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With two horses already guaranteed spots in the harness racing final of the MGM Borgata Series for older male pacers, trainer Ron Burke will look to add a third on Monday (April 12) when Yonkers Raceway hosts the last preliminary round of the six-week event. Based on points accumulated in the series, the Burke Brigade's Rockapelo and This Is The Plan are among five horses to have already secured places in the eight-horse final on April 19. The others are Western Joe, Hesa Kingslayer N, and Leonidas A. Burke's Backstreet Shadow is in the best position to join that group, pending the outcomes in Monday's last preliminary divisions of the series. Backstreet Shadow, sixth in points, is the 8-5 morning-line favorite in the first of the last three Borgata splits, starting from post one. The six-horse field also includes four of the five horses directly behind Backstreet Shadow in the standings: San Domino A and Lyons Steel, who are tied for seventh, ninth-place Raukapuka Ruler N and 11th-place Tyga Hanover. The remaining horse in the field is series leader Western Joe. Other horses that could bolster their chances of making the final with wins on Monday are Mach N Cheese and Mac's Jackpot, who are both in the second division, and Ostro Hanover, who is in the third. None are morning-line favorites. Backstreet Shadow has a win and two seconds in the Borgata. A trainer can start only one horse in a division, and Burke has four horses in the series, so Backstreet Shadow sat out last week's leg after coming up sick in his second-place finish on March 29. "He had a legitimate excuse his last start," said Mark Weaver, who is among the owners of Backstreet Shadow, as well as Rockapelo and This Is The Plan. "We had to give someone the week off, so it just made sense for it to be him. We expect him to be pretty good this start and then hopefully even better in the final." Backstreet Shadow, a 6-year-old gelding, has won 25 of 63 career races and $890,162. Last year, he won the Roll With Joe Stakes and hit the board in the Breeders Crown, TVG Open Pace Series championship, Sam McKee Memorial, and Allerage Farms Open Pace. "I think Backstreet Shadow and This Is The Plan are two of the top five or six aged pacers," Weaver said. "They've been factors the last several years. Hopefully, they are again, all season long. This is just the start of a long year, hopefully, for them." This Is The Plan, a 6-year-old gelding with $1.8 million in career purses, has a win and three seconds in the Borgata. He is the 2-1 second choice in Monday's third division. Rockapelo, a 2018 New York Sire Stakes champion who has been lightly tested on the Grand Circuit, is sitting out Monday's action. The 6-year-old gelding has two wins, a second, and a fifth in the series. Nine of his most recent 12 victories have come at Yonkers. "He's kind of a Yonkers specialist, a grinder," Weaver said. "He's surprised us. This will be his Super Bowl, so to speak, for the year. After this, it will be back to overnights." The Burke Stable has traditionally been deep with talented older male pacers. The returning group this season also includes a past Dan Patch Award winner, Dorsoduro Hanover, as well as millionaire Filibuster Hanover, Elver Hanover, The Greek Freak, and Covered Bridge. "The aged division is kind of our bread and butter," Weaver said. "If you get a couple good ones, you can really do some damage. "We try to treat them like a baseball team where you've got some major leaguers, but you're always looking to develop your minor league system. At some point, they're going to get called up to the big leagues. We're constantly trying to keep the pipeline going. Hopefully, we have some that can fill the void when the time comes." Racing begins at 7:15 p.m. (EDT) Monday at Yonkers. For complete entries, click here. For the Borgata standings, click here. by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA   

Harness racing driver Kevin Cummings was around the age of 8 when he began jogging horses with his dad, trainer John Cummings Sr. Not surprisingly, as Kevin Cummings approaches win No. 4,000 in his driving career, he counts his father as the most important influence on his life. John Cummings Sr., who passed away in 2019, won more than 700 races as a trainer. Among his top horses was Arm And A Leg, who in 2009 was named western New York's Horse of the Year by the Upstate New York chapter of the U.S. Harness Writers Association. "He was an inspiration," Cummings said. "He was a hard worker. You try to remember all the tips he gave you, what you saw and how he would do things. He was a good horseman. There are horsemen and there are trainers, in my opinion. He was a horseman, for sure. "We went to the barn with him every day. We got to jogging and training at a young age, but he didn't just throw you in the cart. He made you earn that cart first. You had to work and learn the discipline at the other end." Cummings is one of four boys in the family, and the others - John Jr., Tony, and Todd - also have all won races as both drivers and trainers. In fact, Cummings' first win came in 1989 behind a horse named Orlando Otto, who was trained by Tony. "That was special," Cummings said. "It was my second drive. I remember I drove two for him that night. I won with Orlando Otto and the other one I had the seven hole and finished second. He paid $77 to place. That was a good night. That was a lot of fun." Of all the horses to pass through the family's stable, two of Cummings' favorites were Windjammer Munk and Arm And A Leg. Windjammer Munk, who raced from 1979 to 1987, was one of the earliest horses in his dad's stable. "He was probably the family pet," Cummings said. "He was a little horse, but he was tough. He would race. We kept him his whole life. "Arm And A Leg was a real special horse for us. I drove him in the open every week and he got assigned the outside because he was better than the rest. He never had it easy, but he liked it. He was a gutsy horse, and he didn't like to not do good. That would probably be the horse I remember the most. He was just a good horse." Other top moments for Cummings include two wins in the Robert J. Kane Memorial Pace at Batavia Downs. The first came with a local horse, Michael Scores, in 2006. He got the second victory in 2016 with Foiled Again, the richest horse in harness racing history. A year later, Cummings won again with Foiled Again, this time in the George "Duke" Dranichak Memorial Invitational. It was Foiled Again's 96th lifetime triumph. He finished his Hall of Fame career with 109 wins, the eighth most for a pacer in history. "That was a big thing for me, to drive the richest horse ever," Cummings said. "He was a real easy horse to drive, just push-button. He was a special horse, you could tell. He just wanted it. I was two-for-two with him, but he did good for everybody." The 50-year-old Cummings trains a small stable of horses in addition to driving. He has been the winningest driver at Buffalo Raceway six times and at Batavia on four occasions. This year, he is third in the standings at Buffalo. "I'm having a pretty good year," Cummings said. "My horses are doing good, my stable, and I'm doing pretty good driving too right now. I can't complain." He is looking forward to getting win 4,000. Entering Thursday, he had 3,993 victories. "It means a lot," Cumming said. "Every thousand you get is a thousand more that you didn't have. It's a good milestone. I'd like to get to (5,000) but I don't know if it will happen. It's tough here because we only race a couple days a week. It doesn't accumulate as quickly." And just like that young kid who accompanied his dad to the barn all those years ago, Cummings still looks forward to getting to work with the horses. "You can't beat it," Cummings said. "You think about other things you could be doing, and you appreciate what you have. I've got it pretty good. I think that's what keeps me going." by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA 

