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YONKERS, N.Y. - After a bout with a persistent sickness hindered Mamora Bay’s early season, harness racing trainer Sam Schillaci gave the 3-year-old filly some time to recover and brings her back in tonight’s $119,010 Hudson Trot. Schillaci is confident his star trotter is back to her old self and feeling better heading into the Grand Circuit Stakes, one of four on the card at Yonkers Raceway. “She hasn’t quite been herself as far as being really aggressive at the end of the mile because she developed this virus earlier in the year. She’s kind of been fighting it all year. I think as of recent, she seems to be getting healthy again,” Schillaci said. “I feel she’s very good. I think she’s as healthy now as she was her first couple of starts of the year. I’m very optimistic going into this race that she’s going to do very well.” Mamora Bay stood out as a 2-year-old in New York Sire Stakes last year. She won five of nine starts and placed in another four, earning $182,371. Mamora Bay finished second to Barn Bella in the $225,000 New York Sire Stakes Final at Yonkers to end her season. Schillaci drove her in all but one start. “She really did have a tremendous season,” Schillaci recalled. “I think everything came so easy for her, that’s what made her so good last year as a 2-year-old horse. Driving her as a 2-year-old was like driving an aged trotter. That’s what made everything so easy for her because a lot of younger trotters have gait issues, you have to hold them together and steady them. That wasn’t the case with her.” Mamora Bay’s success came as a surprise to Schillaci and owner Peter Barbato. Barbato purchased mare Giulie Bi in foal to Chapter Seven out of the 2014 January Mixed Sale for $22,000. Giulie Bi, by Supergill out of the Speedy Crown mare Traffic Jam, had already produced two foals at that stage, including Romeus, a 2012 son of Muscles Yankee who sold for $70,000 at the 2013 Harrisburg Sale. It was the first time Barbato bought a pregnant mare, but for the price, he couldn’t go wrong. “He liked the breeding of the mare and he went to the Meadowlands Sale and got the feeling to buy the mare in foal,” Schillaci said. “He was looking at some other ones and he loved this particular mare. He liked the breeding on her and he just bought her.” Giulie Bi foaled Mamora Bay three months later and Barbato later gave the filly to Schillaci. Training down, Mamora Bay was nothing special. Although she trotted well and was easy to handle, she was afraid of everything and was the horse Schillaci let barn visitors drive in the morning. “Training her down as a 2-year-old, she was one that I actually seldom sat behind,” Schillaci remembered. “I have some friends and some other owners that come on training days and they always want to train a young horse or train a baby. I would always let everyone go with her because she never did anything wrong. “She was very slow developing as far as being a racehorse,” he continued. “She just sat in the back and basically just followed along. She was scared to pass horses, she wouldn’t get up to any horses because she would shy from them, but she never made breaks.” Once Mamora Bay trotted past 2:10, she started to figure out her job. She began beating all of Schillaci’s other trotters in the mornings and enjoyed her work. For Schillaci, who trains with his wife Jodi, bringing a horse through that process and seeing the light bulb go on in the horse’s mind is gratifying. “I used to love it when I was younger, just being a catch-driver, but now that I’ve gotten older and gotten more horses to train, it’s much more rewarding to train and drive your own horses,” he said. “It’s just very rewarding when you buy your own horses as babies and make them into racehorses.” After her breakout freshman year, Mamora Bay started her 3-year-old campaign in May with a second in New York Sire Stakes at Tioga. She got sick around her next start in the Empire Breeders’ Classic Final at Vernon June 18 and finished sixth beaten 10 3/4 lengths. Since then, she has a win, a pair of thirds, and a fourth in Sire Stakes company. Mamora Bay last raced August 4 at Yonkers before Schillaci gave her some time. He qualified her back at Northfield August 17, adding lasix. She won by 3 lengths in 1:57.2. When the Hudson Trot attracted eight entrants and no eliminations were required, Schillaci qualified Mamora Bay again last week and she won by 9 in 1:58.0. “The adding of lasix was because of health reasons. The qualifiers are basically just to keep her tight. She’s not really a horse that’s a good trainer, so we’ve just been racing her in qualifiers to just keep her tight,” the trainer explained. “I was actually hoping that there would have been an elimination to the Hudson Filly Trot last week rather than qualifying her, but there wasn’t, so we had to give her another tightener.” Mamora Bay drew post five in the Hudson Trot and will race on lasix for the first time with Schillaci in the sulky again. She is a 6-1 morning line chance. Trond Smedshammer’s Celebrity Ruth, earner of $221,433 this season after going unraced at 2, is the early favorite at 5-2 from post 4. The field also includes Dangle Then Deke, Chapter Too, Lexi Marie, Sunshine Delight, Evelyn, and Ice Attraction. Although Schillaci would like to be aggressive in a spot like the Hudson, Mamora Bay’s fear of the starting gate may prevent that. As a 2-year-old, Mamora Bay wouldn’t get within a length of the gate and she was never closed than third to the opening quarter. Recently, Mamora Bay has gotten better at the start, Schillaci said. “She’s gotten to the point recently over the last two or three starts where now she’ll go right up to the gate and she’s really good that way. She still really hasn’t developed a lot of gate speed. She tends to fall off the gate as it opens,” he said. “If she would be a horse with gate speed, I probably would be approaching it a lot differently, to try to get out there a little bit and maybe get a little bit better position.” “With a horse like her, there’s really not a lot of reading into the program and looking to get a spot. It’s wherever you land when the gate opens and then you’ve got to kind of make a game plan after that,” he continued. “I definitely think the horse to beat is (Celebrity Ruth). I’m assuming that horse is going to go to the lead. My biggest hope would be that somebody else leaves in there and they get some kind of early speed and then I think that we’ll have a pretty decent shot of being right on the wire.” The Hudson Trot is one of four stakes on the card Saturday night at Yonkers Raceway. The card also features the $500,000 Yonkers Trot, the $500,000 Messenger Stakes, and the $113,880 Lady Maud Pace. First post time is 7:10 p.m. For entries for the card, click here. by Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. - After sitting behind Downbytheseaside in his 8 1/2-length romp in the Messenger Stakes Elimination at Yonkers Raceway last week, harness racing driver Brian Sears likes the way the 3-year-old son of Somebeachsomewhere is coming into the $500,000 Final and second leg of the Pacing Triple Crown Saturday night. Sears drove Downbytheseaside through a :56.0 half last week and was a passenger as Downbytheseaside opened 6 lengths racing into the lane and powered away with a :27.2 final quarter. “He really did that under his own. I never even asked him. He just knew it was time to pick it up and that was all without asking. He’s a really nice horse and he’s getting better and better about his manners. Hopefully he keeps progressing.” Sears will drive Downbytheseaside for the eighth straight time in Saturday’s Messenger Final, the fourth race on a stakes-laden card. The newly anointed hall of famer is happy with the progress Downbytheseaside has made since he picked up the drive in the North America Cup at Mohawk June 17. “A couple weeks ago, he sat in behind a :56.0 pace,” Sears said. “I don’t know if he could have done that before or he wasn’t really willing to do that. He would get a little bully when he wanted to go and you had to pretty much be on the move with him at that point. He seems to be working with me a little bit.” Downbytheseaside showed all the fire Sears described in the North America Cup. After Sears placed him in fourth behind a :25.2 opening quarter, Downbytheseaside dictated his own terms and followed Fillibuster Hanover’s brush to the lead. Downbytheseaside paced through a half in :52.1 and 6 furlongs in 1:19.3 before finishing third to stablemate Fear The Dragon beaten 3 3/4 lengths. “I dropped a horse in front of me and then he ended up pulling back out,” Sears said. “Going to the half a hundred, and he actually took me, which was not what I was expecting. They were :52.1 at the half and that just shows the kind of speed this horse has. He hung in there very gamely I’d have to say for those numbers.” Sears drove Downbytheseaside to a win in an elimination of the Max Hempt, a fifth in the final, a second in the Meadowlands Pace, and a third in the Cane Pace before the Brian Brown trainee made his way to Northfield Park for the Carl Milstein Memorial August 12. There, Downbytheseaside got back on a half-mile track, a trip he hasn’t lost on in five tries. “He’s just a really athletic horse with an efficient gait,” Sears said. “I don’t know what it is about him that makes him so comfortable over the half-mile track. It was an incredible mile he went a couple weeks ago at Northfield.” Downbytheseaside raced 3 lengths behind a :56.0 half set by Fear The Dragon in the Milstein. Sears pulled first-over with just over a lap to go and Downbytheseaside glided up alongside Fear The Dragon through a :26.3 third panel. “The horse, he came out of the hole pretty relaxed. He knew it was time to do some work, but he really didn’t try to overdo it,” Sears recalled. “Although we were pacing sub 27-second quarters, it was just amazing how easily they were doing it, both horses, getting over the ground. We were side by side and going into the last turn, I saw Dave call on his horse and I was thinking, ‘he might need a little more than that.’ I still felt really good.” David Miller popped the plugs on Fear The Dragon and reminded him with the whip on the final turn. With Sears motionless in the sulky and the whip dangling over his shoulder, Downbytheseaside put a nose in front of Fear The Dragon at the furlong pole. In the final strides, Downbytheseaside extended and paced away from Fear The Dragon on his own to win by a length in a track record 1:49.3. He paced a :26.4 final quarter. “That’s one thing, that’s the type of horse he is. He’s going to give it to you, what he’s got,” Sears said. “He’ll empty the tank for you. My job is just to try and keep him relaxed and confident and let him go about his thing.” Off his elimination win, Downbytheseaside drew post seven in the Messenger Stakes Final, a race Sears won by open lengths with 1-2 favorite Always A Virgin in 2007. Downtheseaside is a 9-5 morning line favorite, but could be closer to those odds come post time. Geers winner Mac’s Jackpot, Pennsylvania Sire Stakes winner Summer Side, Empire Breeders’ Classic runner up Miso Fast, Empire Breeders’ Classic Elimination winner and Messenger Elimination runner up Art Scene, New York Sire Stakes winner Funknwaffles, and Messenger Elimination third place finisher Blood Line will start inside Downbytheseaside. Henry The Dragon drew post eight. “I’m not thrilled with the seven hole. I’m not thrilled and there’s a little bit of speed in the race. He’s the class of the field and I think he’ll be able to overcome it,” Sears said.“How many horses are going to be using their early speed and the fact that I have to be going forward off the gate and try and not be too far back. I’m really not looking to have any road trouble.” The Messenger Stakes Final is one of four stakes on the card Saturday night at Yonkers Raceway. The card also features the $500,000 Yonkers Trot, $113,880 Lady Maud Pace, and the $119,010 Hudson Trot. First post time is 7:10 p.m. For entries for the card, click here. by Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. - When Ella Christina prepared to make her first start for new trainer Nick Surick in a split of the Adioo Volo Stakes for harness racing 3-year-old pacing fillies at The Meadows July 29, Surick was home feeling sick as a dog. He wasn’t worried about missing the race. He didn’t think his filly had a shot anyway and the public agreed, sending her off at odds of 56-1. Surick propped one eye open and watched the race in bed. Ella Christina started from post seven and raced 7 lengths off the pace past the half. Heading up the backstretch, driver Jim Pantaleano kept her along the pylons in seventh. Ella Christina advanced within 4 1/2 lengths of the leader at the three-quarters and passed four tiring rivals to her outside. “I just saw everybody coming off the rail and she’s coming up the inside around the last turn,” Surick remembered. “I was like, ‘we’ll get a fifth or a fourth out of this. Hey, we’ve got a shot, we’ll be third.’ ” Ella Christina raced into the passing lane off the turn and Pantaleano put her to a right-handed drive. Inside the final sixteenth, she extended and sprinted past Colorful Jasmine. Ella Christina’s :27.0 final quarter propelled her to a half-length victory in 1:52.2 in the $62,475 stakes. It was Surick’s second win in the Adioo Volo Stakes. He also conditioned 2011 division winner Whats New Pussycat. “I jumped up out of bed and halfway down the lane I said, ‘I got a shot to win this,’” Surick said. “I didn’t feel sick for the next hour or two, but then it caught up with me again that night. But it was ok. It was quite a thrill and that was the second time I’ve raced one in the Adioo Volo and I’ve won it both times.” Surick’s first start with Ella Christina was a long time in the making. Surick had been trying to purchase the daughter of Western Ideal since he watched her win a $49,200 division of the Standardbred at the Delaware County Fair last September for Nancy Johansson. Surick and Johansson finally came to a deal about a week before the Adioo Volo. “I watched her race in last year as a 2-year-old in Delaware, Ohio and she won that stakes down there. She won in 54-and-a-piece and I thought that was pretty good for a 2-year-old,” Surick explained. “I think Nancy is one of the more honest trainers in the business and I just think it’s a good place to shop. You get a horse with a good foundation and I think you get an honest purchase when you buy from them.” Although he was happy to finally bring Ella Christina into his stable, Surick’s first impression of her wasn’t glowing. Although she had a good attitude, she was on the small side. Surick wasn’t thinking about stakes, but an overnight at Yonkers, for her first start. “There’s not really much to her, she’s kind of a smaller horse and just a lovely horse to be around. She’s got a great personality, she’s a cool little filly. I never thought for her to be this much,” Surick said. “I dropped her in at Yonkers and she didn’t get in. By chance, I just dropped her in the Adioo Volo because last year it was a five horse field. I thought maybe that might be the case again this year and then it ended up being two fields of eight or nine and I drew the seven hole and I said, ‘well, my plan backfired,’ going into it. I thought I had no shot.” After Ella Christina’s Adioo Volo upset, Surick got on the phone and staked the filly to everything he could, including a supplement to the $113,950 Shady Daisy Stakes on Hambletonian Day. She finished fifth beaten 10 lengths in that race, sending Surick back to the drawing board with Ella Christina’s training. “The first week I had her, I didn’t do anything with her. I literally just jogged her a few miles a day, sent her to the Meadows, raced her, and she came up super,” he said. “After that win, I couldn’t help myself and I knew I was going in for big money next week and I trained her real hard two trips in between the Adioo Volo and the Shady Daisy. She kind of came up a little flat on me there. I didn’t think she could win, but I thought she’d be closer and she just flattened out a little bit and I wasn’t happy with her performance. “I thought back to what I changed from week one to week two and the difference was the hard work in between starts. She doubled jogs every day. I jog all my horses 6 miles, but instead of jogging her a straight 6 miles, she’ll go out and jog 2 miles, come back in, sit in the stall for a half-hour, go back out and jog her next 4. It just seems to break up her routine a little bit and she enjoys it. Since I’ve done that, she’s really turned the corner.” Under her light training regime, Ella Christina enters Saturday’s $113,880 Lady Maud Pace at Yonkers Raceway off a second and a win in the Pennsylvania Stallion Series in her last two starts, respectively. Her last win came in 1:53.1 with a :27.3 final quarter. Although Tim Tetrick drove Ella Christina in her last three races, George Brennan will get the call for the first time Saturday night as Tetrick will be driving in Canada. “My filly, she’s a small filly, she’s put together nice. I think the smaller the track, the better her game,” Surick said. “I’m not happy that I lost Tetrick. I’m one that likes to stick with a driver. He’s really gotten a lot out of her, but I’ve won some good races with George Brennan, he knows his way around the track, so by no means am I downgrading in a driver, but I just like to have a driver that knows my filly. When I’m forced to make a driver change, I’m never going to be upset with George Brennan.” Ella Christina will face six rivals in the Lady Maud, including Scott Di Domenico’s Angel’s Pride, who won the Empire Breeders’ Classic Consolation at Tioga Downs in her last start August 20 and will start along the pylons. Linda Toscano’s World Apart finished second against older competition in an overnight at Philadelphia August 18 and won the Thompson Geers at Tioga in July. She drew post seven. Tony Alanga will send out the double threat of Tori Hanover and Awash. Gurl Band K and Robin J complete the field. If Ella Christina can beat her rivals in the Lady Maud, Surick will be dreaming big with his new filly. “I have big ambitions for her down the road this year and going into those races, I just want her to feel like she’s somebody. I want her to beat up on horses right now and I just want to keep her confidence up right now,” he said. “Now the Lady Maud and then she’s got Liberty Bell, Jugette, and