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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  

YONKERS, N.Y. – Harness racing trainer Ron Burke will start one horse each in the Blue Chip Matchmaker and George Morton Levy Series Finals at Yonkers Raceway on Saturday night (April 21) and both will start from a disadvantageous post position. In a random draw, Lakeisha Hall and Rockin Ron both burdened with post eight. Despite the bad luck, Burke is keeping a positive attitude and isn’t surrendering before races even begin. “It’s awesome,” Burke said with a laugh. “I race in a lot of big races, so sooner or later you always have it, but you hate to start the year off with it. If anything, we’re going to err on the side of aggressiveness. I’d rather be parked and sit last and get nothing. If I get parked, maybe find a hole fourth or fifth, maybe upset the apple cart, but the idea of sitting eighth doesn’t appeal to me in either race. I’m not just going out there to take a ride around the track. I want to give my horses a chance.” George Brennan will drive the Lakeisha Hall, a 15-1 shot in the $373,000 Matchmaker Final, carded as race nine on the loaded 12-race program. In post position order, they will face Shartin, the 8-5 favorite, Sell A Bit, Medusa, Lady Shadow, Motu Moonbeam, Dudesalady, and Twinkle.  Lakeisha Hall’s path to the Matchmaker Final included a fifth in week one in her first start off the bench, a second to last year’s Matchmaker champion Mackenzie in leg two, a pair of victories in weeks three and four, and a third last week to rivals Dudesalady and Lady Shadow. Except in her first start, she’s been forwardly placed in all her races thus far. “She’s a very good mare and I’ve been very happy with her until her last start,” Burke said. “She had a little tie up issue last week and we got her through it, but I think it took just a little of the sharpness off her. I look for her to bounce back and be super this week. I thought, I’ve done the right thing to prep for this race, this is her home, so I have her ready to go.” Burke purchased Lakeisha Hall as a weanling with ambitions of her becoming a Kentucky Sire Stakes Champion. The daughter of Third Straight out of the Art Major mare Lantana accomplished that mission, winning the $175,000 KYSS Finals at ages 2 and 3. Now a 5-year-old, she’s exceeded expectations, earning 21 wins and $491,043 in 53 starts. The Matchmaker Final will be the biggest race of her career thus far. “We set out with a plan to win the Kentucky Sire Stakes those two years and we went out and bought three weanlings. We looked them over, broke them for a month, and then sold the other two and decided to try to keep the best one,” Burke explained. “The plan worked to perfection. She was 2- and 3-year-old champ and has been more than just a Kentucky Sire Stakes horse, so we were thrilled. “She really doesn’t have many stakes other than this and for her to draw the eight hole, that hurt, but it is what it is,” Burke continued. “Try to move on, at least get something. Crazy things will happen in these races, there’s a lot of money up for grabs. There will be constant movement in here, even if I have to be the one making the movement.” In the $532,000 Levy Final one race later, Yannick Gingras will drive Rockin Ron. The 20-1 morning line shot’s road to the series final was shaky. He posted a pair of victories in legs one and two and finished second by a nose to Western Fame in leg three before finishing fifth beaten 4 lengths in week four. Burke gave Rockin Ron the last week off and narrowly made the final. With 230 points earned, Rockin Ron was ranked eighth in the standings, only six points ahead of Missile J in ninth. “I thought I did the right thing and I had to sweat it out with Rockin Ron. I gave him last week off,” Burke said. “Usually, you do what’s right for the horse and they do race well for you in the long run. I had a great feel going into the race, I thought, if I can draw in the right spot we can be competitive. We got the eight, I said, ‘you’ve got to be kidding me.’ ” Although his races look good on paper, Burke doesn’t feel Rockin Ron, a $1.1 million earner who twice beat Wiggle It Jiggleit at 4, has been up to par in any of his races in the series. Burke was more impressed with the 6-year-old son of Real Desire’s qualifier and seasonal debut at the Meadowlands in February than his series wins. “Honestly, I haven’t been happy with any of his races. The race that he really raced well was the race he was second in. The next week, I didn’t feel like at any point he had pace, Burke said. “I pulled blood, I didn’t like his blood. I haven’t liked his stomach since he came back. That’s why I made the decision, sink or swim, I’m giving him the week off and going to try and get him right and get him ready for the final.  “We’ve done a lot of work on him the last couple weeks and I do think that he will be better,” Burke continued. “I look for him to be way improved this week.” In post-position order, Western Fame, Dr J Hanover, defending series champion Keystone Velocity, Evenin Of Pleasure, Somewhere In L A, Mach It So, and 2016 series champion Bit Of A Legend will start to Rockin Ron’s inside in the Levy Final.  First post time Saturday night is 6:50 p.m. For entries to the million-dollar card, click here.   By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Although trainer Ron Burke has sent out more than 40,000 starters who have earned more than $194 million in purses, he’s never had the opportunity to work with a French trotter. That will change this spring when Burke, Mike Lachance, and Ray Schnittker travel to France to purchase 24 trotters for the French American Trotting Club, the Standardbred Owners Association of New York’s pioneering effort to bring a contingent of European horses to compete at Yonkers Raceway. “Going over there, it will be a completely new thing for me. That I’m excited to see,” Burke said. “I’ve heard the training centers there are incredible, like nothing we have over here. I’ve never been to France, so I’m excited to go there, meet the people, see a different way of racing. I’m anxious to see it.” The Club will see the 24 selected horses randomly distributed to 24 registered owners and trainers. A few months after the horses arrive in New York, they will be eligible to compete in a multi-leg series with a $100,000 final. The program is aimed at strengthening the trotting fields on Yonkers Sunday programs, which are simulcast to France. “I love the whole idea of the program,” Burke said. “I think it’s forward-thinking and exciting. It really is interesting to bring the horses over here, see how they adapt, and see who does the best with them, and how they’re received by both the American public and by the French. They may bet even more on them because they know the horses.” The trio of American representatives will travel to France in late May to select the horses from a sale organized by LeTrot. Each of the 24 trotters selected will be a gelding aged 4-year-old and up of comparable talent. The ability to navigate the half-mile oval at Yonkers will be the biggest factor in selecting the trotters, Burke said. “The biggest things you’re going to look for are gait and some semblance of speed, that they show some ability to trot fast at least for a piece,” Burke explained. “But the biggest thing, you don’t want to go over there and buy bad-gaited horses, horses that are bred more for distance and less for speed. You’re going to look for horses that will like the American game even better.” In addition to the inspections typical of most sales around the world, the trainers will also have the ability to train each horse before deciding which ones to bring across the Atlantic. Burke feels getting hands-on with the horses will play to his strengths.  “Getting to watch them is great, but for me, sitting behind them is such a bigger advantage,” he said. “I do think I have a good feel for that. I probably train more horses than any guy in the country just due to the fact that I have such big barns and I train a lot. I spend a lot of time sitting behind trainers, so I’m actually excited to go over there and see if I can help in that way to pick out the horses that are competitive.”  Although he’s reached the pinnacles of the sport over the last 10 years, Burke hasn’t become complacent. He is excited for the rare opportunity to work collaboratively with and learn from mentors Lachance and Schnittker. “That was part of the draw to me was Ray and Mike. They are two very good horsemen who are also two of the best guys in the game,” Burke said. “To me, it’s one of the best parts of it. For me to go over there, it’s a chance to learn more from the best guys in the sport and two of the best personalities. To me, I’m very excited for that part of it.” Burke also hopes to study the differences between American and French training and racing. After a weeklong trip to Sweden proved influential on the conditioner, he is excited to discover unfamiliar techniques and methods that can be applied to the horses competing the Club and beyond. “Once you stop learning, you stop winning,” he said. “You’ve got to learn from everybody and these are two of the best and we’re going to meet the best French trainers. The time I went to Sweden, I learned so much in just the week I was there and saw things done totally different than we did over here. A lot of the stuff I do now, I justify like, ‘if it works over there, why can’t it work here?’  “Over there, nobody wears boots hardly. They just take them off. They end up taking shoes off,” he continued. “Why can they do it and we can’t? They strip the horses down compared to what we do. It was a completely different outlook.” Burke sees the French American Trotting Club as a great opportunity to try something new with minimal risk. In addition to its potential to spur more competitive trotting fields and encourage stronger international wagering, he feels the Club keeps the sport fresh and fun. “It’s a great idea, I don’t see a downside to it,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of owners and trainers who are really going to enjoy this and that’s the thing about the game. I want to make money, but the other thing about that game is it has to be fun and this is going to be fun, it’s going to be interesting, it’s going to be different. I’m excited to be a part of it.” In March, a total of 24 different owners each made a deposit of $10,000 to participate in the French American Trotting Club and acquire a trotter. Those owners are reminded that the balance of $18,000 is due on or before April 26. Le Trot will present horses for selection to the American trainers on the week of May 28 and the horses will be shipped back to New York and go through quarantine in mid-June. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – If Mackenzie gets a chance to defend her harness racing title in the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series Final April 21, no one will be able to say she didn’t earn it. A streak of outside post positions and an unplanned absence from leg four of the series for open pacing mares means Mackenzie is ranked eighth by points heading into the last preliminary leg. Although she drew post seven again this week, trainer Pete Tritton is keeping a positive attitude. “My first reaction was, ‘well, if she gets into (the final), that’s one more chance she’s got to draw good,’ so I always try to look on the bright side,” he said. “It’s a great series and you’ve got to have luck and ability. We knew that when we went in.” After finishing second to Lady Shadow in her lone qualifier March 9, Mackenzie started the 2018 season by finishing last in the opening leg of the Matchmaker from post seven. She overcame the same post in leg two, circling the field to score a 1:53.1 victory March 23. In her most recent effort March 30, Mackenzie started from post six and sustained a first-over bid from 8 1/4 lengths behind to wear down Newborn Sassy by a measured half-length in 1:54.1 with regular driver Jordan Stratton in the sulky. “I always thought she was a good mare, but she was a bit rank early and Jordan really looked after her when we raced her last year,” Tritton said. “I think she’s a lot stronger this year, a lot more versatile. I’m pretty impressed with her. She is staked to all the big races all over America, so I’ve got a lot of confidence in her. She’s very strong.” Outside draws aren’t the only obstacle Mackenzie will have to overcome to make it back to the Matchmaker Final. A scare in the barn last week caused the daughter of Rock N Roll Heaven to miss a chance to race in leg four of the series. Tritton has trained her since the incident and feels she is ready for this week’s race. “She just got a little bit of a bump on her tendon, which has been looked at and it’s alright. I think she just must have whacked it in the stall or out in the field. Hopefully that won’t come back to haunt her at all,” Tritton explained. “I didn’t plan to take the week off because she didn’t get any points the first time. You’ve got to deal with the cards you’ve got and she drew bad, so we just hope that she can overcome it with her ability and she has no more problems.” Mackenzie is the 5-2 morning line favorite in the first of three $40,000 Matchmaker divisions Friday night (April 13). Motu Moonbeam, third in the standings, will start from the rail while series leader Lakeisha Hall drew post three. Seventh-ranked Lady Shadow will start from post four and will also look to secure her spot in the final. “She’ll be fine for Friday night, she’s just probably going to have to do a little work and have a hard run to get it done because it looks like there’s a lot of speed inside her and she’s going to have to come from the back again, which does make it hard,” Tritton said. “I’ll leave it to Jordan, who’s done a good job from the bad draws to get it done the last two weeks, so I’m hoping that everything will work out. “I still don’t think she’s at her top. I think if we can get her through this week, we’ll have her right at the top for the following week,” Tritton continued. “She’s the whole package. She’s very strong, she keeps going, but she does have tremendous speed. Jordan tries to look after her and not really ask her for top speed, but when she has to, she can really go fast.” Tritton will also try to qualify Sell A Bit for the Matchmaker Final Friday night. Ranked 15th in the standings and in need of a victory to have a chance at making the main event, the 8-year-old daughter of Julius Caesar will start from the rail in division two. After posting a wire-to-wire win in leg one and consecutive fourth-place finishes in legs two and three, the 27-time winner and $746,506-earner is a 7-2 morning line chance. “I was a little but disappointed last time. She got a good trip and just battled to the line. Her other runs have been good, but she’s had a little bit of an issue in one foot,” Tritton explained. “I trained her the other day and I thought she worked better than she ever did since I’ve had her, so I’m quietly confident that she’ll be right there on Friday night and be