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Ake Svanstedt believes Back Of The Neck has got it all, which is everything a harness racing horse needs in the Hambletonian. Back Of The Neck is the 2-1 morning-line favorite in the first of Saturday's two $50,000 Hambletonian Stakes eliminations at The Meadowlands. The colt is a nose from being unbeaten in three races this season and will start from post one with Scott Zeron in the sulky for trainer Svanstedt. The top-five finishers from each elimination advance to the $1 million Hambletonian final Aug. 8 at the Big M. Elim winners draw for post one through five for the final. The Hambletonian is racing's premier event for 3-year-old trotters. Svanstedt will send out a total of four horses in the eliminations, with Third Shift joining Back Of The Neck in the first, followed by Jula Trix Treasure and Moon Bridge in the second. First post is at 7:15 p.m. (EDT) and the Hambletonian eliminations are races six and eight on the 13-race card. Back Of The Neck, trained by Marcus Melander in 2019, won three of nine races last year, including a division of the W.N. Reynolds Memorial and an elimination of the Willliam Wellwood Memorial. He finished third in the Wellwood final. This year, the colt was second in a 3-year-old open before winning divisions of the Reynolds and Stanley Dancer Memorial, both in 1:52. All three starts were at The Meadowlands. "He has won with power left every time," Svanstedt said. "He feels good and he trains good. I think he's in good condition. "He is a strong horse. He has a big engine and is good gaited. I think he has a good head also. I think he has everything. But for a horse to have a chance to win the Hambletonian, they must have everything. They must have the power, they must have the speed, and they must have the heart. They must want to win." Back Of The Neck raced on the lead in his first start in 2020, but from off the pace in his most recent outings, winning with strong stretch drives. "Scott said he was grabby the first time, but the last two races he hasn't been grabby," Svanstedt said. "It was no problem to back off. He is very nice to drive and he can come home very fast." Zeron is already a two-time winner of the Hambletonian at the age of 31. He won in 2018 with Atlanta and in 2016 with Marion Marauder, who went on to sweep the Trotting Triple Crown (Hambletonian, Yonkers Trot, Kentucky Futurity). Back Of The Neck is owned by Howard Taylor, Judy Taylor, and breeder Order By Stable. The colt is a son of French star Ready Cash out of Big Barb. Ready Cash also sired the favorite in the second Hambletonian elimination, Ready For Moni. Third Shift heads to his Hambletonian elim off a second-place finish behind Back Of The Neck in the Dancer. In his other two starts this season, he won a division of the New York Sire Stakes and a division of the Empire Breeders Classic. Last year, the son of Chapter Seven-Overnight Command won three of eight races, including the New York Sire Stakes championship. He will start from post two in his Hambletonian elim, with Svanstedt driving. "I think Back Of The Neck is a better horse, but Third Shift is not so bad," said Svanstedt, who owns Third Shift with Mellby Gard Inc. "I raced him (on the lead) last time, drove him tough, because I wanted to stretch him out before the Hambo. I think he can do better." Svanstedt also will drive Jula Trix Treasure in the second Hambletonian elimination. Jula Trix Treasure, by 2014 Hambletonian winner Trixton out of Victory Treasure, won a division of the Reynolds on July 11 in 1:51.2, which is tied for the second-fastest victory time by any of the 17 horses entered in the Hambletonian. For his career, he has won four of 10 races for owner Jula Racing. He enters his Hambletonian elim off a fifth-place finish in the Tompkins-Geers Stakes last week. He will start from post three and is 6-1 on the morning line. "The last race he wasn't a hundred percent gaited and lost ground in the last turn," Svanstedt said. "We're going to do some small changes to try to make his gait better. He's always been strong and comes home good. He's a fighter." Moon Bridge, who will have Andy Miller in the sulky, has a win and a second in three starts this year. His triumph came in his most recent race, July 17, by 12-1/4 lengths in 1:52.2. The Hambletonian elim will be his first Grand Circuit race of the season. Last year, he won two of eight races, including the Ontario Sire Stakes championship. Moon Bridge, a son of E L Titan-Classic Belle, will start Saturday from post nine and is 20-1. He is owned by Esa Lahtinen, Janne Korpi, and Jussi Hietalahti. "He's good gaited and he always does the job," said Svanstedt, who won the 2017 Hambletonian with Perfect Spirit as the result of What The Hill's disqualification for interference. "I think he's as good as he can be. We'll see how far he can go." Eliminations for the Aug. 8 Hambletonian Oaks for 3-year-old filly trotters were unnecessary, but eight Oaks finalists will be in action in an open for 3-year-old filly trotters. Also in action will be Meadowlands Pace champ Tall Dark Stranger in the Tompkins-Geers Stakes for 3-year-old male pacers. For complete entries, click here.  Ken Weingartner, for the USTA     

Sister Sledge might not have attracted overwhelming attention heading into this year's Hambletonian, but as one of two harness racing fillies in Saturday's (Aug. 1) eliminations at The Meadowlands, she should find plenty of eyes on her now. The Ron Burke-trained Sister Sledge has won three of four races this season and 11 of 16 lifetime. She has hit the board in every start, finishing worse than second only once, on her way to $622,058 in purses. Sister Sledge finished second to Ramona Hill in Dan Patch Award voting for best 2-year-old female trotter of 2019. Ramona Hill also was entered in the Hambletonian, which is the sport's premier race for 3-year-old trotters. This is the first time multiple fillies will take on the boys in the Hambletonian since Act Of Grace and Continentalvictory in 1996, and only the second time since 1983. Continentalvictory won the 1996 Hambletonian and was the last filly winner until Atlanta in 2018. Sister Sledge is the 3-1 second choice on the morning line in the second of Saturday's two $50,000 Hambletonian eliminations. She will start from post two in a nine-horse field. Ready For Moni, trained by Nancy Takter, is the 5-2 favorite after winning his only start of the season, a division of the Stanley Dancer Memorial on July 18, in 1:51.4. The top-five finishers from each elimination advance to the $1 million Hambletonian final Aug. 8 at The Meadowlands. "We're in a very good spot," Burke said. "(Post two) gives her options. It's going to be tough, but I at least like where we're starting." Burke decided Tuesday morning to put Sister Sledge up against the boys in the Hambletonian, rather than entering the fillies-only Hambletonian Oaks, but it was something he had been considering all year. "I don't think the Hambo is any tougher than the Oaks," Burke said. "I think if you graded the races out, they would be equal. If anything, I thought the fillies were a tad tougher. So even if you say they're even, one race goes for $1 million and the other goes for ($600,000). It doesn't take a lot of brain work to realize that if I can race for a million in basically the same class, I'm going to go for the million. "I think there are a lot of very nice horses (in the Hambletonian) but I don't think anyone is tons better than the others. So, I'll take my shot. It wasn't like you were going to go to the Oaks and just go a training mile around there. They're going to go too. Hopefully, we get past the elimination. I like the decision I made. Even if it doesn't work out, in my mind, I put time into it and thought it out and I had reasons for what I did." Another factor was the return to Hambletonian eliminations being contested the week prior to the final, rather than the single-day format for elims and final in recent years. "If there had been two heats, it would have been a different decision," Burke said. In the build up to this year's Hambletonian, several fillies were mentioned as possible contenders to challenge the boys, with Ramona Hill, Sorella, Hypnotic AM, and Panem among that group. Sister Sledge was not. "I don't know where she fell out of favor," Burke said. "To me, she was the best filly last year; you could rate her or Ramona Hill. This year, everyone is talking about different horses. We beat all them last year and all we've done basically this year is win. If you look at her lines, she's consistently good. Even when she's been beat, there have been excuses. I think she's classy. I think she deserves the shot." Sister Sledge, a daughter of Father Patrick out of Behindclosedoors, won her first two races this season at The Meadows, both Grand Circuit stakes, by a total of 10 lengths. She finished second by a quarter-length in a division of the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes at Harrah's Philadelphia before winning a division of the Tompkins-Geers Stakes by 4-3/4 lengths in 1:51.2 at The Meadowlands last weekend. "We've gone where her races are," said Burke, who trains the filly for Burke Racing, Jason Melillo, J&T Silva-Purnel & Libby, and Weaver Bruscemi. "She's a Pennsylvania-bred, I'm not going to race her at The Meadowlands every start. I've got to make money with her. The money was in Pa., knowing I would come (to The Meadowlands) the week before the Hambo. "She's been great. Maybe she didn't get around Philly great, but she was great at The Meadows and, to me, she has every right to improve off that (last start). She's only been (at The Meadowlands) one week and she needed to stretch. I think you'll see her be better." Among the 17 Hambletonian entrants, Sister Sledge's 1:51.2 mile is tied for second fastest this year. Ramona Hill holds the fastest win time in the group, 1:50.3. Ramona Hill is 5-1 in the first Hambletonian elimination, starting from post seven in the eight-horse field with Andy McCarthy driving for trainer Tony Alagna. Back Of The Neck, trained by Ake Svanstedt, is the 2-1 favorite. Amigo Volo, last season's male 2-year-old Breeders Crown champion, is 7-2 and Beads is 9-2. Last year, Ramona Hill won six of seven races, capped by her victory from post 10 in the Breeders Crown for 2-year-old filly trotters at Woodbine Mohawk Park. She has raced twice this year, finishing third in her debut before winning the Del Miller Memorial with her 1:50.3 score from post 10 on July 18 at The Meadowlands. "I have a lot of confidence in Ramona Hill; she'll get me where I need to go," McCarthy said. "When you have a horse that you know whatever happens, I know I'm going to leave fast enough to either make the front or get close and we can figure it out after that, it does make you feel better no matter what the draw is. "Pulling up after that mile (in the Del Miller), and it doesn't happen very often, but I actually got goosebumps. Hats off to the horse. I've just got so much respect for her. She's just a game, tough horse, and will do whatever you ask her to do. And she enjoys it." Ramona Hill, a daughter of Muscle Hill out of Lock Down Lindy, is owned by Brad Grant, Crawford Farms Racing, Robert LeBlanc, and In The Gym Partners. Racing begins at 7:15 p.m. (EDT) Saturday at The Meadowlands. The Hambletonian eliminations are races six and eight on the 13-race card. Eliminations for the Aug. 8 Hambletonian Oaks were unnecessary, but eight Oaks finalists will be in action in an open for 3-year-old filly trotters. Also in action will be Meadowlands Pace champ Tall Dark Stranger in the Tompkins-Geers Stakes for 3-year-old male pacers. For complete entries, click here. by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA    

