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YONKERS, N.Y. - “We try to zig when everybody else is zagging,” VIP Stable’s Ed O’Connor said as he reflected on the partnership’s unconventional path to success with Keystone Velocity. Purchased for a hefty price as an 8-year-old who had missed years on the harness racing track, the 2017 George Morton Levy Series winner captured the Ben Franklin Pace last Saturday (July 1) at Pocono Downs. When VIP Stable starts a pair of 2-year-olds in Saturday’s Lawrence B. Sheppard Pace Eliminations at Yonkers Raceway, it will put its zig-zagging tactics to the test again. Phat Blue Chip and Paprike Blue Chip cost just $9,000 and $7,000 at auction last year, respectively, but are already proving to be valuable additions to VIP’s roster. Trained and co-owned by Tom Fanning, Phat Blue Chip was the first yearling sold at public auction in North America last year and will make his debut in one of the first open stakes race for 2-year-olds this season when he starts against the pylons in the second of three Sheppard Eliminations. “Tom liked him and he bought him for himself and approached us after the fact. We bought in. At the price he was, he fit a lot of the things that we look for,” O’Connor explained. “We buy well-bred horses, but we don’t buy six-figure type horses. They individually look the part, they look nice.” A gelding by American Ideal, Phat Blue Chip is the second foal out of the Camluck mare Warm Waffles and will be the first to race. Although he isn’t flashy, Phat Blue Chip does his work and has shown some promise. “He always showed ability, but was never one that Tom was talking about as being a superstar. There’s no indication yet that he’s going to be, but he does well,” O’Connor said. “He’s shown some ability and he looks like he might be worth the money we paid for him.” In his first qualifier June 19, Phat Blue Chip raced near the back of the field before finishing with a :27.3 final quarter. He returned June 27 at Harrah’s Philadelphia and starting from post eight, cleared the lead before sitting the pocket. Posting a :29.3 final panel, Phat Blue Chip ranged up to win by 3/4 of a length in 1:56.0. “We’ve got our fingers crossed. So far so good. He’s never had a problem, he trained well down the whole way,” O’Connor explained. “He qualified kind of easy the first time and came home really nicely. He won his next qualifier and it looks like he might be a nice one.” While Phat Blue Chip is a 3-1 chance in his $25,000 trial, trailing the 7/5 morning line choice Kwik Hanover, a winner in both of his two pari-mutuel starts thus far at Rideau Carlton, Paprike Blue Chip is the 2-1 favorite in his split, set to go as race six on the 12-race program. Paprike Blue Chip hammered down at the Goshen Sale just 10 horses after Phat Blue Chip. Trainer John Butenschoen found the son of Roll With Joe, a half to then 17-time winner Buddha Blue Chip and New York Excelsior Series winner Oh Sugar. “My partner Tom (Janes) was there with him, so we were kind of in from the ground floor on this one,” O’Connor said. “Paprike Blue Chip really fit the M.O. for the stuff we end up buying with John. He’s a Roll With Joe, who’s a good commercial sire. We look at the individual and John does a fabulous job picking out ones that just look nice.” While Phat Blue Chip doesn’t attract attention in the mornings, Paprike Blue Chip makes his presence known. “He’s been a little flashier the whole time,” O’Connor said. “He has always looked like he’s going to do ok. Paprike Blue Chip has been toward the better ones in John’s barn the whole time and we had some pretty big expectations for him for the last couple months.” Those expectations came closer to fruition when Paprike Blue Chip made his debut June 27 at Pocono Downs. Fresh off a third place finish to $450,000 buy Pro Beach in a June 17 qualifier at The Meadowlands where he was beaten just 1 1/2 lengths and posted a final quarter of :26.1, Paprike Blue Chip tracked winging leader Real Rayenbow before settling in the pocket up the backstretch. On the final turn, Paprike Blue Chip edged to the outside, glided to the lead, and bested the pacesetter by 1 3/4 lengths to stop the clock in 1:54.2. “John goes down to Florida every year with 35 or 45. They train three, four, five at a time. They’re used to passing, they’re used to sitting in holes. I can’t say enough good stuff about how he gets them ready,” O’Connor praised. “This is a good example of him having the horse ready to do what he needed to do from day one.” Like Phat Blue Chip, Paprike Blue Chip will start from post one in his Sheppard Elimination. To return for next week’s $110,500 final, the freshman must finish first or second in their eliminations or be among the fastest two third place finishers. “There’s no telling how good the rest of the fields are. They look like talented bunches in there,” O’Connor observed. “We’re just hoping we can get a clean trip and try to come away with some money. If we get lucky, maybe one or both of them proceed onto next week, but starting from the rail is a huge advantage.” First post time Saturday at Yonkers is 7:10 p.m. For entries for Saturday’s races, click here. by Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. - Centurion ATM has been a familiar name to harness racing fans of top-level trotters for the past few years. The son of SJ’s Caviar can typically be found competing in Grand Circuit races across North America or racing in the Open Handicap Trot at Yonkers Raceway. Lately however, the Åke Svanstedt pupil has been stacking victories in the conditions at the Hilltop Oval. In his seasonal debut April 28, Centurion ATM captured a $32,000 overnight for non winners of eight pari-mutuel races lifetime. Despite his impressive earnings of $670,709, Centurion ATM only won six races upon making his 5-year-old debut; he captured the Peter Haughton elimination and final and the Simpson at 2, won the Colonial Trot at 3, and succeeded in a pair of overnights at 4. While his stakes wins and placings bolstered his bankroll, his low win tally allowed the dropdown. “He was a bit unlucky with a couple second and third place finishes, both in Lexington as a 2-year-old, so he didn’t actually win too many races as a 2-year-old,” co-owner Tristan Sjoberg of Knutsson Trotting explained. “And then he got sick and he didn’t win until he got into the 3-year-old season. He didn’t win too many. That’s why he got stuck into the non winners of eight.” Centurion ATM finished off the board in the Arthur J. Cutler Memorial at The Meadowlands before returning to Yonkers to finish second in the conditions May 19. After a crack at Yonkers’ Preferred Trot and the Charlie Hill Memorial at Scioto, Centurion ATM returned to the non winners class to score his eighth victory last time out June 17. In doing so, he equaled the season’s fastest trotting mile at Yonkers, stopping the timer in 1:54.2. “He did really well two weeks ago when I was there,” Sjoberg remarked. “He showed that he’s in really good form. Åke’s been saying that since the second part of last year’s season, he’s become much more agile and he shows a lot more bounce in his step. He feels great now, he feels absolutely great.” Despite the recent class drops, Centurion ATM’s victories have not been walkovers as difficult post positions have tested him. His first victory came from post six while his second-place effort commenced from the eight hole. In his most recent outing, Centurion ATM again started from post eight. Driver Svanstedt encouraged him off the gate, racing in fourth early before grinding first-over. He drew away with a :28.4 final panel to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Centurion ATM’s ability to show speed off the gate came to the delight of his owner, as the bay horse has historically been a slow leaver. “We’ve experimented with different types of blinkers to make him a little bit faster at the gate. That has shown to be a positive,” Sjoberg said. “That’s always been his drawback is he’s a very slow starter and that usually puts him in a bad spot. In the higher classes, it gets very difficult to make up those lengths when everyone can do a :27 last quarter.” Having won out of the conditions, Centurion ATM will jump back to the open level in Sunday’s (July 2) $68,000 trotting feature at Yonkers. A tepid 7/2 morning line choice, Centurion ATM will start from post seven in a field of 12. As part of the French simulcast, the race will be contested at a mile-and-a-quarter. “There’s no question he’s got strength, he’s got stamina. Longer distances are definitely to his advantage. A mile-and-a-quarter will play to his strengths. He’s not a big horse by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s got wonderful technique. He very rarely breaks stride and he just keeps going,” Sjoberg said. Centurion ATM’s chief opposition in the crowded field includes Rubber Duck and Buen Camino, winner and runner-up of the Open Trot, respectively, on June 18, Hemi Seelster, the top earner in the field this season, and Melady’s Monet. That quartet however, were all handicapped with the second tier. “I’m happy to be in the first tier of horses,” Sjoberg said. “The worst opposition seems to be coming from the second tier, so he should have a couple of lengths advantage there. He’s a horse that needs to be driven aggressively. Sometimes if he’s too far back, he loses a little bit of his motivation, so I’m sure Åke will drive him quite aggressively and not be too far back come the halfway marker.” Yonkers Raceway’s new track configuration could aid Svanstedt’s efforts to leave the gate with Centurion ATM. The new finish line affords the field an additional 105 feet of straight track before entering the first of five turns. “I was there the day after they introduced it and I’ve been watching the races,” Sjoberg said. “I think it will be good for him because he needs to be involved early on and if it encourages movement early on, then that would be to his advantage. I’m hoping if he can be in front coming into the shorter stretch, that should certainly be to his advantage. I’m confident.” First post time at Yonkers Sunday is 12:30 p.m. To view entries for Sunday’s races, click here. by Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. - Qualifiers at Yonkers Raceway are sporting a new look. Over the past several weeks, the track has expanded the use of the second tier in the morning trials as part of an experiment to improve the quality of harness racing for both bettors and horsepeople. Traditionally, qualifiers, like overnights races, feature a maximum of eight starters who each