a contender to get back into the final. If not, the consolation, but she’s really good at the moment and I think that week off has done her a world of good.” While Mackenzie and Sell A Bit are under pressure to make the Matchmaker Final, Tritton won’t feel the same stress with Bit Of A Legend in the final preliminary leg of the George Morton Levy Series Saturday night (April 14). After posting an impressive 1:53.3 win in week one and a 1:53.2 win last week, the 2016 series champion is ranked second by points. “I’m definitely sure he’s better than he was at this time last year. I think if he draws reasonable and luck goes his way, he’ll be really, really hard to beat,” Tritton said. “I’m sure there’s no better horse in it and you’ve just got to have luck in the draws and luck in running, but I’m fairly confident with him if he draws good because he’s very versatile. He can sit and sprint, he can do a lot of work, he’s got good gate speed. “I’m confident that the horse is 100-percent right and right on his game,” he continued. “Now we’ve got to get the other things to fit into place, but that’s racing. It’s exciting to be involved and to think you’re a chance. Hopefully it works out. It doesn’t always, like last year, but it’s good to be a chance.” Tritton is happy to have Bit Of A Legend back in the barn this year. Although retirement to stallion duty was floated for the $1.9 million earning son of Bettor’s Delight at the end of the 2017 racing season, Tritton and the Vonknoblauch family, who owns Bit Of A Legend, Mackenzie, and Sell A Bit, consider themselves racers first and are happy to keep their star on the track for as long as he continues to enjoy his work. “I think he’d be a nice stud horse, particularly because he’s so good-gaited and he’s got no problems, he wears no boots. I think he’d be a good sire for New York to race on the smaller tracks in the stakes races,” Tritton said. “But he keeps turning up and winning five- or six-hundred-thousand every year and he doesn’t seem to have any lameness issues and he enjoys his work. “I keep thinking every year we’ll probably retire him, but it’s a tough business being a stallion, too. He’ll keep racing while I think he’s going as good as he is now. We’re here to race horses, we’re not really breeders. Same with Mackenzie. We got offered a lot of money for Mackenzie as a broodmare back in New Zealand last year after she won the Matchmaker, but as I say, we race them.” Bit Of A Legend is a 7-2 morning line chance from post seven in the third and final Levy preliminary Saturday night. Series leader Somewhere In L A will start to his immediate inside while fourth ranked Dr J Hanover drew post five. For Tritton, the prospects of Mackenzie and Bit Of A Legend each earning a chance to win their second titles in Yonkers’ signature races for older pacers is humbling. Achieving these feats at his home track is made better by his partnership with Stratton. “It’s very satisfying and it’s helped Jordan as well, which is great because he’s a great guy and a great driver. These races are not easy. A lot goes into it. It’s been very satisfying, and we’ll take it as it comes and hopefully we can get a good result again this year,” Tritton said. “Before I lived up here, I used to train in Delaware and I’d ship them up. I got a few into the finals over the years, I won a few preliminaries of the Levy, but the final was always beyond me,” he continued. “It does mean a lot because the main reason I moved up here was to race at Yonkers and these are the two signature races with my horses, so it’s very satisfying.” First post time Friday and Saturday night at Yonkers is 6:50 p.m. To view 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. – Harness racing trainer Paul Blumenfeld will start two horses in the fourth leg of the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series at Yonker's Raceway Friday night (April 6). Vintage Babe and Motu Moonbeam, who both started from post eight last week, each drew the rail in their respective divisions this week. Blumenfeld sees the draw as an opportunity to win key points toward in the final when series leaders Shartin, Twinkle, and Mackenzie took the week off. “They’re just really nice horses and it’s a great race. The Matchmaker and the Levy, it’s just exciting,” Blumenfeld said. “I think they fit good. Obviously, you have those horses that are winning who are impressive, like Mackenzie and Shartin, that have been racing super. But everybody’s trying to get their horse into the final. It’s a hard series because you’re racing a lot. But say you’re in the final, everybody goes. I don’t think there’s going to be a standout.” Blumenfeld acquired Vintage Babe last fall after longtime friend, trainer and owner Jim Ellison passed away. Vintage Babe had been racing at the Open level at Hawthorne and Hoosier Park and Blumenfeld saw the opportunity to bring her back to Yonkers. “I was friends with Jimmy for years, I knew him for a long time when I raced in Illinois and he passed on and his wife sold all the horses and she was one of them,” Blumenfeld said. “A guy called me and said she was for sale and asked if I’d be interested in looking at her. So I flew to Illinois and looker her over and bought her. She’s got some sentimental value in her for that aspect.” Vintage Babe previously raced at Yonkers in her 4-year-old season. She made the final of last year’s Petticoat Series after overcoming early breaks in stride in both of her starts in the Petticoat preliminary legs for trainer Ed Gannon. Maturity and some equipment changes on Blumenfeld’s part have helped the 5-year-old daughter of Vintage Master stay flat on the half-mile track since returning to Yonkers last October. “When she raced here last year, she raced for another trainer and she used to make breaks. She made breaks, but she still raced fantastic,” Blumenfeld said. “She had done a great job for Jimmy on the bigger track. When I brought her to Yonkers, it was a little touch-and-go if she would get around it and she did well. She did mature. Made some changes, made a few rigging changes, shoeing changes.” Although she won a $22,500 overnight wire-to-wire in 1:53.1 in her first start for Blumenfeld October 20 and took a $20,000 overnight in 1:55.4 in similar fashion January 19, Vintage Babe hadn’t competed at the Open level at Yonkers when Blumenfeld decided to nominate her to the Matchmaker Series. The talent he saw in those wins gave him the confidence to pay her in. “She did a good job when she won, she showed a lot of ability,” Blumenfeld said. “She won here one night on the front end really impressively and then she raced a couple times from off the pace and she just keeps coming. She’s been very unlucky in the legs so far because she’s been coming, but she hasn’t been drawing good or hasn’t had good racing luck.” Vintage Babe is ranked 22nd by points heading into leg four after finishing fourth and third in weeks one and two, respectively. The outside draw last week hindered her chances, but Blumenfeld expects driver Brent Hollard to race her aggressively this week. Vintage Babe is a 6-1 morning line in the first $40,000 Matchmaker split of the night, a field that includes Lady Shadow as the 8-5 favorite. “I’m hoping she’s close to the front the whole mile,” he said. “With any racing luck, I’m expecting her to race good.” While Vintage Babe was a relatively new acquisition for Blumenfeld, Motu Moonbeam is a stable stalwart. The New Zealand-bred daughter of Bettor’s Delight came to Blumenfeld at the end of her 4-year-old season in 2016. Unlike in Vintage