, but we have her staked to nearly all the important races and are anxious to see how her year goes. We are anticipating great things from her. Like Maestro, she is a dream to ship, an absolute pleasure in the barn and will do anything you ask of her on the track. “We just feel so blessed to have the horses we do right now. We are just overwhelmed to have the kind of horses that allow us to be involved in these races and that brings such joy into our lives. How can you ask for anything more? There are times we still cannot comprehend how fortunate we are.” by Kimberly French, USTA Internet News Editor   

He has conditioned the likes of North America Cup Consolation victor Western Cyclone and two fillies that brought home the Jugette hardware in Just Wait Kate and Eternity's Delight, but Travis Alexander has always wanted to put the progeny of Dragon Again through their paces. He finally possesses that opportunity with the undefeated Candy Corn Hanover and like everything else he has undertaken in life, he plans on making the absolute most of it. "I have always wanted a Dragon Again," said the 37-year-old Lansing, Mich., native. "It has just not ever worked out. Something has come up or the circumstances did not go my way, but we had a credit from Hanover (Shoe Farms) who bred her and she was circled in my book before I ever saw her. When I did, she was so impressive, not only because of her pedigree, but she was so athletic and racy looking. "We got another filly, Raver Hanover, who is from Captaintreacherous' family, from that same sale and although she hasn't made it to the races yet, I am very, very pleased with them both." Candy Corn Hanover, a daughter of the Artsplace mare Clouding Over, is owned by Fiddler's Creek Stables. After only three career trips to the post, all of which are triumphs, she will illustrate what forms her constitution when she takes on the likes of last year's divisional champion Pure Country (2-1), the extremely talented Darlinonthebeach (5-2), the Three Diamonds winner Yankee Moonshine (7-2), the Matron winner Newborn Sassy (5-1) and the promising Kiss Me Onthebeach (6-1) on Saturday (April 30) in a $20,000 elimination for the $313,800 Miss Pennsylvania at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. Although many individuals viewing the program might feel the 3-year-old filly is in far, far over her head with only three lifetime tallies, all this season in Weiss Series competition, and with a mere $22,500 in the bank, Alexander is pleased with how the draw came out and believes Candy Corn Hanover, the longest shot on the morning line at 10-1, can definitely keep pace with her more accomplished and distinguished rivals. "I hemmed and hawed with Anthony (Napolitano, her regular pilot) over whether we should go for the big money or keep her in the Weiss Series final," he said. "Obviously I did not think we would get in the elimination where the four best fillies in the country would all be, but I'm happy it happened that way. I wouldn't trade this spot with my filly with anyone in the world. "She's a stone cold closer and Anthony even said when he has gotten her to the front she stops because she doesn't know what she is supposed do. Also, I'm being told these Dragons see all kinds of stuff like ghosts in all types of shadows. With those fillies in there she will never be on the lead early and it sets up for her to come home strongly, which I know she will. After this race we will know exactly what we have on our hands and she will come out of it with learning something." Candy Corn Hanover did not debut as a freshman because Alexander wanted to exercise patience with her. He realized she had ability, but also acknowledged she needed more time to grow into both her body and mind. "I am so glad we waited with her," he said. "When we brought her in this year she was leaps and bounds ahead of what she was the year before. Taking our time with her is going to pay off and it already has. We just have to make sure we manage her correctly throughout the year and have a nice horse for next year as well. Besides, the Dragons only improve with age so this is a filly with tremendous potential which is something I really like. All she has is upside and when her career is over, she will join the broodmare band Fiddler's Creek is putting together." There is another reason, in addition to Alexander's own penchant to overcome long odds, such as when he defeated cancer at age 18, that he is of the opinion Candy Corn Hanover belongs with the elite within her age, gait and gender. "I have been very fortunate to be around some really nice pacing mares during my career," he said. "When I worked for Joe Holloway I was around (Dan Patch Award winner) Lady McBeach and when I was the head trainer for that short time at Fashion Farms, as well as when I worked with Jim Campbell, there was Eternity's Delight. This filly reminds me such much of her. "She is just so willing, is two fingers to drive and has an incredible amount of desire. She will go in 2:40 but if you ask her to jump into a nice fast half from that she is right on it. I think this filly is as good as Eternity's Delight and I really believe in her because she reminds me so much of that mare." Despite what transpires this weekend, Candy Corn Hanover already has an agenda meticulously planned for her sophomore campaign. "She is eligible to everything here in Pennsylvania," Alexander said. "We also staked her to the Shady Daisy, but that is it. There will be no Jugette for this filly. It's really expensive to stake horses, but when you have one that did not race at two it is difficult to put out that kind of money when you don't know what is in your barn. "I think she still needs time to mature throughout the year and I also want to keep her on a larger track until she is more experienced. She is intelligent and will do anything to please you, but I don't think the half(-mile track) is for her because she crossfires a bit. It's not serious and something I think will rectify itself the more she races. I just don't want to take any chances with her. "I do have to be honest though, she is a real pleasure. We always knew she had talent, but you can never tell what kind of desire they have. This filly has so much of that and it is something you cannot give them, train into them or even be assured of because of their pedigree. I had no real expectations with her in that regard and she has amazed me how much she wants to race and win. "She has been a special surprise and in this business when you have something like that happen it is a very, very great thing." by Kim French/USTA Internet News Editor

It is a darn good thing horses do not read the papers or browse the Internet, otherwise Krispy Apple may have developed a huge complex. She has earned more than $1.6 million in her career, amassed $60,000 from this year's campaign alone and established a track standard of 1:51 for older mares in 2015 at Yonkers Raceway, yet the 8-year-old mare never receives the press other female residents of her shed row continuously attract. This situation, however, could drastically change if the daughter of Western Ideal captures the $309,800 Blue Chip Matchmaker final on Saturday (April 23) at Yonkers Raceway for at long last her name may finally dominate the headlines. "She has always been overlooked and that's just kind of been her luck," said Jeff Bamond Jr., her conditioner and co-owner. "As a 3-year-old she earned more than $500,000 and had to take on the likes of a super filly in See You At Peelers. There are not many that come along like that one and then after her it was Anndrovette. Her record stands for itself obviously and then there was Shelliscape. Next was Venus Delight. Those three were all in the same barn with this mare, but all she has done is win. "I thought she had one of the best seasons of her career last year because