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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

YONKERS, N.Y. – After visiting his New Jersey stable Wednesday to train his pacers bound for the Blue Chip Matchmaker and George Morton Levy Series at Yonkers Raceway, Ross Croghan is excited to see what the next six weeks will hold. Croghan will start four horses in the first leg of harness racing series action at Yonkers Raceway this weekend: Call Me Queen Be and Twinkle in the Matchmaker and Waikiki Beach and Hug The Wind in the Levy. Although he’d like to be with his stars full time, a barn of 44 horses in Florida keeps him away. “I’d like to be up there with them, but I just can’t be in two places at once,” Croghan lamented. “I trained all those Levy and Matchmaker horses (Wednesday) morning. I just wanted to make sure they’re all good. They all felt fantastic. I’ve got two mares in the Matchmaker, they’re both as sharp as racehorses can be.” Although $1.2 million earner Call Me Queen Be will make her seasonal debut from post three in the third Matchmaker division Friday night (March 16), Croghan’s focus will be on up-and-coming mare Twinkle. A $77,000 yearling buy out of the 2014 Lexington Select Sale, Twinkle went largely unnoticed last year after making her career debut as a 4-year-old. In the eyes of her trainer however, Twinkle has already shown hints of being something special. “She broke beautiful and she was just so smooth and even. You could put a glass of water on her back and you wouldn’t spill a drop. When you sit behind them and you feel that, you say to yourself, ‘that’s beautiful balance,’ ” Croghan recalled. “But then, by the time she had been training for three months, it was obvious she had growing pains. Usually by 3, they’re better, but she was just one of those horses that wasn’t.” Croghan talked owners Let It Ride Stables and Dana Parham into letting the young filly develop. Even as the opportunity for a 3-year-old season came and went, Croghan never forgot the promise Twinkle showed early in her training and never gave up on the daughter of Bettor’s Delight. “It took her a long time to become a sound horse that you could push on with. I just kept putting her aside thinking she will eventually grow up and her growing pains will go away and last year she did,” Croghan said. “In this day and age, you get pressured because you pay for stakes and there was a point where I thought the owners were going to say to me enough’s enough. I told them I really like this filly and they just said ok and just put up with it. I think they’re going to get paid.” When she finally began racing, Twinkle showed she could carry her morning talent to the races. She went 11-for-12 last year with another second-place finish, good for $101,250 in earnings. In just her third start, Twinkle posted a lifetime best 1:51.3 victory from post 10 at the Meadowlands with John Campbell in the sulky. Croghan remembers the Hall of Fame driver gushing over the filly post-race. “He came in and said, ‘I think you have something special here. Green horses are not supposed to do what she just did.’ ” Now 5 years old, Twinkle will make her stakes debut in the first leg of the Matchmaker Friday night. Eric Goodell will drive the 4-1 shot from post two. Series veteran Regil Elektra will start to Twinkle’s immediate outside while defending Matchmaker champion Makenzie drew post seven. Although the competition is more seasoned, Croghan is confident heading into the series after watching Twinkle out-train Call Me Queen Be this winter. “I’m not a guy that steps on the gas too much training,” he explained. “You just ask them to step that last eighth and you’re looking across and you see that one horse is almost coming out of their hobbles they’re pacing so fast and you look across at the other one and she still has the bit between her teeth. I’ve trained her plenty now and she’s impressive. If you speak to her and then look at your watch, you go, ‘oh my god!’ I’ve had a lot of good mares and this might be one of the best I’ve had.” In addition to his Matchmaker duo, Croghan will start a pair of horses in the Levy Saturday night (March 17). Although Hug The Wind is an outsider in the third division, Waikiki Beach figures to be a major contender in the evening’s second split. A five-time Group 1 winner in Australia and earner of $708,019 for Mark Purdon, Waikiki Beach started his career with 17 consecutive victories from April 2015 to May 2016. Although he was winless in five starts as a 4-year-old last year, Waikiki Beach still finished second in the Group 1 Chariots of Fire at Menangle February 11 and fourth in the Group 1 Miracle Mile February 25. However, after a string of off-the-board finishes in New Zealand in October and November, Croghan learned Waikiki Beach could be for sale. “I went down there to buy some horses and he was just on my radar,” Croghan said. “Sensational 2- and 3-year-old. He hit 4 years old against some of the best horses in the world. As a 4-year-old, it’s not that he raced bad, he just didn’t beat the top-flight ones. He was just on my radar to check out to see if he could possibly be on the market. Through a lot of negotiating and a lot of time, I got a deal done.” Waikiki Beach shipped to the United States December 4, 2017 and after a stopover in New Jersey, the son of Somebeachsomewhere out of the Bettor’s Delight mare Cyclone Beach joined Croghan’s main string in Florida. The kind-mannered horse has proven a pleasure to work with thus far. “He’s just fantastic. His manners are impeccable. He’s just a lovely horse,” Croghan remarked. “He’s a typical ‘Beach;’ he’s just got that fire in his blood. He’s a very, very smart horse, that’s what he is. He’s got a little bit of fire in his blood, but he’s very smart. “ ‘Waikiki’ is just turn-key. You could send a child out to train him, he knows what he’s doing,” Croghan continued. “Most foreign horses, it’s a big change for them to