Day At The Track

Rodeo Rock returns to Yonkers Saturday

05:14 AM 17 Aug 2019 NZST
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Rodeo Rock, harness racing
Rodeo Rock returns to Yonkers on Saturday
Mike Lizzi photo

YONKERS, N.Y. – Rodeo Rock will make his first start since June 30 when he races in the $46,000 Open Handicap Pace at Yonkers Raceway Saturday night.

The 6-year-old was in the midst of his best season to date for trainer Robert Cleary before suffering from minor setbacks in the beginning of the summer.

Rodeo Rock’s big 2019 season began at the end of his 2018 campaign. Although the Rock N Roll Heaven son had six wins on the season by last November, his victories had come in mid-level conditions and he didn’t make an impression with two fourth-place finishes in legs of the Levy Series last spring. 
Rodeo Rock’s breakthrough came in a $29,000 overnight at Yonkers November 17.

Rodeo Rock utilized a :27.2 final quarter to come from off the pace and score by 1 1/4 lengths in 1:53. Two weeks later, he returned to claim his first victory in the $44,000 Open Handicap Pace by three-quarters of a length in 1:52.4.

“He was super sharp,” Cleary recalled. “He won a non-winners of 30 event at Yonkers last November. Brian Sears drove him, and he was actually fifth at the top of the stretch and he won going away and Brian never touched him with the whip. You don’t normally do that in non-winners of 30 at Yonkers. In his next start, he won the Open at Yonkers. It wasn’t just the start of this year, he finished off the end of last year very sharp.”

After some time off over the winter, Cleary brought Rodeo Rock back in a Meadowlands qualifier this February, which he won in 1:53.1. The gelding proved he was still sharp in winning his first pari-mutuel start of the year March 2.

“He got a break at Christmas and came back and qualified late February,” Cleary said. “He was super sharp, the sharpest he’d ever been. He won his first start at the Meadowlands, took a life mark of 49-and-4, swooped the field from last to first.”

Rodeo Rock then came to the Levy Series at Yonkers. He captured divisions of the first two legs of the series March 16 and 23 before finishing third and second in subsequent legs March 30 and April 13, respectively. 

Rodeo Rock drew post six in the $664,000 Levy Final April 20 and despite racing seventh 10 lengths off the pace at the quarter with Andrew McCarthy in the sulky, rallied to finish second 4 3/4 lengths behind Western Fame. Rodeo Rock earned $166,000 for his runner up placing, more than the $136,350 he banked in 28 starts last year.

“It was a great feeling. I thought the horse deserved to be second because I thought he was the second-best horse in the series,” Cleary said. “No doubt about it, Western Fame was the best horse in the series. I would have loved to have sat on Western Fame’s back in the final and seen if we could’ve had a shot at him from the two hole instead of sitting seventh at the half. 

“My horse was racing good and he deserved to be second there,” Cleary continued. “It was very exciting. It was great to race for that kind of money and it was great to pick up a purse like we did. It’s a great series when you have a sharp horse.”
Cleary has trained Rodeo Rock since 2017 when the pacer still fit the non-winners of six condition at Yonkers. He praised driver Eric Goodell for helping develop Rodeo Rock. 

“I have to give a lot of credit to Eric Goodell,” Cleary said. “He drove him a lot at 4, he raced him in the 4-year-old Open at Yonkers. He did a good job with him. He raced him the way he was supposed to race him. When he was in the right spot, he got him on the front or first-up. And when he was meant to ride the fence, he rode the fence. I think he did a good job in bringing the horse along.

“He was an immature big horse that had some soundness issues at 2 and 3,” Cleary continued. “When he developed into a 4-year-old, he just became a bigger, sounder, stronger horse.”

After the Levy Series, Rodeo Rock went to Pennsylvania to compete in the Great Northeast Open Pacing Series. He won a leg at in a lifetime best 1:49.0 at Pocono May 18 and followed it with a second in the Commodore Barry Invitational at Harrah’s Philadelphia May 26. However, when Cleary shipped Rodeo Rock to Northfield Park for the Battle of Lake Erie June 8, the horse finished up the track beaten 29 lengths.

“He’s actually a really calm, relaxed horse, but he just can’t handle shipping,” Cleary said. “He shipped out there, I thought he was OK. He made no noise in the trailer, drank a little bit on the way out. But when he came off the trailer out there, he was very, very uncomfortable. We did what we could to make him as comfortable as possible. The way he warmed up, I actually thought he was going to be OK, but in the stretch of the race, he didn’t want any part of it. I had a veterinarian check him out after the race and he actually had a touch of a gas colic.”

Cleary gave Rodeo Rock a few weeks off to recover, but after a fifth and seventh in his next two starts at the end of June, Cleary stopped again.

“He raced OK one start at Pocono after the break. I raced him once more at Chester and he was horrible. He wasn’t acting good, he wasn’t feeling good, so I sent him to the clinic,” Cleary said. “They scoped his stomach and he had ulcers. I gave him two weeks in the field and I treated him heavily for his stomach. He’s acting much better.

“You just have to go back to the basics, let them be a horse, let them get back out into the field,” Cleary said. “They’ll rectify a lot of those problems themselves when they get out in the field.”

Rodeo Rock returned in a qualifier over a sloppy track at Harrah’s Philadelphia August 6. He came from 8 1/2 lengths behind in fourth at the half to win by 2 1/4 in 1:55.2 with Goodell back in the bike. Despite the slow time, which Cleary attributed to the adverse conditions, the trainer was encouraged.

“The biggest goal going into the qualifier was to braven him up and let him run down horses because that’s what he loves to do,” Cleary said. “It’s a little bit hard to get a reading on it because the weather was so bad. It was an absolute downpour, so I think it was hard for every horse to get around the track. Eric knows him pretty well and was happy with him. He said he was very strong, he was very pleased with him, so I’ll take his word on that.”

Rodeo Rock drew post six for his return Saturday night and will be paired with Goodell again. Dr J Hanover is the 3-1 morning line favorite from post four off a nose loss on the front end in this class two weeks ago. Control Tower, who beat Dr J Hanover in that start, was sixth last week from post six, but drew post two this week and is 10-1 for Austin Siegelman and Nick Surick.

Perfectly Close has been claimed three times in his last six starts and now trainer Michael Temming is bumping him up into the Open ranks. He will benefit from an assigned post one. The Real One was third in the Open last week and won it July 27; he will start from post five. Shneonucrzydiamnd, I’m Some Graduate, and Imarocnrollegend complete the lineup.

“I know the horses that are in there and I want him driven the right way,” Cleary said of Rodeo Rock, who he plans to campaign at Yonkers and in Pennsylvania for the remainder of the year. “We can’t overdrive him when he’s been off for two months since his last start. I’ll be more than happy to let him race like he did in the Levy Final. Let him race from off the pace and pace home hard, hopefully he’s got some pace on the end of it.

“It’s not even about a check, it’s about the horse racing good and finishing up strong.”

Saturday’s card also features the $46,000 Open Trot and $46,000 Filly and Mare Open Handicap Pace. 

Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. First post time is 6:50 p.m. For entries to the races, click here.

By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

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