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YONKERS, N.Y. – When Aldine Hanover joined the ranks of Michael Hall’s harness racing stable late last year, the filly immediately made her presence known. Aldine Hanover quickly asserted herself as the alpha in the Hall’s group of mares and she commanded respect in the barn. It was apparent to Hall that Aldine Hanover possessed something special that could not be taught.  “We turn the horses out. The mares especially, they go out in groups. Since she’s been here, she took over the boss spot in the field with four other mares. Before that, one of them thought she was in charge,” Hall said.  “She’s a little bit mean, but in a good way on the racetrack. She doesn’t like another horse to pass her and she’ll dig in,” Hall continued. “If you train her with another horse, she’s perfect when you sit behind them, but as soon as you tip her out to go, she wants to go by them instantly. Just does everything that you want her to do. “She’s just all racehorse. You can make an athlete, or you can be born with it. Just something in her genes, she was just meant to be a good horse.” Aldine Hanover proved her merit to Hall in winning last week’s $44,000 Filly and Mare Open Handicap at Yonkers Raceway. The wire-to-wire effort was the biggest win of her career to date, elevating her earnings to $289,711 and improving her record to 10 victories from 43 starts. The 4-year-old mare will try to double up in this Friday’s (Feb. 1) distaff feature. Hall had his eye on Aldine Hanover while she raced out of Erv Miller’s barn at 2 and 3. By A Rocknroll Dance out of the Artsplace millionaire Armbro Amoretto, Hall was initially attracted to Aldine Hanover’s pedigree. He also liked Aldine Hanover’s consistent performances on the track. “A lot of my owners are breeders and I try to have the client in mind for when they’re done racing because that way, they give you a little bit of a safety net because they don’t always pan out. Fortunately, she did, but they don’t always pan out,” Hall said. “We always try to have a backup plan in place when you get into it. “She basically never misses the board. That was the biggest thing. She was ideally going to be a money maker. I was hoping she’d be able to win out of the non-winners of eight at Dover and maybe go in the winners over there. I didn’t really have the aspirations that she’d be as good as she’s been the last few weeks.” Hall knew Miller would be likely to part with Aldine Hanover at the end of her sophomore season. After Aldine Hanover romped in a local $20,000 overnight November 19, the sale was completed and Hall took Aldine Hanover to Dover Downs. She won two straight races to close her 2018 campaign and began her 4-year-old season with a narrow loss January 2. She won a $16,000 overnight January 9 before testing the waters in Dover’s $25,000 Filly and Mare Open January 16. She finished a close third to Delishka and Apple Bottom Jeans. “She got away third on the rail, which is like the death spot. It’s the toughest spot in the world to make money from,” Hall said. “Dexter Dunn got off of her and said, ‘man, if I could have gotten out three or four feet earlier, I would have won.’ She was flying at the wire. “I don’t know if she could have beaten those two mares or not,” Hall continued. “I would have said (Dexter) was being a little overly optimistic, but he’s driven a lot of good horses, so if he says something like that, he knows what he’s talking about.” Aldine Hanover proved she can handle open company last time out when she took Yonkers’ top class for distaffers in 1:53.4 with Jason Bartlett in the sulky, beating her Delaware rival Delishka in the process. Hall made the move to the Hilltop to gauge Aldine Hanover’s talents as he floats the idea of nominating her to the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series. “We raced her in the Open at Dover and they didn’t fill it the following week. I figured we might as well try it. The last start before I bought her, she raced there and everything worked out perfect. Jason Bartlett drove her, got the front really easy, and never pulled the plugs,” Hall said. “I was shocked at how good she handled it. A lot of horses who are a decent size struggle on the turns, but she just got right around them like it was nothing. With the purses up there, it would be foolish not to take a chance.” Aldine Hanover drew post four in her repeat bid, and with Jason Bartlett back in to drive, she is a tepid 5-2 morning line choice. Unlike last week when she was handicapped by post seven, Delishka benefited from this week’s open draw and will start from post two in front of Brent Holland. Between the Delaware invaders will start Lance Hudson’s recent New Zealand-bred import Betterb Chevron. Amateur Hour, Shez Sugarsweet, Monica Gallagher, Ella Michelle, and Itty Bitty comprise the lineup. “Last week she beat that Delishka mare. That mare is awful tough. It was nice to draw inside of her, but this week she drew inside of us,” Hall said. “We couldn’t beat her on the five-eighths. It will be interesting to see if the track size evens it out. The other foreign mare of Lance Hudson’s, that mare was airborne finishing the last few weeks.” Although Aldine Hanover won on the front last week, Hall is skeptical about his mare trying for the lead this week. He is confident in his mare’s off-the-pace tactics. “I know Jason likes to be aggressive off the gate, but Delishka, that mare can leave fast. think it would be a little harder for us to make the lead if we wanted to,” Hall said. “I like the fact that my horse doesn’t have to be on the front. She can do what she has to do. To me, it sets up a whole lot different than last week because the horses we had to out leave were all outside of us and everybody sort of floated into the turn and grabbed up. This week, it looks like it should be interesting for the first quarter-mile. “I think it will be a good test,” Hall continued. “I’m sort of on the fence about whether she’s good enough to think about putting her in the Matchmaker or not. This will be as tough a group of mares that she’s raced so far in her career, so we’ll see how it goes.” Live harness racing is featured at Yonkers Raceway every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. First post time is 6:50 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Although Troy Beyer grew up around Standardbreds, it was a singular moment in his adolescent years that ultimately pushed him down the path of becoming a harness racing horseman. At just 23 years old, Beyer has already worked among some great horses in the stables of Nancy Johansson and Noel Daley. The Illinois native now plies his trade in the barn of Brett Pelling with the goal of becoming a catch driver.  Beyer made his first pari-mutuel start in 2013 and spent the next three years driving in Illinois with some success. 2018 proved to be the young reinsman’s breakout year however, as he teamed up with Ricky Bucci to compete for the rich purses at Yonkers Raceway. Beyer drove 16 winners last year and another 50 in the money to purses of $305,308.  Although he is still searching for his first win in the new year, Beyer already has six top three finishes at the Hilltop and has his sights set on a big year. Beyer has first call on all of Bucci’s starters, including distaffer Made Of Jewels As and open trotter Mostinterestingman, who regularly compete in the track’s $44,000 features.  Beyer took the time to chat with the SOA of NY’s Brandon Valvo about his career so far and his aspirations in the sport. BV: How did you first get involved in harness racing? TB: My dad used to train horses several years ago; that’s how I got into it. I really didn’t get into it until I was probably around 13 or so. I really started to get into it and it just kind of took off from there. It got into my blood and ever since I’ve been right into it. I was out jogging, I just never knew what it was for when I was really young. It just wasn’t something I wanted to go do or anything. I just didn’t realize what it was for.  BV: What was the moment when it clicked that made you realize this was for you? TB: Probably when I was 13 my dad wanted me to go train one for him at the little farm we were at in Illinois and I think ever since that day, I did it once and I was hooked. It was just that easy. The horse was Casino Comp. At the time, she was just very young. I don’t even think she had raced yet. It might have even been her first time training. She turned out to be an alright condition horse at Balmoral and just raced through the conditions, basically. She was an alright horse, made a little money for us.  BV: And when did you first start driving in races? TB: At 16 I started driving qualifiers. I schooled one first for a friend of ours at Balmoral. I schooled a trotter and I just loved that. As soon as I did it, I wanted to just do it all the time. Just the adrenaline rush was awesome.   BV: You mention you’ve worked with some big stables already. Who are some of the nicer horses you’ve gotten to work with so far? TB: When I came to the east coast, I worked with Nancy Johansson. When I came in, JK She’salady was there, but it was at the end of her career. But getting to be around a horse like that, she was a cool horse to see and it was exciting to have a horse like that in the barn. I looked after a horse called Wicked Little Minx. She was a nice little mare, she made a little bit of money for Nancy. Another good little horse we had at the time was Cruzado Dela Noche, who won the International last year. Really cool little horse. Really awesome personality.  BV: Were you there at Yonkers when he won the International Trot? TB: Yes, I was. That was exciting. I’m not a gambling kind of person, but a buddy of mine that was down watching the race, I told him, ‘you know what, I bet this horse will win because he’s a cool little horse, he’s a nice horse, and I know they’ve been prepping him for this race for a long time.’ And sure enough he went out and won.  