we just kept her in the Opens at Yonkers and she made more than $350,000. She seems to get over that track very well and those conditions seemed to suit her." Out of the Life Sign mare Apple Krisp, Krispy Apple, who is also owned by Bamond's father, Jeff and Joe Davino, will seek to add career victory 43 to her resume when she leaves from post position eight with Jason Bartlett holding the reins in the seventh race on the card. The mare is the 2-1 top selection on the morning line in conjunction with her stablemate and 2015 Dan Patch award winner Venus Delight , who commences her journey from the slot right inside of her. Krispy Apple earned favoritism by finishing second in the first two legs of the series, then coming home sixth in the third leg and rebounding with a pair of triumphs in the final two preliminary contests. Despite being pleased with her performances so far this season, Bamond acknowledges Krispy Apple has her work cut out for her. The competition does not only come from Venus Delight, who has yet to hit the winner's circle in 2016, but has raced admirably in defeat. Her other rivals include O'Brien Award winner Lady Shadow (7-2), the always formidable Yagonnakissmeornot (5-1) and the talented import Sell A Bit N (5-1). All of these gifted ladies start their miles from inside the Bamond duo. "It is going to be very difficult for her to overcome that outside post position," he said. "All of these mares are very talented and evenly matched. Something like that can make the difference in losing by a head. They are all going to be right there when the wire comes and if they get away from you, they are not coming back. We will definitely need some racing luck, but this is what this sport is all about. Everyone that entered has a shot to win it." In order to pose in the winner's circle after her 126th career start, Krispy Apple must finish in front of champion Venus Delight. The 6-year-old daughter of Bettor's Delight and the Run The Table mare Venus Killean has not hit millionaire status at this stage of her career with $872,033 in the bank, but she possesses the shiny hardware to reward her outstanding 2015 campaign. The mare collected just over $600,000 in purse money last year with triumphs in the $200,000 TVG Mares Open, the $225,000 Milton, and the $194,000 Artiscape, and is also the defending Blue Chip Matchmaker champion. Venus Delight's appearance this weekend will be only her 68th lifetime and if she captures two consecutive Matchmaker finals it will be the 26th occasion she will have her picture taken. It will also be her first win of the season from six trips to the gate. In the five legs of the series, the mare has hit the wire in second twice, third and fourth once apiece and was sixth in her most recent outing. "She has not had the best of racing luck," Bamond said. "Krispy Apple has that spurt to her at an end of a race, but Venus Delight is the horse that grinds you down. She just keeps coming. When she is far back on a track like this it is very tough for her to catch up and pass everyone. Especially with the quality group that is in the series. "I also do not think a half-mile track is her best game. She needs a longer stretch. I think that suits the way she races the best. She is the kind of horse that will only do what she needs to and is not hard on herself. For example, you cannot train her by herself because you will get nothing from her. You can literally run next to her while she's on the track. It is just her personality and we accept her for who she is." Over the last five years the Bamonds have enjoyed a wealth of riches when it comes to older pacing mares. There is Anndrovette, who needs no introduction and clearly is one of the greatest of all time for her gender as well as gait. The 9-year-old mare captured four consecutive Dan Patch trophies (2011-'14), also owns four O'Brien awards, is the only horse to win three Roses Are Red finals in a row and has annexed two Breeders Crowns. Only Eternal Camnation has placed more cash in the bank all time when it comes to pacing females. There is also world champion and 2013 and 2014 Breeders Crown victress Shelliscape. The daughter of Artiscape and the Direct Scooter mare Shell I Scoot compiled more than $1.1 million in her days on the race track. Retired due to injury, the mare recently gave birth to her first foal which is a colt by Somebeachsomewhere. So is there a secret to the Bamonds' success? Particularly with the ladies? Father and son purchased all four of these mares as they were embarking on their careers as older horses after scrutinizing not only their lines, but how they looked while compiling them. "The key to our program is buying horses we think are on the upswing and only have room to improve," Bamond said. "We keep an eye on them for awhile before we make a move and feel confident they have much more to give. "Although we did breed Shelliscape, we are not in the breeding business. That only happened because she was injured at the time and it just made sense to go that route. We are in the racing end of the sport and despite how successful all these mares could be in the breeding shed, we prefer to let the experts do that part. "What we do is treat all these mares as individuals, which they are, and provide them with their own programs. We are consistent with their routines -- whether they are in training, racing or on vacation. We also do not believe in over racing them and are very conservative as to how many times we start them. We feel this helps preserve them for a longer career." Even if Venus Delight or Krispy Apple happen to capture the lucrative Matchmaker final this weekend, their paths will not deviate from what was mapped out for them for the rest of the year. "Venus will appear in all the big stakes just like last year," Bamond said. "Krispy will also follow the same schedule. We'll keep her here at Yonkers and maybe take her a couple other places, but those are the schedules that seem to fit each mare the best. "We are looking forward to the year, not only with them, but with all our horses and maybe this will be the time Krispy gets the attention that she is due. She has not had it easy, that is for sure, but she does deserve some credit for what she has accomplished. Who wouldn't want one in their barn like her?" by Kim French, USTA Internet News Editor

When it comes to purchasing quality mares it appears that harness racing owner Tom Pollack hit the jackpot when signing the checks for Hoosier Park stalwarts Montenegro and White Metro. “I have about 65 horses right now and would like to get up to 100,” said Pollack. “I can’t say enough about the luck we have had with these mares. We are so fortunate to have them in our barn and really cannot wait to get them both started this year. “We were trying to get White Metro in the Invitational this week and Montenegro in the non-winners of $15,000, but the track decided not to go with those races so we are on the sidelines for opening night (April 1). All systems are go for both of them so we will have them racing again as soon as possible.” Montenegro, who is co-owned by Randy Bendis and conditioned by Jeff Cullipher, is an 8-year-old daughter of Camluck and the Fighting Major mare Cyber Wave. She is a half sibling to Mach Pride (Mach Three, $595,665) while her dam earned more than $700,000 with one of her stakes triumphs being the prestigious Orange and Blue final. Montenegro has emulated the success of her mother by compiling a record of 169-38-30-22 and banking $661,314. She set her lifetime mark of 1:50.2s at age five and she seems to relish any trip over the Hoosier Park oval where she competes frequently in Invitational events. In the 2-1/2 years she has belonged to Bendis and Pollack, the mare has collected nearly $300,000 and is a formidable foe over the Anderson surface on every occasion her name is dropped in the