Babe’s case, when he made the trip to inspect his prospect in person, Blumenfeld relies on his own research and a handful of close advisors when making a purchase from Down Under. “When I buy horses Down Under, I have an agent that calls me on a bunch and I watch the one he calls on, plus I look at the other ones in the race and I kind of weed through a lot and I found that I liked Motu Moonbeam because she was a green horse and she went through the ranks for us and has done a good job.” Motu Moonbeam has raced exclusively at Yonkers since arriving stateside. When she began her U.S. career in June 2016, she was still eligible for the non-winners of four pari-mutuel races lifetime condition. She won her way out of the conditions and worked her way to the Filly and Mare Open Handicap by November 2016. Vintage Babe earned her first win in Yonkers’ top class for distaffers with a pace-setting 1:54.4 score January 26, 2018. “It’s very satisfying. It’s like getting a baby and bringing it to the races. It’s really gratifying breaking a baby and watching him or her go through the ranks and develop. It was the same thing with her,” Blumenfeld said. Although bettors dismissed Motu Moonbeam as a 47-1 outsider in the Matchmaker first leg March 16, she overcame post six to finish second to Shartin. Despite her good showing week one, another outside draw made her a 36-1 chance in week two. Motu Moonbeam rallied from 9 ¼ lengths behind into a slow :57.1 half to win leg two in 1:54.3. Her placings earned her 155 points for a fifth-place ranking in the series standings coming into leg four. “I actually loved her, I just didn’t like the draw. I just knew if they mixed it up or made a mistake, sometimes, if you go too slow, a horse like her can pick up the pieces too,” Blumenfeld explained. “They bunch up on the last turn and she can just swoop them. I told the owners in every leg, I think she’s good.” After finishing fifth from post eight last week, Motu Moonbeam is a 7-1 morning line in leg four. The division’s 9-5 favorite Lakeisha Hall, a winner in the series last week, will start to Motu Moonbeam’s immediate outside. Although Motu Moonbeam has mainly been a closer since she began racing at Yonkers, Blumenfeld expects her to be a factor early in this spot. As with Vintage Babe, Brent Holland will drive. “She has tremendous gate speed. She has done the work on the front end, she can leave fast, she’s quick out of the gate,” he said. “She can do it both ways, but to keep longevity on horses, you can’t zing them every week. “All I can say is I’d like to see her race good. I really don’t tell the drivers what to do because anything can happen when the gate springs,” he continued. “I’m assuming he’s going to leave to either be on the front or get good position. If I were driving her, that’s what I would be doing.” First post time Friday night is 6:50 p.m. For entries for the card, click here. To view the Matchmaker Series point standings, click here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

Yonkers, NY --- Harness racing trainer Jenny Melander started two horses in the $100,000 Yonkers Raceway/SOA of NY Bonus Trotting Series last year, Golden Son and Ameliosi, who finished third and fifth, respectively. In addition, Ontheroad De Vie claimed the runner-up spot in the $25,000 consolation for series eligibles on the same card. When the four-week series starts anew Tuesday (April 3), Melander will send out a formidable foursome. For her, the series has become a prime target for talented trotters to jump start their 4-year-old seasons. “We’re not as big as the biggest stables, but we try to get the best value out of the horses for our owners and with that, it seems to work out that we keep the 3-year-olds that haven’t made enough money so they still fit the series, and they can have a good and healthy 4-year-old season. And if we can buy a horse who fits the series, that’s great as well,” Melander said. “I think that series is one of the best series there is for the amount of money you spend to be in it and the number of starts you can get in for that kind of money,” she continued. “It’s a good series and we’ve had good luck in it in the past, so I don’t see why we shouldn’t keep aiming for it.” Melander’s stable is now 35 strong in total. She prides herself on showing continuous improvement in each of her six years since she went out on her own as a trainer, both in quality and in quantity. In 2017, her horses earned $1,266,587, a personal best. “I’m very happy with the progress we’ve made over the last few years and where we’re at now, I think we have better quality each year and I think this year we have a little better quality than last year,” she said. Melander commented on each of the four horses she will start in the $25,000 divisions of the series’ first leg: Race 2 – Division One #1 Frankie Mullins 5-2 (Jason Bartlett) Belmar Racing’s 4-year-old son of Muscle Massive is 4-for-27 with $94,092 earned. The gelding earned multiple placings in the Pennsylvania Stallion Series last year before ending the season with a string of off-the-board finishes at Yonkers and Harrah's Philadelphia. After a winter break, Frankie Mullins qualified back March 6 and finished third and fifth in two starts at Pocono on March 17 and 23, respectively. “We’ve had him since halfway through his 2-year-old year. He’s a good horse, he tries, he always gives it what he can, he gets around the half good. Not a top-of-the-line horse, but he’s a grinder and he always does well, he always tries. He’s improved a bit, he’s filled out a bit, gotten a little bigger. I give pretty much all my horses a winter break, I think they deserve it. He’s come back good. He had a good first start at Pocono when he finished third and then last week he got locked in on the rail, but he should be ready on Tuesday.” Race 6 – Division Four #3 Meadowbrook Glider 9-5 (Jason Bartlett) A $25,000 buy for John Devito from the Ohio Blooded Horse Sale last May, Meadowbrook Glider has proved a challenge for Melander. Although he’s shown talent, trotting to a 1:54.4 victory at Pocono last season, the 5-year-old son of Justice Hall makes frequent breaks in stride. After a change in equipment following his latest break March 9 led to two strong races -- a third from post seven at Yonkers March 18 and a win at Pocono March 24 -- Melander feels more confident in the gelding coming into the series. “He’s a little bit trickier. He’s really fast, he showed his speed last year. He’s had a little tougher time coming back this year and getting gaited. He still sits on a ton of speed, it’s just a matter of keeping him sound and focused enough. He’s switched to the pace a couple times and his mind wanders off and you have to get him focused. We just put the racer pads on him up front. That’s what he had last year and I think he just needs them. He loves the racer pads and they seem to work for him. “You have to drive him up in the bit, keep his attention. I was very happy with his last start at Pocono where he showed he’s still got it. The talent is there, but you have to drive him and hold him together at the same time. He raced good at Yonkers when he finished third and he came flying late from the back of the pack and was four-wide on the last turn, so that was a good effort as well. He’s had two solid races now after a few miscues early on.” Race 7 – Division Five #5 Chapter Too 2-1 (Andy Miller) Belmar Racing paid $70,000 at Harrisburg last fall to acquire New York Sire Stakes finalist Chapter Too, a daughter of Chapter Seven out of the Kadabra mare Wood Blue Chip. She