Thanks to upset harness racing victories at Cal Expo by the Steve Nichols-trained pair of Mystery Affair and Fire On The Water, last Friday night's 50-cent Pick 4 returned a healthy $11,851, despite the fact the first three winners were even-money, 3-2 and 2-1. One of the other reasons the Pick 5 returned such a nice number is the fact that it is one of two wagers here along with the Pick 4 that comes with a reduced 16 percent takeout rate. Using normal takeout, the Pick 5 would have returned $10,581, a difference of $1,300 for each winning ticket. Steve Nichols made back-to-back winner's circle appearances on Friday with the aforementioned Mystery Affair ($32) and Fire On The Water ($48) providing the Pick 5 fireworks. Mystery Affair, who races for Nichols and Maria Alvarez, had regular pilot William Hernandez at the controls and was posting his second upset score from his last five starts, having clicked at 17-1 early last month. In last Friday's mile, the 4-year-old mare got a nice tracking trip with Hernandez, responded when the question was asked and won going away by three-quarters of a length as a 15-1 shot. Fire On The Water came right back in the next contest for his owner/trainer with Mooney Svendsen. He parlayed a perfect pocket journey into the 23-1 surprise to put the finishing touches on a Pick 5 that started out chalky and ended up returning just shy of $12,000 for handicappers who used some imagination in the last two races. Open Trot, Pace headline the marquee An Open Pace that finds Buddy's Hope looking to follow up on his 17-1 upset in the most recent clash at the top rung and an Open Trot featuring one of the best rivalries in recent memory between Flameon and Silverlode share the spotlight Friday evening at Cal Expo. First post is 5:55 p.m. Buddy's Hope is a 7-year-old son of Western Ideal and the Cam's Card Shark mare Diamond Mil who is owned by Jerome Bouvier and takes his lessons from Nathalie Tremblay. He was sent off at 17-1 with Luke Plano in the sulky when the last clash at the Open level was contested on December 16 and prevailed. Looking at the Open Trot, Flameon is a 7-year-old son of Angus Hall from the Valleymeister mare Benn's Fire who races for Mark Anderson, hails from the Gordie Graham barn and will as usual have Chip Lackey giving directions. He closed out his 2016 campaign with 12 victories from his 22 trips to the post, is closing in on the $100,000 earnings plateau and sports a 1:55 3/5 career standard that was established over this track two years ago. Flameon has posed for pictures following three of his five appearances at this meet, including back-to-back scores over his arch-rival Silverlode. The most recent came on December 16, when he was used for early position, took a stalking trip behind Silverlode and overhauled that one when it counted for a three-quarters of a length victory. Silverlode is an 8-year-old homebred daughter of British Sterling and the Website mare Charlotte's Web who races for Desomer Stables Inc. with Vicky Desomer conditioning and Steve Wiseman handling the lines. The hard-hitting mare has fired bullets in all five of her appearances at this session, coming away with two victories at the head of the class and completing the exacta behind Flameon in the other pair. Her most recent win came in coast-to-coast fashion in the November 25 Open Trot. By Mark Ratzky, publicity - Cal Expo Harness
The last time Canadian-owned Fire On The Water headed to the U.S. for a harness racing Battle, it turned out pretty well. Then a 3-year-old, the pacer won his $100,000 division of the Battle of the Brandywine at Harrah's Chester.