box. “Not only is she consistent and sound other than some small maintenance issues, but she is a sweetheart,” Pollack said. “She really is the perfect horse as you know every time you take her over she is going to give it her all. Randy and I try to concentrate on horses in the $40,000 to $80,000 range that will do well for us in Open events. We watched her for quite some time and thought she would be an excellent fit for our program. She has not only exceeded our expectations with all the money she has made, but has been a joy for us. When you have a horse that finishes first or second nearly every time she races, how can you ever say a bad thing about her? Actually we think she is a gem and wish they all could be that way.” White Metro is a 4-year-old daughter of Metropolitan and the Threefold mare Bye Bye Peachy Pie. While not as prolific as her older stablemate, the mare is an Indiana Sire Stakes victress and is a half sibling to Peachy’s Noble Sam (Nobleland Sam, $216,651), Noble’s Grand Slam (Nobleland Sam, $682,720) and All Got In (Allamerican Ingot, $112,013). Jell Cullipher, who co-owns the horse with Pollack, is the trainer of record and has been responsible for guiding her career. After just one victory from nine starts at age two, White Metro took 28 trips to the gate in 2015 with nine wins, two seconds and five third place finishes. Her lifetime earnings stand at $148,192 and her total record at 37-10-5-5. Pollack feels she will only continue to improve this year and is excited to witness her perform after a powerful qualifying effort at Hoosier Park on March 26. “Jeff has done such a terrific job with this horse,” he said. “She has been such a pleasant surprise with the way she came on last year and her qualifying races were outstanding. She finished up in the last one in 1:53.1 and came home her last quarter in :27.2 so you can’t get much better than that. It looks like she did it quite easily too. We are anxious to getting her rolling this year to see what she can do, but are already more than satisfied with what she has accomplished so far.” While seemingly blessed with a plethora of riches, Pollack is quick to point out how blessed he feels and how fortunate he is that Lady Luck dealt him such a strong hand. “I got hooked on this business in the late 1980s,” he said. “I was working at a golf course and was very into golf, when I kept being asked to go to the racetrack. I said no several times and really knew nothing about horse racing. Finally I gave in and after winning on some bets that evening I was hooked on the sport. “I have been ever since and I always say it is Doug Snyder’s fault because he just dominated the Meadows that night. He won like six races and one of them from the nine hole. I did not know him or anything about betting, but my friend told me whenever I saw his name on the program to put some money on him. I did and here we are years later. Doug and I are friends now and laugh about that night all time. “We have other mares that are doing extremely well besides Montenegro and White Metro. We realize how tough this business can be and not many people experience this kind of success. It is so sweet to be in this position with all these mares. “The reason we don’t have more male horses, is these ladies just seemed to fit the bill and we haven’t seen many of the other gender that we felt would work out this way. I can’t wait to see these two mares get into their 2016 season. We think it is going to be another outstanding year and we look forward to competing in the Indiana program. Hoosier Park is the right fit for both horses and trust me, I never imagined I would ever be in this kind of position two decades ago.” by Kimberly French, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

After he hit the wire first on March 19 for his first victory in more than 1-1/2 years, Mel Mara’s connections were understandably ecstatic, not only because any win is cherished, but because this one was so incredibly rewarding for harness racing trainer Tony Alagna and his team. “We are so thrilled to have our stable mascot back,” said the 7-year-old pacer’s conditioner. “He has been so good to us over all these years, but he had several issues that required us to give him over a year off and at this age you never know if they are going to come back. “Actually, he was scheduled to go in the January Select Mixed Sale at the Meadowlands and we raced him one time before that as a gauge to see if he would go in the sale. He did not race very well (seventh on Jan. 16), but I felt that was only because he was not provided with an opportunity to show us his best. That is why we did not put him in the sale and we really cannot be any more pleased with how he proved himself.” A son of Lis Mara and the Matt’s Scooter mare M L Revrac, Mel Mara will seek to collect his second triumph of his comeback journey on Saturday (March 26) when he takes on seven rivals in a $16,000 non-winners contest at the Meadowlands. The horse will be steered by Scott Zeron and will leave from post position seven in the seventh race. Mel Mara is tied for fourth choice (6-1) on the morning line, but has paced the swiftest mile (1:49.1) of the year in this field. “Not only did he win, he was impressive in his last race,” Alagna said. “He was first over on a night the weather was not very cooperative and just powered home. With that race under his belt he should only improve and I think he will be extremely competitive in any spot we decide to put him in from now on.” Owned by Brittany Farms and Riverview Racing, Mel Mara has amassed $463,024 from 48 trips to the gate and his record stands at 11-7-2. As a 2-year-old he only managed one win from five starts but was a respectable fourth in the $317,800 Woodrow Wilson. After an eighth in a $40,400 elimination of the Metro Pace, which was captured by A Rocknroll Dance, he was put on the shelf with some minor ankle issues. The time to grow into himself was more than fortuitous as Mel Mara returned at age three in terrific form. He earned just under $340,000 from 20 starts in top company and established his lifetime mark of 1:49.1. The highlights of his season included a win in a $100,600 division of the Bluegrass Stakes over Sweet Lou, Bolt The Duer and Dapper Dude, a win over Michael’s Power in a $132,600 Ontario Sire Stakes Gold final and a fourth in the $300,000 Ontario Sire Stakes Super final. After a strong second in his $25,000 Breeders Crown elimination, Mel Mara was an unlucky seventh in the final after leaving from the 10 hole. “He is just such a classy horse,” Alagna said. “That was a very tough group of horses to compete against and he showed up every time. After that huge win down in Lexington he went right up to Canada and beat the Jug winner (Michael’s Power) on a half(-mile track). I think that goes to show what kind of talent he has always possessed and what kind of heart.” Like many horses, Mel Mara did not exactly excel during his 4-year-old year. From 16 pari-mutuel miles he was 3-2-0 and banked just over $67,000. As a 5-year-old he raced on four occasions with two wins and a third and brought home $14,400 in purse money. That is when Alagna realized several physical issues were hampering how he raced and it was decided to turn him out in September 2014. “With all that he has done for us as a very nice stakes horse we wanted to do what was right by him,” Alagna said. “There were a couple things bothering him. They weren’t serious and all he needed was time. That was when we decided to be patient and give him all he needed. We probably even gave him too much time, but it is better to give them too much rather than not enough. Besides this horse is a favorite of ours and we would go above and beyond for whatever he needs.” Mel Mara made the first step in his return on Jan. 2 with a second in a qualifying race at the Meadowlands. He followed that up with the same placing in another qualifying contest the following week before finishing seventh in a betting engagement. He was then given the month of February off and was sixth in another qualifying race on March 5. On March 12, the gelding was sixth again in a non-winners of $17,000 but his final quarter-mile was :26.4 against horses that were in racing shape. That race sharpened him for his 11th career score. Now that Mel Mara has once again returned to the winner’s circle, Alagna is not exactly certain of what his racing future may consist of, but he definitely knows this: “He is an absolute pleasure to have in our barn,” he said. “Not only is he the consummate professional and completely well-mannered on the track and off, he has an excellent personality. He is a very fun horse and is one of those you look forward to seeing every day. I can’t stress enough how good he was to us and we are so excited our patience paid off for him to still be with us. He is a very important part of our stable and we have a lot of confidence in him for the rest of the season.” by Kimberly French, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent 