Standardbred owner and breeder Don Tiger knows where Charlie May's 3-year-old harness racing season will begin. Where the pacer goes from there will be decided as his campaign unfolds, but the owner knows where he would like to see his horse. All around the Grand Circuit. Charlie May, who was voted Ohio's best 2-year-old male pacer in 2020, makes his seasonal debut Saturday in a $15,000 elimination of the James K. Hackett Memorial for 3-year-old male pacers at Miami Valley Raceway. Charlie May, trained by Steve Carter, will start from post seven in a seven-horse field with driver Brett Miller. Last year, Tiger's homebred gelding won seven of nine starts and finished second in both defeats. Charlie May earned $328,627 to rank sixth among all 2-year-old male pacers in North America and his best win time of 1:50.2, established in a track-record Ohio Sire Stakes championship performance at Scioto Downs, tied for fifth. Charlie May will be pointed toward events for Ohio-sired horses to begin the season, but Tiger has paid the horse into numerous open stakes for 3-year-old male pacers including the North America Cup, Meadowlands Pace, and Breeders Crown. He is not eligible to the Little Brown Jug but can be supplemented if he wins one of the following races: North America Cup, Meadowlands Pace, Messenger Stakes, or Cane Pace. "We've got four weeks here (in Ohio) to find out where we're at," Tiger said. "The goal is to get better each week, and then at the beginning of May we'll have decisions to make as far as where we're going. I paid the money for everywhere. He's staked until the end of November. I did my part. Now it's going to be up to the horse. "I'm real excited. You never know what is going to happen between (ages) 2 and 3, but I think the good thing for me is I've been playing with house money, so I'm calm and relaxed and excited and happy. I wouldn't trade places with anybody." Charlie May is by McArdle out of Stipple Hanover. He is the first horse Tiger ever bred. "I just took a leap of faith," Tiger said. "This is for the little guys. This isn't supposed to happen to Steve Carter and Don Tiger. It's a feel-good story. I own the horse, but he's not my horse. It's those guys at the barn -- Steve Carter and his staff. They've told me he's a one-in-a-million horse. "I'd love for those local guys to get the chance (on the Grand Circuit). It would be great for them and great for Ohio racing." Tiger plans to bring a realistic approach to determining Charlie May's stakes schedule. "I want to make a stamp on the national scene, but I'm not going to go through it just to do it," he said. "I'm not going to go to the Meadowlands Pace to be 30-1 and hope I'm fifth. If we're going to those kinds of races we're going to go because we're bringing a howitzer. We're not going with a squirt gun. "We'll see how it shakes out. I just want him to be healthy. If he's healthy and gets beat, I'm great with that. I just don't ever want to play the 'what if' game. If he's healthy, then it's just up to the racing gods and whatever is supposed to happen is going to happen." Charlie May's opening assignment will not be easy. Among his Hackett rivals is Heart Of Chewbacca, who handed Charlie May a setback in a preliminary round of the Ohio Sire Stakes last year and was second in the final. Heart Of Chewbacca, trained by Ron Burke and driven by Dan Noble, also is staked to numerous Grand Circuit races. He was one of last season's fastest 2-year-olds on both a five-eighths and half-mile track. "Ohio has gotten tougher," Burke said. "I think you'll see that maybe those colts can step and go with the other ones. They're breeding a lot of horses; they're breeding way more quality. Things are heading in the right direction there." Laughagain Hanover, who was third in the Ohio Sire Stakes championship, leads the first Hackett elimination. He is trained by Christi Noble and driven by Dan Noble. The first-four finishers from each elimination will advance to the $40,000 final April 17. They will be joined by the fifth-place horse with the fastest time. Racing begins at 4:05 p.m. (EDT) Saturday at Miami Valley. For complete entries, click here. by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA    