A total of 17 three-year-old trotters have entered the harness racing $1M Hambletonian on August 8. There are 15 colts along with two fillies, Ramona Hill (Tony Alagna) & Sister Sledge (Ron Burke) have opted to try the open competition. There will be two $70,000 eliminations carded for this Sat., Aug. 1 and posts will be drawn on Meadowlands Facebook at 1:30 p.m today. There are a total of 12 filly trotters entered for the 50th edition of the Hambletonian Oaks. All 12 will go directly to the $500,000 final slated for Saturday, August 8. Post positions for the Oakes will be drawn during the race card Saturday, Aug. 1 at the Meadowlands. Habletonian Oaks by Ken Weingarter, for the USTA  

Hightstown, NJ - When Reflect With Me races in Friday's (July 24) $100,000 Nadia Lobell for 3-year-old female harness racing pacers, she is likely to be something she has not been in her most recent starts - the favorite. Reflect With Me brings a three-race win streak to Harrah's Hoosier Park for the Nadia Lobell. She closed 2019 with a victory in the Breeders Crown final for 2-year-old filly pacers at odds of 27-1 and opened this season with a win in a conditioned race at 7-1. Last weekend at The Meadowlands, she captured the Mistletoe Shalee Stakes by three-quarters of a length over Lyons Sentinel at 8-1. She starts Friday's Nadia Lobell from post four in a seven-filly field, with Andy McCarthy driving for trainer Tony Alagna. Reflect With Me is the 7-5 favorite on the morning line. "She's been terrific," McCarthy said. "Tony has done a great job getting her to where she's really slick gaited now. When we first started back, there were a couple small issues, she was running in a little bit, but he's fixed her up that way now. She might not be the strongest filly in the country, but she is probably one of the fastest, that's for sure." Reflect With Me's 1:49 win in the Mistletoe Shalee is the season's fastest time for a 3-year-old filly pacer. She has paced her final quarter mile in :25.1 and :25.2 in her two starts this year. "She can do it any way you want, but I do think she's better if you try to trip her out a little bit," McCarthy said. "I definitely think she's better off the pace than toughing it out, she's got such high speed that it just works out better for her that way. She's not going to bully her way around the racetrack, but if she's close at the head of the stretch she's got a good chance of out-sprinting them." Reflect With Me is a daughter of Captaintreacherous out of Remember When. She is owned by breeder Brittany Farms and Brad Grant. For her career, Reflect With Me has won seven of 13 races, missed the board only once, and earned $575,122. In addition to last year's Breeders Crown, her victories in 2019 included divisions of the Champlain Stakes and Eternal Camnation. "I had quite a bit of faith in her coming back this year," McCarthy said. "I figured she would come back good, it was just a matter of how good the others ones came back. I think every filly is going to get her turn this year. I think it's pretty exciting." Priceless, the 2019 Indiana Sire Stakes champion trained and driven by Brandon Bates, is the 3-1 second choice in the Nadia Lobell. Priceless finished fourth in the Mistletoe Shalee. Gai Waterhouse, making her seasonal debut, is 9-2 for trainer Domenico Cecere and driver Michael Oosting. She was the 2019 Kentucky Sire Stakes champ. Racing begins at 6:30 p.m. (EDT) at Hoosier Park. The Nadia Lobell is race No. 7, with an estimated 8:18 p.m. post time. For Friday's complete entries, click here. by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA  

Howard Taylor's horses are keeping him up at night, but only for the best of reasons. Taylor, a longtime owner who has experienced his share of success over the years, is enjoying a month to remember and hoping the good times continue as the calendar advances. Among Taylor's July highlights: Trotting mare Atlanta winning the Arthur J. Cutler Memorial over rival Manchego, 3-year-old pacing colt Tall Dark Stranger capturing the Meadowlands Pace after a dramatic stretch duel with rival Papi Rob Hanover, 3-year-old trotting colt Back Of The Neck winning consecutive stakes to stamp himself a prime contender for the Hambletonian, and a sparkling debut from 2-year-old female pacer Somethingbeautiful, who is a half-sister to Taylor's stakes-winner Shnitzledosomethin. "I can't even believe it, it's like everywhere I look," said Taylor, who this year is third in purses among North American owners. "It's almost an embarrassment of riches; I'm on Cloud Nine. "I don't want to go to sleep at night because I'm afraid that when I get up it will be a dream." This weekend, Taylor will watch Captain Groovy compete in the first of three seven-horse eliminations for the Delvin Miller Adios for 3-year-old pacers at The Meadows. The top-three finishers in each elim advance to the Aug. 1 final. Captain Groovy, trained by Ray Schnittker and driven by Mark MacDonald, will start from post six in his elimination. The race includes The Greek Freak, who brings a three-race win streak to the event, and Meadowlands Pace finalist Roll With JR. Last year, Captain Groovy started his campaign with four consecutive wins -- three in divisions of the Pennsylvania Stallion Series and the other in a division of the Pennsylvania All-Stars. He was winless in his remaining five races, with three coming on the Grand Circuit, but was third in a division of the International Stallion Stakes at Lexington's Red Mile. Captain Groovy opened this season with consecutive victories in conditioned races, including a 1:48 score over older horses on June 20 at The Meadowlands. That time is tied for second fastest among all 3-year-old pacers this year. He then finished second in a division of the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes at Harrah's Philadelphia and fourth in a PASS split last week at The Meadows. "Last year, he started out like some sort of a monster," Taylor said. "Ray did the right thing, he put him in the Stallion Series to get him some education and not stretch him out expecting he would be real good at the end of the year. Then he sort of flattened out, but when he went to Lexington he raced real well. "We turned him out sort of fresh, and when we brought him back this year, I couldn't believe how good he was. The second start, he came first up against some good older horses and blew them away. I was in shock. I'm just hoping it's not a repeat of last year. I don't know what to think about that horse. He's made me a liar every day, both ways." Captain Groovy is a son of Captaintreacherous and first foal out of Lets Groove Tonite. He sold for $90,000 at the 2018 Lexington Selected Sale and in addition to Taylor is owned by Schnittker, Ted Gewertz, and Mary Kinsey Arnold. Taylor has never owned an Adios winner, with his best finish of second coming in 2010 with Versado. Captain Groovy's driver, MacDonald, won the Adios in 2012 with Bolt The Duer. "(Captain Groovy) has got the speed to go with anyone," Taylor said. "I'm hoping for the best. When he's on, he's as good as any. I'm hoping this is a good week." The second elimination of the Adios features Meadowlands Pace runner-up Papi Rob Hanover as well as Pace finalist Captain Barbossa and recent PASS division winners Sea Of Life and No Lou Zing, who has won three consecutive starts since a second-place finish in his seasonal debut. In the third elim, 2019 Ohio Sire Stakes champion and world-record-holder Elver Hanover will look to rebound from his first loss in 11 career races against a field that includes 2020 New Jersey Sire Stakes champ Rockin The Aces and Meadowlands Pace finalists Capt Midnight and Catch The Fire. Racing begins at 12:45 p.m. (EDT) Saturday at The Meadows. The $25,000 Adios eliminations are races five, eight and nine. For complete entries, click here. by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA

Under most circumstances, trainer Nancy Takter would have watched the stretch drive of this past Saturday's Meadowlands Pace and been overcome with a sinking feeling. In those instances, though, she would not have been watching Tall Dark Stranger. Tall Dark Stranger and driver Yannick Gingras captured Saturday's $636,650 Meadowlands Pace in dramatic fashion, giving up the lead to rival Papi Rob Hanover in the stretch before fighting back to win by a neck in 1:47.2. Few people - including Gingras, co-owner Buck Chaffee, and Takter's father Jimmy - thought Tall Dark Stranger would be the winner as the horses began their battle on the final turn. Takter, however, was undaunted as the scene unfolded. "Usually when a horse kind of halfway clears, your heart sinks," Takter said. "I never got that feeling. I never had the feel that I was the loser. It was the weirdest thing ever. I watched the stretch and I had so much confidence in Tall Dark Stranger and knew he would come back. "What a champion he is. He just doesn't want to lose. He's just a great horse." Takter won her first Meadowlands Pace in her second try. In 2019, she finished fourth with favorite Captain Crunch. She also gave the Takter family its first Pace trophy; Jimmy sent out 10 horses in the event for 3-year-old pacers with a best finish of second with Vintage Master in 2009. As is a Takter tradition, the winner's blanket was placed on a bronze horse statue near the entrance of the family's central New Jersey farm. "There have been a lot of great blankets out there, so it was about time that one got on," the 39-year-old Takter said. "When I was growing up, a little kid, Meadowlands Pace night was always a big event. My dad didn't have a lot of pacers at that time, but I remember all these great horses and we would talk about them. I knew it was special to win the Meadowlands Pace." Tall Dark Stranger was the 2019 Dan Patch Award winner for best 2-year-old male pacer. For his career, he has won 11 of 12 races and earned $1.05 million for owners Crawford Farms Racing, Marvin Katz, Caviart Farms, and Howard Taylor. The colt, a son of Bettor's Delight out of Precocious Beauty, is Gingras' second Meadowlands Pace winner. Gingras got his first Pace victory with A Rocknroll Dance in 2012. "I have a connection with Tall Dark Stranger that makes it a little different than with A Rocknroll Dance," said Gingras, who has driven Tall Dark Stranger in all his qualifiers and races as well as spent time with the horse at Takter's stable. "Then, you have the expectations. A Rocknroll Dance was 9-2 and things worked out on that day, but you don't have the pressure. "Tall Dark Stranger, he's the champ, he's the one that has to be dethroned. He was 1-2 (odds), it was a lot of pressure. And I know Papi Rob Hanover is a great horse. I knew he would show up. Everyone saw Allywag Hanover, he's super fast too. You put all that together, to be able to get the job done, in that fashion too, is a great, great feeling." Papi Rob Hanover and Allywag Hanover both looked poised to defeat Tall Dark Stranger after the latter went for the lead in a :25.4 opening quarter-mile, then reached the half in :53.2 and three-quarters in 1:20.4. Around the last turn, Papi Rob Hanover pulled even with Tall Dark Stranger, with Allywag Hanover following Papi Rob Hanover's cover. "When Papi Rob came, I really didn't feel like I was a winner there," Gingras said. "I thought I was beat. I knew (Allywag Hanover) was in a perfect spot; I thought I was in trouble with both of them. I thought I would be second or third at that point. I just kept trying to keep my horse alive and he just fought. "Halfway down the stretch, I thought I had a chance. Maybe like a hundred feet before the wire, I knew I had (Papi Rob Hanover) even though I wasn't back in front of him yet. I knew I was getting to him and I had time to get him too. It felt pretty good then. "Tall Dark Stranger is a winner and he knows what he has to do to get the job done. He has the desire to dig down deep and give you that little more that's needed." After winning eight of nine races last season, Tall Dark Stranger is 3-for-3 in 2020 and has two sub-1:48 miles already this year. His 1:47.2 clocking in the Meadowlands Pace ranks tied for eighth best by a 3-year-old pacer in history. Gingras believes the horse's strong start this year is in part due to the way he finished last season. Tall Dark Stranger's connections decided to quit with the colt following his win in the Breeders Crown rather than pursue nearly $600,000 in purses in the Matron Stakes and Governor's Cup. "They could have kept on going last year, but they quit with him after having a great year with him," Gingras said. "They decided they were going to focus on trying to put all the chances on our side for his 3-year-old season, and it paid off. They got rewarded for their patience. I think the credit goes to them and Nancy for doing a good job bringing him back." Tall Dark Stranger's next start is expected to be in the Tompkins-Geers Stakes on Aug. 1 at The Meadowlands. Then comes the Cane Pace the following Saturday at The Big M. In the meantime, Takter will savor the Pace triumph. "I was a little disappointed about last year, so it was nice to come back and get it done this year," she said. "It's a very special accomplishment." by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA  