His name may not ring a bell when it comes to the heavy hitters on a national or international stage, but to harness racing trainer Howard Okusko, J A T O’s presence on this earth is one of the reasons it continues to rotate on its axis. “You will have to talk to Howard about this horse,” said his co-owner Margaret Butler. “I can tell you why I bought him, why I changed his name and what I think of him, but Howard is the one that adores this horse. He has a very special connection with him.” Butler purchased the son of Big Apple Deli and the Credit Winner mare Highwaytoheaven at the 2013 SUNY Morrisville Sale for $6,000 on behalf of herself and her sister Amy. J A T O, previously named Steuben Cornelius, is the third foal out of his unraced dam and is a half-sibling to Darron Hall (Cash Hall, $128,811), Highway Cash (Cash Hall, $36,019) and I Ninety (Cash Hall) who is a newly turned 2-year-old. The Butlers own all of the family except Darron Hall. J A T O, however, could prove to be the best of the bunch. The 4-year-old trotting gelding’s record stands at a phenomenal 28-26-1-0. He has earned $60,313 while competing primarily on the New York Fair Circuit for the majority of his career. Conditioned by Howard Okusko, J A T O annexed the $10,000 New York County Fair final on Sept. 2, 2015, then stepped up to open company. On Sept. 18, he handled that transition seamlessly with a triumph in a $4,000 non-winners contest at Vernon Downs. In his next five starts, he continually worked his way up in class over the same oval with victory after victory and ended the year’s campaign with another in an $8,000 Open II Handicap on Oct. 30. The gelding has picked up right where he left off after a brief winter vacation. In his seasonal bow on March 6 at Saratoga, J A T O got away a bit slow, but came home with a rush to extend his winning skein to 16 consecutive races. His last loss was on July 7, 2015, at the Owego Fair, where he was second. “You just cannot say enough about how nice this horse is,” Okusko said. “I know he raced at the fairs, but look what he has accomplished since then. In his last race he wasn’t warming up like himself and I wondered when he was so far back in the beginning how he would race. Especially since there was a lot of wind he had to battle against that day, but he did it. I thought he was impressive and it was a huge mile for him. “We have never really asked him for anything, so we don’t have any idea what we have on our hands. “I just love this horse, not because of his record or ability, because ones with all the things he has don’t come around often. How he is in the barn, how well-mannered and professional he is on the track and how intelligent of a horse he is. I don’t care where you race when you have all the wins he does, that is a special horse.” The Butlers, however, may have some kind of top secret information when it comes to acquiring horses at Morrisville. The duo also purchased Dayson at the same sale in 2014 for $18,000. The now 3-year-old son of Conway Hall-Nervey's Taurus amassed $182,612 last year in New York Sire Stakes company. His only loss in eight trips to the post was in the $225,000 Sire Stakes final, when he broke behind the gate. The gelding, however, was sold and will be continuing his career from the barn of Ron Burke. “I had that horse too before he was sold,” Okusko said. “That horse is very, very fast. I sat behind him and feel that kind of speed was quite shocking. “You can’t say enough about the job Margaret is doing. Who gets two horses like this in the same year? She does all the work herself getting them ready and takes a lot of time deciding who she will pick out. It’s not just luck, it’s all her doing.” Although Okusko is not exactly certain what the season will entail for J A T O, he is thrilled the horse has started off 2016 so well, which only bolsters the hopes he has for him. “You might see him at Saratoga again,” he said. “But I’m taking a shot with him and putting him in a series down at Yonkers later this month. Maybe he can’t beat all those horses down there, but I think he has enough go to him to keep right on up. “Honestly, we really don’t know what he is capable of, but we do know he has talent and heart. He has earned the opportunity to compete in these types of races and we have to provide him with a good shot.” Whether the gelding continues to dominate his opposition or finds the task a bit too tall matters not to Okusko for his bond with him permeates far more deeply than your average trainer/pupil relationship. This emotion is not lost on the Butlers. “I really think Margaret only kept this horse so I could spend time with him,” he said. “I know she had very nice offers for him and Dayson. With Dayson she did the right thing and took the money, but she knew if this horse left it would leave a hole in my barn I might never replace. I’ve been in the horse business for years and I’m not a young man, but I plan my whole day around him. All you have to do is look at him and how he carries himself and you fall in love. I can never thank Margaret enough for not only allowing me to have any of her horses, but to be nice enough to realize this horse is one of the reasons I still get up in the morning.” by Kimberly French, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent 

Over his more than four decades in the harness racing business, it’s safe to say harness racing Owner/ Trainer Bob McIntosh has seen more than his fair share of horses. Second only to Jimmy Takter in the number of Breeders Crown training trophies (16) he possesses, the Windsor, Ontario, resident knows talent when he sees it, so when he says Mach Power has caught his eye, it’s time to sit up and take notice. “When we brought him in from the field as a yearling, he was tall enough but he needed to put some weight on his bones,” said McIntosh. “Especially some muscle. I’m not sure what happened out there except maybe he got shoved out of the feed tub, but we gave him some time and he came back in with some muscle on him. “We did not have him ready until late last year, so we just shut him down and waited for this year. He didn’t train down like he was anything special and only did what he had to do. In his second start though he really was eye-catching. He broke behind the gate and spotted the field about seven lengths then came back to win in 2:01.1. You don’t see that very often in a young horse like that. Especially on a track (The Raceway at Western Fair District) that doesn’t have the best footing in the winter. I sure did start paying attention to him then.” A son of Mach Three and the Camluck mare Power Outrage, Mach Power competes as a homebred for McIntosh, who is the conditioner of record, and Dave