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

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

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

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

Saturday nights finale of the Bob Gordon Pacing series is named for the noted driver/trainer and track executive who passed away at the age of 65 in 2006. Bob Gordon started his 40-year career in Ohio and learned his lessons under the outstanding horseman Bob Farrington. He eventually settled in California and was a mainstay at the top of the trainer standings from the late 70s through the early 90s, conditioning such stars as Stand By N, Theora Hanover and Pack Leader. Stand By N raced under the banner of Bob and Loretta Staats stable and she was his all-time favorite. The Down Under import had a 1:52 career standard and banked $255,000 in a brilliant career on the racetrack, then went on to be an equally outstanding broodmare. She was inducted in the California Hall of Fame in 2010. Bob Gordon was a past president of the Western Harness Standardbred Association and the California Harness Horse Breeders Association, while in the early 90s he served as a director of the USTA. He was president of Premier Harness Racing, which raced at Los Alamitos, and was instrumental in keeping the sport alive in California in the mid 90s at a time when harness racing was definitely on the ropes. Bob Gordon was also director of backstretch operations for the Sacramento Harness Association and helped in starting the not-for-profit corporation, which was operating at Cal Expo at the time of his death. Steve and Vickie Desomer have fond memories of their many years side-by-side with Gordon. When Steve broke his leg in a racing accident, we turned the horses over to Bob, she recalled. It was the most fun we have had in the business no stress and great results! By the way, in addition to be an excellent horseman, Bob was always extremely good to his help. He always looked out for them and helped in any way he could. Bob Gordon Series finale commands the spotlight The $10,600 finale of the Bob Gordon Pacing Series is the main event at Cal Expo Saturday night, featuring five performers from the Gene Vallandingham barn including Party Cove and Cocomara. Gene will guide Party Cove while Cocomara will have the services of Steve Wiseman. The other Vallandingham trainees in the cast are Gonna Rock N Roll, Scarboro Hanover and After Alimony, with the cast completed by Rag Doll, Orlandos Express, Bettermeboy and Kablooie. Party Cove has had to settle for second money in the first two legs, but will definitely have his share of backers in the finale. The 3-year-old Party At Artsplace gelding races for A Piece Of The Action LLC and registered back-to-back scores over this layout last month prior to his two near-misses in this series. Cocomara is a 3-year-old son of Lis Mara who also carries the banner of A Piece Of The Action LLC and is looking for his fourth victory from heis last five appearances here. He faltered after carving out all the fractions in the opening leg, then came back last week to come from off the pace to win going away. Kablooie denied Party Cove last week as a 9-1 shot and figures to get more respect this time around after posting that lifetime-best 1:54 3/5 decision. The son of Hi Ho Silverheels races for Harold Actkinson, takes his lessons from Bob Johnson and will once again be handled by Mooney Svendsen. The co-feature is a filly/mare Invitational Pace headed by Show Runner. She is a 3-year-old daughter of Little Steven who is seeking her sixth straight victory for owners Denise Maier and Eileen Brodbar and driver/trainer Tim Maier. She has been putting her class and versatility on display during the course of this winning streak, including two Sire Stakes scores and a pair of Invitational victories. By Mark Ratzky for Cal Expo Harness  

