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YONKERS, N.Y. – Although he’s raced at the stakes level for much of his harness racing career, Western Joe has never before tackled the MGM Borgata Pacing Series, or the George Morton Levy Pacing Series as it was formerly known. In fact, of the 7-year-old’s 101 starts heading into the Borgata Series first leg, only seven of them had come at Yonkers Raceway, the latest being an open handicap pace in Nov. 2019. The decision to nominate and race in the grueling six-week Borgata Series was a change of tactics by Western Joe’s connections in an effort to bring out the gelding’s best. Now he's going for $514,000 Monday night. Yonker's card Monday features more than $1 million in purses. Western Joe’s biggest season to date came in 2018 when he won the $260,100 Sam McKee Memorial Pace on Hambletonian Day and the $100,000 Great Northeast Open Series Final at Pocono Downs in Sept. 2018. Western Joe raced through the winter leading up to that campaign, but had time off before his 2019 and 2020 seasons, which did not see Western Joe replicate his 2018 successes. Although he banked just under $100,000 in each of the last two years, Western Joe hadn’t found the Grand Circuit winner’s circle again. “We’ve done some stakes the last few years and honestly, it seemed like he was maybe a step behind,” said breeder and co-owner Anthony Ruggeri. “Toward the end of 2020, he had been racing well at the Meadowlands, he was pretty sharp. We decided to try the Borgata.  “We’ve been doing all the regular stakes races at the Meadowlands and all these big tracks and we figured we would try something different. Especially since in 2018, we raced him through the winter that year and we decided that’s what we were going to do this year. He loves to race every week; he actually doesn’t like time off. He gets a little moody when he gets time off, he gets a little pouty. It’s tough and there are five legs, but we thought maybe he would like it.” Western Joe was thrown to the wolves in the Borgata Series first leg, drawing into the first division with preseason favorite Let It Ride and 2020 MGM Borgata Invitational Pace champion This Is The Plan. Dismissed at odds of 12-1, Western Joe followed along in third from post two and despite pacing home in :27.4, lost a position in the stretch to finish fourth.  “Right out of the gate, it was a tough draw,” Ruggeri said. “We did get a nice post, which is not regular for us. I knew it would be tough, but I thought we had a shot. He raced pretty well that first leg. I think it took a little bit of time to get used to the half-mile. He ran in a little bit that first week. He’s been pretty straight since then and as the legs went on, I think he got more comfortable.” Western Joe improved in the second leg, leaving from post six to set the pace through fractions of :26.2, :55.3, and 1:23.2. Western Joe kicked home in :27.3, pacing the mile in 1:51.1, but was caught in the stretch by pocket-riding Rockapelo for a nose loss. In the third leg, Western Joe had a breakthrough win over Backstreet Shadow, circling three-wide into the stretch to cruise 2 lengths clear as driver Dexter Dunn put away the whip and leaned back in the final sixteenth. For Ruggeri though, Western Joe’s most impressive Borgata Series performance came in the fourth leg. Forced to deal with post seven, Dunn tried to leave with Western Joe, but took back into sixth as None Bettor blitzed an opening quarter of :26.3 and a half of :55.1 on a clear lead. With the field single file and strung out behind None Bettor, Western Joe needed to make up 13 lengths in the final lap.  Entering the final turn, None Bettor weakened as the fractions took their toll. Sheriff pulled the pocket. Rockapelo vacated the pylons in third. Pat Stanley and Mac’s Jackpot got in gear from the backfield. Only Idea Jimmy and Western Joe stuck to the inside, but turning into the stretch, Brent Holland guided Ideal Jimmy off the pegs in search of a clear run at None Bettor. The move proved costly for Ideal Jimmy as the inside opened up and Dunn saw a path through with Western Joe. He shifted in, went to a strong right-handed whip, and Western Joe accelerated through the narrow opening for a neck victory. “I know that everyone thinks that was all a matter of luck, but you have to be able to take advantage of that,” Ruggeri said. “The rail opened up for him, but I thought that was a great race. He loves to come the inside route, so when I saw the inside open up, I knew he was going to take off. We just took advantage of that little opening and came on and won.  “He’s been closing well. You can never give up on ‘Joe,’ ” Ruggeri continued. “Sometimes it can look like he’s gapping or he’s being a little lazy, he’ll always come back and he always gives you that great last quarter. If the driver knows him, then he’s going to be OK. I think Dexter knows him really well now.” Western Joe finished second a half-length behind Backstreet Shadow in the final preliminary leg April 12 to boost his record to 33-for-106 with $791,858 earned and 283 points toward the Borgata Series Final, putting him second in the standings behind Leonidas and earning a spot behind the gate in the $514,000 Series Final Monday night (April 19). “It’s been fun. I think he’s done pretty well. We had a couple of nice wins and a couple of good seconds. He was close enough to win four legs, he’s been sharp as of late, Ruggeri said. “I was never 100 percent sure about racing on a half-mile with him. It’s been a nice surprise.” No matter the performance in the preliminaries, the open post position draw in the final can be the undoing of many horses. This Is The Plan won his division of the Borgata fourth leg and finished second in the other four legs for Ron Burke and Yannick Gingras, but drew post eight in the final, the same unlucky position he drew ahead of his victory is last fall’s Borgata Invitational.  Leonidas won all four preliminary legs he entered for Sheena McElhiney and Austin Siegelman, but will need to overcome post seven in the final. Backstreet Shadow had two wins and two seconds in the preliminaries and drew post six for Ron Burke and Tim Tetrick. Western Joe drew just to the inside of those rivals in post five. The field also includes Rockapelo, the third member of the ‘Burke Brigade’ and winner of two preliminary legs who will be driven by George Brennan from post one. Hesa Kingslayer captured three Borgata legs and was third in another for Mike Deters and Jim Marohn, Jr. and drew post two. Mach N Cheese and Lyons Steel complete the lineup. “The post position is what I was originally worried about,” Ruggeri said. “No matter where he goes, he seems to be on the outside. But the five is a decent spot here because the big stakes horses are on the outside of us, which is a bonus. It’s better than the six, seven, or eight, so we’ll take it. “We’re excited and we feel we have a good shot,” Ruggeri continued. “He’s sharp and we got a great driver. Everything seems to be falling into place here. I’m hoping he wins, but I’d be happy with second or third. He’s a great horse and he’s always been a notch underneath where I think he could be. Hopefully this series will boost him up a little bit.” For Ruggeri, a win in the MGM Borgata Series Final would mean more than the check that comes along with it. Western Joe is the only homebred in the field. Ruggeri claimed Western Joe’s dam, Ante Fay, for $20,000 at the Meadowlands in June 2004 and kept her as a broodmare. He bred her to Western Ideal in 2014 and she produced Western Joe, who Ruggeri partners in ownership with Richard Tosies and sent to Chris Choate to train. Western Joe is currently the only horse in Ruggeri’s stable. “I really liked (Ante Fay), she was a tough mare, so I kept her and bred her. I’ve had ‘Joe’ since he was a baby. It feels like it’s your own kid. He’s been by far the best horse I’ve ever had,” Ruggeri said. “Hopefully he’ll continue to race and do great things. It’s a very personal experience for me, it’s not just a business. I don’t have many horses, the most I have is two or three at a time. He’s a labor of love. “I could have never got ‘Joe’ through any other way,” Ruggeri continued. “It’s much more risky to breed than to claim one that’s been racing, but it’s high risk, high reward. You’ll never get a champion through the claiming game.” Ruggeri visited Western Joe in Choate’s stable Saturday morning and was pleased with what he saw. “He looks dynamite. He has a great attitude. He’s frisky, he’s sharp, he really looks good,” Ruggeri said. “I’m cautiously optimistic. You’re still racing against Yannick and Tetrick and you have George Brennan on the rail. You can’t be too confident. This is not going to be an easy race. It’s going to be a lot of luck and position and you just hope you get a good trip. Leonidas won four legs and he has the seven hole. Everyone can’t leave, so we’ll see what happens. “The money is great, but it would mean a lot emotionally,” Ruggeri continued. “He’s been such a great horse for a long time. We won one or two big races along the way, but if you don’t consistently win them, you’re not considered a champion so to speak. I think ‘Joe’ needs that, he needs another big race or two on his resume to really cement him as a great horse. I’d like to see him get that.” Monday night’s 10-race card also features the $232,800 Blue Chip Matchmaker Series Final, the $100,000 MGM Borgata Pacing Series Consolation, the $60,000 Blue Chip Matchmaker Series Consolation, a $40,000 race for MGM Borgata Series eligibles, and a $35,000 open handicap pace. First post time is 7:15 p.m. Free past performances for the races are available here. By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – It’s not every day the phone rings and the person on the other end wants to send a stakes-caliber mare to your stable. But that’s exactly what happened a few weeks before the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series first leg when Todd Buter answered Bill Bercury’s call. Then the trainer of Blue Ivy, who he was pointing to the Matchmaker Series at Yonkers Raceway, the western Pennsylvania-based Bercury asked New York-based Buter to take the mare on the recommendation of Todd’s son, Tyler. “Mr. Bercury contacted Tyler and said he wanted him to drive Blue Ivy in the Matchmaker. He asked if Tyler had any suggestions of who he should send her to. Tyler said, ‘well, I’m sure my dad would take her,’ so he gave me a call and that’s how it ended up. He brought her out about a week before her first start.” Todd Buter didn’t know Bercury before that call and Tyler Buter hadn’t driven Blue Ivy since Bercury took over the training in Nov. 2019. However, Tyler Buter had success with the mare in the past; in nine starts together from July 2018 through Oct. 2019, Buter and Blue Ivy paired for four wins, two seconds, and a fourth in the $122,224 Lady Maud Pace at Yonkers. Bercury’s instructions were concise. “She’s easy to get along with and likes being outside as much as possible; being a mare, that’s kind of routine anyway. He left the rest up to me,” Todd Buter said. Buter found that Blue Ivy was easy to get along with, as advertised, and had no bad traits.  “When you put her on the racetrack to head to the starting gate, she’s all business,” he said. “Very easy on herself on the racetrack, very good attitude on the track, and since she’s been here, she’s had all good days.” Blue Ivy debuted for the Buters in the Matchmaker first leg March 12. After a fifth-place finish in a Meadows open handicap against males the week prior, the public dismissed her at 6-1, the second longest shot in the field of a half-dozen distaffers. Blue Ivy got away fifth as 4-5 favorite Soho Burning Love set the tempo. In the second lap, Blue Ivy grabbed the cover of Lady Dela Renta and advanced within 2 3/4-lengths of the lead passing the three-quarters.  At the midway point of the final turn, Buter – motionless in the sulky to that point – made his first move, popping the ear plugs and putting the whip on Blue Ivy’s tail before guiding her three-wide into the stretch. Buter tucked the whip in the final yards as Blue Ivy glided past Soho Burning Love to record a length win in 1:53.3. “She went some good miles before and you never know what to expect coming over to Yonkers and putting them on the half-mile track, but she adapted well and she’s been very good,” Todd Buter said. “I thought after the first week that we probably could go up against most of the ones that were in there. She did that very easily. That built our confidence up, that’s for sure.” In the Matchmaker second leg, Blue Ivy charged home with a :27.1 final quarter to finish second behind Seaswift Joy, who had set a dawdling pace. The third leg saw Alexa Skye catch a soft half of :57.3 and Blue Ivy unable to track her down in the stretch, again finishing second. Legs four and five each resulted in a win for Blue Ivy, including a 4-length, 1:53 romp April 2 and a 1 1/4-legnth, 1:52.3 effort while setting the pace April 9. In her career, Blue Ivy is 25-for-56 with $374,040 earned. “She’s won on the front, she won first-over, and she won second-over. She’s done it all ways, she doesn’t just have to go one way all the time,” Todd Buter remarked. With 325 points accumulated throughout the preliminaries, Blue Ivy leads the standings heading into the $232,800 series final Monday night (April 19). She secured a coveted inside position in the open draw in post three while Jeff Cullipher’s series favorite Alexa Skye will start from post six. The field also includes Machnhope, winner of two preliminary legs for Noel Daley and Andrew McCarthy, Nick Devita’s duo of Siesta Beach and Caviart Cherie, Monica Gallagher, Snobbytown, and My Ruebe Star.  