Boyle. The colt is the fourth generation of a female family the Hall of Famer has been involved with since the 1980s. He trained, bred and still owns Mach Power’s dam ($54,016), did the same with his granddam Electrical Art (Artsplace, $1,010,568) and trained and owned the great granddam Electrical Express (Storm Damage, $318,633). Mach Power is a perfect 4-for-4 in his young career, established his lifetime mark of 1:53.2s in his last start on Feb. 15 and has banked just shy of $16,000. He is the third of five foals from his mother and the only one of her progeny that is male. Although he did not initially appear to be a future champion, the colt has all the pedigree in the world to become one. “Wow, I’m getting old because when we start talking about how long I’ve been around the family it shows how many years I have on me,” McIntosh said. “His dam was kind of a hard luck filly. Then her first foal got caught in a hole in the field and died. This colt certainly has the right blood as his granddam was quite a race mare and his great granddam was too. After seeing him out on the track I bred Power Outage back to Mach Three and hope to get another colt out of it.” Mach Power debuted on Jan. 25 at Western Fair in a $4,200 non-winners contest. He came home with the victory in 1:59.4 and didn’t exactly knock McIntosh out of his chair with how he paced. It was that next performance on Feb. 1, however, that piqued his interest and was over the same surface as well as in the same class. Since transitioning to Woodbine Racetrack the colt has only continued to impress McIntosh. On Feb. 8 he climbed up the condition ladder to a $10,080 non-winners engagement and triumphed in 1:55.2 in rein to Randy Waples. His last quarter was a smart :27.1. Mach Power’s latest pacing mile was on Feb. 15 over the same oval where he was contending for a $12,240 purse. It was his swiftest journey yet (1:53.2) and only made McIntosh’s eyes open ever wider. “I thought we might have a horse on our hands after that start in London,” McIntosh said. “But moving him to Woodbine was a whole different ball game. The competition is a lot deeper there and although the surface is better, this colt gets around very well on a half-mile track. Randy was really pleased with him in his first race there, but was very happy with him in his last race. To pace in 1:53.2 in only your fourth start without being asked is excellent. Randy said all he had to do was shake the reins and he took off. He never had to ask him for anything. I think he can easily go in 1:51 quite soon.” Despite not having much in the way of expectations for Mach Power when he first started, McIntosh is now very excited about how the rest of the year will go. “I have to say this colt has shocked me and in this game it is spectacular to be shocked in this way,” he said. “Usually it’s the other way around. They train down like they have all the ability in the world and you think they might be a champion. Then reality hits and they never end up doing a thing. This horse has been exactly the opposite and I think he can go with nicer horses. “We are giving him a couple weeks off before his next start and then pointing him to the Youthful Series at Woodbine at the end of next month. There’s another pacing series the month after that up at Mohawk for him and then the sire stakes. “That is the problem with starting them early because when you have a nice horse you don’t want them beat up when the fall comes around. It depends on him and what kind of breaks he needs as to where I put him the rest of the season, but I wouldn’t rule anything out. “I’ve already had a lot of offers to buy this horse, but the price hasn’t been right. Besides, why not race him and just see what he’s got? Maybe he’ll become more of a pleasant surprise than he already is.” by Kimberly French, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

When people hear his name they may not immediately recall the Australian import that defeated 2012 Little Brown Jug victor Michael’s Power and the richest harness horse of all time in Foiled Again, but after Polak A’s 2015 harness racing campaign was derailed by illness, the 8-year-old gelding has returned to top form and served notice he will be a top contender for the title in next month’s Levy Series at Yonkers Raceway. “I blame myself for what happened to him last year,” said Joe Bellino, who owns the horse with F Bellino & Sons LLC and Frank Bellino. “We made him eligible to the Levy before we even got him over here and it was only a couple weeks after he arrived, but he won the first two legs of the series and was third in another leg. He rebounded from a seventh in the final to take a winner’s over race and then we decided to take him to try him at Mohawk. “When we shipped him up there he got sick and it took us quite a while to get him back. We had to stop on him and turn him out, but he’s healthy now and has yet to finish off the board this year. “I should have just left well enough alone with him instead of asking him to do too much. Now that he’s well again we are excited about this year and we are going to take another shot at the Levy again. We really like his chances.” Conditioned by New Zealand native Tony O’Sullivan, Polak A will attempt to collect his fourth win from six starts this year when he and Brian Sears leave from post five in a very tough $32,000 Open Handicap at Yonkers Raceway on Saturday (Feb. 27), in the evening’s sixth race. The gelding is the 5-2 morning line selection, but it will not be an easy mile as he takes on Dream Out Loud N (9-2), Roland N Rock (4-1), All Bets Off (8-1) and Sunfire Blue Chip (9-1). “He is just a classy old gelding,” O’Sullivan said. “He gives you more than 100 percent every time and he is superb on a half (-mile track). He raced primarily at Gloucester Park in Australia. That’s a half-mile and it has very tight turns. Joe found him and picked him out, but one of the reasons he bought him was because of his ability over that type of track.” The son of Pacific Fella and the Million To One mare Capture A Million paced on 75 occasions in the Southern Hemisphere, captured 17 of those contests and collected $219,652. Since arriving in his new nation the full sibling to Australian Group One winner Schinzig Buller has amassed $133,900 from 19 miles and added eight more triumphs to his resume for a grand total of 25. He has already earned $44,400 over the last two months. “We really did not do anything to transition him to North America except place two blankets on him because he was coming from the middle of summer to the middle of winter,” O’Sullivan said. “We were looking forward to trying him at Mohawk because the fields were short and we thought he would like the track. Unfortunately, it did not work out because of his illness. Even with treating it, he still was sick and it showed. They race and are treated a lot differently over in Australia and New Zealand so it’s quite possible horses from there don’t bounce back as quickly from antibiotics as North American horses do. We do have him right now though and it is great to see him back on his game.” Although Bellino selected Polak A, he gives O’Sullivan all the credit for not only how the horse has already performed, but for what he accomplishes in the future. “I trust Tony 100 percent and he is more than just a trainer to me, he is a close friend and like one of my family,” he said. “When he told me we needed to kick the horse out, I told him, ‘Go ahead. You are the one that is with him every day.’ I didn’t even tell Tony I made the payment for the Levy until after the horse came here and he had him ready. How often does a horse pay for himself just months after you buy him? That’s what Tony prepared this horse to do and he has him ready again. I can’t say enough about the job he does and about the person he is.” O’Sullivan can’t say enough about the horse. “He is just such a nice animal,” he said. “He has a tremendous attitude and we don’t have to do much with him except send him out there. I think as long as he is healthy he will have a nice season and give a good account of himself. He also really fits superbly at Yonkers and gets around the track so well.” Despite his affinity for that surface and circumference, Polak A’s connections have plans that do not include him remaining exclusively in the Empire State for the next 10 months. “I don’t know if he is a Meadowlands horse,” O’Sullivan said. “But we might give him the opportunity to prove he belongs. We will try him again at Mohawk and probably at Pocono. The surface there is very quick and he should like it. “Honestly, it doesn’t matter where we take him or what comes up for him, when you have a horse like this you have confidence in them whenever you send them out. I have faith in him every time he is out there and feel he has the ability to be a top Open horse.” by Kimberly French, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent  