Two divisions of the opening leg of the Dr. Gary Budahn Trotting Series and an Open Trot featuring stablemates Franks Best and Inside Broadway get the marquee treatment Friday night at the Watch and Wager LLC meeting at Cal Expo. A 14-race card is on tap with first post set for 5:55 p.m. The action continues Saturday evening with the finale of the Bob Gordon Pacing Series and a filly/mare Invitational Pace holding the spotlight. Franks Best and Inside Broadway are not only both owned, bred and trained by Bob Johnson, but are half-brothers as they are out of the American Winner mare Inside Edition. Franks Best is a 6-year-old by Armbro Scribe, while Inside Broadway is a 4-year-old with Broadway Hall being the sire. Franks Best comes into this assignment with $184,000 in his bank account and a 1:56 2/5 mark that was established at Running Aces last year. He has posed for snapshots following three of his last five appearances at this meet, romping home by five and a half-lengths at most recent asking with regular pilot Mooney Svendsen. Inside Broadway had his win streak snapped last time when asked to do his work from the demanding No. 10 post position. He had rattled off three straight impressive victories coming into that mile with James Kennedy at the controls, including a dead-heat with his half-brother in the November 29 Invitational. Axle is looking to make amends after finishing second as the 3-5 favorite in that last clash at the head of the division. The 4-year-old son of Hard Rock is conditioned by George Reider, who also co-owns with driver Dave Siegel, Bob Thronson and Greg Robinson. He has a victory and two runner-up finishes from his last three trips to the post here. Looking at the two divisions of the Budahn, High Dollar comes into the series having posed for pictures following three of his last four starts for owner Kent Fox and driver/trainer Tim Maier. Silverlode is also a nice fit under these conditions with a race under the belt for Vickie and Steve Desomer. BEGINNING THIS WEEK, THE PICK 4 GUARANTEE HAS BEEN RAISED TO $20,000 ON FRIDAYS AND $25,000 ON SATURDAYS. Just Plum Lucky sports caring connections While Just Plum Lucky has been a little too comfortable with the minor placings over the last couple of seasons, with 20 runner-up finishes to go with her seven victories, Richard and Marlene Thomas homebred comes to play each and every week and does sport two snapshots at the meeting. Trained by George Reider and handled by the 20-year-old phenom Tyler Smith in her last two appearances, the dark-hued daughter of Power Of Art was unable to match strides with Lust in the lane but did keep to her task to complete the exacta as the public choice at most recent asking. Shes a gem consistency, but she is the bridesmaid an awful lot, Reider said. If l was going to have a family horse, she fits the bill. Rick to Marlene really like her, and it shows since they lost the horse once and claimed her back.. She definitely has her share of problems, but my assistant trainer Kim Hines knows her like a book it and really takes care of her and we love having her in the barn. Reider was around during the Western Harness Racing days at Hollywood Park and like many people is saddened by the closing of that track, even though they havent had the trotters and pacers there for decades. I have so many memories, George said. I got the chance to watch Niatross and I was really impressed by Direct Scooter. Steve Desomer also had a little trotter named Dante Jay who was so much fun to watch week in and week out. Watching Shelly Goudreau drive was something, and hearing Robin Burns call those races was really special. There was so much excitement in the stands with the big crowds and movie stars, and thats the way I like to remember Hollywood Park. By Mark Ratzky, publicity Cal Expo Harness  

Orlandos Express has been under the care of James Kennedy for less than two months, but this could be the start of something big as the 3-year-old continues his march toward next weeks Bob Gordon Series final. The Frank Nevarez-homebred son of Wicked Island only made it to the post one time last year and didnt get to the races again this season until November 15, but hes doing his best to make up for lost time. Hes won two conditioned events, finished second to divisional powerhouse A Stitch In Time in a Sire Stakes and then captured his section of last weeks opening leg of the Gordon. Sent off at a juicy 9-1 in the latter affair, he sat a stalking trip for Kennedy until the stretch, then unleashed a :27 3/5 final quarter to prevail by a half-length over favored Party Cove. Hes a nice one who doesnt do a thing wrong, Kennedy related. When I first got him, I learned quite a bit right away by going some trips and you could tell that he had a lot of potential. Orlandos Express came from well back to win his first two outings for Kennedy, then was far from disgraced finishing a distant second behind the very talented A Stitch In Time in his initial stakes foray. Last weeks Gordon opener fit snugly into the schedule and he responded by getting the job done while lowering his mark to 1:56 4/5 that evening. There arent any more stakes for him until January, so this series is perfect, his mentor noted. Hes definitely getting better and better with each start, and hes shown that he really likes to finish his races. Hell have more experience when he goes up against A Stitch In Time again. Kennedy is having a tremendous meet, with extremely high batting averages as both a driver and a trainer. Its been a joy to have the opportunity to drive and train such nice horses, he added. Bob Gordon Series, Invitational Pace head card The second leg of the Bob Gordon Pacing series, featuring last weeks opening leg winners After Alimony and Orlandos Express; and an Invitational Pace headline Saturday nights 14-race program at Cal Expo. After Alimony will be one of six Gene Vallandingham trainees in this weekends penultimate leg of the Bob Gordon. A 3-year-old daughter of Lis Mara out of the Sportsmaster mare Fox Valley Lucerne, she carries the A Piece Of the Action LLC banner. After Alimony sat a pocket trip to handle conditioned foes two weeks ago at 5-1 odds, then was sent off at 4-1 in last weeks division of the opening leg of the Gordon and proceeded to make every pole a winning one with Vallandingham in the sulky. Vallandingham will once again handle After Alimony in the second division and Party Cove in the first section. Orlandos Express is a lightly-raced 3-year-old homebred son of Wicked Island who races for Frank Nevarez and is reined and trained by James Kennedy. He won his first two starts in November, finished second to the outstanding A Stitch In Time in a December 6 Sire Stakes and then did the track-and-attack to perfection to take his Gordon division while lowering his mark to 1:56 4/5 in the process. Looking at the Invitational Pace, Stueben Jumpinjack is going in sharp form at the moment for trainer Gretchen Smith, who co-owns the 5-year-old son of Pacific Fella with Maureen Pittaro. He will appreciate getting away from Pancetta, who has headed East after two dominating Invite victories here. Stueben Jumpinjack, who will be handled by Tyler Smith, captured four of his five starts between November 2 and November 30, with those scores coming in optional claiming events. He has made his last two appearances at this top level, registering a second and a third behind the aforementioned Pancetta. Completing the field are Its Getting Hairy with Tim Maier; One And Only, Luke Plano; Phantom Dan for James Kennedy; Somethinginthewind with Gene Vallandingham; Emery Vern and Mobil Big John, who both hail from the George Anthrop barn and leave from the inside posts. By Mark Ratzky for Cal Expo Harness        