leave their comfort zone, especially coming over in the middle of winter. From day one, he just went out on the track, never looked sideways, never took a hold of you. He doesn’t wear an overcheck, he holds himself in perfect balance at all times. He’s just a pleasure to get ready. He’s just got those beautiful racehorse manners.” Croghan had Waikiki Beach ready to qualify at Pompano January 21 and a week later, he made his fist start on U.S. soil in the Open Handicap at the South Florida racetrack. Waikiki Beach won his debut in 1:51.4 and returned the following week to score in 1:50.2. After a brief freshening before the grueling Levy Series begins, Croghan tuned Waikiki Beach up with a 1:55.4 qualifier at Pompano March 4. While he considered the trial a success, he was surprised at how lazy Waikiki Beach was on the lead. “His qualifier, I would have liked to have gone a little bit quicker, but it was his first time on the engine and he was just a little bit lazy,” Croghan said. “He just didn’t quite get into it, but when Scott Zeron came off the track with him, I said, ‘is he ok?’ He said, ‘he’s lazy on the front end, but as soon as he saw that horse coming to him, there was plenty in the tank.’ ” Croghan thinks the ear plugs used in the morning contributed to Waikiki Beach’s modest qualifier. The gelding doesn’t wear them on race day. “He has won on the front end plenty,” Croghan said. “I got him ready and made sure he stayed nice and quiet. It’s just in that last qualifier, he was a little too quiet. But he had his ear plugs in and he doesn’t have them in the race. When I race him, I take the ear plugs off him. I just keep them in for training and qualifying.” Waikiki Beach will start from post five in his Levy division Saturday night. He’ll face 2017 series winner Keystone Velocity, who drew post seven. Although Croghan is confident, he admits there is no standout in this year’s series. “The draw is in my favor, it’s not in his, but it’s six weeks of racing. I can’t say that he’s not going to be razor sharp because I actually think he will be,” Croghan said. “Between the qualifier and when he’ll race it’s going to be 13 days, but I trained him two trips (Wednesday) morning. He just felt fantastic. I do expect him to step out pretty close to 100 percent ready. “He’s a nice horse and I think he fits that series,” Croghan continued. “I’m not going to call him a standout or anything like that. It’s a very even bunch of horses and when the final comes around, the draw plays a massive part of it. You’ve got to be lucky.” First post time at Yonkers Friday and Saturday night is 6:50 p.m. For Friday’s entries, click here. For Saturday’s entries, click here. Yonkers Sunday Post Time Yonkers Raceway’s first post for this Sunday’s (March 18th) matinee has been set at 11:45 AM. Races 5 (post time 1:30 PM) through 11 (post time 4:25 PM) go as the ‘French’  trots, with the 12th-race finale scheduled for 4:40 PM. Sunday’s ‘New York, New York Double’ consists of Aqueduct’s 3rd race (post time 2:21 PM) and Yonkers’ 7th race (post time 2:30 PM). Program pages accompany this release. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Two weeks after announcing an ambitious harness racing program that would see 24 French-bred trotters flown to North America to compete at Yonkers Raceway, Standardbred Owners’ Association of New York Executive Director Alex Dadoyan’s initial nerves have transformed to cautious optimism. With several of the spaces already filled, the program is attracting significant interest from local horsepeople. “We did bounce the idea off some people, but it was a big unknown how it was going to be received,” Dadoyan admitted. “Right away when we announced it, there was a lot of positive interest, which is really rare in this game. The owners, trainers, and horsepeople who called looking for more information all seemed genuinely interested in it, intrigued by it, and wanting to learn more about it. “The reception has been very positive,” he continued. “We have a bunch of people who are already lined up and have made their deposits and we have a bunch of people who say they are going to participate and we hope to fill the number that we’re looking for.” The SOA of NY’s pioneering program to import two-dozen French trotters was formed with several goals in mind. It serves to strengthen the relationship between Yonkers and the French trotting association LeTrot, entice French bettors to increase their handle on Yonkers’ races simulcast to France, and address a shortage of trotters competing at the track. The program will also give local horsepeople a chance to buy a horse at a relatively low price point who will be eligible to race in a rich series restricted to French-bred trotters. “There’s multiple things going on. We simulcast the races over to France and if people are betting on races from Yonkers, obviously races that have French horses that they know are going to be more attractive, more interesting to their bettors than horses they’ve never heard of,” Dadoyan explained. “If we were going to do this, we wanted to be able to card races that we could then send back over there,” he continued. “Those races are normally larger fields that we send over, so we weren’t going to do it and just bring back eight horses; that wasn’t going to achieve all of the goals, so we said, we’ll try to see if 24 people are going to be interested and ideally come back and card two full fields of races to send back there in the series for these horses that we bring over.” Organizing the sale of a large number of trotters to a foreign country isn’t a new endeavor for LeTrot. The organization routinely offers sales of promising high-steppers to developing trotting countries, such as Ireland. In this case, LeTrot will prepare a group of geldings 4-years-old and up who compete at a similar level for inspection by highly-experienced Yonkers horsemen. The team who selects the horses will be independent from those