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Vernon, N.Y. -- A pair of $6,500 upper-level conditioned events--one for trotters, one for pacers--headlined the Memorial Day (May 25) harness racing program at Vernon Downs, with Jersey Boy ($4.40) and UF Bettors Hanover ($16.40) proving best on their respective gaits.   The Turn N Burn Stable's Jersey Boy made an early push to the lead in the trotting feature, but was rebuffed by McKenzie's Star (Fern Paquet, Jr.) through a :27.3 first quarter. The two battled side-by-side for the majority of the race, until Jersey Boy pushed clear in the final eighth, drawing off by three lengths for a 1:54.4 triumph. My Buddy Hall Lee (Roman Lopez) stayed on from the pocket to take third.   Josh Kinney drove the 6-year-old Yankee Glide gelding for trainer Jessica Okusko.   UF Bettors Hanover ($16.40) sprung a mild upset in the afternoon's pacing feature, swinging three-wide off dueling leaders A Fool For Mark (Dustin Ingraham) and Lilys Real Boy (Fern Paquet, Jr.) en route to a 1-1/4 length win. The 5-year-old Bettor's Delight gelding sprinted clear of the late-closing Relentless Dreamer (Brian Connor) for a 1:51.4 victory in rein to Justin Huckabone.   Trainer Scott West co-owns UF Bettors Hanover with Katie Currie.   Live racing returns at Vernon on Friday (May 29) evening, with first post scheduled for 6:45 p.m. Eastern time.   by James Witherite, Vernon Downs

Vernon, N.Y. -- Sent off the prohibitive 2-5 favorite, Barn Doll ($2.90) sustained a push to the fore on the far turn, drawing clear for a 1:54 triumph in her $40,600 New York Sire Stakes event for harness racing 3-year-old trotting fillies on Saturday (May 23) evening at Vernon Downs.   The daughter of Conway Hall and Headintheclouds settled in midpack early on, as Magic City (Jeff Gregory) cleared the lead through a :28 initial quarter. On the backstretch, Jimmy Whittemore angled Barn Doll second-over behind the cover of Frou Frou (Jim Morrill, Jr.), but was ultimately left uncovered after a :57.2 half mile as Frou Frou cleared. Despite no longer having the aid of cover, Barn Doll continued progressing, pushing clear on the far turn and drawing clear of Frou Frou by 3-1/2 lengths in the end. Stirling Debutant (Rick Zeron) sustained a move on the far turn to take third, just missing Frou Frou in a late battle for second.   Trainer Steven Pratt co-owns Barn Doll with Nancy Pratt and the Purple Haze Stables.   Lock Down Lindy ($3.80, Rick Zeron, 1:54.3) and Concentration ($10.00, Chris Lems, 1:56.3) also proved victorious in their Sire Stakes divisions.   Vernon Downs is dark for racing on Sunday, but hosts a 13-race program on Memorial Day (Monday, May 25). Post time is scheduled for 1:15 p.m. Eastern time.   by James Witherite, Vernon Downs

Nichols, N.Y. -- Top New York-sired 3-year-old fillies and a collection of the finest 4-year-old pacers and trotters in harness racing head to Upstate New York for Memorial Day weekend, as they headline the weekend's racing at Tioga and Vernon Downs. Saturday (May 23) evening's card at Vernon Downs features three divisions of the New York Sire Stakes ($110,000 added) for 3-year-old trotting fillies, with first-round winners Lindy Land (John MacDonald) and Magic City (Jeff Gregory) squaring off in the second-division eighth race. Shaqline (Jim Morrill, Jr.), also a winner in last week's opening Sire Stakes round at Tioga, does battle in a full field of nine in the opening split, carded as race seven. Stakes action shifts to Tioga on Monday (May 25) afternoon, with the new Graduate Series for 4-year-olds kicking off on the Memorial Day program. Eleven trotters and thirteen pacers were split into two divisions for each gait, and each split carries a purse of $37,500. Last year's top three-year-old trotting filly Shake It Cerry (Jimmy Takter) will try to beat the boys, facing Datsyuk (Charlie Norris)--who beat Father Patrick in the Tompkins Stakes at Tioga last year--and Gural Hanover (Jim Morrill, Jr.) in their five-horse fifth race. The pacing divisions of the Graduate see Cane Pace winner Lyonssomewhere (Andy Miller) and Little Brown Jug winner Limelight Beach (Yannick Gingras) draw separate divisions, contesting races 9 and 11, respectively. In addition, Monday's Tioga program features the New York Sire Stakes ($110,000 added) for 3-year-old pacing fillies, and the sensational JK She'salady (Tim Tetrick) makes her much-awaited seasonal debut for trainer Nancy Johansson after sweeping all 12 of her races last year. She has been installed the 3-5 morning line favorite in the $31,050 eighth race. Both racetracks feature fireworks displays this weekend, taking place after the races on Saturday (May 23) at Vernon and Sunday (May 24) evening at Tioga. Likewise, on Memorial Day (Monday, May 25), fans can receive a camouflage baseball cap at both tracks (while supplies last), with the hat giveaway beginning an hour before first post. by James Witherite, Tioga/Vernon Downs