For Todd Buter, drawing inside Alexa Skye, who won all four Matchmaker preliminary legs she entered, is already a win. The Matchmaker final will be Blue Ivy’s second crack at Alexa Skye after the pair avoided each other in all but one of the preliminary legs.  “I was glad to see that. I surely didn’t want to have the six, seven, or eight,” Buter said. “It’s probably going to depend on the trip. They’ve both shown that they’re very nice mares. We’ll just have to see how it shakes out. The ideal trip would be sitting the two-hole behind Alexa Skye, but I think there’s probably six other ones in there that would like to do the same thing. “We’ll hope she’s happy and healthy on Monday and see how it shakes out,” Buter continued. “She’s been feeling good, we didn’t change anything. It seems like she’s having a very good week leading up to it. She doesn’t take a lot of work.” Monday night’s 10-race card also features the $514,000 MGM Borgata Pacing Series Final, the $100,000 MGM Borgata Pacing Series Consolation, the $60,000 Blue Chip Matchmaker Series Consolation, a $40,000 race for MGM Borgata Series eligibles, and a $35,000 open handicap pace. First post time is 7:15 p.m. Free past performances for the races are available here. By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – At the start of the M Life Ladies Pacing Series at Yonkers Raceway March 2, Pettycoat Business had the resume to be the series favorite on paper. Unraced at 2, the Art Major daughter emerged from a winter break following in 3-year-old season in the Brian Brown stable that included placings in a leg of the New York Sire Stakes, two legs and the final of the Kentucky Sire Stakes, the $107,320 Adio Volo at the Meadows, the $120,000 Courageous Lady at Northfield Park, and a victory in an elimination of the Empire Breeders Classic. Pettycoat Business also made the final of the Breeders Crown for 3-year-old pacing fillies.  Although she earned $125,673 last year, Pettycoat Business only won three races, making her a perfect fit for the M Life Ladies Pacing Series for 3-year-old fillies and 4-year-old mares who had not won 4 pari-mutuel races or $50,000 as of December 1, 2020. The ownership group of Michael Robinson, Robert Mondillo, RBH Ventures, Inc., and Gilbilly Stable sent Pettycoat Business to Scott Di Domenico. “The ownership sent her up here with the thought of her being pretty good for this series. Fortunately, I got the call for that,” Di Domenico said. “She’s a nice mare. I got her to train just out of the winter break. We trained her back. I’ve been training horses for the majority ownership of her for a while now. They’re good to me and gave me an opportunity with her.” Pettycoat Business qualified a winner at Dover Downs Feb. 1 before making her Yonkers debut Feb. 24 in a $14,000 overnight. She was welcomed with post eight and despite the daunting position, made the lead in a :27.2 opening quarter and led the field through fractions of :56 and 1:24.1 before pacing home in :30.1 to finish second, beaten by Paige’s Girl. “She’s a big, strong mare. We qualified her down at Dover, she had a nice qualifier. Brought her up to Yonkers the first week. She had the eight hole and we had her closed off, had a blind bridle on her and she was really, really aggressive. She set some hot fractions that night just because she was pretty wild,” Di Domenico explained. “We made some equipment changes to her out of that start. Since then, she’s been pretty professional and done what George (Brennan) has asked of her.” Pettycoat Business set the pace, but finished third in the series first leg, scored an off-the-pace win in the second leg, and powered away from the field for a 4-length victory in 1:54.1 in the final preliminary leg March 16 to earn a place in the $57,800 series final Tuesday night (March 23). Pettycoat Business drew post one in the final and will have regular driver George Brennan in the sulky. The pair are 8-5 on the morning line. The reinsman had his choice of Pettycoat Business and Turnthefrownaround, a 4-year-old Roll With Joe daughter trained by Ron Burke who went a perfect 3-for-3 in the series preliminaries, all with Brennan in the sulky. Turnthefrownaround will start from post two in the final in her faceoff with Pettycoat Business and Joe Bongiorno will take over the assignment. She is the 3-1 second choice on the morning line.  Paige’s Girl only started in two of the three series preliminary legs, but took both of them in gate-to-wire fashion. The Lance Hudson trainee drew post five in the final and is 5-1 on the morning line with Scott Zeron in the bike. Flirty Forty, Sound Idea, Ready Set Rock, Dragon Roll, and Avaya Hanover complete the lineup. “I like that I have the rail and I like that I have George Brennan,” Di Domenico said. “You can’t take anything away from those other mares, too. They’ve done a really good job through the first few weeks of it. It’s a horse race and anything can happen.” Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday through Friday with a first post time of 7:15 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – If harness racing future wagering were offered today on the Borgata Pacing Series Final, which will be held Monday, April 19, 2021 at Yonkers Raceway after five preliminary legs, the two favorites would undoubtably be Let It Ride and This Is The Plan. After 40 of the 47 eligible pacers were entered into the Borgata Series first leg and split into five divisions, those two favorites found themselves in the same split – the first one of the series – which begins tonight (March 15) in race three. Let It Ride won two Group 1 stakes in Australia in 2018, but lost his form and settled into a winless rut in 2020.  He shipped to America last fall to Nifty Norman’s stable and added Lasix, which Norman credited as a key change for the 8-year-old Rock N Roll Heaven gelding.  Let It Ride is undefeated in six U.S. starts, including a 1:48.1 victory in the $28,000 Meadowlands open/preferred handicap Jan. 2 and an off the pace victory in 1:52.1 with a :26.4 final quarter in the $30,000 Yonkers open handicap Jan. 11, his latest pari-mutuel outing.  Let It Ride tuned up for the Borgata Series with a 1:54 qualifier at the Meadowlands March 6. He drew post four in the $40,000 Borgata opening division and with regular reinsman Dexter Dunn set to drive, is the 9-5 morning line favorite. While Let It Ride will make his first Grand Circuit start in the Borgata, This Is The Plan is no stranger to the series; he’s been an active player in North America’s top races since 2017. Career highlights include wins in the $176,000 Hoosier Park Pacing Derby in 2020, the $500,000 Ben Franklin Final and $200,000 Prix d’Été in 2019 and the $260,000 Progress Pace in 2018.  In his most recent stakes outing, George Brennan found This Is The Plan a perfect second-over trip from post seven in the $125,000 Invitational Pace for Borgata Series Eligibles at Yonkers Nov. 28. The Ron Burke trainee capitalized, earning a half-length victory in 1:52. This Is The Plan then finished second in a Meadowlands preferred Dec. 5 before getting a winter break. He returned with a 1:54 qualifier at the Swamp March 6 to prepare for the Borgata Series. This Is The Plan drew post one in the Borgata first division and with regular driver Yannick Gingras in the sulky, is 3-1 on the morning line. Other players in the Borgata first division include Western Joe, American History, Stars Align, Rodeo Rock, Bronx Seelster, and Tellitsabb. The second division of the Borgata first leg features the returns of American Mercury, who switches barns to the Norman stable and finished a nose ahead of Let It Ride in the March 6 qualifier, and None Better, who is back off two qualifying wins (1:50.4 at Pompano Feb. 15 and 1:50.1 at the Meadowlands Feb. 27) and is now in the Nancy Takter stable. The third division features the Grand Circuit debut of Pat Stanley for Shane Tritton, the Yonkers return of San Domino, the beaten favorite in the Invitational for Borgata Series Eligibles last fall, and Tookadiveoffdipper, who was third in that Invitational.  The fourth division pits several stalwarts of the Yonkers open handicap pace against each other, including Hesa Kingslayer, Ideal Jimmy, The Wall, Shnitzledosomethin, and Ostro Hanover.  The final division of the Borgata first leg sees the return of Backstreet Shadow, winner of the $164,000 Roll With Joe in 2020, and the 16-1 upsetter of the 2020 $100,000 Potomac Pace, Leonidas, who captured a $30,000 Yonkers open in his pari-mutuel return March 1. Monday’s card features a $2,884 pick six carryover. The wager begins in race three and encompasses all five divisions of the Borgata first leg, plus the $25,000 preferred handicap pace. The wager features a $1 minimum stake, a 20% takeout rate, and no jackpot provision. Free full-card past performances are available here. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday through Friday with a first post time of 7:15 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – It’s common for harness racing horses shipping over from New Zealand or Australia to need change: a new style of racing and training, to add Lasix, or just a change of scenery. And often, there is nowhere to go but up for those horses. Take standout Nifty Norman import Let It Ride N as an example. He lost 10 straight races in Australia before coming to the U.S., added Lasix, and became the next rising star pacer. However, when Some Waratah A arrived in Amanda Kelley’s stable from Australia on a five-race win streak, she worried there was nowhere to go but down.  “That put a lot of pressure on me because I was like, ‘I don’t want to screw this horse up,’ ” Kelley said. Despite Kelley’s fears, after two races in the U.S., Some Waratah A extended his win streak to seven. First, taking a $25,000 Yonkers Raceway overnight Feb. 8 and then capturing the $30,000 open handicap pace one week later. “He’s doing everything right over there and he’s coming in and having to go up in class. That put more pressure on me,” Kelley said. “He wins that, second start in the U.S., welcome to America, here’s the Yonkers open. But he handled it.” By Somebeachsomewhere out of 3-time Group 1 winning and AU$564,770-earning mare Lady Waratah, Some Waratah A began his career in Australia in 2017. He went 4-for-13 through December 2018 before going on the shelf for just over a year. Some Waratah A returned to the races in January 2020 and through August 2020, won just two of 14 starts, including a claimer going for AU$6,120 at Tabcorp Park Menangle Aug. 10. Some Waratah A’s luck began to change Sept. 14, 2020 when he captured another claimer at the same level at Menangle. He then won two straight races at Canberra Sept. 21 and 28 before returning to Menangle Oct. 3 in thee FFA pace. By now, he had caught the eye of agents like Chris Scicluna, who Kelley and owner Fred Scheigert work with, and they were interested in Some Waratah. In that FFA pace, Some Waratah A gunned to the lead and parked rival Dee Double You through a :26.5 first quarter. Some Waratah A faced pressure throughout, getting a half in :55.9 and three-quarters in 1:23.1. The plugs came out as Some Waratah A turned for home on the lead with a wall of horses fanning out behind him to take their shots. They all missed. Some Waratah A utilized a :27.2 final quarter to kick away from the field, scoring by open lengths in a lifetime b Kelley and Scheigert struck a deal to buy Some Waratah A and bring him to the U.S., but the previous owners wanted to race him one more time. “The dreaded one more time,” as Kelley calls it.est 1:50.3. “I go through them, watch a bunch of replays, see how they move, see what we like about them and go from there,” Kelley said. “He just kept impressing us. He covers the ground effortlessly. He’s really floaty, he’s light on his feet, he’s really quick off the car and he showed that in all of his replays.” They entered Some Waratah A in a Group 3 stakes at Menangle Oct. 10. From an inside post, he again went straight to the lead and parked rival Marty Major through a blistering :25.6 first quarter. Some Waratah A got to the half in :54.2 and seemed vulnerable as Marty Major drew on even terms, Dee Double You and Escalera wound up wide, and Lets Katchmeifucan loomed in the pocket at the midway point of the final turn.  But just like last time, the plugs came out at the top of the stretch and Some Waratah A revealed another gear. He held on to earn his first stakes win. “Even the announcer didn’t think he could keep going, but he did; he dug in and won by a head. That heart in a horse really appealed to me,” Kelley said. Some Waratah A shipped to the U.S. Nov. 2, 2020. Upon arriving in her Saratoga, N.Y. stable, Kelley was impressed by how athletic the 7-year-old gelding looked, even comparing him to a Greyhound.  “When we started working with him, I was really pleasantly surprised. You never know how they’re going to come. They have such a different style,” Kelley said. “Some of them can be a little difficult or stubborn or hot. He’s just pleasant to be around. He doesn’t do anything wrong. He’s friendly, he meets you at the gate, he wants you to brush on him and pet him, he likes his cookies. Just about anybody could jog him.” Kelley worked with Some Waratah A for about two months until he was ready to qualify Jan. 23, 2021. She took Some Waratah A to the Meadowlands, where she intended to race him. Almost nothing went according to plan despite employing the driving services of Todd McCarthy, who won with Some Waratah A at Menangle in April 2020. Still, Some Waratah A finished second by a neck in 1:56.2. “It was frigid. It was one of the worst, coldest days that we had and it was bitter. The first one, you want them to come back off the car, have a nice easy qualifier, maybe kick home a little bit. It ended up just a mess in there,” Kelley said. “Todd told me he had to leave with him and retake with him. He said he was OK. I don’t think he wowed him, but he was OK. I didn’t get a good read off of that one.” Set to race another horse on the Jan. 29 program at Yonkers, Kelley decided to change plans with Some Waratah A and enter him to qualify at the Hilltop before the card. With Tyler Buter in the bike, Some Waratah A enjoyed a pocket trip before winning by 3/4 lengths in 1:56.4. “He got around the track really well and Tyler said he was really good, so I decided to put him back in there to race,” Kelley said. In his Yonkers debut Feb. 8, Some Waratah A had to change tactics. Coming from off the pace, Buter saved ground the first three-quarters before shifting out behind Twin B Speedo. Some Waratah A angled three-wide into the stretch and quickly engulfed pacesetter Moonshine Kisses. He then raced Artie’s Ideal to the wire, holding the closer off by a neck to post a 7-1 upset. “We didn’t know what to expect his first start because as a general rule, when they get put in the box as a foreign horse, money doesn’t matter, you get put in non-winners of $20,000 (last five), but he had more money made than that, so we had to go in the winners over,” Kelley explained. “I was a little worried about that just off of two qualifiers. He surprised me when he got a good trip and found the wire. “That’s not really his style,” Kelley continued. “He’s a leaver. He goes to the front and he likes it there. That’s where he does his best work, so I was a little worried about him even coming off the car and trying to get a trip. He did it that way, too so I was pleased. Any horse that will do it both ways is nice.” Some Waratah A returned in the Yonkers open handicap pace and this time, got to flaunt his speed. Buter sent him to the top through a :27.1 opening panel and played catch me if you can through fractions of :55.3 and 1:24.1 on a track rated good. With Shnitzledosomethin and Rockapelo parked the mile and Pat Stanley coming from 8 1/2 lengths behind, Some Waratah was home free, earning a length victory in the Hilltop’s featured pace in 1:53.2. “I decided to put him back in because he came out of his first start pretty well and afterwards, Tyler told me he was pretty sharp and he was really good,” Kelley said. “I was pretty surprised at the effort and he got a decent trip, some of the favorites got parked and it worked out for us.” The win put Kelley in a predicament, however. She hadn’t planned on racing Some Waratah A at Yonkers and hadn’t expected to win the open handicap so soon. She certainly wasn’t thinking about the Borgata Pacing Series before that win, which came just one day before the series nominations closed. Ultimately though, she opted not to stake him. “We only had the one start going in and we didn’t have a good gauge on him,” Kelley said. “I don’t like to push them that hard when he just started racing here. We’re a three-hour ship, too, so I was a little worried about the distance for a six-week long event. I didn’t want to hurt him yet, push him that hard yet.” Some Waratah A earned a week off after his open victory, but will likely reappear in the open ranks at Yonkers and Saratoga throughout the spring. “I’ll probably bounce between them,” Kelley said. “He likes Yonkers, obviously, so we’ll definitely be seeing some Yonkers.” Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday through Friday with a first post time of 7:15 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. by Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY  

YONKERS, N.Y. – Night after night, Noel Rhodd looked on and smiled from the paddock as he watched the Standardbred trotters and pacers trek up the ramp and onto the racetrack. Rhodd felt content watching the harness racing drivers hop onto their race bikes, knowing the seat was clean and the stirrups were in just the right spot. He felt at ease knowing the quick hitch was secured and the safety straps – which would keep the bike attached to the harness should the quick hitch fail – were fastened. And he felt pride as the spotless sulkies sparkled under the beams of the track lights.  Rhodd knew the seat was clean because he cleaned it. He knew the stirrups were in the right spot and wouldn’t slip because he put them there and tightened them. He knew the safety straps were in place because he checked them. And he knew the bikes shined because he meticulously shined them.  Rhodd has been working in the Yonkers Raceway paddock for 30 years and he’s been smiling at this scene, race after race, night after night for the duration. He doesn’t clean the seat for his own comfort. He doesn’t check the stirrups and hitches for his own safety. And he doesn’t shine the bikes for recognition. Much like the businessman who spends hours on Sunday night conditioning and polishing his oxfords for the week ahead, Rhodd knows most who have the opportunity to appreciate his work won’t.  But that’s OK with Rhodd. Like the businessman with his oxfords, Rhodd shines the bikes for the sense of accomplishment and the satisfaction of a job well-done, not to be noticed. And he checks and double-checks the rigging of the bikes for the safety of his friends – the drivers – and of the horses.  “The most important thing is getting the job done right. Safety is on the agenda,” Rhodd said before the races Thursday, Jan. 28. “Anything to make the races more successful and more safe. That’s the top of the line for me, to make sure everything is safe and I’m doing my best to make sure everything runs smooth. The whole thing is to be safe every night and respect each other.” For Rhodd, part of earning that respect is knowing the individual drivers: their preferences, quirks, and personalities.  “All of them are different. They are professional people. They make you become a professional,” he said. “That’s good for me because it puts me to a higher standard, I don’t take anything for granted, I’m going for professionalism. Every driver is different and personalities are important. You don’t do a half-assed job, you do a quality job because that’s what they expect from you, quality work.” In return, Rhodd respects the dedication and painstaking work of the horsepeople. He endeavors to make their jobs easier when they are at the track. “You are dealing with a lot of people who work very hard,” Rhodd said. “They get out of bed at 4 o’clock, they come here to race, they have to put away the horses when they get home, they have their family, they have rent; the horse business is not a joke. In this business, you can’t take off, you have to be here constantly taking care of these horses like babies. They need a whole lot of care for them to perform well. The grooms have to work hard. It’s a lot of things that go into it.” Rhodd’s typical day goes something like this: He arrives at the track well before first post time and begins by placing the Trakus tags – which transmit each horse’s position in the race to the track’s graphics in real time – in the saddlepads and ensuring the batteries are charged and the transmitters are functioning. Then, he gets the race bikes ready. Finally, Rhodd distributes the saddlepads to the horsepeople and he makes sure the numbers are fastened. “Sometimes, they forget to clip the number and it can fall off during a race. That’s an important thing to me that I like to look at, I make sure they clip the number correctly because they are so busy doing a whole lot of things. Sometimes, one groom is taking care of three horses and he forgets to clip on one side. Sometimes, they forget to attach the bike and put the safety strap on. A lot of basic and small things you have to look at. It’s a fast environment and people are doing things quickly. That’s why I like to be safe in everything I do,” Rhodd explained. At the end of the night, Rhodd collects all the saddlepads and cleans them with a disinfectant before putting them away for the next racing program. Then, it’s back to the race bikes. “I clean the bikes up. They use whips now that leave marks on the side of the bikes, so I make sure there are no whip marks on the bikes,” Rhodd said. “It looks good. Whenever they go up the ramp, I’m looking at the bikes. I enjoy how clean they look because of the work I put into them to make them look good.” A testament to his diligence, Rhodd puts just as much effort into a sulky that will leave the paddock that night as one which will stay for the next night’s races. “Sometimes these guys go away with their bikes. I say, ‘you can’t take a dirty bike away. Let me clean it for you,’ ” Rhodd said. “We don’t do that here. We don’t take dirty bikes away and bring dirty bikes back. We want to make sure these bikes are clean even if they’re not staying here. That’s the way we work. We don’t go for that laziness. We want to do a good job.” Rhodd developed his appreciation for doing a quality job and for working hard while growing up on the island of Jamaica in the late 1950s and 1960s. He recalls learning what he refers to as the basics: cleaning the house, washing the dishes, cooking, ironing, and cleaning shoes.  “In Jamaica growing up, we had a lot of morals and a lot of discipline. We had elders to respect and our name to honor. It’s a different time now with so much technology. We didn’t have that,” Rhodd said. “That basic stuff kept us in line. We got worked hard. That’s why I lasted so long here (at Yonkers). If I didn’t get that grooming early, I couldn’t last this long.” Rhodd also got his first exposure to horse racing in his native country. He fondly recalls events such as English jockey Lester Piggott’s visit to Caymanas Park, a Thoroughbred venue just to the west of the Jamaican capital of Kingston. “We have flats in Jamaica, I loved the flats. I guess that’s where it stemmed from, really,” Rhodd said. “I used to listen to the races on the radio. Sometimes, we would go to the betting shops and we would bet and listen to the races. I went to Caymanas Park many times and enjoyed the racing, but I wasn’t as involved with it as I am here.” A 19-year-old Rhodd, along with his mother and siblings, immigrated to the United States in 1975 after his father passed away. The move, Rhodd says, was, “for betterment of ourselves, to live a strong and healthy life.” Rhodd initially worked in a clothing store before beginning a career at the Department of Parks and Recreation. There, he happened to work with an owner of Standardbred racehorses and eventually visited Yonkers Raceway. “My foreman had a horse who raced at Yonkers,” Rhodd said. “I would go with him at lunchtime to visit his horse and one day they said they had a job in the paddock to be the saddlepad distributor. I thought, it’s a part-time job, why not give it a try?” Rhodd stayed three decades. For most of that time, he continued to work full-time at the Department of Parks and Recreation before heading to Yonkers in the evenings. “It was a beautiful experience for me because I’ve learned so much, especially when the horses come from overseas for the International Trot. All the excitement and different people, getting it together,” Rhodd said. “I enjoy being there because they all love me and I love them. I love everybody.” That is a statement backed up by his colleagues. “Always smiling and always singing,” Linda Toscano said of Rhodd.  “A great, sincere guy! A true promoter of happiness,” Paul Kelley said. Barbara Bongiorno described Rhodd as, “one the most positive men we know, always smiling and happy.” “Noel was a great help to anyone that needed it in the paddock at Yonkers,” Cat Manzi said. “He was always a pleasure to work with and helped me on many occasions.” In his time at Yonkers, Rhodd has witnessed in close proximity many of the sport’s great horses, trainers, and drivers. It’s hard for him to name favorites, but he does count Jordan Stratton among his closest friends. “Jordan Stratton has been a very great help to me. Whenever I need anything, I know I can talk to him, I can go to him. He’s there for me all the time,” Rhodd said. “As a young man, he could be my son. Anything that’s on my mind, personal, emotional, I could go to him and express myself right there and he’s always there for me to give me some support. He’s a great listener and advisor.” “I have learned a lot from Noel, and we have become close friends,” Stratton said. “His outlook on life is very positive and uplifting. Sometimes I get swept up in the stress of racing and can count on him to remind me what really matters in life: friends and family. He treated everyone like he knew them their whole lives and sincerely cared how their day was going.” It’s not surprising then, that Bit Of A Legend is one of Rhodd’s favorite horses. Stratton drove the New Zealand-bred, Pete Tritton-trained horse to victory in the $609,000 George Morton Levy Series Final in 2016, among many other overnight and stakes wins locally and out of town.  