BV: It looks like this past year, you really started to ramp up the number of starts you were making. TB: Yeah it picked up really well for me, especially the last three months of the year, it picked up really strong at Yonkers. The last couple years, I’ve been working for Noel Daley and just had one or two of my own in the winter time. Noel helped me a ton. He got me a lot of drives for him and for people who saw me drive for him. He gave me a shot in stakes races, too and people saw that and they gave me a shot, too. I would go and drive one or two a week at Yonkers and really just always show up and it’s worked out well for me. A snowball effect happened where it just picked up stronger and stronger and then I picked up Ricky Bucci as a big account and there’s a couple other little guys and it’s just really worked out well. We had a lot of luck and made a lot of good money at the end of the year there. BV: How did you team up with Ricky and get first call on all his horses here at Yonkers? TB: I’m driving all of them now and that’s awesome. I drove one for him and won straight away. He gave me a shot, put me up on a few and we did really well right away and it’s just taken off from there. I listen to what he has to say about them and how he wants to race them. He gives me a lot of freedom to let me do what I want with them. It’s just worked out really well. BV: Do you tend to be on the aggressive side? Do you try to be a little more patient? What’s your style like? TB: It just really depends on the horse and it depends a lot on the draw at Yonkers. If they have the inside, I’m more inclined to be aggressive with them and if they’re mid-pack, it just depends on the horse and what class it is.  BV: Yonkers is not an easy place to break into when you consider the driving colony here. Were you surprised to get such a big account relatively quickly? TB: Honestly, yeah, I was really surprised. It was almost like night and day. Ettore (Annunziata) told him to give me a shot. He came and asked me one night and said, ‘I have a friend of mine who needs a driver, he wants to put you down on a couple.’ I thought I was going to drive maybe one or two for the guy, I didn’t even know who it was. The sheet came out and I was down on three. It was just like a light switch. From that moment, I was driving a bunch really quick after. BV: And even getting drives in the Open Handicaps. Talk a little about Made Of Jewels As and what she’s like to drive and to work with. TB: I really, really love driving that mare. She’s classy and she likes to race from off the pace, which I like to, too a lot of times in the upper conditions. They kind of beat themselves up early and then usually you can sit back and come at the end of it. They pop up and win every once in a while for good money. She’s just a lovely horse to drive, she runs in a little bit, but you just help her through the turns and wait on her and she’ll give you everything. She’ll just fly home. She can fly. You can do whatever you want with her. BV: And what about Mostinterestingman? TB: He is awesome. I really love driving that horse, too. The pair of those two horses are really nice to drive. Mostinterestingman, he’s really nice to drive. He doesn’t really get on a line or anything like that. You can do whatever you want with him. If you want to leave out of there with him, you can and he has no problem with it. If you want to duck and race him off a helmet, he does that just as good. He doesn’t get grabby in a hole or grabby up front. Just two fingers, a really good horse to drive at any time, no matter where you are. BV: You’re a young guy, just getting started. What are your goals for your career? Do you aspire to be a catch driver? A trainer? What path do you see yourself pursuing? TB: I like doing both. I like training and driving. I would like to eventually just catch drive. That’s what I really love to do. But I don’t mind training either. I really enjoy training babies down. I might keep doing that, just have a couple of my own in the winter time and just work with babies. But my main goal is catch driving for sure. That’s what I really love to do and want to do. If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. Live harness racing is featured at Yonkers Raceway every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. First post time is 6:50 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Harness racing owner Evan Katz makes a habit of perusing the listings on online auction sites. In fact, he checks them almost daily in the hopes of finding another horse to add to his stable. When Katz came across a listing for Itty Bitty in fall 2016, he found a diamond in the rough. Then a freshman, the pacing filly by Always A Virgin out of the Warrior For Peace mare Bananih had 15 starts on the Indiana fair circuit for owner, trainer, and driver Charles Conrad. Itty Bitty earned two wins and another eight seconds and thirds, but it was her finishing ability that caught Katz’s eye. In her final start for Conrad, Itty Bitty came home in :27.4 at the Fayette County Free Fair in Connersville, Indiana. “She showed some really good fair lines in Indiana with some really good final quarters. If you know the tracks there, anything semi-decent is a real fast last quarter,” Katz said. “She was always closing. From the top of the stretch to the wire, she was always passing horses. That’s what you have to look for, horses that finish.” Despite her low opening bid, as a regular user Katz knew that the online auctions are generally quiet until the timer reaches the final few minutes. He waited and waited, but there was little activity. When the auction ended, Katz bought the filly for $8,000. “It’s pretty much sight unseen. You go by the lines and hope the people are being upfront with you,” Katz said. “There’s an offer or a starting bid and in the last 10 minutes, usually people really start to bid. There really wasn’t a whole lot of action on her. “I’m not sure why other people really didn’t go after her,” he continued. “I don’t think the guy who had her realized the potential. She’s really a natural. She’s loves to race.” Katz gave Itty Bitty to Billy Parker and sent her to Monticello for her first start subsequent to the auction. They spotted her in a $3,300 overnight for non-winners of a pari-mutuel race October 5, 2016. Itty Bitty’s rivals proved vastly overmatch as she circled the field and stormed away to an 18-length win. She stopped the clock in 2:00.1 with a :27.3 final quarter. “She just exploded halfway up the backstretch. She was real impressive, she just drew off. Then I realized that she was a little better than I had thought,” Katz said. Shortly after that start, Katz gave Itty Bitty to trainer Andrew Harris, who along with Bob Darrow, bought an ownership interest in the filly. In 70 starts, Itty Bitty has amassed 17 wins, 11 seconds, and 10 thirds good for $220,377. Her biggest victory to date came last Friday (January 11) when she took the $44,000 Filly and Mare Open Handicap at Yonkers Raceway. Starting from post three with Jason Bartlett in the sulky, Itty Bitty watched as Wishy Washy Girl took command from post five around the opening turn. Bartlett wanted the lead, however and pulled Itty Bitty entering the backstretch. The pair made the lead in a :27.4 opening quarter and the even-money favorite never looked back.  With Bartlett comfortable in the bike and with a good hold of her, Itty Bitty increased her margin to 2½ lengths past three-quarters. By the time she reached the top of the lane, she increased her advantage to 4 ½. Itty Bitty cruised past the finish 5 ¼ lengths clear of the field in 1:55.  Katz was quick to praise his team for Itty Bitty’s unlikely rise to the top. “Andrew does a great job with her, as with all the horses I have with him,” Katz said. “He deserves a lot of the credit. To keep her sharp, keep her happy. He’s always on top of things. He’s probably the only trainer that talks to me every day and tells me what’s going on. Very honest guy. “The feedback is always good about her,” Katz continued. “She always tries. Every race she tries. She reflects the name; she’s not very big. She just has a big heart.” Itty Bitty will try to double up in Yonkers’ distaff feature as she will start from post seven in this week’s $44,000 handicap. With Bartlett back in the bike, the pair are tepid 5-2 morning line favorites despite the wide assignment.  Itty Bitty’s competition includes last week’s runner up Clear Idea, who makes her second start off a winter freshening and may be better poised to utilize her characteristic early speed. She’s 3-1 on the morning line for Matt Kakaley. Brazuca ships in from the Meadowlands off a third in the Swamp’s top class for distaffers December 28 and drew post three. Ella Michelle, Culinary Delight, Amateur Hour, and Made Of Jewels As complete the field. “I’ve always had a positive outlook on her. I don’t want to get too ahead of myself, but last week she won and he never even popped the plugs and she won in hand,” Katz said. “I think she’ll be alright. She’ll probably be the favorite, so I’m sure she’ll be in play and we’ll hope for a decent trip. If you take off the gate, you’re seventh and where do you go from there?” First post time Friday is 6:50 p.m. For entries to the races, click here.  By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – When harness racing trainer Wayne Givens entered his star pacer Sicily in the Sam McKee Memorial on the Hambletonian Day undercard, he felt the horse had earned a chance to perform on the big stage. The Art Major son out of the Western Ideal mare Capri Hanover ran up a score of Open wins in Delaware in the year leading up to the $260,000 stakes on August 4 and he even posted a mark of 1:48.2 at Dover Downs December 21, 2017.  However, Sicily was unable to showcase his prowess when he lined up behind the gate at the Meadowlands. Sicily raced at the back of the pack throughout the 1 ¼-mile route and finished last of 12 beaten 49 lengths. Although Sicily was a 72-1 outsider, Givens knew the lack of effort was uncharacteristic of his hard-trying horse. The trainer quickly discovered the horse was suffering from a heart condition. “He had AFib, his heart got out of rhythm,” Givens said. “I’ve only had that ever happen to me two or three times. When their heart gets out of rhythm, they just can’t perform. Oh yes, it is (scary) because you don’t know whether they’re going to recover or not.” After the initial fright, Sicily made a full recovery and Givens hopes he’ll soon be able to take on Grand Circuit competition again. This time, Givens has his sights set on the George Morton Levy Series at Yonkers Raceway.  