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Perhaps the biggest scandal in all of U.S. sports to come out in the past year is the federal indictment of dozens of thoroughbred and harness racing insiders alleged to have been involved in doping leading racehorses. And while the initial indictments came on March 9, other indictments trickled out even as the COVID-19 disaster overtook virtually the entire news cycle. But the stunning allegations are no less stunning because of the timing. The main indictment had as its stars Monmouth Park thoroughbred big names Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis — but later ones placed Yonkers Raceway and its harness racing leading lights in its target. The Yonkers horse racing community already was reeling from the deaths of three trainers from COVID-19, including the first fatality of a New Jersey resident. Rene Allard, who at $5.8 million in purse winnings was third in the industry in North America last year, has been charged in a conspiracy involving longtime veterinarian Louis Grasso, who was indicted on Feb. 26 for allegedly misbranding drugs in interstate commerce. Last fall, according to the indictment, Grasso and another alleged co-conspirator, Ross Cohen, discussed the fact that a number of Allard’s horses had died. The disturbing conversation Cohen, according to the indictment, asked Grasso, “What’s going on with the Allard death camp?” Grasso then said “two or maybe three” horses have died from “amino acids” that caused “high fever, kidneys shut down.” “One of them just died on the table, they just cut him open and poof it died,” Grasso is alleged to have said. Cohen: “Holy f-ck f-ck did they do an autopsy.” Grasso: “Their heart rate was like triple they were breathing real heavy their membranes were going f-cking purple.” Allard — second in earnings at Yonkers so far this year — also is alleged to have sent a text message to Grasso in October 2019 that read: “I will need 3 bottles of red Acid [an anti-inflammatory drug] to go to canada Thursday.” Per the indictment, a barn raid on March 9 in Middletown, N.Y. — where Allard stabled a number of horses — led to the discovery of multiple syringes and numerous bottles of mislabeled drugs. Other harness racing figures indicted Also named is Donato Poliseno, owner of a veterinary supply business in Delaware who is alleged to have purchased and distributed PEDs from Grasso. Trainers Thomas Guido III and Conor Flynn are alleged to have obtained the PEDs from Grasso as well. Richard Banca, the leading trainer at Yonkers Raceway so far this year, was named in a separate indictment on similar charges and employed Flynn. Banca owns the Middletown, N.Y. facility that was raided, according to his indictment. “Flynn has stated, in substance and in part, that Flynn administers horses owned, trained, or otherwise under Banca’ s control, with PEDs at Banca’s direction,” the indictment alleges. Banca first rose up to the top ranks at Yonkers in 2015, producing 174 winners — more than double his previous best — and another 200 in 2016. Allard and Banca were the two trainers involved in a controversy at the Meadowlands Racetrack in 2017, when each — already banned at that track by owner Jeff Gural — turned over the reins of horses that were then allowed to race. Among the PEDs involved aside from “red acid”: Erythropoietin, better known by brand name Epogen and nicknamed “epo” in the industry and designed to improve endurance A variety of “pain shots” or “joint blocks” designed to deaden a horse’s nerves, which can result in leg fractures that require a racehorse to be euthanized Bronchodilators, or “Bronk,” designed to increase a horse’s oxygen intake The latest indictments, if proven, echo the callousness for the welfare of racehorses demonstrated in the Navarro and Servis indictments. In February 2019, Servis is alleged to have warned Navarro via text about a racing official. Navarro then allegedly told another conspirator, “He would have caught our asses f-cking pumping and pumping and fuming every f-cking horse that runs today.” By John Brennan John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record. Reprinted with permission of The njonlinegambling.com

Thoroughbred Daily News reporter Bill Finley has reported that harness racing trainer Rene Allard has joined the long list of those indicted for their role in a massive horse doping scheme that has rocked Thoroughbred and harness racing. The number of individuals who are known to have been involved is now 29. Allard was not among the original list of names of those who were indicted that was released Monday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. Allard is second in the current trainer’s standings at Yonkers Raceway, behind only Richard Banca, who has also been indicted as part of the doping probe undertaken by the FBI. According to a source, Allard was arrested earlier this week while vacationing in Las Vegas. He is being charged with “misbranding” drugs, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. During its investigation of Allard and others, the FBI intercepted a disturbing phone conversation between Ross Cohen and Louis Grasso, who were among those indicted Monday, discussing the deaths of horses who were given illegal drugs by Allard. It reads (exactly): Cohen: What’s going on with the Allard death camp? Grasso: (Laughter) well I didn’t get anymore emergency calls yesterday so I am assuming… Cohen: Assuming the number stopped at 7? Grasso: Well yeah Cohen” How many died? Grasso: Three Cohen. Jeez. What were you thinking? Grasso: Three or two maybe. The pair continue to discuss the situation before wrapping up: Grasso: …One of them just died on the table they just cut him open and poof it died. Cohen: Holy f–k did they do an autopsy? Grasso: Their heart rate was like triple they were breathing real heavy their membranes were going f-ing purple. To read the rest of the story, click here.

YONKERS, NY – Empire City Casino by MGM Resorts (“Empire City”) announced today the suspension of racing operations at its harness track, Yonkers Raceway, through Wednesday, March 18th . Empire City learned on Tuesday, March 10th that an employee of the Standardbred Owners Association (“SOA”), the harness horsemen association, tested positive for COVID-19 before passing away. The individual had an office in the Yonkers Raceway paddock building located next to the racetrack and was last there on February 28, 2020. His death was announced Tuesday, March 10th by New Jersey officials, as he was a resident of that state. As a precaution, racing was canceled on March 10th and employees who had direct contact with the individual were provided with information to secure testing, self-quarantine, and advised to contact their healthcare providers if they are experiencing symptoms. Professional cleaners were engaged to deep clean and sanitize the impacted areas, including the race office and paddock. In addition to regular cleaning procedures, Empire City has increased the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting protocols, with a specific focus on high-touch surfaces. Additional hand sanitizer stations have been placed throughout the casino. Empire City released the following statement: “The health and safety of our guests and employees remains our highest priority. We continue to monitor the evolving COVID-19 situation and closely follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local health officials. We offer our deepest sympathies to the family of the colleague we lost. It is a tremendous loss to the sport of racing, the SOA, and the Yonkers Raceway team. He will be missed.” Empire City Casino and its dining entities remain open with regular operating hours.  It was also reported that leading driver Jason Barlett has been quarantine as coronavirus precaution. From Yonkers Raceway

Yonkers Raceway has announced that Tuesday night’s live race card has been canceled. There was no reason given why they have canceled with rumors about that it is due either to the coronavirus scare and/or from horses having to be scratched due to the Federal indictments handed down on Monday.    