Two divisions of the first leg of the Bob Gordon Pacing Series; an Invitational Pace headed by Pancetta and a distaff Invitational featuring Show Runner and Haggin Oaks are the main events on Saturday nights 14-race program at Cal Expo. Pancetta made a triumphant return to California last week for owners Richard Morita and David Yamada, trainer Lino Pachecho and pilot Luke Plano. Sent off the 2-1 second choice in his first start since November 9 at Yonkers, he made a bold brush to the lead at the half and went on to a four-length decision in a snappy 1:52 2/5 final clocking. The 4-year-old son of No Pan Intended and the Life Sign mare Gingerbread Square is now just $7,000 shy of reaching the $200,000 earnings plateau and established his 1:51 1/5 standard earlier this season over the five-eighths Pocono Downs oval. He has been assigned the testing No. 10 post position. Leaving from the from the first six slots are Its Getting Hairy (Tim Maier); One And Only (Chip Lackey); Somethinginthewind (Gene Vallandingham); Stueben Jumpinjack (James Kennedy); Mobil Big John (Tyler Smith) and Emery Vern (Dave Siegel). The Bob Gordon Series will go as the third and fifth races on the card and the Gene Vallandingham barn is well represented with three performers in the first division and a pair in the second. He will guide After Alimony in the first and Party Cove in the other section. Looking at the distaff Invite, Show Runner is a daughter of Little Steven and the Tylers Mark mare Peace Runner who comes into this assignment with four straight wins and 18 snapshots overall from here 34 trips to the post. Denise Maier and Eileen Brodbar own with Tim Maier reigning and training. A 1:52 3/5 victress this summer at Running Aces, Show Runner is fresh from two Sire Stakes score, an Invitational victory and a dominating Open performance. Sent off the 1-9 chalk in last weeks stakes gathering, she made every pole a winning one while showing the way home by a length over arch-rival and pocket-sitting Strings. No matter how things shake out early, shell be tough right back. Mark Ratzky  

Tyler Smith, who this summer at age 20 became the youngest driver in harness racing history to reach 1,000 victories, is scheduled to drive here at Cal Expo for at least the next couple of months beginning Friday night. Smith, who will turn 21 in January, was the leading driver at the recently-concluded Hooiser Park meeting in Indiana and is currently plying his trade on a Monday-through-Thursday night basis over the half-mile Northfield Park oval in Ohio. That leaves his weekends free to catch a plane to California and try some Cal Expo action. I was driving for Bob Johnson this summer and he suggested I look into it, Smith related. After talking with (General Manager) Chris Schick I was very encouraged and excited about the opportunity. I actually prefer driving over a mile track. On a half-mile, post position can be a big handicap and you almost always have to be moving. I like the chance to be patient and think a little more out there. Smith has been making headlines for quite some time. When he was 12 he became the youngest to win a sub-2:00 race, driving Look Likely to victory in 1:59 1/5 in a matinee at the Delaware County Fairgrounds in his home state of Ohio. Smith began his career in 2009 and earned the Peter Haughton Memorial Award, which is bestowed to up-and-coming stars in the business. He recorded victory No.1,000 at Hoosier in August, eclipsing the record of Doug McNair who had notched his two weeks shy of his 21st birthday. Capturing the recent Hoosier Park crown was especially gratifying for the young pilot. I never dreamed of winning that meet going in, but everything came together perfectly and I was fortunate to be driving first call for some top barns. Invitational Trot, Sire Stakes head the program An Invitational Trot that finds Inside Broadway eyeing his fourth straight victory and a $10,000 California Sire Stakes for the 3-year-old trotters headed by Freedombird share the spotlight at Cal Expo Friday night. In an effort to even out the playing field a bit in the Invite Trot, racing secretary Fred Kuebler has assigned Inside Broadway the demanding No. 10 post position for this go-around, with his four rivals filling out the inside spots. Inside Broadway is going in razor-sharp form at the moment for his owner/trainer/breeder Bob Johnson and regular pilot James Kennedy. The 4-year-old son of Broadway Hall eyes the hat trick this weekend and has been putting his class and versatility on display during the streak. His first two decisions were on the front end, including a dead-heat with his half-brother Franks Best who will again be among his rivals. Kennedy changed tactics with Inside Broadway for the most recent score, as they sat a stalking trip before coming first-over for a two and a half-length victory. He set his mark last season with a 1:55 3/5 tour at Harrahs Philadelphia. Taking him on are his stablemate and half-brother Franks Best, who will have Mooney Svendsen giving directions; Axle with Dave Siegel guiding; Sharpshootennorris, to be handled by Steve Wiseman; and K D Amazin Spirit, who leaves from the cozy inside slot with Tim Maier in the sulky. Freedombird holds the aces in the Sire Stakes, which will go as a non-betting event prior to the regular program. The son of Panama Hanover is out of the popular mare Kimmie Girl and races for Melissa Erzene, trainer Gordie Graham and driver Luke Plano. Rounding out the field are Lightning Of Lodi, Tour Guide, More Tequila and Jewel Of Lodi. By Mark Ratzky for Cal Expo Harness  