Givens purchased Sicily out of the 2015 Harrisburg Mixed Sale for $39,000 for owners Legacy Racing and Reginald Hazzard II. The gelding showed promise, having competed in the Breeders Crown at 2 and Empire Breeders Classic at 3, but had not yet become a winner at the Open level. “Most of the time when I go to a sale and buy a horse, I pay a good healthy price and I just hope they stay that good and competitive,” Givens said. “But yeah, (Sicily) turned out to be a lot better. So far, anyway. The classes he was in, he looked competitive and I was just trying to buy a racehorse.” Now 7 years old, Sicily has amassed 23 wins from 109 starts and earned $482,554. However, Givens has never raced Sicily at Yonkers and the gelding went 0-for-5 locally for his prior connections, Ron Burke and Nik Drennan. Before Givens nominates his standout to the track’s signature event for older pacers, he will test the waters in the weekly pacing feature, the $44,000 Open Pace. “I want to see how he goes. I kind of want to put him in that series, the Levy. If he gets around that track, then we’ll plan on racing in that series,” Givens said. Sicily drew post seven Saturday night (January 12) in his first start at Yonkers since November 2015. He is the only horse with recency, as he finished second in the Open at Dover Downs January 3 while each of his seven rivals have been off at least four weeks. Jim Marohn, Jr. will take the place of regular Delaware driver Victor Kirby. “I’m just going to make sure he can get around. He’s a good horse and I just want to make sure he can get around those turns at Yonkers,” Givens said. “He’s a nice horse to drive. He doesn’t have anything about him, you want to stick with the same driver all the time, but (Marohn) will do a good job with him I’m sure.” Sicily’s rivals include 3-1 early favorite Christen Me, who finished second or third in three straight Open Handicaps before Yonkers closed for the holidays. Matt Kakaley will drive the 11-year-old from post two. Air Strike graduated from the 3- and 4-Year-Old Open with the changing of the calendar and drew post five for his first try in the pacing feature. Run Oneover is 9-2 from the pylons off a front-stepping score in a $30,000 overnight Closing Day. Aston Hill Dave, Bellow’s Binge, Quick Asa Trick, and Bettor’s Fire complete the lineup. Although Sicily tends to show speed off the gate – he blasted to the front from post eight in :26.3 last time out – Givens will leave that decision to Marohn.  “He gets behind the gate, he can look across and see how much speed looks like is going to leave inside,” Givens said. “It’s something you can’t really plan on before the race. I probably don’t have to tell him because he can look at the program and see that he leaves good.” Saturday night’s card also features a $44,000 Open Handicap Trot. First post time is 6:50 p.m. For entries to the races, click here.  By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – When Larry Stalbaum was in the process of vetting the purchase of Gina Grace in late 2017, the harness racing trainer watched a replay of the Group 3 Sue Kelly Ladyship Stakes at Menangle, where then 8-year-old mare Culinary Delight got up to defeat his prospect by a half-length in 1:51.4. Stalbaum bought Gina Grace and shipped her to his stable in the U.S. and he thought so highly of her, that he also brought home Culinary Delight. “The only reason I bought her was because she beat Gina Grace,” Stalbaum said. “I gave a lot more (money) for Gina Grace and I had high hopes for her. I watched her beat Gina Grace one time and I took a shot on her and bought her and I like her.” Stalbaum’s pair of New Zealand-bred mares proved productive in 2018. Gina Grace raced in the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series early in the year and finished second in a $40,000 series consolation and earned $106,270 in 40 starts. Culinary Delight did even better, winning eight of her 34 starts, setting a lifetime mark of 1:51.2 at Pocono Downs, and taking home $109,141. “She never faltered. I had a little sickness go through my barn, so all of my foreign horses got a little sick, including her, so we had to take a little break and get them all over that, but she bounced right back and she did fine,” Stalbaum said of Culinary Delight. “I had high hopes for her and if everything holds together, even though she is getting kind of old, she can do a lot of good in these last few years of her career.” Culinary Delight will start her 9-year-old season Friday night (January 11) at Yonkers. The Lis Mara daughter out of the Christian Cullen mare Culinary Affair will look to add her first local $44,000 distaff feature to her resume.  Culinary Delight completed her final race in Australian last March and she qualified for Stalbaum April 10. The trainer quickly realized his latest acquisition had a preferred style of racing and training. “She’s a little over aggressive, so I try to keep her calm,” he said. “I try not to leave with her because she gets a little over aggressive real easy. I think she’s a lot better from behind than she is leaving. She’s very, very big, she’s kind of large. She doesn’t like a lot of work, but she shows up when I race her.” Culinary Delight began her stateside campaign with two straight wins in local overnights and a runner-up finish in the Filly and Mare Open May 4. Stalbaum took her upstate over the summer and fall, where she became a regular face in the distaff opens at Tioga and Saratoga.  In her most recent outing at the Spa December 14, Culinary Delight tracked the leaders from third, pulled first-over at the half, and wore down the competition to post a 1:54.2 win with Stalbaum in the driver’s seat. The race demonstrated one of Culinary Delight’s best qualities, as her trainer explains. “She can take a lot of air. It doesn’t matter to her,” he said. “Every time I’ve raced her and left hard, she hasn’t been quite as good, so she’s a lot better if I don’t use her early. I can pull her whenever I want to.  “I just float off the car and as soon as they line up and slow down, I just pull her,” he continued. “It didn’t matter, she just kept coming. The stretch is so short there, you have to be close. She never gives up. She has a lot of fight in her. I really, really like her. She’s a nice horse.” Culinary Delight will start from post position four in Friday’s feature and is a 7-1 chance on the morning line with Stalbaum in the sulky. Her competition includes Clear Idea in post two, who will surely leave the gate and at 9-2 early odds and Amateur Hour, who drew the inside and is 7-2 after an off-the-pace victory here December 14. Itty Bitty, Wishy Washy Girl, Dudesalady, Best Of Jenna, and Made Of Jewels AS complete the lineup.  Culinary Delight’s midpack starting position is ideal, according to her trainer. “Slide her over and see how the race works out,” Stalbaum said. “She’s ready, she’ll do whatever I ask her to do. We’ll see how the race unfolds.” Stalbaum hopes Culinary Delight will be competitive at the Hilltop. Although he never sets plans for his horses in stone, he anticipates keeping her at Yonkers for the foreseeable future. He is optimistic she can make an impact in the lucrative local feature. “I’ll probably keep her there a while and see how it goes. I bounce my horses around, take them a little bit of everywhere. I don’t have a set schedule. Wherever they fit, that’s where I take them,” Stalbaum said. “I do have high hopes for her, I think maybe we can stay there for a while, do some good, and make some big money. That’s what I’m hoping for.” First post time Friday is 6:50 p.m. For entries to the races, click here.  By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – When harness racing trainer Erv Miller went to the Tattersalls July Sale with owner John Koliopoulos, they didn’t intend to come home with Air Strike. The 4-year-old Always A Virgin son impressed at 2, winning a $75,000 Indiana bred stakes at Hoosier Park and dead-heating in the $147,200 Kindergarten Classic at the Meadowlands. But with unimpressive resumes at 3 and 4, Air Strike didn’t even make Miller’s short list. However, as Miller stood around the sales ring watching horse after horse sell for more than he could stomach, he noticed Air Strike in the ring. Bidding maxed out at $26,000, a price the trainer couldn’t refuse.  “All the ones I looked at were bringing too much money,” Miller said. “I knew the horse a little bit from racing in Indiana, so I knew he was a high-ability kind of horse. I knew he must have some kind of problem because he hadn’t shown much at that time, but for $26,000, I thought I could put him in a claimer at Yonkers, so I just took a shot. “Most of the horses I was trying to buy that day I was trying to look at ahead of time and get a feel for what I was buying, but I didn’t look at that horse,” he continued. “We were very fortunate to find him the way we did, to come across him like that because he wasn’t the horse I went there to buy, but if the price is right, you do that sometimes.” Despite their unlikely pairing, Miller was immediately impressed with Air Strike. He won his debut for his new connections in an $11,000 overnight at Pocono July 24 and followed it up with a victory at Yonkers for $17,500 the next week. Air Strike went wire-to-wire in the $35,000 4-year-old open handicap pace August 18, but was unable to duplicate his success at that level in his next four tries. Miller regrouped and sent Air Strike to Hoosier Park. “When we bought him, at first he seemed like he was OK because he was down in class and then he got to where he didn’t race as good because he was up in class,” Miller said. “I sent him out to Indiana and the last start in Indiana he just started coming back around. We brought him back and he fit the low class again, and that’s how started back there.” Air Strike finished off-the-board in his three Indiana starts, but won two straight races at Pocono in October while down in class. Then the light-bulb went off. “He’s a really nice, big, strong horse. A good sound horse, too. He had a splint bothering him, so we worked on that some and got him a little sounder. Ever since we did that, he just keeps getting better every time we race him.” Air Strike returned to the 4-year-old open November 3 and after setting a :26.3 opening panel, went on to record a 7 ¾-length romp in 1:52.1.  “That’s about when he turned around,” Miller commented. “We’d worked on that splint a little before that and he just got a little sounder and everything went good for him. He’s always good on the front.”  Air Strike finished second to Mac’s Jackpot in his next start when handicapped by post seven, but recorded a 7-length score when he started from post five November 24. He was fifth from the outside December 1, but last time out racked up another win in the class from post five. He’s won 12 races this year and earned $139,825, pushing his career tally to $285,815. His success on the small track surprised his trainer. “I think he likes the smaller track now, now that he’s grown up,” Miller said. “It did (surprise) me a little bit because I watched his replays after I bought him that day and thought, ‘man, he doesn’t get around Yonkers very good. He struggles a little.’ I was a little surprised. I think it was just a maturity thing.” With the impending changing of the calendar, Yonkers’ 2018 racing season is coming to a close. This Saturday (December 15), Air Strike will get his final chance to compete in the $35,000 4-year-old open. He will start from post seven as the 5-2 morning line favorite, but unlike his prior outside efforts, rival Mac’s Jackpot isn’t drawn inside of him. Instead, Air Strike will contend with Rock N Blue, Treasure Mach, Aston Hill Dave, Machiavelli, Odds On Delray, and McSpidey. “It’s a good class to be in. It’s too bad it’s about to go away from him because he really does fit that class well,” Miller said. “It’s a little tougher when he’s got the outside like he does this week, but hopefully he’ll be OK. He’s better than he was and I think he’ll just keep getting better. A lot of people say it takes a certain kind of horse to compete at Yonkers and right now it looks like he might be that certain kind of horse. “Hopefully next year he can go to the Levy and just get better and better,” he continued. “We’re going to give him a little break here and point him toward that race. I think it just depends on how he comes out of it, but he’s made a lot of progress so far, so if he keeps making a lot of progress, I know there’s some good horses in there, but the way he’s gone so far, he really likes Yonkers and hopefully that’s what he’ll step up to.” Saturday night’s card also features a $44,000 Open Handicap Pace. First post time is 6:50 p.m. For entries to the races, click here.  By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – A few hours before the start of the Matron Stakes for 3-year-old pacing colts and geldings, trainer Jeff Gillis found himself stuck in traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike. Sleet, snow, and freezing rain made the typical 3 ½-hour drive to Dover Downs a 5 ½-hour ordeal and Gillis was in a race against the clock to get The Downtown Bus to the track in time to avoid scratching out of the $193,750 stakes. “The turnpike was a disaster,” Gillis said. “I wasn’t even sure I was going to make Lasix. Anything after that was a bonus.” Gillis and The Downtown Bus arrived at the track with just 30 minutes remaining in his window to receive the race day medication. Three hours later, Gillis stared up at a television screen in the paddock as his 19-1 longshot charged into a blistering pace and ended up on the far outside in a three-way photo finish with This Is The Plan along the pylons and Jimmy Freight between horses.  “The announcer called the two on the inside, (This Is The Plan) and Jimmy Freight, so I said to someone under the TV, ‘is there an inside bias here,’ because to the naked eye, I thought he might have gotten up,” Gillis said. “And then, when the announcer called it that way, I thought we were third.” The Downtown Bus did get up in time, but so did This Is The Plan. The pair tied for a dead heat victory in 1:49.1 over the sloppy track, a lifetime mark for both horses. The victory improved The Downtown Bus’s record to 11-for-25 with $287,837 earned. Gillis bred The Downtown Bus with longtime owner Ellen Ott and was overjoyed to see the Mach Three gelding win his first start outside Canada. “I was ecstatic,” he said. “We go back a couple generations with this horse and it was a big thrill.” The Downtown Bus is out of Slimsplace, a mare who has special meaning to Gillis. She is named after his father, Raymond “Slim” Gillis, who was killed in a car accident in June 2007. The mare by Artsplace out of the Jennas Beach Boy mare She’s Beachy earned $139,019 on the track for Gillis and became a part of the family. “I don’t desire to be in the breeding industry, but there’s some sentimental value. She was born six weeks before my dad was tragically killed in a car accident,” Gillis explained. “I always liked her, I liked the family, she’s quality, so it made it easier as well.” The Downtown Bus is Slimsplace’s second foal to race and the first to win a stakes race. The gelding is similar to his dam in temperament and complexion. “She was kind of relaxed. He’s got kind of a hair-trigger almost. To jog him, you have to take a whip or pack a lunch, one or the other because he mopes along as slow as can possibly be,’ Gillis explained. “He wears earplugs in a race because once you stir him up, he’s gone. He’s a little bit funny like that. Build-wise, they’re a little bit similar. They’re not very tall, but they have a lot of substance to them, they’re thick and muscular.” Gillis kept The Downtown Bus in Canada at 2 and 3, racing in Ontario Sire Stakes. He was winless in seven starts last year after suffering a series of minor setbacks, but put everything together this season. After finishing third in the Ontario Sire Stakes Final in October, Gillis tried his luck abroad. “I would have to be absolutely, supremely over-the-moon, in love with a horse that’s Ontario bred to pay him into stakes in the United States prior to the Super Final in Canada,” the trainer said. “You almost have to bypass a goal and I don’t particularly see the value in it, so I didn’t stake him that way.” After his successful stateside debut in the Matron, The Downtown Bus will test the waters on the half-mile track at Yonkers Raceway Saturday night (November 24) in the $35,000 3- and 4-Year-Old Open Handicap Pace. He drew post seven and with Tyler Buter in the sulky, is the 3-1 morning line favorite. The start worked out as Gillis is in the area to start Yonkers International Trot participant Will Take Charge in the TVG FFA Trot at the Meadowlands. “He’s not an overly big horse, he should get over a half pretty good and I do plan on racing him there in the future. This is intended to be his final start of the year,” Gillis said. “I thought it was worthwhile to see how he liked the track and whether there was something there for him in the future, just to see how he gets over it and have a bit more info before I put him away for the year.” The Downtown Bus’s rivals include Mac’s Jackpot, a winner of two straight including a wire-to-wire score in this class last time out. He is the 7-2 second choice from post eight. Air Strike finished second to Mac’s Jackpot two weeks ago and is 5-1 from post five for Brent Holland and Erv Miller. Machiavelli, The Wall, Pretty Boy Swag, Maroma Beach, and Avatar J complete the field. “I don’t really know a lot of those horses very well. The seven-hole on a half is never ideal, but he is the morning line favorite,” Gillis reasoned. “He looks like he should be competitive in there, we’ll see how it turns out. He’s pretty versatile. Tyler can leave with him or take back. If we take back, obviously we’re at the mercy of the pace, so we’ll see. “I am curious to see how he gets over the track,” Gillis continued. “It’s maybe something that we’ll look to down the road, maybe he’ll be a Levy-type horse. Who knows?” Saturday’s 12-race card also features a $44,000 Open Handicap Pace and a $44,000 Filly and Mare Open Handicap Pace. First post time is 6:50 p.m. For entries to the races, click here.  By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Gokudo Hanover joined the ranks of harness racing trainer Scott Di Domenico’s stable last fall and quickly became one of the top horses in his barn. He won the local Open Handicap Pace at Yonkers Raceway twice and placed another two times over the winter. Di Domenico thought enough of the gelding to enter him in the first leg of the George Morton Levy Series March 17. However, the day before the race, Di Domenico found Gokudo Hanover in a state of shock. “He jogged that morning and he was OK,” Di Domenico recalled. “Around lunchtime, he got violent. He was really uncharacteristically in pain and uncomfortable. That’s certainly not part of his temperament, so we shipped him immediately to the Mid-Atlantic Clinic. “It was terrible, especially a horse of his personality. He’s very friendly, quiet, nice, real pleasurable horse. To see him up and down and in a lot of pain was certainly alarming.” Gokudo Hanover suffered from an episode of colic and required emergency surgery. A portion of his intestine was removed, and surgeons also discovered and took out a non-cancerous tumor. Gokudo Hanover pulled through, but the budding pacing star went to the sidelines. “He missed quite a bit of time. He was probably out two to three months just not doing much of anything. Just healing up and making sure everything was OK,” Di Domenico said. “It was a little bit questionable of how he was going to come back. It seems like most horses who have that don’t come back quite as well as they did before they had it. “When he started back to work and back on the track, he had no issues of any sort that would lead you to believe anything was out of the ordinary. He jogged back, trained back, did everything right,” the trainer said. With a significant amount of money still on his card from his early-season success, Di Domenico had no choice but to bring Gokudo Hanover back in Open company, finishing off-the-board in two starts in the Great Northeast Open Series this August.  