then she’s off to Lexington for two weeks. She’s got Courageous Lady and Matron at the end of the year.” The Lady Maud Pace is one of four stakes on the card Saturday night at Yonkers Raceway. The card also features the $500,000 Yonkers Trot, $500,000 Messenger Stakes, and the $119,010 Hudson Trot. First post time is 7:10 p.m. For entries for the card, click here. by Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. - When he last raced at Yonkers, Downbytheseaside won the $300,000 Art Rooney Pace May 27. The victory was his fourth in a row after capturing the Governor’s Cup at Woodbine to end his 2-year-old season, taking his 2017 harness racing debut in Pennsylvania Sire Stakes and winning the Rooney Elimination May 20. Although he won as a heavy favorite in both his starts at Yonkers, Downbytheseaside had to earn it both times. In his elimination, Downbytheseaside made an early move after starting from post nine. Driver David Miller guided Downbytheseaside to the outside and tracked Funknwaffles in the second quarter. After Funknwaffles cleared the lead before the half, Downbytheseaside drove on the front past a :55.4 half before winning by 1 1/4 lengths in 1:52.2. In the final the following week, Downbytheseaside won by 3 1/4 in 1:52. “I expected the way they usually race at Yonkers where they line up and don’t race much till the end,” trainer Brian Brown said. “The two races I was in, they raced pretty hard the whole way. There was nothing given to him. He had to really earn it both weeks. “To win a race that’s named after the founder of the track, that’s always nice,” Brown continued. “Everybody does a great job making those races special. They were special to us to just be in them let alone have a chance to win them.” Since his Rooney victory, Downbytheseaside has traded blows with Huntsville and stablemate Fear The Dragon in a host of Grand Circuit stakes. Downbytheseaside finished third in the North America Cup after setting fractions of :25.2, :52.1, and 1:19.3, was fifth in the Max Hempt Final, second in the Meadowlands Pace, and third in the Cane Pace. In all those cases, Huntsville or Fear The Dragon took top honors. Downbytheseaside finally upended his stablemate last time out in the $300,000 Carl Milstein Memorial at Northfield Park August 12. In a change of tactics, Brian Sears rated Downbytheseaside in fourth early as Fear The Dragon dictated the speed. Fear The Dragon paced a quarter in :27.1 and a half in :56. As the field raced into the second lap, Sears guided Downtheseaside first-over and quickly drew within a half-length of Fear The Dragon. David Miller pulled the plugs on Fear The Dragon, who kept Downbytheseaside at bay through three-quarters in 1:22.4. Entering the final turn, Miller had the whip of Fear The Dragon’s tail while Sears edged Downbytheseaside’s nose in front under a hand-drive. In the stretch, Downbytheseaside glided away from his competition to win by a length in 1:49.3. “He was really good that day,” Brown commented. “He’s had some feet trouble and that week leading up to that race, that horse was as good as he’s been all year. Never did he get lame in his feet, but his feet are always bothering him a little. He was really good that week. I don’t know what we did to him that much different. He was on the vibrating plate maybe more. He was extra good that night.” For Brown, seeing Downbytheseaside get the upper hand meant seeing his other horse, Fear The Dragon, suffer a loss. Although he wants both horses to do well, he was happy to see Downbytheseaside’s connections, Country Club Acre, Joe Sbrocco, Richard Lombardo, and Diamond Creek Racing, get a win. “I’m glad for that horse that he finally got to win a race like that. He was getting some pretty tough trips. Post position was killing him at times,” Brown said. “It’s hard to have both of those; you don’t want either one to lose. But he was just really good that night and it was good for him, good for the owners to finally win a race without being the one making all the speed and getting passed late. It was nice for him to race from behind and be able to win a race like that.” Downbytheseaside’s Milstein victory extended the son of Somebeachsomewhere’s perfect half-mile track record to four. He won a division of the Standardbred at the Delaware County Fair in a world record 1:50 at 2 before winning the Rooney elimination and final and the Milstein. Downbytheseaside also went his first two qualifying trips at Delaware as a 2-year-old, winning both. In his career, Downbytheseaside is 14-for-23 with $1,263,322 earned. “It’s hard to explain because he’s a big, strong horse, but for some reason, he loves a half,” Brown said. “He has great speed. To be honest, he is as good on a half as he is on a big track. He’s always been good on a half.” Downbytheseaside drew post three in the nine-horse Messenger Elimination Saturday night. Brian Sears will drive again in the $40,000 prep for next week’s $500,000 jewel of the Pacing Triple Crown. The last place finisher will not return for the final. Brown is confident in Downbytheseaside’s chances to return to Yonkers a winner. “He drew a good spot, he’s coming in pretty good. He should be in pretty good shape come Saturday. I think we’re ok,” Brown said. “I think everything will be good.” The Saturday night card at Yonkers also features two eliminations of the Yonkers Trot for 3-year-old trotters in races 6 and 7 and a $50,000 Open Handicap Pace in race 8. First post time is 7:10 p.m. To view entries for Saturday’s card, click here. by Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. - Of the 12 colts and geldings who will contest the harness racing eliminations of the Yonkers Trot, three are trained by Julie Miller. She will send out 9-5 morning line favorite Devious Man in the first $40,000 elimination in race 6. The coupled entry of Money Macintosh and Top Flight Angel are 9-5 in the early odds behind Guardian Angel As at 8-5 in the second elimination one race later. Miller is hopeful all three of her starters will finish fourth or better to earn a spot behind the gate of the $500,000 Final Saturday September 2. “That would be wonderful. That’s the game plan,” Miller said. “That’s what I mapped out on the chalk board, but it would be wonderful. I’m hoping that’s the outcome on Saturday evening.” The second jewel of the Trotting Triple Crown, the Yonkers Trot is a race Miller has her eye on. “It’s a race that’s on my bucket list. I’d sure like to add it to my resume,” she said. “We love racing at Yonkers. I think they have a great program over there, I think they do a great job, so we are glad to be a part of Yonkers racing. The half-mile racing, I know a lot of people like to see racing on mile tracks, but I think it’s great. It shows versatility in horses.” Devious Man leads all 3-year-old trotters in seasonal earnings with $730,367 in the bank. He won the $252,000 Empire Breeders Classic Final at Vernon Downs June 18 and took the $500,000 Beal Final at Pocono July 1. Devious Man also finished second to Walner in the Stanley Dancer Memorial and third in the Zweig behind Yonkers Trot rival Yes Mickey. Andy Miller has driven Devious Man in all of his starts. “Obviously we’re real happy with him,” Miller said. “He was really good on the New York circuit last year winning the Sire Stakes Final right there at Yonkers. We were hoping he would come back as well as he has and he’s proven to be real nice. He’s consistent and you couldn’t be happier with a horse like him. “In the Empire Breeders Final, Andy had him in perfect position second-over and pounced on a great trip. He was super that day and for a New York race, that was a nice one to win, obviously,” she continued. “In the Beal, he was kind of a longshot over there; he drew the outside. Andy worked out a perfect trip for him.” Devious Man reached harness racing’s biggest stage when he competed in the Hambletonian at The Meadowlands August 5. After finishing second in his elimination, Devious Man was third in the final after closing with a :27.2 final quarter, but was placed second after What The Hill, who crossed the wire first, was disqualified. As the result is under appeal, Miller is left in an awkward spot in the middle of it all. “I don’t know if he was second or third in the Hambletonian yet,” she said with a laugh. “I was happy with his effort in the Hambletonian. To go two trips and race the best he could, I’m really, really proud of him. “My horse, my number wasn’t blinking that day. I finished third and if the judges felt an infraction was made by the winner, that’s their decision and that’s why they’re in the judges’ booth and I’m in the paddock working,” she continued. “My horse raced a great race. The horse and Andy did a great job that day.” Devious Man will start from post five in his elimination, just outside of 2-1 second choice Yes Mickey, who enters off a victory in the Zweig. Hambletonian finalist Enterprise is 3-1 from the pylons. Miller is confident in Devious Man Saturday night. “My horse can maneuver on the half-mile track and he’s liked Yonkers in the past, so I’m very excited for the eliminations and the final,” she said. In the second elimination, Miller will start Money Macintosh and Top Flight Angel. Money Macintosh is 1-for-7 this year. His only win came