participating in the program and the horses selected will be randomly distributed to the 24 owners and trainers who commit to the program. “The thing that excites me, gives me a level of confidence is we’re taking over several trainers with us. The French are accustomed to holding these sales for other countries. They organize a bunch of horses and then people can come out and look at the horses,” Dadoyan said. “We’re going to get to go training trips with all of the horses and we’re going to have experienced trotting guys with us to make an educated assessment as to which of the bunch might have the best chance of having some success back home.” Each trotter selected will sell for $25,000 with an additional $3,000 shipping charge, meaning the total expenditure to buy into the program is $28,000. The trotters who make the cut will be eligible to race in a multi-leg series with a final to be held at Yonkers a few months after the horses arrive stateside. In addition to the purse money contributed by the track and the SOA, LeTrot will also add to the purses for these races. Specific details and purse-levels for the series will be announced in the coming weeks. “This gives the participants a chance to recoup their investment before they move to the local competition at whatever level they might end up racing at,” Dadoyan said. “We thought it was important to give an opportunity for these horses to just be in against themselves and it gives everyone a fair chance to make back some or all of their investment immediately. “When we card races exclusively for French-bred horses, the French Trotting Association will contribute money for the purses for those races, so we would have an amount of money contributed from over there for these races that are exclusively for French-bred trotters,” Dadoyan said. “It’s not a small amount of money. We’re going to make the races meaningful enough anyway, but it’s just a little something extra that we can offer everyone.” To participate in the program, a non-refundable deposit of $10,000 is required by March 26. The balance of $18,000 will be due by Thursday April 26. If the program is not fully subscribed by March 26, those making an initial deposit will be refunded. The selection of horses is scheduled in France during the period of the Yonkers shutdown at the end of May. If you are interested in participating in this program, please contact the SOA of NY at 914-968-3599 or via email at soaofny@optonline.net. All monies paid after the initial deposit will then be held in escrow in an interest-bearing account to the credit of the person depositing the funds. Space in the program is limited to the first 24 owners that reserve a slot by making a deposit.  YONKERS’ TUESDAY PICK 5 FEATURES $8,400 CARRYOVER, 20G GUARANTEE  A friendly reminder from Yonkers Raceway that Tuesday evening’s (March 13th) Pick 5 wager starts with a carryover of $8,478.75 and a $20,000 guaranteed pool. The Pick 5 is a 50-cent base wager comprising races 7 through 11 (if less than 11 races, it’s final five races during that particular card). It has no consolation payoff, meaning if no one selects all five winners (as was the case Monday night), the entire pool (minus takeout) moves to the next racing program. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – After a rare unplaced finish in her last outing at Yonkers, 6-year-old harness racing mare Safe From Terror will look to rebound in Friday night’s (March 9) $40,000 Filly and Mare Open Handicap Pace. Safe From Terror finished last in the distaff feature February 23 as the race’s 6-5 betting favorite, but trainer Rob Harmon noted the daughter of Western Terror has been battling a lingering illness since she arrived in his stable at the end of January. After trying to cure her with antibiotics on and off between races to conform to withdrawal times, Harmon finally gave Safe From Terror a week off to receive a full dose of medication. “She’s had a bug here and when we treat her, she’s good. But I have to stop treating her a couple days out because with the medicine, you just have to stop,” he said. “She just needed to get through it a whole week.” Safe From Terror finished sixth in her last start at Miami Valley January 19 before shipping east to Harmon. She finished second on debut for her new barn at The Meadowlands February 2 and again was the runner up in her next outing at Yonkers a week later. The daughter of Western Terror finally broke through with a win in the Filly and Mare Open Handicap February 16. Despite her sickness, Harmon describes Safe From Terror as “absolutely perfect.” A 49-time winner from 112 starts with another 30 placings, Safe From Terror has accumulated $931,207 in earnings. Out of In A Safe Place, Safe From Terror is a half-sister to Foiled Again and shares some of his gutsy qualities. “I wish I could pick her apart, I can’t. She’s a racer, she gives you her heart,” Harmon said. “She’s not a big horse, she’s a little horse. That’s the thing, she just goes, she’s got a set of lungs on her. She gives it her all when she’s healthy.” Safe From Terror came to Harmon’s stable after bouncing from track to track in the Midwest. Her owner, Dan Telle of Big Bad DT Racing Stable, set a goal for his mare to reach $1 million in earnings before she retires to broodmare duties. Unable to find a suitable place meet that objective in Ohio, Telle sought an east-coast trainer and called Harmon. “I’m lucky I got the opportunity to train her. They want to make $1 million and they thought it would be easier out here than running around Ohio,” Harmon explained. “A lot of the tracks won’t let her race there because every time she races there, she wins. She went to the Meadows and she won four or five and they told her not to come back there. Cleveland said the same, it’s just one of those deals. It’s a good problem to have.” Transitioning to Harmon’s stable came easy for Safe From Terror. She’s raced for eight other trainers