It wasn’t just Bit Of A Legend’s exploits on the track that garnered Rhodd’s attention; he was also fascinated by the horse’s quiet demeanor in the paddock and the way he worked in perfect sync with his driver. Rhodd also recalls the emotion surrounding Bit Of A Legend’s final race, a runner-up finish in a $27,000 Yonkers overnight Nov. 30, 2019. “That’s a very beautiful horse and I learned a lot from that horse, the way he comes in the paddock, the way he behaves, the way he gets along so good with Jordan,” Rhodd said. “The day when he left for stud, it was hard for Pete and Jordan. Super horse.” Rhodd is 64 years old and his tenure at Yonkers has also come to a close. Friday, Jan. 29, 2021 marked his last day at the track. On Thursday, Jan. 28, the horsepeople gathered for a group photo with Rhodd, an uncustomary event in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, to celebrate his career and acknowledge his hard work and the mindset Rhodd brought to the job. Rhodd contracted COVID-19 in the early days of the pandemic when the virus tore through the Standardbred community. The battle helped shift Rhodd’s perspective. “I want to be around family, the grandchildren, have a wonderful time, enjoy life, and just be thankful for what we have. Look what happened with the virus, so many people are gone. There’s more now to be happy and joyful for because we could have gone, too,” Rhodd said.  “I could have gone because I got the virus and it hit me hard. It hit me so hard, it was unbelievable. We lost John Brennan, we lost the Fuscos. This was no joke; we almost lost me, too. I always take care of myself, but this caused me to take more interest in myself, because of what happened.” “It was hard to listen to him on the phone while he had COVID,” Jordan Stratton said of his friend. “He really was up against the ropes. I’m glad that he pulled through and is able to surround himself with family.” Retirement will be a big change for Rhodd, who has been working since age 12 and has always enjoyed it. However, a permanent move to Florida and grandchildren to chase after will ease the transition. “Working has been engrained in me from my childhood. I had a wonderful time working,” Rhodd said. “I don’t let my job become a stressful situation. It’s a real joyful thing. I still feel good.  “I have little grandkids, they are young. I have a lot to teach them,” Rhodd continued. “That’s what I’m going to enjoy. I want to spend my life with them and enjoy them while they’re young. It’s not going to be easy, kids today are not easy, but at least I’ll be doing something with my family.” But at 6:15 p.m. on Jan. 28, one night before his retirement and one hour before first post time, Rhodd still showed his characteristic work ethic. There were saddlepads to distribute, race bikes to look after, and a farewell ceremony in his honor to attend. Any more thoughts about retirement would have to wait, at least for another day. “What time do you have now?” Rhodd asked. “I have to go before I’m running late.” By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY  

YONKERS, N.Y. – Australian import Let It Ride will make his Yonkers Raceway debut in the featured $30,000 open handicap pace on Opening Night (Jan. 11). The move to the Hilltop comes after the Rock N Roll Heaven gelding took a Meadowlands preferred/open handicap in such style as to garner praise like, “he really amazed me,” from harness racing trainer Nifty Norman. In that start Jan. 2, driver Dexter Dunn slotted Let It Ride into seventh after starting from post nine as Harambe Deo ripped an opening quarter in :26.1. Let It Ride followed the second-over cover of Rock Diamonds and drew within 4 lengths of the lead as Harambe Deo blitzed a :53.2 half-mile. Dunn tipped Let It Ride three-deep at the midway point of the final turn and the pacer rocketed into contention.  Under a tight hold, Let It Ride angled into the stretch on even-terms with Harambe Deo. Dunn took a glimpse over his right shoulder and saw rival Hesa Kingslayer, who followed Let It Ride third-over, still 2 lengths behind and under urging. Dunn gave a few whip taps and pulled the plugs at the furlong marker. Let It Ride didn’t let up, extending through the finish line to cap the mile with a :26.1 final quarter and stopping the clock in 1:48.1, just one-fifth of a second of Golden Receiver’s record January mile at the Meadowlands in 2012. “You just don’t see an 8-year-old Rock N Roll Heaven come from Down Under and do this sort of thing,” Norman said. “I was hoping he was a winners over type of horse. He’d been a classy old horse, but he hadn’t been very good for a couple years. He trained down good, he qualified good, every start has been good. But his last race was unbelievable. He just seems like he’s getting better all the time, too.” Bred in New Zealand, Let It Ride won his first four starts at the New Zealand Metropolitan Trotting Club for trainer Tim Butt with Dunn in the sulky from Feb. 10, 2017 to March 31, 2017. Over the next year, Let It Ride went unplaced in four Group 1 races in his home country, but found better luck in Australia.  Let It Ride won six straight races at Tabcorp Park Menangle and Albion Park between May 26, 2018 and July 21, 2018, including a pair of Group 1 stakes in the AU$100,000 New South Wales Breeders Challenge Four-Year-Old Entires and Geldings Final, in which he paced the mile in 1:49.4, and the AU$200,540 Blacks A Fake Queensland Championship over 2,680 meters with Dunn driving.  After that Blacks A Fake win, which saw Let It Ride explode out of the pocket to win by 5 lengths, the brilliance seemed to fade. Let It Ride won just three of his next 27 starts through Sept. 26, 2020. Tim and Anthony Butt, longtime friends of Norman, thought the horse would benefit from Lasix and a deal was made to export the horse to the U.S. “Basically, I think putting him on Lasix turned him around,” Norman said. “We didn’t do a lot with him. His feet were a little sore, we changed his shoeing, put him on Lasix, and that was that. He’s such a good-winded horse. He must have a big set of lungs because he never seems to get tired. Nothing bothers him.” Let It Ride was cleared to the U.S. Oct. 5, 2020 and made an impression as soon as he arrived in Norman’s stable. Norman says Let It Ride is easy to be around, is a simple horse to train, and describes him as a gentleman. “He’s a grand looking horse. He’s a big, strong fellow. He’s got a great, big hind end on him and he’s in great shape,” Norman said. “He looks after himself really well. He’s got a good coat and always carries lots of weight. He’s a good-looking horse and good-natured, good to be around. He doesn’t do anything wrong. He’s a real nice horse.” Let It Ride was ready to qualify in short order and did so at Harrah’s Philadelphia Nov. 11, 2020 with assistant trainer Scott Petherick in the bike. Off a pocket trip, Let It Ride came home in :27.2 to post a 2-length win in 1:55.1. From there, Let It Ride ran up a five-race win streak culminating with that “amazing” Meadowlands win Jan. 2. Dunn drove in each pari-mutuel start. “Scotty qualified him and he said, ‘jeeze, this is the real deal. He’s strong as hell.’ Once we raced him a couple times – and we just raced him off the pace to see how he would be – Dexter came back and said, ‘this thing is a bull,’ ” Norman recalled. “I said, ‘it would be great if I could get him back to where he used to be.’ He said, ‘I think he’s there already. He feels better than he ever did when I drove him.’ I felt pretty good after he said that.” Let It Ride will start from an assigned post eight in his first start at Yonkers, which will also be his first race on a half-mile, or 800-meter, track. Let It Ride spent most of his time in Australia on the 1,400-meter oval at Tabcorp Park Menangle and got several starts over various tracks measuring approximately 1,000 meters.  Let It Ride got one start each over the 946-meter track at Cranbourne and the 931-meter track at Newcastle, which approximate the U.S. half-mile oval. In addition, Norman trains Let It Ride on the half. Norman opted to come to Yonkers before nominating Let It Ride to the Borgata Pacing Series, which closes Feb. 16, 2021. “We’ll see how he handles a half-mile track. I don’t think that will be a big challenge; I think he’ll get around it fine. We’ll just have to see how it goes,” Norman said. “I really wasn’t worried about what he drew, I just wanted to see how he’ll get around Yonkers. I don’t think he’ll be as well-suited to it, I think he’ll be better-suited to the big track, but I just wanted to see how he got around it before I pay him into the stakes races. “He’s a big horse, big hopple,” Norman continued. “He drives pretty good, but some horses just can’t find their speed on a half-mile track. But he seems to pace the turns really good wherever he goes. I don’t think he’ll have an issue.” With Dunn set to drive again, Let It Ride is the 8-5 morning line favorite. The competition includes Hesa Kingslayer, the Mike Deters trainee who finished second in this open handicap Dec. 12, 2020 and won a preferred handicap from post eight at Freehold Dec. 26, 2020 before finishing second to Let It Ride last out. Hesa Kingslayer and Jim Marohn, Jr. will start from post five and are 3-1 on the morning line. Ron Burke will send out Bettor Memories, who will start from the inside after scoring a 1:50.4 pocket-riding victory in the Meadows $16,200 open handicap Dec. 29, 2020. George Brennan will drive the 3-1 shot.  San Domino overcame post seven to score a 1:52.3, 4 1/2-length victory in this open handicap for trainer Deborah Daguet in his last start Dec. 12, 2020. He will start from post seven again tonight with Jason Bartlett set to drive.  Western Fame won two in a row in the local conditions in late November before getting parked the mile as the 7-5 favorite in his open debut for Shane Tritton. Jordan Stratton will look for a cleaner trip with the 8-year-old tonight. Tookadiveoffdipper and Raukapuka Ruler, third and fourth, respectively, in the invitational pace for Borgata Series eligibles Nov. 28, and Speed Man, 35-1 winner of this open Nov. 21, complete the lineup. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday through Friday with a first post time of 7:15 p.m. For entries to the races, click here.   By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – When New Zealand-bred harness racing pacers Mighty Santana and Hesa Kingslayer arrived in Mike Deters’ stable this summer, the former fit the mold of a typical Deters trainee: a great big, strapping, good-looking horse. Then there was the latter. Take a walk through Deters stable and he might stand out to you. “Hesa Kingslayer is quite well-built, but not very big,” Deters said. “I was actually kind of nervous about it. I said, ‘oh boy, we could be in trouble here.’ ”  By Christian Cullen out of the Bettor’s Delight mare Millwood Manhattan, Hesa Kingslayer raced for the first time as a 4-year-old, finishing third in a NZ$10,700 maiden for Greg and Nina Hope at the NZ Metropolitan Trotting Club May 4, 2018. Hesa Kingslayer then won two straight races Timaru and Invcargill. He won his first Metro race Aug. 17, 2018, but never rose to the free for all ranks in New Zealand. Hesa Kingslayer went to Australia in mid-2019 and continued to improve. He won nine of 14 starts on the continent, including three wins at Gloucester Park. His final Down Under start came May 22, 2020. “We bought him from an agent named Frank Rinaldi. He said this horse could be a diamond in the rough. He said he would need work, but he thought he could be helped and he might be a very good horse,” Deters said. “My partner, Joel Warner, and I took a shot on him. I watched a bunch of his races and he had a big motor. That’s what intrigued us about him.”  Mighty Santana after winning the Gore Cup in New Zealand (Bruce Stewart Photo) Both Mighty Santana and Hesa Kingslayer were cleared to the United States Aug. 3, 2020. Deters gave the horses all the time they needed. “We got him the first week of August and I turned him out for a few weeks and we started a slow grind to get him ready,” Deters said. “These are actually the first horses I’ve imported myself, and the agent recommended that if you give them some time, you’re far better off. And that’s what we did.” Before starting serious work with Hesa Kingslayer, a few kinks needed to be worked out. The gelding had bad feet that needed correcting. He had also lost significant weight on his long journey.  “He is a really nice horse to be around, nice horse to work around,” Deters said. “We were able to do some corrective shoeing on him and take care of his stomach and turn him into a really nice horse.” Hesa Kingslayer qualified at Hoosier Park Oct. 7. With Trace Tetrick in the bike, Hesa Kingslayer gunned straight to the lead and peeled away by 3 3/4-lengths to win in 1:54.1 with a :27.2 final quarter. He hasn’t seen the front end since, and probably won’t for some time. “We knew he was very, very fast, but could be a little hot. We had a game plan that leaving with this horse is probably not a good idea,” Deters said. “Trace Tetrick qualified him and said he was pretty warm. I train him by himself. He’s fine by himself, but when he saw the starting gate, he activated.” Hesa Kingslayer finished eighth in his first Stateside pari-mutuel start Oct. 17 with Peter Wrenn in the bike. Then, he finished second at 41-1 in his next start Oct. 23, pacing home with a :25.4 final quarter under Tim Tetrick’s encouragement. “My brother-in-law dove him his first start and he was hot, hot, hot, hot and he was able to duck him,” Deters said. “Then Tim Tetrick drove him the next week and he said, ‘I wouldn’t leave with this horse for a year.’ We’ve been ducking him and he always thunders home. No matter where he’s at, he’s charging at the wire. That will be the game plan for a while.” Hesa Kingslayer won his next two races, a $16,500 second division of the open pace at Hoosier Park Nov. 6 and the $18,000 open Nov. 13, in which he took a lifetime mark of 1:50.1. In his final Hoosier Park start in the open pace Nov. 20, Hesa Kingslayer utilized a :25.1 final quarter to come from 15 1/4 lengths behind to nab second. While the rest of Deters’ stable shipped to Florida for the winter following the Hoosier Park meet, Hesa Kingslayer and Mighty Santana went to Chris Freck at White Birch Farm for a Yonkers campaign.  “The purse money is one thing. A lot of those Australian and New Zealand horses are better in cooler weather. And I have a couple other open pacers at Pompano and you can only have so many of them at one location or it doesn’t work out. I think it was potentially a good move. At least the little horse is adapting to Yonkers quite well,” Deters said. Hesa Kingslayer made his Yonkers debut in the $30,000 open handicap pace Dec. 5. In that start, driver Jim Marohn, Jr. took Hesa Kingslayer back into fifth early and watched as Tookadiveoffdipper, Hot Deuce, Rock Diamonds, and Western Fame all vied for the lead. With those four still charging three-wide to the quarter and covered only 2 lengths through a :26.3 opening panel, Hesa Kingslayer bided his time. Tookadiveoffdipper parked Western Fame through a half-mile in :54.1. While San Domino slid out of sixth to join the flow third-over, Marohn stuck to the pylons with Hesa Kingslayer. Up the backstretch, San Domino tipped three-wide and confronted the pacesetters, who had dueled each other into defeat. While San Domino struck the lead with a quarter-mile to race, Hesa Kingslayer was mired in traffic and shuffled to last. Hesa Kingslayer finally had open road at the midway point of the final turn with just over a furlong left to race. He circled everyone but San Domino, who had scampered away by 4 1/2 lengths.  “I thought he raced tremendous,” Deters said. “I would have liked to see him out third-over, I think he would have had an opportunity to win, but that’s a two-second call by the driver and he sat in and did what he had to do. When he finally shook free, he was pacing at the wire. I know he didn’t really come a better last quarter than anybody else in the race, but he went from zero in mid-turn and he shifted three-high and was really pacing at the wire. I was very, very happy with his performance.” Hesa Kingslayer drew post position four in the Saturday night (Dec. 19) open handicap pace in what will be just the 37th start in the 7-year-old’s career. Marohn will drive again and the pair are 6-1 on the morning line.  Their rivals include San Domino, last week’s winner who will start from the outside post again, and Ostro Hanover, who will start from post seven after winning this open Dec. 5 and finishing second in the $125,000 Invitational Pace for Borgata Series Eligibles Nov. 28.  The field also includes Hudson Phil, who was second to Ostro Hanover in this open Dec. 5, and Speed Man, who upset this open at 35-1 Nov. 21. Rock Diamonds, Bronx Seelster, and Raukapuka Ruler complete the lineup for the final pacing feature of the year at Yonkers. “I hope there’s action on the front. I don’t think there will be action like there was last week because that had to surprise everybody to see them going that kind of half,” Deters said. “I would like to see a fast tempo and see my horse coming second- or third-over and hopefully he’s charging at the wire.” First post time Saturday night is 7:12 p.m. Racing continues at Yonkers Monday (Dec. 21) and Tuesday (Dec. 22), closing night. The proposed racing schedule for January 2021 would see live harness racing return Jan. 11 and continue on a Monday – Wednesday schedule with first post time at 7:15 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Yonkers Raceway cancelled the remainder of the Friday night (Dec. 18) harness racing program after the first pari-mutuel race due to unsafe track conditions.  The cancellation followed a snowstorm that dumped more than a foot of snow on the half-mile oval late Wednesday night (Dec. 16) into Thursday morning (Dec. 17). The storm also forced the cancellation of the entire Thursday night card. However, the track called off the Thursday card at 9:10 a.m., well before the scheduled 7:12 p.m. first post. Friday’s game-time cancellation followed dozens of horses, caretakers, trainers, and drivers shipping in at considerable expense. Jordan Stratton, the chairperson of the SOA of NY’s driver’s committee and one of the track’s leading reinsman, commented that the surface was inconsistent.  “Some spots were frozen solid. Others were deep and slushy,” Stratton said after driving even-money favorite Gunpowder in the first race.  SOA of NY field representative Jimmy Marohn, Sr., who is responsible for communicating with the judges on behalf of the horsepeople, noted everyone was in agreement about cancelling as the track condition was deemed unraceable. The loss of Friday’s card is significant as it was one of only four programs left on the 2020 season, which had already been drastically reduced due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The SOA of NY has recently called into question the competency of the track superintendent employed by Yonkers Raceway and the adequacy of the manpower being allocated and materials being used to maintain the racing surface. “The situation is a mess and not conducive to a consistent, let alone safe, track surface,” SOA of NY President Joe Faraldo wrote in an opinion piece titled The Trackman Carousel in the organization’s Sept. 30, 2020 newsletter. Live racing is scheduled to resume Saturday night (Dec. 19) with a 7:12 p.m. first post.    By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Delaware-based harness racing trainer Dylan Davis’ name doesn’t appear in the Yonkers program regularly. Out of Davis’ 542 starters to date in 2020, only 17 of them have come at the Hilltop. When faced with a long ship each way and stiff competition, Davis wants to ensure that when he does make the trek, he is coming to win. “Personally, I love racing there, it’s just a matter of having the right class of horse,” Davis said. “It’s kind of hard for us to just take one horse all the way to Yonkers. If traffic is good, we can make it in four hours, but if we hit the George Washington Bridge at the wrong time, it can be a job. That’s why when I do come, I enter two, three, sometimes four at a time.” On Monday (Dec. 14), Davis will send just one horse to Yonkers Raceway: Dina Bolt, a New Zealand-bred 4-year-old gelding who made his U.S. debut a winning one in a $14,000 overnight here Nov. 30. Handled by Jordan Stratton, Dina Bolt raced in third under a strong hold in the first quarter as Scrappin Gold set the pace. Approaching the half, Stratton tugged on the right line and by the third turn, Dina Bolt ranged up to confront the leader. Scrappin Gold and Dina Bolt raced nose-to-nose up the backstretch and around the final turn. As they straightened away, Stratton simply struck the wheel disc once and Dina Bolt’s response was instantaneous. Dina Bolt’s stride quickened, and he put up 2 1/4 lengths on the field. He stopped the timer in 1:53.3 with a :28.3 final quarter over the sloppy racetrack. As far as Davis was concerned, it was a textbook first start. “Jordan did a great job with him. When I get them shipped over from Australia, I want them taken off the gate the first couple times just so they don’t get hot and they learn our style of racing,” Davis said. “Jordan did great, he sat him in until past the three-eighths and when he moved, it wasn’t like he brushed him or anything, he worked his way there. Jordan told me at the top of the stretch, he asked him to go and that was it.” Bred by Feek, Candy, and Nolan, Dina Bolt is by Bettor’s Delight out of Pullover Brown, an Armbro Operative mare who won three Group 1 stakes and two Group 2 stakes and earned NZ$332,265 between 2002 and 2004. Pullover Brown’s progeny include Dina Bolt’s full sister, Dina Brown, who has placed in multiple Grouped stakes and earned NZ$102,877 to date. Dina Bolt raced in the barn of top trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen, finishing third on debut in the Group 2 Two-Year-Old Classic at Invercargill April 27, 2019. Dina Bolt’s next five starts included unplaced efforts in the Group 1 Two-Year-Old Emerald and the Group 1 Sire Stakes Final, both at the New Zealand Metropolitan Trotting Club. Dina Bolt scored his first win in an Auckland Trotting Club maiden Dec. 3, 2019 and doubled up in his next start there 11 days later. After another overnight win Feb. 28, 2020 and two more unplaced stakes efforts in March, Dina Bolt shipped to Australia. He won three overnight races and placed in another three between Aug. 11 and Sept. 22 before Mike Casalino, Jr., who co-owns Dina Bolt with Davis, identified the prospect. “My partner Mike Casalino, he does most of the searching for the Down Under horses,” Davis said. “I do look at their lines and their replays. Watching the replays, I know what I want to look for in a horse. I watched quite a few of his videos. He looked over there like a very handy horse. “Something that sticks out in my memory, I watched three or four races of his and he was racing from the back or from the outer tier,” Davis recalled. “Then, all the sudden, he had an outside post and the driver sent him out of there and he crossed right over to the lead. I was like, ‘woah, I like that,’ a lot of versatility being able to do it both ways.” Once Dina Bolt arrived in Delaware, Davis saw all the usual attributes of a Bettor’s Delight son. “He’s awesome. He’s a lot of fun, he’s got a great personality, he plays. Even though he’s a foreign Bettor’s Delight, he acts a lot like one,” Davis said. “When he’s in the stall, he will jump around. He has a ball he plays with. When he’s out jogging, he’ll have his head down between his legs kind of cantering and jumping around. He’s just a really good-feeling horse. That’s what I like about him. He doesn’t seem to stress out about anything; he’s nice and relaxed all the time, just having a good time.” Davis spent around six weeks getting Dina Bolt acclimated and training down. The first 10 days to two weeks, Dina Bolt spent in the field. Then once he began training, Davis kept him settled in the middle of the set. Similar tactics were employed in Dina Bolt’s qualifier at Harrah’s Philadelphia Nov. 24, when he raced along in fifth throughout before pacing home in :28.2 to finish third. “Training down, I always train in groups. I’ll train anywhere from two at a time to six at a time. Something I’ve done with every New Zealand or Australian horse we’ve brought over here, when we train them in sets like that, they just sit in the middle. I never pull them and make them brush by anybody, I never put them on the lead,” Davis explained. “My main thing is I want them to sit in and he was perfect that way. We’ll even do it going fast; we’ll train miles in 1:58 and he’ll sit in behind somebody and never move. He’s been a real pleasure to get adjusted.” Dina Bolt was on the also eligible list last Monday (Dec. 7), but got back in tonight (Dec. 14) and drew post six in a $16,000 overnight as he steps up from the non-winners of four to the non-winners of six condition. Jordan Stratton will drive again. His rivals include Caliber, the 5-2 morning line favorite who enters off two straight wins for Williams Hernandez, including a 3/4-length wire-to-wire score here in 1:54.3 last out Dec. 7. The field also includes Mac’s Big Boy, Patriot Nation, Genius Man, Sports Obsession, Western Vacation, and So Many Roads. “I’m not disappointed with the draw because I want him to race from the back again,” Davis said. “With the right trip and everything working out, I think he’ll be tough to beat again. I don’t know those horses like I know all the horses at Dover Downs, but with the way he raced the first time, they’re going to know he’s there.” Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights through Dec. 22. First post time is 7:12 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Since arriving in the United States this March, the harness racing training duo of Lauren and Shane Tritton have quickly made a name for themselves in their new home. Their stable has swelled from the 12 horses the Trittons flew over from their native Australia as American owners have flocked to their barn. Since their pari-mutuel debut June 12, the Trittons have amassed 55 wins from 194 starts with another 52 seconds and thirds.  