Vernon, N.Y. -- Michael Casalino's Purity ($6.60) was never in doubt, sprinting off through a :55.1 back half to soundly defeat her four rivals in Friday (May 22) evening's $10,000 harness racing Mares Open Pace at Vernon Downs.   The four-year-old Always a Virgin mare had no trouble securing the top spot from her inside post, rating a soft :57.4 first half mile while facing nary a challenger. On the far turn, she edged clear of pocket sitting The Filly Princess (Chris Lems) and first-over Always As Fast (Joe Nassimos), opening up the margin to two lengths through a :27.2 third quarter. Off the corner, Purity continued to amass a clear advantage over the others, ultimately putting 6-3/4 lengths on The Filly Princess for a 1:53 triumph. Tiger Boudoir (Truman Gale) held third off a tracking trip.   Jimmy Whittemore drove Purity for trainer Jeff Lieberman. For Whittemore, the win was one of three on the night, also teaming up with Thats My Dream ($7.80, 1:57) and Incredible Gambler ($5.30, 1:54.2). John MacDonald also recorded a driving hat trick, victorious aboard Precious Rose N ($5.30, 1:56.2), Pancakes ($3.20, 1:55.4), and Sistas ($8.30, 1:59.1) on the 11-race card.   Racing returns to Vernon Downs on Saturday (May 23) evening, with the first of 11 races due for a 6:45 p.m. start. Three-year-old trotting fillies take center stage in New York Sire Stakes action, with 25 trotters contesting three divisions. by James Witherite, Vernon Downs

Clearing his four harness racing rivals early on, A Fool For Mark ($4.30) kicked clear on the far turn and remained elusive on the lead in a $6500 upper-level conditioned pace at Vernon Downs on Sunday (May 17) afternoon.   Owner/trainer/driver Dustin Ingraham sent the nine-year-old Western Ideal gelding right to the front, controlling a :54.2 first half mile while tracked by Giant Sculpture (Roman Lopez). On the far turn, A Fool For Mark kicked clear, leaving Giant Sculpture four lengths behind through a :27.4 third quarter. As Giant Sculpture faded in upper stretch, A Fool For Mark had amassed enough of a margin to stave off late challengers UF Bettors Hanover (Justin Huckabone) and The Green Knight (John MacDonald), both of whom rallied from the back of the pack to finish second and third respectively. A Fool For Mark ultimately held clear by two lengths, wrapping up his winning mile in 1:50.3.   Live racing returns to Vernon Downs on Friday (May 22) evening, with first post scheduled for 6:45 p.m. Eastern time.   by James Witherite, Vernon Downs

Making her return to the races after she spent her two-year-old season in the shadows of JK She'salady, Sassa Hanover ($2.70) proved dominant in her harness racing sophomore debut, trouncing six other three-year-old pacing fillies in her $30,450 New York Sire Stakes event on Saturday (May 16) evening at Vernon Downs.   The Rock N Roll Heaven-Sayo Hanover filly was a fair bit off the early pace, tracking from midfield as Mosquito Hanover (Chris Lems) and Not Before Eight (John MacDonald) alternated on the lead through a :55.2 initial half mile. On the backstretch, Andy McCarthy moved Sassa Hanover off the pegs, commencing a strong push to the fore well before reaching the far turn. Upon clearing Not Before Eight, Sassa Hanover was faced with a first-over challenge from Bossers Joy (Greg Merton), but she quickly dismissed that rival, kicking clear to a 5-1/2 length victory in 1:51. Bossers Joy narrowly held second from Not Before Eight, who labored late after chasing from the pocket.   Trainer Ron Burke's Burke Racing Stable co-owns seven-time winner Sassa Hanover with the Panhellenic Stable, the Weaver Bruscemi partnership, and Larry Karr.   Daughters of Bettor's Delight took two of the other three Sire Stakes splits, with Bettorhaveanother ($22.40, Chris Lems, 1:51) and Bettor Be Steppin ($3.50, Corey Callahan, 1:51.3) proving victorious. Art Major filly Moonlit Dance ($13.00, Joe Pavia, Jr., 1:52.1) rounded out the quartet of Sire Stakes winners on the evening's program.   Live racing returns to Vernon Downs on Sunday (May 17) afternoon, with first post time set for 1:15 p.m.   by James Witherite, Vernon Downs