Hightstown, NJ — Hambletonian Maturity winner Gimpanzee remained No. 1 in the Hambletonian Society/Breeders Crown poll, but Meadowlands Pace champion Tall Dark Stranger moved within single digits of the harness racing season’s early leader. Gimpanzee, an undefeated 4-year-old trotting stallion, picked up six first-place votes compared to last week, giving him 24, and increased his points by 17 to 327. Tall Dark Stranger got 10 first-place votes this week and added 80 points to his total from Week 1, taking over the No. 2 position in the rankings. He was followed by Miss Versatility Series third-round winner Manchego, idle Atlanta, and W.R. Haughton Memorial winner Dancin Lou, who was unranked last week. Other newcomers in the top 10 were Del Miller Memorial winner Ramona Hill at No. 7, Stanley Dancer Memorial division winner Back Of The Neck at No. 9, and Meadowlands Pace runner-up Papi Rob Hanover at No. 10. The Hambletonian Society/Breeders Crown poll does not determine Horse of the Year. The members of the U.S. Harness Writers Association vote on all Dan Patch Award division winners plus Trotter of the Year, Pacer of the Year and Horse of the Year. Rankings based on the votes of harness racing media representatives on a 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis. Hambletonian Society/Breeders Crown Standardbred Poll: Week 2 – 7/21/2020 Rank Name (First Votes) A/G/S Record Earnings Points Pvs 1 Gimpanzee (24) 4th 4-4-0-0 $401,200 327 1 2 Tall Dark Stranger (10) 3pc 3-3-0-0 $336,785 318 3 3 Manchego 5tm 4-3-1-0 $93,975 245 4 4 Atlanta (1) 5tm 3-2-1-0 $115,450 241 2 5 Dancin Lou 4ph 5-3-0-2 $254,661 128 — 6 Hurrikane Emperor 4ph 4-3-0-1 $158,750 121 5 7 Ramona Hill 3tf 2-1-0-1 $126,465 111 — 8 Shartin N 7pm 3-2-1-0 $83,416 88 7 9 Back Of The Neck 3tc 3-2-1-0 $96,145 75 — 10 Papi Rob Hanover 3pc 3-0-2-1 $160,705 67 — ALSO: Ready For Moni 26; Reflect With Me 22; Hypnotic AM 21; Bet On Becky 19; Backstreet Shadow, Captain Corey 13; Tattoo Artist 12; Kissin In The Sand 11; Allywag Hanover 9; Action Uncle, Yanks Dugout 6; American Courage, Charlie May, Elver Hanover 5; Party Girl Hill, Splash Brother, Workin Ona Mystery 4; Bllack Hole, Our Majordan A, Sorella, Winella Hanover 3; Indictable Hanover, Southwind Amazon 2; Major Occasion A, Odds On Sarasota, Plunge Blue Chip 1. by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Major Occasion A and driver Dexter Dunn got an inside trip the entire mile to spring a 50-1 upset over Shartin N in Saturday's (July 18) $172,850 Dorothy Haughton Memorial for older female harness racing pacers at The Meadowlands in a stakes record 1:48.1.   Shartin N, the sport's defending Horse of the Year and 3-5 favorite, was second, and Soho Burning Love A was third in the event formerly known as the Golden Girls.   Starting from post one, Dunn sat second with Major Occasion A as Kissin In The Sand led the field to an opening quarter of :26.1 and half of :54.2 before getting pressure from Shartin N, who was fourth throughout the first half of the race. Kissin In The Sand and Shartin N matched strides at three-quarters in 1:21.1 and battled into the stretch, where Major Occasion A found room along the pylons to scoot to a neck victory.       "It's a surprise, but she's actually been racing really, really good," Dunn said. "Her last quarters have been 25 (seconds); she just hasn't been handling the last turn. They changed her hobbles and she paced a lot better. We got a good trip, obviously, but she has been racing really good. It was a lucky trip, but she's a nice mare."   Major Occasion A is trained by Richard "Nifty" Norman and owned by Enzed Racing Stable. The 6-year-old daughter of Art Major and Fake Occasion has won four of 11 races this season and $158,110. She has won 19 races lifetime and $331,490.   by Ken Weingartner, for The Meadowlands Derick Giwner contributed to this report.  

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Judy Taylor has sometimes given her son, Howard, a tough time about the harness racing horses they have owned together. That appears to be about to change.   The Taylors and breeder Stefan Balazsi's Order By Stable own Hambletonian hopeful Back Of The Neck, who won Saturday's (July 18) $142,250 first division of the Stanley Dancer Memorial for 3-year-old male trotters in 1:52 at The Meadowlands.   Howard Taylor, a Philadelphia attorney, is among the owners of 2018 Hambletonian winner Atlanta, as well as a number of other prominent horses.   "(My mom says,) 'You have all these good horses. I've never had one,'" Howard Taylor said. "I said, 'Every time I buy a horse for you, I own part of it too, I'm not trying to give you a bad horse. But it just never worked out that way. Now it has.'"   Driven by Scott Zeron, Back Of The Neck used a second-over trip to rally in the stretch for his second win in three races this year. Back Of The Neck, trained by Ãke Svanstedt, saw stablemate Third Shift hold the lead after the first quarter before Amigo Volo took control at the half.   After Zeron moved with Back Of The Neck from fourth, Svanstedt came first-over with Third Shift heading around the final turn. Back Of The Neck, the 4-5 favorite, won by 2-1/4 lengths over Third Shift, with Big Oil finishing third.       "He was really handy today, really relaxed, which is good," Zeron said. "He's progressively getting smarter and smarter on the track. Every start is just leading up to the Hambletonian in my eyes, so today it was like leave, let him sit, see how he feels in the hole. I was able to sit in longer than I thought I could because of the pace.   "When I moved him over, and Ãke pulled the two-hole, it was even better. Down the lane, he just finished strong. He was very well within himself."   A son of French trotting star Ready Cash out of Big Barb, Back Of The Neck has won five of 12 starts lifetime, good for $207,375.   Another son of Ready Cash won the second division of the Dancer. Ready For Moni was fifth at the half-mile point before following Chesnut Hill's cover around the final turn and using a three-wide move in the stretch to win in 1:51.4 as the 5-2 second choice in his seasonal debut.   Hollywood Story was second and Beads finished third. The winning margin was one length.       "I couldn't have scripted it any better," winning driver Yannick Gingras said. "It's his first start of the year and I wanted to somewhat take it easy on him. It couldn't have worked out any better. He's great. I think he's ready for it. He's going to get next week off, I'm pretty sure, and he's ready for the [Hambletonian]."   Ready For Moni, trained by Nancy Takter, is owned by John Fielding, Lindy Farms of Connecticut, Herb Liverman, and Bud Hatfield. He is out of Nothing But Moni, whose dam was the two-time Horse of the Year Moni Maker. He has won five of nine career races and $352,575. His top triumph last year came in the Kentucky Sire Stakes final, and he was second in the Valley Victory.   The Hambletonian Stakes, the sport's top event for 3-year-old trotters, is Aug. 8 at The Meadowlands. Eliminations will be held Aug. 1.   by Ken Weingartner, & Derick Giwner, for The Meadowlands