throughout her career, including a stint for Ron Burke that saw her win the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes Final and Nadia Lobell as a 3-year-old. “There’s really nothing to figure out with her. She’s been a nice horse. Everybody that’s trained her, they’ve done good with her,” Harmon said. “She came with her own harness and everything and there was no sense in changing anything. We haven’t changed anything.” Safe From Terror will start from post six in Friday’s distaff feature, carded as race six on a 12-race program. Matt Kakaley will drive her for the first time since her 3-year-old campaign. She’s 10-1 on the morning line. As Harmon looks to have Safe From Terror back in top form with the Matchmaker Series quickly approaching, he admits her luck could largely depend on post positions. “With her, I think the posts are really going to count because she can’t leave that hard and it looks like she doesn’t race that great from the back,” he said. “She’s always parked or making a quarter move to the front going to the half. That’s the only thing, we’re making a half move and she just keeps going once she hits the front. You just keep chasing her, she just keeps going.” Safe From Terror will face seven rivals Friday night, including 3-1 early favorite Divas Image, who captured four consecutive distaff features at Dover Downs before being compromised by outside post positions in her two most recent starts. Gina Grace is a 7-2 chance after drawing post three and posting two wins in her first four North American starts for Larry Stalbaum and Kimberly Asher. Millionaire L A Delight will debut for trainer Nancy Johansson off two sharp qualifiers, but is a 7-1 morning line after drawing post seven. Itty Bitty, Delightful Dragon, Carobbean Pacetry, and All About Madi complete the field. Absent from the lineup is Sell A Bit, winner of the Filly and Mare Open Handicap from post eight February 23. “I think she’ll be ok. I know Matt Kakaley is our driver and hopefully he can stick with her through the Matchmaker,” Harmon said. “Sell A Bit’s not in there this week, but when you get up to that upper class, they’re all good horses.” First post time at Yonkers Friday night is 6:50 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. by Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

ONKERS, N.Y. – Blindswitch Racing Stable and harness racing trainer Al Annunziata will start a formidable pair in this week’s pacing features at Yonkers Raceway. Betabcool is the 7-2 co-second choice on the morning line in Friday’s $40,000 Filly and Mare Open Handicap while Don’tcallmefrancis is the 3-1 early favorite in Saturday’s $40,000 Open Handicap. Created by David Litvinsky six years ago, Blindswitch Racing Stable boasts a roster of about 30 horses, the most recent to join the ranks being Have Faith In Me, a champion pacer in Australia and New Zealand Blindswitch owns in partnership with VIP Stable, Robert Cooper, and Gary Axelrod. To reach the point of racing competitively in the Opens at Yonkers and importing the some of the Southern Hemisphere’s top horses, Blindswitch built success on the backs of its “core” four horses. “The first horse we claimed was Pan From Nantucket,” Litvinsky said. “He was so good. From there, it was BJ’s Guy. It was just lucky claims one after the other. Then RU Ready to Rock and Rock To Glory. Those were the core that kind of grew the stable. They were super horses. We’ve just been lucky with the claims and the right horses.” After achieving success in the claiming game, Litvinsky turned his attention to importing horses from Australia and New Zealand. He realized an average horse Down Under could be a good horse in the United States and a top horse from the Southern Hemisphere could be superior when brought stateside. “I think we started maybe three years ago with the Australian horses. I deal with an agent that kept calling us and saying, ‘hey, you’ve got to get this horse.’ They were cheaper back then. They were cheaper than they are now because now everybody’s doing it,” Litvinsky explained. “The horses that came over here, they were just average horses there, average to below average. Some of these horses are bleeders and a little bit of Lasix really freshens them up and obviously, they can breathe. We said, ‘let’s get some of the better horses there and they can be something really special here.’ ” Betabcool was one of those top horses Blindswitch imported. Purchased last year, the daughter of Bettor’s Delight was a 19-time winner from 84 starts in Australia, including wins in two Group 3 stakes, the Cinderella Stakes and the Norms Daughter Stakes. She began racing in North America last February and has posted seven victories and earned $221,500 since. Despite her success, Betabcool was originally overshadowed by stablemate Quick Draft. “We got her around the same time as Quick Draft,” Litvinsky said. “Quick Draft was actually the more classy horse coming over here; she was supposed to be the real deal, but as soon as we trained them together the first time, we just all knew that Betabcool was going to be the tougher horse, the better horse. She’s a really gutsy horse.” To start her 2018 campaign, Betabcool posted a neck victory in a $20,000 overnight at Yonkers January 12 with Jason Bartlett in the sulky. She finished third in her next start January 26 before scoring a nose win over Regil Elektra at the same level February 2 after starting from post seven and racing 8 ¾-lengths behind early. “Betabcool, we gave a month off to freshen up. She had a big season, so we turned her out a little early and she’s come back really, really strong. She’s super sharp right now,” Litvinsky said. Betabcool’s impressive races justified moving up to the Filly and Mare Open this week, where she’ll meet last week’s winner Sell A Bit, Motu Moonbeam, who won at this level two weeks ago, and fellow class-jumper Cousin Mary. Juxta Cowgirl, Jag Out, and Annabeth complete the