Taking advantage of a pocket trip behind the pace-setting Purity, Let's Go Higher ($3.80) struck the front in upper-stretch, holding clear of a late bid from The Filly Princess to win Friday evening's (May 15) featured $10,000 Mares Open Pace at the harness racing meeting at Vernon Downs. Simon Allard settled into the pocket with the seven-year-old Cole Muffler mare, drafting behind 17-1 outsider Purity (Claude Huckabone, Jr.) through sectionals of :26.4, :55.1, and 1:23.1. At the top of the stretch, Let's Go Higher vacated the pocket, pushing clear of a tiring Purity at the eighth pole and edging clear by 1-3/4 lengths in 1:50.2. The Filly Princess (Truman Gale) rallied late off a tracking trip to take second, while Table Talk (Bart Dalious) kicked cover to take third after racing from the back of the pack early.   Heidi Rohr trains Let's Go Higher for owner Jesse DeLong.   Saturday evening's 14-race pari-mutuel card features four divisions of the New York Sire Stakes for three-year-old pacing fillies, with Ron Burke trainee Sassa Hanover (2-1 morning line favorite, Andy McCarthy up) making her three-year-old debut in the evening's $30,450 fifth race. Post time is 6:45 p.m., with a non-wagering Excelsior event carded for 6:30 p.m. James Witherite

First-over was the place to be in a pair of late closer finals at the harness racing meeting at Vernon Downs on Sunday (May 10) afternoon, as Hollywood Jess ($2.90) and Lilys Real Boy ($8.70) employed identical tactics in their respective victories. In the $15,400 Catherine Burton final for trotters, Chris Lems settled fourth with Hollywood Jess, stalking dueling leaders P L Humanity (Jimmy Whittemore) and Blue Skies Craze (Truman Gale) before commencing a first-over bit at race's midpoint. With P L Humanity rating a :56.3 half mile, Hollywood Jess advanced on the far turn, working her way to the lead just before reaching three-quarters in 1:25.3. As the three-year-old Conway Hall filly began to edge clear of a tiring P L Humanity, Blue Skies Craze angled wide from the pocket to give late chase. Hollywood Jess held sway by two lengths for a 1:55.2 score over Blue Skies Craze. Suzy Smart (Homer Hochstetler) made a late push to take third off a ground-saving trip. Trainer David Dewhurst co-owns Hollywood Jess with Philip Hale. Likewise in the $11,900 Anthony Farina final for pacers, eventual winner Lilys Real Boy drafted from fourth early on, commencing his move on the backstretch well after Hot Lemonade (half of the odds-on entry, John MacDonald up) pushed clear following a :26.3 initial quarter. With the pace still sizzling through a :54.3 half mile, Fern Paquet, Jr. steadily advanced on the far turn with Lilys Real Boy, nearing level terms with Hot Lemonade a quarter from home and subsequently kicking clear. The four-year-old Real Artist gelding drew off by 3-1/4 lengths, holding clear of a late-rallying Speaking Out (Chris Lems) for a 1:51.2 victory. I Won't Give Up (Claude Huckabone, III) was elevated to fourth after third-place finisher Fashion Maven was disqualified for causing interference to the second-over Tarport Andy in the stretch. Allie Berube trains Lilys Real Boy for owner-breeder Michael Biel.   On the Mother's Day undercard, JK Panache ($3.10, Chris Lems) withstood constant pressure for a 1:48.4 win in an $8,000 upper-level conditioned pace, holding off a late charge from pocket rival Dragon Fever (John MacDonald). Lems led all drivers with four wins on the ten-race card.   Live racing returns to Vernon Downs on Friday (May 15) evening, with first post at 6:45 p.m.   James Witherite