in a leg of the New York Sire Stakes at Monticello July 17. Since then, the son of Credit Winner made a break in a Sire Stakes leg at Yonkers August 3 and went off stride again in Sire Stakes at Tioga Downs August 11. Miller got a clean line on Money Macintosh last time out in the Zweig when Jason Bartlett piloted him to an eighth place finish in 1:53.3. “Money Macintosh, he can go around a half. If he minds his manners, I think he can be right there,” she said. “I’ve been going back to the drawing board after his last couple starts when he did go off stride. Jason said in the Zweig, he was solid. He kept him flat and that was a nice race going into the Yonkers Trot. I just keep making modifications and adjustments on him to kind of get him over getting a little shaky at the wire.” Top Flight Angel is 2-for-7 this year and both victories came at the Hilltop Oval. The colt by Archangel won a $22,000 overnight by 5 1/4 lengths May 16 and took a New York Sire Stakes leg by 5 3/4 lengths in 1:55 August 3. “He won at Yonkers pretty dominantly in New York Sire Stakes. He seems to travel that track well,” Miller said. “It’s a great booster in your confidence. I picked up Brian Sears, which doesn’t hurt anything. We’ll see what happens that night.” The Saturday night card at Yonkers also features a single elimination of the Messenger Stakes for 3-year-old pacers in race 9 and a $50,000 Open Handicap Pace in race 8. First post time is 7:10 p.m. To view entries for Saturday’s card, click here. by Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. - Multiple stakes-winner Missile J returns to harness racing at Yonkers Raceway Saturday night after a brief freshening. Trainer Scott Di Domenico, who purchased Missile J out of the Tattersalls January Mixed Sale with owners John McGill and Brian Carsey, entered the pacer back in the $35,000 sub-featured 4-Year-Old Open Handicap. Off the 83-day layoff, but still with $76,380 on his card, the restricted pace is the ideal spot to bring the 15-time winner and $498,482 earner back. “This class is the race we bought him for in January. This is what our hope for him was when we bought him,” Di Domenico said. “Obviously, I don’t think anybody thought that it was going to go the way that it did with him getting on that kind of roll and competing at the level he did with the horses he was racing against. Fortunately it did. That was a great thrill for everybody involved.” After buying Missile J for $115,000, the son of American Ideal won his first four races for his new connections. He climbed the class ladder in each start and won the Open Pace at Dover Downs in a lifetime best 1:49.1 to cap his grand slam. Missile J then won three straight preliminary legs of the George Morton Levy Series at Yonkers. He paced 1:51.3 in two of those triumphs and posted two sub :27 final quarters on the half-mile track. Missile J’s last win came April 1 at Yonkers. Since then, he finished third in the Levy Final as the race’s even-money favorite, third in the Graduate Final, fourth in an Open Handicap Pace, and seventh in the Stafford Invitational at Harrah’s. His connections came together and decided to give the gelding some well-earned time off. “Racing that caliber of horses, going 1:51, :26 three weeks in a row at Yonkers, that’s very hard to hold up to. Five or six weeks in a row of that Levy series against that competition, they throw a lot of heat on you every week and it’s taxing,” Di Domenico said. “I’m not making any excuses on why he didn’t win the final or the next race or anything else. I just think it was a combination of getting raced fairly hard through the winter and raced at a very high level in the Levy. I just think he needed a break.” Di Domenico came to McGill and Carsey with his decision and they agreed. Despite having to bypass several Grand Circuit events, Missile J’s owners opted to be patient and let their star pacer recuperate from the winter and spring campaign. “When we sat down and talked about giving him a little break, they were very good about it. You always want to do good for people like that. They give me a lot of options to make decisions, which I enjoy and we work well together,” Di Domenico said. “They believe in the horse and they believe in the trainer’s decision to sit a horse of his caliber out. He was eligible to some Grand Circuit races for a lot of money. They knew he was out in the field and they watched those races from the sidelines and never said a word or complained about it ever. I’m appreciative of them for believing in my decision to give the horse a little break and I think he’ll repay them for it, I really do. “Horses don’t do what he did,” he continued. “He came home in some tough spots and mowed them down and I think he’s got a lot of future ahead of him.” After about 35 days off at New Jersey Equine, Missile J returned to Di Domenico’s barn in great shape. He had put on some weight and came back mentally sharp and with a great attitude. Di Domenico prepped Missile J for his first race off the bench with one qualifier at Harrah’s August 8. He finished second to Christen Me and paced 1:53.2 with a :27.1 final quarter. In his first start off the layoff, the race office assigned Missile J post eight. Brent Holland will drive the 9/2 morning line chance for the first time Saturday night. Di Domenico is expecting an off-the-pace trip. “He’s done everything that I’ve asked him to do. Everything really professionally,” the trainer said. “The outside at Yonkers is not a very easy thing to overcome. Hopefully he’ll get some pace ahead of him and he’ll have a shot to pick up some of the pieces and get paid.” Saturday’s 4-Year-Old Open Handicap Pace also includes last week’s winner, Ideal Jimmy. The son of Western Ideal drew post four and is the 7/2 second choice on the morning line. Jordan Stratton will drive again. St Lads Moonwalk finished third last week from post five and drew the same position this time. He is the 3-1 morning line favorite. Dakota Jack, Settlemoir, Mr D`s Dragon, Continual Hanover, and Western Dynasty complete the field. A $55,000 Open Handicap Pace featuring Bit Of A Legend and Somewhere In L A headlines Saturday’s card. Post time is 7:10 p.m. For entries for Saturday’s races, click here. Sunday at Yonkers A reminder regarding Yonkers Raceway’s matinee program this Sunday (Aug. 20th), with a 12:30 PM first post. It’s the sixth of eight consecutive Sundays. It’s a dozen-race, all-trot card, with races 2 (approx.. post time 12:50 PM) through 5 (2:20 PM) of the ‘French’ theme, as in overflow fields at the mile-and-one-quarter distance. The ‘New York, New York Double’ is also back this Sunday, including Saratoga’s 3rd race (post time 2:07 PM) and Yonkers’ 5th race (post time 2:20 PM). Program pages accompany this release. Final post for Sunday is scheduled for 4:50 PM. by Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y - A week ago, Yonkers Raceway began using a new electronic draw system to set post positions for its races. The new system is called eTrack and was developed by the USTA. The system takes the harness racing horses entered in each race as input and randomly assigns post positions to them with the press of a button, as Yonkers Raceway Assistant Race Secretary Bob Miecuna explains. “With eTrack from the USTA, it’s an option you have to draw the races automatically instead of doing it by hand,” he said. “Basically, everything is set up exactly the same way you would for the regular draw. You select the horses you have for each particular race and then you push a button to draw and then the eight post positions come up with the also eligibles. It’s very simple.” The electronic draw replaces a decades old system of drawing post positions by hand. As Miecuna explains, the process was dated and relied heavily on human participation. “The old process, the entry blanks were brought over to the judges for each race and the judge would select an entry blank and then a horseman would go and select a number randomly. They had pills numbered one through eight. They would go and select a pill, call out the number, they’d write it down on the blank and on the draw sheet, and continue right through, eight for each race for all twelve races.” Miecuna, who began his role 19 years ago and handles the processing of entries, claims, and other work in the race office, noted the upgraded draw system offers two main advantages: integrity and efficiency. The new system largely removes humans from the equation and saves time. “This does save time. The time isn’t the big thing, it’s just it’s very efficient,” he said. “Nobody can drop a pill. The only human hand is touching the button that says ‘draw.’ ” Miecuna noted the new system also makes it easier for horsemen and the public to observe the draw. When pills were hand-drawn and entry blanks were pulled under the old system, it was difficult for any spectators to see which numbers and horses were being selected. The new  eTrack system, however, displays its results on a large screen monitor in the race office.  “We got a large TV monitor for the judge’s office so anyone who comes in can come and see it,” Miecuna said. “There’s no looking over a shoulder onto a little computer screen. We have a 42- or 44-inch that they can look at.” Although the eTrack system has been available to the track for several months, the race office began using it to draw pari-mutuel races about a week ago. For two months leading up to the change, Miecuna and Race Secretary Steve Starr used the eTrack system to set post positions for qualifiers. “We were practicing with that on qualifiers for about two months just to make sure that when we did go and do it live, it was a smooth transition,” Miecuna explained. “We knew it was going to work, but we wanted to make sure we could do it properly.” The system has successfully drawn post positions for pari-mutuel races, including overnight and sire stakes fields. The only limitation of the software is exposed when complex handicaps are applied to the track’s top classes. Miecuna is optimistic a future software update will address this limitation. “If you do make any kind of difficult handicap race, you have to draw by hand, but besides that it’s fine. You can’t assign one and two, draw three through six, and assign seven and eight. Down the road they’ll get to that.” Yonkers Raceway races Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 7:10 p.m. and Sunday afternoons. Click here for a complete racing schedule. To view Yonkers Raceway’s draw schedule and latest condition sheets, click here. by Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. - Ever since harness racing trainer Aaron Lambert purchased Dynamic Youth out of the 2010 Harrisburg Yearling Sale, Carl Cito Jr. has been involved. He started with a small piece of the talented pacer and was along for the ride as the gelding won the Cane Pace and captured multiple New York Sire Stakes at 3, won an elimination of the Ben Franklin and placed in the Confederation Cup, Monument Circle, and Windy City Pace at 4, placed in the Hoosier Park Pacing Derby at 5, and again made the Ben Franklin Final at age 6. But as Dynamic Youth’s stakes days ran out, the other partners in the ownership group fled. Soon, Cito found himself taking on a bigger role with the pacer. “I’ve always owned a small piece of him,” Cito explained. “As time went on and I ended up training him, some of the other guys were opting out; they were just into stakes horses. I acquired more of a share of him and now I own half of him with my partner Chris.” Cito trains, drives, and owns the Dynamic Youth in partnership with Chris Giaccio. The two met by chance and although Cito was reluctant to take on the new owner, eventually, they began partnering on horses. “I actually met (Chris) through the judges when Cammie Haughton was the presiding judge. He went into the office and asked for some recommendations for trainers and I was on the list,” Cito recalled. “The guy just called me and I wasn’t really taking owners at the time, it was just my own horses. But I kind of became friendly with him and we got some horses together and have ever since. It’s probably been about six or seven years now.” Dynamic Youth trains at Cito’s private farm in Jackson, New Jersey along with Cito’s four other horses. Cito and his wife, Natalie, know just how lucky they are to work with the accomplished  son of Bettor’s Delight, who is 35-for-116 with $1,219,492 earned. “You can’t ask for a better racehorse. Good manners, good personality, a lot of class. He’s got track records at probably two or three different tracks,” Cito said. “He’s just a class, class horse. You can’t ask for a better horse to be around. He really has no bad habits, which is rare. “My wife is the one who goes out and feeds him, gives him apples and carrots. He’s just a nice horse and they don’t come around like him very often. He’s special.” At age 8, Dynamic Youth is still in top form. He’s 3-for-15 this year racing primarily at Yonkers and finished third in the $55,000 Open Handicap Pace July 29. With Cito in the sulky, Dynamic Youth rode a pocket trip behind Great Vintage after stretching his rival out through a :26.3 opening quarter. Although Dynamic Youth was raging with pace, Cito had to take up behind Great Vintage, who tired badly with a furlong to race. Meanwhile, odds-on favorite Evenin of Pleasure enjoyed a perfect second-over trip. “The whole outer tier, Evenin of Pleasure and George (Brennan) got the jump on all of us,” Cito explained. “I actually came to a very, very slow pace at that time and when he hit the passing lane, he just charged. His last eighth was very fast. If he would have gotten me to the top of the lane, I think I would have won. The horse I was following finished last. My momentum was stopped.” Cito has driven Dynamic Youth in all 25 of his pari-mutuel starts since taking over the gelding’s training in April 2016. One of the few owner-trainer-drivers remaining in the sport, Cito’s days as a catch-driver in the 1990s motivate him to drive his own stock. A winner of 1071 career races, Cito only gave up driving full time after a series of accidents forced him to the sidelines. “I did the catch driving thing back in the 90s. I just basically drove for other guys. Then I had a couple of bad wrecks and I just started training and I did that for another 10 or so years, then I started doing both again. When I get the itch, I drive, when I don’t, I don’t.” Driving his own stock, the five stabled at his farm and a few others stabled with their owner in Colts Neck, New Jersey, gives Cito more insight about his horses. Cito says Dynamic Youth is a perfect horse to drive. “He’s a horse you can drive with no handholds. You rev him up, he can leave the gate :26.0, but he can go a quarter in 35 seconds. He doesn’t even wear ear plugs. He’s just a pleasure to drive,” Cito described. “It’s very rare to get a top horse like that who just does what you tell him to do. When he’s sharp like he is now, he can get a little aggressive, but he’s just a perfect horse to drive and he always was. Everyone who ever drove him said that.” Dynamic Youth will start from post one in Saturday night’s $55,000 Open Handicap Pace at Yonkers Raceway. He is a 12-1 morning line in a loaded field. Bit Of A Legend will make his first start since winning the Joe Gerrity Jr. Memorial Pace at Saratoga, but will start from post eight at odds of 4-1. Somewhere In L A is 7/2 from post six while last week’s Open winner Luck Be Withyou will start just to his inside as the 3-1 favorite. A winner two weeks ago, Evenin of Pleasure was assigned post seven and is 8-1. P H Supercam, Polak A, and Sunfire Blue Chip complete the field. “It’s definitely one of the toughest Opens this year so far at Yonkers with all them good horses in there at once,” Cito remarked. “They’re all pretty sharp right now. They’re all pretty good horses in there, but he’s not going to embarrass himself. He’ll hold his own for sure.” From the inside, Cito hopes to work out another garden trip. He will look to leave along the pylons and drop in behind the leader in a race that figures to feature plenty of early speed. “You leave hard and then you see who’s coming. If it’s not a good one, you try to seat them behind you and follow the next one that’s coming and roll on. His best race is on the front, but it’s hard to cut a mile. I can’t imagine nobody’s going to be leaving in that race. We’ll just try and follow the best one we can and hope he takes me to the top of the stretch.” As Cito continues to race Dynamic Youth at the top level of competition, he is acknowledges the special opportunity he has been afforded to not only own a horse of this caliber, but to work closely with him, too. “We’ve been fortunate to have him and have him stay healthy all this time and have him still able to compete with these horses at 8 years old. I’ve only had one other one that made $1 million that I’ve trained from the get go and they don’t come along very often. “The horse always shows up and if he doesn’t, there’s usually a reason. Not just because he throws a clunker. He doesn’t usually do that. And you get to know his quirks as far as what his routine is during the week. How hard to train him, how hard not to train him, if you train him at all. Sometimes I don’t even train him. Sometimes I just jog him and he seems to like that. I’ve just been lucky to have him.” First post time Saturday night at Yonkers is 7:10 p.m. Click here to view entries for Saturday’s races. Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. - Ideal Jimmy will continue his comeback in the $35,000 4-Year-Old Open Pace at Yonkers Raceway Saturday night. After making his return to the Hilltop Oval in the same class July 29, harness racing trainer Erv Miller thinks the gelded son of Western Ideal will be competitive in this week’s race. “He had a first start last week. Hopefully he’ll be in a little better shape and ready to go than he was last week, but normally I find at Yonkers it takes them a start or two before they’re really to go,” he said. “It depends on the horse and what he’s done in qualifiers. Normally we’re a little more conservative than we are aggressive the first start or two off the break.” Ideal Jimmy finished seventh in his return, which was his first start since winning a non-winners of eight at Yonkers December 5, 2016. He was beaten just 2 1/2 lengths after racing along the pylons and closing with a :28.1 final quarter. “I thought he raced really good. He just ended up coming up the inside and he wasn’t going to go anywhere because he didn’t get into the race early enough, but first start around there, I thought that was a good starting point,” Miller commented. Ideal Jimmy’s extended break from racing gave the small son of Western Ideal a chance to develop. Miller and owner D. R. Can Witzenburg plotted Ideal Jimmy’s 4-year-old campaign to serve as a transition to bigger targets next year. “We discussed this horse’s future last year to maybe not race him as a 4-year-old this year. I think sometime in March we brought him in,” Miller remembered. “He went through the non-winners of eight and he didn’t fit any more conditions, so we just gave him time to grow up and mature. He’s filled out, grown up. We don’t think he’ll quite compete against the open horses as a 4-year-old, but hopefully as a 5-year-old going forward he will. We’ll see how good he gets and hopefully be in the Levy next year.” Van Witzeburg is a longtime supporter of Miller and has the patience to give his horses time when needed. That makes Miller’s job easier. “I’ve trained for him a long time. He’s a really nice guy. He’s got great patience with horses and he understands the game. He knows they’re not robots and they don’t go when you say, ‘go,’ they go when they’re ready,” Miller said. “He’s been very patient that way with his horses. It’s really nice to have it that way and have it when they understand the horses a little bit.” Ideal Jimmy was a Pennsylvania Sire Stakes champion at 2. He’s 8-for-32 lifetime with another 10 seconds and thirds. He’s earned $443,722 and took a mark of 1:51.0 at the Meadows as a freshman. “He’s just been a really easy horse to get along with all along. He was a really nice 2-year-old. Not very big, just a small horse, which normally doesn’t work for PA because you have to race against the Somebeaches and stuff, but he’s always put his best foot forward and put out a good effort, so we just kept riding with him. He never did take a lot of work or anything. He was always a pretty easy horse to get along with,” Miller described. Ideal Jimmy will start from post position two in Saturday’s 4-Year-Old Open, just to the inside of morning line favorite Western Fame. The eight-horse field also includes 19-time winner St Lads Moonwalk and 10-time winner Blaise MM Hanover. “This week is a little tougher than last week with Western Fame in there,” Miller said. “I think Ideal Jimmy will be quite a bit better than last week just getting a race under his belt. He could be getting a little involved this week and be there at the finish. It helps to have the two hole. “I think it’s great with New York having the opportunities they do on a small track. I think a half-mile track should suit him pretty good,” the trainer continued. “He’ll get some races against 4-year-olds there instead of having to race against older horses. Hopefully he’ll monopolize off of that and have a good last half of the year.” by Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. - Harness racing trainer Jerry Riordan remembers working as a groom at Roosevelt Raceway in the 1980s. He was fortunate enough not only to race there in the track’s heyday, but to be there when the great French trotter Ideal Du Gazeau won the International Trot three consecutive years from 1981 to 1983. “We met the groom of Ideal Du Gazeau and took him out one night. They were a couple of French guys who couldn’t understand a word we were saying, but they were good old guys,” Riordan fondly remembered. “We ended up going down to Jones Beach and drinking a few beers. They were happy as can be, hanging out with us, smoking cigarettes.” Soon after, Riordan witnessed Ideal Du Gazeau in one of his International Trot triumphs. It was the moment the American-turned-Italian-turned-Swedish trainer was first exposed to international racing. “You’re a little awestruck when you see those horses first hand,” he recalled. “Watching Ideal Du Gazeau with those legs that went flying every direction. It was like something from another planet. The equipment, the way they trotted, and the way they were indifferent to the rest of the race. They just did their thing, and then they’d win. That’s when I realized there’s a whole ‘nother type of horse out there besides ours.” In those nights at Roosevelt, Riordan couldn’t have imagined he would get the chance to race a horse in the International Trot himself. And after the race was discontinued in 1996, the idea couldn’t have crossed his mind. Yet, when Yonkers Raceway revived the International Trot in 2015 and offer a $1 million purse, Riordan received an invitation with Rod Stewart. “It was fabulous the amount of hospitality they put on,” he said. “Everybody was enthused about being part of the old Roosevelt International. It’s a race that’s a legend by now. What it meant at that time, the Roosevelt International was a race that went out and got horses from all over the world and nobody else did that, not even the thoroughbreds back then. They were ahead of their time with that race.” The longest shot in the field, Rod Stewart made a break shortly after the start of the 2015 International and finished eighth of 10. This fall, Riordan will get another chance at International Trot glory when he crosses the Atlantic with Twister Bi. Riordan got the opportunity to train Twister Bi by chance. After moving his stable from Italy to Sweden, he got a call from the horse’s owner, Pasquale Ciccarelli. Ciccarelli knew the Varenne colt had talent, but needed to mature to unlock his full potential. “They said he could go like hell but he needed to get raced properly. He was a little bit aggressive. He has a pedigree that’s predisposed to being aggressive,” Riordan explained. “Sweden is the best in that type of situation. The way they race here, the tracks are so soft. If a horse is going to have a chance to calm down and learn how to be a racehorse, Sweden is a great place for that.” As time went on, Twister Bi settled into his new surroundings and began to transform from just another fast horse into a good horse. Twister Bi grew stronger and began to understand what his trainer was asking from him. “Mentally, he’s just gotten so much better. That was the last step,” Riordan said. “Now he’s filled in that part of the whole equation. He’s gotten so much better on race days. He’s got it all together, he’s not wearing himself out. He’s the whole package right now.” Twister Bi’s breakthrough race came in the Group 3 Prix de La Mayenne at Vincennes Racecourse February 26. Carefully handled early in the 2,700 meter race by driver Björn Goop, Twister Bi raced in last early. Kept in the clear, Goop bided his time until the final turn when he tipped Twister Bi three-wide. The 5-year-old’s stride extended. He reached his neck out and accelerated past half the field in a dozen strides. “The gamblers there are sharp. He was the favorite in the race even though he hadn’t raced in three months,” Riordan remembered. “The pace was really slow and when he tipped out three-wide, they all started yelling ‘aller, aller, aller.’ Go, go, go. He’s out in the middle of the racetrack and it’s him against nine Frenchmen.” Twister Bi sustained his rally and by the top of the stretch, drew on even terms with leader Caly Loulou. Tango Negro joined the pair along the pylons and in a thrilling stretch drive, Twister Bi struck the lead in the final few meters and prevailed by hard-fought head. “After that race, that was the thing I noticed about him. Normally it takes five guys to slow him down for the picture and all that stuff. For the first time, the horse was cool after the race,” Riordan explained. “I was thinking, he just had a really great race and now he seems like he’s not all stressed about it. I was hoping that meant something, and it did.” Since his Prix de Mayenne success, Twister Bi earned his first Group 1 win in Seinäjoki, Finland April 22 before finishing unplaced in his Elitlopp elimination against Nuncio May 28. He achieved Group 1 success again the Oslo Grand Prix in Bjerke, Norway June 11. Starting from the post seven, bettors dismissed Twister Bi at odds of 96-1. Riordan saw the race as an opportunity to try something new. “It was the first time we put earplugs on him, it was the first time we put the American sulky on him,” Riordan said. “I had always been saving that stuff because we were always more concerned about just having him be manageable. I never wanted to be pulling plus on him. We always tried to keep him calm.” Despite his wide draw, driver Christoffer Erkisson put Twister Bi in the race and tracked the cover of Your Highness. Lionel followed, but soon launched a three-wide bid that saw him move to the first-over spot pressing leader Aubrion du Gers. In the second lap of the 2,100-meter race, Lionel drew closer to Aubrion du Gers while Eriksson wheeled Twister Bi three-wide. Entering the final turn, Lionel put his white blaze in front just as Eriksson popped the plugs on Twister Bi, who advanced within a length of the lead. In the stretch, Twister Bi again stuck his neck out and reached for the wire with every sinew in his body. He passed Lionel in the final sixteen and powered away to a length victory. “When he tipped him out and pulled the ear plugs, he reacted really well. He’s always raced really well in Norway. There