have their nose on the gate. Over the past several weeks, depending on the field size of each qualifier, the trials have sported configurations of four on the gate with two trailers, four on the gate with one trailer, and most recently, three one the gate with three trailers. This Friday (June 23), two qualifiers will start with two tiers of four each. The idea to move the outside starters to the second tier was first floated a few years ago when a group of industry participants from Australia visited Yonkers Raceway. SOA of NY Executive Director Alex Dadoyan recalled an Australian regulator being surprised that Yonkers holds races in an eight across configuration. “He said at the small tracks, they do six across and put the rest in the back. They’d go six and four, six and six, or whatever it might be. It sounded weird at first because it wasn’t anything that’s done in the United States, but the more we thought about it, the more we thought it might be interesting.” Although Yonkers Raceway already utilizes the second tier in French trots that feature 10 and 12 horse fields, successful tests in qualifiers could result in use of the second tier in eight horse fields. The races could sport a six and two configuration or a four and four configuration. The idea could also impact the French trots, which could sport two tiers of five or two tiers of six. Jordan Stratton, who is second in the driver standings at the Hilltop Oval with 170 victories this year and a member of the SOA of NY Board, offered insight on the experiment, which aims to increase movement early in the mile and mitigate the effects of outside post positions. “The original idea was to have it with trotters in the 10 or 12 horse fields on French day with the extra distance,” he said. “Then, if they had four trailers or six on the gate and six trailers, that there would be more movement early on and there wouldn’t be so many lineups. The whole idea is to experiment and maybe it will work, maybe it won’t work, but at least we’re trying something.” While Stratton is supportive of expanded use of the second tier, he prefers the second tier be used in trotting and longer distance races, citing safety concerns. For example, if a pacer breaks stride at full speed leaving the gate, it is often a much more dangerous situation than if a trotter breaks. “With a normal eight horse field at the mile marker, when we leave the gate, we’re going as fast as we can. But with a mile-and-a-quarter, everyone still has tight lines and you’re not really gunning them into the first turn,” he explained. “It’s a little more conservative and I think with the trotters, it’s a little safer. I would say 99 percent of drivers feel safer with the trailers being trotters rather than pacers.” Despite these reservations, Stratton thinks the second tier offers many upsides. “Four and four would prevent guys taking back off the gate and going nowhere because it’s going to be awfully difficult to strangle back to last when you’re four high going into the first turn,” he said. “If there’s a 5/2 or a 1/9 and he’s a trailer, it’s going to be interesting for him to finally work his way to the front. It would be a lot different than people just taking back and letting the favorite get to the front so easy.” Yonkers Raceway’s experiment with expanded use of the second tier comes concurrently with the introduction of the track’s new finish line. Dadoyan thinks the initiatives share similar motives to improve racing, but each takes a different approach. “I think the two things are totally independent,” he said. “This finish line move has been something that’s been in the works for many years. There was a long process to get it approved, but it’s finally approved and in use. I think both ideas work toward the same goal of making more competitive races with more action, more movement or more of a chance for everybody than what was occurring in the past. I think they do that in different ways.” Expanded use of the second tier will stay confined to the morning, at least for now. Regulations from the New York State Gaming Commission currently limit the unique starting configurations to qualifiers. Ultimately, steps down the road could include trials in non-betting races for purse money and finally, in pari-mutuel fields. No timetable has yet been set for implementing these phases. Although the idea is sure to have its critics, Dadoyan and Stratton are happy the track is willing to try new things to improve the quality of racing for both bettors and horsepeople. “I think there’s going to be downsides to anything that’s new,” Stratton opined. “But I think the gamblers would appreciate something new, so maybe this will be it.” by Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. - Standout 4-year-old pacing mare Cousin Mary will make her debut in Yonkers Raceway’s $55,000 Filly and Mare Open Handicap Pace Friday night. The Andrew Harris trainee is set to return to the harness racing Hilltop Oval for the first time since she swept the Petticoat Series in March. Since then, Cousin Mary completed another series sweep, this time in the Bobby Weiss Series at Pocono Downs. She sports 11 wins this season from 14 starts and boasts a $135,000 bankroll. “When I first got her, I didn’t expect this,” Harris said of Cousin Mary’s success. “In December, she qualified in :57. Jordan (Stratton) wasn’t even happy with her. I waited until Yonkers opened back up and we got a couple cheap races for her and she just started building her confidence. She grew into this mare that I don’t think any of us expected her to be.” Since joining Harris’ stable last winter, Cousin Mary has blossomed from an immature filly into a confident mare. Her transformation was two-fold; not only did Cousin Mary grow physically, the Camluck daughter out of the Modern Art mare Chianti Seelster also began to understand what her trainer and driver were asking of her. “She’s not even recognizable anymore,” Harris said. “When she first came, she wasn’t near the size or the muscle mass she has now. She’s a different mare. When I first got her, she was green and didn’t care what she was doing, didn’t know what she was doing. She knows what she’s doing now and she’s all business.” Although Cousin Mary can be high-strung on the racetrack, sometimes kicking at her rivals as she jogs, she is a joy to work with in the barn, Harris explained. “She doesn’t do a thing wrong. She goes out with Jewel Lehigh; they’re best buddies. They holler at each other when they’re leaving the stalls, they hang out all the time,” he said. “My 3-year-old daughter goes in and pets ‘Mary’ all the time, brushes her legs and stuff like that. She’s just a doll to have in the barn.” Cousin Mary’s most recent race came in the $150,000 Betsy Ross Invitational at Harrah’s Philadelphia May 28. Starting from the outside, driver David Miller was forced to take her off the pace, an uncharacteristic position for her. She raced at the back of the field before advancing one position up the pylons nearing the three-quarters. As rival Sassa Hanover tired in front of her, Cousin Mary was forced to shift outside on the final turn. Although Cousin Mary finish seventh, 9 lengths behind winner Lady Shadow, she paced her fastest mile to date, individually timed in 1:50.4. “I never expected her to win that class, but it was a situation where we didn’t know what we had and we had to go to an open somewhere and we might as well take a shot for bigger money,” Harris explained. “The thing that I liked about it, it just keeps stretching her out. She just keeps dropping time, she keeps getting faster. She comes out of the race and nothing affects her. Nothing bothers her. She can turn the page quicker than I can.” Cousin Mary will face open mares again Friday night when she starts from post six in Yonkers’ weekly distaff feature. She and driver Jordan Stratton are the 5-1 morning line third choice behind 3-1 favorite I Said Diamonds, who will make her seasonal debut, and 7/2 Lispatty. Hidden Land, Sensationalgabby, Delightful Dragon, Freeze Out, and Beyonces Rockn are also set to go postward. “I think she fits with them, I really do,” Harris sad. “If she was good enough to be in the Betsy Ross, she’s good enough to be in the Open Mares at Yonkers. I don’t think she’s in with any killers here. Some real nice mares, but I hold her in that regard as well. Jordan knows her and gets along with her really well, so I have confidence he’ll find her the right trip.” While Harris is confident in Cousin Mary and Stratton, the new track configuration at Yonkers gives the trainer pause. Friday night’s races will be the first to feature the new finish line, located 105 feet up the stretch from its previous location. The stretch drive will now be 555 feet instead of 660 and horses will have a longer drive into the first turn. “I’m really interested in this new starting line,” Harris said. “I’m going to be a fan watching it just seeing how it goes because I don’t know how it’s going to change the complexion of racing. My filly has great gate speed, but I don’t know how much this is going to change everything. I’m going to have to watch a couple race before I can even gauge how much of an affect this is going to have on the racing at Yonkers.” First post time at Yonkers is 7:10 p.m. Click here for Friday’s entries. by Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. - Early in the spring season, Adam Bowden paid a visit to harness racing trainer Jimmy Takter’s farm to see his star mare Pure Country. After being away from her for several months, Bowden was impressed by how much his homebred matured over the winter break. “She came out of the barn and I could have sworn she was a colt,” he remembered. “She’s always been a bigger filly, but she’s added mass to her. Just broader, she looks stronger. I remember watching her train that day, I was like, ‘ooh, she looks scary good.’ ” Pure Country is the great mare that Adam and his father, Chris, had in mind when they created Diamond Creek Farm. After winning the Breeders Crown at 2, Pure Country earned $1,082,430 last year in 21 starts with victories in a host of Grand Circuit events, including the Fan Hanover, the Lynch Memorial, the Simcoe Stakes, the Glen Garnsey Memorial, and the Matron Stakes. Pure Country’s accomplishments earned her the Dan Patch Award for 3-Year-Old Pacing Fillies. “After her first season, it was one of those things where you kind of hoped she would have a season like last year, but you never expected it,” Bowden said. “It was more of a blessing than anything else and we were really proud of her.” Sired by Somebeachsomewhere, Pure Country is out of Western Montana, one of the first horses Bowden purchased. Along with his father, Bowden was confident the Western Hanover mare would produce a champion, but he grew weary and impatient after her first three foals failed to stand out. “The mare was pregnant with Pure Country at the time and I remember calling my father and saying, ‘I don’t know if I want to wait. I think we need to get rid of the mare. She hasn’t really given us what we thought she’d give us,’ ” he recalled. “I remember him telling me, ‘just be patient, be patient. She’ll come through for us,’ and she did and did it in a big way, so it was worth it.” Pure Country will make her 4-year-old debut as the 3-1 morning line favorite in the sixth race $55,000 Filly and Mare Open Handicap Pace at Yonkers Raceway Friday, May 19. In preparation for her first start of the year, Pure Country qualified twice at the Meadowlands, winning the latest in 1:50.1 April 29. She then scratched sick from the $100,000 Noble Memorial at Miami Valley May 8 before being entered back at Yonkers. “I was anxious to see her race at Miami Valley and she came up with a little  bit of a fever, so we had to wait, scratch her. She got better pretty quick,” Bowden said. In her first local start, Pure Country and driver Brett Miller will start from post five, surrounded by Yonkers veterans Mach It A Par and Regil Elektra, who are each 5-1 from posts four and six, respectively. Mackenzie A will make her first start since winning the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series Final from post eight at odds of 7/2. “Yonkers is tough and she drew in the middle of the field, but those are tough mares to have to race against. They’ve all been racing and they’re sharp and this is her first start of the year,” Bowden said. “I think we’re expecting a good performance, but you can’t guarantee victory in any race, especially over there against those mares.” Although this is her first start at the Hilltop Oval, Pure Country has half-mile track experience. She finished third in the first heat of the Jugette individually timed in 1:51.2 before placing fourth in the final. She also endured a tough trip to finish second to Betting Line in the Carl Milstein Memorial at Northfield Park last summer. “I think she’s versatile enough,” Bowden said. “I think her preference is a bigger track, but she’s got to get a start in somewhere. She got invited to the Betsy Ross at Chester on the 28th, so she needs a race before that and we’re running out of options if we wait any longer.” Lispatty, Medusa, Delightful Dragon, and last week’s winner, Freeze Out, complete the field of eight pacers in Friday’s feature. First post time is 7:10 p.m. Click here for entries for the card. by Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. - Since arriving in the United States this winter, Mister Daytona is a perfect 2-for-2 for harness racing trainer Brewer Adams. Saturday night (May 13), the New Zealand bred horse will make his Yonkers Raceway debut in the eighth race $55,000 Open Handicap Pace. Mister Daytona flew into New York in early February, only a week after his final Australian start at Gloucester Park. The son of American Ideal out of the Bettor’s Delight mare Chara had won 15 of 21 starts Down Under and amassed $69,641. He achieved the rank of listed classic winner by capturing the $25,000 FFA Im Themightyquinn Final at Gloucester January 27. “I got lucky because he had raced right before he came over,” Adams explained. “A lot of horses when they come over here get bought a month in advance and they have to wait for a flight. So a lot of times, they’re just standing out in the field until they come over. He had just raced, so he was still very fit when I got him.” Mister Daytona was welcomed to the Northern Hemisphere by a storm that dumped 20 inches of snow. Getting the 5-year-old acclimated and keeping him healthy was Adams’ main goal in the 5-year-old’s first month in the United States. “When he came over, it was summer over there and winter here. I had to keep a blanket on him all the time because he had no hair. Basically just let him acclimate,” Adams recalled. “He got thrown to the wolves right away as far as the weather. He handled it very well. He never got sick on me.” After allowing him five days in the field at his farm in Lehighton, Pennsylvania, Adams slowly brought Mister Daytona back into training. He jogged for a full month before beginning training miles. “When we trained down, he wasn’t stellar only because he’s one of those horses that likes competition. When I trained him down by himself, he didn’t seem very interested,” Adams said. “When I brought him over to Pocono and schooled him the week before he qualified, he was impressive.” After winning a qualifier at Pocono Downs April 19, Mister Daytona made his first stateside start in a $15,000 overnight at Harrah’s Philadelphia April 30. After dropping in fourth early, driver Andy McCarthy angled him first-over with a half-mile to pace. Turning into the stretch, Mister Daytona had 4 lengths to make up on the race’s even-money favorite Voracity. As the leader tired, Mister Daytona held strong. He posted a :27.2 final panel to win by three-quarters of a length. “It was nice to know that we had what we thought we had. When we had seen the tapes on him and purchased him, we thought we had a good horse on hand. But when they come over here, you never know what you’re going to get,” Adams said. “I was very happy to see that he took to the racing here pretty easily and then his second start here was even more impressive.” Last time out, Mister Daytona moved up in class and raced 12 lengths behind a blazing early pace. He tracked cover second-over before tipping wide nearing the three-quarters. With a burst of speed, Mister Daytona confronted pacesetter Dream Out Loud and took the lead a furlong out. In the lane, he powered away to score by 3 in 1:51.2, a lifetime mark. Saturday night, Mister Daytona will tackle his toughest competition yet when he races in the Open Handicap Pace at Yonkers. He is the 3-1 second choice on the morning line and drew post three, well inside of 2-1 favorite Somewhere In L A, who will grapple with an assigned eight hole. “He’s in with some really good horses this week. Luckily we have the inside, which is a big part of making money at Yonkers,” Adams reasoned. “Mister Daytona raced only on half-mile tracks down there, so I know he’ll handle the surface well. I’m not going to say he’s going to run off, but I think he’ll handle the competition. He’s a pretty tough little horse and he’s very, very gritty.” Andy McCarthy will drive Mister Daytona again this week, to Adams’ delight. Keeping the same driver in the bike in a horse’s first several North American starts can be critical to their development and long-term success and was part of the plan for Mister Daytona. “I wanted (Andy) to drive him from the very beginning. We had a plan with Mister Daytona, we wanted to race him from off the pace,” Adams explained. “I don’t want to get to the point where you have to leave every week to make any money. I like the fact that he can come from off the pace and still win if we have to. Andy and I are on the same page with that.” While Saturday’s race will be Mister Daytona’s biggest test to date, Adams is already enjoying the ride with his new standout pacer and is looking forward to the rest of the season. “He’s been exciting so far. Any time you have a horse like him in the barn, it’s nice.” First post time at Yonkers is 7:10 p.m. Click here for entries for Saturday’s card. by Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. - Since returning to harness racing at Yonkers April 14 off a September layoff, 5-year-old mare Jag Out is perfect in two starts for trainer Nick Surick. She won her seasonal debut in a $27,000 overnight after racing first-over for the last quarter mile, then returned a wire-to-wire the following week when racing for $35,000. For Surick, seeing Jag Out finally put her best foot forward has been a process months in the making. Surick purchased Jag Out, a daughter of American Ideal out of the Albert Albert mare Impertinent, from the 2015 Harrisburg Mixed Sale for $60,000. The purchase came on the advice of Erv Miller, who trained Jag Out in her 2- and 3-year-old seasons. “He told me this little filly is tough as nails and she has a lot of gate speed if you’re looking for something to race at Yonkers,” Surick recalled. “He kind of pushed me into her and that’s why I bought her.” After a winter freshening, Surick brought Jag Out back as a 4-year-old in April 2016. Surick and his owners hoped she would be a free for all mare from the start and ambitiously spotted her in the top classes at Yonkers in her first three races. By the end of her season however, Jag Out had only two wins in 17 starts, both in non-winners conditions, and had earned just $42,100. “I gave her the winter off and she trained back ok, but she just wasn’t 100 percent for me,” Surick said. “She was still a little immature and she was growing up and she went through a growth spurt. She was a little sore on me. I raced her five months and she just was never 100 percent. She would sit the two hole and wouldn’t win. I thought I could get her sounder and I didn’t.” Surick shut Jag Out down in September 2016 and sent her for a body scan at Mid-Atlantic Equine Center. The results confirmed Jag Out had heat in her joints and was sore from inflammation related to her growth spurts. “We thought it was best to turn her out again and not push her and hurt her,” Surick said. “We stopped with her in September, gave her off through December and brought her back in January this year, not knowing what we were going to have.” Jag Out returned to training a transformed horse. As she trained back, her development became clearer, leading Surick to believe she was finally living up to the potential they saw when they purchased her. “She’s filled out now, she’s got a bigger chest on her, and she’s strong-boned. We let her hobbles out an inch-and-a-half coming back and I just see a real difference in maturity and in her attitude,” Surick detailed. “I think we let her grow up and I’ve seen a big difference just in her first two races and I think we’re going to see a big difference going forward.” Nursing Jag Out through her growth spurts wasn’t the only challenge facing Surick and his team. She can be difficult to handle on a daily basis, forcing Surick to take special precautions to keep her safe and happy. “A lot of my horses go out in pairs and they have friends. She kind of just likes to be left alone,” Surick said. “One