The 6-year-old posted two victories at Freehold in September before returning to Yonkers. The Cam’s Card Shark son worked his way back up the class-ladder, his comeback culminating with a pair of wins in the $35,000 Preferred and $44,000 Open Handicap Pace November 10 and 17, respectively. “We took him to Freehold and he kind of woke up down there and it’s been smooth sailing since,” Di Domenico said. “It’s really gratifying to see where he was, to see how much fun we had early with him, then to the nightmarish day where he was in so much pain, shut him down, bring him back. It’s fulfilling and most of all, to see the horse overcome such struggle is most gratifying.” Gokudo Hanover left from post five in his latest win, but Techtor Hanover and Mach It So were faster into the first turn, leaving Gokudo Hanover parked outside in third. Dan Dube put the whip on Gokudo Hanover’s tail and forged to the lead in :26.2.  Gokudo Hanover sped through a half-mile in :55.1 and soon felt pressure from the looming first-over favorite Mach It So. Dube kicked out the plugs entering the backstretch and raised the lines high in his left hand as he urged the gelding on with the whip in his right. Mach It So reached Gokudo Hanover’s wheel past three-quarters in 1:23, but wouldn’t get any closer. Under a sustained drive, Gokudo Hanover turned back his rival and kicked away to a length win in 1:52. “It was a big mile. The front end didn’t hold up great Saturday night. He went some big fractions. He’s been really, really good,” Di Domenico said. “The other thing about that horse, he’s one of the horses that just loves Yonkers. He really, really enjoys that track, he gets around it so handily and that’s where he does his best work.” Gokudo Hanover will try to double-up in the Open this week. He will start from post six as a 7-1 shot in the $44,000 feature. Bettor Memories was second in this race two weeks ago and is the 3-1 favorite from post four while last week’s Preferred winner Always At My Place is 7-2 from post five. Techtor Hanover, last week’s runner-up, drew post three and is 9-2. Theartofconfusion, Soho Lennon, Great Vintage, and Mach It So complete the lineup. “I think he’s up against it,” Di Domenico admitted. “There’s some speed inside of him, probably in a spot where he has to race from off the pace, but that’s pretty common when you win the Open and you have to move to the outside. When you’re racing for the kind of money they race for and have a horse of that caliber, you take everything in stride and just try to handle every week differently.” Saturday’s 12-race card also features a $44,000 Filly and Mare Open Handicap Pace and a $35,000 3- and 4-Year Old Open Handicap Pace. First post time is 6:50 p.m. For entries to the races, click here.  YONKERS SETS SUNDAY POST TIME, ‘DOUBLE’ INFO Yonkers Raceway’s Sunday matinee this weekend (Nov. 25th) shall offer a first post of 11:10 AM. Races 1 through 7 go as those added-distance ‘French’ trots, with post times as such… 1st  – 11:10 AM 2nd  – 11:40 AM 3rd  – 12:10 PM 4th  – 12:40 PM 5th – 1:10 PM 6th – 1:40 PM 7th – 2:10 PM Post time for the 12th-race finale is 3:50 PM.    Sunday’s ‘New York, New York Double’ is comprised of the first race from Aqueduct (post time 12:20  PM) and the fifth race from Yonkers (post time 1:10 PM). Program pages accompany this release.   After this weekend, the next Sunday matinee is Dec. 2nd (post time TBA).    By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – When Casie Coleman drew up the plans for McWicked’s 2018 campaign, Yonkers Raceway wasn’t among the potential targets for the star pacer. In fact, no half-mile tracks were, in part because Coleman believes McWick d is better on a big track and in part because owner Ed James of S S G Stable doesn’t like to race his horses on half-mile ovals. Coleman was surprised then, when James expressed interest in racing in the $250,000 Dan Rooney Invitational Pace on the Yonkers International Trot undercard, especially since the timing of the race could upset McWicked’s path to the Breeders Crown. Despite the risk, Coleman changed course with McWicked to make the race, carded as the 11th of 12 on today’s program (October 13). “It wasn’t on the schedule at all. I wasn’t planning to get invited to it. It’s nice we did, obviously,” Coleman said. “My plan was to ship him home to Canada Sunday morning and have a week off to get ready for the Breeders Crown; that was the original plan that I thought was going to be perfect.  “When we got invited, you can’t turn it down. I didn’t think the owner would want to go. If the Breeders Crown goes eliminations, he’s going to be at six races in a row going into that Crown final, so it’s not something I would recommend,” she continued. “I’m really praying the Open Pace will go right to the final and then we’re perfect if that happens, but if they go elims, we’re going to be scared to have a tired horse going into the Crown final. The owner, I told him about it and he wanted to go. He said, ‘we’ll take a chance,’ so we’re going and we’ll hope for the best.” McWicked is the top earning Standardbred in North America this year with $1,053,864 in the bank. Wins in the Ben Franklin Final, Haughton Memorial, Canadian Pacing Derby, and a 1:46.2 lifetime best score in the Allerage Farms Open Pace last time out at the Red Mile October 6 earned him an invitation to the Rooney. It’s the best season the 7-year-old McArdle stallion has enjoyed since his sophomore year and has bolstered his record to 30-for-89 with $3,375,376 in career earnings.  “He was really good last year. He wasn’t this good, but he didn’t get into a lot of those big races because they went by money earned on the year and he didn’t have any money earned on the year,” Coleman said. “Now that he’s got money on his card, he’s been in all the big dances and he’s as strong now as he’s ever been, no doubt. He thinks he’s 3 again.” In his most recent start, McWicked raced off frantic fractions of :26.1 and :52.1 set by Western Fame and Heaven Rocks. He followed Filibuster Hanover around the final turn and tipped wide past three-quarters in 1:19.1. McWicked struck the front with a furlong to pace and held off parked-out rival Lazarus in the final sixteenth to win by ¾ lengths. “I couldn’t have been any happier with the way it set up. ‘Wicked’ seems to get a lot of tough trips, he’s first-over a lot. He seems to respond to it, he always races really well obviously,” Coleman said. “When I saw the fast fractions up front and he was second-over, Lazarus ended up being parked the mile, so that was to our advantage. I was really happy for the way it was setting up. “He’s been pacing some pretty big miles and that track was the fastest track I’ve seen of any track,” she continued. “That track was lightning. I was definitely expecting a big, big mile and with the fractions, it set up to go a big mile.” Despite McWicked’s torrid winning and beaten times – he’s been sub-1:50 in all but one of his 2018 starts at a mile and sub-1:49 in five – McWicked is a lazy horse in training and until recently, was a muted personality in the barn. “He’s always been a cool horse. As a 3-year-old, he was a really quiet horse. He made no noise and you would never even know he was in the barn. Now, he’s doing double duty, he’s breeding and racing, so he’s squealing and roaring and he knows he’s the boss, basically,” said Coleman, who’s trained McWicked for the bulk of his career. “There’s not many horses I’ve had as long as him except for back when I had claimers because the other ones either go to be broodmares or stallions,” she said. “He’s been around a long time. It’s pretty cool. We always call him the mascot. There’s not many mascots that are in the barn that have made $3.3 million. We call him the mascot because he’s been there forever. “To drive he’s an absolute sweetheart. If you want to go a mile in 2:25, he’ll go in 2:40. He’s very, very lazy. When you watch him race, he doesn’t want much part of the race until they’re past the half. He’s always gapped out and that’s just him,” she continued. “As a 3-year-old, he used to leave more, but this year, he’s very lazy. He wouldn’t hurt a fly, he’s a nice horse, he just squeals and roars a lot, makes a lot of noise, makes sure everybody knows he’s there.” Only $180,990 of McWicked’s career earnings have come on the half-mile track. He finished fifth in the Little Brown Jug and third in the Messenger at 3. At 5, McWicked finished third in the Molson Pace before finally winning on the half at age 6; he took a $30,000 overnight at Yonkers in his 2017 debut March 11 and won a leg of the Levy Series a month later. He finished last in the Levy Final April 22 for trainer Steve Elliot and hasn’t raced on the half since. “He gets around the half fine, he’s good-gaited. I haven’t been to the half that much with him,” Coleman said. “When I went to the Jug, I was extremely excited about McWicked. I thought he would fly over the half and he was no good there, I wasn’t happy with him, he was flat. I never really did find out what it was.  “I’m hoping he’s fine,” she continued. “I don’t see why he’ll have an issue with the half because he’s very good-gaited and he’ll get around anything, but he’s definitely not at his best on the half like he is on a big track.” McWicked drew post 2 in the Dan Rooney Pace and is the 2-1 morning line favorite with regular reinsman Brian Sears in the sulky. Nuclear Dragon is 5-2 from the inside off a front-stepping 1:50.2 score at Dayton while Endeavor to McWicked’s immediate outside enters off a similar score at Hoosier.  Bit Of A Legend, who finished second to Wiggle It Jiggleit in this race in 2015, will start from post 4 off a win in the local $44,000 Open Handicap Pace last out. Evenin Of Pleasure, Mach It So, and Always At My Place complete the lineup after the late sick scratch of Lazarus Friday morning.  “I have no idea what Brian will do on the half,” Coleman admitted. “The rail horse has a ton of speed and the three horse has a ton of speed. I don’t know what Brian will do, but as long as we get away midpack somewhere, I’m happy. I just hope that we can get our picture taken again.” Today’s card also features the $1,000,000 Yonkers International Trot and the $250,000 Harry Harvey Invitational Trot. First post time is 1 p.m. For entries to the card, click here. For more information on the International Trot and its participants, click here. by Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Sunday morning (October 7), there was no time for celebration in Chris Oakes’ barn on the backstretch at the Red Mile. Homicide Hunter, who set a world record for the fastest trotting mile ever the afternoon before, stood in his stall after going out to jog several laps with caretaker Therese Pierce.  