won her debut for Melander off the winter layoff at the Meadowlands March 9 before finishing second by a nose after sustaining a long first-over charge in her next outing March 17. In her most recent start, Chapter Too earned her fifth career win and pushed her earnings to $159,908 when she won a Meadowlands overnight in 1:54.1. “From the second she came into our barn, I really liked her. She is a lovely, lovely horse. The owner is planning to breed her eventually, she’s pretty well-bred and we’re hoping to make some money with her during her 4-year-old year. She sits on a ton of speed, she’s a very classy mare. We already know she can get around a half-mile track, we just wanted to get a few starts into her before going to Yonkers. “She’s an all-around mare. She can leave, she can sit back, she can pretty much do whatever you want her to do. The first week, obviously after just one qualifier, she needed to be raced following something. She got a beautiful trip and everything was good. The following week, she had to race a little tougher than what we initially hoped for, but she’s a tough mare, it didn’t do anything bad to her. I thought she fought it out all the way and after a tough race, only lost by a small bit. Then, just showing how good a mare she is, she just got better after that. In her last start at the Meadowlands, (Andy Miller) never even pulled the plugs. She kind of has a little funky way of going at times, her action isn’t 100 percent clear, but I think that’s just the way she goes.” Race 9 – Division Six #6 Ontheroad De Vie 5-1 (Jim Marohn Jr.) Immediately after Ontheroad De Vie finished second in a series consolation last year, it was obvious something was amiss. Melander soon discovered the gelded son of Holiday Road fractured a bone in his hoof and spent the rest of the year nurturing him back to health. The 6-year-old won for the first time since his injury when he captured a $3,100 overnight from post eight at Monticello March 26. “We wanted to sell him in the January sale last year. He was racing really well for us in the fall and into the winter, but nobody really wanted to pay any money for him, so we ended up buying him back. From the sale until the end of the series, he had a great time and was making great money every start and really consistent. He’s not a top-of-the-line horse, but he shows up and he tries and he’s consistent. He makes good money doing that. “Then unfortunately he broke his coffin bone in the consolation. When he came off the track, he was limping and before we left the paddock, he was crippled. We spent all summer just getting him back. It was a pretty bad break, so we didn’t know how good of a horse he was going to be coming back, but he’s come back sound and good and I think he’s just about the same horse he was when he broke down. He’s been good to us and I’m glad we could be good to him and get him back to where he’s doing good. We’re lucky that we can stay eligible to the series again.” by Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY 

YONKERS, N.Y. – As the leading driver at Yonkers Raceway in each of the past four seasons, including last year when horses he drove earned $10.4 million, harness racing driver Jason Bartlett finds himself in an unusual position three months into the 2018 season: in second place. Although his 104 victories at the meet are 36 more than George Brennan’s 68 wins, Bartlett trails Jordan Stratton by nine wins with a quarter of the season in the books. Although he calls it a slow start by his standards, Bartlett’s competitive mindset looks forward, not back. “I had a real slow winter meet, but everything is picking up now,” Bartlett said. “My main barns weren’t racing a lot of horses. It happens, I guess. There’s some things you can’t control and that’s one of them. I guess it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” One of the main trainers Bartlett drives for, Rich Banca, went 6-for-61 in January, the stable heated up as the Matchmaker and Levy series approached, going 25 for its next 135 through March 28. Bartlett will drive in all eight of this weekend’s Blue Chip Matchmaker and George Morton Levy series divisions and he drives for Banca in six of them. As the Blue Chip Matchmaker and George Morton Levy Series continues into their third legs this weekend, Bartlett continues to be impressed by the competitiveness of each series. Six different horses have won the first seven division of the Matchmaker while seven unique horses captured the first nine Levy splits. “The great thing about it this year is you have your top-level horses in there, but some of the horses who are maybe not as talented can beat the better horses because of the post positions, the bad draws, bad spots,” he explained. “I think both the Matchmaker and the Levy are great this year because right now it’s been post position draws that have won the races. It’s going to be interesting. Now more so than most years, because there’s so many different horses winning, the wins really matter. Coming down to the wire, it’s going to be very interesting.” Bartlett gave his thoughts on each horse he will drive in the series. Friday March 30, 2018: Blue Chip Matchmaker Series Third Leg Race 6 – Division One #5 Mach It A Par 7-2 (Tr. Rich Banca) A 39-time winner and earner of $783,847, Mach It A Par is a two-time finalist of the Matchmaker Series. She was unplaced in her first three starts of the year, but strung together consecutive wins in a $25,000 overnight and a $30,000 Filly and Mare Preferred entering the series. After finishing fourth from post seven in leg one, Mach It A Par finished second to L A Delight in leg two. She will get a rematch with that rival tonight. “She’s been good. All year she’s been pretty consistent. In the right spots, she’s done her job. She’s the best she’s been in a long time. I was very happy the way she finished up last week. We’re in kind of a tough spot on the outside of the gate, so if we can work out a trip with her, second- or third-over, she could be pretty good. Last week was very good seeing her like that again.” Race 7 – Division Two #1 Lady Shadow 5-2 (Tr. Rich Banca) Champion mare Lady Shadow joined the Banca ranks last fall and made her seasonal debut a winning one when she captured leg one of the Matchmaker wire-to-wire in 1:53.4. Although $1.9 million earner finished fourth as the odds-on favorite last week, Bartlett believes the trip got the better of her after he brushed her to the lead in a :55.4 half. Lady Shadow will face Shartin N this week, who is 2-for-2 in the Matchmaker. “Last week I used her a little bit too hard. We were going a pretty quick clip and then it slowed down real fast and I heard a little commotion behind me, so I had to move there or come first-over a little bit later. I decided just to move her to the front and she got a little tired there. If they would have gone a little bit faster to the half, I would have never moved her. They forced my hand. They went :26.1 and we were going really slow into the paddock turn and I didn’t want to shut her off, so I had to move her. We got the rail this week and it doesn’t look like we’re going to have to go :26.0, that’s for sure.” Race 8 – Division Three #6 Wishy Washy Girl 3-1 (Tr. Rich Banca) Five-year-old daughter of Roll With Joe returned with a lackluster sixth March 9, just a week before the series began. She skipped leg one of the series in favor of a $20,000 overnight March 16 and won by 6 ¾ lengths in 1:54.2. Last week, Bartlett drove her to a wire-to-wire score in the Matchmaker second leg, where she beat first leg