Not only did Bob Johnson own, train and breed last weeks Invitational Trot dead-heat winners Franks Best and Inside Broadway, but these two top performers are half-brothers as they are out of the American Winner mare Inside Edition. They square off again Friday night. Inside Edition was an Open mare with a 1:57 2/5 mark at 4, but she developed an ankle infection which ended her career, Johnson related. She was retired at the Desomer Farm and bred to Armbro Scribe. The resulting foal was Franks Best, who was an absolute terror in Sire Stakes competition in his younger days and has continued his winning ways under Johnsons direction. He suits up Friday evening with $181,000 in his account and a 1:56 2/5 mark that was set last season over the Running Aces oval. Inside Edition was eventually sent back to Pennsylvania, and thats where she was bred to Broadway Hall two years later, Bob said. Inside Broadway won a few stakes in Pennsylvania and took his mark of 1:55 3/5. Both trotters competed this summer in Indiana and have been putting on a pretty good show for barn bragging rights through the first couple of months of this meeting. That last race was a real thrill, Johnson explained. To have these two horses dead-heat in an Invitational is a great feeling, especially having bred for both of them. Three bet specials each night A reminder that are there are three bets offered each night with a reduced 16 percent takeout rate the 50-cent Pick 5; the 20-cent Pick 4 and the 10-cent Hi-Five on the nightcap. To give you a better idea what this means in terms of dollars, the three payoffs on the November 15 card were $5,973 for the Pick 5; the Pick 4 clocked in at $1,954 and the Hi-Five returned $1,422. Using normal takeout rates, the Pick 5 would have dropped to $5,332 for a difference of $641 to each winner; the Pick 4 would have paid $1,744, meaning each ticket would have been worth $210 less; and the Hi-Five would have come in at $1,269, a difference of $153 for each winning combination. Sire Stakes, Invitational Trot get marquee treatment A $10,000 California Sire Stakes for 3-year-old fillies matching Show Runner and Strings and an Invitational Trot featuring last weeks dead-heating half-brothers Franks Best and Inside Broadway headline the Friday night action at Cal Expo. Show Runner is a daughter of Little Steven out of the Tylers Mark mare Peace Runner who is owned by Denise Maier and Eileen Brodbar with Tim Maier reining and training. She comes into this assignment with 16 wins from her 30 starts on the season, $88,000 in earnings and a 1:52 3/5 mark that was set this season at Running Aces. The bay miss has rattled off three straight impressive victories at this meet. She waltzed home by nearly four lengths in the Open on November 15; proved a punctual 1-2 choice in the most recent Sire Stakes clash two weeks ago and then absolutely crushed her rivals at the most recent asking in the Louis GG Perego Memorial under Maiers direction. Strings was second to Show Runner in that last stakes clash and once again looms the main rival for owner/breeders Wayne and Rod Knittel, trainer Bob Johnson and pilot Mooney Svendsen. The Hi Ho Silverheels offspring picked up her seventh win on the year in a conditioned affair last week and will attempt to turn the tables on the divisions top gun. Looking at the Invite Trot, Franks Best and Inside Broadway are owned, trained and were bred by Bob Johnson. Franks Best is a 6-year-old son of Armbro Scribe out of the American Winner mare Inside Edition, while Inside Broadway is a 4-year-old by Broadway Hall out of that fine mare. Mooney Svendsen guides Franks Best and James Kennedy handles Inside Broadway. Franks Best has a slew of Sire Stakes trophies on his mantle with $181,000 in the bank and a 1:56 2/5 lifetime standard that was established last season at Running Aces. He sports three victories from six appearances at this session, including that dead-heat for the top position with his barnmate at most recent asking. Inside Broadway has posed for pictures following three of his last four trips to the post under Kennedys guidance and the Johnson performer is looking to add to a $65,000 account. He was a 1:55 3/5 victor at Harrahs Philadelphia last season and figures to be up close and personal from the outset. By Mark Ratzky for Cal Expo Harness              

