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YONKERS, N.Y. – When Ed Gannon, Jr. picked up his French trotter Ubanji in June, the harness racing horse seemed unassuming enough. A nice-looking, well-built, long-bodied trotter, Ubanji made a good first impression on his new trainer. However, after spending a few days turned out at Gannon’s 60-acre farm, Ubanji made his first trip to the track and it became clear he would not be a straightforward horse. “We took him home on a Saturday, turned him out till Monday, we jogged him on Tuesday for the first time, not knowing what to expect,” Gannon said. “He was very aggressive on the track, very aggressive. I thought maybe it was because it was the first day, the horse had just shipped to the country, a lot going on, change of venue and maybe he just needed a couple days and he would settle down. It wasn’t to be. He got worse.” Later in that week, Ubanji was uncontrollable in his morning jog, running away with his driver. Gannon consulted with a few of the other trainers who received French horses and reflected on his own experience as a trainer. He formulated a plan to get Ubanji to settle. “This is what we have to work with, do the best we can,” he said. “The first week or two, it was a little disheartening because I had this horse you really couldn’t control.” Gannon tried making several equipment changes to make Ubanji more manageable. First, he put an overcheck on the gelding, but that made him worse. He tried different driving bits and lip cords, but Ubanji rejected them. Finally, Gannon found a bit that worked for the horse. Gannon then had to teach Ubanji to trot for speed instead of distance and to slow down after a mile or 10 furlongs. As Ubanji was accustomed to racing 2,700 meters or more in France, it was a learning experience for the 10-year-old. Unlike most standardbreds, who jog clockwise around the track and race counterclockwise, Gannon jogged Ubanji counterclockwise to teach the horse to settle. “I found over the years with mine, that if I jogged them the right way around the track, it teaches them that they don’t have to go fast all the time and it enables me to teach them control,” Gannon explained. “I’ve had very good luck with that. We’ve had some real doozeys that when you turn them the right way around the track, they would just go a thousand off the bat. Doing this, it teaches them not to feel like, ‘oh, I’m going this direction, it’s all out. “I was doing that for two weeks and then I started incorporating training in new speeds where I would go a half-mile, then speed him up for a half-mile, then slow him down,” Gannon continued. “Then I could start working with him that way and within two weeks, we had him where we had control of him.” With Gannon able to control the trotter, he then turned to fitness. Ubanji had raced only three times in 2018 before shipping across the Atlantic, the most recent of which came at Laval April 26. Gannon incorporated training miles into the son of Jag de Bellouet’s routine and brought him to the training track at Harrington Raceway for a test; Ubanji had been training on a private farm with only six other horses on the track at a given time. Gannon needed to see how the trotter would handle more traffic and noise. “I actually started carrying a watch, because I didn’t know what shape he was in only having three starts all year. That was another thing, trying to figure out what kind of condition was the horse actually in,” Gannon said. “We got him to where I thought he was in shape enough to go to the track. We took him to Harrington and I trained him on the back track because I wanted to see how he was going to be with a lot more horses and see how he handled. He wasn’t too bad. I trained him in 2:02 at Harrington on the back track and he was very controllable, and he was better. I was very surprised.” Ubanji qualified with Andrew McCarthy in the sulky at Harrah’s Philadelphia July 17. He went straight to the lead and finished second, trotting his mile in 1:55.3 with a :29.3 final quarter. His connections were pleased. “Andrew McCarthy drove him in the qualifier and I didn’t know what to expect with the gate,” Gannon said. “Andrew is a good driver and he said, ‘let’s put him right on the gate and see what happens. If he’s snaky or squirrely, I’ll go from there,’ and he did a great job with him.” Ubanji made his par-mutuel debut eight days later in an $11,000 overnight at Harrah’s. Racing with Lasix for the first time, the gelding again went to the top and this time, he stayed there. He posted a 1 ¼-length win in 1:55.1 for new owner Frank Canzone. The victory improved his record to 10 wins from 102 starts with another 12 seconds and 10 thirds. He boasts earnings of $326,196. “I put him on Lasix after the qualifier because we scoped him and it showed that he was bleeding. We thought with the addition of Lasix, maybe that would help calm him down a little bit more and maybe help with the bleeding issues,” Gannon explained. “It was a perfect race for him. He was very comfortable in the mile. Andrew was happy with him, he seemed better to drive that week than in the qualifier. He said he actually drove really good. That was a lot of positives and to win was an even greater positive.” Ubanji drew post two for driver Mark MacDonald in the first division of the French American Trotting Club Sunday afternoon at Yonkers. He’ll face nine rivals in the $35,000 split, including Bioness, who drew the rail off a 1:54.3 score at Pocono last out, Deo, who won his local debut July 2 before making a break in his most recent start, and Alpha d’Urzy, who is 3-for-3 in the U.S. for trainer Rene Allard. Barry Black, Uhlan Noir, Boss du Fosse, Adagio de la Tour, Aigle de la Vallee, and Bolide de Buit complete the lineup. “It would just be nice to be up near the front,” Gannon said. “I think my horse, if he gets around the first turn without any difficulty because everyone is going to be jockeying for position, I think after that he’ll drive fine and I think he’ll be competitive. It’s a tough division; of the two divisions, it’s definitely the best one. “I’m excited, a little nervous not knowing what to expect, but I’m excited at the same time,” he continued. “It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. I think the first week is definitely going to be the toughest because no one knows what to expect from the other horses.” Sunday’s card also features a $54,800 Open Handicap Trot in the first race and another division of the French American Trotting Club in race three. First post time for the all-trot card is 12:30 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. The second and third legs of the French American Trotting Club series will be held August 19 and 26, respectively and the $100,000 final is set for September 2. For more information, click here. by Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Paul Kelley will send out the favorite Akhenaton in the second division of the French American Trotting Club first leg Sunday afternoon at Yonkers. The 8-year-old drew post three off a convincing win at Saratoga July 25, making him the 5-2 choice in $35,000 split. Kelley’s stable was well prepared to accept Akhenaton in June. Several of Kelley’s staff and assistants previously worked in Sweden and France and knew what to expect from the French-bred and raced gelding. Kelley also consulted with Alexandre Dessartre, a monte rider in France who worked with Kelley earlier this year before shifting his tack to thoroughbred trainer Jeremiah Englehart’s barn.  “Something that helps me, I have some Scandinavians that work in my stable that have spent time in France racing over there,” Kelley said. “For a while, I had a guy named Alexandre Dessartre. He was able to give us a little insight into what to expect in these French horses in terms of temperament and things like that.” Despite all the homework and foreign influence in Kelley’s stable, when Akhenaton arrived, Kelley found him to be straightforward. Soon, the son of Nice Love out of the Corot mare Iena de Mosta settled into his new home in Kelley’s Vernon Downs barn. “We turn horses out a lot. He’s got a paddock buddy, he’s got a horse he goes out with, so he’s happy about that,” Kelley said. “He’s really made a real easy transition. His appetite’s been great. If you didn’t know he was from France, you might think he just came over from New Jersey or Pennsylvania or something.” Although Akhenaton is new to the American style of racing and training, he has plenty of experience racing in France. He won five races and placed in 13 others from 62 foreign starts, earning 96,300€ in the stable of Colette Chassagne. Forty-eight of his starts, and all of his wins, came in monte, or under saddle, races. “The horses that we’re dealing with now coming from France, they’ve been around a little bit. From my perspective, it’s about trying to figure out what makes that horse happy, find that common ground where we can have the horse so he steers right, he’s comfortable to drive, but at the same time, the horse himself is also comfortable with the equipment that you’re put on him,” Kelley said. “You just have to find that common ground. He’s been racing monte and he’s been pulling a sulky. I don’t believe I can really teach him any new speed, it’s more about finding a happy accord between the two of us and hope by doing that, we can bring out the best in him.” Akhenaton made his debut for Kelley in a qualifier at Vernon Downs July 13. With his trainer in the sulky, Akhenaton took his place behind the starting gate, but soon after the wings folded, the trotter made a break in stride. Far behind the field, he broke again late in the mile and failed to qualify. Kelley made minor adjustments to get the trotter back on track for the start of the series. “I trained him a couple times prior to that unchecked; no overcheck, let him go with his head low and I thought he was really good gaited and pretty comfortable,” Kelley said. “When I qualified him the first time at Vernon, I did have an overcheck on him, but it was flopping pretty good, I let him go with a real low head. He was really good behind the gate, but when the gate released, he took about three steps off the car and he just dropped his head and went into a break. “I knew then that he needed something, that the overcheck was too long because he was a very good-gaited horse, I didn’t think there was any kind of gait issues to be concerned with, just a matter of getting his bridle right,” the trainer continued. “The first qualifier was a little disheartening, but we kind of figured that it was easily rectified because he didn’t seem like a tricky horse at all.” Kelley qualified Akhenaton at Vernon Downs seven days later. With assistant trainer Rene Sejthen in the bike and with his new overcheck in place, Akhenaton completed the mile in 1:57.2 and posted a final quarter of :28.  