At this time last spring, trainer Blake MacIntosh had high hopes for then 2-year-old male pacer Perfectboy Hanover. "I thought he was probably the fastest horse I ever trained down," MacIntosh said, adding with a laugh, "He's the whole reason this year that I won't say anything about any of the 2-year-olds training down. I was so high on him last year and then so disappointed with the year we had with him." Last year, Perfectboy Hanover won one of eight starts in a season when, MacIntosh said, "nothing went right." MacIntosh, though, remains hopeful Perfectboy Hanover can fulfill the potential he saw last year. Perfectboy Hanover makes his seasonal debut in Saturday's opening round of the Bobby Weiss Series at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, where he faces a field of eight in the fifth of five $17,500 divisions for 3-year-old male pacers. "He's been training really good," MacIntosh said. "He'll need a start or two to get tight, but he's got a lot of talent. I've been high on that horse all the way. I've kept the stakes payments up on him because I think he's the real deal. We won't know for sure until push comes to shove, but he's got the right attitude, he's got the right gait, and hopefully everything goes right this year for him." Last year, things began to go wrong for Perfectboy Hanover when a water truck and tractor came on the track in front of him during his first visit to Woodbine Mohawk Park. "From that point on, he just lost his mind and started doing stupid things," MacIntosh said. "He was really immature. We ended up having to geld him at the end of the year just to try to get his head straight." Perfectboy Hanover's victory last year came in the Pennsylvania Stallion Series. He made two Grand Circuit starts, finishing fifth in divisions of the Nassagaweya and Champlain stakes at Woodbine Mohawk Park. He is 6-1 on the morning line in Saturday's Weiss division. "Hopefully, he'll be able to sit in on Saturday for a little bit and then pace home and show his talent," MacIntosh said. MacIntosh trains the son of Somebeachsomewhere - Perfect Cents for Fred Brayford, Mac And Heim Stables, Ridgeway Racing, and Knot Xzachallie Stable. Perfectboy Hanover is among four MacIntosh trainees in Weiss Series action Saturday. He is joined by pacers Major Makover and Victory Move plus Black Tie Bash, who is in the third of three divisions for 3-year-old male trotters. "It will be easier to tell what you have after the first couple starts," MacIntosh said. The Weiss Series is for 3-year-olds that did not win two extended pari-mutuel races or $30,000 lifetime through Feb. 1. The first round for female pacers is Monday and the first round for female trotters is Tuesday. Each series will consist of three preliminary legs followed by consolations and finals. Racing begins at 12:30 p.m. (EDT) Saturday at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. For complete entries, click here. by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA   

After watching Machnhope win her first two starts in the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series for older female harness racing pacers, trainer Noel Daley held the mare out of last week's action. As she prepares to return for Friday's fourth round, Daley is happy with the decision. Machnhope is the 8-5 morning-line favorite in the second of two $35,000 divisions of the Matchmaker at Yonkers Raceway. Ten mares were entered this week, with three of the top-seven in points including unbeaten Alexa Skye sitting out. Blue Ivy, who has a win and two seconds in the series, is the 9-5 favorite in the first division. "I figured some of the good ones might take this week off, so I took last week off," Daley said. "I think it worked out as the right thing to do. We ended up with two five-horse fields and no Alexa Skye. I'm happy enough with that decision. "It doesn't work out all the time, but we can look smart occasionally," he added with a laugh. Machnhope, a 6-year-old daughter of Mach Three out of Hope For Life, has won three of eight races this year and hit the board on three other occasions, earning $54,765 for owners Daley, Deo Volente Farms, Tom Pontone, and L.A. Express Stable. Daley's group purchased the mare last July after she spent five months with the trainer following her arrival from Canada, where she had raced most recently for owner-trainer Gary Lance. Machnhope was an Ontario Grassroots Series champion at age 3. For her career, she has won 29 of 101 starts and $392,044. "She's a big, strong, good-looking mare," Daley said. "She can be a bit of a cantankerous old thing, but I'm real happy with her. She's done well for the guys that bought into her. They've gotten their money back, so that's good." Machnhope has raced consistently since the sport returned from last spring's COVID-19 related shutdown. She has started at least twice in every month since then and hit the board in all but four of her past 23 races. She brings a three-race win streak to Friday's Matchmaker start. "We don't do much with her during the week," Daley said. "She has a bit of a canter and seems to keep herself fresh enough. She looks great and is acting great. She's pretty much the same mare every week. She's just always there. "Everything will depend on the draw the next several weeks, but this girl has handled the racing pretty well. She should be fine for the next three weeks in a row." The six-week Blue Chip Matchmaker Series concludes April 19. Following are the top 10 mares in points through three rounds of the series. The top eight will qualify for the final. 1. Alexa Skye 225, 2. Blue Ivy 175, 3. Snobbytown 158, 4. Machnhope 150, 5. Caviart Cherie 135, 6. Seaswift Joy N 125, 7. My Ruebe Star N 113, 8. Siesta Beach 109, 9. Monica Gallagher 95, 10. Maczaffair N 93. Racing begins at 7:15 p.m. (EDT) on Friday at Yonkers. For complete entries, click here by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA

After a new experience, harness racing driver Mike Wilder is ready to return to the familiar. Wilder spent the winter with father-in-law Dan Altmeyer at Spring Garden Ranch in Florida, where he helped prep 2-year-olds for their upcoming campaigns. Wilder is now back home in western Pennsylvania and ready to drive this week at The Meadows. The trip to Florida to train young horses was a change for Wilder, who has won 8,388 races in his career and in 2020 finished second in the driver standings at The Meadows for the fifth time in the past seven years. Altmeyer Wilder Racing had 11 2-year-olds and nine 3-year-olds in training at Spring Garden Ranch. Wilder and his wife Heather are among the owners of 17 of the horses. "I always wanted to try my hand at it a little bit, just turn another page in my career," said Wilder, who turns 49 on April 10. "Not that I'm going to stop driving, I'll go back to the grind there, but I'm just trying to evolve into being an owner-trainer more, at least four months out of the year (in Florida). Then I'll go north for eight months and race. "This wasn't a spur-of-the-moment type thing, we talked about it for several years. We finally just took a shot. It was a thrill for me; I can't say enough about it. I'm going to do it again." Wilder, who began driving at matinees at the age of 14 and got his first raceway win at 18, enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere - not to mention the weather - in Florida. "It was different, but it was a good different," Wilder said. "Not that we didn't have a schedule, but there was no hustle and bustle about it like when you're racing. That's part of the game, but this was a real good change. You just went to the barn and enjoyed what you were doing with the youngsters." Wilder said the most enjoyable aspect of his time off was learning with the 2-year-olds. "Everybody has different ways of doing it but watching Dan Altmeyer do it was really neat," Wilder said. "I asked him a ton of questions. (When racing) I kind of get the 2-year-olds when they're almost finished off. You don't see what it takes to get them to that point. It's a lot of patience and a lot of positivity too. "Patience is the big word. You can't be anxious with these guys. You never want to get frustrated or get in a rush. Some of them naturally come along pretty good and some of them you need to slow down with. This was a whole new learning experience for me. It was pretty neat being a part of watching these 2-year-olds evolve into racehorses." Wilder's familiarity with the stable's young horses could be beneficial when they begin racing later this season. "Not that they won't throw you a curveball, because they will, but I'll know most of these pretty well," Wilder said. "If I see them doing something out of character, I'll pretty much know real quickly. If I don't, Dan will. That's the neat part to be around them all the time. If you see something good or bad you can talk it over." Wilder called his time in Florida "the fastest four-and-a-half months of my life." "It's amazing how fast it went," Wilder said. "The weather is nice, the people around you are nice, everybody's got a smile on their face. I enjoyed myself, obviously, and things go fast when you're enjoying yourself. I couldn't believe it was time to go home. "It just was a heck of a ride." by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA

Harness racing driver Trace Tetrick is off to the best start of his career and now gets to look forward to the home portion of his season. The 34-year-old Tetrick leads all drivers in North America in purses and is second in wins as he prepares for Friday's opening night at Harrah's Hoosier Park. Tetrick lives five minutes from the Anderson, Ind., oval and has won seven consecutive driving titles there. "It's exciting," said Tetrick, who has spent the first part of this year competing at Ohio's Miami Valley Raceway, a roundtrip four-hour journey. "It's great to be back close to home and racing. Hoosier is a great place to race and I'm glad to have that opportunity. "The commute will be a lot nicer," he added with a laugh. "Four hours a day in the car kind of gets old after a while." Tetrick has made the most of his travels, though, with $1.16 million in purses and 130 wins. He leads Miami Valley drivers in both categories. "Everything has been very good over there," said Tetrick, whose win total is a career best for this point in the year. "I've been very fortunate." Tetrick, who has won 5,883 races lifetime, kicks off his Hoosier Park season with drives in all 14 of Friday's races. "I'm looking forward to it," Tetrick said. "I like the style of racing at Hoosier. You can race on the front or from off the pace, you have options. You're not committed to the speed in a sense because you're not as dependent on the draw. It's not great to have posts eight or nine at Hoosier but it's not as bad as some other places." Last year, posts four and five produced the highest percentage of winners, at 15.7 and 15.3, respectively. Post eight was 7.7 percent and post nine was 6.9 percent. "At some other tracks, you're more dependent on the pace or you have to go hard to get to where you need to be," Tetrick said. "When it comes to the post draw, Hoosier is a little more forgiving." In additionto winning the past seven driving titles at Hoosier, Tetrick is looking for his 10th overall crown. He got his first in 2008 and his second in 2012. "I hope (I can get No. 10) but it's a long way off," he said. "It's a long summer and a lot of things have to go right; a lot of pieces have to fall into place. Hopefully, they do, and that puzzle comes together, and everything looks good at the end." Last year, Tetrick won an Indiana Sire Stakes championship with 2-year-old female trotter Swift Swanda and had second-place finishes with 2-year-old male pacer What's Your Beef, 3-year-old female trotter Rock Swan, and 3-year-old female pacer Mystical Carrie. "I think (Swift Swanda) will be a good 3-year-old with the way she finished up," Tetrick said. "She just needed to mature a little bit. She's got a great way of going and she's got a great attitude. She just needed to learn and develop good habits. "I'm looking forward to seeing the young horses this year and seeing what they're going to do, how good they're going to be," he added. "In the past, they've just come out like gangbusters, right off the bat. Horses are just more gifted." For more about Hoosier Park's new season, click here. For Friday's complete entries, click here. Racing begins at 6:30 p.m. (EDT). by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA   

Hightstown, NJ — Eddie Miller was around 17 years old the first time he went to a harness racing track, visiting Ohio’s Northfield Park, about an hour from where he grew up in Navarre. Some five years later, he started winning races there. The 23-year-old Miller has been training a small stable of horses for himself in addition to a stable for driver Kurt Sugg. He got his first win in January 2020 at Northfield, with Sugg driving pacer Vegas Highroller, and has added nearly 100 more victories since then. “The first time I went to the races, I thought it was the coolest thing ever,” Miller said. “I got hooked on it. “Getting that first win down as trainer, that’s probably my biggest thrill so far. But we’ve had some good horses and I think I had a good year (in 2020) for somebody’s first year. Hopefully, it keeps only getting better.” Miller won 73 of 382 races last year and $547,726 in purses. This season, he has 21 victories in 96 starts and $104,992. He also has won three races lifetime as an amateur driver at Northfield and picked up four other triumphs at the fairs. “He’s a very hard worker,” said Sugg, who brought Miller on board in 2019. “He works all day long and he loves the horses. He’s really driven to succeed in the business. He’s not there just putting his time in. He does everything he possibly can to make the horses as good as they can be.” Sugg, who has 4,702 wins as a driver and 1,067 as a trainer, first got to know Miller when he was working for trainer Herman Hagerman. After Miller left to take a job in construction, Sugg talked him into coming to work with him. “It’s been a real good fit,” Sugg said. “I’m not getting any younger, I’m 51 years old, and I was trying to get him set up where he’s able to take over. He’s a good kid and willing to learn. I guess I see me in him, like when I was that age.” Among last year’s highlights for the Sugg-Miller duo was two wins in preliminary divisions of the Ohio Sire Stakes with 3-year-old male trotter Yanks Dugout, who also finished third in the Ohio State Fair championship and a division of the Ohio Breeders Championship. In addition, Mystical Virgin made $71,124 last year and competed multiple times in the fillies-and-mares Open at Northfield, finishing second on six occasions. The pacing mare was the first horse Miller ever claimed, for $10,000 in August 2019. “She’s been wonderful. He’s got a good eye for a horse,” Sugg said. “I guess I got lucky,” Miller said. “I’ve claimed some others that have been all right, but she’s been really good for us.” Miller, who at the moment has six horses on his own to go with Sugg’s 15, is hoping for more good times ahead. “There are good and bad days like everything else, but I just love it,” Miller said. “The horses are amazing animals and it’s good working with Kurt. He’s taught me a lot, and I’m still learning. We’re a really good team. We try to help each other out as best we can. If something needs to be done, we just chip in and do it. “It’s been going good for me. Thanks to Kurt and all, everybody who tries to help.” by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA

When trainer Ron Burke suggested to David Miller that Miller spend the winter at Florida's Pompano Park driving several horses for him, Miller decided against it, opting to remain in New Jersey and compete at The Meadowlands. After the first full week of January, Miller reconsidered. "The first night it got down below 20 (degrees) I called Ronnie up and said, you know what, I'll go to Florida," Miller said with a laugh. Miller had spent several previous winters in Florida but drove infrequently during his visit. In his previous five winters in the Sunshine State, Miller raced a total of 29 times. This year at Pompano, Miller has made 356 starts, winning 92. Wally Hennessey leads the driver standings with 161 wins during Pompano's winter meet, which began in November. Since the start of this year, Miller tops the list with his 92. "I didn't know what to expect when I got here," said Miller, who was third in the winter standings at The Meadowlands when he departed for Florida. "People asked if I was going to drive every day, and I was like, yeah, I guess. Ronnie has like five horses here and I knew I was going to drive them. I've picked up drives and it's gone really well, way better than I expected. It's been a lot of fun." In addition to racing, Miller has had the opportunity to spend time with his daughter Devan, who is working for Burke in Florida, as well as his daughter Leigha and 20-month-old grandson, who live in Florida. Miller's stay in Florida will conclude at the end of March. "It's been fantastic," he said. "I've really enjoyed it." Wendy Ross, the U.S. Trotting Association's social media coordinator, recently caught up with Miller in Florida. Watch their "Down the Stretch" conversation here. by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA  

Hightstown, NJ – When trainer Mike Deters purchased harness racing pacer Hesa Kingslayer N last year, he was told the gelding might be a diamond in the rough. Initially, the emphasis was on rough. In his first couple trips to the racetrack, the horse was a bit hot to handle. But after several equipment changes, Deters has been left with a gem. The 8-year-old Hesa Kingslayer N raced only 29 times Down Under, winning 13. Since arriving in the U.S., he has won five of 14 starts and hit the board a total of 11 times while earning $89,425. This past Monday (March 15), Hesa Kingslayer N won his opening-round division of the MGM Borgata Pacing Series at Yonkers Raceway. In the second leg on March 22, he is 9-2 on the morning line in the fourth of four divisions. Let It Ride N, unbeaten in seven U.S. starts, is the 2-1 favorite followed by This Is The Plan at 3-1. “It looks like he drew what might be the toughest division,” Deters said. “But if he’s going to get anywhere in the series, he’s going to have to beat these horses sooner or later anyway, so it’s all good. Hopefully, we work out a nice trip and he’s pacing at the wire.” In his first Borgata start, Hesa Kingslayer N and driver Jim Marohn Jr. got a second-over trip before a three-wide move from fourth place heading into the final turn. Finishing with a rush has become the gelding’s signature style; only once has he been closer than fourth at three-quarters in any of his Stateside races. “He’s never very close,” said Deters, who owns Hesa Kingslayer N with Joel Warner. “He went a couple of unbelievable trips at (Harrah’s Hoosier Park) where he was in another ZIP code at the half and ended up being very competitive. He has a tremendous finishing kick.” Hesa Kingslayer N is the first horse Deters has ever started in the Borgata series, which was formerly the George Morton Levy Memorial Pacing Series. The six-week series concludes April 19 with a $150,000-added final and $75,000 guaranteed consolation. “It’s a very tough series and I’ve never had a horse that was a really good half-mile-track horse,” Deters said. “It seems that all the horses that come from New Zealand and Australia are very good small-track horses. “As long as we make the final, I’ll be very happy. In reality, if we make the consolation, it’s a good thing. He’s a nice little horse and we have the opportunity to race for pretty good money every week. I just hope he shows up.” Deters does not plan to race Hesa Kingslayer N in all of the preliminary rounds of the series. Horses receive 25 points for entering and additional points based on their finish, with 50 points going to the winner, 25 to second, 12 to third, eight to fourth, and five to fifth. “Win, lose, or draw, he will not race every week,” Deters said. “I don’t know when it will be, but we’re definitely going to give him a week off and freshen him up. Hopefully, we’ll have our best foot forward later, hopefully, for either the consolation or the final.” In addition to the Borgata, Hesa Kingslayer N is staked to Grand Circuit events at The Meadowlands and Hoosier Park. “If he’s good enough, he’s staked where he can do well,” Deters said. “I’m very happy we got him. The agent that we bought him from said he might be a diamond in the rough. We got lucky. I’m super happy.” Other first-round Borgata winners were Let It Ride N, Lyons Steel, San Domino A, and Leonidas A. Racing begins at 7:15 p.m. (EDT) Monday at Yonkers. For complete entries, click here. by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA

Ned Hodkinson didn't need to be asked twice if he wanted to buy an interest in Our Majordan A. Hodkinson was familiar with the harness racing pacer from watching races from Australia, and had a horse he once owned, My Alpha Rock N, compete against him. "I made my mind up in 30 seconds," Hodkinson said with a laugh. Hodkinson and Milton Leeman each bought an interest in Our Majordan A when owners Gordon Banks and Marc Hanover of Florida-based Enviro Stables decided to bring the horse to North America last spring and turn him over to trainer Virgil Morgan Jr. Our Majordan A won 30 of 94 races and $370,543 during his career Down Under. His six lifetime wins in 1:50 or less were an Australasian record and his final triumph in Australia came in a track-record performance in the Group 1 Newcastle Mile. Last year in the U.S., he won four of 14 races and $105,957. His top victory came in the $123,100 consolation division of the William R. Haughton Memorial, which he captured in a lifetime-best 1:47.3 at The Meadowlands. On Saturday, the 9-year-old gelding will make his 2021 debut in the $22,500 Open Handicap at Miami Valley Raceway. Our Majordan A, with Brett Miller driving, is the 5-2 morning-line favorite in the field of 10. "If you observed him (in Australia) you would have thought that he would acclimate to our style of racing," Hodkinson said. "He's got unbelievable gate speed and he's acclimated relatively well. "When he came over here, he was kind of a nervous, high-strung horse. Virgil found a routine that really suits the horse. As time went on, he put weight on, and going the miles he was going, that normally doesn't happen. He really adapted well. He was in fine shape when we stopped with him." Our Majordan A competed in several Grand Circuit stakes last year and is being staked again to some events this season. The 59-year-old Hodkinson, an insurance agent who has enjoyed success as an amateur driver, trains a small stable of horses at Morgan's training center in central Ohio and gets to see Our Majordan A regularly. "He's a professional," Hodkinson said. "He trains well every time he trains, no matter how fast you go. I don't see all the training sessions, but I've seen probably 80 percent, and he's always the same. He likes his work. "I'm pretty sure he's the first horse I've ever had to win in sub-1:50," he continued. "I've had some nice horses, but I'm the odd man out in this partnership. Milt has had way more nice horses than me and Enviro has had Breeders Crown winners. This is the nicest horse I've ever owned. Seeing him going to the gate every time, particularly if he has a decent chance of winning, is very exciting." The Open Handicap is race No. 12 Saturday at Miami Valley. Gd Western Joe, trained by Ron Burke, is the 3-1 second choice on the morning line with Chris Page in the sulky. The 6-year-old stallion has finished worse than second only once in eight starts this year, winning four. Racing begins at 4:05 p.m. (EDT) at Miami Valley. For Saturday's complete entries, click here. by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA

Among his family, Hank LeVan is not known as a patient person. "If you were to ask my wife or my mother, I have no patience," LeVan said with a laugh. "They tell me that I'm a terrible person to shop for because if I need something, even if Christmas or my birthday is just a week away, I just go get it as opposed to waiting." When it comes to harness racing, though, LeVan knows patience is a virtue. The 26-year-old is in his second season as a trainer-driver in Ohio and is hoping to build upon last year's numbers. In 2020, LeVan led the Buckeye fairs circuit with training purses of $167,636 and finished tied for third in wins with 31. He notched 38 victories as a driver, fifth best. Overall, he won 45 races as a driver and 38 as a trainer. This year, LeVan has been driving his stable's horses at Miami Valley Raceway and Northfield Park. He has four horses in action now out of a stable of 17. "I've really enjoyed it," LeVan said. "We haven't had the best start for 2021, not maybe as I would have liked, but the horses are doing OK. We just need a little more luck probably. I've always enjoyed working with the horses and now to be able to do it for a living is really kind of a dream come true." LeVan's family has been involved in harness racing for more than five decades. In his younger days, LeVan was more active in livestock showing and judging, but his participation in racing began to increase during the summer after his junior year in college. His grandfather, Herb, needed help at the fairs and LeVan decided to jump in. "I didn't have a job at the time, and I figured it would be neat to spend some time with him," LeVan said. "I started out just grooming horses. That fall I went back to college. I set a little money aside and told my dad (Louie) that if he was all right with it maybe we could buy a yearling together. We went to the Ohio Selected Jug Sale and bought one and ever since then it's kind of snowballed." Cursive L, named for the letter featured on the family's racing colors, was trained by LeVan's grandfather and gave LeVan his first win as a driver in 2017 at the Ottawa County Fair. He has added 70 wins since then. "In an ideal world, I would love to get to the point where I could drive every night at one of the tracks in Ohio and have a stable of horses of our own as well," LeVan said. "That would be the long-term goal. I hope the catch driving can pick up. "I know it's a really tough colony here and it seems like every year somebody new comes. They're talent guys and they've been doing it a lot longer than I have. I've got to wait my turn and hopefully things will open up." As for the stable, LeVan has nine 2-year-olds among his group. He hopes several can compete in the Ohio Sire Stakes, with others going to the Buckeye Stallion Series and the fairs. "I really enjoy the (young horses) and watching them progress," LeVan said. "Sometimes it can be frustrating, but the ones that pan out make it really fun. You have to be patient. There are some that I like real well, but I have to remind myself it's a long summer and you don't get paid to qualify. It's a fine line to have them ready." LeVan, who has a master's degree in agricultural communication, extension and leadership from Ohio State, would like to see his training and driving numbers continue to improve, but has not set specific goals. Last year, he earned $306,078 in purses as a driver and $284,066 as a trainer. LeVan drove nearly all the horses he trained, with his father driving the remainder. "I enjoy the fact I get to do this with my family," said LeVan, who is the oldest of six children. "Family is important to me, just being able to spend time with dad and my other siblings have become a little more involved since I've been doing it, and being able to talk to grandpa. "I also enjoy the competitiveness of it. If I ever made my mind up and said I wanted to do something, I didn't want to fall short; I wanted to make sure I get the most out of everything. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't, but I never wanted to be average at anything." As with many Ohio natives, LeVan would one day like to have a horse that could compete in the famed Little Brown Jug at the Delaware County Fairgrounds in Ohio. "That would be awesome," he said. "But we're still a small fish in a big pond. That takes time; the right horses and the right people around you. Hopefully someday." Someday, with a little patience. by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA     