Horsemen across the country and Canada are coming to the aid of Anthony Coletta, who was seriously injured on November 17 in an accident at Harrah's Philadelphia racetrack, and Cal Expo is no exception. Steve Wiseman and Robin Clements have spearheaded local fundraising efforts for Coletta, who suffered critical head trauma along with a broken pelvis, hip and elbow. This will be the second weekend they will be raising money to help with the costs associated with his care and recovery. "I met Anthony at Plainridge in 2007," Wiseman related. "At the time he had just taken out his license and I did some driving for him. Over the years, we've become good friends and when I found out about this accident and his condition, I went to Robin and asked her if we could put together something to help." Steve was among the drivers who donated all of his driving fees last weekend, something which has been taking place at many harness tracks in the last two weeks. Anthony Coletta's good friend and fellow trainer Anthony Defransesco is coordinating these efforts. "Anthony has sent out wristbands that we will be selling this week for $5 each," Wiseman noted. "They will be available on both the backside and the frontside and hopefully we'll have a nice check to send from Cal Expo at the end of the week." CHHA horsemen's representative Robin Clements added, "When Steve told me about Anthony and wanting to help, I never blinked an eye. This was a tragic accident to a fellow horseman and driver with a bright future. We don't race for a lot out in California, but one thing about the horsemen out here, their hearts are huge! So when I started going around about the fundraiser everyone dug into their pockets! We all wish Anthony a speedy recovery and our thoughts and prayers are with him during this critical time." Watch and Wager LLC General Manager Chris Schick said, "It's great to see the harness industry rally for one of their own, and Cal Expo is happy to play even a small role in that effort." Pair of Invitationals, Sire Stakes headline program The Louis GG Perego Memorial Pace featuring Haggin Oaks and Show Runner; an Invitational Trot headed by Inside Broadway and Frank's Best and a $10,000 California Sire Stakes for the 3-year-old trotters are on tap at Cal Expo Friday night. Haggin Oaks and Show Runner are both going in razor-sharp form and drew for the assigned No. 7 and 8 posts the for the Perego Memorial. Haggin Oaks has accounted for three of her four appearances at the meet, with her only setback coming when she had a tough trip from the demanding 10 post two weeks ago and had to settle for second. James Kennedy reins and trains the mare for Shari Burns, Ferris Funk and Gerald Cimini. Show Runner is eying the hat trick Friday while gunning for her 16th win on the season from 30 outings for owners Denise Maier and Eileen Brodbar and driver/trainer Tim Maier. The 3-year-old daughter of Little Steven was a 1:52 3/5 victress at Running Aces this summer and is coming off a handy Sire Stakes last week over her peers. Rounding out the field are Lady's Art, to be handled by Chip Lackey; Cammi Place with Mooney Svendsen at the controls; and Sea Bug, who leaves from the cozy rail slot with Luke Plano guiding. Looking at the Invite Trot, Inside Broadway has accounted for two of the last three clashes at the head of the class for the division for owner/breeder/trainer Bob Johnson and pilot James Kennedy. He did the track and attack to get the job done on October 26, then took matters into his own hands at most recent asking with a game coast-to-coast decision. Frank's Best gives the Johnson barn another strong look at the outcome with Mooney Svendsen handling the lines. The 6-year-old son of Armbro Scribe comes into this assignment with a slew of stakes trophies on his mantle and $180,000 in earnings and has captured two of his five appearances at this meeting. Axle, K D Amazin Spirit, Silverlode and Sharpshootnnorris complete the cast. The Sire Stakes will go as a non-betting event prior to the regular program and they will line up this way: Jewel Of Lodi (Chip Lackey); Lightning Of Lodi (Pierre Girard); Tour Guide (Steve Desomer); Freedombird (Luke Plano) and More Tequila (James Kennedy).   By Mark Ratzky for Cal Expo Harness  