thing that she does like, she gets a weekly massage and she gets acupunctured every week. Besides that, the more you leave her alone, the better off she is. “She’s not really a people person. Just myself and the girl that takes care of her, we handle her ourselves and that’s about it.” he continued. “In the barn, she’s a disaster. If you walk past her stall, she kicks the wall. She’s got a matted stall that looks like solitary confinement. Her stall is padded from the floor to the ceiling, all the walls. I couldn’t take a chance at her hurting herself.” Although she’s difficult to handle in the barn, Jag Out is a dream on the racetrack. She’s fast off the gate, her biggest asset according to Surick, and is easy to drive. Those qualities will make Matt Kakaley’s job easier as he will sit behind her for the first time this week. “Some horses, if you fire them up too soon and you get to the front, they become uncontrollable and they’re like a runaway train. Whereas she’s two fingers. You can go, stop, she’s like driving a car. It’s like having a gas and a brake. It’s a huge quality to have when you’re racing on a half-mile track,” Surick explained. Friday night, Jag Out will look to prove she can take on the country’s best mares when she steps up into the $55,000 Filly and Mare Open Handicap at Yonkers. She was assigned post six in an eight horse field that includes two standouts from the recently-concluded Blue Chip Matchmaker Series, Bedroomconfessions and Regil Elektra. They were dealt posts seven and eight, respectively. Surick is counting on a big performance to put his mare in the running for an invitation to the Betsy Ross Mares Invitational Pace at Harrah’s Philadelphia. “Both of them got tortured in the final, so drawing inside them is a good thing,” Surick reasoned. “I have to think those trainers and drivers are going to have to come up with a plan “B” on racing those mares this week. I think those two horses are going to have to get taken off the gate and I don’t think they’re going to be close enough. I think we’ll be up on the lead or near it and I think they’ll be chasing us.” First post time at Yonkers is 7:10 p.m. Click here for entries for Friday’s card. by Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. - The final of the 2016 George Morton Levy Series was special for harness racing trainer Peter Tritton. He watched as Bit Of A Legend, the race’s 1/5 favorite, swept to the lead after the opening quarter of the rich Grand Circuit stakes before holding off all challengers in the stretch, powering to a length victory in 1:51.0. One year removed from that win, Tritton thinks his star is primed for a series repeat. “He is as good as he’s ever been,” he said. “We were hoping for a better draw this year, that’s all. But he’s as good as he was last year. He’s ready for a big race, I’d say.” While Bit Of A Legend enjoyed post position two one year ago, he and driver Jordan Stratton will start from post six in this year’s $529,000 Levy Final. “He had a good draw last year, I think he was the best horse in the race, but he had a good draw,” Tritton said. “To win it twice, and this time with a bad draw, it would make a statement that he’s the best horse because that’s not easy to do.” Bit Of A Legend enters Saturday’s race off his most impressive victory of the season. After earning second place checks in the first two legs of the series and winning in week three in off the pace fashion, Stratton sent Bit Of A Legend to the front in the final preliminary and led at every call. With a :26.3 final quarter, Bit Of A Legend stopped the clock in 1:51.3. Tritton thinks those aggressive tactics could be put to good use again this week. “Jordan said if something came along side of him, he was going to fight. He’s ready,” Tritton said. “He’s very, very strong. It’s up to Jordan, but he may try to use his strengths on Saturday night. We can’t drive him like that much because we want to maintain him, but for this sort of money, it might be what’s required.” An 8-year-old New Zealand-bred son of Bettor’s Delight, Bit Of A Legend sports earnings of $1,473,036. Racing at this level comes almost naturally to him, making Tritton’s job as trainer easier. “We don’t do much with him, we just keep him happy,” he explained. “He just canters and plays about, really. No pressure on him whatsoever. That’s why when he races, he comes into his own. He’s easy to train, really; just don’t be too hard on him.”  Although Bit Of A Legend faces a tougher assignment in this year’s Levy Final, Tritton is hopeful for a series repeat. To do so would follow in the hoofprints of Foiled Again, the only horse to win the Levy Final twice, in 2009 and 2010. “It would be great to. I love the little horse. He’s probably eventually going to go to stud, maybe at the end of the year, but it would be an accomplishment for him. He’s just a great little horse, especially on the half-mile,” Tritton admired. One of Tritton’s other standouts, Provocativeprincen, will start directly to Bit Of A Legend’s outside Saturday night. After earning 210 points throughout the series, Provocativeprincen was ranked eighth in the standings and made the final with two points to spare. “I’ve been very impressed with the horse. I didn’t think he’d be this good,” Tritton admitted. “He was only a middle of the road horse; we didn’t pay a lot of money for him, but he’s been very impressive.” Provocativeprincen won his first-week Levy division and finished second in week three. His fifth place effort last Saturday, however, left Tritton puzzled. Although he paced home in :27.0, Provocativeprincen lost ground late and finished fifth beaten 3 1/2 lengths. “Even though he came home in :27.0, I thought he was a little bit lackluster last week,” Tritton said. “I think he’ll be alright, it’s just I’d rather see him come off a better run last week. But he’s in it, and if he goes as good as he can, he will be running home.” In addition to his two-pronged Levy bid, Tritton will send out Mackenzie in the $310,600 Final of the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series. Although the 5-year-old Rock N Roll Heaven mare is a 20-1 morning line, her trainer is undaunted. “I think she has a great chance in the final. I wouldn’t swap her for any other mare in the race,” he said. Sixth in the Matchmaker standings after racing in all five legs, Mackenzie earned a spot in the final by winning her division in week two and finishing third and second in legs three and four, respectively. Last week, Mackenzie looked ready to charge off cover in the stretch when she suddenly rolled off stride. Her break came just as the whip of the driver in front of her waved past her nose. “She shied away from the whip of the horse in front of her and she galloped into the straight,” Tritton explained. “If she had won that race last week, she would have been one of the favorites. I think she’s got a great chance. She’ll be as good as she can be.” First post time at Yonkers is 7:10 p.m. Click here for entries for Saturday’s card. Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. - When harness racing trainer Rich Banca purchased Somewhere In L A at the 2016 Harrisburg Sale, he thought he was getting a solid older gelding with potential to race in the upper-level conditions at Yonkers Raceway. Instead, heading into Saturday (April 22) night’s $529,000 George Morton Levy Series Final, Somewhere In L A tops the leader board with 287 points earned in the series’ five preliminary legs and leads all standardbreds in North America by earnings in the young racing season with $180,750 on his card. “If you told me that in November when I bought him, I would have told you, you were crazy,” Banca joked. “Even if he was just a winners over kind of horse at Yonkers, it would have been good to have him. He ended up better than I thought.” While Somewhere In L A competed on the Grand Circuit at 2 and 3 and earned more than $800,000 before selling last fall, the 6-year-old is in career form at the Hilltop Oval. After finishing third in the first leg of the series, Somewhere In L A posted consecutive second place efforts in weeks two and three before getting his first series victory in leg four. Last week, Somewhere In L A doubled up, winning the final preliminary in wire-to-wire fashion in 1:51.3. The victory pushed his earnings over the million dollar mark. “He’s been good the whole time,” Banca said. “That’s a tough series because it’s hard to make the final. He pretty much had to race every leg, but he has been good. He’s just a nice horse, he’s just consistent.” While Somewhere in L A is a star on the track, he’s unassuming in the barn. In contrast to his flashy gate speed on race day, his laid-back training style makes his easy to work with. Five consecutive weeks of tough racing in the series means the son of Somebeachsomewhere had a relaxed week ahead of the biggest race of his career. “He’s just a quiet horse. He really doesn’t do anything wrong,” Banca explained. “We definitely didn’t work him that hard. He just had a normal week because he’s been racing hard every week. Hopefully he’s got one more week in him before he gets a little break.” While Somewhere In L A and regular driver Jason Bartlett are the 2-1 morning line favorites from post position five in the Levy Final, he isn’t Banca’s only chance. Yonkers’ leading trainer in 2017 will also send out Blood Brother, a 12-1 shot who drew comfortably in post two and picks up the services of Brian Sears. Despite finishing second to rival Missile J in week one and winning his division in week four, Blood Brother’s ability to make the Levy Final remained in doubt until last Saturday due to the 5-year-old gelding’s bad luck in legs two and three. Back-to-back bouts with post seven resulted in off the board finishes. In his final chance to earn points last Saturday, Blood Brother again faced Missile J and the series’ defending champion Bit Of A Legend. “I really wasn’t sure if he would make the final,” Banca admitted. “I thought he was in by far the toughest division and I didn’t know how it was going to work out. I was hoping he would, but I thought there was a good chance he wouldn’t.” While Bit Of A Legend wired the field, Blood Brother worked first-over and charged his final quarter in :26.3. At odds of 30-1, he finished third beaten just 1 1/4 lengths and secured his spot in the final with 217 points. “I thought he raced as good as any horse last week. He’s a very fast horse, but he’s not as tough as Somewhere In L A,” Banca explained. “If you race him hard early, he’s not going to have as much late; he’s got to get his trip.” While Banca is