winner Twinkle. “If you’re going into that series, you’re going to want to be kind of sharp. It was a step up for her anyways. For her to jump right in there not off a great race the week before, that would be asking a lot of her. We threw her in an overnight to see if she was going to be able to go with them and she proved that she could. Last week, she drew the rail and the good thing about her is she can leave the car really fast and then she’s really handy afterwards. Last week, we had the horse to beat on our back and was able to not let them out. That’s what she can do; she’s able to put better horses in bad spots because she’s so handy. Do I think I would I have been able to beat that hose if I hadn’t been in front of her? Probably not. She’s just handy on the half-mile track, she can do anything you want her to do. It looks like a tough spot this week. We have some horses inside that can leave. I’m just going to read the gate and go from there.” Race 9 – Division Four #2 All About Madi 9-2 (Tr. Brittany Robertson) Daughter of Brandon’s Cowboy was unplaced in the first two legs of the series after putting together a string of on the board finishes in open company earlier this season. Bartlett will drive her for the first time since January 19 when she faded to finish fourth as the even-money favorite in a $25,000 overnight. “I think she’s been pretty good. I haven’t driven her since the beginning of the year, went off favored, put her on the front, she was no good. That’s really not her gig, racing her on the front probably wasn’t the best idea. She’s got a good spot. I’ve seen her a couple times, she’s been coming up the rail near the wire, she’s had a lot of pace. She’s one of those horses that you need a helmet and she’ll give you a good kick home, so that’s probably what I’ll try to do is get her on the right helmet and go from there.” Saturday March 31, 2018: George Morton Levy Series Third Leg Race 7 – Division One #5 Blood Brother 6-1 (Tr. Rich Banca) The 6-year-old son of Somebeachsomewhere is a 23-time winner, a $739,380-earner, and made the final of the series last year. Bartlett drove him to consecutive wins at the $20,000 level in the weeks leading up to the series, one in wire-to-wire fashion in 1:53.1 and one from off the pace in 1:54.2. Blood Brother finished a disappointing seventh beaten 11 lengths in the first leg of the series and skipped last week. Series standouts Mach It So and Missile J drew to his inside. “He’s just been ok this year so far. He was sick last week, so we gave him the week off. I really don’t know what to expect from him. He’s a nice little horse, he’s handy. I’ll just have to trip him out. It’s a pretty tough field of horses, it’s a pretty tough group.” Race 8 – Division Two #1 Another Daily Copy 4-1 (Tr. Rich Banca) Dismissed at odds of 25-1 last week, the 5-year-old son of Somebeachsomewhere rallied up the inside to finish third to Evenin Of Pleasure by 2 ¼ lengths in 1:53.3. He draws favorably this week and Bartlett looks to get an ideal trip behind Dr J Hanover, who won the first two legs of the series after setting slow half-mile fractions of :58.1 and :57.3, respectively. “Finished really well last week. I never left the rail with him, he kind of battled on. He came up the inside and actually had a lot of pace at the wire. Looks like hopefully we’ll get a decent trip again this week and he can be right there. He’s another horse that can beat some nice horses with a decent trip. I’ll probably push the rail and try and sit behind ‘Dr J.’ Dr J Hanover is a great horse obviously, but he hasn’t had to work for anything yet. We’ll see what happens when he has to work a little bit. The horse can leave with the car, sometimes the car can’t get out of the way fast enough, so that’s part of his game, leaving fast, shutting it down, and sprinting home. Looks like a good horse to follow.” Race 10 – Division Three #5 Killer Martini 6-1 (Tr. Ricky Bucci) Teamed with Bartlett to score two upset victories in the Open Handicap Pace in February before posting a string of four straight losses, including in leg one of the series March 17. The 6-year-old son of Camluck was scratched sick in leg two. He draws outside Western Fame, a winner in the series last week, Keystone Velocity, the series’ defending champion, and Rockin Ron, who is 2-for-2 to start the series. “We got a couple good races there in the Open two weeks in a row. We got fast halves, great trips, so that was good. He’s a nice little Yonkers horse, makes a lot of money. No gate speed, so we’re just going to be dependent on how the race develops and take it from there.” Race 11 – Division Four #5 Somewhere In L A 3-1 (Tr. Rich Banca) Finished second beaten a head by Keystone Velocity in the $529,000 final of the Levy Series last year, Somewhere In L A is a $1.4 million earning son of Somebeachsomewhere. Although his form tailed off at the end of 2017, Somewhere In L A returned a wire-to-wire winner in a $20,000 overnight March 3 and posted another pace-setting win the following week in a sharp 1:52.4. He finished second to Dr J Hanover in week one of the series and second to Western Fame last week. Bartlett was happy with the former effort, but blames himself for the most recent loss. “He qualified great, he raced great. The first race with ‘Dr J,’ I just didn’t want to get into a speed duel with that horse, so I elected to come first-over. I knew it was going to be a slow half, but he still grinded out a second, which is great. Last week, I think I lost the race. I shouldn’t have raced the horse on the backside as much as I did. I felt I had him beat. I think it was my fault, but he raced really well. He is a tough horse and he just doesn’t quit. He might not be the most talented, but he has a big heart and he’s pretty versatile. He’s just a nice horse all around. I think he might have caught one of the cheaper groups this week. All Bets Off had the outside the first week and we beat him. I’m not sure, he can go both ways, but he likes to be placed forward, so we’ll see.” By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – After finishing second to Rockin Ron in leg one of the George Morton Levy Pacing Series at Yonkers Raceway in his seasonal debut March 17, hasrness racing trainer Jenn Bongiorno is expecting Evenin of Pleasure to be even sharper in week two of the series. The 8-year-old will start from post three in the eighth race tonight (March 24), the second of four divisions of the Levy series on the 12-race Yonker's program. “Last week, I was so pleased. I thought it was a great start. Rockin Ron is probably one of the best horses in the series, we were not going to go by him that night, but I was really happy. I felt Evenin of Pleasure finished up well to stay that close to Rockin Ron,” Bongiorno said. “Rockin Ron already had a start, that was our first start. Second start this week, I think he’s in such a good spot. I’d like to see him control the race for sure.” Evenin of Pleasure came to Bongiorno’s barn in late February with his connections, owner Gestion Blais and trainer Travis Cullen, targeting the Levy Series. They initially intended to send Evenin of Pleasure to Ron Burke, who conditioned the horse during a stint of racing in the Yonkers Open Pace last summer. However, with Burke’s series entries maxed out, Bongiorno got the call. “Ron Burke couldn’t take the horse for the series because he has horses he owns himself, so he can’t put a horse he doesn’t own ahead of one that he does, so luckily the owner was pointed in our direction,” Bongiorno said. “You have that kind of a