Shartin N, the 2019 Horse of the Year, returns to harness racing action Saturday (July 18) in the $172,850 Dorothy Haughton Memorial for older female pacers at The Meadowlands Racetrack after missing a start because of a minor foot issue. The 7-year-old mare, unbeaten in two outings this season, was scratched from a conditioned race July 5 at Harrah's Philadelphia. Prior to the brief setback, Shartin N won an invitational for fillies and mares at Dover Downs on March 4 and an open handicap for fillies and mares at Yonkers Raceway on June 30. Her victory at Yonkers, where she lost a shoe during the race, came from post eight. "It's unfortunate she had to be scratched, but it was something that was easily taken care of," trainer Jim King Jr. said. "She's had a good week. She had a good group to train with - Soho Burning Love, Bettor Joy, Donttellmeagain - and showed her dominance. That was good because those are some pretty good ones." Shartin N is owned by Richard Poillucci, Jo Ann Looney-King, and driver Tim Tetrick. She has won 36 of 45 career races and $2.07 million since arriving in the U.S. from New Zealand. King has been more than pleased with what he's seen from Shartin N in her limited action this year. "Oh my goodness, I don't know how she could have done it any better," King said. "Both times coming from off the pace and doing her job. It is special to have a horse like her. In so many ways, she's just ordinary, another horse. But in so many other ways, she's not." Shartin N will start the Dorothy Haughton Memorial (formerly the Golden Girls) from post two and is the 8-5 morning-line favorite. Her training partners/stablemates Soho Burning Love A and Bettor Joy N also are in the race, with the former at 4-1 and the latter at 15-1. Kissin In The Sand, who has a 1:47.4 win from two starts, is the 7-2 second choice and Caviart Ally, last season's Breeders Crown Mare Pace winner, is 5-1. The Dorothy Haughton Memorial (race 10) is part of a stakes-laden slate at The Big M. Following is a look at the other stakes events on the card. First race post time is 6:30 p.m. (EDT). Race 2 - $40,000 Miss Versatility for trotting mares (third leg of series) Manchego, the season's fastest trotter thanks to her 1:50 win in the first round of the series, is the 4-5 morning-line favorite. She won her first two races of the campaign before a half-length setback to Atlanta in the Cutler Memorial on July 4. Plunge Blue Chip is the 4-1 second choice. Race 3 - $253,500 Del Miller Memorial for 3-year-old filly trotters Empire Breeders Classic winner Hypnotic AM is the 3-1 favorite, followed by W.N. Reynolds Memorial champ Sorella at 7-2 and returning Dan Patch Award winner Ramona Hill at 9-2. Sorella is No. 2 in Meadowlands announcer/analyst Ken Warkentin's Road to the Hambletonian rankings and Hypnotic AM is No. 5. Race 4 - $142,250 Stanley Dancer Memorial for 3-year-old male trotters (division) Amigo Volo, coming off a win in a division of the Pennsylvania All-Stars and ranked No. 1 in the Road to the Hambletonian, is the 3-1 favorite. Big Oil, also a PA All-Stars winner, is 7-2 followed by returning Dan Patch Award winner Real Cool Sam at 4-1 in his seasonal debut. Six of the eight male trotters in the Road to the Hambletonian ratings are in this race: Amigo Volo, Back Of The Neck (No. 3), Real Cool Sam (4), Third Shift (6), Big Oil (7), and Synergy (10). Race 5 - $142,250 Stanley Dancer Memorial (division) Reynolds division runner-up Beads is the 3-1 favorite. EL Ideal, third behind Beads in their Reynolds split, is 7-2 and seasonal debuting Ready For Moni is 9-2. Beads and Ready For Moni are in the Road to the Hambletonian rankings, at eighth and ninth, respectively. Race 6 - $194,400 Mistletoe Shalee for 3-year-old filly pacers JK First Lady, coming off a 1:49.4 qualifier win, is the 3-1 favorite. She was third by a neck in her only start, June 26. Rocknificent, who won a division of the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes her last time out, is 7-2 and returning Dan Patch Award winner Lyons Sentinel, who was second to Rocknificent in the PASS, is 4-1 from post nine in an 11-horse field. Race 7 - $391,300 William R. Haughton Memorial for older male pacers Dancin Lou, who won a preliminary leg of the Graduate Series and was third in the final, is the 3-1 favorite. Roll With Joe Stakes champ Backstreet Shadow is 7-2 with Roll With Joe runner-up None Bettor A at 9-2. Race 8 - $464,900 Hambletonian Maturity for 4-year-old trotters A 13-horse field going 1-1/8 miles. Gimpanzee, 3-for-3 this year and fresh off a victory in the Graduate Series final, is the 3-1 favorite from post 13. Forbidden Trade, the 2019 Hambletonian winner, won a conditioned race last week at The Meadowlands and is 7-2. When Dovescry, who won the 2019 Hambletonian Oaks, is making her seasonal debut and is 9-2. Race 9 - $636,650 Meadowlands Pace for 3-year-old male pacers Tall Dark Stranger is the 7-5 favorite. Read more here. Race 11 - $123,100 William R. Haughton consolation Sintra is the 3-1 favorite followed by Geez Joe at 7-2 and Western Joe at 9-2. For Saturday's complete Big M entries, click here. by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA    

A little more than 50 years ago, Buck Owens cautioned country music listeners to beware a tall dark stranger. Decades later, the warning could apply to Saturday's Meadowlands Pace. Tall Dark Stranger, the 2019 Dan Patch Award winner for best 2-year-old harness racing colt pacer, is the 7-5 morning-line favorite in the $636,650 Meadowlands Pace for 3-year-olds at The Meadowlands Racetrack. The colt, who won last week's single elimination by a half-length over Captain Kirk in 1:48.1 over a "good" surface, starts from post five with Yannick Gingras driving for trainer Nancy Takter. Racing begins at 6:30 p.m. (EDT) Saturday. Post time for the Meadowlands Pace, which is race nine on the stakes-filled card, is 10:05 p.m. Tall Dark Stranger is undefeated in two races this season. He opened his campaign with a 1:47.4 win against older horses on June 27 at The Meadowlands. Over the previous five years, only seven 3-year-old pacers have won with faster miles. "He's a fast horse, but he's not just fast," Gingras said. "He's a great horse. He can do anything you want, race him any way you decide to race him. He's strong, he's got a great gait, he's got all the qualities. Those are the things that make the difference between a fast horse and a great horse." Tall Dark Stranger is a son of Bettor's Delight out of Precocious Beauty. He is owned by Crawford Farms Racing, Marvin Katz, Caviart Farms, and Howard Taylor. Last year, the colt won eight of nine races, finished second in his loss, and earned $717,514. He will try to join Huntsville (2017), He's Watching (2014) and Captaintreacherous (2013) as recent Dan Patch Award returnees to win the Pace. "He's come back great," Gingras said. "I couldn't be any happier, really. His first start he was vicious and the same thing again last week. I don't think he could be coming into the final in better shape. "Last year at times he could be a little bit grabby. He knew really early on what his job was to do, but sometimes he wanted to do a little bit too much. He's a little more manageable this year. If anything, he's a little bit lazy. Leaving the gate last week, in a good way, I had to ask him. He knows what he's out there to do and that it's my job to guide him and he's letting me do my job." Tall Dark Stranger was guaranteed a starting spot in posts one through six by virtue of his elimination win. "For me, I've always felt it's tremendously important to try to win the elimination," Gingras said. "Of course, you don't want to overuse your horse, but I have no problem racing my horse to take the outside posts out of the equation. I feel there is great value to it. These horses can go those miles. He left pretty good last week, but I got a decent middle half and then sprinted home. I don't think he will be worse for wear after that last start. "I like where I drew. You can see what happens. Of course, you've got to go forward. Everybody knows I'm not going to back out of the gate, you're not getting away seventh or eighth in this race, with Tall Dark Stranger that's not happening. You're going forward out of the gate, but you have options. You can see what the outside horses are doing, you can see what the inside horses are doing, and I can race any which way. Post five gives me all the options in the world." Gingras is looking for his second Meadowlands Pace victory. He won with A Rocknroll Dance in 2012. Takter is seeking her first Pace trophy. Last year's Matron Stakes and Governor's Cup winner Papi Rob Hanover, with David Miller driving for trainer Brett Pelling, is the 4-1 second choice on the Meadowlands Pace morning line. Papi Rob Hanover starts from post nine, which is his most favorable starting spot yet this season. He finished third from post 10 in the Pace elim and was second from post 10 in his seasonal debut. Allywag Hanover, also from the Pelling Stable, is the 9-2 third choice. Allywag Hanover advanced to the Pace final courtesy of a bye based on seasonal earnings. Allywag Hanover is 3-for-3 this year and won in 1:48 on July 4 at The Meadowlands. Pelling is the winningest trainer in Pace history, with four victories. Tim Tetrick will drive Allywag Hanover and is looking for his sixth Pace win. John Campbell holds the record with seven. Trainer Tony Alagna, who won the 2013 Meadowlands Pace with Captaintreacherous, has three horses in Saturday's final: Captain Barbossa (10-1), Capt Midnight (15-1), and Captain Kirk (15-1). Capt Midnight finished ninth in the elimination, from which the top eight horses advanced to the final, but drew into the race when Chief Mate was scratched on Tuesday. In addition to the Meadowlands Pace, Saturday's racing includes two $142,250 divisions of the Stanley Dancer Memorial for 3-year-old male trotters, the 11-horse $253,500 Del Miller Memorial for 3-year-old female trotters, the 13-horse $464,900 Hambletonian Maturity at 1-1/8 miles for 4-year-old trotters, the 11-horse $391,300 William R. Haughton Memorial for older male pacers (as well as a $123,100 consolation), $172,850 Dorothy Haughton Memorial for older female pacers, the 11-horse $194,400 Mistletoe Shalee for 3-year-old female pacers, and the third leg of the Miss Versatility Series for older female trotters. For complete entries, click here. by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA    