Tookadiveoffdipper will find himself in an unfamiliar spot when he lines up for his opening-round division of the MGM Borgata Pacing Series for older male pacers at Yonkers Raceway on Monday (March 15). He will start from post one for the first time in 26 career starts at The Hilltop. In fact, it will be only the third time he leaves from anywhere inside of post four. The first round of the six-week Borgata series, formerly the George Morton Levy Memorial, attracted 40 horses, which were split into five divisions. Tookadiveoffdipper is in the third division and 6-1 on the morning line for trainer-driver Pat Lachance. During his career, Tookadiveoffdipper has won seven times at Yonkers and hit the board a total of 14. His most recent victory at the half-mile oval came Jan. 18 in his second start for Lachance after being trained previously by Virgil Morgan Jr. The 7-year-old gelding was the 2018 Indiana Sire Stakes champion for older male pacers. "He's a nice horse," Lachance said. "We're still working on some things, just getting to know him, really. We've had a couple little issues with him, but I think he's getting better. He's going into (his race) very good. "He's got the rail this week, so we'll put him in play. He can leave really good, so I expect him to race good." Last year's Borgata series was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. There was, though, a November invitational for Borgata-eligible horses, and Tookadiveoffdipper finished third behind This Is The Plan and Ostro Hanover. Tookadiveoffdipper, who began his career at the Iowa fairs, is a son of Always A Virgin out of Onceinabluemoon. He has won 38 of 114 races and $478,826. He is owned by Jane Cross and Mark Cross. "He's a nice horse to be around, all the way around," Lachance said. "He's a nice drive, very quiet in the barn. He does nothing wrong." Western Fame, who won the 2019 series, is in Monday's fifth division of the Borgata. Leonidas A, last year's Potomac Pace champion, is the 9-5 morning-line favorite in that division. The morning-line favorites in divisions one through four are Let It Ride N (9-5), American Mercury (3-1), Rockapelo (3-1), and Hesa Kingslayer N (5-2). Fourteen horses in the Borgata have earned more than $500,000 lifetime -- led by millionaires Western Fame, This Is The Plan, and American History -- and an additional 10 have earned at least $370,000. "There are a lot of good horses in there," said Lachance, who is making his first appearance in the series since 2016. "We'll see if (Tookadiveoffdipper) fits in there or not. He's showed that he can go in the Open before, so I don't see why not. "It's an exciting time." Racing begins at 7:15 p.m. (EDT) Monday at Yonkers. The Borgata divisions are races three through seven. For complete entries, click here. by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA  

When the Meadowlands Racetrack opened on Sept. 1, 1976, a 16-year-old John Calabrese was in attendance. The new facility was less than 10 minutes from his childhood home in North Jersey and gave Calabrese his first-ever look at harness racing. "It was such a big thing when they built the (football) stadium and the racetrack," Calabrese said. "There were so many commercials on TV, so much fanfare about it, so we went to the track. It was fabulous. That was it. "My father and I and my brother used to go there all the time. We'd have dinner, we'd look at each other, and my father would ask if we wanted to go to the races. We'd say, sure." Forty-five years later, Calabrese is still going to The Meadowlands. Now, though, he is on the other side of the fence, competing as an amateur driver. He won last week's GSY Amateur Series event at The Big M with Preppy Art and is the 3-1 morning-line favorite with the same horse in Friday's fifth of six legs in the series. "To win races there all these years later is incredible," said Calabrese, who got his first Meadowlands driving victory in 2016 and has totaled 12 of his 76 lifetime triumphs there. "It's great to win a race anywhere, but The Meadowlands is really special. There is nothing like it." Calabrese worked at the racetrack while in college before shifting his attention to the backstretch. What he really wanted to do was work with the horses. So, during the summer between his junior and senior years at Upsala College, he went to the stables and got jobs with several trainers. After graduating, he never considered any other career. "I never made out a resume, I never looked for a job," Calabrese said. "I went right back to the barn." In the 1990s, Calabrese started his own training stable. He still conditions a handful of horses at his 30-acre farm in central New Jersey. "I was driving at Freehold when I started out, but I was only driving once a week," Calabrese said. "I found that driving once a week, I just couldn't compete with those guys. I still drive some of my young trotters in the beginning until I get them set, but then I turn them over to catch drivers." He added, with a laugh, "I stick to the amateurs for myself. I absolutely love driving. It's an absolute thrill, just that rush you get when you go behind the gate." Calabrese's biggest thrill so far came in 2016 when he won a GSY Pro-Am race at The Meadowlands. The field included two Hall of Fame drivers, John Campbell and David Miller, as well as Tim Tetrick, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2019.       Making the victory even more special was that Hall of Fame trainer Ray Remmen, who won the first race at The Meadowlands in 1976 and captured multiple training titles at the track, presented the trophy in the winner's circle. Calabrese worked for Ray and his brother Larry after graduating from college and it was the Remmens who got Calabrese started in amateur driving thanks to a trotter named Keenan. "I owe it all to them," Calabrese said. And a trip to a new racetrack, all those decades ago. by Ken Weingartner, for the U.S. Trotting Association