Despite his remarkable achievement on the track, in the barn, Homicide Hunter was barely noticeable, standing silently in a dark corner of his stall without so much as a fuss as Pierce tended to him with the stall door wide open. “Not crazy. We went out for dinner afterwards, shared a few laughs, and we’re back to work today,” Oakes said as he looked admiringly into the trotter’s stall. “You can’t dwell on it too long, we have to work now, we have to keep going.” Homicide Hunter shipped back to Oakes’ Pennsylvania farm this week and will ship to Yonkers Friday to arrive in time for the 24-hour detention barn ahead of Saturday’s Harry Harvey Trot, a $250,000 invitational on the Yonkers International Trot undercard. The stakes will mark Homicide Hunter’s first local start since August 12 and his first start after setting the record. “He has a 10-hour ship back to Pennsylvania, then gets hauled Friday up to Yonkers, race, then be back to Pocono for the Breeders Crown. It’s a lot to ask of these horses,” Oakes said. “He’ll be getting a nice, easy week in the field. I’ve got a pool at the farm right inside the barn, they’ll get swimming a lot and get turned out. That’s what he really enjoys.” Homicide Hunter’s easy week comes off a grueling schedule. After winning the $100,000 Great Northeast Open Series Final over 10 furlongs at Pocono September 2, Homicide Hunter had a tune up at Pocono September 12 before shipping to the Midwest. He finished third in the Caesars Trotting Classic at Hoosier Park September 21 and fourth in the Dayton Trotting Derby September 28 before heading to the Red Mile for the Allerage Farms Open Trot. The Allerage set up perfectly for Homicide Hunter, who has come from off the pace in all of his recent stakes tries. Lindy The Great put up a quarter in :26.2 and after taking the lead heading up the backstretch, Will Take Charge passed the half in :53.2.  Homicide Hunter followed Lindy The Great and Pinkman in the flow third over to three-quarters in 1:22. Brian Sears tipped Homicide Hunter four-wide into the stretch and with a :26 final quarter under with minimal urging from the Hall of Fame driver, Homicide Hunter swept past the field to win by 3 lengths in 1:48.4.  Oakes thought Homicide Hunter could trot sub-1:50, but never expected a world record. He was thrilled to share the moment with owners Al and Michelle Crawford. The win improved Homicide Hunter’s record to 38 wins from 75 starts and boosted his earnings to $1,463,927. “I knew instantly that was a world record. I’m just very happy for the horse and for the owners, too,” Oakes said. “They bring so much to the game and you like to see good people like that do good. When they spend the money they do on horses like this, it’s nice to see things go right. “Luckily, they were on time in front of him, they were getting down there. That helped,” he continued. “The horses that were in front of him were racing hard and of course, he hadn’t been used yet. So, when he did get free, he was loaded.” Homicide Hunter raced barefoot in his record-setting mile, a decision Oakes grappled with before the race. It was his second time racing barefoot for Oakes; the only other instance came in the same race one year earlier when Homicide Hunter was second to Hannelore Hanover in a 1:49.2 mile. The shoes were back on Sunday morning, as they will be for his start in the Harry Harvey Trot. “The track was extremely fast; the conditions were perfect,” Oakes said. “I was contemplating whether I was going to take his shoes off or not, but if you don’t do it on a day like that, you’ll never do it. I thought it was the right conditions and he was OK with it. “This year, the only I thing I did differently was I put no boots on him at all. He wears trotting boots behind, like most of them do, the only thing I put on his hind legs were two wraps, keep it as light as possible, and it worked,” he said. The Harry Harvey Trot will be a completely different style of racing for Homicide Hunter than what he encountered at the Red Mile. He will shift from the mile track to the half, will face a big field of nine rivals, and will stretch back out to 10 furlongs. Although Homicide Hunter won a local Open Handicap Trot at 1 ¼-miles from off the pace earlier this year, Oakes doesn’t want to be too far back against a tough field Saturday. “He’s OK with Yonkers. Big change and maybe even a change in strategies too,” Oakes said. “I don’t know if we can be that far back at Yonkers, it’s a different style of racing there, a little bit more speed involved.” Homicide Hunter drew post 10 and with Sears back in the bike, is the 3-1 morning line favorite in the Harry Harvey Trot. He’ll face Guardian Angel As, the runner up in the Allerage for Annette Lorentzon, who drew post 3 and is 4-1 early. Warrawee Roo, who finished second in the Dayton Trotting Derby last out, is 6-1 from the inside post. The field also includes a host of recent local winners, including Top Flight Angel, In Secret, Yes Mickey, Gruden, NF Happenstance, Sortie and DW’s NY Yank. After his world record score, a win in the Harry Harvey Trot heading into the Breeders Crown would make an impressive campaign for the 6-year-old gelding. Oakes is just happy to be along for the ride. “This horse was a good horse long before I ever laid hands on him. His 3-year-old year in a very tough program in Indiana, this horse won 16 out of 18 (for Curt Grummel) and that tells you right there what kind of horse you’re dealing with. He’s a winner. He’s won half of his lifetime starts. It’s really all about him. I’m glad to be part of him." Saturday’s card also features the $1,000,000 Yonkers International Trot and the $250,000 Dan Rooney Invitational Pace. First post time is 1 p.m. For entries to the card, click here. For more information on the International Trot and its participants, click here. by Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Training wrapped up on a hot and humid morning Sunday at the Red Mile. There were few clouds to provide cover from the beaming sunshine; the old barns and trees in the backstretch providing a reprieve from the sweltering conditions.  Jimmy Takter brought a horse in off the track and returned to his barn around 10 a.m. Relaxed a day after sending Lazarus to a second-place finish in the Allerage Farms Open Pace and the morning before starting Manchego and Tactical Landing on the Kentucky Futurity Card, Takter joined assistant Per Engblom at a table on the patio at the end of his barn facing the racetrack.  Still in his black, white, and green driving colors, Takter sat back. Legs crossed and comfortable in the shade, he pulled up a replay on his phone of Great Vintage’s second-place effort in the $44,000 Open Handicap Pace at Yonkers the night before and smiled as he watched the 10-year-old battle with Bit Of A Legend in the stretch while pacing a 1:51.1 mile. “This is one of my favorite horses,” Takter said, his eyes glued to the screen. “To do what he’s done and still be going at 10 years old is amazing.” Although Takter’s Hall of Fame resume includes four Hambletonians, six Hambletonian Oaks, 33 Breeders Crowns, an Elitlopp and a Prix d’Amérique just to name a few, Takter still has items on his bucket list as the Grand Circuit season winds down in his final year of training. Namely, he has never won the International Trot. It’s a race he’s dreamed of winning since he started his career in Sweden.  “It was a race that I saw a lot before I even came here. The French horses came over and won. This was a classic, classic race. I’m really glad they brought it back. People love it,” Takter said. “This was long before I came over here that I knew about the race and then it unfortunately disappeared for a while and wasn’t on the radar. Now of course, we just have two $1 million races in the sport, the Hambletonian and this one. “It would mean a lot. I would be really, really excited,” he continued. “This is my last year of training and to end up winning, that’s another stripe on my shoulder. It would be something.” Takter has competed in the International Trot twice before. He trained and drove Whiteland Image to a sixth-place finish in the 1995 edition, the last before the race would be revived in 2015. Takter started Creatine in the Yonkers International Trot’s reappearance; the Andover Hall stallion returned from a European campaign to represent the United States, finishing third after setting the tempo. “Long, long time ago. I don’t even remember it to be honest with you. I don’t think my horse was any good that day. They used me in the last spot, they had an opening or whatever,” Takter said of his International debut with Whiteland Image. “That was the year Melander won, His Majesty. Then I raced Creatine three years ago. He was third, so it’s time to do it now.” This year, Takter will start Ariana G in the $1 million stakes. The 4-year-old mare will represent the United States for owners Marvin Katz and Al Libfeld. One of the last of the 10 competitors to be announced, Takter accepted the invitation from Yonkers Raceway race secretary Steve Starr just after her win in the Dayton Trotting Derby September 28. “I had it in the back of my head that it would be interesting to race her there,” Takter said. “I know she’s only 4 and you never know, but she showed she could compete against the aged horses. Especially now that she won at Dayton, I feel very good about it. “I talked to Steve before Dayton and I told him, I don’t want to go unless the filly is good,” Takter continued. “He actually called and invited me for the $250,000 (Harry Harvey Invitational), and I told him I’m not going to jeopardize the Breeders Crown for that race, but I’d do it for the International Trot. I waited to see how she raced at Dayton and when she won there, then I knew.” Ariana G entered the Dayton Trotting Derby off a third in the Maple Leaf Trot September 1 and a sixth in the Preferred at Mohawk September 11. She tipped three-wide off the turn in the $150,000 stakes, grinding down Guardian Angel AS and holding off Warrawee Roo to post a 1:52.1 victory and establish a new track record. “I thought she was going to race good, but we were a little bit nervous because we had sick horses up in Canada and she hadn’t raced good the start before, so we were really a little bit worried going into it that she wouldn’t be herself,” Takter admitted. “I think she was 90 percent and I think with this start in her, I think we’re going to be good.” Ariana G’s off-the-pace win in the Dayton Trotting Classic is the 26th of her 37-race career. Victories in the Doherty Memorial, Peaceful Way, Hambletonian Oaks, Elegant Image, the Breeders Crown at 2 and 3, the Graduate Final, and Hambletonian Maturity contributed to her $2.3 million bankroll.   “She’s been a World Champion from 2 years old and she’s just been phenomenal,” Takter remarked. “Every year, she just gets a little bit more mature. Now she’s a 4-year-old, she’s starting to look more professional, but she’s been a class horse from day one.” Despite her impressive record, Ariana G has never raced on a half-mile track and has never raced further than 9 furlongs. She will have to navigate the turns of Yonkers’ half-mile oval five times in the 1 ¼-mile International Trot.  Ariana G will face nine rivals in the Yonkers International Trot: Arazi Boko (Italy), Cruzado Dela Noche (Sweden), Lionel (Norway), Marion Marauder (Canada), Pastore Bob (Sweden), Ringostarr Treb (Italy), Slide So Easy (Denmark), Up And Quick (France), and Will Take Charge (Canada). She drew post four and is a 5-1 morning line with Yannick Gingras in the sulky. “She’s never raced on a half-mile, but I don’t think it’s going to be an issue. She’s pretty handy,” Takter said. “I really don’t know the European horses too much. There’s a couple of horses who can really bust out of the gate good and I don’t know if they have the stamina. I think the two horses that are big contenders are ‘Ariana’ and Marion Marauder. Whoever gets the best trip is going to be close there. “I don’t think I want to see her do the dirty work too much,” he continued. “It’s a mile-and-a-quarter. If she’s sitting fourth or fifth with decent horses in front of her, maybe working out a second-over trip the last lap, would be the dream spot.” The $1 million Yonkers International Trot is slated for Saturday, October 13 at Yonkers Raceway. The card will also feature a pair of $250,000 invitationals, the Harry Harvey Trot and Dan Rooney Pace. For more information on the event and its participants, click here. By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – The prestige and rich harness racing history of the International Trot can rear its head in many places. For Anders Ström, the race’s lineage materialized before him as he studied the yearling catalog of the recently concluded Arqana Trot Select Yearling Sale. Ström paused on hip no. 47, a colt out of Sirene de Mai, whose great, great, great grand dam, Une de Mai, along with her countless European feats, won the International Trot in 1969 and 1971.  “The race has seen many great winners, and I actually watched the 1969 edition on YouTube recently,” Ström said. “It was when French super mare Une de Mai beat Nevele Pride, as I was in the process of buying a Ready Cash yearling colt in Deauville from the Une de Mai maternal line.” Ström bought the colt for €170,000 and he will have a chance to make history of his own in this year’s renewal of the Yonkers International Trot. His stable, Stall Courant AB, will start Cruzado Dela Noche as a representative of Sweden in the $1 million stakes. “It would be (my) biggest win so far. Only Elitloppet, Prix d’Amérique, Hambletonian and the Swedish 4-year-old Derby can match it, in my book,” Ström said. “But this horse’s character makes it extra special. As he already has qualified as a sire in the Swedish system with high grades, a win here would boost his credentials for that as well. That would be very nice.” Ström bought Cruzado Dela Noche sight unseen out of the 2013 Harrisburg Yearling Sale for $28,000. The Pennsylvania-bred son of Muscle Massive out of the Credit Winner mare Alidade, then known by the name Arusa Hanover, looked the part, but it was something intangible that piqued Ström’s interest.  “I wasn’t at the sale because of business in Australia, but ‘Cruzado’ was one of five lower-priced yearlings that I bought on the back of advice from friends and agents who were at the sale inspecting horses,” Ström explained. “Cruzado was the one that had the extra special attitude which is why I renamed him with a name I had kept for a really good horse. The name comes from the Spiderman movie, when Peter Parker comes up with the idea for his suit.” Despite his early promise and standout spirit, Cruzado Dela Noche struggled to stay trotting in his 2- and 3-year-old campaigns; he made breaks in stride in 10 of his 28 races and qualifiers. Despite those setbacks, Cruzado Dela Noche finished third in the Peter Haughton Memorial and posted wins in a division of the International Stallion Stakes and a leg of Pennsylvania Sire Stakes as a freshman in Nancy Johansson’s stable. “He was slightly immature and whimsy to begin with, but tremendously talented,” Ström said. “We felt that he would mature over time, so we weren’t especially worried. Nancy and Marcus Johansson took good care of him in the early days which we are thankful for now that the horse is sound and makes a good career as an older trotter.” After a 3-year-old campaign that produced just two wins in 11 starts, Ström sent Cruzado Dela Noche across the Atlantic to trainer Stefan Melander and Courant Managing Director Sabine Kagebrant. The calculated move would allow Cruzado Dela Noche to take advantage of the 4-year-old stakes in Sweden and give him time to develop.  “We stake all our U.S. purchases to the rich 4-year-old program in Europe. It doesn’t cost much and they add a lot of purse money, so it is an easy business decision,” Ström explained. “Stefan Melander also has a great track record when it comes to the older American horse. “Melander’s training regime suits him perfect. He also has an ‘extra groom’ in Sabine Kagebrant, who has great experience with older star trotters, having worked with Stefan Melander, Björn Goop and Jörgen Westholm horses all over Europe,” Ström continued. “When Sabine is out of the office, she spends a lot of time with ‘Noche,’ makes him feel special and that works well for him.” At 4, Cruzado Dela Noche won the Group 1 Grosser Preis Von Deutschland and the Group 2 Norrlands Grand Prix. He also placed third in the Group 1 Sprinter Mästaren Final. At 5, Cruzado Dela Noche captured the Group 1 Copenhagen Cup. “He always does his best, I can think of only one or two races when he failed and there were good excuses,” Ström said. “One was in Elitloppet 2017, when he made a break at the gate in the elimination which otherwise likely would have given him the same trip as Resolve, who eventually was second in the final.  “That was hard to take. I think he could have matched Timoko on the day, he was in such good shape,” he continued. “But overall this horse gives us tremendous joy, just to see his attitude makes me wonder sometimes. He is so much more than just the average good racehorse.” Now a 6-year-old Cruzado Dela Noche has been lightly raced this season. The stallion was sixth in the Group 1 Olympiatravet Final April 28, third in the Copenhagen Cup May 13, scored his lone win this year in the listed Gösta Bergengrens Minneslopp May 30 before finishing fifth in the Group 1 Oslo Grand Prix. His short campaign was by design as Cruzado Dela Noche returned to the United States early to settle into a new chapter of his career. “We got invited in May and then we decided to give the horse the best preparation possible, with proper quarantine so he could get acclimatized to his new-old life in the U.S. Our dream race to target this season is the International Trot so we didn’t want to leave anything to chance,” Ström said.  “European races are run in a different way which isn’t ideal for ‘Cruzado.’ He likes the high, even pace better, which is why we staked him for the fall season in the U.S.A. just in case,” he continued. “Any which way, he raced really good in the spring, so we felt he was going upwards in form all the time.” Cruzado Dela Noche reemerged in a qualifier at Pocono Downs September 12 for trainer Marcus Melander. He led wire-to-wire in 1:55.2. The stallion got another trial under his belt at the same venue September 26, crossing the wire first in 1:54.2. “He has done quarantine, then two light qualifiers at Pocono, which he made look very easy,” Ström said. “He likes his life at Marcus Melander’s farm and he will get another sharper workout, like an ‘eye-opener,’ a few days before the race which I believe will be enough to take him to top form.” Cruzado Dela Noche, who will pair with driver Brian Sears for the first time in the International, will face nine rivals: Arazi Boko (Italy), Ariana G (United States), Dreammoko (Netherlands), Lionel (Norway), Marion Marauder (Canada), Pastore Bob (Sweden), Ringostarr Treb (Italy), Slide So Easy (Denmark), and Up And Quick (France). Although the field is one of the deepest in recent memory, Ström likes his chances. “I think this year’s field is absolutely fantastic, given the challenge with trans-Atlantic transport of international horses. All races in this class are tough. But ‘Noche’ has beaten Twister Bi, last year’s winner, fair and square before, from second-over in a Swedish record time over the same distance as the International Trot, on a slow five-eighths-mile track. That says he can compete with anyone on the day,” Ström said. “Now I hope Brian Sears up first time will give him an extra gear as well. From posts one to five he is a real contender, otherwise a decent chance to show anyway. I respect the competition and I believe the winner will be the horse that is best on the day and has racing luck.” The $1 million Yonkers International Trot is slated for Saturday, October 13 at Yonkers Raceway. The card will also feature a pair of $250,000 invitationals, the Harry Harvey Trot and Dan Rooney Pace. For more information on the event and its participants, visit by Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – The sun inched toward the horizon in the western Paris skies around 4:30 p.m. January 25, 2015, casting a soft golden glow over harness racing's Hippodrome de Vincennes. The crystal horse trophy Philippe Delon cradled in his arms captured the rays and it too gleamed in a golden hue as Delon raised it over his head. From atop the podium in the winner’s enclosure, Delon smiled as he looked into the stands at the thousands of fans who cheered, waved flags, and smiled back at him before lowering the prize back into his arms, staring down at it in disbelief.  