Forty of those victories have come at Yonkers Raceway, placing the Trittons seventh in the trainer’s standings. Saturday night (Nov. 28) at the Hilltop, the Trittons will make their American stakes debut as they send out Lady Dela Renta in the $100,000 distaff invitational pace for Blue Chip Matchmaker Series eligibles and San Domino in the $125,000 invitational pace for Borgata Pacing Series eligibles. “We’re excited that we’ve been able to get a couple horses in for our owners. We were hoping to be successful coming to America, but you just never know how it’s going to go,” Shane Tritton said. “We’re very relieved that things have worked out OK, we’ve made the right moves. Having these two horses in these races is a big culmination of these six months and hopefully they can do well. They’re both very tough races and we understand they are the best horses going around in this area right now. We hope that we can do well.” Australia-bred Lady Dela Renta appeared to be an open-type pacer last fall when she captured a $42,000 filly and mare open handicap pace at Yonkers Oct. 4, 2019 in just her sixth Stateside start in the barn of Jose Godinez. However, she went winless in her first five races this spring at Yonkers and Scioto between March 6 and July 10. When racing resumed on the East Coast, owner Bukers Stable shipped Lady Dela Renta to the Trittons’ stable in Pine Bush, N.Y. Since the move, Lady Dela Renta has been a standout in the pacing mare ranks at Yonkers. She qualified a winner in 1:52.2 with Lauren Tritton in the bike July 31. Lady Dela Renta won her pari-mutuel debut for the Trittons with Jordan Stratton driving by 3 3/4 lengths in a $15,500 overnight Aug. 13. Since then, Lady Dela Renta has won another five races from seven starts, including three at the preferred or open level. “She was a horse that my wife actually chased after a little bit. The owners seemed interested in sending her to us and my wife definitely wanted her. She had faith that we could turn her around,” Tritton said. “We knew a little bit about her in Australia and she was a pretty high-class mare there. After she came to us, Lauren has done most of the work. She just really got along good with her. She’s certainly a mare we had a lot of respect for before we started training her and I think having that belief in them is enough to try to get them back the way they should be.” Tritton counts Lady Dela Renta’s most recent victory in the $25,000 filly and mare preferred on Nov. 12 as her most impressive performance to date. After starting from the outside post in a field of five, Lady Dela Renta dropped back to race in fourth early as Snobbytown and Lispatty dueled for the lead through a :27.1 quarter over the sloppy going. Sensing the pace slowing, Jordan Stratton angled Lady Dela Renta to the outside first-over with five-eights of a mile to pace. Lady Dela Renta pressured Snobbytown through a :57.2 half mile. Racing up the backstretch, Lady Dela Renta fought to put a neck in front of Snobbytown as the pace accelerated through three-quarters in 1:24.4. Lady Dela Renta held the lead over Snobbytown around the final turn. With Stratton motionless in the stretch, Lady Dela Renta extended the margin to 3/4 lengths to stop the clock in 1:53.3. The victory came two weeks after Lady Dela Renta made a break in stride as the 8-5 favorite and finished last Oct. 29. “I think her last win was very good. She got muddled up in a wet track, she broke the start before and we were really just trying to screw her back down and make sure we had her right for this race,” Tritton said. “She was parked out virtually the whole race and you could see she had the race won from a long way out. It gave us a lot of faith that she can do a lot of work in her races and still be there at the end. We needed to get a good win on the board to make sure we were right for this race, so her last win was definitely the most satisfying.” Lady Dela Renta drew post position eight and is 8-1 on the morning line with Jordan Stratton named to drive in the $100,000 distaff invitational, which will go as race six on Saturday night’s 10-race program.  “We expect that she’s going to keep getting better. We’re still scratching the surface. I think next year, she’ll progress a bit more and we really couldn’t be disappointed in her,” Tritton said. “The only couple of times she’s been beaten, it hasn’t been her fault. We expect her to race really well. We’re obviously disappointed with the barrier draw, but someone has to come from there. That’s how the cookie crumbles and maybe next time in one of these big races we might get the luck, so you just have to take it as you get it.” Lady Dela Renta’s rivals include Shartin, the $2.5 million earner who was voted 2019 Horse of the Year. Shartin is 8-for-11 at Yonkers Raceway and is a two-time Blue Chip Matchmaker Series Final winner, having taken the 2018 and 2019 editions. Saturday night will mark Shartin’s first start at Yonkers since the 7-year-old Jim King, Jr. trainee overcame post eight in a $33,000 filly and mare open handicap June 30.  Shartin enters this distaff invitational on the longest winless streak of her career since she began racing in the U.S., having lost five straight races from Oct. 3 through Nov. 21, including four losses to Kissin In The Sand in the $175,000 Dayton Distaff Derby, the elimination and final of the Breeders Crown, and the $150,000 TVG Mares Final.  Shartin drew post seven in the distaff invitational and is the 2-1 morning line favorite with co-owner Tim Tetrick set to drive. The field also includes Caviart Ally, who drew the rail for Andy McCarthy and Brett Pelling and enters off a fourth-place finish in the TVG Mares Final at the Meadowlands Nov. 21. Caviart Ally is the 3-1 second choice on the morning line. Major Occasion also exits the TVG Mares Final, having finished sixth for trainer Nifty Norman. Major Occasion drew post four in the distaff invitational and is 4-1 on the morning line with Pat Lachance set to drive. Local threats in this race include the Ron Burke-trained mare Snobbytown, who has finished first, second, or third in each of her last 10 starts, all of which came in either the local filly and mare open or preferred ranks. Snobbytown will start from post two with George Brennan in the sulky. The pair are 6-1 on the morning line.  Robyn Camden, Imprincessgemma, and Seaswift Joy complete the lineup. The Trittons will start San Domino in the $125,000 invitational pace two races after Lady Dela Renta. Another pacer bred in Australia, San Domino had been racing in the U.S. for Andrew Harris since August 2019, earning 9 wins and $179,067 from 29 starts, primarily in the open and conditioned ranks at East Coast tracks. However, owners Joe P Racing and Oldford Racing sent San Domino to the Trittons this fall, hoping to reach success at the stakes level. “It’s funny, the owners approached us. They had a pretty good horse called None Bettor and San Domino is kind of like him. I probably had more respect for San Domino than None Bettor from what they had done in Australia,” Tritton said. “I thought San Domino was probably underachieving a little bit, so we concentrated on trying to get him back to the way we thought he should be.” San Domino debuted for the Trittons in a $15,000 Yonkers overnight Oct. 2, scoring a wire-to-wire win by 2 1/2 lengths with Brent Holland in the bike. San Domino doubled up Oct. 10, taking a $17,500 overnight by 4 lengths in 1:51.2 with Jordan Stratton driving. San Domino then moved to the open ranks, finishing third behind Mac’s Jackpot and Ostro Hanover off a pocket trip Oct. 17 with Jason Bartlett in the sulky and second behind The Real One on Halloween with Austin Siegelman at the lines.  In his latest start in the $25,000 pacing feature Nov. 7, Jordan Stratton sent the 7-year-old straight to the lead and never looked back, holding off Leonidas and Micky Gee by 3/4 lengths to score a blistering 1:50.3 win. “San Domino has been stepping out of his stablemate’s shadow and showing what he can do, too. He’s probably gotten better with every run we’ve given him,” Tritton said. “We’re pretty excited with him. He’s a pretty tough horse, he’s always been a good horse in Australia. We just hope that the race can go his way. He can be a real tough bugger and I think he showed that in his last win. He’s had a good couple of weeks to get ready for this race. We think he’s as good as he can be.” The Trittons elected not to race San Domino after his last start and instead trained him up to Saturday night’s invitational. San Domino and Lady Dela Renta shipped to Yonkers last Friday (Nov. 20) to go a training trip. With Shane Tritton driving San Domino and Stratton driving Lady Dela Renta, the pair trained in company in 1:53.1. “We had the choice of running him back to back after that big win last time. Both of them went to Yonkers last Friday and ran a mile in 1:53.1. They’re both basically coming off a pretty good run last week even though they didn’t race,” Tritton said. “We’re confident that their fitness is where it needs to be. Obviously, these are tough races and they need to be 100 percent. We’re pretty confident that they are both there. It’s whether they can get the luck in the running.” San Domino will start from post position four, the same post he left from in his recent down-the-road open win. He and Stratton are 5-2 on the morning line and could be poised to set the tempo again. “I think San Domino showed last time that he likes to be on the front end, he likes to run a really hard race,” Tritton said. “If he can get on the front end and make every post a winner, I think that’s his best chance. I think his last mile showed that and I’m sure that will be the game plan. It’s a nice draw for him, we’re happy with it, and I’m sure Jordan is going out there with the idea that he has a good chance.” Ron Burke will send out the race’s 2-1 morning line favorite in This Is The Plan, who’s three wins this year include the $140,000 Hoosier Park Pacing Derby Sept. 25. This Is The Plan also finished second in the $150,000 Allerage Open Pace at the Red Mile Oct. 11 and third in the $340,000 TVG FFA Pace last out Nov. 21. George Brennan will drive the 5-year-old gelding from post eight. The field also includes Raukapuka Ruler, who enters off back-to-back wins in local overnights in 1:51.4 and 1:52.4 Nov. 14 and 21, respectively. The Pete Tritton-trained 7-year-old is 4-1 on the morning line with Tim Tetrick programmed to drive.  Ostro Hanover won two local $17,500 overnights in his last four starts and most recently came from 12 3/4 lengths behind to finish third beaten 1 1/4 lengths in the $30,000 open pace Nov. 21. The Daniel Renaud trainee will employ the services of Tyler Buter and is 5-1 on the morning line after drawing the inside post. Micky Gee ran up the score this summer at Yonkers, scoring five local wins in the conditioned and open ranks, most of which came with sweeping three- or four-wide moves in last-to-first style. However, the Lance Hudson trainee is winless in his last five starts dating to Oct. 17 and is 12-1 on the morning line with Jason Bartlett set to drive. Bechers Brook, Mac’s Jackpot, and Tookadiveoffdipper complete the field. If one or both of Lady Dela Renta and San Domino were to win their respective stakes races Saturday night? “It would obviously be great,” Tritton answered. “We’ve had a lot of experience with these big races in Australia. We know that you can have big nights and you can have terrible nights. I’m sure there are seven other horses in these races that are thinking that they deserve to be there and have a chance of winning, too. We don’t get too disappointed if we don’t win. We just like to go in there and do our best and if we can show that we’re competitive at this level, I’m sure one of these races will go our way. Hopefully this weekend. If not, it will be next chance we get. “We’re very humbled to be invited to these races. Hopefully we can put on a good show.” Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights through Dec. 22. First post time is 7:12 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – After taking Thursday (Nov. 26) off for the Thanksgiving holiday, live harness racing resumes at Yonkers Raceway Friday night (Nov. 27) with a 7:12 p.m. first post time. The 10-race card features the $30,000 open trot and leads a big weekend at the Hilltop that culminates with a pair of six-figure invitational paces on Saturday night. Carded as race seven on the Friday program, the trotting feature is lead by Stormy Kromer, the all-age trotting track record holder who won last week’s open handicap by 2 lengths. Stormy Kromer went on a tear this summer, going 6-for-7 between July 16 and Sept. 9, including a 4-length romp in 1:52.3 to reset the track record and three preferred handicap wins.  Stormy Kromer scored his first victory in the Yonkers open trot Oct. 2, beating Melady’s Monet by a nose. Stormy Kromer then went through a five-race winless streak between Oct. 9 and Nov. 13 as he dealt with assigned outside posts and difficult trips. However, after drawing post two last out Nov. 20, Stormy Kromer controlled the pace and drew away late to win in 1:53.2. Stormy Kromer is now 8-for-19 this season with $109,390 earned and 30-for-112 lifetime with $444,484 in the bank. Stormy Kromer drew post three Friday night. He and regular reinsman Dan Dube are the 3-1 favorites on the morning line. Paul Stafford trains Stormy Kromer for Tom Ceraso, Jr.  In addition to last week’s winner in Stormy Kromer, last week’s runner up Nows The Moment also returns in Friday’s open trot. A 5-yer-old credit winner gelding owned by Sonya MacDonald and trained by Alex MacDonald, Nows The Moment is 6-for-22 this season with $94,200 earned. His victories include a 4-1 mild upset in the local $22,000 preferred handicap Sept. 25.  Nows The Moment has also factored in this open due to his early speed. He set the tempo after leaving from post seven and finished second to Melady’s Monet Oct. 9 despite 64-1 odds. Nows The Moment left for the lead last out Nov. 20 before Stormy Kromer made the front. Nows The Moment rode the pocket to a second-place finish at 12-1. Jason Bartlett, who drove Nows The Moment last week, will get the call again tonight. The pair are 4-1 on the morning line. Broadway Athena pulled off a 12-1 upset in the local open handicap Oct. 23, but has drawn in difficult spots since; the 6-year-old mare finished third from post six Oct. 30, and got away 12 lengths behind from post eight Nov. 6, but still rallied to finish fourth at 112-1. Broadway Athena was scratched sick from post eight Nov. 13 and makes her return Friday night. The Gilbert Garcia-Herrera trainee will start from post five with Austin Siegelman in the sulky. They are 12-1 on the morning line. Although 11 years old, Melady’s Money has continued to be a force in the Yonkers open ranks this season. The Hermann Heitmann trainee finished second in a pair of local open handicaps before the COVID-19 shutdown. Since then, the $1.7-million earner captured the open handicap Oct. 9 and took the open Nov. 6. He also finished second in the trotting feature Oct. 2 and 30. On the season, Melady’s Monet is 6-for-18 with $128,780 earned. Although this week’s open is not a handicap, Melady’s Monet drew post eight, the same position he was handicapped by Nov. 20. Melady’s Monet got away 12 1/2 lengths behind Stormy Kromer last out and finishes seventh beaten 8 3/4 lengths. He and driver Jordan Stratton are 12-1 on the morning line in a similar spot Friday night. The field also includes Rich And Miserable, who finally draws inside after getting away seventh from post six in each of his last two outings, Lean Hanover, who enters off a win in a local $17,500 overnight Nov. 20, Lord Cromwell, who finished fifth in each of his last two outings in this feature Nov. 13 and Nov. 20, and Mission Accepted, who finished fifth in the $320,000 TVG Open Trot at the Meadowlands last out Nov. 21. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights through Dec. 22. First post time is 7:12 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY  