YONKERS, NY, Monday, March 9, 2020--Post positions have been drawn for the opening rounds of Yonkers Raceway's Blue Chip Matchmaker and MGM Borgata Pacing Series. Friday night (March 13th) offers three, $40,000 Matchmaker divisions (races 2, 4 and 6) for the premier mares...and it didn't take long for Shartin N (Tim Tetrick, post 1) and Caviart Ally (Andrew McCarthy, post 5) to get acquainted, both drawing into the first grouping. The two-time defending series champ---and current Horse of the Year--Shartin N returns to town for her first visit since winning last season's finale, included in a 42-for-57, $2.1 million career resume. The 7-year-old Down Under daughter of Tintin in America began her season with a 1:50 flat win at Dover. 'Ally' also wasted no time getting her picture taken in 2020, a 1:49.4 effort across the river. The 6-year-old daughter of Bettor's Delight enters with 26 wins in 73 career starts ($1.8 million). Friday night's second division includes last season's Matchmaker runner-up, Bettor Joy N (Tetrick, post 4) and Apple Bottom Jeans (Corey Callahan, post 6). Both ladies find their way back from Delaware for this series, having finished third (Apple Bottom Jeans) and fourth (Bettor Joy N), respectively, to Shartin N a week ago. The final Matchmaker get-together is led by Seaswift Joy N (Jim Marohn Jr., post 2), a 7-year-old Down Under Bettor's Delight miss fresh off a 10-win, $263,000 2019 season. Saturday night (March 14th) finds four consecutively-contested, $50,000 Borgata (nee George Morton Levy Memorial) divisions, going as races 5 through 8. The opening event of Free-For-All lads features the rock-solid None Bettor A (Tetrick, post 2) meeting up with Rodeo Rock (Eric Goodell, post 4) and millionaire-in-waiting Sintra (George Brennan, post 7). The second division is led by the series champ of a year ago, Western Fame (Dan Dube, post 7). The 7-year-old son of Western Ideal won seven races and in excess of $704,000 last season. Saturday night's third Borgata event includes weekly Local Open Handicap standout Jack's Legend N (Jason Bartlett, post 4), Trump Nation (Brennan, post 6) and Lyons Steel (Pat Lachance, post 7). The fourth and final grouping goes through the red-hot Backstreet Shadow (Tetrick, post 2), who eyes a fifth consecutive victory, the first four all down at Dover. Both the Blue Chip Matchmaker and Borgata offer five preliminary rounds leading to finals set for Saturday night, Apr. 18th. Early program pages for the Friday/Saturday series races accompany this release. Changes shall be made Tuesday night (March 10th). For the fields for the Matchmaker For the fields for the MGM Borgata Pacing Series by Frank Drucker, for Yonkers Raceway

YONKERS, N.Y. – Expectations were low when Affluent Seelster started in the first division of the M life Rewards Ladies Pacing Series first leg March 2 at Yonkers Raceway. Despite starting from the inside, the public dismissed the 4-year-old harness racing mare at 33-1 in favor of Darn Tooth Hanover, who was the even-money favorite, and North Star Ideal, who was the 6-5 second choice. Both favorites entered on three-race win streaks. Despite Affluent Seelster’s long odds, she left from her inside spot, but yielded to North Star Ideal to ride a pocket trip. Turning for home, Affluent Seelster was still breathing down the neck of the longtime leader and straightening away, driver Joe Bongiorno pulled the ear plugs and angled Affluent Seelster inside. With a few right-handed whip taps, Affluent Seelster glided past North Star Ideal to post a neck win in a lifetime best 1:53.4 and kick off the series with a $69 mutual. “I thought that was maybe a little bigger number than she needed to be from the rail,” trainer Paul Stafford said. “Her qualifier was OK. She’s a big mare. Going into the series, she had raced there before, so we knew she could get around the half-mile racetrack, as big as she is. It just worked out perfect, Joey put her in a great spot getting a two-hole trip.” Stafford and Tom Ceraso purchased Affluent Seelster online last fall. The Mach Three daughter had five placings in eight starts racing for Richard Moreau in Canada and fit the bill for the conditions at Yonkers. However, Affluent Seelster’s size gave Stafford pause. “She’s big, so when she showed up, obviously you have a question mark about whether she would get around Yonkers,” Stafford said. “Really lightly raced, which is what we like to see. We like to buy 3-year-olds with not very many starts, non-winners of two-, non-winners of three-type horses.” Affluent Seelster debuted for Stafford at Yonkers Nov. 18, finishing second in a $14,000 overnight. She broke her maiden from post seven in the same class one week later, and then doubled up from the same post Dec. 9. In all three of those starts, Affluent Seelster left the gate hard and got wound up. “She was one who would get excited behind the gate because she thought she was going to leave every week,” Stafford said. Training back this winter, Stafford pointed Affluent Seelster to the M life Rewards Ladies Series and focused on teaching her to relax in her races. When she returned in a qualifier Feb. 21, Affluent Seelster came from off the pace to finish third. Stafford was happy to see the mare comfortable in the pocket in her first start of the season. “She trained back exceptionally well and we taught her a few manners training back so she wasn’t a front-running thing, which is how we finished up the year with her,” Stafford said. “That’s what we worked on training her back the last six weeks, teaching her that’s is OK to sit in, you don’t always have to be on the front. That transitioned into her qualifier and into her first race.” Affluent Seelster drew the inside post again in the second leg of the series Monday (March 9) and will again have Bongiorno in the sulky. The pair are the 3-2 favorites on the morning line. One race after Affluent Seelster’s upset win last week, Stafford sent out Windsong Parisian to a runner up finish in the second series split. Like her stablemate, Windsong Parisian and driver Matt Kakaley started from the inside and got a pocket trip. After chasing 3-5 favorite I’m Very Special around the track, Windsong Parisian finished second beaten 2 lengths and was 9 1/4 lengths clear of third-place finisher Saskatoon. An acquisition for Patricia Ceraso last fall, Windsong Parisian came to Stafford’s barn with more experience than Affluent Seelster, having logged 23 starts and four wins. Despite showing half-mile track experience at Grand River, Flamboro Downs and Western Fair, Windsong Parisian struggled in her first two starts at Yonkers in October. She made breaks in each start and was well beaten. “We bought a horse that showed half-mile racing, so we brought her to Yonkers and for whatever reason, she just decided that she wasn’t going to participate at Yonkers Raceway, she couldn’t get around the first turn for whatever reason,” Stafford said. The trainer decided a change of scenery was needed and Stafford took Windsong Parisian to Harrah’s Philadelphia. Despite starting from post seven and getting away 8 1/2 lengths behind the field, Windsong Parisian posted a :27.4 final quarter to rally for third beaten just a length. She won her next start at Harrah’s Philadelphia Nov. 29 and finished second in her final 2019 start Dec. 13. “We decided to change her look and took her to Chester,” Stafford said. “We had the seven hole, Tim Tetrick raced her like he should, ducked her last and she was flying on the end of it. She finished third, but she almost got there. She definitely showed she was OK at Chester.” Despite Windsong Parisian’s lackluster performances at Yonkers, she just made the earnings cutoff to be eligible for the series, so Stafford nominated for the low $200 fee. The move proved prudent. “She trained back well, you couldn’t ask for them to train back any better. For whatever reason, I can’t explain it, maybe it was just a matter of growing up, but she was good the other night. I think that was a little better than we expected. I thought maybe she would have been third or fourth in there, but she was good. Matt was happy with her.” Windsong Parisian will start from post five in Monday’s first series division in race one. With Kakaley opting for rival Lovin Cocoa, Brent Holland will drive Windsong Parisian as the 8-5 morning line favorite. “I think she drew into a good division. I think she’ll be OK in there,” Stafford said. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. The M life Rewards Series for Ladies and Gents continue with their second legs Monday (March 9) and Tuesday (March 10), respectively. The Blue Chip Matchmaker Series will return Friday, March 13 and the Borgata Pacing Series starts Saturday, March 14. First post time is 7:05 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