Friday's Watch and Wager LLC card at Cal Expo features some great opportunities for the players, including an $8,275 carryover with a $25,000-guaranteed gross pool in the 10-cent Hi Five. There is a reduced 16 percent takeout rate on that wager, the 50-cent Pick 5 and the 20-cent Pick 4. The Hi-Five is conducted on the 14th race finale with that guaranteed pool; the Pick 5 starts with the third race and the Pick 4 is made up of the last four races on the evening. First post for the 14-race card is 5:45 p.m. Last Saturday's Hi-Five saw Only In Lodi going coast-to-coast at 39-1 with Chip Lackey in the sulky and that trotter was followed home closely by the 27-1 Winsome Kelly with Pierre Girard, who also trained the winner. Rounding out the pentefecta were the 3-5 Cherry Tree Nicole, Hi Tech Tony and Hillcrest Romeo, with that combination resulting in no winning tickets and the $8,275 carryover. To get a better idea just how much that reduced 16 percent takeout rate means in terms of dollars, the three payoffs on last Friday night's program provide an excellent illustration. The Pick 5 paid a whopping $5,973; the Pick 4 clocked in at $1,954 and the Hi-Five returned $1,422. Using normal takeout rates, the Pick 5 would have dropped to $5,332 for a difference of $641 to each winner; the Pick 4 would have paid $1,744, meaning each ticket would have been worth $210 less; and the Hi-Five last Friday would have come in at $1,269, a difference of $153 for each winning combination. Racing lost a great racemare and producer with the passing of Ms Avondale this week. A hard knocking invitational mare by Beach Towel out of the New Zealand mare Kiwi River N, Ms. Avondale took a mark of 1:52 1/5 at this track, shattering the course record for sophomore pacing fillies with a standard that still stands today. Retired to the breeding shed, Ms Avondale proved her value as a broodmare, producing such top performers as California Dream (1.51 4/5, $160,108); Jersey Dream (1:52, $110,427) and Dream of New York (1:52.2/5, $61,199). California Dream also broke the track record over this layout at 3, and he and Ms Avondale are the only mother-son combination to currently hold track records at Cal Expo. Joe Lighthill finale, Sire Stakes on tap The $10,800 finale of the Joe Lighthill Trotting series finds likely favorite Silverlode squaring off against last week's upset winner Hooray Katie and the solid Tim Maier-trained pair of High Dollar and Portfolio; while Show Runner and Strings head the cast for the $10,000 California Sire Stakes for the 3-year-old pacing fillies Friday night at Cal Expo. The 14-race program also features a $4,500 Open Distaff Pace and Haggin Oaks will be looking to get back on the winning track in that affair after having her winning streak snapped last week while doing her work from the demanding No. 10 post position. Looking at the Lighthill final, Silverlode is a 4-year-old homebred daughter of British Sterling and the Website mare Charlotte's Web who carries the banner of Desomer Stables Inc with Vickie Desomer the conditioner and Steve Desomer at the controls. She comes into this assignment having posed following three of her 10 appearances on the year with another three runner-up finishes. The bay miss was a romping seven-length winner of her division of the opening leg, with the 1:58 final clocking establishing a new mark. Silverlode had to work quite a bit harder to get the job done in last week's penultimate Lighthill leg, making every pole a winning one while holding safe by a half-length over High Dollar. The latter trotter will give the Tim Maier barn two big looks at the outcome. High Dollar has narrowly missed in the first two legs and will have the services of her trainer, while Portfolio was just nailed on the money last week by Hooray Katie in his division and Daniel Maier will be in the sulky. Hooray Katie is 4-year-old daughter of Chip Chip Hooray who races for William Neumeister, takes her lessons from Bob Johnson and will once again be guided by Mooney Svendsen. She came rolling late to be up time over Portfolio last week at 13-1 while earning her first victory of the year. Show Runner is looking to add another trophy to her mantle in the Sire Stakes. The daughter of Little Steven races for Denise Maier and Eileen Brodbar with Tim Maier reining and training and she is fresh from a powerful victory in last week's Distaff Open. She has $80,000 in the bank and a 1:52 3/5 mark that was set at Running Aces in August. by Mark Ratzky for Cal Expo Harness  