Convinced the trotter was ready to race, Kelley entered him in a $7,250 overnight at Saratoga July 25. The start would be a test of how well Akhenaton could handle the half-mile racetrack he’ll face at Yonkers. In addition, the Saratoga start meant Kelley could name Wally Hennessey to drive. Kelley craved the Hall of Fame driver’s wisdom. “When you can take a horse to Saratoga and have someone like Wally Hennessey take them, you’re going to learn a lot more because you’re going to get great feedback from Wally,” Kelley said. “There’s not too many guys in the business that can sit behind a horse and give you the real insight you might need to let you know that you’re on the right track.” Bet down to the race’s 7-5 favorite, Hennessey put Akhenaton in the race. He cleared the lead past the opening quarter and extended his advantage to 3 ¼ at the end of the mile, earning his first win in a sulky in 1:57.2. Although Hennessey was pleased overall, the 61-year-old offered plenty of advice to Kelley. Akhenaton drives on the left line, meaning he has a propensity to bear out the whole mile. While Kelley believes this is preferable to a horse who bears in, which makes it harder for the driver to negotiate the horse and to get him out and around the horses that he’s following. Kelley raced Akhenaton with a line pole and Murphy blind to try to keep the trotter straight. Hennessey felt the line pole was enough. “A line pole isn’t very restrictive at all. It allows a horse to still kind of cock his head into that line pole a little bit, but there’s enough there to keep him a little honest so he doesn’t get too crooked,” Kelley said. “Wally thought once the horse trotted off the car, the horse straightened up naturally on his own and he thought the line pole would be enough. With the Murphy blind, he can hear the competition coming, but he can’t really see it. Sometimes, the horses can relax a little more when they can see what’s going on. Wally just thought take the Murphy blind off and he’ll be nice and straight without it.” Hennessey also recommended that Kelley remove Akhenaton’s knee boots. Although knee boots help protect a horse’s legs during a race, they also make the leg thicker and can make it easier for a horse to grab himself, Kelley explains. As Akhenaton also wears wraps, Hennessey felt the boots weren’t needed. “Not that he couldn’t maybe touch a knee, but sometimes the knee boots stick out just enough where they can kind of trip a horse up, too,” Kelley said. “Even though you’re putting them on for protective purposes, they stick out just enough where a horse might touch it and it upsets his gait a little bit. Wally is a big proponent of trying to go with as little equipment as possible, which is something I like.” Off his successful U.S. debut and with the equipment changes made, Akhenaton will take on eight French-bred rivals in his division of the French American Trotting Club first leg in race three Sunday afternoon. Mark MacDonald will drive in the 10-furlong race. Ursis Des Caillons will start from post six for Jenn and Joe Bongiorno off two impressive qualifiers; he won a 1 1/4-mile trial in 2:30.4 at Yonkers July 13 and qualified again at the Meadowlands July 21, finishing second to Hambletonian entrant Fourth Dimension. He was individually timed in 1:53 with a :26.4 final quarter. Very Very Fast drew just inside Akhenaton for Bob Bresnahan and enters of a 2:29.4 qualifying win going 10 furlongs at Yonkers July 13. Ray Schnittker’s Aladin Du Dollar finished second in two qualifiers at Yonkers July 7 and July 20 and drew post one. Chaperon Felin, Vas Y Seul, Verdi D Em, Bamako Du Bocage, and Undici complete the field. Sunday’s card also features a $54,800 Open Handicap Trot in the first race and another division of the French American Trotting Club in race two. First post time for the all-trot card is 12:30 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. The second and third legs of the French American Trotting Club series will be held August 19 and 26, respectively and the $100,000 final is set for September 2. For more information, click here. by Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Deo already has one win under his belt since arriving in the United States as part of the Standardbred Owners Association of New York’s French American Trotting Club. Sunday afternoon, the trotter will seek a second local score for trainer Scott Di Domenico ahead of the series first leg August 5. Deo announced his presence with a victory in a $13,000 overnight for non-winners of two races lifetime July 20. With George Brennan in the sulky, Deo came away evenly from the gate and settled into sixth racing 10 lengths off the lead. Brennan angled the son of Repeat Love off the pylons with five-eighths to trot and picked up the race’s 4-5 favorite Grammy Winner.  With the whip on his tail and with his nose to the helmet of Grammy Winner’s driver Tyler Buter, Deo advanced to just 3 lengths from the lead with a quarter-mile to race. Brennan tipped three-wide around the final turn and with the lines in his lap and Deo under a hold, the trotter breezed by his rivals. In the final strides, Deo extended, streaking away from the field to win by 3 ¼ lengths in 1:57.3. “I was really happy with him. I liked the fact that he raced from off the pace, closed good and was wide off the turn,” Di Domenico said. “He did everything very professionally to say the least. I’ve been happy with him right along from the day we qualified him. He left the gate good and to see a horse in his first start in this country, first start over the half win from off the pace, it was impressive. We’re pretty well tickled with him.” The French American Trotting Club intrigued Di Domenico from its announcement this spring. It didn’t take much convincing for the trainer, who is second in the local standings with 98 victories and $1.69 million earned this year, to take the plunge. “Any time that there’s something new at Yonkers or a series of some sort, I always try to be a part of it,” he said. “Yonkers is my home track and when this was mentioned, I spoke with Alex (Dadoyan) and Joe (Faraldo) and I certainly was pretty eager to be involved in it. Thankfully to the process, how everything shook out getting the horses, the guys going over there to look at the horses, I feel like I’m pretty lucky to this point and I’m pretty optimistic for the future of this horse.” Through the luck of the draw, Di Domenico was assigned Deo, a 5-year-old trotter with one win in 32 starts overseas for Romuald Mourice. The youngest of the French trotters imported, Deo is eligible to the conditions at Yonkers in addition to the rich series. “To this point, I like the horse, I like the fact that he’s five years old. I like the fact that he fits the conditions at Yonkers if the series doesn’t quite fit his style of racing,” Di Domenico said. When Deo arrived in Di Domenico’s stable in June, he proved a straightforward addition to the barn. Di Domenico approached the gelding as he would any horse from overseas and gave the horse time to adapt to his new surroundings. Deo impressed his new trainer with how quickly he took to the American style of training. “We gave him a week where we didn’t do anything with him, we just put him out in the pasture and let him put his head down and collect his wits,” the trainer explained. “When we started actually working him, he went out jogged like any horse, he trained like a horse who’s trained here a hundred times and he was not a horse that took a lot of guessing with.” Deo’s simple manner took his trainer by surprise. After watching replays of the horse’s French form, which included four breaks in stride in his last six starts, Di Domenico didn’t know what to expect.  “I’m not smart enough to understand how those races go or understand how to speak French and try to decipher what happened and the kind of sulky he wore and if they pulled his shoes off,” Di Domenico said. “It certainly gets you thinking about how you want to handle it and what you want to do. “He’s not had a bad day and he hasn’t been a bad actor. He hasn’t done anything that wasn’t expected of him. I think I was most impressed by that. Any time you get a horse from another country, it’s a new system, new people, different track surfaces, putting them on an airplane, you always have a concern of a lot of different things,” he continued. “To finally meet the horse and get him here and see how he’s acting and for him to be as simple and straightforward as he’s been, it says a lot about the horse and the people in France who had him before me.” Deo will make his second start for Di Domenico in Sunday’s fourth race at Yonkers, a $21,200 trot for non-winners of four races. He’ll start from post three as the 3-1 second choice on the morning line. Unlike in his first race, which was at a mile, Deo will stretch out to the 1 ¼-mile distance Sunday, the same distance he’ll face in the first leg of the series next week. “We’ll see how he handles it. It’s all new to the horse and to me,” Di Domenico said. “Watching the replays and going back and looking at some of his stuff in France, he didn’t always excel going long distances, but maybe the different track surface and the different training, maybe he’ll adapt to it and really like it. At this point, I’m really optimistic in that it’s something new and I’m really just excited and happy with him.” In addition to Deo, Sunday’s card at Yonkers features French trotters Barry Black in race two and Undici in race three. Sunday’s card also features a $44,000 Open Handicap Trot going one mile in race nine. First post time is 12:30 p.m. The French American Trotting Club Series begins with a $35,000 first leg August 5. The second and third legs of the series will be held August 19 and 26, respectively and the $120,000 final is set for September 2. For more information, click here. by Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Trainer Chris Oakes will start Agent Q in Friday night’s $44,000 Filly and Mare Open Handicap Pace at Yonkers Raceway, but in the daughter of Western Terror’s previous local start, the pair were on less friendly grounds.  Agent Q’s only other races at the Hilltop came in the elimination and final of the Lismore Pace in May 2017. Agent Q captured her elimination and started as the 1-5 betting favorite in the $140,770 final for then conditioner Aaron Lambert. However, Oakes’ filly, Tequila Monday, upset Agent Q with a 4-1 score from post seven. “That was a good one, I don’t think I was supposed to win that race,” Oakes said with a laugh as he recalled the action. “I remember her following Agent Q, Agent Q cleared, and Tequila Monday sat outside of her and pulled right up alongside of her. Probably nobody else could have kept up. She cleared her and was gone. That was a big mile.” Tequila Monday traded blows with Agent Q throughout last year with the latter taking the Lynch Memorial and Matron Stakes. Instead of continuing to race against her, Oakes added Agent Q to his training roster when owners Crawford Farms, Rochetti Cassar Racing, and Robert Muscara purchased the filly.  “Quite honestly, it just tells you how much power I’ve got as far as owners go,” Oakes said. “She’s a good horse and instead of having to fight against her, we ended up buying her and putting her on the team. If you can’t beat them, join them. That’s the way I look at it. “I just knew she was solid, she raced from the front, from the back and every time she raced, she put in a really solid effort,” he continued. “I knew coming back at 4, she’d probably be one of the top mares this year and I already had one, so they complement each other. Although Agent Q vetted out with a chip in her left hind ankle, Oakes and the ownership went through with the purchase. Agent Q underwent successful surgery to remove the chip over the winter and came to Oakes’ Florida barn in February to prepare for her 4-year-old campaign. Although she wasn’t a physical standout, her attitude signaled her talent. “Nice mare, she could have been a little bigger and stronger,” Oakes said. “She wasn’t an overly powerful looking horse, but definitely has the spirit and the heart, you could tell she’s real feisty. Definitely a really good horse. “Right off the bat, she got down to Florida for the winter and she was fine, there was never really any problems with her,” he continued. “She was eating decent. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a great caretaker. I’ve got Therese Pierce and she’s amazing. She got the filly and just loves on her all day long. It’s personal with them, they work all day long and they love what they do.” Agent Q won her first two starts for Oakes in the Great Northeast Open Series at Pocono Downs and Harrah’s Philadelphia May 13 and 20, respectively. Her debut effort came as a shock to her trainer as Agent Q raced last of eight around the racetrack before riding cover three-wide to the top of the stretch. Still in last with a furlong to pace, Agent Q quickened under urging from David Miller and streaked past the field to record a 1:52.3 score at odds of 5-2. “First win was actually a big surprise,” Oakes said. “She sat last pretty much the whole mile and Dave Miller, who had been driving her for the previous connections, I just told him, ‘just take care of her, first start, race her easy,’ and he did and she still won. She was dead last turning for home and just flew by them.” After her quick double to star the year boosted her record to 15 wins from 32 stars and $1.2 million in the bank, Agent Q recorded three straight losses, including a ninth-place finish in her Roses Are Red elimination where she was beaten 15 ¾ lengths at Mohawk June 9. Oakes took time to regroup. “It’s just weird how you take a wrong turn and you’re just trying to get back to where you were,” he said. “The horse had a bad night and we had to straighten her out and we’re back on track now.” Agent Q qualified back at Pocono Downs July 11, finishing second to 3-year-old star Springsteen. She was individually timed in 1:53.3 with a :27.1 final quarter. The effort gave Oakes enough confidence to enter Agent Q into the distaff feature Friday night. Starting from a drawn post six with Eric Goodell in the sulky, Agent Q is a 10-1 morning line. Agent Q’s six rivals include Magic Forces, who won two straight Filly and Mare Opens June 29 and July 6 before finishing eighth from post eight last out July 13. The Burke trainee drew post five and is the 3-1 second choice on the morning line. Caviart Cherie is the 5-2 morning line choice off a win in the Filly and Mare Preferred last week while Newborn Sassy is 3-1 from post seven off a win in last week’s feature. Bronze Over, Lispatty, and Medusa complete the lineup. Oakes admits this is a difficult spot for Agent Q to make her return. “I think she’ll race well. She’s in a little bit of a tough spot, there’s speed inside of her. I think she’ll race well, but is she going to go the mile of her life? No, she’s coming off a little bit of a layoff in a qualifier, so I think she’ll be better off another race or two.” First post time Friday at Yonkers is 6:50 p.m. For entries to the races, click here.  by Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY  

YONKERS, N.Y. – When the draw to randomly allocate the 22 harness racing trotters of the SOA of NY’s French American Trotting Club to their new connections was complete, trainer Jenn Bongiorno was excited to begin researching her new prospect, Ursis Des Caillons. When she viewed the gelding’s profile and saw he is already 10 years old and appeared small on replays, she didn’t know what to expect. “I started looking him up and I was like, oh my gosh, he’s 10,” Bongiorno said. “So we got an older one, but he has some nice races over there. From what we saw, we thought he was going to be extremely small. When we were watching replays, we thought we got a really small horse.” A son of Kool du Caux out of the Workaholic mare Jolie Nuit, Ursis Des Caillons won eight races and 239,580€ in France in the stables of Hubert Hardy and Nicolas Ensch. Although his last victory came November 20, 2017 and his two most recent starts resulted in disqualifications, Mike Lachance felt the 10-year-old was worth including in the French American Trotting Club. “I asked Alex (Dadoyan) who ended up training him over in France and he said Mike Lachance. Mike’s comment was that he’s very well-mannered and he handles the turns very well,” Bongiorno said. Bongiorno’s concerns about Ursis Des Caillons’ age were alleviated when he arrived at her stable in good order last month. Although she and brother Joe Bongiorno did find Ursis Des Caillons to be small and narrow, he looked like he would be suited to the half-mile track at Yonkers Raceway.  “I was excited to get him over here and when he walked in the barn, he was just very narrow and he was skinny, so we definitely got him some groceries and we took care of him,” Bongiorno said. “He’s put on weight, so I’m happy to see that. How he’s so narrow and small is not the worst thing when you’re going to be racing on a half-mile.” Bongiorno then focused on adapting the gelding to her training style and changing his equipment. She started with a blank slate and worked her way up. A shoeing change proved beneficial and Bongiorno now says Ursis Des Caillons trots perfectly. She also added a headpole, a piece of equipment not worn in France. “On day one, we just put a harness on him, put some cotton in his ears and he was fine, he jogged really well. Joe actually sat behind him day one and really liked him and every day he improves and adapts well,” Bongiorno said.  “We put on a shoe that we really believe in here with our trotters,” she continued. “He does have a headpole on. We approached it like he was a baby though because they don’t wear a lot of equipment over there. We actually jogged him with the headpole first to make sure he was going to be ok with it and then trained him with the headpole and he’s fine. I thought that was funny, we have a 10-year-old that we’re babying because we have to make sure he’s not going to be uncomfortable with it.” Ursis Des Caillons proved impressive in the mornings. He went a training trip ahead of his first qualifier and beat one of Bongiorno’s pacers. “When we biked him up, he passed one of my pacers and came the last quarter in 26-and-a-piece,” the trainer said. “Joe and I looked at each other and said, ‘we have a real horse here.’ Really the question was just if he was going to handle the half.” Ursis Des Caillons completed his first qualifier at Yonkers Raceway July 13. After racing in second early, driver Joe Bongiorno moved Ursis Des Caillons to the lead before the half. He won the 1 ¼-mile trial by 3 lengths, stopping the timer in 2:30.4 with a :27.3 final panel. Scott Di Domenico’s Deo finished second while Aigle De La Vallee was third for Rob Harmon. Very Very Fast captured the other French-exclusive qualifier that afternoon for Bob Bresnahan, beating Rich Banca’s Adagio De La Tour and Bob Bongiorno’s Uhlan Noir in 2:29.4. “When we came here the other day and Joe went a trip with him to warm him up, he was super. Joe thought he was going to handle the track perfectly and then he went out and that qualifier was really, really good. He was wrapped up, not asking him at all.” Bongiorno said.  “When he was coming over here, I thought we were going to have a nice horse, I thought we would improve him for sure, but after that training mile and qualifier, I really think we have one of the best ones.” Other French American Trotting Club participants Alpha d’Urzy and Bioness made their first pari-mutuel starts in the United States this week. The former won a $4,500 overnight in 1:57.1 at Saratoga July 15 for trainer Rene Allard while the latter finished third, individually timed in 1:54.4, in an $11,000 race at Pocono July 17 for Chris Oakes. Ed Gannon’s French trotter Ubanji finished second, individually timed in 1:55.3, in a qualifier at Harrah’s Philadelphia July 17. Yonkers will host qualifiers exclusively for the French Trotters at the 1 ¼-mile distance July 21 ahead of the start of the French American Trotting Club Series August 5. The second and third legs of the series will be held August 19 and 26, respectively and the $100,000 final is set for September 2. For more information, click here. by Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – The Lawrence B. Sheppard Pace is one of the first major Grand Circuit events for 2-year-old pacers, and according to trainer Tom Fanning, it takes a special kind of horse to win the $100,000 stakes.  “I think it’s a good value race if you think your horse is going to be handy on a half and they happen to be ready, I think it’s a good race to go in,” Fanning said. “I think you have to have a certain kind of horse. They have to be handy, good on the turns, and athletic to do well early on a half-mile track.” Fanning thinks he may have that certain type of horse in Just Plain Loco, a 3-1 morning line chance to capture the 54th edition of the Sheppard Pace tonight (July 14) at Yonkers Raceway. The son of Well Said out of the Bettor’s Delight mare Symphony in Motion didn’t turn many heads at last year’s Harrisburg sale due to his small size, but Fanning and co-owner Paul Lang liked what they saw and were the top bidders when the hammer fell at $15,000. “The owner liked him very much. I think he liked the pedigree and he was dual eligible. He was big on that, he was eligible to some races in New Jersey and in Pennsylvania. He was a real small horse, but I think his brother was also small. He wasn’t my top selection, but there were some things I did like about him,” Fanning said. Although Just Plain Loco was small in stature, Fanning was surprised by how athletic the pacer is. He wears a much longer hopple than would be expected for his size and proved to be a very nice mover on the racetrack. However, he was also full of energy and unfocused, so the decision was made to geld Just Plain Loco early in his training. “We actually gelded him pretty early. He really wasn’t focused in on his work. Once we cut him, he got better and better. He trained down pretty well then,” Fanning said. “He’s very good in a race. On the track, he’s very squirrely, looking at everything. We always joke, he never jogs in a straight line. But when it’s time to do his work, once we turn him to go a mile, he would straighten up. He was good about things, but he likes to fool around a lot too.” Although Just Plain Loco was training down well and making his times, Fanning felt because of his size, the gelding was having to work harder to keep up with the group. Fanning began training Just Plain Loco by himself and let him develop at his own pace. “He didn’t get beat in his training miles or anything, he just had to work at it a little bit more,” Fanning explained. “We had him in