Nichols, NY -- Just a week off his 1:52.1 track record outing, Bourbon Bay ($3.10) delivered yet another scintillating harness racing performance, bottoming out his six rivals with a 1:52.2 triumph in Saturday (May 9) evening's featured $14,000 Open Trot at Tioga Downs.   The four-year-old Sand Vic gelding wasted no time, establishing the early lead sharply and setting a torrid pace--one he would sustain for much of the mile. After cutting a pair of identical :27.2 quarter-miles, John Cummings, Jr. called upon Bourbon Bay to accelerate up the backstretch, opening up seven lengths on Detroit Rapper (Jim Meittinis) through three-quarter split of 1:21.3. While the :26.4 third quarter proved more taxing on his six pursuers, Bourbon Bay eventually tired in mid-stretch, trotting home in a :30.4 final quarter while still 7-3/4 lengths clear of his nearest rival. Wisenheimer (Tom Jackson) rallied wide of tiring foes in the final stages to take second, while Detroit Rapper tired to third after chasing throughout.   Bourbon Bay is under lease to his driver, while Megan Wilson handles the training duties of the 15-time winner.   Cummings scored a driving triple on the night, prevailing as well with Island Charm ($19.20, 1:59.3) and Hold On Tightly ($15.80, 1:56.4). Dan Clements recorded a hat trick as well, victorious aboard Typical Newyorker ($11.20, 1:58.4), Oho Diamond ($2.70, 1:58.1), and Write That Down ($5.80, 1:55.1).   A Penny Earned caps Lems grand slam at Vernon   Vernon, NY -- Driver Chris Lems had the hot hand at Vernon Downs on Saturday (May 9) evening, with a victory from A Penny Earned ($3.50) in the evening's $10,000 Open Trot headlining his driving grand slam.   After earning decisive open-length victories earlier in the evening with odds-on favorites High Rise ($2.40, 1:57.4), Silver Fox J ($3.80, 1:54.1), and Sweet Thing ($3.30, 1:55.3), Lems secured the pocket with A Penny Earned in the featured finale, drafting behind Lutetium (Jimmy Whittemore) through a sensibly measured pace of :27.4, :57.4, and 1:26.2. In mid-stretch, Lems vacated the pocket with A Penny Earned, pouncing in the final yards to prevail by a length in 1:54.1 over Lutetium. War Hero (Howard Okusko, Jr.) tracked the top pair throughout, staying on to hold third.   Trainer George Ducharme co-owns A Penny Earned with Alfred Ross, Paul Fontaine, and Nicola Oliva.   Live racing returns to both Tioga and Vernon Downs tomorrow (Sunday, May 10), with afternoon cards at both locations. Vernon kicks off their 10-race Mother's Day program at 1:15 p.m., while the first of 12 races at Tioga is slated for a 1:30 p.m. departure.   by James Witherite, Tioga/Vernon Downs  

Vernon, NY -- Taking advantage of a perfect pocket trip, Kelly Hope's Little Santamonica ($4.10) employed potent closing kick en route to a 1:51.2 victory in the harness racing featured $10,000 Mares Open Pace on Friday (May 8) evening at Vernon Downs.   The seven-year-old Little Steven mare sprinted to the lead early, yielding to even-money favorite Southwind Trini (Greg Merton) just after a :27.3 initial quarter. With clear sailing from the pocket through a :56.4 middle half, Chris Lems started his bid with Little Santamonica in upper stretch, pushing clear immediately upon asking. The pair drew off in a :26.4 final quarter to defeat Southwind Trini by 1-1/2 lengths, while The Filly Princess (Roman Lopez) made a late push to take third.   Jordan Hope trains Little Santamonica, who earned her 33rd career win.   While Chris Lems teamed up with Table Games ($7.50, 1:53.4) later in the card to complete a driving double, John MacDonald earned top driving honors with three wins of the night. He teamed up with Odds On Cygnus ($6.80, 1:54.2), Pancakes ($11.80, 1:52), and My Lucky Word ($3.40, 1:58.1) for his driving hat trick.   Pacing mares likewise took center stage at Tioga Downs, with a pair of $6,800 co-featured conditioned events sharing top billing for the evening. The Perkins Racing Stable's Addys Way ($2.80) did not look back after an early push to the fore, sprinting away through a :27.4 third quarter en route to a 1:52.1 victory over K J's Caroline (Jim Taggart, Jr.). Leading driver Mike Simons handled the driving duties aboard the Camluck mare for trainer Daniel Gill. The other co-featured event saw Elizabeth Bluechip ($11.60) sustain a late push off cover, just collaring Rosie de Vie (Henrik Lundell) in a 1:53.4 mile. Trainer Jeffrey Long was in the bike behind the late-rallying Bettor's Delight mare.   Live racing returns to both Vernon and Tioga on Saturday (May 9) evening. Post time at Tioga is 6:15 p.m., while racing at Vernon kicks off at 6:45 p.m.   by James Witherite, Vernon and Tioga Downs  