One night a couple years ago while enjoying dinner with a friend, horse owner Elmer Fannin had a thought. If the yet-to-be-raced homebred filly harness racing trotter he had in his stable was as good as the wine they were enjoying, she would be something special. "So, I decided I was going to name her Sorella for the bottle of wine," Fannin said. "That's how it happened. It was just an enjoyable dinner, enjoying some good wine, and now I've got a good horse." Sorella is showing signs of maturing like a fine wine. Last season at age 2, she went off stride in three of her nine starts. Her remaining six races, though, included two wins and two seconds. She won divisions of the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes and Arden Downs and both runner-up efforts came to Sister Sledge, including in the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes championship. This year, she is 3-for-3. She won the lone division of the W.N. Reynolds Memorial for 3-year-old female trotters last week, when she scored in 1:50.2, the fastest mile of the season by any 3-year-old trotter. One start earlier, she beat a group of Hambletonian-eligible boys in 1:51.2.   "She was good last year but she was shying away from stuff," Fannin said about Sorella, who in 2019 was trained by Staffan Lind and this year is in the stable of Nancy Takter. "She just wasn't settled down and was making some breaks. But when she didn't make a break, she was really good. "Nancy has done a tremendous job with her. You never know how far up the ladder they'll go before they stop. But she's certainly been an amazing filly. She didn't look like she was all out in her last race. It wasn't like she was waiting for the finish line to come to her, she was OK going to the finish line. That was great." Sorella makes her next start Saturday in the $253,500 Del Miller Memorial for 3-year-old filly trotters at The Meadowlands. Sorella will leave from post one with driver Yannick Gingras and is the 7-2 second choice on the morning line. Empire Breeders Classic winner Hypnotic AM is the 3-1 favorite. All but one of the 11 fillies in the Miller Memorial are eligible to August's Hambletonian Oaks, but could be entered against the boys in the Hambletonian. Has Fannin given that scenario any thought? "Yeah, probably all of my life," he said with a laugh. "To have a filly and beat the boys, who wouldn't be thinking about it. A lot of people, like Nancy and Yannick, would have a say in that, but we'll see. She's got a race this week and we'll see how she does. You don't want to get overanxious and get in over your head and not do yourself or the industry, or the filly, any favors." Sorella is a daughter of Muscle Hill out of Kadealia. Fannin raced Kadealia, best remembered for a 75-1 upset in the 2008 Breeders Crown for 3-year-old fillies, and retained her as a broodmare following her career on the track. Sadly, the mare died earlier this year while in foal to Father Patrick. "All of her foals made it to the races, and I thought at some point she was destined to have a good one," Fannin said. "I'm certainly happy to honor Kadealia with Sorella doing so well. Hopefully Sorella continues on and does well and the Father Patrick (yearling) colt I have will do well next year." Fannin, a Delaware resident who with his wife Mary Ann founded custom home builder Country Life Homes a little more than 25 years ago, owns Sorella with Crawford Farms Racing and Brent Fannin. "We're just happy to have her," Fannin said. "We're just all enjoying it and I've got nothing but praise for the trainers, drivers, partners, and, of course, the filly. With her out of the equation, there ain't any fun for anybody." The Miller is part of a big night of racing at The Big M, headlined by the $636,650 Meadowlands Pace for 3-year-old male pacers. In addition, Saturday's racing includes two $142,250 divisions of the Stanley Dancer Memorial for 3-year-old male trotters, the 13-horse $464,900 Hambletonian Maturity at 1-1/8 miles for 4-year-old trotters, the 11-horse $391,300 William R. Haughton Memorial for older male pacers (as well as a $123,100 consolation), $172,850 Dorothy Haughton Memorial for older female pacers, the 11-horse $194,400 Mistletoe Shalee for 3-year-old female pacers, and the third leg of the Miss Versatility Series for older female trotters. For complete entries, click here. by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA  

Real Cool Sam, the 2019 Dan Patch Award winner for best 2-year-old colt harness racing trotter, makes his seasonal debut Saturday in the first of two $142,250 divisions of the Stanley Dancer Memorial at The Meadowlands. The Dancer, the penultimate stakes prep at The Big M for 3-year-old male trotters ahead of August's Hambletonian, is part of a stakes-packed card headlined by the $636,650 Meadowlands Pace for 3-year-old colt pacers. Pace elimination winner Tall Dark Stranger, also a Dan Patch Award recipient in 2019, is the 7-5 morning-line favorite. First race post time Saturday is 45 minutes earlier than usual, at 6:30 p.m. (EDT). Real Cool Sam, who was named in honor of late Meadowlands announcer Sam McKee, won nine of 10 races last year for trainer Jim Campbell and owner Jules Siegel's Fashion Farms. The homebred son of Muscle Hill-Cooler Schooner counted the Peter Haughton Memorial and Pennsylvania Sire Stakes championship among his victories and set multiple world records along the way. The colt is among 17 Hambletonian eligibles in the two 10-horse Dancer divisions. He will start from post one with driver David Miller and is 4-1 on the morning line. Amigo Volo is the 3-1 favorite followed by Big Oil at 7-2. Real Cool Sam enters the race off second-place finishes in his two most recent qualifiers, June 27 and July 3, at The Meadowlands. He was timed in 1:52.4 last time. "I was real happy with his last two qualifiers," Campbell said. "A few of these other horses have gotten a couple starts ahead of him, but we're just looking to get him prepped and ready for the Hambo. So far so good." Real Cool Sam, who is No. 2 behind Amigo Volo in Meadowlands announcer/analyst Ken Warkentin's Road to the Hambletonian rankings, will attempt to become the first returning Dan Patch Award winner since Pinkman in 2015 to win the Hambletonian. "There wasn't too much that didn't make us happy last year," Campbell said during the winter about Real Cool Sam. "He's good mannered in a race, good gaited, he's got speed. He's obviously going to have to carry his speed a lot further at 3 than at 2. That's the main thing, just carrying your speed further." Campbell will decide Real Cool Sam's next start following the Dancer. He could race once more or go directly to the Hambletonian eliminations Aug. 1 at The Meadowlands. "I'll play it by ear," Campbell said. "Our goal all along was to keep him at The Meadowlands until after the Hambletonian." Campbell also will send out Beyond Kronos in the second Dancer division. Beyond Kronos, by Muscle Hill out of Oyster Kronos, was a three-time winner in the Pennsylvania Stallion Series last year and runner-up to EL Ideal in the Kindergarten Classic final. He is winless in three races this season, but trotted 1:51.4 in a fourth-place finish in a division of the W.N. Reynolds Memorial last weekend at The Meadowlands. "I've been real happy with the way he's gone," Campbell said. "He's gotten into tough races every start but he trotted (1):51.4 last week and I was real happy with the way he did it." Beads is the 3-1 morning-line favorite in the second Dancer division. In addition to the Dancer and Meadowlands Pace, Saturday's racing includes an 11-horse $253,500 single division of the Del Miller Memorial for 3-year-old female trotters, the 13-horse $464,900 Hambletonian Maturity at 1-1/8 miles for 4-year-old trotters, the 11-horse $391,300 William R. Haughton Memorial for older male pacers (as well as a $123,100 consolation), $172,850 Dorothy Haughton Memorial for older female pacers, the 11-horse $194,400 Mistletoe Shalee for 3-year-old female pacers, and the third leg of the Miss Versatility Series for older female trotters. For complete entries, click here. by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA     