classy horse, the day he got to the barn, I just ran to his stall and gave him a hug. It’s such an honor to even be able to sit behind a horse like that and have the opportunity to race him in such a great series.” A 27-time winner from 126 starts, Evenin of Pleasure is a multiple stakes winner with $811,524 in earnings. Bongiorno says his class shows in the morning. “One thing I’ve definitely learned is better horses are better on the track. They aren’t the ones that grab on so much. They’re so smart and just perfect gentlemen basically,” she explained. “I can’t really say enough good things about him. Perfect in the barn, great attitude, turn him out every day. He seems to be really adjusting well to our program.” Although Evenin of Pleasure arrived with his own rigging, Bongiorno made some adjustments that she feels will help the son of Dragon Again stay sharp as the series goes on, such as a shoeing change that will help to combat Evenin of Pleasure’s habit of running down, or hitting his heels on the surface of the track when he races. “Right now, we have him completely off his rundown, so I think that could definitely be something in the series that will help him because that can definitely hurt a horse,” she said. “When horses run down, the back of their heels hit the ground. With his shoeing and changes we made with that, we were able to get him off that, so that’s a plus.” Evenin of Pleasure arrived at Bongiorno’s stable in New Jersey nearly ready to qualify. She trained him the week he arrived and planned to qualify him at Freehold the following week, with the aim of qualifying him a second time before starting him in the series. However, a winter storm threatened to derail Evenin of Pleasure’s schedule. “That first qualifier was actually supposed to be at Freehold and it was the day of the snowstorm. I was like, ‘oh my gosh, we have to get this horse qualified,’ because he needed two qualifiers and that first start was going to be the Levy. I was in pure panic mode, I really was,” Bongiorno said. Bongiorno reached out to the Meadowlands race office and got Evenin of Pleasure in to qualify there after Freehold canceled. He won that March 3 trial in 1:53.1, beating Sunfire Blue Chip and Always at My Place. Six days later, Evenin of Pleasure posted a 6-length score in a qualifier at Freehold. “I thought that was a really nice qualifier over some nice horses: Sunfire Blue Chip, Always at My Place, who won a leg of the series, so I knew that we were in the right direction,” Bongiorno commented. “Freehold that day, the track was so dead, it was just a dead track. He paced in 1:54.2. We were happy, but we thought he might need another start before he was in tip-top shape. I think second start he’ll definitely be tighter and better.” Evenin of Pleasure’s leg two rivals include Christen Me and All Bets Off, who each finished third in leg one of the series. Bongiorno is confident given her horse’s favorable draw as Christen Me and All Bets Off will start from posts six and seven, respectively. “When I saw the draw this week, I couldn’t have been happier,” Bongiorno said. “Christen Me is a nice horse, but I thought he had time last week to shake free and win, and he didn’t. All Bets Off is probably one of the top two in the series, but he didn’t look that good last week either and drawing post seven isn’t the easiest way of doing things. I think having the inside is definitely going to be to our advantage.” In addition to Evenin of Pleasure, Bongiorno will start longshot Franco Rayner in race 10, the third division of the Levy Series. After finishing fourth in leg one, the Australian import drew post seven tonight and is a 20-1 morning line. Although she believes he has talent, Bongiorno has yet to unlock his full potential. “I’ve been saying since we first bought him, I think he’s the real deal,” Bongiorno said. “Foreign horses, it takes time to get them to adapt to life here. It’s been a little bit of a battle with him. Last week, he did race well, he left great. He doesn’t have the respect yet because he’s not proven. Foreign horses have their little issues, we’ll work on it, like keeping him better hydrated. He’s going to need a little more attention because it seems like he can have issues.” First post time tonight is 6:50 p.m. For entries for the card, click here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

Two weeks ago, VIP Internet Stable’s Ed O’Connor, Tom Janes, and the partners in star pacer Keystone Velocity found themselves in a position they could have only dreamed a few short months earlier: accepting the Dan Patch Award for Older Pacing Male. For O’Connor, this underscored the record season VIP Stable had in 2017 and served as a reminder of why he created the harness racing syndicate back in 1999. “That’s the kind of thing that I don’t know Tom and I ever expected to be in consideration for,” O’Connor said. “The fact that we won was really cool. It’s clearly a small percentage, but how many of the folks who are involved with us would have a chance to race a horse of that caliber? “Years ago, we were just hoping we could get an open pacer,” he continued. “Having a big Saturday night horse is what people get into this business for and it doesn’t get any bigger than that kind of Saturday night horse. Those are the fun ones.” Owned in partnership with Allard Racing, Kapildeo Singh, and Earl Hill, Jr. and trained by Rene Allard, Keystone Velocity won the George Morton Levy Series Final at Yonkers Raceway and the Ben Franklin Memorial at Pocono Downs before ending his 2017 season with a win in the Potomac Pace at Rosecroft Raceway. He earned $783,422, boosting VIP Stable’s earnings to $3,009,443. On the whole, the partnership won 137 of 739 starts. “It was a huge year, it was by far our best,” O’Connor said. “The USTA started putting out new reports about ownership and wins. Clearly, I wanted to see where we were, and it was pretty fun to see VIP Internet Stable in the top dozen in wins and money earned and that’s against Burke, Weaver Bruscemi, everybody. “It’s hard to say we didn’t have a breakout year,” he continued. “Keystone Velocity was huge, but Charmed Life was a really fun horse to get, Giveitgasnandgo made it to the Hambletonian. We just had exciting thing after exciting thing happen last year and knock on wood, hopefully the luck continues. We just put ourselves in a position to get some good horses and they came through for us. It was a fun year.” Now 10 years old, Keystone Velocity will return to action in the first leg of the George Morton Levy Series this Saturday (March 17) at Yonkers. The son of Western Hanover posted two qualifiers in preparation for his comeback, finishing second in a trial at Yonkers February 23 before winning a Pocono Downs qualifier by 9 ½ lengths in 1:52.1 March 6. “Rene just can’t stop saying nice things about him. He’s fresh, he’s ready to go,” O’Connor said. “It’s a hard division, they go fast in every race. We’ll knock heads with the best of them and hope we can take home some money again. It was really exciting last year. If we can do half that well this year, it will be a lot of fun.” Keystone Velocity will start from post seven in the second Levy division Saturday night and will face Australian star Waikiki Beach, who will start from post five. While Keystone Velocity is the most recognizable name in VIP Stable’s returning roster in 2018, the supporting lineup includes multiple stakes winners and rising stars. Charmed Life, also owned in partnership with Allard Racing and Yves Sarrazin, earned $300,505 last year and beat eventual