Vernon, NY -- A pair of late-closing series finals headline the week's harness racing action at Vernon Downs, while the speedy Bourbon Bay looks to reprise his track record effort at Tioga Downs in an Open trotting event. Sunday (May 10) marks the first afternoon card at Vernon for the season, and the ten-race program is headlined by the finals of the Catherine Burton Trotting Series and the Anthony Farina Pacing Series. The Burton final (race 7), carrying a purse of $15,400, attracted a field of eight trotters, all of whom raced in a pair of preliminary events. David Dewhurst trainee Hollywood Jess (post 1) is the likely favorite, having swept both her preliminaries and most recently battling stoutly for a 1:57 win. Chris Lems is listed to drive the three-year-old Conway hall filly. Other top contenders include Blue Skies Craze (post 6, Truman Gale), who comes in off a 1:56.2 win, and Act of Valor (post 2, Claude Huckabone, III), who sustained a rally from well off the pace for a 1:58.4 triumph last week. The Farina final (race 9) will be contested for $11,900, with a full field of nine pacers slated to go to post. A pair of Homer Hochstetler trainees are likely to lead the charge, with Hot Lemonade (post 1, John MacDonald listed) in search of a series sweep. The three-year-old Rock N Roll Heaven filly showed strong late pace in a pair of preliminary wins, turning in 1:54.2 and 1:53.2 triumphs in her divisions. Her entrymate Speaking Out (post 8, Chris Lems listed) earned a 1:55.1 win from off the pace last week, improving well off a second-place effort in the first preliminary. Here Comes Thunder (post 3, Frank Davis) also seeks to play a major role, staying on for strong second- and third-place finishes in both preliminaries, chasing Hot Lemonade on both occasions. While late-closing finals headline action at Vernon, a pair of $14,000 Open events share top billing in the Southern Tier at Tioga Downs. Saturday (May 9) evening's Open Trot features the return of Bourbon Bay (2-1 morning line favorite), who sprinted clear to a 1:52.1 victory in last week's Open. As a result, he broke the track record for trotters, previously held by top distaffer Charmed Life. Lessee John Cummings, Jr. once again will handle the driving duties for trainer Megan Wilson. Open pacers vie for $14,000 in Sunday (May 10) afternoon's feature at Tioga, with western New York standout Fireyourguns (post 1, Aaron Byron listed) squaring off against Prairie Jaguar (post 2, Jim Marohn, Jr.) and stakes winner Unlocked (post 5, Brandon Simpson). Fireyourguns won his seasonal debut at Buffalo last week, wiring Open company in 1:53.3, while Prairie Jaguar steps up to the open ranks off his local 1:51.4 victory. Unlocked won 6 of 18 races as a three-year-old, including the $145,000 Langley stake at Balmoral last September. The Erv Miller trainee makes his local debut off a sharp 1:53.3 qualifier at Harrah's Philadelphia. Live racing at both Vernon and Tioga now takes place on Friday and Saturday evenings, along with Sunday afternoons. Vernon post times are 6:45 (evenings) and 1:15 (Sunday afternoons), while Tioga races at 6:15 (evenings) and 1:30 (Sunday afternoons). by James Witherite, Vernon/Tioga Downs