company until about March, but because of his size, I took him out of company and trained him by himself just because I didn’t really want to put any pressure on him. He would just do his thing, he’s go the time, he’d be willing enough to do it. I put him back in company in the middle of May or so when they were ready to qualify almost.” Just Plain Loco qualified twice in June. He made his debut at Gaitway, where he finished fifth in his first trial June 18. Although he was beaten 19 ½ lengths, Fanning was pleased with the effort; Just Plain Loco went 1:56.2 with a :28.0 final panel. He returned with a fourth-place finish, timed in 1:57.0 with :27.4 last quarter, in a Harrah’s Philadelphia qualifier June 26. “I was happy with both of them,” the trainer opined. “We had trained him before his first qualifier in 2:01 and he got beat pretty good his first race, but he came home in :28.0. I was standing about halfway up the stretch and I could see he had some go to him, he was pacing right along. It was deceptive because we weren’t going to push him. The second qualifier, he came home in about :56.0 and paced pretty good on the end of it again. He was wrapped up.” Just Plain Loco made his pari-mutuel debut in a $13,000 overnight for 2-year-olds at Harrah’s July 8. Although bettors dismissed him at odds of 14-1, Just Plain Loco worked his way to the lead and scored a length victory in 1:54.0. The tactics, if not the win, were even a surprise to his trainer. “It didn’t surprise me he won, it was surprising he went to the front,” Fanning said. “He got a little bit aggressive. When the gate opened, he got surrounded. He’s not a real aggressive horse, but he was right in the middle of the pack and he got a little excited, so (David Miller) just sort of paced out of there and he ended up on the front.” After posting a pair of inspiring qualifiers and a strong debut, Fanning decided to enter Just Plain Loco in the Lawrence B. Sheppard Pace. He will start from post three with driver Jim Marohn, Jr. in the sulky.  Just Plain Loco’s five rivals include 3-2 morning line favorite World On Edge. The Ron Burke-trainee qualified in 1:55.0 at Gaitway June 4 before debuting a winner in New York Sire Stakes at Yonkers June 26. He will start from post five in the Sheppard. Hickfromfrenchlick posted a 14 ½-legnth victory in his debut at Goshen June 29 when beating one rival in a 1:57.3 (27.1) mile and drew post two in the Sheppard for trainer Ray Schnittker. Hurrikane Kinglee, Treasure Tom, and Can We Dance complete the lineup. “It’s hard to say. Two-year-olds on a half, it’s really hard to get a read on it. It’s hard to make a prediction,” Fanning said. “I think our horse will be good on the turns and if he races back to last week, he should be pretty close with these horses.” Saturday’s card co-features the weekly $44,000 Open Handicap Pace. First post time is 6:50 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. by Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Although SOA of NY President Joe Faraldo oversaw the selection of the 24 trotters for the French American Trotting Club, even he was surprised when Alpha d’Urzy showed up to qualify Saturday (July 7) at Yonkers wearing only an open bridle, an ear hood, and trotting boots with no overcheck or poles. The trotter wears less equipment than any horse in trainer Rene Allard’s stable. I said, ‘Joe, it’s because we understand each other. I speak French to him,” Allard said. “He just laughed.” With his minimal equipment, Alpha d’Urzy led at every call of the 1 ¼-mile trial with Jason Bartlett in the sulky. He stopped the timer in 2:32.4 and posted a :29.1 final quarter, besting Aladin du Dollar by 4 ½ lengths. “He trotted a good back-half. He’s good-gaited, he’s straight, and he gets around the turns perfect,” Allard said. “I barely have any equipment on him and he gets around Yonkers perfect. Maybe I just got really lucky. Jason said he was even better on the turns than in the straightaways.” Alpha d’Urzy is an 8-year-old son of Opus Viervil out of Amazone River and sports a 6-for-56 record with 118,550€ earned. He’s one of 22 French geldings who shipped to New York last month for the SOA of NY’s new series, which begins August 5. Two of the 24 trotters were unable to make the trip to America as they got sick and were unable to pass the stringent quarantine testing requirements for importation. The series required 24 participants to buy in at $28,000, with $25,000 allocated to purchasing the horse and $3,000 to travel. Trainers Ray Schnittker, Ron Burke, and Mike Lachance hand-picked the trotters and the horses were distributed to their new connections in a random draw. “I was the first one that sent the check in, as soon as I heard about it,” Allard said. “I’m always into progress and love to see new things happen and be involved in it. I thought it was a great to have a chance to get horses from a different place. I went to the Prix d’Amérique with my father for his 60th birthday and I went to all the farms. I was excited about it, especially knowing they were going to do races just for them.” Although Allard kept his expectations in check, he’s been pleasantly surprised by Alpha d’Urzy so far. The trotter arrived at his stable in great shape and was eager to get to work. “He looked really healthy, really good, he had a nice coat on him, he was in great shape. His front-end is a little narrow, but other than that, he looked good. When I trained him the first time, he looked like he was really fit, really in great shape,” Allard said. “Whoever took care of him for the few weeks before we got him, obviously they did the right thing and kept the horses in good form.” Since Alpha d’Urzy’s arrival in mid-June, Allard has trained the gelding two 1 ½-mile trips. Both times, the trotter impressed without exerting himself. “I trained him the first time and he did it really effortless and he was really fit,” Allard said. “I came back the week after, I trained him faster. I gave him a good back-half, good last quarter and he wouldn’t blow a candle out. He was really fit and really in great shape. I figured there was no sense in waiting, I’d just put him in to qualify.” The quick turnaround came to Allard’s surprise. Accustomed to horses arriving from Australia and New Zealand underweight, stressed, and sick due to the change in seasons from the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern Hemisphere, Allard was happy to see Alpha d’Urzy handled his trip across the Atlantic well. “My horse never got sick, never missed a meal. He adjusted really well,” he said. “When he got here, I could have raced three days later, he was perfect. When they got here, I thought it was going to take a while before they were ready. I was even concerned about being ready in the beginning of August for the series, but surprisingly, mine came really great.” Allard’s experience has been shared by trainer Chris Oakes, who received 7-year-old trotter Bioness. The son of Sam Bourbon and Quiradelle D'hilly earned 119,590€ in 40 European starts before shipping to the U.S. When he arrived at Oakes barn, Bioness drew comparisons to Oakes’ $1.2 million earning trotter Homicide Hunter. “I love him, I absolutely love him, loved him right from day one,” Oakes said. “Big strong good-looking horse. I have a horse called Homicide Hunter and that’s who he reminded me of. Even when I trained him I told people, this horse reminds me of ‘Homicide.’ It’s funny because nobody knows what horse you’re going to get, you know nothing about any of them, other than you’re getting a horse. Rene came up and looked at him in the paddock at the qualifiers and he said, ‘this thing looks just like Homicide Hunter.’ ” Oakes found Bioness to be good-gaited, good-mannered, and intelligent. Like Alpha d’Urzy, the trotter wears minimal equipment. “I had no equipment card of any kind. Just a horse: four legs and a tail. You just feel them out as you go,” Oakes explained. “I could see he was sensible, so I ended up going with an open bridle. I could see the way he traveled, he didn’t need any boots at all. I just put a light set of trotting boots on and that was it. He’s very clean-gaited and wears next to nothing. I think we drew a nice horse.” Oakes put Bioness into an American style of training and the gelding responded. Oakes also thinks ample time spent turned out has helped the trotter adjust to his new surroundings. “I basically put him into our American style of training. I’ve got my own farm, so he’ll train and then he gets turned out a lot. I’m sure they’re used to that, they like that and I’m fortunate enough I’ve got my own farm, so they spend a lot of time out in the field just to keep them happy,” Oakes said. “He seems to have adapted really well. I’ve only had him here two or three weeks. I put him right to work and he didn’t skip a beat. He’s happy with his new home and seems to have adapted to our style. It’s going to be a little different than what he’s used to, but he shows he’s got speed.” Bioness qualified last Wednesday (July 4) at Pocono Downs with Oakes’ 20-year-old son Hunter in the sulky. It was Hunter’s first time in a charted race and he made his father proud. Bioness tracked in third throughout the 1-mile trial. Although he was 4-lengths behind Allard-trainee Gruden at the three-quarters, Bioness came home in :28.1 to finish second beaten just a neck. He was individually timed in 1:56.1. I just told him, ‘be careful out there. Make it a good experience for the horse and yourself.’ He’s very conservative with the horse and said if he had asked him he would have won it easy,” Oakes said. “(Hunter) has been training and schooling behind the gate, but never in a real charted race. I’m really very proud of him because he did a really nice job and it went really well and I’m going to let him qualify again this coming week.” Yonkers will host qualifiers exclusively for the French Trotters at the 1 ¼-mile distance July 14 and 21 ahead of the start of the French American Trotting Club Series August 5. The second and third legs of the series will be held August 19 and 26, respectively and the $100,000 final is set for September 2. For more information, click here. by Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Satin Dancer will be part of a racing rarity when she competes in the $44,000 Open Handicap Trot Saturday night (July 7) at Yonkers Raceway. The 4-year-old mare’s local debut will come just four days after she raced at Hoosier Park in Indiana. The unusual feat of racing at Hoosier Park and Yonkers in the same week wasn’t what her connections initially planned, according to new trainer Travis Alexander. After Satin Dancer posted two straight victories in the Open ranks at Hoosier Park in early June, trainer Byron Hooley became frustrated when the race failed to fill two weeks in a row. Needing his mare to stay on a consistent schedule and wanting to maximize her earning potential, Hooley contacted Alexander about a potential ship east and gave Alexander the go ahead to enter her at Yonkers July 7. “Byron couldn’t get her in to go. They weren’t filling the Open Trot at Hoosier Park and he didn’t really want to race her at Scioto every week against the boys. If he was going to have to race against the boys, he wanted to race for the $44,000. Let’s be honest, it’s a little bigger pot,” Alexander explained. “Byron called me and said, ‘They aren’t going with the Open Saturday (June 30). Go ahead and enter her for Yonkers and I’ll bring her out on Wednesday.’ Hoosier’s race office moved the Open to Tuesday. She was in to qualify Saturday because he was going to qualify her, tighten her up, and then ship her out. In all honesty, I didn’t think she’d get in (at Yonkers). The draw came up, and there she was with the rail. So here we are.”  Satin Dancer set the pace in the Open Trot Tuesday at Hoosier Park, cutting fractions of :27.0, :55.2, and 1:24.2. Although she came home in :28.0 and trotted 1:52.2, 11-1 longshot Cue Hall tracked her down in the stretch to post a half-length victory.  “She raced fantastic on Tuesday, she just got beat in 1:52. She’s tight,” Alexander said. “Trotters that can trot 1:52 on any size track, there’s not a lot of them.” Satin Dancer arrived at Alexander’s barn around 4 p.m. Wednesday and spent Thursday turned out. The Indiana Sire Stakes Champion and earner of $624,010 made a good first impression on her new conditioner. “She’s only been in the barn 24 hours, but she’s a pleasure and she’s all class. She’s kind of a sassy mare, but she’s earned it,” Alexander said. “With her kind of record, she’s allowed to do whatever she wants, and I think she’ll fit in nicely at Yonkers. “She handled (the trip) well. She didn’t eat the best, but at the same time, she did just race and ship 12 hours, so I just chalk it up to that,” Alexander continued. “We turned her out, the vet ran her some fluids. Right now, all systems are go. Her and the filly in the stall next to her are actually bonding already and they’re buddies. It’s kind of exciting to get a horse like her. It’s going to be interesting to see how she does.” Satin Dancer’s arrival marks another step in Alexander’s commitment to racing at Yonkers. While in years past, his horses proved better suited to racing on larger tracks, the 39-year-old trainer put a deliberate effort toward shifting his focus to Yonkers this year. Year to date, he’s already posted 12 wins in 89 local starts, better than last year’s total of 8 victories in 40 tries.  The success comes in the face of a series of challenges and setbacks earlier this year. Alexander’s horse Lawgiver Hanover suffered a fatal injury in a race at Yonkers March 13. The accident sent driver Matt Kakaley to the sidelines for two months as he recovered from a broken orbital bone and a fractured collarbone. Another of Alexander’s horses, A Sweet Ride, fractured a cannon bone in the same month. “We had a few setbacks, but it’s turning around. March wasn’t a very nice month for us. That was our horse that (Matt) went down with and the horse had to be euthanized. It’s hard. It was a rough month,” Alexander said. “It can slow you down a little bit, but things are looking good. We’ve got a few more horses to train that we really like. Things are moving forward. “Yonkers is a tough place to break into,” he continued. “The horses that we had fit Pocono and the five-eighths better than the half. We made it a conscious effort this year to race more at Yonkers. If you’re racing on the east coast, you need to race at Yonkers. The purse money is just too big to pass up. The driving colony is one of the best in the sport, if not the best. That’s why we’re doing it.” In addition to his focus on racing claimers and overnight horses at Yonkers, Satin Dancer will provide Alexander with his first chance to compete in the rich Open ranks.  “This is something the stable needed, an Open horse,” he said. “We haven’t had an Open mare or an Open pacer yet at Yonkers, so now we get to take a swing at that top-end money. It’s going to be fun.” Satin Dancer will start from an assigned post one in the Open Handicap Trot Saturday night and will have Jordan Stratton at the lines. She’ll face seven rivals, including the top four finishers from last week’s renewal, Smalltownthrowdown, NF Happenstance, DW’s NY Yank, and Weslynn Dancer. Deep Impact, Such An Angel, and Rubber Duck complete the lineup. “I’m looking forward to Saturday as much as everybody else,” Alexander said. “I have no expectations, because she just got here. I’ve had a lot of luck racing horses on short rest, but not this short and with a trip in between. That’s a large ship on a hot day. I don’t want to throw her under the gauntlet and expect a win, but if she trots like she did Tuesday night and handles the four turns and can sit close, she could get us to the winner’s circle.” Satin Dancer has only raced on a half-mile track three times before: she won a division of the Standardbred at the Delaware County Fair at 2 and at 3, finished second in an Open at the Hillard Fair and was the runner up in the Buckette at Delaware. Despite her limited racing record on the small track, Satin Dancer trained on a half on Hooley’s farm and her previous trainer is confident in her ability to handle the tight turns. “She’s a well put together mare. She’s really long. I’m going to be curious,” Alexander said. “She trains on a half, so (Byron) says it’s no problem. Delaware, Ohio isn’t really a true half-mile track. It’s a half, but it has sweeping turns that are really forgiving. I was fortunate enough to get Jordan. Nobody knows Yonkers better than Jordan Stratton, so that’s a huge key for me with her. He can help her through that first turn and give me some pointers or advice afterwards and move forward. Byron Hooley is really confident in her ability to handle the half.” First post time Saturday night at Yonkers is 6:50 p.m. The 12-race card also features a $44,000 Open Pace. To view entries for the card, click here.  by Brendon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Driver George Brennan will take the lines behind Lispatty, Always At My Place, and DW’s NY Yank in this weekend’s $44,000 features for distaff pacers, open pacers, and trotters. Brennan shared his thoughts on his horses and their chances this weekend: Friday, Race 7 - $44,000 Filly and Mare Open Handicap Pace Lispatty – Post 4 – 2-1  Lispatty finished third in a leg of the Matchmaker Series earlier this year before trying the competition in the Pennsylvania Open Series in May. She earned a fourth-place check in three of five starts in that series before shipping back to Yonkers June 8. Since her return to the half-mile track, Lispatty dominated competition in two straight $22,000 overnights; she won wire-to-wire by 4 ½ lengths in 1:52.0 June 8 and stopped the clock in a blistering 1:51.1 last time out June 15 in an effort that surprised even Brennan. Lispatty, a 5-year-old daughter of McCardle who’s won 20 races and $524,445, won the local distaff feature four times last year.  “She’s got a good spot, she’s got the four hole. She’s been good. I’ve driven her for a couple years now and at Yonkers, she’s never been better. She went in 1:51.1 last week and at Yonkers she’s never been better. She gets around that track really good. I mean, 1:51.1, that’s a big mile that she did last week. She’s been very good and she’s actually getting better with the warmer weather. "She wasn’t at her best in the colder weather in the Matchmaker. She’s going to fair good. She’s inside her competition, she’s got the four hole, she can leave really well and she fits real well in there. I’m not saying she’s the best in there, but she’s got a good spot.”  Saturday, Race 6 - $44,000 Open Handicap Pace Always At My Place – Post 4 – 3-1  After going 10-for-31 last year good for $188,963, Always At My Place is just 2-for-12 halfway through the 2018 season; he captured a leg of the George Morton Levy Series March 17 and upset the $100,000 Levy Consolation at odds of 22-1 April 21. Always At My Place enters this week’s pacing feature off a string of narrow defeats. He was second to Heaven Rocks in a 1:50.0 mile in the Open Series at Pocono June 3, was beaten a head by Somewhere In LA in the local Open June 9 while pacing 1:52.0 and suffered a nose defeat to Western Dynasty after setting the fractions in a $27,500 overnight last Saturday.  “His last two races at Yonkers have been the best two races he’s had at Yonkers in the past two years. He gets around the track a lot better than he used to. He’s inside and he’s got a good chance. He struggles around that track a little bit, but he has an inside advantage and he’s good, he’s a good horse. He’s a solid horse, he knows how to win a horse race. "Last week he got beat a lip on the wire in 1:51.1 and came home in :27.1. There’s not many horses that do that at Yonkers, come home in :27.1 and get beat on the wire. No horses come home at Yonkers in :27.1 with a mile in 1:51.1.” Saturday, Race 7 - $44,000 Open Handicap Trot DW’s NY Yank – Post 6 – 6-1  The 9-year-old trotter proved he’s just as good as ever when winning the local Open Handicap Trot in 1:54.3 May 26. The speedy mile saw DW’s NY Yank assigned the outside post last out June 9, which he was unable to overcome as he finished fifth beaten 7 ¾ lengths behind Tight Lines. The earner of $1.2 million seeks his 50th victory Saturday night, but will have to do so from post six. “That’s going to be a tough spot, he’s got the six hole and that’s a tough spot. There’s speed inside and it’s hard. He’s a good horse, he’s a 9-year-old. "He’s got a track record he set as a 4-year-old of 1:54.2 and then as a 9-year-old he just won in 1:54.3. He’s still just as good, but he’s got a real hard spot. On that track, I just have to pick his spots a little bit. He is such a great horse, he’s a terrific horse, one of my favorites.” First post time Friday and Saturday is 6:50 p.m. For entries to Friday’s races, click here. For entries to Saturday’s races, click here. by Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Since making her 3-year-old debut at Hoosier Park this spring, Wisdom Tree has been nearly unstoppable. The daughter of Betterthancheddar out of the Artsplace mare Wisdom posted three straight wins in overnight competition in Indiana and at Saratoga before jumping into New York Sire Stakes. In three legs so far, she’s 2-for-3 with another runner-up finish. The only blemish on Wisdom Tree’s 2018 campaign came in her first start of the year when she made an early miscue and finished seventh. “She’s a really nice filly. She’s a doll, I love her,” trainer Ed Hart said. “I think she was a little immature last year. She made the odd mistake. You could never move her too fast, you always had to be a little careful with her. She definitely matured. She’s a sweetheart in the stall, does everything right, just a classy horse.” Jeff Cullipher co owns Wisdom Tree with Tom Pollack and prepared the filly for her 3-year-old campaign before sending her east to Hart. Over the years, the relationship between Hart, Pollack, and Cullipher has proven fruitful. “I started training horses for Tom Pollack. He was also an owner with Randy Bendis and Randy sent me horses from The Meadows when they came out East to race, especially for New York Sire Stakes,” Hart said. “And then Tom branched out to Indiana with Jeff Cullipher and they race together. They do the same thing, when they come out east, they send them to me. “They always send me good horses and they’re good people to