are no whips there and he doesn’t need a whip,” Riordan said. “And the 2,000 meters suits him too. He doesn’t have that extreme speed like some of the other horses do, but when he hits his top gear, he stays there for a long time.” Twister Bi’s most impressive performance to date came in the Group 1 Ulf Thoresen Grand International at Jarlsberg. Changing tactics, Eriksson let rival Oasis Bi blast off the gate to the front, but soon drove up on the outside and cleared the lead. Entering the last of four turns in the 2,100-meter stakes, Eriksson popped the plugs and Twister Bi’s lead grew from 2 lengths to 3. Then 4, then 5. He sprinted away from Oasis Bi, Lionel, and Carabinieri, leaving multiple Group 1 winners far behind. He won by 6 1/2 lengths. “He eased away gradually, got to the front and just kept that rhythm up,” Riordan said. “(Eriksson) wanted to make sure he didn’t let Lionel get close. When he pulled the plugs, he just exploded. The last 500 meters were like a 1:50 shot or something.” After his romping victory, Riordan received an invitation to the $1 million Yonkers International Trot slated for Saturday, October 14. Although the trip could interfere with the winter meet at Vincennes, Riordan’s decision was an easy one. “I was a little concerned about the trip jeopardizing the winter, but it’s a lot of money and it’s an honor to be participating in the race. I thought about it for about 10 seconds and I said, ‘we’ll go.’ ” Twister Bi finished third in Tuesday’s (July 25) Hugo Åbergs Memorial at Jågersro behind Propulsion’s herculean 1:49.2 effort. Before shipping to New York, Riordan hopes to race Twister Bi two to three more times. The Group 1 Jubileumspokalen for 5-year-olds at Solvalla August 16 is next and the Group 2 UET Trotting Masters Series at Vincennes September 9 could be after that, although Riordan is reluctant to face Bold Eagle before flying across to New York. “That race in France, Bold Eagle will probably be there. That’s obviously going to make things difficult for anybody in that race,” he said. “That’s a possibility, but I’d personally prefer to find races where we can duck those guys and keep him fresh.” More International Trot invitees will be featured as they are confirmed for the race. The $1 million Yonkers International Trot will be raced Saturday, October 14 at Yonkers Raceway. For more information visit www.internationaltrot.com. by Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. - Ottawa-based horseman Robert Robinson is no stranger to working with talented horses. Every year, he breaks and trains quality 2-year-olds before shipping them out to trainers who will campaign and race them. Among his former harness racing pupils are Gerries Sport, a multiple Ontario Sire Stakes winner. “I do train some horses for people that are pretty well respected, but once I get them ready, they go on to other places,” Robinson explained. Robinson started with a roster of 16 horses last fall, many of which were 2-year-olds for clients and a few of which were freshman of his own. Like in years past, nearly all of them shipped out as planned. Robinson now trains a stable of three horses and looks after one broodmare. This time, however, one of the talented 2-year-olds who made his way stateside is his own, Kwik Talkin. Robinson purchased Kwik Talkin, a son of Well Said and the Cam’s Card Shark mare Kwik Dial, out of the 2016 Harrisburg Sale for $18,000. A half to Pennsylvania Stallion Series-placed Kwik Mac and from a family that includes millionaire pacer Dial Or Nodial, Kwik Talkin drew attention at the sale, but for the wrong reasons. “Before I went to the sale, I looked at the video and he moved pretty good,” Robinson recalled. “I remember when I went to the sale, I went back to look at him a few times. He toed out a bit in the right front. I was with a good friend of mine who races in Toronto and he said, ‘does that right front not concern you?’ I said ‘not at all because I watched him trot, I watched him pace and he had lots of clearance.’ ” While others shied away, Robinson stepped up and took Kwik Talkin home. Partnering on the colt are Jacqueline Dinelle, Robinson’s wife, and an old friend of Robinson’s, Scott Henry and his wife Lisa. For the Henrys, Kwik Talkin is their first delve into racehorse ownership. “After my dad died, they bought my dad’s farm,” Robinson explained. “They got my number last year and they asked to buy into a horse. They ended up getting in on this horse and it’s the first horse they’ve ever owned. “I knew Scott from when I first started racing. His dad had some horses and his father is probably one of the first people who ever gave me a catch drive,” Robinson remembered. Training down, Kwik Talkin never had any bad days. Although he wasn’t a standout among Robinson’s stable, Kwik Talkin showed promise by winning his first qualifier in wire-to-wire fashion at Rideau Carlton May 31. It was in a schooling session at the track the following week that Robinson first realized he had a very talented colt on his hands. “In the two weeks between his qualifier and his first race, I took him to the track and schooled him with aged horses. Three of them were in to race that Sunday and went (1):55 and he just blew them away in the schooling,” Robinson said. “That was my first indication that he was going to be real good. I always thought he was a nice horse, but I thought he was a little bit better than a nice horse after that schooler.” Kwik Talkin continued to face older horses in his first two pari-mutuel starts at the Ottawa oval. He won his debut June 15 by 2 1/2 lengths, pacing a mile in 1:58.3 before doubling up with a 1:55.0 score the following week. In both victories, his owner and then trainer drove him. “He really impressed me when he went in (1):55. He probably stopped and went three or four times in the mile and whenever I asked him he just kept going,” Robinson said. Kwik Talkin’s impressive outings in Canada earned him a trip to compete in the Lawrence B. Sheppard Pace elimination at Yonkers Raceway July 8, the only Grand Circuit event Robinson staked him to. Last year, Robinson was the underbidder on Summer Side, winner of the 2016 Sheppard Pace, and thought his colt could pursue a similar path. “I followed that horse a little bit and saw what he did, so I figured this was a good spot,” he explained. “He’s only got some Pennsylvania Sire Stakes after this, so he’ll end the year with seven or eight starts, which is probably a good thing. It works out good that the horse isn’t going to be over-raced this year.” Racing out of Rob Harmon’s barn, Kwik Talkin sparkled in his Sheppard elimination. After racing parked through an opening quarter of :27.4, Kwik Talkin cleared the lead, but was soon met with the challenge of Phat Blue Chip. Forced to yield, Kwik Talkin rated in the pocket until finding clear racing room a furlong from the finish. Angled three-wide by driver Jordan Stratton, Kwik Talkin charged down the center of the track with dead-aim on rival Springsteen. With minimal encouragement, Kwik Talkin streaked past his competition to score by a length in 1:54.4, the fastest of the three Sheppard eliminations by more than two seconds. His final quarter of :27.1 was the fastest on the 12-race card. “I felt there was a lot more under the hood. A lot of horses ship from Rideau Carlton to other tracks and will go faster because it’s not the fastest track,” Robinson reasoned. “I was kind of surprised after watching the other divisions that they could go that fast. I thought that was impressive.” Although Kwik Talkin is the 2-1 morning line favorite for Saturday’s $110,500 Sheppard Pace Final, it won’t be a walkover as he will start from post seven. Trump Nation and Persist Blue Chip, winners of their eliminations last week, drew posts two and eight respectively. Springsteen, Damion Diesel Hahn, Phat Blue Chip, Real Rayenbow, and Hora Star complete the field. “I’m just hoping he does well,” Robinson said. “I’ve done good for other people, but this is like the first one that I’m doing good for myself, so it’s a little bit more special. My partners went last week and my wife and I are going this week. It will be our first trip there, so hopefully he’ll be good.” First post time Saturday at Yonkers is 7:10 p.m. EST. For entries for the card, click here. by Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. - Three weeks after its unveiling, the new finish line at Yonkers Raceway is producing favorable harness racing results. Following a long regulatory approval process, the New York State Gaming Commission granted Yonkers Raceway permission to begin contesting races using a new finish line June 16, 2017. The change altered the track configuration, shortening the stretch by 105 feet and lengthening the distance from the start to the first turn by the same distance. The shift set out to increase the competiveness of the races by giving horses starting from posts seven and eight a better chance to put themselves into the race. Additionally, the shorter stretch is designed to encourage drivers to mount an outside charge sooner. Overall, the new finish line sought to increase racing action in the early and middle stages of the races in order to produce more compelling races from a wagering standpoint. “It’s just 100% better