field. Betabcool will start from post three. “She got Bartlett, which is obviously a big bonus,” Litvinsky said. “She’s definitely better from off the pace. I’m hoping there’s little action up front and she gets away third and comes first-over, comes home late. She’s a different horse up front. She likes to chase for sure.” While Betabcool came from overseas, Blindswitch obtained Don’tcallmefrancis by more tradition means. Litvinsky acquired the Rocknroll Hanover gelding for $55,000 at the 2017 Meadowlands Winter Sale, seeing potential in the 2016 Anthony Abbatiello Classic winner to become a talented older horse. “He had an amazing 3-year-old season, made $150,000, beat some nice horses,” he said. “When we first got him, he was really good, then he started tailing off a little bit, he was tying up, so it took a little while to get him back to where he was at 3.” Don’tcallmefrancis won six of 37 starts last year, good for $74,770, but the 5-year-old is off to a faster start this year. He won four races in a row, including two for a $50,000 tag at Yonkers in January, before taking on Open company last week. Much to Litvinsky’s surprise, Don’tcallmerancis finished second by a nose. “I didn’t expect him to finish first or second last weekend,” he admitted. “There are some nice horses in the Open, it’s a big step up from a 50 claimer. When the horse is sharp, I guess he can beat anybody.” Saturday night, Don’tcallmefrancis will start from post three with Greg Merton in the bike and will face seven rivals, including Killer Martini, a 7-1 winner of the Open last week, Orillia Joe, who strung together three straight wins in January, and Dream Out Loud, who finished third in his last two Open tries. All Down The Line, Gokudo Hanover, Thisjetsabookin, and Soto complete the lineup. “If he gets a good trip, he can definitely win. I don’t think he’s going to win first-over, but if he gets the right trip, he can definitely catch them. It’s a very classy field.” First post time Friday and Saturday night at Yonkers is 6:50 p.m.  For entries to Friday’s races, click here.  Saturday’s fields can be found here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Cajon Lightning looked well-spotted when he drew the inside post position for his Yonkers harness racing debut January 20. Trainer Eric Ell entered the gelding in a $30,000 overnight off a win the Open Handicap at Dover Downs the previous week and hoped Cajon Lightning would show speed and control the race. But while Cajon Lightning was shipping up from Delaware, Ell received a disappointing phone call: the truck had broken down on the highway, putting Cajon Lightning in jeopardy of missing the race. “When he called me and told me he broke down, I got another truck real quick and started up that way, but then I started making phone calls and I tried to find somebody closer that could grab him and get him up there, but I couldn’t get it done as hard as I tried,” Ell said. “It took me an hour-and-a-half to get to him and switch trucks. Then I sat with the broken-down truck and waited for a tow truck and sent him on his way.” Despite Ell’s best efforts, Cajon Lightning arrived at Yonkers 25 minutes late, resulting in a transportation scratch. Although he missed a coveted opportunity to race from the rail on the half-mile track, Cajon Lightning will get another chance to compete at the Hilltop Oval this week when he starts as the 5/2 morning line favorite in the $40,000 Open Handicap Pace Saturday January 27. Cajon Lightning established himself as a force in the winter series at Woodbine in 2015 and 2016 when he swept the Autumn Series and finished second in the Valedictory Final, the Ontario Boys Final, and the WEGZ Final for Richard Moreau. Cajon Lightning came to Ell’s stable that spring, but found it difficult to adjust to the warmer climate. “He’s just not a real good horse in the summer time, he likes cold weather,” Ell said. “When I brought him down from Canada, it was starting to get hot here. He was ok, but wasn’t what we thought he would be. When it started cooling off at Dover, he got really good as a 4-year-old and a 5-year-old and this year, even better. He’s just a killer this year. He’s got some allergy trouble and stuff that bothers him in the summer, but he’s a much better horse in the winter months.” Now 6 years old, Cajon Lightning is sharper than ever. He’s posted four wins at the Open level at Dover since November 16, including a lifetime best 1:49.4 victory in a dead heat with Sicily December 7. In addition to his speed, Cajon Lightning has also shown versatility in his recent wins, scoring on the lead and from well off the pace. The son of Mach Three is 20-for-80 in his career with $265,570 in earnings. “He’s rounded into a real, real nice racehorse now and you can do anything with him,” Ell said. “He’s a pleasure. There’s not one thing he does bad. Perfect gentlemen, working around him in the barn, he ships good. He’s lazy warming up, he’s not a grabby horse. You put him behind the gate and you can sprint of the gate a quarter in 26 or you can take off the gate with two fingers. He’s just an all-around perfect racehorse. Nice horse to have around.” Although Ell says Cajon Lightning may be better on a big track, he decided to take his chances at Yonkers when the top classes at Dover struggled to fill consistently. He already ships barn standout Soto to Yonkers to race, so adding Cajon Lightning to the trailer was a no-brainer. “He’s a great big horse, better on a big track, but I raced him at Harrington some and he was good there and that’s a tight half-mile too, so I think he’ll be ok at Yonkers. We’re going to hope anyway,” he explained. Although a winter storm altered Cajon Lightning’s training schedule ahead of his first race at Yonkers, Ell thinks he will be ready for his test against rivals Orillia Joe, who rides a two-race win streak into this week’s Open Handicap, but starts from post seven, and Gokudo Hanover, who won three