deal with. Jeff Cullipher developed this filly and trained her down. I just manage her out here and race her. It’s really nice,” Hart continued. “Jeff has a big stable out in Indiana, he’s a good guy to work with. It really is nice, it works out real well for me.” In her first start in Sire Stakes competition this year May 27 at Saratoga, Wisdom Tree raced from off the pace as the race’s 2-5 favorite Youaremycandygirl cut blistering fractions of :26.3 and :53.3. As the leader’s strides began to shorten nearling three-quarters, Wisdom Tree mounted a first-over bid. She struck the lead at the top of the stretch and powered away with a :28.2 final quarter to beat Alexis Faith by a length in 1:52.2 at odds of 8-1. “That was a pretty wild race,” Hart said. “My filly did it right, she pulled going to the half and she was coming first-over and ground that one down. She raced tough as nails, you can’t take anything away from her.” Wisdom Tree’s victory at Saratoga showed the filly has developed a new dimension this year. In 11 starts at 2, Wisdom Tree won three races, all of which came on the front end. She frequently made breaks in stride when forced to sit in a hole. Now more mentally and physically mature, Hart thinks Wisdom Tree has outgrown her breaking issues and is much more versatile. “Last year, when she was on the lead where you could steady her and keep her on her own pace, she was really good,” Hart explained. “She was never quick to come out of the hole, you could never force her into anything. This year, you can. She can leave, she can sit, she can do it all.” Wisdom Tree proved her efforts at Saratoga were no fluke as she finished second next out, pacing a 1:50.3 mile from post eight at Tioga Downs June 3. In her most recent start, Wisdom Tree posted a 4 ¼-length victory after sitting the pocket trip at Buffalo June 13. “I know Buffalo, I’ve raced there all my life and you’ve got to be really careful up there,” Hart said. “I was happy to see her get around that track and she handled it perfectly. Kevin Cummings said she never took a bad step. And there again, she left pretty quick and sat the hole and sat there nice. That was a nice trip up there for her.” Wisdom Tree will try to score her third NYSS victory of the year Thursday night at Yonkers when she starts in the third and final division of the state bred stakes in race 11. Wisdom Tree will start from post five as the 2-1 morning line favorite and will once again face Alexis Faith, the Casie Coleman trainee who finished second in a Fan Hanover elimination at Mohawk June 9. For complete entries, click here.  “I know Casie Coleman’s horse on the outside of us is a tough horse, I know she’s raced good in Canada. At that level, they’re all good, anything can happen. Hopefully we’ll get a good trip and we’ll see what happens,” Hart said. “I think Wisdom Tree is sharp. That Buffalo trip is tough. It’s a 6-hour trip each way, it’s a 2-day thing, but I think she’s sharp. She feels good.” Hart will also start Medusa in Friday night’s featured $44,000 Filly and Mare Open Handicap Pace. A 6-1 chance from an assigned inside post, Medusa will face the likes of Lispatty, Sell A Bit, Newborn Sassy, and Mach It A Par.  Hart broke Medusa as a yearling, but she campaigned with a host of stables including Paul Kelley, Ron Burke, and Randy Bendis before finally coming to Hart this spring for the Matchmaker Series. She was victorious in one leg and hit the board in three others to make the final, where she finished sixth. I her last start, the 7-year-old finished second beaten a nose in the Filly and Mare Open June 15. In her career, Medusa is 32-for-109 with $732,753 earned. “I had her a long time ago as a baby and she came back to me this year,” Hart said. “She raced tough in that series. Five, six weeks in a row is a tough series. Last week, she was super, but the fractions were a little slower up front, kind of played into her a little bit. That’s a really nice mare. Big, beautiful, sound mare. Pretty much tries every week and just another good horse.” First post time Thursday and Friday at Yonkers is 6:50 p.m. For Friday’s entries, click here. by Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – The last time Fearless Man tried the 1 ¼-mile Open Handicap Trot at Yonkers Raceway on February 25, the result wasn’t inspiring. After getting away third, Fearless Man became hot and aggressive as horses passed him on the outside. He faded from the scene and finished eighth beaten 22 ½ lengths.  Since then, harness racing trainer Andrew Harris says the Fearless Man has become more manageable on the track and in the morning. He’s won two local Open Handicaps this year and Harris believes the 8-year-old gelding has earned another chance at the 10-furlong distance. Fearless Man will start from post six in the $54,800 trotting feature Sunday (June 17). “It seems like he’s learned. We can back down the half and Jason (Bartlett) sat him in a two-hole and said he can absolutely relax in the two-hole, so now I’m very confident he can handle the mile-and-a-quarter,” Harris said. “I avoided a couple of them; when there was a mile-and-a-quarter race I just didn’t race him that week. We’ve got a summer full of them coming up, so we’re going try him again and see what happens.” Fearless Man, owned by Rick Zeron Stable, Noblock Racing Stable, Murray Greenfield, and Cool Cat Racing, came to Harris this winter. As Zeron headed to Florida to train babies, he approached Harris with the unexpected offer. “Rick Zeron called me earlier in the year and just said, ‘hey, I got a trotter with a lot of back class. Would you mind taking him and trying him at Yonkers? I think he’d be a real good fit over there.’ So obviously you don’t turn down a horse like that,” Harris said. Fearless Man was a stakes-winning 2- and 3-year-old in Indiana for Bobby Brower before posting a lifetime mark of 1:52.1 for Monte Gelrod at Harrah’s Philadelphia in 2014. In his career, Fearless Man has won 37 races and earned $618,249. Although the son of Elegant Man had been racing in the conditions on the Woodbine Circuit the last couple years, Harris saw the potential for Fearless Man to become an open-type at Yonkers. “I had seen before Rick had even gotten him that he’d gone a 52-mile at Chester. I knew there was definitely some real talent there, but he is 8 years old and coming off a couple seasons when he wasn’t at the open level, I didn’t know which way he’d go,” Harris said. “For him, that shorter stretch is a benefit to him where at Woodbine, that long stretch, he’d be real dominant that first eighth of the stretch, but the last eighth, he got a little weary. I think the half-mile track has really picked him up.” When Fearless Man first came to Harris’ stable, he was overly aggressive and behaved more like a high-strung thoroughbred than a standardbred gelding. Harris took advantage of the facilities at White Birch Farm to help manage the trotter’s excitable attitude on the track. “He was actually a very aggressive horse, so the first time I sat behind him, I was like, ‘woah.’ He was really grabby,” Harris said. “His gate speed is unbelievable, that’s why he’s so good at Yonkers. It’s just so easy for him. By nature, he’s an aggressive horse. “We do approach him a little differently because we don’t train him as much as the other ones,” Harris continued. “When I first got him, I trained him a little bit more just trying to get some spit and vinegar out of him, but I realized that wasn’t going to be the key for him. We’re lucky we’re at White Birch and we have a big, huge sand track. They just don’t seem to pull on that. After about a lap, they realize that’s work and they back off a lot. He really calmed down a lot jogging that sand track.” Training in the deep sand track at White Birch hasn’t just settled Fearless Man’s demeanor, it’s also meant the trotter is much more fit. He has bulked up and put on weight since he’s came to Harris. “Obviously the sand track has just put a massive amount of muscle on him,” the trainer said. Fearless Man has won five of 14 starts since coming to Harris’ stable and Jason Bartlett has been in the sulky for four or those wins. Harris says the unlikely pairing between the horse and driver has played a key role in the trotter’s local success.  “Jason just gets along with him unbelievable,” Harris said. “Jason is kind of an aggressive driver and this is an aggressive horse. Nine times out of 10, that doesn’t work, but Jason gets along with him really well. He just has him figured out. Sometimes horses just fit certain drivers and he just fits Jason.” Bartlett will drive Fearless Man as a 7-1 shot in Sunday’s Open Handicap Trot, his first time sitting behind the trotter since May 5, when Fearless Man last won. He’ll face nine rivals, including 3-1 favorite In Secret, who finished second in the Charlie Hill Memorial at Scioto last out, and 7-2 second choice Tight Lines, who won last week’s local trotting feature in 1:54.0. For complete entries, click here. “It’s a mile-and-a-quarter race which is always a question with a hot horse, but for whatever reason in these mile-and-a-quarter races they don’t seem to go to the quarter as fast,” Harris said. “I don’t know what Jason will do, but he might be able to secure the front easy. He’ll definitely get to dictate what he wants to do because that’s just how this horse is. I’m sure Jason will put him in contention, that’s for sure.” Sunday’s 10-race card at Yonkers features four French trots with the Open Handicap slated at race one. First post time is 12:35 p.m. by Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, NY. – Tight Lines returns to Yonkers Raceway in the $44,000 Open Handicap Trot, carded as race 8 Saturday night (June 9). Booted by his sweep of the Yonkers Raceway/SOA of NY Bonus Trotting Series and a win in a Yonkers Open Handicap last fall, Tight Lines won 10 of 25 starts last year and banked $223,270. The gelding has earned $337,226 in his career for owners Jeff Gregory, Jesmeral Stable, and William Richardson. Gregory credits Tight Lines’ attitude and desire to work for his success. “He’s an overachiever. He likes what he’s doing, and we had a little luck last year placing him in spots where he fit well, so it maximized his earning potential. He had a big year,” Gregory said. “He likes what he’s doing, he tries his hardest all the time. A lot of horses don’t do that for you. He enjoys his job. You’re not forcing him to do anything, he’s enjoying what he’s doing.” Although Gregory initially intended to race Tight Lines into the winter, hoping to take advantage of softer company in the off season, an onslaught of winter weather and the toils of a long 2017 campaign took their toll. Gregory decided to give the trotter a break rather than struggle through a winter campaign. Tight Lines went to the sidelines after finishing sixth in a local Open January 21. “We just ran into such a bad winter. It was a nightmare trying to keep him going, keep him sharp, and keep him sound during the winter,” Gregory said. “The conditions just didn’t feel like it was worth it for all the work we had put into him.” Tight Lines spent two months in the field and another two months training back. Now 5 years old, the gelded son of Yankee Glide matured