in all aspects. The starts, the finish, mid-race. Everything is just 100% better,” said George Brennan, who with 38 wins, has visited the winner’s circle more than any other driver since the new wire debuted. The statistics back up Brennan’s claim. From Jan. 1 to June 15, horses starting from post seven won at just 5.6% and finished in the top three at a 19.9% clip from 1,133 starts. From June 16 to July 10, horses starting from post seven won at a 9.1% clip and hit the board 22.2% of the time from 176 starts. This marks a 62.3% improvement in win percentage and an 11.4% improvement in the frequency of hitting the board. Despite post seven’s dramatic increase in win percentage, winning from post eight is still a difficult assignment even with the new finish line. The outside’s win percentage held steady in each period, at 2.9%. However, the place percentage nearly doubled after the new finish line was introduced as it jumped from 5.6% to 10.1% and the show percentage showed a similar increase from 10.7% to 14.5% (from 900 and 138 starts, respectively). In addition to the positive post position trends, Yonkers’ percentage of winning favorites decreased after the introduction of the new finish line. Favorites connected at a 42% clip before June 15 and a 38% from June 16 on, a decrease of 8%. While the numbers are trending in the right direction, they don’t tell the whole story. There are many intangible effects the new wire has had on the races. For Brennan, safety tops them all. “Before, we were never able to drive out our horses through the wire because as soon as you hit the wire, the horses would bunch up like accordions on the turn. I’ve actually been knocked down twice after the wire just getting hooked up,” he said. “Now, we can actually drive our horses through the finish and it’s not even an issue anymore.” Brennan also feels the starts are much fairer for all under the new wire. In addition to the obvious benefit of more straight track before the first turn, he says horses are more settled as they enter the turn, particularly trotters. “There’s more of a straightaway to leave now. Before, a lot of horses weren’t able to get set with their gaits, especially the trotters,” Brennan recalled. “Now they’re all set with their gait when they hit the first turn and they stand a better chance of getting through the first turn.” Longer distance into the first turn can be a double-edged sword for outside starters though, as driver Jordan Stratton explains. While the additional distance encourages the seven and eight horses to leave, it has the same affect on the four, five, and six. “With the previous wire, maybe the five and six wouldn’t be taking a shot because the one and two would be leaving,” he reasoned. “Where with the new wire, the one, two, four, five, six, and me were all trying to leave and I ended up having to retreat all the way back to last. It has goods and bads.” While skeptical about the start of the races, Stratton feels the shortened stretch is forcing horses to pull sooner in the mile, as advertised. “As soon as you’re coming out of the second turn, you have to pull, whereas before, you were trying to wait past the third turn,” he said. “You had a little extra time. I’ve seen horses first-over last a lot longer than they have before.” Brennan doesn’t find himself pulling sooner, he said, but does agree with the sentiment that horses are lasting longer on the rim. “I’ve had horses last. They may not win, but they’re right there on the wire first-over. Coming first-over with them they really grind up,” he explained. “Even with the shorter stretch, I’ve seen closers win, so it’s certainly not a totally speed-biased track. It helps to be up close, but you can work from second-over, third-over.” With the relocation of the finish line also came the relocation of the pan camera. Previously stationed off the finish line, the poor viewing angle proved frustrating to all who enjoyed the races on TV or online. Now, the camera is mounted directly on the finish line. “It was so deceptive before, it looked like the inside horse won by a neck and it was the outside horse by a head. I can only imagine how frustrating that would be for a bettor,” Brennan empathized. “But now, some of the races I haven’t been in, I watched it. For the most part you can call a photo now.” Although it will take more time to draw final conclusions about the new finish line, it is clear after three weeks that the results are trending the right direction. Yonkers Raceway races on Monday, Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 7:10 EST and Sunday afternoons at 12:30 EST. For a complete live racing schedule, click here. Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. - Harness racing stakes mare Frost Damage Blues is set to make her return to Yonkers Raceway in Friday (July 7) night’s $55,000 Filly and Mare Open Handicap. Her first local try since finishing fourth in the distaff feature in her 2016 finale December 9 comes after an eventful trip to Mohawk Racetrack for the Roses Are Red Stakes. After a sharp qualifier in early May and a victory and runner up performance in winners over features at Harrah’s Philadelphia and Pocono Downs, trainer Tom Fanning shipped Frost Damage Blues to Canada with intentions of racing her on North America Cup night. In her Roses Are Red Elimination June 10, Frost Damage Blues raced second last early, but followed longshot Bernadette second-over into contention up the backstretch. Driver James MacDonald angled wide into the lane and with a flurry of whip-taps and a succession of shouts to his mount, Frost Damage Blues struck the lead inside the final furlong. With the race won, she cruised under the line 1 1/4 lengths clear. She stopped the clock in 1:50.1. “She was good there,” Fanning said. “She got into contention without really having to be used much. In the stretch, when he tipped her out, she really responded.” Despite her impressive elimination win, Frost Damage Blues could finish no better than eighth in the final one week later. Forced three-wide up the backstretch and around the final turn, Frost Damage Blues drew within 4 3/4 lengths of the lead turning for home. Leg weary in the stretch, her strides shortened and her driver acknowledged by tucking the whip late. She finished 9 1/2 lengths behind winner Lady Shadow. “In the final, she ended up fourth over. There was some confusion in the race at the half mile pole and that cost anyone in the back half of the field the chance to do well. That was just unfortunate,” Fanning reflected. Despite her bad racing luck, Frost Damage Blues emerged well from her Canadian exhibition.  The lightly raced 5-year-old, who is 14-for-29 and has $183,603 in the bank, only lacked a suitable place to race once back in the States. “You’re always a little bit worried when they go up to Canada and stay there for a few weeks. They always seem to get sick. But, so far, so good,” Fanning said. “She’s been training steady and I would have preferred to race her last week, but the race didn’t fill at the Meadowlands or at Pocono. If I could race her a little bit more, it might benefit her.” Although Fanning concedes the half-mile oval at Yonkers may not be Frost Damage Blues’ favorite track size, the consistency with which the Filly and Mare Open is carded was appealing and the purse money available sealed the deal. “The race goes every week, it’s great money. You’d have to be crazy not to give it a shot,” the trainer reasoned. Although Frost Damage Blues may prefer a big track, she has no shortage of half-mile track experience. She won her first five races at Saratoga and Yonkers in 2015 and captured a $14,000 overnight at Yonkers last fall before finishing off the board in a pair of local distaff opens to conclude her 2016 season. “She was winning on a half at Saratoga and at Yonkers, but she really wasn’t at her smoothest” Fanning remembered. “Now, I think she’s gotten over that. She raced very well at Chester, which has pretty tight turns. I wouldn’t be anticipating any problems.” This week’s Filly and Mare Open Pace featured a rare open draw, won by Frost Damage Blues, who will start against the pylons as a 7/2 morning line chance. Regil Elektra enters Friday’s race off consecutive wins while down in class. She was installed as the 2-1 favorite. The field also includes Betabcool N, Mach It A Par, Lispatty, Cousin Mary, I Said Diamonds, and Sell A Bit N. Although Frost Damage Blues tends to race from off the pace, drawing the inside may motivate her connections to be more aggressive. In a return to tactics employed early in her career, driver Brian Sears could ask her to show speed Friday night. “She can leave. She won her first six starts on the front end, so she can do whatever you want,” Fanning explained. “You have the rail at Yonkers, you have to take advantage of it. I think she fits pretty good. I would expect her to be very competitive.” First post time Friday at Yonkers is 7:10 p.m. For entries for Friday’s card, click here. by Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

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

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

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

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