Horse of the Year Hannelore Hanover in the Miami Valley Distaff May 7. “Clearly going into the race, we thought if all goes well, we’ll be second. It was her first stakes start for us, we were shipping her across the country, we had a new driver on her and we were just kind of hoping for a good race,” O’Connor said. “She was outstanding. She sat at the back of the pack and went right by everybody. That’s really exciting. Winning a four-claimer at Rosecroft is exciting for me, so winning these really big races is not something I would have expected we could do. “The thing that keeps us grounded is that every horse that comes along, there’s new people, there’s new owners and we need to get them their money’s worth,” he continued. “We try to do well with everything we buy and having a horse like Charmed Life come out and put in a big race against a huge horse like that was really exciting. She was good in just about every start she made. We’ve got our fingers crossed again with her.” VIP Stable bought Charmed Life from the 2016 Harrisburg Sale for $150,000 with intentions of racing her for one season and selling her as a broodmare prospect. However, the $1.4 million-earning daughter of Majestic Son had such a successful campaign that her connections decided to bring her back for an 8-year-old season. “At the price we bought her for, we thought we could get pretty much all our money back as a broodmare, but she was kind enough to earn double that back already,” O’Connor said. “We’ll try her again and we’ll see how it goes. I would be surprised if we race her a third year, but she’ll tell us. If she wants to keep going and has a year like that, we’ll keep riding it because that was a lot of fun.” Charmed Life isn’t the only talented trotter in VIP Stable’s roster. O’Connor jumped at the chance to offer Bill’s Man to the stable’s investors when the opportunity arose last fall. A son of Credit Winner, Bill’s Man finished second in an elimination of the 2017 Hambletonian, ahead of VIP Stable’s Giveitgasandgo. Both horses were trained by trusted VIP Stable conditioner John Butenschoen. “We had been watching Bill’s Man all along, so it was no surprise he was going to be a good horse,” O’Connor said. “I was there at the rail Hambletonian Day when he lost his elimination by a whisker. He’s a solid horse, he puts in a good effort every time.” O’Connor hopes Bill’s Man can build on the 2017 season that saw him win the Matron at Dover Downs November 16 and earn $466,911. Butenschoen will target 4-year-old restricted stakes, such as the Graduate Series and Hambletonian Maturity, before taking on older foes in the TVG Series in the fall. “So many of the 3-year-olds from last year moved on to the stallion ranks. There’s not a lot of the top ones left and he’s probably one of the best ones around,” O’Connor reasoned. “John says he’s training like a champion and he never does anything wrong. We really have our fingers crossed for a big year.” While there is still a long way to go, O’Connor is hopeful Bill’s Man could be the first horse to take VIP Stable around the world. “We’ll pick our spots with the idea that we’ll have a good 4-year-old year and we can come back and have a really nice 5-year-old year and I wouldn’t be surprised if that includes a trip to Europe,” he said. “If you’re ever lucky enough to have a horse who can do that, you have to try it. We have our fingers crossed on that one.” VIP Stable’s most surprising success-story of 2017 was Paprike Blue Chip. The son of Roll Will Joe sold for just $7,000 as a yearling, but won at first asking at Pocono Downs June 27 before capturing four legs of the New York Sire Stakes to earn a place in the NYSS Final at Yonkers October 14. Despite starting from post seven, Paprike Blue Chip finished second beaten just a length to end his season with a 6-for-12 record and $222,573 in the bank. “He’s the kind of horse you always look for. We didn’t pay a lot, he tries hard, he gets around the turns really well, he’s fast. He’s just a delight to have around,” O’Connor said. Because his talent level was unknown as a yearling, Paprike Blue Chip wasn’t paid into many of the early-closing stakes races for 3-year-olds. Even so, O’Connor expects the bargain purchase to have another successful year on the New York circuit. “He’s been doing really, really good. He got a nice vacation at the Crawford’s stable near Syracuse and came back. He’s down in the 2:30 range,” he said. “He’s in the Adios, he’s in a couple of the races in Pennsylvania and Indiana. If all goes right, we still have a chance to make a big chunk of money. Obviously, it will revolve around the New York Sire Stakes program where hopefully he can have another good year there.” In addition to the stable’s east coast focus, VIP also has horses racing in the Midwest in stakes like Kentucky and Ohio. Nixie Volo, a daughter of Yankee Glide, won two legs of the Kentucky Sires Stakes at the Red Mile as a freshman in 2017 before making a break in the final. The Butenschoen pupil came back to win a division of the International Stallion Series during the Grand Circuit meet October 6. “She was a little headstrong, a little of this, a little of that, but the whole time she showed a lot of talent. She had some trouble with breaks, but John got her going for the Kentucky Sire Stakes and she won,” O’Connor said. “She got really excited and hot and galloped around the track in the final. We were a little disappointed when you leave your race in the warm ups, but John again came back, and this is why he’s such a good trainer, got her together and staked her to some of these Grand Circuit races down there.” Although she became a multiple stakes winner last year and earned $71,300, Nixie Volo wasn’t always on VIP and Butenschoen’s watch list. It was only at the urging of Janes that the stable bought her out the 2016 Lexington Select Sale for $22,000. “This is a horse that goes back to the bakery theory of buying yearlings. You walk in there and you can’t help but pick out two or three extra things,” O’Connor joked. “Tom is at the sale with John Butenschoen. Tom loves the way she looks, the pedigree is right, the price is right. He had to buy her.” O’Connor is hopeful Nixie Volo’s breaking issues are behind her now that she’s training down for her 3-year-old campaign. VIP Stable aggressively staked her to the Hambletonian Oaks and Kentucky Filly Futurity based on what they’ve seen so far. “She seemed to mature a lot over the winter and just come back as a little bit more of a full racehorse instead of just a crazy youngster. She has a chance to be one of the bigger earners in the barn this year. She’s staked to everything. Hambletonian Oaks, Kentucky Filly Futurity, Pennsylvania Sires, Kentucky Sires. She has the right pedigree, the right build, everything.” Competing in stakes races across North America and winning those races is instrumental to VIP Stable’s continued growth. The syndicate has 64 horses in training, including 28 2-year-olds. “We used to spend a decent amount of money on advertising. We’d sponsor the finish line or the winner’s circle or the replay, we’d buy program ads, but there’s nothing that gets our name out in front of prospective partners or fans of the game better than getting our horses in the winner’s circle,” he said. “If we can do that on a national scale and in some of these big races, it makes a big difference.” For more information on becoming a racehorse owner through VIP Internet Stable, visit vipstable.com. By Brandon Valvo for VIP Stable

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