Nichols, NY -- Enjoying a solid form spree in early-year stakes events on the Woodbine Entertainment Group circuit, Bourbon Bay ($7.30) shipped south to Tioga Downs as one of six entrants in the Opening Day (May 2) harness racing feature, leaving the other five in his wake en route to a 1:52.1 score in the $14,000 Open Trot.   The four-year-old Sand Vic gelding allowed Deacons Valley to clear the front early, powering to the fore after a :27.1 first quarter and not looking back. After clearing the lead and continuing through a :55.3 half, lessee-driver John Cummings Jr. opened up on the field with Bourbon Bay, amassing a three-length lead through a :27.1 third quarter and holding that margin through the far turn. While 3-5 favorite Twin B Spike Man (Mike Simons) mounted a rally off the far turn, he could only gain into second, 1-3/4 lengths in arrears of Bourbon Bay's 1:52.1 track record performance. Deacons Valley faded to third after chasing from the pocket.   Megan Wilson handles the training duties of Bourbon Bay, who cored his 14th career win in 30 starts. The 5/8-mile track, rated "fast" for the Opening Day 10-race card, was truly fast, with seven winners equaling or improving upon their lifetime marks. While Mike Simons couldn't prevail with Twin B Spike Man in the featured event, he registered five wins on the program, scoring with My Muscleman ($6.00, 1:55), Lightning Paige ($3.90, 1:54), Twain Drive ($3.50, 1:57.2), Crazy Eyes ($5.50, 1:56.2), and J R Jazz ($9.30, 1:57.1).   Panpero Firpo upsets in Vernon feature; MacDonald and Hochstetler sweep Farina splits   Vernon, NY -- After mustering just minor shares in recent tries against top Saratoga company, Panpero Firpo ($19.00) employed a change of tactics in tonight's $10,000 Open Pace at Vernon Downs, closing the pocket behind dueling leaders before pouncing in deep stretch for a 1:51.4 score.   The five-year-old No Pan Intended entire drafted behind an extended duel between JK Panache (Chris Lems) and Talking Blues (Frank Davis), sitting just off them through the first three-quarters of the mile while boxed in by a second-over Damon Blue Chip (John MacDonald), last week's Open winner. At the top of the stretch, with Talking Blues beginning to fade, Brett Crawford made his move with Panpero Firpo, taking over late and holding off Damon Blue Chip for a 1:51.4 triumph. JK Panache was a worn-down third after enduring steady pressure.   Trainer Jackie Rousse owns 16-time winner Panpero Firpo in partnership with Bill Reepmeyer.   Additionally, a pair of $4,000 second-round divisions of the Anthony Farina pacing series were contested, with trainer Homer Hochstetler and driver John MacDonald teaming up on both winners. Hot Lemonade ($2.40) pushed clear and turned aside a stiff challenge from Flight Again (Truman Gale) for a 1:53.2 victory in the first division, while Speaking Out ($5.80) sustained an uncovered bid to take the second division in 1:55.1. The Anthony Farina series final is scheduled for Mother's Day (May 10) along with the Catherine Burton trotting series final.   Live racing returns at Tioga Downs on Sunday (May 3) afternoon, with a 1:30 p.m. first post, while Vernon Downs resumes racing action on Friday (May 8) evening at 6:45 p.m.   by James Witherite, Tioga/Vernon Downs

Vernon Downs hosted a pair of $10,000 Open events on their Friday (May 1) night 13-race harness racing card, with distaff pacer Purity ($6.00) and trotter A Penny Earned ($3.60) taking top honors for the night.   Five pacing mares contested the $10,000 Mares Open Pace in race two, with two of the five entering off wins in their most recent outings. Those two--Purity (Claude Huckabone, III) and Seascape Hanover (Jimmy Whittemore) ultimately squared off on the far turn, well after Purity was used hard in establishing the lead through a :54.3 first half mile. With three-eighths to go, Whittemore moved 3-5 favorite Seascape Hanover first-over out of third, sustaining an extended press but proving unable to collar Purity through the stretch. The four-year-old Always a Virgin mare prevailed by three-quarters of a length in 1:52 over Seascape Hanover, while Kardashian (Truman Gale) stayed on for third after pressing the pace early.   Kevin Hough trains Purity for owner Michael Casalino, Jr.   While the favorite could not quite prevail in the Mares Open Pace, the $10,000 Open Trot saw A Penny Earned (Chris Lems) wear down Lutetium (Jimmy Whittemore) for a scant 1:54 victory in the evening's eighth race. A Penny Earned secured the pocket early, outsprinted by Lutetium through a :26.3 initial quarter. Lutetium would race uncontested through an easy 58.4 middle half, but found himself bracing for the oncoming threat of A Penny Earned at the top of the stretch--and the threat of Big Chocolate (Homer Hochstetler), who drafted behind the top pair throughout before fanning three-wide off the far turn. Battling gamely through the stretch, A Penny Earned took the lead from Lutetium 70 yards from the winning post, subsequently withstanding a stand-side charge from Big Chocolate, who missed by a scant neck.   Winning trainer George Ducharme co-owns the six-year-old Conway Hall gelding with Alfred Ross, Paul Fontaine, and Nicola Oliva.   In addition to the evening's pair of Open events, four $4,000 divisions of the second round of the Catherine Burton trotting series were held. Only Hollywood Jess ($5.50, Chris Lems) swept her preliminary legs, battling stoutly with Write That Down (Fern Paquet, Jr.) through quite literally every step of a 1:57 mile before holding clear of a late-closing Azucar (Gaetan Brunet). Blue Skies Craze ($18.40, Truman Gale, 1:56.2), Tango Pirate ($15.20, Gale, 1:57.1), and Act of Valor ($3.30, Claude Huckabone, III, 1:58.4) also were triumphant in their splits. Live racing returns to Vernon Downs on Saturday (May 2), with first post slated for 5:10 p.m. by James Witherite, Vernon Downs 