If you're a regular fan of Cal Expo racing, watching Cherry Tree Nicole roll by the leaders in the stretch like she did last weekend is nothing new. The 7-year-old daughter of British Sterling was winning for 15th time from 29 appearances on the season, already topping the dozen photos she posed for last year. When she suits up Saturday night for Tim and Denise Maier, she will be seeking victory No. 55 from 160 trips to the post and she has definitely earned her $127,000 bankroll the old-fashioned way. "She doesn't like to be rushed, but she certainly knows where the wire is," driver/trainer Tim Maier related. "I don't believe Denise and I have ever raced a horse who won 30 races in two years, but she's on track to do it." Cherry Tree Nicole is out of the Cumin mare Yankee Reflection, who raced for the late Nicol Tremblay. "Alan Kirschenbaum named this one as a tribute to Nicol," Tim said. "In the past, we've taken her with us to Running Aces, but she doesn't like the smaller track so this summer we just kept her here and gave her a break." Tim and Denise also raced her sire British Sterling, who passed away recently and has been represented by some nice performers from limited opportunities. "I purchased him in Florida as a 4-year-old for Alan, because at the time he was looking for a trotter to drive in the amateur races. He turned out to be a very nice performer, and his strength was the fact he was good-gaited, honest and a big finisher." That sounds a lot like his daughter Cherry Tree Nicole, who will strut her stuff in the final race on Saturday. Not only does she do Tim and Denise proud, but the late Nicol Tremblay and Alan Kirschenbaum as well. A REMINDER THERE ARE THREE WAGERS EACH NIGHT WITH A REDUCED 16 PERCENT TAKEOUT RATE. THEY ARE THE 50-CENT PICK FIVE THAT BEGINS ON THE THIRD RACE; THE 20-CENT PICK 4 ON THE FINAL FOUR RACES; AND THE 10-CENT HI-FIVE ON THE NIGHTCAP. Sire Stakes, Open Pace hold the spotlight A $10,000 California Sire Stakes for the 3-year-old pacers with A Stitch In Time looming the solid choice and an Open Pace that finds Phantom Dan eyeing his fourth straight trip to the charmed enclosure are the main events on the Watch and Wager LLC program at Cal Expo Saturday night. A 13- race program is on tap, with the Open Pace set as the second contest on the evening while the Sire Stakes follows as the third race on the card. First post is set for 5:55 p.m. A Stitch In Time looms large in the Sire Stakes as the son of Kent's On Nuke comes into the assignment with nine victories from 14 starts and a 1:53 3/5 mark. He will be challenged by Hi Ho Disguise, Bit Player, Kablooie and Me Tarzan. In an effort to level out the playing field a bit in the Open Pace, racing secretary Fred Kuebler has assigned Phantom Dan the demanding No. 10 post position for this week's gathering at the head of the class. This will mean he will have quite a bit of separation at the start between himself and his four rivals. Phantom Dan is a 5-year-old son of Little Steven who hasn't been beaten to any of the poles in his last three trips to the post. James Kennedy owns, trains and drives this razor-sharp performer who has posted two of his scores in 1:54 2/5 and another in 1:55 flat while never looking like a loser in any of those outings. Off as the prohibitive 1-2 choice in his most recent appearance, Phantom Dan never looked like a loser as Kennedy buzzed him off the gate to command and he was able to moderate the fractions to his liking, coming home with a length and a quarter over Giant Sculpture that night. The latter was making his California debut for A Piece Of The Action LLC and driver/trainer Gene Vallandingham and has every right to make a move forward with a local effort under his belt. The son of Village Jolt was a 1:52 1/5 winner at Balmoral earlier this season. One And Only has gone a series of powerful miles over this layout and will appreciate having his main rival marooned in that outside slot. Lino Pacheco conditions the 5-year-old Bettor's Delight offspring for Richard Morita and David Yamada with Luke Plano once again handling the lines. By Mark Ratzky, publicity - Cal Expo Harness  

COLUMBUS, MN. - Despite a rain storm throughout the middle portion of the program, another huge throng of fans turned out for the final Running Aces program of the season and witnessed eleven Minnesota-sired State Champions crowned in $20,000 races for the various age, sex and gait divisions.  Running Aces average nightly handle increased for the sixth consecutive season since starting live racing in 2008, this year by 5%. Driver John De Long copped four races on the lucrative season finale, three for trainer Justin Anfinson.  Leading driver Nick Roland managed to capture a pair of victories as did Tim Maier, who was also awarded the leading trainer award for the meet. She's A Foxie Lady (De Long) won the two-year-old filly trot over Babygetyershineon (Jenni King) and CD's SOS (James Yoder).  She earned almost $36,000 for owner Jesse De Long by scoring four wins and three place finishes in ten outings. Delco Voracious (De Long) broke her own track record besting Flick A Fly (Rick Magee) and Dakota Law (Steve Wiseman) in 1:55.2 in the freshman pacing fillies split.  Also owned by Jesse De Long and trained by Anfinson, the outstanding filly has won six of eight starts and banked over $50,000. The two-year-old trotting colts division was won by Chewy Dunkerton (De Long) over ML's Journey (Craig Banks) and Al-Mar Passion (Magee) in 2:03.  With three wins and seven seconds in ten tries, the winner has bankrolled over $45,000 for owner Benjamin De Long. Cyber Cowboy (Maier) scored an upset in the freshman colt pace for owner Margaret Epp and trainer Dan Epp.  It was just the second seasonal score for the 1:59.1 winner, but he has finished in-the-money in eight of ten tries and banked $18,704 thus far.  Wounded Warrior (Mark Mintun) was the runnerup with Im So Handsome (Wiseman) getting the show dough. Just three three-year-old trotting fillies went to post in their $20,000 event with Rails Of Victory (Roland) besting Diamond Alliance (Lemoyne Svendsen) and Coffee Black (Ryan Lems) in 2:00.3.  Roland also owns the filly who has captured seven of 15 in her first year of racing and banked about $38,000. Razzle Be Dazzled (Magee) has been the queen of the sophomore pacing fillies class all season and didn't disappoint in the championship, winning in 1:58.2 over Rearin And Ready (Jason Ryan) and Whata Smoothie (Kerry Banks).  The Van Otterloo Stable owns the winner who has managed 11 wins in 14 starts and earned $60,000 in her second season.  David Flinn has conditioned her throughout the summer. Mnia Lightnpower (Maier) went best in the sophomore trotting colts split downing Al-Mar Delrailer (Roland) and French Eclipse (King) in 2:01.4.  Janice Molgaard and Dick McDanel own the state champion who has five wins and $42,000 bankrolled on the season.  He is tutored by Joel McDanel. Circle Me Bert (Lems) was an upset winner in the sophomore pacing colts division, besting Ben N Al (Yoder) and favored Reds Place (De Long) in 1:56.2.  Merlin and Kyle Van Otterloo own the winner and Wolfswinkel Pacers Inc. own the runnerup, but both are trained by Gene Miller.  Circle Me Bert more than doubled his lifetime earnings with his half of the $20,000 purse. 20,000 championships are also staged for older state-breds.  In the trotting division RA's Shakenbake (Roland) was a 2:00.3 winner over Switcheroo (Magee) and Rich Dessert (Maier).  Owned by the Trot Away Stable, the former two-year-old state champ was winless in his five-year-old campaign before his upset neck victory. Country Jewel (De Long) was part of a three-horse Roland Stable entry and managed a 1:54.4 score over Blazing Fury (Magee) and stablemate I Do It Myself (Roland).  The five-year-old mare, owned by Roland, won for the twelvth time in her career and increased her bankroll to $58,000.  The older horses and gelding pace was captured by recently claimed It's Getting Hairy, with Steve Wiseman driving for trainer Tim Maier and owner Denise Maier.  The four-year-old, plucked for $10,500 two starts back, bested Restless Yankee (Roland) and Ya U Bet Cha (Yoder) in an impressive 1:52.3.  It was the sixth season score for the winner who now boasts almost $70,000 in lifetime earnings. by Gregg Keidel