Whether driving a golf ball or driving a harness racing horse, Marianna Monaco knows the thrill of victory. The 25-year-old New Yorker has won a total of eight races as an amateur driver and her share of tournaments as an amateur golfer. In 2017, Monaco captured the New York State Women's Amateur golf championship one year after being the event's runner-up. The past two years, she has won the Women's Dutchess County Amateur. On the racetrack, Monaco got her first win in 2018 in a matinee at Goshen Historic Track. The victory came on her 23rd birthday. She notched her first pari-mutuel triumph last year in the GSY Amateur Series at The Meadowands and finished the season with six wins. Earlier this week, she won a Billings Amateur Series race at Yonkers. It was her first victory at The Hilltop, which is where Monaco and her family spent many nights enjoying the races over the years. As a child, Monaco imagined herself competing at Yonkers and accumulated a collection of whips and other items that numbered in the hundreds. "Growing up there, it was always a dream," said Monaco, a Yonkers native. "Getting a win there was a surreal experience. I was once that kid on the other side of the fence driving my imaginary horse across the wire. It was a thrill." On Friday, Monaco will be back in the GSY Series at The Meadowlands. She is starting from post one with Deerfield Beach and is 10-1 on the morning line. "Hopefully, the race will set up nicely for him and we can come a good last quarter and we should be fine in there," Monaco said. Monaco began jogging horses at a young age. Her father, Nick, owned horses and she had other family members in the business. Her involvement around the barn increased over the years until other sports began to occupy her time. It was fast-pitch travel softball at first, but a trip with her dad to a driving range changed her focus. "The pro asked my dad how long I'd been playing," Monaco said. "My dad said, 'She plays softball, she doesn't play golf.' The pro said, 'There's talent there.' My dad said there wasn't much after college for softball and asked if I wanted to keep playing. From that point on, I was going for golf lessons and practicing. It just stuck with me." Monaco got a full scholarship to play golf at Newberry College, where she was the South Atlantic Conference Freshman of the Year and, as a sophomore, the SAC Player of the Year. She transferred to the University of South Carolina for her final two years and graduated in 2017 with a degree in criminal justice. After finishing her collegiate career, Monaco stepped back from playing golf regularly. That's when driving entered the picture. "It's something I wanted to do," Monaco said. "I just wanted to win a race. I thought I would get that first win and I would be satisfied. But I wasn't. As soon as I got off the bike, I told my dad I wished there was another race because I wanted to get back in the bike again. It's just been something I've kept after." Monaco intends to play more golf this year, possibly with an eye toward turning pro. But she also plans to keep driving on. "I think the driving is more for fun, but as soon as I get off the bike I watch replays to see what I could have done better," Monaco said. "In golf, you can shoot 65 but you can look at the scorecard and say you left a couple shots out there. It's the same with driving; you can win a race, but it's always a learning process. I think that's why I enjoy it a lot. "Most importantly, if a trainer I'm driving for thinks I could have done something differently, I want them to speak up and tell me. That way I can learn from that and go forward. I appreciate that. They're trying to help me learn and be a better driver." In addition to driving, Monaco owns three horses. She trains one of them herself. "I enjoy the atmosphere, being around the animals," Monaco said. "It's something different every day. You see the same horses, but they have different attitudes day to day. I don't think you ever get tired of it. I look forward to seeing them. As much as you make them happy, you're just as happy to walk through the door and see them." by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA   

Whether it's her performance on the racetrack, or her demeanor around the barn, Bill Bercury can find an abundance of reasons to be happy with female harness racing pacer Blue Ivy, who on Thursday will take on five male rivals in the $14,600 Open Handicap at The Meadows. "She's ready, willing, and able," said Bercury, who trains the 5-year-old mare for his wife Renee. "She's put together perfectly, and she's got a great attitude. I throw my arms around her and give her a big hug and she doesn't pin her ears or anything. She's very pleasant, very accommodating. She's never at the back of her stall, she's always at the door, ready for you to get her. "She's a wonderful mare. I just love her." Bercury bought Blue Ivy, a daughter of Captaintreacherous out of Grand Circuit stakes-winner Ali Blue, near the end of her 3-year-old season. She has won 16 of 24 races for Bercury, earning $134,825 in purses. For her career, she has captured 22 of 50 starts and banked $301,560. "I loved watching her race," Bercury said about his initial attraction to Blue Ivy. "When (drivers) pulled her, she went. I was very impressed with the way she raced. Obviously, she's royally bred. I just liked her a lot." Blue Ivy has won three of four races this year. Following Thursday's start in the Open at The Meadows, where she is the 2-1 morning-line favorite, Blue Ivy will head to New York for the six-week Blue Chip Matchmaker Series at Yonkers Raceway. "I have to race her against the boys because I just can't find a race for her," Bercury said. "That will be challenging. I hate to do it, but I hate to send her into the Matchmaker without her being reasonably tight. "In my opinion, I have her just right. I've not pushed her this year, knowing that's where I was going. I think she is going to be very comfortable with that six weeks in (the Matchmaker)." Bercury will send Blue Ivy to trainer Todd Buter and driver Tyler Buter for the Matchmaker. Tyler Buter has won four times with Blue Ivy during her career. "He's a very good driver," Bercury said. "He drove her some before I bought her and did very well with her. I think I made a good choice. "When I bring her up there, it will be (Todd's) horse. I'll stay out of it. Two guys can't train a horse." The Matchmaker will be Blue Ivy's first appearance on the Grand Circuit since joining Bercury's stable. Bercury hoped to race the mare in the Breeders Crown last year but decided against it because he thought Blue Ivy was getting tired at that point in the year. He has the Breeders Crown on his radar again this season. "I think she's that kind of horse," Bercury said. "I'm looking to find another one just like her." Racing begins at 12:45 p.m. (EST) Thursday at The Meadows. For complete entries, click here. by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA 

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