physically and came back fresh. “It seems like every year he’s gotten a little bigger and filled out a little more. He’s more of a man now than a boy,” Gregory said. “He continues to get bigger and bigger every year. He’s an athletic horse and he’s a really kind horse. He’s really nice to be around, he loves people, he loves the other horses. He’s really very easy to get along with.” After Tight Lines won a May 22 qualifier at Harrah’s Philadelphia by 12 ¾ lengths in 1:55.2, Gregory looked for a suitable starting point for the trotter’s summer campaign. With earnings from a win in the $40,000 Open Trot at Yonkers December 3 still on his card, Tight Lines only fit the open class and Gregory opted to race in the $30,000 Open Series at Pocono Downs June 3. In addition to the deep field assembled, including 2017 Yonkers International Trot participant In Secret, Tight Lines faced testing conditions in his return as evening rains left the track sloppy. Still, Tight Lines tracked cover second-over and closed with a :28.4 final quarter to finish fourth beaten 1 ½ lengths. “It rained really hard up there and the track was real muddy, it was quite a heavy track,” said Gregory, who also drives Tight Lines in all his races. “He held his own and I think if he’d have had one start under his belt, he would have finished second. He just got nipped for second, but he probably just needed another tightener.” Although Tight Lines led at every call of the three preliminary legs and the final of the Bonus Trotting Series last year, Gregory has since found the trotter prefers to race off cover, just as he did in his return. Tight Lines won three straight races from off the pace at Harrah’s Philadelphia last fall and Gregory hasn’t sent him to the lead off the gate since. “He actually does like to follow horses. Last year, I raced him at Chester and he got on a roll there, he was coming from behind every week and really loved passing horses,” Gregory said. “When he was in the series, he was the chalk every week and he didn’t really have to be on the front, it just seemed like I could avoid a lot of trouble if I was up there. Now that he’s in with some better horses, they can leave just as good as he can, if not better. The option of just sending him to the front every week is out the door.”   With a race under his belt, Tight Lines returns to the Yonkers trotting feature as a 3-1 morning line second choice from post four Saturday night. Seasoned Saint is the race’s 5-2 favorite from post six off a runner-up finish to DW’s NY Yank last out May 26. Bluebird Jesse, winner of the 2018 renewal of the Bonus Trotting Series is 7-1 from post five while DW’s NY Yank is a 6-1 shot from the assigned post eight. Deweycolorintheline, Andy Ray, Uva Hanover, and Fearless Man complete the field of eight. “I expect him to race ok. He likes Yonkers, he really likes it everywhere. The track doesn’t matter. He usually does what he can no matter what,” Gregory said. Saturday night’s 10-race program also features a $44,000 Open Handicap Pace in race six. First post time Saturday night at Yonkers is 6:50 p.m. View entries for the card by clicking here. by Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, NY -  Since arriving in the barn of trainer Ettore Annunziata, 8-year-old mare Barynya has shown steady improvement. Although she found herself in Yonkers Raceway's bottom class for non-winners of $5,000 last five as recently as April 24, she's earned a chance to compete in the $44,000 Filly and Mare Open Handicap Pace Friday night (June 8). Annunziata bought Barynya this spring as a means of replenishing his barn. After most of Annunziata's horses were claimed away, leaving him with a two-horse stable, Barynya caught Annunziata's attention. The Australian-bred by Blissful Hall out of the Perfect Art mare Lombo Anatasia began her stateside career in December 2016 and had a modest 2017 campaign, winning 3 of 26 starts and earning $39,725. Despite her average stateside performance, Annunziata believed Barynya contained hidden potential. The 83-year-old horsemen knew she was a Group 1 winner and earner of $387,631 Down Under and he believed he could bring her back to that form. "I like New Zealand and Australian horses, I seem to do very good with them. I knew I could probably get more out of her," Annunziata said. "According to what we've seen, she's a super mare. She made over $300,000 in Australia. You can't make $300,000 in Australia unless you're a champion, and she was a champion and I really believed I could get it out of her." Annunziata's super mare came to his stable off a second-place finish in a $7,500 overnight at Yonkers February 22. Annunziata believed she was sore and applied a less-is-more approach to her routine to get her sound. "There's no mystery, there's no big things. As a matter of fact, the less I do, the better she gets," Annunziata said. "At the farm, she's out 24 hours-a-day and that's what they like. It's like they're in the wild again. "I don't know what it is, but I guess the method I use is no secret," he continued. "What they do is go back to nature. What I mean is, (treat them like) a horse, don't (treat them like) people. They give this, they give that, try this, try that. All I know they eat grain and grass, all they can eat. That's it. That's the rule everybody should play by, of course everybody thinks they know better, but in this case they're wrong." Annunziata's method appears to have rekindled the champion within Barynya. She posted a 3-length win in a $7,500 overnight at Yonkers April 24 before repeating the following week in a $10,000 overnight. She finished third next out while up in class again before finding the winner's circle in her next start May 25 in a $22,000 race. Last time out, Barynya shipped to Saratoga to win the $14,500 Filly and Mare Open Handicap in wire-to-wire fashion. She stopped the timer in 1:52.1 and posted a final quarter of :27.4. "Last week, she really surprised me going 1:52.1. She was super," Annunziata said. Friday night (June 8), Barynya will step up in class again as she looks to win her first local distaff open. Barynya drew post two and is an 8-1 morning line with Joe Bongiorno in the bike. Barynya's seven rivals include 2-1 favorite Newborn Sassy, who will start from an assigned post eight. The Kim King Jr. trainee won the Matchmaker Consolation before posting three straight wins at the open level at Harrington and Yonkers. She was the beaten favorite in her last start May 25 from the outside post. Mach It A Par is a 4-1 chance after finishing second to Newborn Sassy May 18 and drawing post six while Freakonomics is 5-1 and brings a three-race win streak into the distaff feature. Annabeth, Medusa, Motu Moonbeam, and Delightful Dragon complete the field. "She's a nice mare, she got a nice post. My luck, I usually get bad posts. Hopefully we'll do good. Actually, I'm looking to beat them, how's that? I hope she wins the race. She will be good. Right now, she's very good," Annunziata said. First post time Friday night at Yonkers is 6:50 p.m.  By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Nearly a year after winning Yonkers Raceway’s signature race for harness racing 2-year-olds, the Lawrence B. Sheppard Pace, Kwik Talkin will return to the Hilltop in tonight’s (May 12) W. N. Reynolds Memorial. Kwik Talkin will start from post four as the 5-2 morning line favorite in the second of three $23,066 divisions of the Reynolds, his seasonal debut. “Since the Rooney Eliminations are next week, we figured we would just concentrate on racing him at Yonkers,” Robinson said. “We had to pay a $6,000 supplement to get him in, so probably the wisest thing to do was to concentrate on Yonkers to get him ready for the Rooney hopefully.” After his impressive 1:53.4 victory in the Sheppard in just his fourth start July 15, 2017, Kwik Talkin earned a win and two seconds in Pennsylvania Sire Stakes throughout the summer, earning a ticket to the PASS Championship September 4. Although an outside draw compromised him in the final, Kwik Talkin still earned $123,543 in eight stars last year. Not eligible for other stakes engagements, his connections turned him out early. “He got shut down real early and my partners, that was the first horse they ever bought. They built a barn for him on their property and paddocks and that’s where he spent his time when he was off,” Robinson explained. “He was off about three-and-a-half months and that’s where he was at. I think recently they just put a walker in, they bought a broodmare, so they’re right into it now.” For Robinson, introducing new owners to the game and seeing them make a significant investment in the sport has been part of the thrill of owning a talented horse like Kwik Talkin.  “It’s really good. They ask a lot of questions. Sometimes you’re not used to that, but they’re pretty good,” he said. “They’re good people and they bought in on three or four more yearlings last year. They bought a mare in Delaware. They have a really good spot, now when the horses need to go out, they have a really good spot to go to.” After his hiatus on the Henry’s farm, Kwik Talkin returned to Robinson to train down for his return. Robison saw the son of Well Said out of the Cams Card Shark mare Kwik Dial develop into a more athletic horse over the winter. “He grew some and he’s still not a real big horse, but he’s athletic looking,” he said. “He’s not big and heavy, which to me is good because that means he should have a long career. Some studs, they’re heavy and then they start to get lame really easy, just too much weight on the joints. I don’t think this horse will get like that.” Although he is confident Kwik Talkin is ready for his 3-year-old debut, Robinson admits Kwik Talkin is a difficult horse to gauge in the mornings. Last year, it wasn’t until Kwik Talkin’s second start at Rideau Carlton, when he paced to a 1:55.0 victory with Robinson in the sulky, that his talent became clear. “He’s got a great foundation into him and everything, so I’m not worried about that. You just sort of get a little concerned because you’re not really 100 percent sure what they’re going to do until they get into a race,” Robinson explained. “He had always trained good and he qualified good, but I didn’t really know how good he was until his second race at Rideau Carlton, then I had a better idea of what I had. I’m hoping after the race on Saturday. We’ll have a better idea of what we have.” Robinson qualified Kwik Talkin twice at Rideau Carlton. He finished second in a 1:57.4 clocking April 8 and won his next outing with broken equipment in 1:55.3. However, his second qualifier came one week later than anticipated as inclement weather forced Robinson to rework the horse’s schedule. “He trained back, probably the same as he did last year. He does what he has to do,” Robinson said. “I qualified him twice at Rideau Carlton. I was hoping to get him down there a week earlier than I did, but he was two weeks between qualifiers. We had a freezing rain storm here, so I got set back a week.” After shipping to trainer Rob Harmon, Kwik Talkin qualified again at Yonkers May 4, finishing second in 1:55.0 with regular reinsman Jordan Stratton at the lines. Kwik Talkin trained satisfactorily earlier this week