Vernon, NY -- Commencing a rally out of last with five-sixteenths of the mile to go, Damon Blue Chip ($44.00) stunned harness racing fans in Saturday (April 25) evening's $10,000 Open Pace at Vernon Downs, passing every other horse in the race to just prevail.   The six-year-old Rocknroll Hanover gelding came away last of the field of five, allowing odds-on favorite Ashley's Husband (Fern Paquet, Jr.) to establish solid early sectional times of :26.2 and :55. Before entering the far turn, Ashley's Husband felt strong pressure from the first-over JK Panache (Chris Lems), and John MacDonald moved Damon Blue Chip off the pegs from last as the top pair dueled through a :27.3 third quarter. Ultimately carried four-wide at the top of the stretch, Damon Blue Chip was urged to gobble up ground through the stretch, prevailing in the final yards over a game Ashley's Husband. JK Panache flattened at the top of the stretch, narrowly holding third.   MacDonald, also the winning trainer, co-owns Damon Blue Chip with the J P Stables.   The featured event was the cornerstone of a driving grand slam for MacDonald, who also prevailed with another trainee of his, Dragon Fever ($6.40, 1:52). The Green Knight ($6.90, 1:53.2) and Hot Lemonade ($4.70, 1:54.2) rounded out MacDonald's quartet of driving wins on the evening's 13-race card.   The aforementioned Hot Lemonade was one of two winners in the first round of the Anthony Farina Pacing Series, pouncing from the pocket to defeat Sweet Bobbie (Chris Lems) in their division. Lilys Real Boy ($7.10) took the other $4,000 split, carried wide when circling to the fore early before kicking clear to a 6-1/4 length 1:53.2 victory with Fern Paquet, Jr. in the bike.   Live racing returns to Vernon Downs on Friday evening, with first post scheduled for 6:45 p.m. EDT.   by James Witherite, Vernon Downs  

A Penny Earned triumphs in Open trot, hat tricks for Lems and Dewhurst. After only mustering a fourth-place finish in his harness racing seasonal debut last week, A Penny Earned ($4.10) was quick to right the ship, taking Friday (April 24) evening's $10,000 Open Trot at Vernon Downs in 1:56.2.   The six-year-old Conway Hall gelding secured the pocket early behind Grey Ice (Jimmy Whittemore), brushing to a clear lead just upon entering the clubhouse turn. After exerting himself a bit to assume command through a :28.2 first quarter, he faced no pressure through a :31 stroll through the second. He was forced to pick up the pace on the far turn, as defending Open winner War Hero (Howard Okusko, Jr.) offered up mild first-over pressure. A Penny Earned would not be denied tonight, kept to task by Chris Lems to hold clear of War Hero by 1-1/4 lengths. Jaipur (Fern Paquet, Jr.) was urged to take third in deep stretch after loosely tracking War Hero's cover on the far turn.   Trainer George Ducharme co-owns the 22-time winner A Penny Earned with Alfred Ross, Paul Fontaine, and Nicola Oliva.   The win was one of three on the night for Lems, who was also victorious aboard David Dewhurst trainees Hollywood Jess ($9.00, 1:59.4) and Kyler's Valentine ($5.10, 1:55.3) earlier on the card. Dewhurst's training hat trick was completed by The African ($14.00, 2:00), who was driven to victory by John MacDonald in the opener.   The African and Hollywood Jess earned their respective victories in two of four first-round divisions of the Catherine Burton Trotting Series, with each split carrying a $4,000 purse. The other two division winners were Deadhead Royalty ($6.20), driven by Howard Okusko, Jr. for a late-rallying 1:59.2 score, and Julmyra ($16.20), who pounced up the inside from a pocket trip in rein to trainer-driver Brett Crawford.   Live racing returns on Saturday evening, with a 13-race card slated to kick off at 6:45 p.m. EDT. A $10,000 Open Pace takes top billing, along with the first round of the Anthony Farina Pacing Series.   by James Witherite, Vernon Downs