confident in the ability of his finalists, the depth of this year’s Levy Final means no result would surprise him. “I don’t know if there’s a horse in there that if he won, I’d be surprised,” he said. “Somewhere In L A, I’m sure he’s going to leave. I don’t know if he’s going to end up on the front or not. These finals end up being crazy races and you never know what’s going to happen. “Blood Brother, I think Sears will give him the best trip he can. He’ll finish with any of them if he’s anywhere close. I think he’s very fast, but he’s got to get things his way.” Two races before Somewhere In L A and Blood Brother race in the Levy, Banca’s star mare, Mach It A Par, will go postward as the 2-1 morning line choice in the $310,600 Blue Chip Matchmaker Series Final. For the 7-year-old daughter of Mach Three, it’s a chance at redemption after she finished eighth in last year’s Matchmaker Final. “Last year, she wasn’t good. It was one of a few weeks last year that she wasn’t really any good, for whatever reason, but she wasn’t really good in the final last year,” Banca said. Like her stablemates in the Levy, Mach It A Par raced in all five preliminary legs of the Matchmaker Series. She defeated Bedroomconfessions by a nose in leg one and hit the board in weeks three and four. Her most impressive performance, however, came last week when she willingly tracked the cover of rival Hidden Land before tipping wide in the stretch and powering home with a :27.0 final panel to a 2 1/2-length victory in 1:53.2. While some horses require a week off in the middle of the grueling series, Mach It A Par thrives on racing. Last week’s effort shows just that, Banca explained. “I think she was a lot more of her old self last week. She really hadn’t been as good and last week she looked like her old self, so I was really happy to see that,” he said. “She’s not that hard on herself. I probably could have given her a week off if I wanted to, but I just think she’s better when she’s racing every week. It just seems like she’s better when she has the same routine every week.” While Banca thinks the results of the Matchmaker will largely depend on trips, he is optimistic that Mach It A Par will prove best. While raising the trophy would be nice, Banca mainly wants to see Mach It A Par’s toughness and heart rewarded with a Grand Circuit win. “I’d love to win it, more because she deserves it than anything else. She races so hard and you really appreciate it because she’s just a tiny little thing and she just tries as hard as she can,” he admired. “There’s a lot of horses who are fast, but a lot of times, they don’t give you all they’ve got. She does. She’s got a big heart, that’s for sure.” First post time at Yonkers is 7:10 p.m. Click here for entries for Saturday’s card. Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. - Yonkers Raceway’s lucrative purses were on trainer Jenny Melander’s mind when she opened the sale catalogs last fall. Melander, who’s been running her own stable for five years now, only had a few horses who could compete at the harness racing Hilltop Oval last season and she wanted to change that. “I would love to always have a good focus on Yonkers, but last year, we didn’t have horses that would get around a half as good as I would have hoped,” she said. “When we searched for horses at the sale this fall, we did have Yonkers in the back of our head. That’s where we wanted to be.” Melander’s focus on Yonkers is proving fruitful early in the 2017 racing season. From 23 starters, Melander’s pupils have won seven races and another nine have hit the board. In Tuesday’s (April 18) third leg of the Yonkers Raceway/SOA of NY Bonus Trotting Series, she’ll send out three competitors: Golden Son, Ameliosi, and Ontheroad De Vie. Melander purchased Golden Son out of the Harrisburg Mixed Sale with the series in mind. For $20,000, she thought she was getting a horse who loved to win and could compete at Yonkers. “I liked him from day one,” Melander recalled. “He’s a big horse and I just thought he needed a little more muscle tone than what he had. It looked like he might have been turned out for a little bit when he first came to us. A 3-year-old that’s kind of on the big side, that’s nice because you know you can improve them just with maturing and training. He’s lovely. He has a great work ethic and he’s really nice around the barn.” Golden Son debuted a winner for Melander at The Meadowlands December 15, but didn’t race again until January 17 at Yonkers when he won again in a $25,000 overnight. The spacing between races was part of a carefully crafted campaign that allowed Golden Son to stay eligible to the Bonus Trotting Series, for horses who had not won six races or $100,000 through February 1, 2017. “In the series, we thought he’d fit perfect. Even when we bought him because he had so many wins already, but he didn’t have much money on his card,” she explained. “We knew that if we were to continue to race him into the winter before the stakes payment came up, he wouldn’t fit it. We managed him for the series. We raced him twice before the payment was due for the series.” Golden Son racked up two more wins in overnight competition before the series began April 4. Sent straight to the lead by John Campbell in week one, Golden Son went on to win by 2 1/4 lengths in 1:57.3. The next week, with Jason Bartlett in the sulky, Golden Son wired the field again, winning by 2 in 1:56.3. In addition to his impressive victories, Melander is seeing improvement in Golden Son’s attitude on the racetrack. “Sometimes, he gets a little worked up and he doesn’t finish the mile as strong as he should, but the last couple of weeks he’s been minding his manners even better,” she explained. “Part of that is maturing and part of that is the driver helping to keep him quiet. Obviously some days it works better than others, but lately, he’s coming around with that and able to use his ability to the fullest instead of wasting it beforehand.” Golden Son, one of four horses sporting a perfect record in the series heading into week three, along with Tight Lines, Pridecrest, and Triumphant’s Chip, drew post position two in the third of five $25,000 divisions Tuesday night and is a 6/5 morning line favorite. While Melander is happy Golden Son has avoided the other series favorites so far, the same can’t be said for Ameliosi, who faces Tight Lines from post one in the first division. Ameliosi finished third in leg one after making up an 8 1/4-length deficit at odds of 18-1 before winning her second-leg division in wire-to-wire fashion in 1:57.2. Although the waters get deeper this week, Melander is thrilled to have Ameliosi in contention for a spot in the series final after a paddock accident last fall nearly ended the 4-year-old mare’s career. “Our plan was to race her at Yonkers through the winter, but she fell in the paddock in the late fall and really hurt herself and it’s just taken forever to get her back going. For a while, we thought we would have to breed her because she just did not improve,” Melander remembered. While Ameliosi didn’t require surgery, she did need time, and a lot of it. Sore muscles in her back left the daughter of Explosive Matter’s future in doubt. “It was all muscles and chiropractic work. She must have pulled a muscle in her back that set really deep. At first, we gave her a month off, but starting back, she just wasn’t where she should have been,” Melander recalled. “It was really just a rocky go for a few months and we were just thinking maybe she’s not going to come around. Then, we started seeing a little light again and she got a little better and a little better. Now she’s over it completely and she’s getting stronger and stronger.” Melander credits owners John Devito and Rocco Manniello for their patience during Ameliosi’s recovery. The longtime owners, who also own Golden Son, are big supporters of Melander’s growing stable. “They started with one horse and I think I have eight horses with me now. They’ve been great to me and we have a pretty good relationship at this stage,” Melander said. “I really appreciate them when they let me take my time. Sometimes when you rush these horses, you’re just not going to get the results you wish for.” While Golden Son and Ameliosi drew well in Tuesday’s divisions, Melander’s final series entrant didn’t fare as well. Ontheroad De Vie will start from post seven in the final division of the night. It’s the second time in the series the 5-year-old gelding will start from the far outside. Co-owned by Melander, Ontheroad De Vie is a 6-1 morning line. “He has been a good horse to us and he went through the classes. We bought him last fall and he’s been really good, made a lot of money at Yonkers. I have no complaints, but he’s just not the quality of the other two,” Melander pointed out. “He needs a trip worked out and needs it worked out his way. He’ll always try and he’ll always put in a good effort.” For entries for Tuesday’s card, click here. First post time at Yonkers is 7:10 p.m. by Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. - When 4-year-old trotter Tight Lines steps onto the track for the Yonkers Raceway/SOA of NY Bonus Trotting Series Tuesday night, he will be the favorite in his division, the first of six such $25,000 splits on the harness racing program. However, the gelded son of Yankee Glide is lucky to be stepping onto the track at all. Tight Lines was a $45,000 yearling prospect picked out of the 2014 Harrisburg Sale by trainer and co-owner Jeff Gregory. He showed immediate promise and rose to the top of Gregory’s yearling class before a freak accident sent him to the sidelines in February 2015. “First of all, he had a couple OCDs in a hind ankle and a hock and we had to have surgery on him. Then, about halfway through the winter, he ran through a fence and he chipped his stifle and we had to have a second surgery on his stifle,” Gregory explained. The accident set Tight Lines back about two months in his training and he only raced twice as a 2-year-old. He finished seventh on debut at Pocono Downs August 15 and showed improvement as the runner up next time out at Harrah’s Philadelphia September 10. “We only got him ready real, real late. I only raced him twice and just shut him down just to get him some experience, but he was one of my best-training yearlings,” Gregory recalled. Gregory’s patience with Tight Lines as a freshman paid off in the gelding’s 3-year-old campaign. Tight Lines broke his maiden in his sophomore debut at Pocono Downs May 1 and three starts later, finished second at odds of 43-1 in a division of the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes at Harrah’s Philadelphia June 2. By August, Tight Lines brought Gregory to one of harness racing’s biggest stages when he raced in a $70,000 elimination of the Hambletonian in just his twelfth career start. “Hambletonian Day, a couple horses made breaks in front of me and tried to get off the track, but the dust was flying all over the place and he kind of got interfered with there,” Gregory said. “He definitely would have made the final of the Hambo. It was very disappointing, but I really didn’t think it was his fault.” Seven weeks later, Gregory sent Tight Lines straight to the lead in the $122,500 Old Oaken Bucket Stakes on Little Brown Jug Day. He led through three-quarters, but came under pressure from Blenheim on the final turn. Into the stretch, Blenheim struck the front and raced away while Cufflink Hanover chased. Tight Lines finished third in 1:54.3 and impressed his connections. “He raced really good on Jug Day. Cut the mile and got beat by a couple pretty good horses, but trotted in :54-and-a-piece on a half-mile track,” Gregory said. “He really showed us that he’s gritty and he loves what he’s doing. He loves his job.” Tight Lines claimed his biggest career victory in his next start when he changed tactics and made up a 9 1/2-length deficit in a $43,800 division of the Keystone Classic and The Meadows October 3. He enjoyed a second-over trip behind Cufflink Hanover that day and trotted to a lifetime mark of 1:54.1. Tight Lines scratched sick from his next two races, forcing an early end to a campaign that earned him $108,306 in 15 races. Gregory hopes this will prove to be a blessing in disguise as Tight Lines sets his sights on the Yonkers Raceway/SOA of NY Bonus Series for horses who had not won six races or $100,000 through February 1, 2017. “He spiked a temperature the day of the race twice in a row right at the end of the year, so we just shut him down, gave him a break,” he said. “By doing that, he stayed eligible for this SOA series because he only had five pari-mutuel wins. Maybe it’s going to work out for him if he can do a little good in this thing.” The time off suited Tight Lines well. He matured during his break from training and came back stronger than ever. “He’s never been a real heavy horse, but over the winter when he was turned out, he really filled out,” Gregory explained. “He’s a little bit stronger this year, so I’m thinking that will help him as a 4-year-old for sure.” Tight Lines prepared for the series opener win a start in a $27,000 overnight at Yonkers March 19. Gregory hoped to race the gelding from off the pace in his first start of the season, but when the toteboard showed Tight Lines was an odds-on favorite, his plans changed. “I was hoping to give him a trip and just race him on the tail end of it,” he explained. “I wasn’t going to take him back when he was getting bet that short, so I left the gate with him. It just so happens I landed on the front end, but I just felt like I had to be a little more aggressive than I planned on to give everybody a fair shot.” Tight Lines proved versatile as he wired the field, winning by a measured three-quarters of-a-length in 1:57.0. That effort solidified his position as the 9/5 morning line favorite in his division of the Bonus Series Tuesday night. “I’m sure he’s going to make a good account for himself. He never disappoints us, so I’m expecting good things from him.” First post time at Yonkers is 7:10 p.m. Click here to view entries for Tuesday’s card. by Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. - Last October, harness racing trainer Rene Allard closed the deal on a racehorse he had been eyeing for a long time when he bought Keystone Velocity, a then 8-year-old son of Western Hanover with $487,252 in the bank who had just set a lifetime mark of 1:48.2. While he retained an interest in the pacer, Allard sought partners and approached VIP Stable’s Ed O’Connor. Expecting a consistent older pacer and a George Morton Levy Series prospect, O’Connor was surprised when he examined Keystone Velocity’s record. The stallion had just 82 starts and missed almost two years of racing; he won his final start of 2014 at Yonkers July 5 and resumed his career May 14, 2016 at Pocono Downs. “It was not what we were expecting,” he said. “I looked him up and he had been racing a while, but he missed a lot of time and for 8, he just didn’t have a lot of starts. I was assuming injury and kind of soured on him, but (Rene) said that wasn’t the issue.” Keystone Velocity was sound and hadn’t suffered any serious injuries. Instead, an ownership dispute kept him away from the races. The circumstances were unusual, but put O’Connor’s mind at ease. VIP Stable invested in Keystone Velocity, along with Kapildeo Singh and Earl Hill, Jr. “An expensive older horse is fine, but we were a little hesitant until we found out it wasn’t an injury,” O’Connor explained. “The fact that he had much less racing on him than his age indicated made us feel pretty good. He had been racing lights out at Pocono, he was training pretty fast. Rene was pretty sure that he could get around a half no problem. All the way around we were pretty happy with getting involved.” VIP Stable, one of harness racing’s most recognizable fractional ownership groups, sold their share of Keystone Velocity to a handful of partners, helping to make the dream of owning a stakes-caliber pacer affordable. “There’s nobody who walked in and handed us their last $5 and turned it into a lotto ticket, but everybody involved is pretty happy,” O’Connor joked. Offering horses like Keystone Velocity is critical to the success of VIP Stable, whose goal is to bring new owners into the sport and allow them to experience everything racehorse ownership has to offer while receiving expert advice without breaking the bank. “It’s probably the best advertising that a group like ours can get. We can go out and buy commercials at the tracks, on social media, or where ever and it doesn’t say as much about us as seeing horses of ours win big races like the Levy,” O’Connor explained. “We’ve done pretty well in past years racing in this event and this is one we’d really like to get some more cash out of. It’s pretty prestigious.” Keystone Velocity’s first start for his new owners came in the $250,000 Invitational Pace on Yonkers International Trot Day, where he finished seventh. He finished second in his next three outings, all in Open company at Yonkers, before closing the year with a hard-charging fourth place finish in the Potomac Pace at Rosecroft Raceway. “Clearly it would have been nice to get the first victory right out of the gate, but we understood he was racing some big horses,” O’Connor reasoned. “He was racing really well and Rene was really happy with him. He looked at it as a good opportunity to give him just a little time off. Not that he was tired or anything, but to have him 100 percent ready for the Levy. That was the goal all along even when we first bought him.” Keystone Velocity started in the first round of the Levy Series March 18. After settling into third early, driver Dan Dube guided the stallion to the outside and brushed to the lead past the three-eighths pole. On a sloppy and tiring surface, Keystone Velocity finished fifth beaten 3 1/2 lengths. Still, his connections were impressed. “Keystone Velocity had to race really hard to get to the front. It’s not like he made an easy lead and faded,” O’Connor said. “He raced his guts out on a track that was really playing against speed horses and I think finished better than a lot of the horses who did get an easy lead, so we weren’t discouraged at all. We knew he was much, much better.” The second round of the Levy Series March 25 proved O’Connor right. While rival Bettor’s Edge set a reasonable pace, posting fractions of :27.3, :56.1, and 1:24.0, Keystone Velocity faced a first-over journey. He edged out of fourth with a half-mile to race and effortlessly glided within 2 lengths of the lead. Urged on by his driver and with the plugs out, Keystone Velocity turned into the stretch on even terms with the race’s longtime leader. Dube slapped his wheeldisk once, twice, then Keystone Velocity felt the whip on his back as he and Bettor’s Edge accelerated away from the field. Inside the final sixteenth, Keystone Velocity put his neck in front determinedly to defeat Bettor’s Edge. Dr. J Hanover finished third by another 3 1/2 lengths. Keystone Velocity stopped the clock in 1:51.3 and posted a :27.1 final quarter in his first victory for his new connections. “Last week, he was super. He went first-up at them and put in a huge back-half. That was a really nice mile. He’s good on the front end, but he’s done ok for us coming from behind,” O’Connor said. This week, Keystone Velocity is the 8/5 morning line division in the third of four $50,000 Levy splits Saturday night at Yonkers. Starting from the rail, he’ll face Provocativeprincen, Caviart Luca, and four other rivals. “I think he fits really well. There isn’t an easy spot in any of these, but he drew away from a couple of the other really nice ones. We’re just going to hope he can get out there, get a good position, and with any luck, be in front at the end. That would be super,” O’Connor said. “We’re hoping for the best, especially drawing the rail this week,” he continued. “If he can get a little bit of an easier trip this week, we think we’ll be in really good shape for the next couple of weeks and the final.” First post time at Yonkers is 7:10 p.m. Click here to view entries for Saturday’s card. by Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. - Driver Yannick Gingras felt confident in 4-year-old mare Vintage Babe when she faced the starting gate for the opening leg of the Petticoat Series at Yonkers Raceway March 6. The daughter of Vintage Master who Gingras co-owns had won four of her seven seasonal starts and hit the board in the other three, but those races were all out of town on bigger harness racing tracks. Vintage Babe’s first start on Yonkers’ half-mile oval was anything but routine. There was a recall before the race and Gingras could sense his mare was unsettled. When the wings of the gate finally folded, Vintage Babe left hard, but went off stride before the midway point of the first turn. “She caught me by surprise. She got really hot and she went into the first turn pulling hard on me and wanting to go way too fast,” Gingras remembered. “She made a break there and I kind of shrugged it off thinking she was a little too excited, a little too grabby.” Although she lost several lengths, Vintage Babe reset her gait in a matter of strides. Turning into