He is the 12th foal out of a 100 percent producer, but his harness racing owner and conditioner feel that Armbro Nectarine might very well have saved her best genetic contribution for last when it comes to 2015 Pennsylvania Sire Stakes champion Ideal Jimmy. “Every foal she had was a winner,” said D R Van Witzenburg, the 3-year-old gelding’s owner/breeder. “They all could pace and this one is an absolute runt. He’s the smallest foal from her, but he has the heart. You can’t breed or train that into them. He is all desire and he just wants to win.” The son of Western Ideal is a full sibling to Enhance The Night ($561,117), Ideal Nectarine ($607,445), Ideal Danny ($424,998), Ideal Ike ($129,143), Ideal Ginny ($135,809) and Ideal Helen ($194,060). He is also a half-brother to Tommy’s Luck (Camluck, $200,125). Conditioned by Erv Miller, who also trained his older sisters Ideal Nectarine, Ideal Ginny and Ideal Helen, Ideal Jimmy demonstrated he was just as talented as the rest of the family by capturing his debut in a $30,000 Pennsylvania All-Stars contest at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono on July 3. In his next two events, which were in Pennsylvania Sire Stakes company, the gelding came home fourth, before the hitting the winner’s circle in a $23,990 division of the Arden Downs on Aug. 1 at The Meadows and in a $28,942 division of the Tompkins-Geers at Tioga Downs on Aug. 9. Ideal Jimmy was second at Harrah’s Philadelphia in PASS company on Aug. 20 and had his picture taken in a $71,114 Sire Stake at The Meadows on Sept. 1. That race proved to be the perfect prep for the $350,000 final which the gelding annexed very impressively on Sept. 11. After a trip where regular pilot Marcus Miller encountered all kinds of traffic, Ideal Jimmy looked to have no chance at the top of the lane, but with a very powerful turn of foot he reeled in world champion Spider Man Hanover with the greatest of ease. “He’s so little that when he won that $71,000 Sire Stake at the Meadows I thought he had broke,” Van Witzenburg said. “We took the hood on and off him throughout the season and there were times we did that and that was the result. I thought since I couldn’t see him coming around the last turn he was far back, but then all of a sudden I saw him spurt out to the lead and he just kept going. I thought to myself, ‘That little horse just went and won himself a nice race.’” Miller had his doubts about how Ideal Jimmy would perform while he was training down. “He really does not have much size to him at all,” he said. “He just looked so different from the rest of them, as this mare always had foals with some scope and range. When we got him down to about 2:01 though we knew we had one on our hands with ability. He’s tiny but he has a long, gliding, beautiful stride to him and he has so much heart. He’s so willing and you can do anything with him. He is a very good racehorse.” Ideal Jimmy finished his freshman campaign with a second in a $35,000 division of the Liberty Bell at Harrah’s Philadelphia on Sept. 24 and a third in a $36,400 division of the Keystone Classic at The Meadows on Oct. 2. He is currently back in training and is being aimed toward another season in Pennsylvania. “We did not really know what to think of him at the beginning of the year, so we really did not stake him to hardly anything,” Miller said. “That’s why we just stopped on him for the rest of the year and gave him some time to grow. He’s training great right now and although he has not grown taller, he has gotten stouter. We are looking forward to racing him this year and seeing how well he does.” Witzenburg has been in the business for five decades and considers himself very fortunate with the horses he has owned. “The first horse I bought in on, Real Speed, won more than $400,000 and we got to travel all over the country with him,” he said. “The next horse I got was Cumberland and he wasn’t a stakes horse, but I felt like a champion just watching him win at the fairs. After those two I was hooked. “I was so lucky to get this mare (Armbro Nectarine). In fact, when I went to pick her up at Hanover Shoe Farm I couldn’t take her because she started foaling right when we were getting ready to load her in the truck. They allowed me to just board her there. “Jimmy has already won (nearly) $300,000 and we think he has more to show us. There’s not a lot of people that have been as lucky as I have.” Despite the goal being to defend his Sire Stakes crown, Miller does not rule out other stakes appearances for Ideal Jimmy. “Pennsylvania is definitely our focus,” he said. “But I would not rule out supplementing him to a race like the Breeders Crown if the horse is doing well and does all season. He will have to earn it, but I think he’s capable of doing that. He is better than his older sisters, not that they were not talented, but he has such a terrific attitude and always has. That is what sets him apart from the rest of the family. He may be small, but that heart makes up for his lack of size.” by Kimberly French, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Despite being firmly entrenched in the Hoosier State, Bobby Brower never forsakes his Kentucky roots. He competes regularly at the fairs and is a fixture in the Sire Stakes. In fact, he has captured the lucrative final on several occasions over the last five years, but when he witnessed Penn’s performances as a juvenile he literally turned green with envy that the harness racing gelding was not a resident of his shedrow. “I watched him tear it up at the fairs,” he said. “He won like eight races in a row as a 3-year-old and then I saw him at The Red Mile. I told my wife how much I wanted to buy him, but I knew he would probably be at $100,000 and that’s too much for my budget. I had known Mr. (Barkley) Counts (Penn's owner) for a number of years and shortly after I said that, I received a call from him asking if I would train this horse. That’s when I told my wife how funny it is things work out this way. We would have him, but we just wouldn’t own him.” A son of Master Glide and the S J’s Photo mare Photo Queen, Penn,was purchased by Flintville, Tenn. resident Barkley Counts for $4,000 at the 2011 Lexington Selected Sale. Counts, who is 77 years young, has been involved in harness racing for more than four decades and still gets up every morning, rain or shine, to jog all his own horses. He enjoys competing at the fairs in Kentucky, as Tennessee is not a hot bed for harness racing, and this horse might be the very best he’s ever had. “Poppa has always been around horses his whole life,” his grandson, Dusty Syler, said. “My mom was an only child and he made sure she had a riding horse. He got involved with racehorses through a friend of his, but when his friend got out of the business, he stayed in. We train the horses