Vernon, NY -- A pair of $10,000 Open events are among the harness racing highlights at Vernon Downs this week, along with the opening rounds of the Catherine Burton and Anthony Farina late-closing series.   Friday (April 24) evening's Open Trot attracted a field of seven, and has been carded as the evening's seventh of twelve races. Howard Gill's War Hero (2-1 morning line) has been assigned the outside post after his 4-1/2 length win in last week's Open Trot, turning in a 1:55.2 effort in his seasonal debut. Howard Okusko, Jr. once again will handle the driving duties for trainer Jessica Okusko. Among those looking to defeat the seven-year-old Ken Warkentin gelding are Grey Ice (8-1 ML, Jimmy Whittemore), who set the pace last week before collared by War Hero, and Ozymandias (Roman Lopez), who charged from the back of the pack to finish third. Last season's Trotter of the Year A Penny Earned (Chris Lems) also comes back, looking to redeem himself off a fourth-place effort in last week's Open. Joining the Open ranks this week is Pounce K (3-1 ML, John MacDonald), who steps up off a 1:54.3 victory against upper-level conditioned company last week.   Additionally, four divisions of the Catherine Burton trotting series are scattered throughout Friday's card, scheduled as races 1, 3, 8, and 10. The speedy Write That Down is the 9-5 morning line favorite in the third race, with Fern Paquet, Jr. driving the four-year-old Crazed gelding. As a three-year-old, he was placed in multiple Excelsior A events, and he took a 1:56 mark at Rosecroft as well. Deadhead Royalty is a notable entry in the eighth race, rallying stoutly to make up ample ground in his seasonal debut. The three-year-old RC Royalty colt won two Excelsior B events as a two-year-old, had also boasts four second-place finishes among his ten career starts. Howard and Jessica Okusko team up once again as Deadhead Royalty makes his second start of the year. The final division sees Kennel Browser ship in from Pompano, bringing a 1:57.3 lifetime mark with him. The five-year-old Ken Warkentin gelding has been installed as the 2-1 morning line favorite in his division, and Roman Lopez will take the lines.   Saturday (April 25) evening's Open Pace is carded as the second of thirteen races on the program, with last week's runner-up Ashley's Husband (post 5) leading the select field of five. William Donovan's five-year-old Henry Clay gelding was passed late by That'll Be the Rei in a 1:50.2 mile last week, holding second while dispatched the 3-5 favorite. Fern Paquet, Jr. will be back aboard for trainer Kyle Spagnola, and the 19-time winner has been installed as the 6-5 morning line choice. JK Panache (post 4) joins Ashley's Husband on the outside portion of the starting formation, having set a torrid pace last week before he was collared in mid-stretch. Chris Lems handles the driving duties once again for trainer Dave Dewhurst.   Two divisions of the Anthony Farina pacing series feature seventeen entrants, and they are programmed as races 6 and 9 on the Saturday card. Flight Again, owned, trained, and driven by Truman Gale, has been installed as the 5-2 morning line favorite in the first division, recently drawing clear for a 4-length triumph over non-winners of two at Saratoga. Here Comes Thunder, owned, trained, and driven by Frank Davis, is likewise the 5-2 morning line favorite in the second division, beating $7,500 claimers at Saratoga earlier this month to tally his fourth career win. He'll have to overcome the outside post 8 in his division, along with a pair of Excelsior A contenders from last year in Hot Lemonade (John MacDonald) and Sweet Bobbie (Chris Lems).   Post time on both Friday and Saturday evening at Vernon Downs is 6:45 p.m. EDT.   by James Witherite, Vernon Downs

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