Mike Wilder has driven in more than 55,000 races in his 30-year harness racing career, but never in the final of a Meadowlands Pace. That, however, will change this weekend. Wilder makes his first trip to The Meadowlands Racetrack for its signature event Saturday, when he will sit behind Catch The Fire in the $631,650 race for 3-year-old male pacers. "It's nice to be a part of that," said Wilder, who has won 8,276 races while competing mostly in Ohio and Pennsylvania. "It's not like every year you know you're going to be in a certain race. Obviously, I've been driving 30 years and it's my first time, so it takes a good horse. It takes a good horse and being at the right place at the right time. "Catch The Fire has been a really good horse. He's pretty special." Of the Meadowlands Pace final's 10 drivers, Wilder is the only one making his first appearance. The last driver to win the Pace in his first try was Tim Tetrick with Southwind Lynx in 2007. Catch The Fire heads to the Meadowlands Pace final off a seventh-place finish in last week's single elimination. The colt started from post eight, was last in the 10-horse field at the half, and rallied with a :25.4 last quarter-mile to grab a spot in the final. He starts Saturday from post two and is 10-1 on the morning line. Elimination winner Tall Dark Stranger is the 7-5 favorite. "The (elimination) was kind of tough the way the race shook out," Wilder said. "That being said, he raced terrific. That horse, he just shows up. Even the other night, he was seventh, but he showed up. He had to pace :25.4 to get the job done and he did it. "I was very happy to see where he drew in the final, it gives him a chance to be part of the fight. Hopefully things shake out good and we get the right trip and get some money. It would be nice to win the race, everybody wants to win, but I don't think there is any question he could be able to grab some of the prize money." Catch The Fire was purchased for $15,000 at the 2018 Lexington Selected Sale. He is owned by Charles Taylor's CT Stables and trained by John Ackley. The horse's sire, Captaintreacherous, won the 2013 Meadowlands Pace. His dam, Dream Outloud, is a half-sister to Life'sliltreasure, who produced 2016 Meadowlands Pace winner Control The Moment. Wilder has driven Catch The Fire in all but one of the colt's 14 career starts. Last year, Catch The Fire won the Kentucky Sire Stakes championship and was third in the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes final. He has won four of 14 races lifetime, hit the board a total of 10 times, and earned $260,047. "He was pretty special last year," Wilder said. "The first time I raced him, he's not a real big horse at all but John told me not to worry about the size of the horse, he's a very nice colt. That particular day, he was second in the (Pennsylvania) sire stakes at The Meadows. He paced home in :26.3 and you don't get many horses that can do that, especially a 2-year-old. I knew then that I had my hands on something pretty nice." Wilder is an Ohio native and won 13 driving titles at Lebanon and two at Scioto Downs before moving to The Meadows in western Pennsylvania in 2001. Over the past 10 years, he has annually ranked among the top-five drivers at The Meadows in wins and purses. Five times in the past six years he has finished second to perennial Meadows driving champ Dave Palone in wins. This season, Wilder leads drivers at The Meadows in purses with $1.1 million and is second to Palone in wins with 126. Overall, Wilder has won 142 races this year, ninth best in North America. Catch The Fire could keep Wilder on the road for a number of Grand Circuit races. The colt is staked to the North America Cup, Breeders Crown, Little Brown Jug, Cane Pace, Messenger Pace, Tattersalls Pace, and Matron Stakes, not to mention the Delvin Miller Adios at Wilder's home track. "You hope the horse stays healthy and sound and wherever they choose to race him I'm sure he is going to fight," Wilder said. "With the right trip, he's always going to kick home for you, he's always digging. That's how you get paid. This horse can get to the (first) quarter in :26 and then he comes home in :26. I think that's what it takes to be a horse at that level and I think he's proven himself to be that kind of horse. "I'm really looking forward to the season with him and I'm really looking forward to Saturday night being in the Meadowlands Pace." The Meadowlands Pace is part of a jam-packed stakes slate Saturday at the Big M. The card also includes the Hambletonian Maturity for 4-year-old trotters, William R. Haughton Memorial for older male pacers, Dorothy Haughton Memorial for older female pacers, Stanley Dancer Memorial for 3-year-old male trotters, Del Miller Memorial for 3-year-old female trotters, Mistletoe Shalee for 3-year-old female pacers, and the third leg of the Miss Versatility Series for older female trotters. Following is the field for the $631,650 Meadowlands Pace. PP-Horse-Driver-Trainer-Morning Line 1-Roll With JR-Corey Callahan-Jeff Cullipher-20/1 2-Catch The Fire-Mike Wilder-John Ackley-10/1 3-Captain Barbossa-Brian Sears-Tony Alagna-10/1 4-Allywag Hanover-Tim Tetrick-Brett Pelling-5/1 5-Tall Dark Stranger-Yannick Gingras-Nancy Takter-7/5 6-Manticore-Jordan Stratton-Bruce Saunders-15/1 7-Chief Mate-Andy McCarthy-Tony Alagna-20/1 8-Major Betts-Dexter Dunn-Mark Harder-10/1 9-Papi Rob Hanover-David Miller-Brett Pelling-4/1 10-Captain Kirk-Joe Bongiorno-Tony Alagna-15/1 by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA  

East Rutherford, NJ --- Hurrikane Emperor provided an upset in the $250,000 Graduate Series final for 4-year-old pacers while 1-5 favorite Gimpanzee took care of business in the $250,000 Graduate Series final for 4-year-old trotters Saturday night at The Meadowlands. Hurrikane Emperor, sent off as the fifth choice at odds of 7-1, was second over in fourth at three-quarters before coming three wide off the last turn and storming through the stretch to reign by 1-1/2 lengths over Workin Ona Mystery in 1:47, the fastest mile of the season. Dancin Lou finished third. Favorite Bettor's Wish was eighth. Mark MacDonald drove Hurrikane Emperor to victory for trainer John McDermott and owners Jonathan Klee Racing, Kuhen Racing, and William Garofalo. "I really thought he was going to be awesome tonight and Mark gave him the most beautiful drive in the world," McDermott said. "It worked out beautifully." Hurrikane Emperor is a homebred son of former McDermott standout Hurrikane Kingcole, who died last October at the age of 10. Hurrikane Emperor won seven of nine races as a 2-year-old and opened his 3-year-old campaign with three consecutive wins, including the New Jersey Sire Stakes championship, before seeing his season derailed by sickness. "We don't know what it was, but everything just kept falling apart," McDermott said. "I shut him down. My boys were so great about it, they told me to give him all the time he needed. We did and it's paid off." Hurrikane Emperor won a conditioned race in March before the sport was shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. When racing resumed, he returned in the Graduate Series, where he won an opening-round division at Tioga Downs. He finished third in his second-round division last week at The Meadowlands. "This is beyond words," McDermott said. "Through this pandemic it's been such torture, all I did was go deeper in the hole. Thank God for my great partners that have supported me through it because it has not been easy. To come out here, I knew he was awesome this year. Last week we were all slightly disappointed, but the way he got sick last year, I'm trying to not overuse him. "This is just really a blessing. He is so special to us. Owning his daddy, losing his daddy last year, he's family. He's the greatest creature in the world to me. It's funny, as a 2- and 3-year-old he didn't remind me of his father because he was really nondescript and didn't have much of a personality. In the last year, he's grown into such a clown that he's so much like his dad off the track. On the track, he's nice and manageable."   Hurrikane Emperor, out of the mare Hurrikane Schmumma, has won 13 of 22 career races and $534,476. In the Graduate Series final for 4-year-old trotters, Gimpanzee saw Reign Of Honor lead the field around the first turn but moved to the front at the quarter on his way to a 1:50.4 triumph for driver Brian Sears and trainer Marcus Melander. Reign Of Honor, also trained by Melander, was second and Chin Chin Hall finished third. The winning margin was one length.   Gimpanzee, a son of Chapter Seven out of Steamy Windows, is 3-for-3 this year and has won 20 of 26 career races. A Dan Patch Award winner at age 2, the stallion has banked $1.89 million for owners Courant Inc. and S R F Stable. "Reign Of Honor finishing second from a bad post (10) was a little bit shocking that he was so fast behind the gate," Melander said. "Gimpanzee was supposed to win, but finishing first and second, I'm very pleased. "(Gimpanzee) is doing what he's supposed to do. He's going to go back next week for the Hambletonian Maturity, so it was nice to get a nice race on the lead. I was very happy with what I saw. The horse is getting more in form. Even though he's been racing great, I can feel him getting sharper and sharper. It will be very exciting to continue racing with him." The target for next week’s $631,650 Meadowlands Pace for 3-year-olds is clearly on Tall Dark Stranger’s back. And his trainer, Nancy Takter, seems to be just fine with that. Tall Dark Stranger took over the lead just after the quarter and rolled down the road from there in the lone Meadowlands Pace Elimination at The Meadowlands Saturday night, establishing himself as the clear-cut one-to-beat in the track’s signature event next week (July 18). “He’s a great colt,” said Takter. “He’s been great since Day One. He performs every time I put him out on the track.” Hard to dispute given his lifetime record of 10 wins from 11 starts. Major Betts left the gate quickly from post one, as did Tall Dark Stranger from the three. Major Betts went the quarter in :26.1 before TDS took over and hit the half in :54.4. Capt Midnight – who finished ninth and failed to qualify for the final – came calling first-over to apply token pressure at three-quarters in 1:22.1. Then Tall Dark Stranger got serious. Off the far turn, driver Yannick Gingras asked the son of Bettor’s Delight-Precocious Beauty for more speed, and he provided just that, extending his advantage to two lengths at the head of the lane. In deep stretch, 23-1 shot Captain Kirk was closing well after going an inside trip to get second while 4-1 second choice Papi Rob Hanover, who again had to come from well off the pace after drawing poorly (post 10), grabbed third. Tall Dark Stranger won it by a half-length after stopping the clock in 1:48.1. After earning half of the $50,000 purse, his lifetime bank account stood at $751,889 for owners Crawford Farms Racing, Marvin Katz, Caviart Farms and Howard Taylor. He returned $2.80 to his backers as the 2-5 favorite. By winning the elim, TDS earned the right to draw a post position from one through six. He got the five for the big-money final in the draw conducted shortly after the race. “Post five is a great place,” said Takter. “It gives Yannick a lot of options. That’s his job. I was super happy with my horse tonight.” The top eight in official order of finish made the final, with two horses – Allywag Hanover and Chief Mate – earning byes based on seasonal earnings. Mocha On The Rocks finished 10th and last in the elim. MEADOWLANDS PACE FIELD The field for the $631,650 Meadowlands Pace for 3-year-old open pacers, which takes place at The Meadowlands on July 18 and has a post time of 10:05 p.m., with post position, horse (driver, trainer) and morning-line odds: 1. Roll With JR (Corey Callahan, Jeff Cullipher), 20-1 2. Catch The Fire (Mike Wilder, John Ackley), 10-1 3. Captain Barbossa (Brian Sears, Tony Alagna), 10-1 4. Allywag Hanover (Tim Tetrick, Brett Pelling), 5-1 5. Tall Dark Stranger (Yannick Gingras, Nancy Takter), 7-5 6. Manticore (Jordan Stratton, Bruce Saunders), 15-1 7. Chief Mate (Andy McCarthy, Tony Alagna), 20-1 8. Major Betts (Dexter Dunn, Mark Harder), 10-1 9. Papi Rob Hanover (David Miller, Brett Pelling), 4-1 10. Captain Kirk (Joe Bongiorno, Tony Alagna), 15-1 HUGE HANDLE: With two of the races on the card serving as the catalyst with over $350,000 in action, total wagering was $3,440,248, a 2020 Meadowlands best for a 13-race program. When total handle reached $4,100,386 on June 20, the per race average for the 18-race program was $227,799. On Saturday, the average per race was a season-high $264,634. The night got off to a fast start, as $368,907 in bets were taken on the first race, $98,457 of which was bet in the 20-cent Pick-5 pool, another Big M best. A LITTLE MORE: Gingras led the driver’s colony with four winners on the card. … The 20-cent Jackpot Super High-Five carryovers continued to swell. This Friday, when racing resumes at 7:15 p.m., JSH5 players will shoot for big green, as the fifth race carryover stands at $65,089, and the 13th race will start out with $80,368 in the hat. … On Saturday, July 18, Meadowlands Pace Night, post time will be 6:30 p.m. The W.N. Reynolds Memorial divisions for 3-year-old male trotters were won by Jula Trix Treasure and Back Of The Neck, both from the stable of trainer Ake Svanstedt. Jula Trix Treasure, driven by Gingras, won in 1:51.2, with Beads second and EL Ideal third. Back Of The Neck, with Scott Zeron in the sulky, won in 1:52 with Play Trix On Me second and Maesteraemon third. The only Reynolds event for 3-year-old female trotters was won by Takter-trained and Gingras-driven Sorella in 1:50.2, the fastest mile of the season by a 3-year-old trotter. Panem was second followed by returning Dan Patch Award winner Ramona Hill in her 2020 debut. by Ken Weingartner and Dave Little  