over the only track I think they have in Tennessee. It’s a half-mile and a little rough, but he never misses a day taking them out there. “I drive him to all the races, because his eyesight is not very good anymore, but he still works the horses every day. He sits next to me and my granny sits in the back seat. She will never miss a race. It doesn’t matter to them what is going on. They will be there to watch their horses and they just love the heck out of it.” Now age six, Penn has compiled a record of 65-30-11-8, banked $231,294 and equaled the track record at Hoosier Park of 1:53 for older male trotters in 2014. He also established the all-age track standard at Dayton Raceway on Dec. 12, 2015, when he lowered world champion Market Share’s time of 1:52.4 to 1:52.3. That clocking is his lifetime mark. The horse is currently on a four race win streak and has been excelling on the Ohio circuit since last fall. While his connections are thrilled with his recent appearances, they are looking forward to the rest of this season. “We have always had good luck with Master Glide horses,” Syler said. “We had another horse by him, Master Host ($88,546), that was also really fast, but he had some problems keeping it together without jumping it off. He also did not have the same kind of heart as Penn. This horse wants to do it and gives it his all every time. Master Host did not seem to have the same attitude. “Poppa has turned down a lot of nice offers for Penn, but he will never sell this one although he did Master Host and a lot of his other horses when they did not quite pan out. I just finished paying the stakes payments to make this horse eligible to all the big races in Indiana and Ohio. I will drive us to every one of them, especially since we have not seen him in awhile. It’s five hours for us to get to Lexington and seven to get to Hoosier Park. We have just allowed Bobby to take care of him.” And that’s exactly what Brower has done. Penn is in the best form of his career and the Browers are also anxiously awaiting the gelding’s future miles. “I liked Master Host and bought him before I had Penn,” Brower said. “He was also a nice horse, but this one is different. He is so perfect and does nothing wrong. If you go to his stall and sit down he will put his head right on your shoulder. “People might think he needs to be on the lead, but he will do anything you ask him to. He’s just a very, very nice horse in every way. “He did have a hock problem though and even when I saw him race at Lexington after all those wins at the fairs you could see him hiking in the back. We went over him with a fine tooth comb, scanned him and everything, but we could never find anything wrong. I think we finally have him perfectly sound now and although I don’t normally race in the winter, he’s so good at the moment that it doesn’t make sense not to for the purse money we are going for at Miami Valley. “He will be in all the big races at Hoosier, Scioto and the other Ohio tracks. I usually race young horses and have never really had an Open horse of this caliber. He is my chance to be in these races and we are very excited about what he will accomplish this season.” Brower has been told Penn could race out East and be quite the breadwinner, but he has no inclination to travel outside the confines of the Midwest with this horse. “People have told me he could get around the half great at Yonkers,” Brower said. “I think they would all be watching his rear all the way around the track, because he would like it that much, but that is not what we will do with him. We are keeping him home. We are not going to beat up on him. I’m just thankful we did get him in the barn and we think he is really going to make some noise this year, plus provide opportunities for us we have not experienced before. “This is one great horse and we think he’s going to show a lot of people that over the course of this season.” by Kimberly French, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent 

Louisville, KY --- For two Ohio gentlemen rapidly approaching octogenarian status, it appears that harness racing owners Don McKirgan and Keith Ross have discovered the ever elusive Fountain of Youth. Contrary to popular belief, the “Water of Life” is not a liquid and is not presented in a golden chalice. The key to eternal vitality presents itself in many different forms and in this case, it just happens to be a horse. In what is a certainly not a twist of fate, this equine vessel’s name is Like Old Times and she is the Buckeye State’s 2015 Horse of the Year. “(Driver) Ronnie (Wrenn Jr.) has done a terrific job with her,” said Ross when he accepted his homebred’s divisional hardware. “He told me good horses improve his talent, but I think he is being modest. “There was one occasion where Ronnie could not drive her and Donnie asked me who I wanted to put up on her. I told him to put himself up and he said, ‘What should I do?’ I told him to just ask Ronnie who said, ‘Just drive her like I do and she will win.’ When Don said that to me it was right before the race and I just walked away. When we were in the winner’s circle he asked me why I did that and my response was, ‘Don, we have been together more than 40 years and you have never done anything that anyone told you to do.’ “I know it shows how old I am, but I am old (79). “That win probably makes Don the oldest trainer and driver (at age 75) to win a race here in Ohio, but age is just a number because it has been one of the best years of my life. I think this filly has added on at least another four years for both of us.” Like Old Times is a daughter of Chip Chip Hooray and the Royal Troubadour mare Royal Two. She has performed on 25 occasions in her two-year career under McKirgan’s watchful eye and compiled a record of 14-6-2 with a bankroll just under $315,000. She served notice she was a force to be reckoned with on Aug. 22, 2014 at Scioto Downs. After competing in a mile where she never even caught a glimpse of the fence, Like Old Times hit the wire first in 1:57.1, which was a track record. She completed the season with a slate of 10-3-2-2 and just over $64,000 in purse money. “We always knew she was a very nice filly,” Ross said. “Her dam is a 100 percent producer and she has thrown two other horses that made over $200,000 (Cool Colby and Lucky Colby, both by Jailhouse Jesse). “Royal Two only raced once as a 2-year-old and she won a Pennsylvania Sire Stake race in that start. Unfortunately, she broke a bone so we had to retire her, but she has been nothing but good to us and Like Old Times is definitely the best horse from the 11 foals she has produced. “In nearly all of her races as a 2-year-old she was parked out wide, but when Dan Noble drove her in the Ohio Sire Stakes final he said if she had not been so far back she would have won. She was third by a head and we were happy with that. We just wanted to protect her and still do.” In 2016, Like Old Times amassed just under $251,000 and did capture the $225,000 Sire Stakes final in a romp. In 15 trips to the gate, her picture was taken on 11 occasions and the other four appearances were second place finishes. “How can you ever think to even complain about that kind of year?” Ross said. “I think her total margin of defeat in those races was by a total of three lengths. We were so lucky to have her and Ronnie always drove her just enough to win. He took care of her and we are so grateful for that. “For example, look at what she did at Delaware (County Fairgrounds in the Ohio Breeders Championship). She was second by a nose and her and Ronnie both thought they won. She came back to the barn not ever knowing she was beaten. Also, the one we lost to was Dan Ater’s horse (Honey B) and if we are ever going to lose to somebody, I would rather it be him.” McKirgan heartily concurs with Ross’ assessment of this filly, but adds an additional