RYONKERS, NY, Saturday, March 7, 2020--Down-the-roaders I'm Some Graduate (George Brennan, $6) and Elysium Lindy (Dan Dube, $27.40) proved best Saturday night (March 7th), winning Yonkers Raceway's pair of $44,000 Open Handicaps. I'm Some Graduate, from assigned post position No. 5 in the adult-table pace, had few issues in maintaining his current form. He worked around pole-sitting I'marocknrollegend N (Joe Bongiorno), then finished what he started (:27.1; :57, 1:24.2; 1:52.2) after a weak, first-over attempt by Tremendous Play (Jason Bartlett). 'Legend" chased in vain, beaten a couple of lengths, with Soho Lennon A (Jim Marohn Jr.) a non-threatening third.   Luciano N (Austin Siegelman) and Micky Gee N (Jordan Stratton) rounded out the payees. For I'm Some Graduate, a 7-year-old Somebeachsomewhere gelding co-owned (as Burke Racing) by (trainer) Ron Burke, Weaver Bruscemi, J&T Silva-Purnel & Libby and Larry Karr, it was his fourth win in five seasonal starts (fourth in last five tries). The exacta (two wagering favorites) paid $18, with the triple returning $68. Elysium Lindy also went the distance in a strange week's marquee trot. From the pole, he was seemingly content to sit behind Weslynn Dancer (Bartlett)...until the latter "wanted to go back to the paddock or something," Bartlett said. At any rate, after two-moving to the lead, Weslynn Dancer found herself out in the air, serving as a fortuitous 'pick' for Elysium Lindy. That one was more than accepting of the largesse, completing his appointed rounds (:27.1; 56.4; 1:25.1; 1:55) a length in front of cone-skimming Mostinterestingman (Siegelman). Third went to Stormy Kromer (catch-driver Bongiorno), with even-money choice Melady's Monet (Brennan) fourth after having to go wide early around Weslynn Dancer.   Arabella's Cadet (Stratton) picked off the final envelope, ahead of the self-imposed grief of Weslynn Dancer. For fifth choice Elysium Lindy, a 7-year-old Cantab Hall gelding owned Panic Stable and trained by Andrew Harris, it was his fourth win in eight '20 tries The exacta paid $178.50, with the triple returning $713. From Frank Drucker, for Yonkers Raceway

YONKERS, N.Y. – Stormy Kromer will make his first start of the year Saturday night (March 7) in the $44,000 Open Handicap Trot at Yonkers Raceway. The Dejarmbro son rose through the harness racing ranks last year, earning eight wins and $154,195 in 2019, and became competitive in the weekly trotting features, exceeding the expectations of his trainer, Paul Stafford. A private trainer for Tom Ceraso, Jr. since Aug. 2018, Stafford manages a 26-strong stable at Gaitway Farm. When the duo shop for horses, they have Yonkers Raceway in mind. Such was the case when they acquired Stormy Kromer last spring. “I’ve known Tom for probably 10 years, maybe a little longer,” Stafford said. “I had trained a horse for him in Chicago and we’ve been friends ever since. Never really had any discussions about training his horses out here, but opportunity presented itself, and here we are. “We race primarily at Yonkers,” Stafford said. “We like to race at Yonkers. It’s the best money. We try to buy horses that can go around a half-mile racetrack.” Stormy Kromer raced for Pete and Melanie Wrenn in the Midwest and at Pompano during the winter. Stormy Kromer won his last three starts for the Wrenns, including two legs and a final of a late-closing series at Hoosier Park in April 2019, all on the front end and all by open lengths. His victory in the $16,000 series final came by 8 3/4 lengths. “He looked like a nice horse on the track,” Stafford said. “It’s tough to adjust times off a five-eighths or a seven-eighths to a half, but we knew were buying a horse who obviously had a ton of gate speed because the horse was always on the front for Pete when he was good. It was just a matter of if he was going to be OK for the half.” Stormy Kromer made his first start for Stafford at Yonkers Raceway May 3, 2019 and removed any doubt. Starting from post seven in a $23,000 overnight, the gelding made the lead and never looked back, cruising to a 1 3/4-length win in 1:56. “When I talked to Pete, it was ‘what you see is what you get.’ The horse wears almost no equipment. It’s nice to take a horse that you’re going to race on a half-mile racetrack and not have to put any additional equipment on,” Stafford said. “First impressions were maybe he wouldn’t be able to go the other way, maybe he would just be able to go on the front, but about five or six starts in for us, he raced out of a hole and he was good and it was like, ‘OK, maybe we have a horse who can do it both ways now.’ " After his triumphant Hilltop debut, Stormy Kromer was unplaced in two Open Handicap tries before posting a pair of seconds in $29,000 overnights. Ten starts after his initial victory, Stormy Kromer found the winner’s circle again in an $18,500 overnight July 30 after posting a 13 1/4-length win in 1:54.4. By late-fall, Stormy Kromer became competitive in the higher classes. He finished second in a Preferred Handicap Nov. 9 and rode a pocket trip to a 1:54.0 victory in the same class two weeks later. Stormy Kromer earned checks in two of three Open Handicap tries late last year. “We thought we were buying a middle condition horses, non-winners of $10,000, non-winners of $20,000, maybe jump up in (non-winners of) $30,000 every once in a while, but Stormy Kromer has decided otherwise for us that he wants to be an Open trotter,” Stafford said. “I think he’s maybe a step below the top, top trotters, but he’s definitely shown us that he can compete either way. He can go on the front or he can race off the pace, which those horses are tough to come by.” Despite his acceleration off the gate, Stormy Kromer doesn’t get headstrong and settles for his driver after a quick opening quarter. “Once you get in the Opens and the Preferreds, you’re not going to be able to have your own way on the front like he was in those lower classes,” Stafford said. “Those are great horses that make a lot of money up there because they’re going to come after you, they’re not just going to let you stay up there. “One of the luxuries of ‘Stormy’ is when he leaves the gate, he comes right back to you, which is another thing you don’t usually see with horses, especially trotters. Usually, if you get them wound up a few weeks in a row, you have to reel them back in otherwise they get too excited behind the gate thinking they’re going to leave every week. ‘Stormy’ isn’t like that. He can leave in :27 with the car or he can duck and get away sixth if you need him too.” Stormy Kromer raced through the end of the 2019 season at Yonkers and got three weeks off before resuming training. He had one qualifier with regular driver Brent Holland in preparation for his return Saturday, winning the trial