straight at Yonkers before finishing second as the favorite in last week’s pacing feature. “I train on a half-mile farm track and the day I really wanted to train him, I got him out and jogged, but that’s about all I could do,” Ell explained. “I got him trained the following day and I couldn’t go a real big mile, but he trained good and he was very eager, wanted to do it, and felt good. I just couldn’t give him as much as I wanted to. It doesn’t take him a lot. I think he’ll be ok.” If Cajon Lightning handles the competition and takes to the racetrack, he could prove to be peaking at the right time as the George Morton Levy Series is quickly approaching. “I’m curious to see how he’s going to fair up there. We’re going to put Soto back in the Levy if he gets a little sharper. He’s not at the top of his game right now. I’d like to see how this horse gets around the half. He’s sharper than Soto right now, but we’ve got to see how he handles the half. He’s an all-around nice horse and I can’t wait to get him up there and see what happens.” First post time Saturday is 6:50 p.m. Click here to view entries for the card. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY  

YONKERS, N.Y. – Although he’s established himself as one of the top open trotters in New York over the past few years, 7-year-old trotter Cash Me Out is still in search of an elusive harness racing victory in the Open Trot at Yonkers Raceway. He connected in a local Preferred May 28, 2017 and has finished second in the local Open five times, including losses by a neck, head, and nose. “He’s won the Open at the Meadowlands a couple times, a bunch of Opens at Saratoga. I’ve had a bunch of seconds, but just haven’t got it done yet at Yonkers,” trainer Kyle Spagnola said. “It just hasn’t worked out yet. There’s always been one that’s either gotten a good trip or one that’s just laid over the field, a lot of excuses, but hopefully it happens one of these days.” Cash Me Out will get another chance to post his first Yonkers Open win Sunday (January 21) when he faces eight rivals in the $50,000 feature. Carded as race 1 on the program, the 1¼ mile trot also features Dog Gone Lucky, Tight Lines, and Melady’s Monet. First post time on the French Sunday is 11:30 a.m. Owner Traylor Racing sent Cash Me Out to Spagnola in July 2015. By then, the son of Cash Hall had already established himself as a top horse in New York. He won or placed in four New York Sire Stakes legs as a 2-year-old and finished third in the final and at 3, he won or placed in another five Sire Stakes divisions for Mickey and Cheryl McGivern. “The McGivern’s did very well with him as a 2- and 3-year-old in the Sire Stakes program. That definitely got him started up the ladder with the money and he turned out to be a good racehorse,” Spagnola said. “He was one of the first horses I got for (Traylor Racing). That was definitely an exciting phone call to get. He was kind of off his game, he wasn’t really sharp when I got him, I don’t know why. He came back around.” Although he is an easy horse to drive, Spagnola admits Cash Me Out isn’t one to turn your back on in the barn. “He’s actually kind of a bully in the barn, thinks he’s tough. You’ve got to be a little careful around him,” he said. “He just tries to kick and bite you. I don’t think he means it, but he can intimidate you, anyway. Jogging him, he’s the nicest horse to jog. He’s very easy on the track, he’s pretty easy to drive. Cash Hall’s all kind of have a little attitude. Unless you have a carrot, he’s got his ears back.” Cash Me Out won 11 of 37 races for Spagnola in 2016 and 10 of 30 in 2017, earning $196,850 and $196,840 in each year, respectively. Although he narrowly missed achieving his goal of $200,000 in earnings in a single season, Cash Me Out has become one of Spagnola’s best horses to date, sporting career earnings of $851,839. “My goal the last two years was to get him over $200,000. I’ve come up short by a few thousand bucks the last two years. The Yonkers money definitely helps,” Spagnola said. “He means a lot to me. It was a privilege to get him and if everybody had one of him in the barn, it makes it a lot easier.” Cash Me Out brought Spagnola to the biggest race of the young trainer’s career last fall. After finishing second beaten a nose in the Open Trot October 7, he received an invitation to the $250,000 Harry Harvey Trot on the International Trot undercard. Although bettors dismissed him at odds of 33/1, Cash Me Out still earned a fourth-place check. “I kind of had a feeling, just going by the money and the horses who were still racing that time of year who could get around a half. I kind of had a feeling he might get invited,” Spagnola said. “They actually called me the night before the draw and they invited me. He finished second and before they even showed the replay, Steve Starr called and asked if I wanted to race him there. Of course, I said yes.” Since the Harry Harvey Trot, Cash Me Out has put together an impressive string of top-three finishes, only missing the board once in his last nine starts. He enters this week’s Open Trot off a runner up finish in last week’s trotting feature, where Money Maven beat him a neck. Cash Me Out drew post nine and is 5/1 on the morning line. “I have a good post because he doesn’t need to be on the lead. Now, not having the passing lane, the two-hole really isn’t that good. I think he’ll get away probably fifth in there and try to be first- or second-over,” Spagnola said. “The passing lane definitely changes his racing style. Usually he can just leave and sit the two-hole. He really likes that trip. Now, with no passing lane, you either have to get lucky or be out real early. “I think you’re better off getting away fourth or fifth now with that racing style and the mile-and-a-quarter definitely makes it interesting,” he continued. “I think he likes the mile better, but he doesn’t seem to have too much trouble with the mile-and-a-quarter. It’s tougher on him, I think. I think it’s tougher on any horse, but I think he prefers a mile.” In addition to the Open Trot, Sunday’s card features six other French trots with overflow fields at the 1 ¼-mile distance. Click here for entries. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Last summer, talented harness racing pacer Western Hill showed promise of becoming a top stakes 3-year-old. The Tony Alagna trainee finished second in his North American Cup elimination June 10 and fifth in the final the following week. After failing to make the Meadowlands Pace Final, the son of Western Ideal again finished second in an elimination of the Adios and earned a fourth-place check in the final. Despite the potential he showed, Western Hill fell out of form in the fall and began to toil in the conditions at Yonkers. After two seventh-place finishes at the non-winners of 8 level in November, owner and breeder Tom Hill called trainer Andrew Harris. “When I worked for Casie Coleman back in the day, Tom had a lot of horses with Casie and so obviously I had known him well through them because I took care of Western Silk on and off when she had her,” Harris said. “Over the years, we’ve talked on many occasions and it seemed like they were going to give me an opportunity here or there, but nothing ever came to fruition until all the sudden this horse. They said, ‘we want to continue on as a 4-year-old with him, we just want to give him a shot.’ Who’s going to turn down a shot on a horse like that?” When Western Hill arrived, Harris saw a sharp-looking, speedy individual. However, it soon became clear the gelding had lost his confidence amid the string of losses and tough trips, which saw him try to close from well off the pace on Yonkers’ half-mile oval. “When I first got him, the first thing I noticed was, even though he was in a brand-new barn that he had never seen before, he got in the stall and put his head in the corner,” Harris recalled. “He was a little pouty and he just wasn’t happy. “We turned him out in the field every day with other horses and let him go out and be a horse a little bit,” he continued. “I know that Alagna likes to train a little bit harder than some, so I backed off on his training and didn’t train him as hard and just tried to freshen him up that way. Not that that would work on every horse, but it seemed to happen to work on this horse.” In his first start for Harris November 27, Western Hill drew post three and picked up top driver Yannick Gingras. After a pocket trip, Western Hill finished second by a nose in the $22,000 overnight. The following week, Gingras put Western Hill on the lead and the gelding scored a 1-length win in 1:53.2. “I think Yannick was a huge factor in bringing that confidence back because he put him onto the lead and he liked it,” Harris explained. “When you lose form, drivers don’t put them in play.” With his confidence and attitude improving off two good races, Harris took Western Hill to Harrah’s Philadelphia December 17, and the gelding posted a blowout win. He again set the pace and opened a 6¼-length advantage in the stretch in a 1:51.3 mile. “When he went to Chester he was just in total command and looked like his old self where he was wanting to be a big horse. He’s not a big horse, but he wants to be a big horse,” Harris said. Off his impressive performances, Western Hill will get a shot against Open pacers tonight at Yonkers Raceway. An 8-1 longshot in the field of six, Western Hill will make his 4-year-old debut against the likes of 2-1 favorite Gokudo Hanover, who ended his 2017 season with a win in the local Open, as well as the runner-up and third-place finishers from that race, Killer Martini and Thisjetsabookin. Take It Back Terry, who won the Preferred Pace to close the season, returns in the Open as the 3-1 second choice and Shane Adam completes the lineup. The $40,000 feature is slated as race 6 on the 12-race program. “The group that he’s in with, I actually like this spot,” Harris said of the step up. “The horse on the rail of Scotty Di’s is a really nice horse (Gokudo Hanover). Hopefully we’ll sit close to that one and hopefully get a shot at him down the lane. He fits with that group.” Despite fitting the non-winners of $30,000 condition, Harris entered the Open ranks in hopes of facing his age group. With the 4-year-old Open failing to fill at this early point in the season, Harris was happy to take a shot in the aged ranks. “I did enter for the 4-year-old Open because I was hoping he could race against horses his own age. I thought that I’d have a clear advantage over them with how sharp he is right now,” Harris said. “The non-winners of 30, I think that’s as tough as the Open anyway. I knew he probably wouldn’t get handicapped the outside in the Open, he’d probably have a better shot at the inside where the non-winners of 30 is an open draw and he could have gotten the eight-hole.” Like his five rivals, Western Hill enters tonight’s Open Pace off a month layoff. Harris feels the time away from racing helped Western Hill’s soundness. “I didn’t really let him down. We jogged him all the way through and trained him up all the way through,” Harris said. “He’s fairly sound right now, so I think that way it helped him out a lot.” First post time at Yonkers is 6:50 p.m. To view entries for the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – The harness racing Pick 5 at Yonkers Raceway features a $15,113.25 carryover and $40,000 guaranteed pool Friday night. The bet, which offers no consolation payout, covers races 7 through 11 and offers a 50-cent base wager. Free past performances for the card are available here. Two of the track’s leading drivers, Jason Bartlett and George Brennan, discussed their drives in the sequence and their approach to racing without a passing lane on the half-mile oval: Race 7 Bartlett - #4 American Island (5-2): Ended the 2017 season at Yonkers winning or placing in six of his last seven races. In