COLUMBUS, MN. - Trainer Don Sherman, enjoying an outstanding first season at Running Aces in Minnesota, reached a career milestone Wednesday night when he guided Funny Guy to a 1:56.1 score in a $3500 claiming event.  It was the 600th conditioning win in a career that has spanned twenty years.  Although this is Sherman's fourth consecutive season with a UTRS average well over .300, it is his first with stable earnings well over $250,000.   Sherman will finish second in the trainer standings at Running Aces, which closes after Saturday's $220,000 Minnesota State Championships program, with 32 triumphs and a 20% win percentage. Funny Guy is owned by Jessica Roegner, who also serves as Sherman's second trainer.  The six-year-old gelding has won three times and had three place finishes in eight starts since claiming the horse in early July. The featured race on the penultimate card for 2013 was an $8925 Open Trot captured by Salutation Hanover (Nick Roland) over Rich Dessert (Tim Maier) and Franky Provolone (Steve Wiseman).  The 1:56.3 clocking gave the winner his second open company score at Running Aces and increased his lifetime bankroll to over $650,000.  Brett Ballinger trains the seven-year-old stud for Dr. Patrick Graham. Eleven $20,000 races for Minnesota-sired horses in various age, sex and gait categories will comprise the season finale at Running Aces on Saturday.  Post time is 7:00 PM (CST).  Gregg Keidel

COLUMBUS, MN. - Al-Mar Passion, who owner-trainer-driver Rick Magee calls "the best trotter I've ever sat behind", cruised to a 2:01.2 triumph on Tuesday night at Running Aces, besting Chewy Dunkerton (Steve Wiseman) and She's A Foxie Lady (John DeLong).  The $13,500 state-restricted two-year-old trot was the final prep for the freshman squaregaiters before the August 31 Minnesota State Championships Night when 11 different $20,000 races will be contested to determine Gopher State champions in each age, sex and gait division. Six Gun regained his winning ways in a $9900 Open Pace scoring in 1:52.1, his fourth score at Running Aces this summer, including an all-time all-age track record of 1:50.4 on July 16th.  Jason Ryan, just returned to Minnesota after a week on Prince Edward Island (where he finished third in the prestigious Gold Cup and Saucer), trains and drives the gray gelding for owner Anthony Artuso. Armbro David (DeLong) was a fast-closing second with Steuben Jumpinjack (Wiseman) completing the trifecta. The ultra-consistent Show Runner, the unquestioned queen of Running Aces despite being only three years old, bested the older mare pacers again in an $8925 Fillies and Mares Open.  Trainer-driver Tim Maier made a bold move to the front nearing the half and maintained an open lengths margin the rest of the way until stopping the teletimer in 1:52.3.  Show Runner now has seven wins, three place and one show finishes in 11 local appearances in Minnesota for owners Denise Maier and Eileen Brodbar.  Passion R Virginie (Ryan) and Still Electric (DeLong) were second and third. Gregg Keidel

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