gate-to-wire by 7 1/4 lengths in 1:56.4 at Yonkers Feb. 28. “So far, he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. I thought he qualified really well. Brent was happy with him,” Stafford said. “When you start talking about a horse that you know is going to have to go into an Open in his first start, you have to get them a little tighter. I spent some extra time at the farm and trained him fast one more time because we knew we had to go a little quicker qualifier than you normally would like because of where he had to go.” Stormy Kromer drew post two and is a 5-1 morning line in his return. He will face five other trotters, including Melady’s Money, who was handicapped the outside off a 1:54.3 victory in the Preferred Feb. 22 and Weslynn Dancer, who looked like her old self winning a $27,000 overnight by 5 1/2 lengths Feb. 29. Elysium Lindy was beaten a nose by Lean Hanover in last week’s Open and drew post one. Arabella’s Cadet and Mostinterestingman complete the lineup. “I think he should be OK. He got a tough bunch. I know it’s only a six-horse field, but that’s a nice group of horses that we’re in with,” Stafford said. “He did draw the inside. I think with the qualifier and the way he came out of his qualifier, I think he’s competitive in there.” Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. The M Life Rewards Series for Ladies and Gents continue with their second legs Monday and Tuesday night, respectively. The Blue Chip Matchmaker Series will return Friday, March 13 and the Borgata Pacing Series starts Saturday, March 14. First post time is 7:05 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. by Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Stormy Kromer will make his first start of the year Saturday night (March 7) in the $44,000 Open Handicap Trot at Yonkers Raceway. The Dejarmbro son rose through the ranks last year, earning eight wins and $154,195 in 2019, and became competitive in the harness racing weekly trotting features, exceeding the expectations of his trainer, Paul Stafford. A private trainer for Tom Ceraso, Jr. since Aug. 2018, Stafford manages a 26-strong stable at Gaitway Farm. When the duo shop for horses, they have Yonkers Raceway in mind. Such was the case when they acquired Stormy Kromer last spring. “I’ve known Tom for probably 10 years, maybe a little longer,” Stafford said. “I had trained a horse for him in Chicago and we’ve been friends ever since. Never really had any discussions about training his horses out here, but opportunity presented itself, and here we are. “We race primarily at Yonkers,” Stafford said. “We like to race at Yonkers. It’s the best money. We try to buy horses that can go around a half-mile racetrack.” Stormy Kromer raced for Pete and Melanie Wrenn in the Midwest and at Pompano during the winter. Stormy Kromer won his last three starts for the Wrenns, including two legs and a final of a late-closing series at Hoosier Park in April 2019, all on the front end and all by open lengths. His victory in the $16,000 series final came by 8 3/4 lengths. “He looked like a nice horse on the track,” Stafford said. “It’s tough to adjust times off a five-eighths or a seven-eighths to a half, but we knew were buying a horse who obviously had a ton of gate speed because the horse was always on the front for Pete when he was good. It was just a matter of if he was going to be OK for the half.” Stormy Kromer made his first start for Stafford at Yonkers Raceway May 3, 2019 and removed any doubt. Starting from post seven in a $23,000 overnight, the gelding made the lead and never looked back, cruising to a 1 3/4-length win in 1:56.0. “When I talked to Pete, it was ‘what you see is what you get.’ The horse wears almost no equipment. It’s nice to take a horse that you’re going to race on a half-mile racetrack and not have to put any additional equipment on,” Stafford said. “First impressions were maybe he wouldn’t be able to go the other way, maybe he would just be able to go on the front, but about five or six starts in for us, he raced out of a hole and he was good and it was like, ‘OK, maybe we have a horse who can do it both ways now.’ ” After his triumphant Hilltop debut, Stormy Kromer was unplaced in two Open Handicap tries before posting a pair of seconds in $29,000 overnights. Ten starts after his initial victory, Stormy Kromer found the winner’s circle again in an $18,500 overnight July 30 after posting a 13 1/4-length win in 1:54.4. By late-fall, Stormy Kromer became competitive in the higher classes. He finished second in a Preferred Handicap Nov. 9 and rode a pocket trip to a 1:54.0 victory in the same class two weeks later. Stormy Kromer earned checks in two of three Open Handicap tries late last year. “We thought we were buying a middle condition horses, non-winners of $10,000, non-winners of $20,000, maybe jump up in (non-winners of) $30,000 every once in a while, but Stormy Kromer has decided otherwise for us that he wants to be an Open trotter,” Stafford said. “I think he’s maybe a step below the top, top trotters, but he’s definitely shown us that he can compete either way. He can go on the front or he can race off the pace, which those horses are tough to come by.” Despite his acceleration off the gate, Stormy Kromer doesn’t get headstrong and settles for his driver after a quick opening quarter. “Once you get in the Opens and the Preferreds, you’re not going to be able to have your own way on the front like he was in those lower classes,” Stafford said. “Those are great horses that make a lot of money up there because they’re going to come after you, they’re not just going to let you stay up there. “One of the luxuries of ‘Stormy’ is when he leaves the gate, he comes right back to you, which is another thing you don’t usually see with horses, especially trotters. Usually, if you get them wound up a few weeks in a row, you have to reel them back in otherwise they get too excited behind the gate thinking they’re going to leave every week. ‘Stormy’ isn’t like that. He can leave in :27 with the car or he can duck and get away sixth if you need him too.” Stormy Kromer raced through the end of the 2019 season at Yonkers and got three weeks off before resuming training. He had one qualifier with regular driver Brent Holland in preparation for his return Saturday, winning the trial gate-to-wire by 7 1/4 lengths in 1:56.4 at Yonkers Feb. 28. “So far, he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. I thought he qualified really well. Brent was happy with him,” Stafford said. “When you start talking about a horse that you know is going to have to go into an Open in his first start, you have to get them a little tighter. I spent some extra time at the farm and trained him fast one more time because we knew we had to go a little quicker qualifier than you normally would like because of where he had to go.” Stormy Kromer drew post two and is a 5-1 morning line in his return. He will face five other trotters, including Melady’s Money, who was handicapped the outside off a 1:54.3 victory in the Preferred Feb. 22 and Weslynn Dancer, who looked like her old self winning a $27,000 overnight by 5 1/2 lengths Feb. 29. Elysium Lindy was beaten a nose by Lean Hanover in last week’s Open and drew post one. Arabella’s Cadet and Mostinterestingman complete the lineup. “I think he should be OK. He got a tough bunch. I know it’s only a six-horse field, but that’s a nice group of horses that we’re in with,” Stafford said. “He did draw the inside. I think with the qualifier and the way he came out of his qualifier, I think he’s competitive in there.” Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. The M Life Rewards Series for Ladies and Gents continue with their second legs Monday and Tuesday night, respectively. The Blue Chip Matchmaker Series will return Friday, March 13 and the Borgata Pacing Series starts Saturday, March 14. First post time is 7:05 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, NY, Friday, March 6, 2020 -- Season-debuting Gold Orchid N (George Brennan, $11) could not have mapped it out any better Friday night (March 6th), winning Yonkers Raceway's soggy $37,000 filly and mare harness racing Preferred Handicap Pace. Unhurried early from post position No. 2, Gold Orchid N saw Ba Ba Ba Banana (Matt Kakaley) set sail through snappy early intervals of :26.4 and :55.4. Diamondtoothgertie (catch-driver Joe Bongiorno) moved from third, with Gold Orchid N along for the lift. 'Gertie' engaged Ba Ba Ba Banana in and out of a 1:24 three-quarters, with the leader giving way readily soon thereafter. That didn't help tepid 2-1 choice Itty Bitty (Dan Dube), trapped in behind. Diamondtoothgertie ended up winning the battle, but losing the war as Gold Orchid N rolled right by. The final margin was a widening 3¼ lengths in 1:53.2. Diamondtoothgertie did save second over Lady Dela Renta A (Jason Bartlett), with Sandy Win (Austin Siegelman) and Itty Bitty settling for the small envelopes. For fourth choice Gold Orchid N, a now-6-year-old Down Under daughter of Bettor's Delight owned by Bamq LLC and trained by Mark Harder, she's off a seven-win, $120,000 season in 2019. The exacta paid $96, the triple returned $286 and the superfecta paid $1,954 (base $2 payout, 10-cent ticket worth $97.70). Frank Drucker

YONKERS, NY-- The 2020 North American Amateur Driver Association (NAADA) harness racing season commenced tonight at Yonkers Raceway with two non-wagering divisions presented prior to the betting card getting underway and when the judges hung the official signs, Tony Verruso and Pearly Allen each emerged victorious in their respective $8000 splits. Verruso won with The Cuse Is Loose in 1:59.2 while Allen scored behind veteran Wygant Prince in 2:00.1. Both trotters scored from off the early pace and rallied late for decisive victories. Verruso and The Cuse Is Loose started slowly while Joe Faraldo and Muzzy's Muscles cut the early fractions and led the 6-horse field by the first stanza in :29.1 and by the halfway point in 1:00. Trailing in fourth place Veruso moved his charge off the pylons and was out and challenging as the field headed to the half. Third at that point Verruso then hustled The Cuse Is Lose and they took command as the field rounded the final turn and headed for paydirt. Aping Verruso's moves, John Calabrese kept Wild Smile on the leader's back but The Cuse Is Loose proved to much for his challenger and the 6-year-old Deweycheatumnhowe gelding went on to a solid one-length victory. Wild Smile held on for second money while Pop I garnered the show dough for Brett Beckwith. The winner is owned by his driver and trained by Ethan Sisco. In the other division Wygant Prince started from post four and after the start Pearly Allen settled him in second along the pylons and was content to sit still while Melissa Arbia showed the way with Finnick Odair. But when the field rounded the final turn Allen moved the veteran trotter out to challenge and Wygant Prince rallied to a 2-1/4 length triumph in 2:00.1. Finnick Odair was second best while Southwind Dorian chugged home in third place. Paul Minore owns Wygant Prince while Taylor Gower does the training. Next Thursday the NAADA 10-race series moves on to Monticello Raceway. by John Manzi, for NAADA .

Monticello, NY--The North America Amateur Drivers Association (NAADA), one of harness racing's oldest and longest running amateur driving organization, will kick off its 37th season with two trotting events at Yonkers Raceway on Thurs March 5th Two 6-horse trots will be presented before the first race on the betting card and they will be the first of three 10-race series to be presented by the organization for its members during the 2020 racing season. Current events will be contested on consecutive Thursdays at both Yonkers and Monticello Raceways with the $15,000 series final slated at Yonkers on Thursday. May 14. "We're scheduled to have multiple international contests throughout the season with the first slated for early May against a visiting Italian team from Turino," noted NAADA vice president, Alan Schwartz. "But finalized dates will not be solidified until there is clearance from the current Coronavirus circulating throughout a good portion of the globe." The series is open to all amateur drivers who be come members of the North American Amateur Drivers Association (NAADA). Last years December finale was won by Glenferry Dreamer reined to victory by Paul Minore. by John Manzi, for NAADA        

YONKERS, NY, Tuesday, March 3, 2020--Yonkers Raceway's Tuesday evening (March 3rd) program produced not only a season-high handle total, but the largest Tuesday figure in recent memory. The dozen races saw $1,091,119 wagered, including the largest on-track count of the season. While Tuesday represented a 2020 standard, it was by no means an isolated occurrence. The past few handle figures... Tue., March 3rd $1,091,119 Mon,, March 2nd $931,276 Sat., Feb. 29th $814,092 Fri,. Feb. 28th $994,517 four-program total $3,831,004 (avg. $957,751) The Raceway's five-program-per-week schedule continues, with first post every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:05 PM. March is flush with series competition, including M Life Rewards Ladies (Mondays), Gents (Tuesdays), Blue Chip Matchmaker (Fridays, beginning the 13th) and MGM Borgata Pacing Series (formerly George Morton Levy Memorial, Saturdays, beginning the 14th). by Frank Drucker, for Yonkers Raceway

YONKERS, NY, Tuesday, March 3, 2020--Those of a certain demographic might remember the name 'Whelan' doing very good things at metropolitan New York-area harness racing tracks. The 'Whelan' in question is Walter, and back in 1987, Walter Whelan teamed with then 4-year-old Armbro Emerson to take down both the Breeders Crown at Roosevelt Raceway and Yonkers Raceway's William Haughton Memorial. Those and other stakes wins highlighted a $1.4 million racing resume ('87 Pacer of the Year) which, along with a prolific stallion career, earned 'Emerson' a 2006 induction into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame. All of the above is a roundabout way of saying that Walter Whelan, the father/trainer, and Michael Whelan, the son/driver, are invading Yonkers Tuesday night (March 3rd), bringing with them Ohare Hanover for the opening round of the M Life Rewards Gents Pacing Series. The event (nee the Sagamore Hill) is open to 3- and 4-year-old lads who are/were non-winners of four races and/or $50,000 through this past Dec. 1st. Welcome Ohare Hanover, a 4-year-old Russell Hanover gelding who drew position No. 6 in the first, $20,000 division...conveniently carded as the first of a dozen races (first post 7:05 PM). The $8,000 Goshen (NY) yearling purchase left a good impression up north, breaking his maiden in his 16th career start at Mohawk (1:55) late last month while taking a whole lot of back-half air. For the 42-year-old escort, who is set to make his local driving debut, there's some promise with his charge. "The last few starts, it's clicked for (Ohare Hanover)," Mike Whelan said. "I mean, he was never bad, just mentally immature. "We tried him in the Snowshoe Series (Mohawk) in January, but he drew badly both times and the races had no pace. Undaunted, father, son and the rest of the Whelans ("It's a family operation, to be sure," Mike Whelan said) had scoped out a trip stateside. "(Ohare Hanover) had no problem getting around the half (-mile track) at Flamboro. He's quick-gaited and we think the small ovals may suit him better, though we weren't disappointed how he raced in Toronto." Unfortunately for Team Whelan, their four-legged friend