the backstretch, Gingras found himself in a tough spot. Vintage Babe was caught wide in fifth about 6 lengths from the lead. However, as the race’s 1/20 favorite, Gingras’ decision was clear. “As soon as she got back pacing I knew I had to pull back to last or make a move to go to the front. For me, there was only really one option: it was go to the front,” he said. Although Vintage Babe sprinted to the lead and held off her challengers to the wire, she hardly lived up to her odds-on status. She won by a desperate half-length in 1:57.2 and only mustered a :30.3 final quarter. “She was really no good,” Gingras said. “Something was really off with her because once she made the front, she barely held on and that’s not her. That race, even though she made a break, she should have won by 5, honestly.” For week two of the Petticoat, Gingras and trainer Ed Gannon, Jr. made some adjustments they thought would help Vintage Babe negotiate the Hilltop Oval. Instead, she made another break while unhurried at the start from post position five. “She made a break before she even got to the turn. That really raised a red flag for me like something is really up with her. She’s not like that usually. Before she even got to the turn, she was protecting herself,” Gingras recalled. Despite her early troubles, Vintage Babe again reset and made the most of her predicament. Charging from last, she passed a rival on the outside before diving back to the pylons on the final turn. Gingras guided her into the passing lane in the stretch and she rallied to finished third 6 lengths behind winner St Kitts. In doing so, she earned enough points to make the Petticoat Final. “I never really got her going till almost the top of the stretch and from where I was sitting, there wasn’t much of a chance. She paced the stretch really good the second week,” Gingras said. Although Vintage Babe’s path to the Petticoat Final was unconventional, it comes as a pleasant surprise for her connections. Gingras partnered with longtime friends Frank Canzone, Bob Sabatini, and Gannon to buy her out of the 2016 Harrisburg sale for $40,000. “Frank Canzone, we go way, way back. He’s actually the first guy that bought horses with me when I came to Yonkers 15 years ago,” Gingras remembered. “Ed had a horse named Looking Hanover years ago. He owned him already and I was driving for him. I actually tried to buy him to give him to Burke to train, but he wasn’t interested in selling the horse. I ended up buying a piece of him and that’s how we hooked up.” The group hoped Vintage Babe could make money racing in conditioned races at Dover Downs this winter. She exceeded expectations, winning her first six starts at the Delaware speedway and set a new lifetime mark of 1:52.2 January 10. As the wins piled up, so did her earnings. Vintage Babe has already made $49,010 this year, bringing her career total to $99,591. By earning enough points to make the Petticoat Series Final in the first two legs, Vintage Babe was able to skip the last preliminary March 20. Her connections seized the opportunity to make adjustments. Now, she’s primed for Monday’s $61,000 stakes where she’s the 5/2 second choice on the morning line. “The week off will definitely be beneficial to her. She hasn’t been that good on the half and racing her four weeks in a row would have been a little too much for her,” Gingras said. “The day after that second race, we got a lot of vet work done on her and had two weeks to work. There were a lot of positives there. “We were able to train at the farm, do the equipment changes, and try them versus just trying them in a race. That was positive as well,” he continued. “She trains on a half-mile track at home and she trained quite hard at the farm this week. (Ed) said she could not have trained any better. We’re really optimistic.” Even if Vintage Babe handles the track, the Petticoat Final won’t be a walk in the park. The race’s favorite, Cousin Mary, raced in all three preliminary legs and won them by 5 3/4, 5, and 3/4 lengths, respectively. Cousin Mary drew the rail in the final and was installed as the 9/5 favorite. “On paper, the best horse got the rail. Obviously I think she’ll end up cutting the mile,” Gingras reasoned. “As far as I’m concerned, I just have to make it through the first turn and go from there. There’s no plan going in. “I’ll see how she feels in the post parade. I’ll score her down quite a bit to see how she feels. I still think that Cousin Mary is a really nice mare, but I know how good my mare is as well. If she doesn’t struggle on the turns, I think I can go with her. I’m not saying I can beat her, but I do know that my mare is in the same class as her.” The Petticoat Series Final is race 8 on a 12-race card Monday night at Yonkers. The $30,000 Petticoat Series Consolation supports the program two races earlier. Click here to view entries for the card. First post time is 7:10 p.m. by Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

ONKERS, N.Y. - Since taking over the training of his father’s Bamond Harness Racing Stable, two years ago, Jeff Bamond Jr. has reached the sport’s greatest heights. His starters have won a host of Grand Circuit stakes across the country and have achieved overnight success at Yonkers Raceway; last year, Bamond finished fourth in the Yonkers trainer standings with 98 victories and $2,118,162 in purses earned. Despite his success, the 32-year-old maintains a humble attitude. “I’ve been blessed. I have a good opportunity and I’m fortunate to make the most of it,” he said. “There’s not much I can say about it. I’ve been very blessed and not a lot of people have that opportunity.” Three of Bamond’s biggest stars will be on display this weekend at Yonkers. Krispy Apple will start in Friday’s second leg of the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series while Mach It So and P H Supercam are set to race in Saturday’s George Morton Levy Series second leg. Krispy Apple made her first start of the season March 10 when she finished seventh in the $50,000 Filly and Mare Open Handicap from post position eight. While she didn’t make an impression, Bamond felt the start was valuable. “I think you always get something out of it. Unfortunately when you get fractions that let really good mares come home in 27 seconds, you’re not really going to go anywhere when you’re 7 or 8 lengths away. It can help you when you finally do draw inside,” he said. Krispy Apple is 9-years-old and last week, began contesting the Matchmaker Series for the sixth consecutive year. She won the $75,000 consolation as a 4-year-old in 2012 and has made the final every year since. While her work in the series has been strong, luck has worked against the earner of $1.86 million. In her four tries in the Matchmaker final, she’s started from posts eight, seven, five, and six. “It’s about time she gets lucky at some point,” Bamond joked. “Maybe this will be her year. Some of these horses, the series takes a lot out of them. That’s the hardest part about the series. It’s so hard to make the final, but then when you get there, you have to make sure you have some horse left.” Krispy Apple concluded her 2016 campaign December 16 and enjoyed a month long break from training. The easy-going daughter of Western Ideal out of Apple Krisp trained back as willingly as ever ahead of her first start. “There’s not much to her in a sense. She’s pretty low maintenance and does a good job of taking care of herself. You wouldn’t know she’s even there,” Bamond explained. “She jogs pretty much every day and trains once or twice a week. She’s pretty easy to bring back.” Last week, Krispy Apple finished fifth behind Mach It A Par and Bedroomconfessions in the first leg of the Matchmaker. While she started from post seven and was 10 1/4 lengths behind at the quarter, Krispy Apple closed with a :27.0 final quarter to finish just 3 1/4 lengths back. She earned 5 points for her finish and another 25 for starting, bringing her point total to 30. This week, Krispy Apple is set for a rematch with Bedroomconfessions and she finally drew a post position she can work with. She’ll start from post three as a 7-2 morning line while Bedroomconfessions is 9-5 from the pylons. Brett Miller will drive Krispy Apple for the second straight week. “(Brett Miller) was willing to come over. He’s done a really good job in the last couple years with some stakes horses,” Bamond said of his choice of driver. “Jason (Bartlett) had a real big drive in Mach It A Par; I knew that would be risky whether we would get him or not because that mare has been really good. I figured you might as well bring somebody in and maybe it will work out. “Hopefully she can get away somewhere good. Whatever Brett wants do, whether he leaves. Either way, she should be a lot closer this week than before. Hopefully it works out in that regard.” Bamond will send out Mach It So and P H Supercam in Saturday night’s second and third division of the Levy, respectively. Mach It So is in his third year of Levy competition and like his stablemate, has bad luck at the draw of the final. The past three years, the $1.7 million-earning son of Mach Three has started from post seven twice. The other time, he drew post eight. Mach It So made his first start of the season in last week’s series opener. He finished third beaten a neck while chasing the streaking ProvocativeprinceN and Rockin Ron. “I thought he was good. There was definitely some sharp horses that finished first and second. They had raced a couple more times,” Bamond said of the competition. “I was happy with him. I though he finished up good.” Although Mach It So had two qualifiers to prepare for his seasonal debut, Bamond says there’s no substitute for the real thing. He expects Mach It So to race even better this week. “I think a lot of times you see horses qualify even three times and sometimes you’ll see horses go a really fast qualifier, like 1:50. In their first start, they still look like they need a start. I don’t think you can really duplicate a race whether you qualify once, twice, three times, or whatever it is,” he reasoned. Mach It So is the 5-2 favorite in his Levy division and will employ the services of regular driver Tim Tetrick. From post four, he will start just to the outside of his main rivals, including last year’s champion Bit Of A Legend, Soto, winner of a Levy division last week, and Rockin Ron. “He’s in with some good horses again. Obviously it’s a tough series. You’re always going to get one or two really good horses and the rest are competitive too,” Bamond said. “I think he can do anything Timmy wants. He can leave, he can come off the