ahead of tonight’s race. “We were hoping to get him down a week earlier and get an overnight into him before the Reynolds, but we ended up qualifying him again,” Robinson said. “He qualified well, Jordan said he was a little lazy. Rob did a little work to him. Jordan came out to train him (Wednesday) and Jordan said he was quite happy with him, so hopefully everything will go good on Saturday.” Stratton chose Kwik Talkin over both Mr Profeta and My Delight in tonight’s Reynolds division. Paprike Blue Chip, who finished second in the New York Sire Stakes Final in his last start October 14, will start from post six at odds of 7-2. I Soar Him First is a 9-2 chance from post seven after winning three legs of the Weiss Series and finishing third in the final at Pocono. Lyons Steel, Jimtastic, and Major Offense complete the field. “Jordan had three drives and he took him, so I think that’s a good sign,” Robinson said. “We had a good draw, so that will help. I think he likes Yonkers, he had two starts here last year and he raced super, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed and hope everything goes well.” First post time Saturday at Yonkers is 6:50 p.m. The 12-race card also features a $44,000 Open Pace, a $44,000 Open Trot, and three divisions of the W. N. Reynolds Memorial for 3-year-old pacing fillies. For entries to the card, click here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Since arriving in the barn of harness racing trainer Scott Di Domenico this year, Bluebird Jesse as surpassed expectations. The 4-year-old trotter won two of the three preliminary legs of the Yonkers Raceway / SOA of NY Bonus Trotting Series before capturing the $85,000 series final April 24. Last week, he made his first start in the local Open Trot, finishing third. “He’s exceeded what I thought he was going to be,” Di Domenico said. “I can’t say we expected this one to win the series final and show that he has a shot to be a very, very useful trotter at Yonkers. That says a lot about the horse.” Bluebird Jesse made his mark in Indiana as a 2- and 3-year old. He won six races at Hoosier for trainer Keith Roth, including a $75,000 Indiana Sire Stakes Final. Bluebird Jesse’s success in the Midwest put him on the radar of Indiana owners Brian Carsey and John McGill and New York partner Adam Friedland.  “They were talking about this horse for a long time even before they had him bought,” Di Domenico explained. “You have to give them the credit. I wish I could say I found him, I bought him, but I didn’t. They saw the horse in Indiana, he came up for sale, they were fortunate to get him.” After purchasing the son of Jailhouse Jesse last fall, the trio of owners placed him with trainer Walter Haynes for the winter. Di Domenico credits him for getting the horse ready. “He got this horse rested up and trained back and when he came to me, he was ready to go do something,” Di Domenico said. “He did a good job with the horse and when he got out here, he was ready to go.” Since arriving in his stable, Di Domenico has been impressed by how easy Bluebird Jesse is to train. Bluebird Jesse rarely does anything wrong in the mornings and jogs with two fingers. His best attribute is his handiness, his trainer says.  “He trots the turns well at Yonkers, he’s pretty sure-footed and he’s fast enough,” he said. “The thing I like most about him is his handiness. You’re able to leave with him off the gate, you’re able to race him off the pace and it seems as though he’s going to give you 100 percent effort every time no matter what you do with him. He’s just a real likeable horse.” Bluebird Jesse showed his versatility in the Yonkers Raceway/SOA of NY Bonus Trotting Series. He secured a first-over win on a sloppy racetrack in leg one and rode a pocket trip to victory in leg three. In the series final, Bluebird Jesse used his inside advantage to drive to the lead in the first turn, avoiding trouble as rivals Tyson and Optimist Blue Chip makes breaks to his outside. Although he was unchallenged on the lead through a :58.1 half mile, Bluebird Jesse faced an early test as 1-9 favorite Seasoned Saint, undefeated in the series preliminaries, pulled the pocket with 3 furlongs to trot.  Racing around the final turn, Bluebird Jesse was confidently handled by George Brennan as Seasoned Saint drew within a neck of the lead under urging from Jim Marohn Jr. Brennan high-lined the trotter and went to a right-handed whip in the stretch as Seasoned Saint drew on even terms with Bluebird Jesse at the sixteenth pole. Bluebird Jesse dug in, holding off the favorite to win in 1:54.4, the fastest trotting mile of the year at Yonkers. “As good as the horse had been, I wasn’t surprised,” Di Domenico said. “He had the capabilities of trotting fast and he did it. He had a very good series. Throwing the second leg of that series out, he was gritty, he fought, he was first-over. He did a little bit of everything and every week he responded and every week he kept coming and showed that he was a very talented horse.” Saturday night (May 12), Bluebird Jesse will start from post six in the $44,000 Open Handicap Trot. In his second try at the open level, he will have Tim Tetrick in the sulky with morning line odds set at 7-1. Seasoned Saint will start to Bluebird Jesse’s inside as the 5-2 favorite while In Secret is 5-1 from post seven in his return from the Cutler Memorial. Melady’s Monet will start from the outside post at odds of 20-1. Gonna Fly, Uva Hanover, Buen Camino, and Mostinterestingman complete the lineup. “I was concerned a little bit moving up to that level. It’s definitely tougher, but I think his versatility, his handiness, and his will to race right now – obviously he’s not going to beat those horses every week, but I think when he’s able to draw the inside and the tougher ones draw the outside, I think he’ll be able to beat those horses,” Di Domenico said. “His handiness is going to keep him in a lot of races and it’s going to let him earn a pretty good living in that class. “He’s got the six. Tim is going to have to look over and see what the inside looks like and make the call at the gate,” he continued. “The race is certainly a little tougher than it was last week. Those are open trotters at any track at any level. In a perfect world, I’d love to see him trotting home strong, I’d love to see him win.” First post time Saturday at Yonkers is 6:50 p.m. The 12-race card also features a $44,000 Open Pace, three divisions of the W. N. Reynolds Memorial for 3-year-old pacing fillies, and three divisions of the Reynolds for 3-year-old pacing colts. For entries to the card, click here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – New Zealand-bred mare Shartin has proven to be aggressive by nature since arriving in the stable of Jim King late last fall. Described by her former harness racing trainer Dean Braun as a bit bossy, Shartin’s eagerness finally got the better of her in the last preliminary leg of the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series April 13.  Established as the 1-5 favorite off three impressive series victories in the preceding weeks, Shartin surprised punters and her trainer when she broke into a gallop as the wings of the gate folded. Although she recovered her stride as the field entered the first turn, Shartin became rough-gaited and again rolled off stride just before the half. She finished eighth beaten 7¼ lengths, her first finish outside the exacta in nine stateside starts. “She was overly aggressive. I don’t have a real good explanation about what happened, I sure know it wasn’t very pleasing,” King remarked. “The first one I could explain because she was overly aggressive and just had a gate problem, which we can work with. The second break, I was a lot more concerned about that.” Although Shartin’s streak of wins in the first three legs of the series earned her a place in the final and boosted her record to 14-for-22 with $182,492 earned, it may have also contributed to her mishap last week. With enough points accumulated, King gave the 5-year-old daughter of Tintin in America a week off, skipping leg four. Shartin came back too fresh and aggressive last week. The ease of her wins has also means King doesn’t truly know how well Shartin can handle the half-mile track. “At this point, we really don’t know quite what she is. I certainly don’t think we’ve seen her limit,” King said. “We don’t know what she thinks of a half-mile track that much because she’s never been out of the handholds; she’s been in-hand at all times. Timmy’s given her such wonderful trips that she hasn’t had to go to work yet.” Shartin and regular driver Tim Tetrick will start from post one as the 8-5 favorite in tonight’s $373,000 Matchmaker Series Final. She will face seven rivals: Sell A Bit, Medusa, Lady Shadow, Motu Moonbeam, Dudesalady, Twinkle, and Lakeisha Hall. King took several steps this week to have Shartin primed for the final. First, he adjusted her new hopples to more closely match the set that shipped with her from Australia. Next, after consulting with down under conditioners, he trained Shartin Friday morning (April 20) to expend some of her pent-up energy.  “I actually did take her hopples up a little. They were pretty new hopples, so not the ones she came with. I got the hopples out that she came to this country with and measured them up and they were a smidgen longer, not much, so I took them up a little. We made a little adjustment on her head, nothing major,” King explained. “I actually trained her some (Friday) to try to take some of the spitfire out of her where usually I train horses three days out and leave it at that,” King continued. “It’s been ok for the weeks we were racing weekly, but this time she was just awfully fresh. She was really eager, so I’m just trying to do something a little different that I think might suit her. That is one of the things they’ll do down under is give a horse a little work the day before to try to take the edge off them.” With the final looming and adjustments made, King hopes he has Shartin poised for a top effort tonight. Most of all, he wants to put last week’s breaks in the rear-view mirror and look forward to the races ahead. “We really have got to try to put that behind us. We really can’t go in with a fear factor, that’s for sure. At the same time, we’ve got to be concerned and know that she’s capable of making a mistake,” King said. “I don’t think there’s anybody in there who’s stronger than she is. From here, it’s all her and Timmy.” In addition to Shartin, King will start Christen Me in the $100,000 George Morton Levy Series Consolation. Although Christen Me seeks his first win of the year, an inside post position draw off a pair of good races earned him morning line favoritism at 9-5. King will also start Newborn Sassy in a $40,000 Mares FFA Pace for Matchmaker Series eligibles. She is the 8-5 early choice. “We have a great opportunity tomorrow,” King said. “The stage is set for us to have a really happy night or a really disappointing night, but we’re expecting the best.” First post time tonight night is 6:50 p.m. For entries to the million-dollar card, click here.   By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY  

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