has a big bully right next door. Semi Tough (Matt Kakaley, post 7) makes his 2020 purse debut off a $205,000 season in '19, which ended with handy overnights wins (at odds of 1-10 and 1-20) here. The open stakes-placed 4-year-old Somebeachsomewhere gelding has earned just under a half-million-dollars. "Ideally, I would have preferred to draw better, have the option to sit with him and hopefully make a few dollars, but this is good test for him," Mike Whelan said. Tuesday's other 'Gent' divisions are races 3,4 and 5. The series offer three preliminary legs leading to a $50,000 (added) finale Tuesday night, March 24th. Yonkers Raceway’s Monday evening (March 2nd) Pick 5 wager began with a carryover of $4,148.77 and a $15,000 guaranteed pool. Those two fun factoids led to $33,154 of fresh investing. The sequential phrase that pays was… 2-Reigning Bills (Jason Bartlett, $4.90) 1-My Spirit Soars (Brent Holland, $23.20) 5-Canbec Kingkazimir (George Brennan, $4.80) 6-Followyourdestiny (Bartlett, $7.20) 7-Ari Allstar (Brennan, $20.40) …returning $1,813.25 for every correct half-a-bucket ticket. The Pick 5 is a 50-cent base wager (5 through 9). by Frank Drucker, for Yonkers Raceway    

YONKERS, N.Y. – Of the 19 entrants to the M Life Rewards Ladies Series first leg at Yonkers Raceway Monday (March 2), Lovin Cocoa is the least experienced with just nine pari-mutuel starts under her belt. However, harness racing trainer Travis Alexander hopes she will make up for it on speed and talent. She is also one of four starters in the series for Alexander. The 4-year-old Rock N Roll Heaven mare enters the M Life Rewards Ladies off an 8-length victory in a local $14,000 overnight Feb. 11, an effort that caught even her trainer by surprise. Lovin Cocoa had bar shoes on in that start, a move Alexander was sure was a mistake after she warmed up that night. “To be honest, before the race I was absolutely petrified because I had put bar shoes on her and she was absolutely terrible warming up, to the point where we almost scratched her,” Alexander said. “I told Matt (Kakaley) just to be careful, that it was my fault, not hers, she doesn’t like these bars, she doesn’t like the frog pressure. She’s not lame, she just doesn’t like the shoes.” Lovin Cocoa raced in fifth early 9 1/2 lengths off the pace. She moved to the outside straightening away the first time and advanced without cover. Reaching the backstretch, rival Thaneeya pulled the pocket, forcing Lovin Cocoa three-wide approaching the three-quarters. Passing the 6-furlong marker, she glided past the leaders effortlessly and opened up a pair of lengths. Lovin Cocoa kicked clear in the stretch under Kakaley pistol grips to post the dominating score at 1-9. Although Lovin Cocoa enters the M Life Rewards Ladies as a first-leg morning line favorite, last summer, she was a longshot to race at all. A homebred for Mark and Leslie Wasserman’s Fiddler’s Creek Stable, Lovin Cocoa is out of Scrapping Beauty, the first horse the Wassermans and Alexander had together in 2008. Lovin Cocoa and DD Delicious, Alexander’s other M Life Rewards Ladies entrant, grew up together in the same field. Prone to making breaks at 2, Lovin Cocoa was unraced as a freshman. Last year at 3, Lovin Cocoa had one qualifier June 5 before starting in the New York Excelsior B Series over a sloppy track at Tioga Downs June 10. She finished sixth beaten 6 3/4 lengths and came out of the race with an injury, forcing her to the sidelines. “She bowed both front tendons in the mud at Tioga. She hurt both tendons that night,” Alexander said. “It’s a kick in the butt because that day, DD Delicious won the sire stakes and then two races later, that happens. Highs and lows. It wasn’t terrible, but it was enough to where we had to shut her down. We just did the right thing and Lovin Cocoa is one of Mrs. Wasserman’s favorite horses. That’s been her filly since she was born and so we did what we had to do to go forward. “We healed her tendons and lo and behold, here we are. Honestly, she shouldn’t be racing. Her legs were bad. We didn’t give up, we gave her time, healed her up. Her caretaker (Armando Barragan) does an amazing job, he works hard on her legs. She wants to race, she’s fast enough, it’s just a matter of keeping her sound and happy.” Lovin Cocoa qualified back at Yonkers Nov. 15. She paced her mile in 1:55.4 with a :28.2 final panel. The effort took Alexander and Kakaley by surprise. “Once we had the legs set up and the ultrasounds were good, I knew we were looking good. I didn’t know if she’d get around the half and I didn’t know how much speed she truly had and how much she would have lost due to injury,” Alexander said.  “I qualified her the first time at Yonkers and she paced 55. To be honest, I was mind-blown. Matt and myself were like, ‘where did this come from? What in the world?’ ” Despite the encouraging result, Lovin Cocoa made breaks in her next three starts, all at the Hilltop. Alexander regrouped, sending the filly to the Meadowlands. With Alexander in Florida training babies, Roy Marohn drove Lovin Cocoa to a qualifying win at the Swamp in 1:55.3 Dec. 21. Six days later, she finished third in a $15,000 overnight, pacing the mile in 1:52.4 with :27.2 on the end. “She has a temper. That’s why she was making those breaks early. I had too big of a head pole and I was trying to make her do it our way instead of letting her do it her way,” Alexander said. “I took her to the Meadowlands to get her mind right and I took everything off. Roy Marohn did an amazing job getting her qualified and going. “After that 52 mile at the Meadowlands, I knew,” Alexander continued. “She’s always had speed, her whole family has had speed. The colts of that family have the same temper, but they’re a lot tougher to deal with. I knew she’d be more than competitive in this series. Once we got her racing good, we set her up for that.” Lovin Cocoa enters the M Life Rewards Ladies first leg off nearly three weeks rest. Alexander was forced to make adjustments after her outing with bar shoes and then prepped her for this start. “I had to take the shoes off because the day after, she was sore, so we had to adjust again,” Alexander said. “Young horses or lightly raced horses are a learning curve. You have to find what they will tolerate, you have to find a balance. We went back to the drawing board and I’m very happy with what we came up with. “She’s missed two weeks on purpose just to get her right,” the trainer continued. “She’s trained up very well. I expect a big effort on Monday and going forward. Four weeks in the series, I didn’t want to race her, so we’re managing her and we have high hopes for her.” Lovin Cocoa will start from post four with Matt Kakaley in Monday’s fourth race, the third division of the M Life Rewards Ladies Series. The Series kicks off in race two, where Alexander will send out DD Delicious. DD Delicious started her career last year with two straight overnight wins before jumping into New York Sire Stakes competition. She won one leg at Tioga June 10 and placed in five others to earn a berth in the $225,000 NYSS Final at Batavia Sept. 14. After drawing post eight, she earned a check finishing fifth, boosting her earnings to $140,470 for Fiddler’s Creek Stable, and was pointed to the M Life Rewards Series. “She’s special. She’s a very nice mare. We had some issues last year with some sickness, unfortunately a couple bad posts in the wrong stakes races,” Alexander said. “It worked out because now she fits this series. As soon as she didn’t win the sire stakes final, I shut her down and aimed her just for this series because it’s a good starting point for her 4-year-old year.” DD Delicious spent a couple months turned out in Ohio before shipping to Alexander’s Florida stable to train back. She qualified a winner in 1:56 at