pace. That’s what I think it’s the best thing for him, he can make a game plan as he goes along there. He’s a little bit of a trip horse in the sense that I think Timmy will try to find a good trip for him. If you want to get a good trip, Tim’s a good man to get.” While Krispy Apple and Mach It So represent his best chances, Bamond will also send out one of the stable’s veterans, 10-year-old P H Supercam, in the third Levy division Saturday night. The son of Million Dollar Cam is a 53-time winner from 213 starts. His victory in the 2014 Levy Series Final contributed to his $1.5 million bankroll. “I think maybe age is catching up to him a little bit, but I felt like we owed it to him to put him in there just because I know he’s been so good in there,” Bamond said, alluding to P H Supercam’s recent form. The gelding is winless in nine starts this year, but looks to turn the tables this week with a favorable draw. Still, he’s a 15-1 outsider on the morning line. “He didn’t have a good post last week. He’d been leaving out of there a couple weeks in a row. I wanted to give him another shot to come off the pace and see if he can regain what he does best, which is chase down some horses.” Friday’s card at Yonkers features three divisions of the Blue Chip Matchmaker series while Saturday’s card features four Levy divisions. First post time is 7:10 p.m. each night. by Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, NY - When Devil Child makes her 2017 debut Friday night at Yonkers Raceway, she will also make her first start for trainer John Butenschoen, who was tasked by owners Crawford Farms Racing and Susan Oakes of prepping the daughter of American Ideal for the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series. "We had a little bit of luck last year for the Crawfords," Butenschoen explained. "Chris (Oakes) is still in South Florida training the horses and this filly had the series coming up. They asked if I would take her." Butenschoen accepted and delegated the daily care and training of the multiple-stakes winner and $604,549-earner to his son, Tyler. The 27-year-old manages Butenschoen's northern string in the winter while the bulk of the team, John included, head to Florida to prepare the 2-year-olds for the coming year. This season, the Butenschoen stable has swelled with nine horses in training in Pennsylvania and about 50 2- and 3-year-olds prepping in Florida. The lineup of about 60 trotters and pacers is about 10 more than Butenschoen is used to conditioning at any given time. "We're really lucky. We've got a lot of good help down here in Florida and I've got a lot of good help up in Pennsylvania, so we were able to take it on to where it really didn't affect anything other than we've got to work a little bit more," Butenschoen said with a chuckle. His dedication to the 2-year-olds means Butenschoen has spent limited time with Devil Child. What he has seen first-hand impressed the conditioner. "When I went up there to the Meadowlands sale, she was in the barn. I looked at her and she was in great shape " he admired. "Physically she looked great. I mean great flesh, her legs were all clean, so we were able to put her on a pretty recommended schedule and the weather thankfully cooperated to where we were able to get things going." Although she hasn't raced since finishing second in a $26,000 overnight at Yonkers November 18, Devil Child's break at Crawford Farms in Durhamville, NY served her well and made the comeback process easier. "She was just freshened up. From what the Crawfords told me, she was out in the field, they have an Equicizer, they have exercise wheel, they have things that you can keep the horse in training without being in training. So, all we were trying to do was get her back racing, fit, and let her talent take care of it." Devil Child's final preparations for her return to racing began March 3 when she qualified at Yonkers. With Mark MacDonald at the lines, she showed speed from post seven before finishing third in 1:55.0 with a :28.4 final quarter. A week later, she qualified again. This time, she finished fourth in 1:56.0 with a :29.2 final panel for leading driver Jason Bartlett, who will drive Friday night. "We trained her in :58 at the farm before we took her in to qualify. Both of her qualifiers were encouraging. Mark was happy with her the first week and Jason was happy with her last week," Butenschoen said. Devil Child is a 6-1 morning line chance in her $40,000 division of the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series. She drew post position four and avoids some of the series favorites in week one as Mach It A Par and Bedroomconfessions will start in division two. "She got into a good spot. It worked out where if we would've been in either of the other divisions, the horses that Jason is driving in those divisions are obviously a little more accomplished this year. We're able to retain him to drive her, so that's a plus. The four hole is a plus. It looks like probably on paper it's the right division," Butenschoen reasoned. "We'll see where we're at. The first start it will be interesting to see what she's up to, but I think she's capable of going along otherwise we wouldn't have put her in there," he continued. "We're hopeful. I'll be watching from sunny Central Florida here and hoping that she does a little good." The first of five weeks of preliminary competition in the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series features three $40,000 divisions, each with a full field of eight. First post time is 7:10 p.m. by Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. - When harness racing trainer Tyler George planned to ship his filly Angelinmyway to Yonkers Raceway for the Petticoat Series, he knew he’d have room on the trailer for another horse. Rather than waste the opportunity, George nominated aged pacing mare American Girl to the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series and planned to ship her east for the first time.  “The races in Ohio are getting tougher all the time, so I thought, ‘well, since I’m coming, I’ll bring [American Girl] along and give her a shot in there,’ ” George explained. “If she can catch a break here and there, maybe we can make some good purse money with her because she’s tough and she has pretty good gate speed to get into position.” Although she’s never raced outside Indiana and Ohio and has never competed on the Grand Circuit, American Girl has the credentials to take on the sport’s best mares in the Matchmaker Series. The 8-year-old has won 39 of her 149 races and hit the board in another 70. The daughter of Art’s Chip out of the Dragon Again mare L Dees Lourdes has earned $765,388 and posted a mark of 1:50.3 last year at Hoosier Park. Early in her 2017 season, American Girl boasts one victory from seven starts and another six on-the-board finishes in Miami Valley Raceway’s Filly and Mare Open Pace. George credits American Girl’s remarkable consistency over the years to her mental and physical toughness. “She’s a very sound horse; she doesn’t take a lot of work and she’s just really smart,” he explained. “She loves her job every day. I’ve had her for almost a year-and-a-half now. I gave her a little rest over the summer, but she just doesn’t ever really seem to mind doing her work. She likes to race. She’s a real competitive animal.” Since shipping to Mark Ford’s Training Center in Middletown, New York, American Girl and her trainer have adapted well to the east coast. While American Girl will get her first taste of the Hilltop Oval in Friday’s $50,000 Filly and Mare Open Handicap Pace, George acclimated Monday night when Angelinmyway charged from a 13-length deficit to finish second beaten just 1 1/4 lengths in the first division of the opening leg of the Petticoat Series at odds of 12-1. “This is my first time here. It’s great. The ship to Yonkers wasn’t bad at all from here. It took me about an hour; it’s a piece of cake,” he said. “The track was good at Yonkers, the people were nice. So far so good.” American Girl drew post position five for her Yonkers debut and she’ll encounter a host of new challenges Friday night. She’s never shipped this far to race, she’s never raced on a half-mile track, and she’ll have a new driver in the sulky as Scott Zeron will take the lines for the first time. One by one however, her trainer dismissed them all. While the 30-year-old isn’t cocky, the confidence and admiration he holds for his mare is apparent. “She shipped out here well; she handled that good, she’s eating and all that stuff. She’ll take it all in stride like she has pretty much everything else in her life,” George began. “Before she started going to Ohio in 2015, she had never been on a five-eighths and she seems to handle that really well. She’s phenomenally gaited. She wears boots, but she doesn’t really need them, doesn’t seem to run in and out at all. I don’t think the half-mile track will be a problem at all,” he continued. “She’s easy to drive. If you pull her hard, she’ll come right back to you. She’s pure class. She’s made a lot of money in her life and she’s had a few different drivers, not a ton, but she’s easy,” he finished. While American Girl does her best work racing on or near the lead, she has shown versatility in Ohio. She’s won from the pocket and from first-over and races well from nearly any position in the Buckeye State, where the racing action can be intense. George thinks that versatility will be even more apparent on a half-mile track. “With her gate speed, if she draws right that would be beneficial for her because I think if they tend to race more conservatively here, she would be a lot more versatile than she will be in Ohio just because they race so much harder,” he explained. “I think she can be a little more versatile here if she has to race up into some slower fractions compared to first-up into 1:22.” American Girl is a 15-1 outsider on the morning line in Friday’s Filly and Mare Open Handicap, the final regular distaff feature before the Matchmaker Series commences next week (March 17). Regil Elektra, who drew the comfortable post position two, is the race’s 2-1 favorite and seeks her second victory of the season for trainer Keith Armer. Fifty-time winner and earner of $1.8 million Krispy Apple will make her first start of 2017 for Bamond Racing at odds of 5-2, but must negotiate post position eight. Change The Rulz N, Empress Deo, Sail To The Beach, Know It All, and Delightful Dragon complete the field. First post time is 7:10 p.m. by Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

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