YONKERS, N.Y. – The ninth race Monday night (Nov. 16) at Yonkers Raceway showcases a deep field of younger pacers comprised of Grand Circuit performers and local standouts. The $18,000 featured pace is for 3- , 4- and 5-year-old colts, horses, and geldings who are non-winners of eight pari-mutuel races or $100,000. The race will close out the evening’s Pick 5 wager, which begins in race five and features a $7,500 guaranteed pool and free past performances. Although not a handicap, the draw shook out that way as the 5-2 morning line favorite Save Me A Dance landed post position eight. A 3-year-old colt by Heston Blue Chip, Save Me A Dance is a homebred for Robert Key out of the Real Artist mare Dance Hall Girl. The most accomplished in the field, Save Me A Dance sports earnings of $246,191 from four victories and another 10 placings in 22 starts.  Save Me A Dance won an elimination of the Lawrence B. Sheppard Pace here at 2 before finishing second in the $120,250 final July 13, 2019. He also made the New York Sire Stakes Final for 2-year-old pacing colts and geldings and won a $49,700 division of the Simpson at Harrah’s Philadelphia last October.  This year, Save Me A Dance competed on the NYSS circuit, finishing second in four legs and third in another to make the final for 3-year-old pacing colts and geldings. He also competed in the Empire Breeders Classic Final in August, finished third in a division of the Bluegrass at 71-1 at the Red Mile Oct. 4, and finished fourth in each of the Tattersalls, a Breeders Crown Elimination, and the $500,000 Breeders Crown Final. In his last four starts, Save Me A Dance has paced sub-1:49, with none faster than a 1:48 clocking in the Bluegrass. Save Me A Dance will be driven by Jason Bartlett as the colt looks for his first victory since taking a $13,500 overnight at the Meadowlands June 13, 2020. Save Me A Dance is trained by Andrew Harris. Tito Rocks streaks into this race off four consecutive victories: he won an $11,200 overnight at Harrah’s Philadelphia Oct. 13, repeated at Harrah’s Oct. 14 in the $31,300 Liberty Bell Pace, took the $33,067 Simpson at Harrah’s Philadelphia Oct. 28, and captured a $10,000 overnight in the conditioned pacing ranks last out at Pocono Nov. 7.  A 3-year-old gelding by Sweet Lout of the Rocknroll Hanover mare Ticket To Rock, Tito Rocks went 0-for-5 last year, but improved to 6-for-16 with another five placings this season. He won a leg of the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes in July and placed in another two legs to earn a spot in the $252,000 PASS Championship this September.  Tyler Buter, who drove Tito Rocks in his last win at Pocono, will drive again Monday night. The pair will start from post seven and are 7-2 on the morning line for trainer Robert Cleary and owner Royal Wire Products, Inc. Ohio-bred 3-year-old gelding Epic Ace will make his second local appearance after going offstride from post seven here Nov. 9. Before that mishap, the Western Vintage son earned six wins and another nine placings to the tune of $80,506 in the Midwest, racing primarily on the Ohio fair circuit for trainer Mike Polhamus. Now owned by Jesmeral Stable and in the barn of Donald Sider, Epic Ace will start from post one Monday night with Jim Marohn, Jr. in the sulky. He is 7-1 on the morning line. The field also includes three local winners in Caviart Rockland, Globaldomination, and Ehrmantraut. Caviart Rockland is a rare Yonkers starter for trainer Nancy Takter and is bred and owned by Caviart Farms. The 4-year-old Sportswriter gelding sports a local record of 8-3-3-0 after scoring two wins here last fall and another in a 23-1 wire-to-wire upset Oct. 5, 2020. Last time out here Nov. 2, Caviart Rockland finished second after leaving to set the pace from post seven. He drew favorably in post two Monday night and will be driven by Joe Bongiorno.  Globaldomination is a 5-time Yonkers winner for Pete Tritton, Vonknobloauch Stable, and Jordan Stratton, but is winless in eight starts since Aug. 24, in which the 5-year-old Bettor’s Delight gelding took a 1:52 lifetime mark. He drew post three Monday night. Ehrmantraut has won three races for new trainer Deborah Daguet: the 4-year-old Somebeachsomewhere son overcame post eight Sept. 21, repeated while up in class Sept. 28, and dead-heated with Mark Witha K Oct. 12. Most recently, Ehrmantraut with third in this class Nov. 9. George Brennan will drive the Lawrence Keethe and John Darrah homebred from post four Monday night. It’s A Marcs World, who dominated in the Minnesota-bred stakes this summer for Jessica Johnson and the Rolands before shipping east to Rob Harmon mid-October, and Motive Hanover, a 15-time winner for Mark Ford, complete the lineup. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights through Dec. 22. First post time is 7:12 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. by Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – The first time Justin Huckabone drove Winning Legends at Monticello Raceway Jan. 8, the trotter went wire-to-wire in a $5,500 overnight, drawing away by 6 1/2 lengths in 2:00.4. After another two straight harness racing victories at the Mighty M from posts seven and eight Jan. 15 and 22, respectively the 25-year-old driver was impressed. “He won three in a row and I called owner (Jonathan Appelbaum) after he won his first start and said, ‘wow, this horse is talented. This horse is real talented,” Huckabone recalled. “I was shoeing him and driving him for Austin Gilbert and I said, ‘man, this is a really nice horse, you guys got lucky here.’ ” After the COVID-19 shutdown hit, Winning Legends went on the shelf. By spring, Appelbaum was calling Huckabone asking him to train the trotter. Huckabone declined, ‘sour about training’ after serving a lengthy suspension for possession of hypodermic equipment in 2015. Finally, Appelbaum convinced Huckabone to take Winning Legends. Huckabone began working with Winning Legends June 4. With the 4-year-old Winning Mister gelding unraced and out of training since Feb. 12, Huckabone gave a 12-week timeline to qualify. “He hadn’t done much, he was really out of shape. This horse didn’t have a bad day for 12 weeks. Every single day, he was good and he just kept getting better,” Huckabone said. “He’s a great horse to be around. He’s really enjoyable. He’s always real friendly, always real personable,” Huckabone continued. “This horse has a personality, he knows when you’re talking to him, he’ll be really interactive to be around, really nice that way. “He’s kind of a high-strung horse and that’s probably his biggest limiting factor. If he ever learned to relax, he’d be even better than what he shows now,” Huckabone continued. “That’s his biggest limiting factor by far now is he gets excited. There’s nothing he really can’t do. He can out-leave the car if necessary. He’s got two really good moves. He’s got a wicked eighth off the car and if you sit him in and never use him, he’s got another wicked eighth right at the end. Very athletic, classy sort of horse.” Winning Legends qualified ahead of schedule at Pocono Downs Aug. 12, going wire-to-wire to win by 3 lengths in 1:57.2.  “I knew training down he was a killer, but I qualified him and said, ‘this thing is a real freak,’ ” Huckabone said. “I don’t know how anybody got him to go slow, but this horse is fast. He won his qualifier really handy. He won in 1:57.2, probably had 1:55 in the tank.” Winning Legends made his first pari-mutuel start back in a $10,000 overnight at Harrah’s Philadelphia Aug. 20. After riding in the three-hole, he won by a half-length, trotting a mile in 1:54.3. After a setback in his next start Aug. 27, in which Winning Legends went off stride, Huckabone made a rigging change and it has been smooth sailing ever since. “I took him to Chester, he got a great trip up the inside, he won in 1:54.3. It was a really good tightener and he rose to the occasion. If he had gotten a check, I would have been happy. He’s overachieved,” Huckabone said. “The next start, he made a break and I re-rigged him,” Huckabone explained. “He had a big laceration on his tongue from being hot. He wears a dog chain. So, I put a lip cord on him and ever since then, he’s been really good, really drivable.” Winning Legends has finished first or second in each of his last five starts, including a 1:53.2 lifetime mark at Pocono two back Oct. 10, in which he got a pocket trip before beating Broadway Athena by a neck. Winning Legends also jogged by 2 1/2 lengths at Harrah’s Philadelphia Sept. 17.  “The start that impressed me the most was when he won in 1:53.3 and I never breathed on him. I had the whip tucked the whole way and cut it at Chester and he won handy. Nobody even got near him,” Huckabone said. “He beat Broadway Athena at Pocono.  “I didn’t think he would get here. I thought training him down, he would get to this point, but I thought he would be a 5- or 6-year-old before he matured like that. He’s advanced rapidly. Every week he’s better. I don’t really expect anything from him. Whatever he does, he does. He’s done so well so quickly, he’s taken the pressure right off himself.” Winning Legends went to the Saratoga open handicap pace in his last start Oct. 19. Huckabone timed the gate and advanced from post seven, but looking to his left, saw four horses leaving to his inside. Trotting around the first turn, Huckabone went with plan “B” and took back to land a seat in fifth. Winning Legends didn’t stick to the pylons long, angling first-over from 5 lengths behind hitting the stretch the first time. By the third turn, Winning Legends applied pressure to leader Gruden, who was softened by a :27.3 first quarter. Around the final turn, Winning Legends turned the screws on Gruden, drawing even under a hand drive while the longtime leader was all-out. At the same time, Brett Crawford tipped Ronnie Goldstein three-wide off cover.  Winning Legends put a nose in front at the top of the stretch. Huckabone cracked the whip three times, but approaching the wire, looked to his right at the approaching Ronnie Goldstein and tucked the stick. Winning Legends held on by a nose in 1:56.2. “I knew I had (Gruden) put away going into the last turn. Brett Crawford was the one that I was really worried about and he was third-over, moved wide, got pulled right into the race, never had to use his horse,” Huckabone said. “I wasn’t going to abuse ‘Legends’ to hang on. I quit driving on him and let him finish up what he wanted to and he held on. He was really large that start. He was probably out for three turns out of four.” With Saratoga not carding an open trot Oct. 26, Huckabone entered Winning Legends in the $25,000 trotting feature at Yonkers Raceway Oct. 30. The 14-time winner and earner of $92,602 is 20-1 on the morning line as he steps up to face the likes of Melady’s Monet, Stormy Kromer, Muscle M Up, Cash Me Out, Nows The Moment, Mississippi Storm, and a familiar face in Broadway Athena, who upset this feature Oct. 23 at 12-1. “I saw Broadway Athena was in at Yonkers and the trip worked out for her and she won. There’s really no reason (Winning Legends) couldn’t have done the same thing. I figured I would give him a test and see what he’s made of,” Huckabone said. “The purses are going up and if he acts like he can go with them now, I’ll probably try bringing him regularly. If it seems like it’s too much for him to handle, I’ll probably wait on him until next year. I didn’t want to put him in against the real horses just yet, but it wouldn’t hurt to get a read on him. “Coming in here, these are way better horses than what he’s faced,” Huckabone continued. “He’s kind of in a compromised spot having the four hole. It looks like there are three leavers underneath him, probably somebody is going to press from the outside. They aren’t going to trot away from him at any point, that’s for sure, so it’s all going to depend on how the trip works out.” Although Winning Legends has been close to the pace in most of his starts for Huckabone, the trainer-driver isn’t looking to be as aggressive early in a spot like this. “What’s going to matter is whether the flow keeps going,” Huckabone said. “If the flow doesn’t keep going and you get away fourth, fifth on the rail, it’s going to be hard to make a big move for more than a half-mile on those horses. He’s not going to be able to handle that sort of trip, and there’s no passing lane. I’m just going to drive smart. If I drive him smart, I’m quite sure he can get a piece of it if it goes his way.” Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights through Dec. 22. First post time is 7:12 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. - Jamie Durnberger-Smith still remembers the day the harness racing pacer Pat Stanley caught his eye. The agent and co-founder of Summit Bloodstock was watching the races from Menangle, Australia at his Brisbane home Nov. 2, 2019 as Pat Stanley secured a pocket trip in the opener, a $20,400 overnight.  