Pocono Downs Feb. 12 and prepped for the M Life Rewards Ladies with one start at Yonkers Feb. 18, finishing second in a $16,000 overnight from post eight with Kakaley in the bike. “We sent her down to Florida and she prepped as well as any horse could. Her first start, that was beautiful,” Alexander said. “He sat as long as he could, she sprinted home, had pace on the end of it. She trained very, very well (Friday), couldn’t be happier.” Unraced at 2, DD Delicious had 14 starts at 3. Now entering her 4-year-old season, Alexander feels DD Delicious is coming into her prime. “She’s much stronger, she grew, she put on a lot of muscle. I could tell all winter in Florida and when we qualified her at Pocono, that was the first time (Matt) drove her and he even said he could feel she’s just stronger than last year,” Alexander said. “They race the first year at 3, not having those starts at 2 does hinder them a little bit as far as strength goes.” DD Delicious is the 5-2 morning line second choice behind Tom Milici’s North Star Ideal, who enters off three straight wins. Alexander will also send out two starters in the M Life Rewards Gents Series first leg Tuesday (March 3). Marco Beach will start from post four with Joe Bongiorno and is the 5-2 morning line favorite in the first division. Despite his 6-for-19 record and $51,400 in earnings, Alexander doesn’t feel Marco Beach has lived up to his potential yet. “He’s probably one of the smartest horses I’ve ever had, but he’s the hardest horse I’ve ever broke,” Alexander said. “He’s been a challenge to get to this point. “He would notice any change. If a tractor moved, he would stop and try to figure out what was different. If somebody’s truck was parked on the side of the hill and then the next lap was gone, he would sit there for 20 minutes and try to figure out what was different, and you couldn’t make him move. He would sit there and just stare,” Alexander explained. “Last year, there was a race where he was crossing over to the front and he saw the starting gate and went to the outside of the track to go behind the starting gate again,” Alexander continued. “It was bad. That’s why John Kakaley drove him a lot last year because I needed someone that I could get every start that would educate him. He’s so fast, I haven’t even scratched the surface. I can’t train him by himself, his mind wanders. Mentally, he’s a tough horse.” Alexander has seen improvement in Marco Beach from 3 to 4. He qualified in 1:56.4 at Pocono Downs Feb. 12 and won his seasonal debut at the Wilkes-Barre five-eighths-mile track by a neck in 1:53.4 with a :27.3 final quarter Feb. 23. The M Life Rewards Gents first leg will be Marco Beach’s first start on a half-mile track. “I don’t know how he’ll get around the half because he’s never seen a half. Not that he’s bad-gaited, he’s very good-gaited, but you just never know. He is a big horse. That’s the only thing that concerns me is him not being on Yonkers before the series started,” Alexander said. “The reasoning was just more the way things fell in place as far as timing,” Alexander explained. “I shipped him north and qualified him at Pocono and I didn’t want to short rest him and race him at Yonkers with the series coming up. It was better to race on Sunday at Pocono. It was scheduling.” Alexander’s final series entrant is Tellitsabb, a 4-year-old Tellitlikeitis gelding who recently came to Alexander’s stable for owner Brian Carsey. After going 3-for-13 last year in Ohio with Ernie Gaskin, Tellitsabb is 3-for-3 with $24,000 earned already this season. “He’s a fantastic horse. The Gaskins did a great job with him. When they sent him out, he was ready to go. I liked him, so Brian Carsey bought him because I liked him so much,” Alexander said. Tellitsabb’s victories have each come by at least 2 lengths and he’s paced his miles in 1:53.1, 1:53.4, and 1:54.0 with Matt Kakaley and Joe Bongiorno alternating drives to this point. Despite the impressive results, Alexander sees room for improvement. “He’s a horse that wants to lean in on the turns. The last two starts, I’ve tried to help with that and it’s made him worse, so I have to take everything off and go back to how it was the first start,” Alexander said. “I don’t know how fast he is. Joe and Matt are both very high on him. It’s just how he is on the turns and the more you rig him, the more he tries to fight you,” Alexander continued. “I’ll have to leave it to the drivers, let them earn their money a little bit. Speed wise, he’s extremely fast.” Tellitsabb is a 5-1 morning line with Matt Kakaley set to drive. He drew post eight, but with valuable points at stake, Alexander expects the gelding to leave. “We’ve got to go forward. I don’t know how forward we’re going to go, but we can’t just duck and sit and wait,” he said. “We’ve got to race, so we’ll see. I’ll leave that to Matt though.” Alexander hopes to build on early-season success in the M Life Rewards Series. His stable is 11-for-44 at Yonkers this year with an additional 14 seconds and thirds. He credits his wife, Alaina, and caretakers Wilder Allverz (Marco Beach), Lucia Sanchez (Tellitsabb), and Barragan (DD Delicious and Lovin Cocoa). “We’ve had a very good start to the year. We’ve had a lot of horses fit the right spots, that always helps. Nice diversity from non-winners of two up to non-winners of $30,000 trot. It’s been a very good winter and hopefully it keeps going,” Alexander said. “My crew has done a tremendous job. I have to thank them. I’ve been going back and forth between here and Florida. My wife Alaina, she’s amazing. She runs the northern barn. I have no worries when she’s up north. She treats these horses like they’re her kids and it shows. She’s the reason they’re all racing the way they are. She does an amazing job.” Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. The M Life Rewards Ladies Series begins Monday night, March 2 while the M Life Rewards Gents Series kicks off Tuesday, March 3. The Blue Chip Matchmaker Series will return Friday, March 13 and the Borgata Pacing Series starts Saturday, March 14. First post time is 7:05 p.m. By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – The Standardbred Owners Association of New York will make a presentation to the 2019 leading drivers and trainer at Yonkers Raceway Monday night (March 2). Drivers Jason Bartlett and George Brennan, who dead-heated for the most wins last season with 427 each, and trainer Scott Di Domenico, who dominated the trainer’s standings with 180 victories, will each be recognized for their achievements on the racetrack The driver’s race became one of the highlights of the 2019 season at Yonkers and put an unexpected twist on the final few days of racing. After nearly 11 months of competition and over 2,000 starts by the track’s leading drivers, there is typically little left to be settled in the meet’s final weeks. For instance, by Dec. 1, 2018, Jason Bartlett had a 104-win edge on Jordan Stratton. In 2017, Bartlett came into the stretch of the meet with a 153-win margin. However, with two racing days left in the 2019 season, Jason Bartlett and George Brennan were locked in a tight battle for the Yonkers driving title. At Dec. 1, the duo was separated by just three wins, with Brennan ahead 406 to 403. After trading blows throughout December, Bartlett brought a three-win margin into the penultimate night of competition (Dec.16) with 423 wins. It was the closest race in Bartlett’s memory. “Usually by this time, everything is cut and dry of who’s going to get it and who’s not,” Bartlett said. “Between me and George, we drive hard against each other. We’ve always done that. At the end of the day, we still respect each other on and off the track. It’s a good competition, but at the end of the day, we still have a job to do and that’s to win races and