his last three starts, the Rich Banca trainee scored a victory from post seven for a $15,000 tag and posted two seconds, each by a nose, at this level December 8 and 15. “He’s been racing good and he’s had some tough post positions. He’s drawing inside, he’s got gate speed if need be. He’s not in a bad spot.” Brennan - #3 Blade Seelster (2-1): Class dropping Robertson pupil won 11 of 35 starts and earned $183,535 last year, but faded on the lead in his last two outings to close 2017. Brennan takes the lines for the first time since October 27. “He’s ok, he’s alright. Three hole, he’s got a good spot. He’s got a good record, a lot of wins last year. They used his early speed the last two starts and it didn’t do him anything and now he’s been off for almost a month going in. Is he up to it? You don’t know. It’s difficult, it’s really hard.” Race 8 Bartlett - #2 Big City Jewel (8-5): Won six of his last seven to close his 2017 campaign and makes his 7-year-old debut at the level of the claim for Robertson. Shows success on the lead and from off the pace. “I’ve driven this horse twice, I won with him both times. He’s a really nice little horse. He’s been racing really well, draws inside, so he looks pretty good. He’s just a handy little horse. The one horse (Bettor Reason N) is probably one of the horses to beat, I would say.” Brennan - #4 Northern Virgin (12-1): Burke trainee is a consistent check-getter, but hasn’t won since November 5 while down in class at Harrah’s. “Decent spot, ok. He’s a piece-getter. I’m not really sold on him to be a top one-two in there. He’s just kind of a big horse. He’s the kind of horse I’d like to be first-over with and just grind my way into it if I could. We’ll see how that works. (With the passing lane), if you’re sitting fourth, it’s most likely you were going to be first-over. Now that guy in the three-hole, he’s got to come out. Tuesday, a guy pulled out of the two-hole at the half, a couple guys pulled the two-hole down the backside early. A lot of these guys have never driven without a passing lane. I started driving with a hub rail and no passing lane; it doesn’t really matter to me because I’ve figured it out before. It’s interesting, now, you get away fourth and there’s a good chance you’re getting a second-over trip. It’s definitely changed it up, shuffled the cards a little bit and I think for the better, for sure. “There’s definitely a lot more action. I’ve found horses are coming from behind, some of the favorites are getting beat up early and used early where they generally wouldn’t before. They’re getting pressured and there’s more of a live flow because the horses are pulling earlier and they’re trying to get there from behind. There have been quite a few longshots in the first three days.” Race 9 Bartlett - #2 War Daddy (3-1): Won out of his last condition here by a nose November 27 before finishing fifth for a $40,000 tag December 16. Five-year-old gelding by Quik Pulse Mindale drops to the $30,000 level tonight and draws inside again. “He’s racing good. Looks like I’ll be following the one (Midnight Dylan N). He’ll be up close, with no passing lane, who knows, but he figures in there. It’s hard to say right now because none of the horses have been racing consistently. Everybody’s been coming off a break, so it’s hard to say. I think everybody’s been trying to get the learning curve with it right now. You are seeing people pop the deuce a lot more. I just think it’s going to hinder the horses sitting sixth, seventh, and eighth even more. I think you really have to be sitting up close. I’ve been going with the flow; the horses haven’t been racing, so it’s hard to try different things with them. A couple times I knew I would have gone back to the rail if there was a passing lane and I stayed out. Instead of leaving to get the two-hole, now you’re taking back to be first- or second-over, but you also see horses coming first-over who aren’t making up any ground either.” Brennan - #3 Go Collect N (9-2): Ended 2017 with an upset 2-length win at the non-winners of $10,000 condition with Brennan in the sulky. Races for a tag for the first time since joining the Di Domenico ranks last fall. “He’s ok, he’s moving up a bit, but he comes from a good barn. I’ve raced him from behind before, I’ve raced him on the lead before. He can do either or and he fits in there. He’s ok.” Race 10 Bartlett - #1 SOS Justified (3-1): Finished fourth at this level from post seven to close the 2017 season. Returned Opening Day with another fourth-place effort from the six post, beaten 2 ¼ lengths. “Drawn inside and I don’t think that’s a real tough race. He looks pretty good in there. He does well when he draws inside and that’s not a real tough group I don’t think. Most of the horses in there have raced (off the break). He should be better, he should be good in that spot. Raced good last week.” Brennan - #4 Adonis Bay (10-1): After posting a dozen wins season last year, the 6-year-old gelding opened 2017 with a fifth behind SOS Justified January 7. “I raced him last week, he was a little short. Looking to be a little tighter. He’s ok. He’s a piece-getter, but he’s not bad. He did win 12 races last year, so he knows how to win.” Race 11 Bartlett - #6 Pembroke Wildcat (5-1): Won an Open in Maine and placed in two local contests at the non-winners of $10,000 level last fall. Closed 2017 with a sixth-place finish for a $30,000 tag. Makes his debut off the claim for Robertson. “Don’t know much about this horse. Hasn’t raced, but the whole field hasn’t raced, so you can’t go by that. Looks like there’s a bit of speed in there, probably have to take back and be second- or third-over and see what happens.” Brennan – N/A (No Drive) In addition to the Pick 5 carryover, Friday’s card also features a $40,000 Filly and Mare Open Pace in race six. First post time is 6:50 p.m. by Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

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