After racing in the two-hole through the first three quarters, Pat Stanley was stuck in behind leader Brocks Territory turning for home as Team Tritton’s Foo Fighter kicked off cover three deep. With 200 meters to pace, Pat Stanley saw daylight along the pylons and although Foo Fighter had the jump on the field, Pat Stanley rallied for a second-place finish.  “I saw him, I saw his point-to-point speed, and that was it,” Durnberger-Smith said. “I clocked his sectionals, his furlong splits. He had a :12.4 split, which is crazy. He’d run the second or third fastest split I had ever clocked at Menangle. His sectional was just unbelievable. When I found out the horse was sound and the camp that I was going to buy him from looks after their horses, I knew he’d be in great health and be ready, so we bought him.” Durnberger-Smith and Summit co-founder Jake Webster enlisted South Carolina-based owner Ron Buker and made a deal for a hefty sum while retaining a minority interest in the horse themselves, much to the bewilderment of the racing community. Pat Stanley had 12 wins to his name at the time, but had never won more than $5,720 in any one victory. He had also never won a metropolitan class race. Undeterred, Summit and Buker sent Pat Stanley to Kerryn Manning and pointed their new purchase to a prestigious Group 2 stakes. “A lot of people said we were crazy, but because he hadn’t won a metropolitan race, we knew that if he went to the South Australian Pacing Cup, he would get post one or two because of the way it’s preferential,” Durnberger-Smith said.  Pat Stanley debuted for his new connections at Melton Jan. 17, finishing third in a $20,000 overnight. Pat Stanley finished third again in a Group 3 stakes at Melton Feb. 1. One week later, Pat Stanley was entered in the Group 2 South Australian Pacing Cup at Globe Derby Park, drawing post two as expected. Manning put the whip on the pacer’s tail leaving the gate and looked to her right, seeing four horses leaving to her outside.  With the inside advantage, Pat Stanley made the lead and faced immediate pressure from Joes A Character. The tempo threatened to slow up the backstretch the first time, and entering the second turn, Little Peanut advanced to make it a three-wide battle for the lead. Joes A Character was first to waive the white flag, taking back into the pocket. Greg Sugars pressed on with Little Peanut, but soon retreated. Taking his place outside the leader, Rackemup Tigerpie charged three-wide to ensure Pat Stanley never got a breather. Entering the final lap, Pat Stanley maintained the lead, challenged by Rackemup Tigerpie. The pair sprinted away from the competition, opening up daylight on the field as the pace quickened up the backstretch. Around the final turn, Manning went to the right-handed whip and yanked down the ear hood with her left. Despite bearing out and showing signs of fatigue from the onslaught he faced to hold the lead, Pat Stanley dug in and beat Rackemup Tigerpie to the wire in a 1:57.1 mile rate over the 2,645-meter trip. “They just attacked him the whole race and he still won. It was just unbelievable,” Durnberger-Smith said. “Everyone thought we were going to lose our money. When we sent him to a really good trainer and placed him perfectly, everyone started to realize, wow this is a pretty damn good horse. He couldn’t win one metro race and all the sudden, he wins the time-honored South Australian Pacing Cup. You don’t see many horses do that. It really set Twitter and the harness racing world down here on fire when he did that. “It was more of a relief than anything, only because I said to Ron that he will win it if we buy him and he doesn’t go to America straight away,” Durnberger-Smith continued. “It was more of a relief to us because we were so adamant that he would be able to win that race drawing barrier one or barrier two.” Pat Stanley won a listed $24,000 free for all at Melton March 7 and placed in three other races before exporting to the United States July 6. After training down with Shane and Lauren Tritton over the summer, Pat Stanley qualified at Yonkers Sept. 18, winning in 1:54.2 with Lauren in the bike. After a second-place finish in his pari-mutuel debut Oct. 2, Pat Stanley captured a $17,500 overnight in 1:52.2 Oct. 10, improving his record to 50-15-11-5 with $118,521 earned and fulfilling Durnberger-Smith’s dream of winning a race in America. “Dreamt of this moment for a long, long time!!!” Summit Bloodstock posted on their Twitter page. “When he won the other day, Jake and I, we’ve been dreaming of that moment since we were kids,” Durnberger-Smith added. Bitten early by the racing bug, Durnberger-Smith worked with trainers Christopher Robinson and Gary Hall. About 10 months ago, Durnberger-Smith and Webster, each 32 years old, joined forces to create Summit Bloodstock, with the mission of introducing new owners to the sport. With the success of their first two horses, Westar Sam and My Bettor Lady, interest in the venture rapidly grew. The stable now boasts a roster of 42 horses. “We said, ‘let’s start buying as many horses as we can and see what happens. We’ve been in the game for so long, we know who the good horses are, we know how to find them. Let’s have a go.’ ” Durnberger-Smith recalled. “We’ve got 152 owners with Summit Bloodstock now, so we’re not going to stop.” In addition to their goals of continuing to grow their stable and selling more horses to America (such as recent exports Demeter, Deltasun and Need Luck), Durnberger-Smith and Webster have lofty aspirations for Pat Stanley’s Stateside career. If the 6-year-old Western Ideal son continues to pan out as expected, he could become a regular in the open ranks at Yonkers Raceway, compete in the Borgata Pacing Series in 2021, and more. “When Pat Stanley is rock-hard fit in two or three starts time, he’ll go 1:47 at the Meadowlands if he has to, I’m certain. If he’s not a 1:47 horse, I’m a poor judge. He’s way better when he’s sitting behind a leader and he’s rock-hard fit. He’s just so blindingly quick,” Durnberger-Smith said. “Shane is taking his time with him, which is the best thing because he’ll be running good races for a long time.” Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights through Dec. 22. First post time is 7:12 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY  

YONKERS, N.Y. – After posting three straight victories at Yonkers Raceway, Ponder The Odds will get her toughest test yet Thursday night (Oct. 15) as she steps up into the $25,000 filly and mare open handicap pace for the first time. Whatever the outcome, she’s already exceeding the expectations of her trainers, owners, and breeders, Kathleen and Donald La Montagne. “To tell you the truth, it’s been shocking,” Donald La Montagne said. “Jimmy (Marohn, Jr.) has been getting along with her better than anyone who has ever driven her. She’s a nice filly, but she’s doing a lot more than I ever thought she could.” Despite going 10-for-27 last year, including a win in the $70,000 New Jersey Sire Stakes Standardbred Development Fund Final for 3-year-old pacing fillies, Ponder The Odds’ 2020 season started slowly. She qualified back after the coronavirus shutdown July 17 and went winless in her first six starts, including a three-race rift in which she didn’t earn a check between Aug. 20 and Sept. 9. Ponder The Odds dropped into a $12,500 overnight at Yonkers Sept. 17 and had a change of drivers to Jim Marohn, Jr. Something clicked. Ponder The Odds raced in fourth until moving first-over with three-eighths to pace. She advanced steadily and passing the three-quarter mile marker, Ponder The Odds took the lead and took off. Her stride quickened and she put up 5 lengths on the field turning for home. Kept to task by Marohn through the stretch, Ponder The Odds extended her margin to 7 lengths, stopping the clock in 1:52.4. Ponder The Odds stepped up to the $15,000 level in her latest two starts Sept. 24 and Oct. 1. In both races, she beat the Ron Burke trained standout Feelin Red Hot, first with a pocket trip and then with a pacesetting effort after leaving from post seven and assuming the lead through fast early fractions. She stayed the course for a 1:52.3 seasonal mark, improving her resume to 13-for-40 with $141,843 earned. “She had a good year last year and she didn’t really come back that good,” La Montagne said. “She wasn’t even getting checks. And then Jimmy just got along with her. We were stunned. She beat a really nice, classy old mare (Feelin Red Hot). She’s not at her best either, that one, but she’s got a lot of class. I was shocked that she won that one when she came first-over. She had some luck in those races, but last week, she did all the work and she got it done. We’re really happy with her. We’re kind of stunned about the whole thing.” Ponder The Odds’ legacy goes back three generations with the La Montagnes. A self-described ‘mom-and-pop’ outfit, the La Montagnes have been breeding, raising, breaking, training, and racing their own horses on their farm for 45 years as a passion, not as a career. Their stable has had two key broodmares over the years, the pacer Motivation, and the trotter Motivational.  The La Montages purchased Motivation for $7,200 in the 1990s. She went 12-for-52, became a multiple stakes winner, took a mark of 1:52.3 at the Meadowlands, and earned $300,847 before retiring to the La Montagne’s farm to breed in 1996. “She was the fastest Direct Scooter mare of all time and she was the New Jersey 3-year-old pacer of the year in 1995. She was a top stakes mare,” La Montagne commented. Motivation produced seven foals to race between 1999 and 2010. Four of them earned six figures, including her 2000 foal Figure The Odds, who went 17-for-74 and banked $247,641 racing from 2002 to 2005. A multiple stakes winner herself, Figure The Odds’ biggest win came in the $70,756 Rose of Tralee Stakes at Yonkers July 12, 2003, when she stopped the clock in 1:55. “Figure The Odds won there and took Bunny Lake’s record (of 1:56.1) in the Rose of Tralee. She was a really top mare herself, a really good stakes filly,” La Montagne said. “From her time as a 2-year-old, she was a top filly.” Figure The Odds produced five foals to race between 2007 and 2016. Three of them have earned six figures. Now 20 years old, Figure The Odds is retired on La Montagne’s farm. Her last foal was Ponder The Odds. While Ponder The Odds hasn’t lived up to her family legacy yet, she inherited some of the most coveted intangible traits among mares and La Montagne hopes she will continue to improve. “This filly comes from a good filly family. I do like her a lot, but there’s plenty in her family that are better than her,” La Montagne said. “Her sire, Ponder, he got much better when he was older. He did his best work for McIntosh when he was 5, so we’re hoping she will come around. That horse gets better with age. “Her mother (Figure The Odds) was much bigger-gaited and faster than (Ponder The Odds), but they’re all similar. All easy to get along with, just good racehorses, no tying up,” La Montagne continued. “There’s an old saying among horsemen, ‘good fillies come from filly families and good colts can come from anywhere.’ The credit goes to this family, all the fillies in this family have been very good. She comes through that family and to get a good filly that tries is hard to do. She tries very hard, that’s how that family is. They have a lot of ability and they try. Those are hard things to put together for a mare.” After her three-race win streak, the La Montagnes gave Ponder The Odds last week off before entering back in the filly and mare open handicap. “That was a very tough race (Oct. 1), they parked her in 27-flat and she didn’t weaken at the end, she hung on” La Montagne said. “There were three tough starts in a row, so she didn’t race last week, that was by design. She got her week off, I trained her in 2 minutes, and that’s it. Hopefully, it’s going to sharpen her, I want to keep her fresh.” Ponder The Odds drew post position three in Thursday’s distaff feature, the seventh race on the program. With Marohn opting for the Rob Harmon trained Robyn Camden, Jason Bartlett picked up the drive and the pair are 9-2 on the morning line. The field includes Lady Dela Renta, who’s won four of her last five starts, including a win in this class last out Oct. 1. She drew post eight and is 7-2 with Jordan Stratton set to drive for Team Tritton. Ron Burke trained Snobbytown enters off four consecutive runner up finishes at this level and is the 3-1 morning line favorite with regular reinsman George Brennan. Robyn Camden upset this bunch with an off-the-pace win at 7-1 Sept. 17. She is 7-1 on the morning line from post five. Alexa’s Power, Wishy Washy Girl, Neverforgetwhour, and Bye Bye Michelle complete the lineup. “I looked at the program and everyone in the race could win, they’re all good horses,” La Montagne said. “It’s our first time moving up in that class, so we have a lot to prove. She went fast a couple times her last three starts, but that’s not the same as going against ones that can stay with you. This will be her true test.  “She’s got a top driver, hopefully she gets along with him like she did with Jimmy. Speed is one thing, class is another. She’ll have her test of class, we’ll see if she can go with these; for a 4-year-old to go against these seasoned mares, that’s the true test. I’m not disappointed if she doesn’t win, she earned her way up in there. “She has really surprised me her last three starts. She seems to be a horse for the course. We’ll see. She has overachieved my expectations.” Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights through Dec. 22. First post time is 7:12 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

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