get as much money as we can for the trainers.” Bartlett drove four winners on the penultimate card to Brennan’s two, giving the former a 427-423 edge going into the final night of racing Dec. 17. Adding a further complication to the contest, Bartlett missed the final card due to a previously scheduled family vacation. Brennan won four of the first 10 races on the Closing Night program, tying the standings at 427 and had a chance to take sole possession in the final race with Lord Of Misrule. However, when that pacer finished fourth, the standings were final. After 2,657 races from January 7 through December 17, the contest ended in a dead heat. “It was very exciting. I’ve been leading driver before, but this was the most exciting driving race I’ve been involved in. It was a lot of fun,” Brennan said. “I just went about my business and that’s how it ended. It’s a lot of work, a lot of dedication, good clients. It means a lot. “You can’t really think about it. You just have to go about your business and try to stay safe and win races,” Brennan said. “There was something going on with the driving title, but in a sense, it’s secondary because you still have to get the job done, you still have to get the most amount of money for your owners and trainers you’re driving for. That’s the number one priority there.” Bartlett and Brennan both experienced memorable wins in the final week of racing. Bartlett drove Mach It A Par to victory Friday, Dec. 13 in her final career start. The $1.1 million-earning mare aired by 4 1/2 lengths in her bow, her 82nd start and 17th win with Bartlett. Brennan scored with 11-year-old millionaire trotter DW’s NY Yank on the final night of racing in the pair’s 82nd start and 25th win together. Bartlett, 38, won his ninth Hilltop title while Brennan, 52, earned his third. Bartlett saw Brennan as a mentor and an inspiration growing up, making the contest even more meaningful. However, the pair can leave the competition on the track and focus on their work. “He’s a driver that I’ve looked up to my whole life,” Bartlett said. “Being in a competition against him, running for number one, is a pretty big deal for me. Growing up and knowing George and looking up to him. “For me, it means I’m doing my job. I’m there to win races and business is good. Every year, you shoot for it. You’ve got to have a little luck along the way and get some horsepower,” Bartlett said. “It’s a job that I love to do, I’m very competitive at it and it’s really nice to go to work and know every race matters. There’s no messing up. I know a lot of people are watching it.” “I just want to thank all the trainers and owners and caretakers that look after and train the horses, because I can’t do it without them. A big thank you to them,” Brennan said. While Bartlett and Brennan battled to the wire for the driving title, Scott Di Domenico enjoyed an insurmountable lead in the training ranks. The 38-year-old harnessed 180 winners at Yonkers in 2019, 27 more than 2018 champion Rene Allard. It is Di Domenico’s first training title at Yonkers, a goal the he has been working toward for years. He was second in the standings last year with 160 wins and third in 2017 with 117. “It was great. To do that, it’s been something that I’ve been close to a few times over the last three or four years, but never got it solidified. To be able to get it done last year was really special,” Di Domenico said. “It was never anything that I was praying every night that I would get, but you work hard every day and you strive for goals and you strive to win races. When it all comes together like it did, it was really gratifying.” Allard topped the standings through July, but Di Domenico took over a narrow lead in August. Di Domenico extended the margin through the end of the season. However, which such a long season, the title wasn’t something Di Domenico focused on nightly. “Never gave it a lot of thought. Just tried to have our head down working hard and tried to come to work every night prepared and tried to win races,” he said. “The rest of it, it was going to work out one way or the other. I’m glad it worked out the way it did, but it was never something that you sat there every night getting your voodoo doll out and hoping the other guy didn’t win any races.” By mid-November, when he enjoyed a lead of more than 30 victories, Di Domenico could finally step back and look at the big picture. “It was looking promising, it really started to set in, in the middle of November. I was paying more attention to it than I had been at any other point in the year,” Di Domenico said. “But you still try to work hard, and you didn’t want to let up on the gas any to not be able to win. Just tried to stay on the same plan we were on the whole year and tried to keep buying horses and have fresh horses coming in and out all the time and doing the best we could.” Di Domenico averaged 60 to 70 horses in his stable throughout 2019, most of which were pointed to Yonkers, where he made 810 starts last season. Di Domenico credits owners Dana Parham and Jo Ann Fucci not only for being great clients, but also for being great for the industry. “Last year we took kind of a step up. As always, as it’s been since I’ve been out here, Yonkers was my main focus,” Di Domenico said. “All of (the owners), they’re the key to any success. If you don’t have good clientele behind you and guys that are ambitious about buying horses, ambitious about racing, then it is what it is. You’ve got to have people that are ambitious about it and want to win as much as you do.” One of the highlights to Di Domenico’s season was the development of trotter Swansea. The Swan For All gelding joined Di Domenico’s stable in late 2018 and rose through the ranks in 2019. He won three preliminary legs of the SOA of NY Bonus Trotting Series last spring before finishing second in the $75,000 Final. Swansea then made the leap to the Open Handicap, winning three local trotting features before year-end. For the season, he went 14-for-29 and earned $255,815. “He was a horse that came from Indiana that nobody had any real high expectations of and to see him come here and make $250,000 and win a lot of races,” Di Domenico said. “He had a little bit of bad luck in the Trotting Series Final in the spring where the trip didn’t work for him as well as we were hoping that night. That horse, he’d have to be at the top of the list. “That series, three horses that really stood out to me now that you can look back on it, Swansea, Joey Bats, and Rich And Miserable,” Di Domenico continued. “It says a lot about that series and it shows how tough that racing can be at Yonkers.” Di Domenico also praised his team for the training title win. “It’s special, those guys work hard every day and certainly they deserve a lot of the credit,” he said. “They’re in the thick of going to the races every night, getting home late, up early, and taking great care of the horses. They certainly deserve a lot of credit for that.” Looking ahead to 2020, Di Domenico hopes for continued success and has his sights set on a repeat. “I’d like to do it again,” Di Domenico said. “It was fun and just the fact that you go to the track and most nights you feel like you’re prepared and you have as good a chance as any to win is a very good feeling. Going home after winning a race or two races is very gratifying.” Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. The M Life Rewards Ladies Series begins Monday night, March 2 while the M Life Rewards Gents Series kicks off Tuesday, March 3. The Blue Chip Matchmaker Series will return Friday, March 13 and the Borgata Pacing Series starts Saturday, March 14. First post time is 7:05 p.m. For entries to the races, By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

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