component to why Like Old Times is so successful. “She is the best horse I have ever had in my barn,” he said. “She has perfect manners on and off the track. She is also very intelligent and enjoys her work. When it comes to trotting fillies they can be difficult and have a lot of bumps in the road. This one has never had an issue. She is beautifully gaited and although I put headpoles and a hood on her ears as a 2-year-old, I don’t think she needs them. I just never wanted to change anything since she has done so well. If it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it. That is one thing I’ve learned over the years.” Although all her appearances were within the confines of Ohio’s state lines, Like Old Times will be venturing into new territory in 2016. “I had her eligible for a late closer race at Lexington last year,” Ross said. “I’m glad we did not end up racing her there because all it did was rain. We really think she will like a big track, but we also think she adapts herself to any kind of environment just because of how much she loves to race. Her personality is like no other horse I’ve ever had and I’ve had several that made it to the Hambo. Our goal was to just take care of her. “She is in training now and we are putting her in some of the bigger races this year. The first one we are pointing to is at Miami Valley on May 8. She will compete primarily in Ohio and at The Meadows. We look forward to seeing how she does this year and I will be there to watch her every time she races. “I may be old, but this one makes me look forward to putting my head on the pillow so I can wake up in the morning and I think she has done the same for Donnie. “Also, I never expected her to win Horse of the Year. I was just tickled she won 3-year-old filly trotting champion. I was amazed and humbled by the fact people voted for her. I can’t thank them enough. Especially with all the tremendous Ohio horses that raced this year.” McKirgan clearly has the same confidence in this state champion that Ross possesses. “She is training well and we just hope she can come back this year in the same form,” he said. “She seems to be, but you never know until it happens. Also, this a year where she will take on older mares, so you have to take that into account, but if anyone can do it, this one can. She just loves being out there, is easy on herself and does everything on her own. It has been a pleasure to watch Mr. Ross enjoy here and she has probably added at least another four years on to my life. She makes you want to get up and come to the barn each morning to see her.” by Kimberly French, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent 

Louisville, KY --- She arrived in Jim Dailey’s shedrow from a combination of luck, faith and hope. Although one never knows exactly what to expect in this sport and can easily be disappointed by a twist of fate, My Tweed Heart has not only satisfied her harness racing connections, she has thrilled them. “I cannot take any of the credit for making her into the horse she is,” said Dailey. “That all goes to Tye Loy. We are the same age and I’ve known him for years. He bought her as a baby and brought her along. She was ready when I got her because he is an excellent horseman and I completely trusted him.” The now 3-year-old daughter of Manhardt and the Towner’s Big Guy mare Tweedle D was a $2,500 yearling purchase on behalf of Loy. Her ownership was then transferred to Carl Atley when he signed a check for a much larger sum after the filly’s impressive debut victory in Ohio Sire Stakes company on July 3 at Northfield Park. In her first season of competition, My Tweed Heart banked $132,252, amassed a record of 6-3-2-1 and set her speed standard of 1:54 at Scioto Downs on Aug. 5. My Tweed Heart is the fifth foal out of her dam and to date is the only one of Tweedle’s D’s offspring to earn a check. That mare collected just under $300,000 during her racing career and was managed as a youngster by Jim Arledge. “I always liked the filly’s mother,” Dailey said. “Jim trained her and I helped him out with her. I actually had her for a little bit and enjoyed driving her. She is a big, strong mare and very nicely gaited. Whenever you are around a horse you like in that way, you always look forward to seeing what kind of babies they have. Before this filly she did not have anything that worked out, but when we heard there was a filly out of her for sale I was excited because I thought maybe she had produced something like herself. When I looked at this filly I was immediately pleased.” Unfortunately, Dailey had to scratch My Tweed Heart from her first engagement under his tutelage. The filly was sick and could not appear in her $40,000 Ohio Sire Stakes event on July 25. All the people associated with her were dismayed, but their emotions were soon bolstered after Kayne Kauffman steered her to victory in an Ohio State Fair race at Scioto Downs the following week. “I was definitely upset when we had to scratch her out of that race,” Dailey said. “But what can you do? Carl (Atley) and I went to high school together and have run around with each other ever since. We were very excited about racing her and when something like that happens you hope you don’t end up encountering other problems. Also, because of my relationship with Carl, I didn’t want him to be dissatisfied after he just got her. Thankfully, that is the only real bump in the road we have had with her. She is a very sound filly and we really thought we had an excellent chance to win the Sire Stakes final with her.” After capturing her first two trips for Dailey and Atley, My Tweed Heart was third in an OSS race at Scioto Downs on Sept. 4 in a blanket finish. Her next appearance was the following week in the $225,000 Sire Stakes final and the filly came up just shy of catching winner Miss Me Yet in the stretch. Her final performance of 2015 was in a $35,811 division of the Ohio Breeders Championship for her age, gait and gender. Once again she could not overhaul the same rival prior to the wire and finished second. “She flattened out in those two starts,” Dailey said. “She was a little sick for both of them and that race in (Columbus -- the third place finish on Sept. 4) took her edge off. That trip was hard on her and she did not bounce back for the final quite like we had hoped. We really liked our chances to win that race and the one at Delaware, but we were very proud of her to race as well as she did on both occasions. She certainly did not disgrace herself and in fact, put forth a very nice effort just to be second in that Delaware race. Nothing went right for her from the start and she made up so much ground just to finish where she did. Of course you always want to win, but when horses race like that you are always pleased with it.” With her winter vacation now officially over, My Tweed Heart is currently being prepared for her sophomore season. “She has not grown any taller, but she has filled out and physically matured,” Dailey said. “She always has an excellent attitude and she enjoys racing. Because she has been so good to us, we also took a chance on her younger sister Tweedledtweedledum. That filly is by Art Official. “I have not really developed an opinion on these Art Official horses yet, but like My Tweed Heart this filly has done everything right training down. She has the same mindset and she is very nicely gaited. We are really excited about both of them racing this year and are looking very much forward to participating with them in the Ohio program. It’s always a great feeling when you have horses like these that are competitive and have some quality. Especially when they are connected to people like Carl and Tye, who I have had relationships with for quite some time.” by Kimberly French, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

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