Per Engblom had high hopes for Synergy last year at age 2, and while the colt won the Champlain Stakes and eliminations of the Peter Haughton Memorial and Breeders Crown, the campaign failed to live up to his trainer's early expectations. "We really thought we had a great horse," Engblom said of last year, noting a bout of sickness hampered Synergy during the summer and impeded his development. But as the 2020 harness racing season kicks into gear, Engblom remains hopeful Synergy can emerge as a primetime player among 3-year-old male trotters. Synergy makes his second start Saturday (July 11) in the second of two divisions of the Reynolds Memorial for 3-year-old trotting colts and geldings at The Meadowlands, where he leaves from post seven with Yannick Gingras and is the 3-1 morning-line favorite. The two Reynolds splits for the boys feature a total of 14 Hambletonian-eligible horses; Synergy is No. 6 in track announcer/analyst Ken Warkentin's Road to the Hambletonian rankings. The Hambletonian, the sport's premier race for 3-year-old trotters, is Aug. 8 at The Meadowlands. Synergy enters the Reynolds off a third-place finish in a 3-year-old open June 27 at the Big M, where he was timed in 1:52.1. It was the colt's debut, following a 1:54 qualifying effort that featured a :26.2 last quarter-mile. "I was really happy with those two efforts," Engblom said. "He needs to get racing, to get going; he's a big, heavy colt. But he's shown that he's a little stronger this year than last year, so I'm happy with that and I'm looking forward to these races coming up." A son of Father Patrick out of Southwind Sauna, Synergy is owned by Brittany Farms, John Fielding, Herb Liverman, and David Anderson. He was purchased as a yearling under the name Southwind Saranac for $275,000 at the 2018 Lexington Selected Sale and his family includes O'Brien Award winner Federal Flex. Synergy has won four of 11 career races and $164,888. "He had a little bit of trouble carrying his speed last year," Engblom said. "The last sixteenth of a mile he kind of flattened out, but this year so far, going (1):52, he seemed pretty good. Let's hope he can go (1):51 and (1):50 and a piece, too." Engblom also has a starter in the first Reynolds division. Beads, a newcomer to his stable this year, is the 4-1 third choice behind EL Ideal (2-1) and Capricornus (3-1). Beads went off stride in both of his starts this season, but heads to the Reynolds off a 1:52.2 win in a qualifier July 3. Jimmy Takter, who drove Beads in the qualifier, returns for Saturday's race. Last year, Beads won two of eight starts and $22,330. All but one of the horse's races were in Canada. The son of Archangel-Nepentha is owned by Renee Spahr. "He's a little bit of a funny horse, but he's got plenty of ability," Engblom said. "It's more mental issues with him, he gets a little nervous and stuff like that. He's not really stupid or hot or anything, it's just that he gets a little tense. "Going to the lead, so far, has been the model for him. If we can get him to mature, maybe he can race from behind a little bit. But he's showed plenty of ability so far." In addition to the two Reynolds divisions for the boys, there is a single Reynolds Memorial for 3-year-old female trotters. Shishito is 6-1 on the morning line in a field that includes returning Dan Patch Award winner Ramona Hill (3-1 favorite) in her seasonal debut and 2-for-2 Sorella (7-2). Eight of the 10 fillies in the Reynolds are eligible to the Hambletonian Oaks, including Shishito, Ramona Hill, and Sorella. Shishito won her only start of the season, beating male rivals including Hambletonian hopeful Capricornus, in 1:53.3 at Harrah's Philadelphia. Last year, she won four of 11 races and $240,512 for owners Black Horse Racing and John Fielding. "She was a money-maker last year," Engblom said. "She was a very tough girl. She was there the first baby race of the year and she raced in the Breeders Crown final. This year, I've been super happy with her so far. She trotted (1):53 last year and she's been in (1):51.2 (in a qualifier) already this year, so she's developed the right way." Racing begins at 7:15 p.m. (EDT) Saturday at The Meadowlands. The 13-race card also includes $250,000 Graduate Series finals for 4-year-old pacers and trotters and a single elimination of the Meadowlands Pace. For Saturday's complete Meadowlands entries, click here. by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA     

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