Moments earlier, Delon watched as his homebred star Up And Quick streaked into the stretch with the lead in the Grand Prix d’Amérique. After grinding leader Mosaique Face into submission, Up And Quick kicked away from late threat Voltigeur de Myrt. Ahead by 3 lengths nearing the finish, driver Jean-Michel Bazire took both lines in his left hand, blew a kiss with his right, and turned to the crowd to give a thumbs up as he and Up And Quick passed the finish. In that moment, Up And Quick rose to the top of the trotting world. The Prix d’Amérique was the third Group 1 win of the Buvetier d'Aunou son’s career after taking the Critérium des Five Ans in 2013 and the Grand Prix de Paris in 2014. The victory improved on Up And Quick’s second-place effort to Maharajah the year before. Nearly four years later, the curtain is about to close on the final act of Up And Quick’s racing career and Delon hopes his trotter can deliver one more thrill on the world’s stage. Up And Quick will reach the mandatory retirement age in France when he turns 11 in 2019 and will no longer be able to target France’s biggest trotting spectacle. Instead, Delon set his sights on New York, sending his star across the Atlantic to compete in the $1 million Yonkers International Trot. The representative of France would be the first Prix d’Amérique winner since Lutin d'Isigny in 1985 to win the International Trot. “He’s given us everything a breeder and an owner can dream of,” Delon said. “We would love to see him finishing his last season with a bang in New York.” Up And Quick’s journey to the Yonkers International Trot has been rife with struggles. Although he scored a fourth Group 1 in the 2015 Grand Prix de Paris, Up And Quick’s attempt to defend his Prix d’Amérique title in 2016 proved disastrous. After finishing fourth in the Prix de Bourgogne and 10th in the Prix de Belgique, Up And Quick was up the track when 14th in the Prix d’Amérique after attending the pace. He pulled up with a fractured ilium, one of three bones that comprise a horse’s hip. "As after every major race, a battery of tests were conducted and now the verdict is in: a fracture of the ilium was detected,” Delon’s Écurie Quick Star posted on it’s website after the race. “It is very surprising that Up And Quick could deliver such a beautiful race. He must be a brave and sacred competitor to trot as he did when he was injured.” Although he did not require surgery, Up And Quick needed months of stall rest and would not compete again until returning a winner in the Grand Prix de Noël at Hippodrome de Wallonie December 29, 2016. He didn’t make it back to the French classics, but Up And Quick proved himself competitive on the track, winning a pair of Group 2 races in 2017, the Critérium de Vitesse de Basse-Normandie at Argentan April 29, 2017 and the Prix de la Communauté de Communes Thiérache du Centre at La Capelle July 9. Soon though, Up And Quick would suffer another setback. “He suffered from a small fracture in July last year and had to stay two months in his (stall). Before that, he’d broken a hip bone and had to stay four months locked in,” Delon said. “It takes a real champion to come back the way he did after that. Jean-Michel Bazire said that’s the true mark of a wonder horse, coming back to do what he does best.” After covering 82 mares in the winter, Up And Quick returned to the track again in March and successfully defended his title in the Critérium de Vitesse de Basse-Normandie, posting a nose win over Un Mec d’Héripré and Ave Avis in a scrambling finish. Although he rides a nine-race losing streak into the Yonkers International Trot, the €2.1-million earner finished third in an elimination of the Elitlopp, second in the Group 1 Hugo Åbergs Memorial, and third in the Group 2 Grand Prix du Département des Alpes-Maritimes.  Up And Quick was fifth last time out in the Group 1 UET Trotting Masters Series Final September 16 after getting pinned inside three back along the pylons in the 12-horse field. Facing a wall of horses in the stretch, Up And Quick finished 3 ¾ lengths behind Propulsion. Delon chalked it up to a tactical mistake; driver Wim Paal chose to follow Pastore Bob and expected a pocket trip behind the speedy rival, but ended up buried at the inside instead. “We chose the wrong leader. Wim Paal and I thought Pastore Bob was the one to follow, but he got us nowhere,” Delon said. “Propulsion was the one to beat and we never had a live chance. Just throw that race away. The horse is absolutely fine. He loves to work and to race. That’s what kept him going all these years despite a few health issues that belong to the past now.” Since the Trotting Masters Final, Up And Quick has prepared for the Yonkers International Trot at Haras De Sassy, about 130 miles west of Paris. His days are easy at the stud farm with trainer Antoine Lhérété. Delon fears the quiet lifestyle can’t be replicated at Yonkers. “He’s out all day in his paddock. He loves it. He works in the pool, too. He only gets in his (stall) at night,” Delon said. “That was a bit of a problem for us because he won’t be able to relax like that while staying at Yonkers. That’s my main concern today. At least he’ll be able to get out twice a day, but that’s not exactly the same. I hope they will lodge him in a good (stall) because like Dreammoko, he’s a stud, full of energy.” Up And Quick will face nine rivals in the International: Arazi Boko (Italy), Ariana G (United States), Cruzado Dela Noche (Sweden), Dreammoko (Netherlands), Lionel (Norway), Marion Marauder (Canada), Pastore Bob (Sweden), Ringostarr Treb (Italy), Slide So Easy (Denmark). The $1 million Yonkers International Trot is slated for Saturday, October 13 at Yonkers Raceway. The card will also feature a pair of $250,000 invitationals, the Harry Harvey Trot and Dan Rooney Pace. For more information on the event and its participants, visit By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY with Manu Roussel

YONKERS, N.Y. – Yonkers Raceway will host eight finals of the New York Sire Stakes Saturday night (September 22) worth a combined $1.8 million. Tim Tetrick will drive seven of the 64 statebreds who seek championship titles, and the 36-year-old is confident in his horses. “The New York program is great. The New York breeding program is very strong and when you have that much money, you get better bred horses. It’s good for them to showcase their breed, “Tetrick said. “It could be a really good pay day.” Tetrick’s name tops the earnings list of North American drivers with his horses taking home $9.5 million so far this year. Tetrick drove Shartin to victory this spring in the $373,000 Blue Chip Matchmaker Series Final, Yonkers’ signature race for mares, and finished fourth in the Hambletonian Final with Crystal Fashion. The latter leads all standardbreds in earnings this season with $908,207 in the bank while the former is ranked seventh with $759,111 earned. “It’s been very good. I was close to getting my second Hambo’ there, winning the first heat and coming up short in the final,” Tetrick said. “Shartin has been a very good mare in the aged group and I’ve got some nice two-year-olds that are racing good. All in all, it’s been a pretty good year.” Tetrick will look to add to his impressive tally in Saturday’s finals and the star driver took time to catch up with the SOA’s Brandon Valvo about his chances. Race 2 - $225,000 NYSS Final for 2-Year-Old Trotting Fillies Hanna Dreamgirl – Post 8 – 20-1  Daughter of Chapter Seven won in the $10,000 Kindergarten Classic at The Meadowlands July 20 with Tetrick in the sulky and earned a spot in the Sire Stakes final with a victory in the series at Vernon Downs August 23 for Jim Morrill, Jr. The Linda Toscano trainee has another six seconds and thirds from nine starts with $97,164 earned.  “She’s pretty nice. Kind of a big mare. A half probably isn’t the best spot for her, but she has raced good and done OK on the half. She likes to trot, and you never know with the two-year-old trotting fillies. You might say it’s a bad spot, but three or four might run and then you’re sitting in the right spot to pick up the pieces. She’s a nice filly, got a lot of quality. I’ll just play it by ear. When I’ve driven her, she hasn’t been the biggest leaver. I’ll probably just look over to my left and hopefully some people make mistakes and she’ll definitely have to win from the back, that’s for sure.” Race 3 - $225,000 NYSS Final for 2-Year-Old Trotting Colts and Geldings Chapter Fashion – Post 7 – 7-1  Jim Campbell trainee won from post seven locally August 20, doubling up on a 1:56.1 score in the Tompkins Geers at Tioga Downs August 10. Tetrick drove in the latter race and looks forward to getting behind the son of Chapter Seven again after Jason Bartlett chose rival Thunder. Chapter Fashion enters off a break in stride in his last start September 14, but Tetrick isn’t concerned about the miscue.  “I’ve only driven him one time and he raced really good that time. I left out of there a little bit, floated, got away third. When I pulled him, he trotted right by the front-end horses and raced really well. He did it right. Jim’s having a great year, his horses have all been doing really, really well and I think the horse is definitely a player. If we had drawn in one or two spots, I would have liked him even more, but he’s still going to get a shot to get good money. "Jim asked me if I was going to be there, I said yeah and he said, ‘I’m putting you back on that horse.’ He’s a little squirrelly in the post parade. You think he’s going to be really aggressive, he wants to pull and lug on you but when you go to the gate, he says, OK what am I going to do here, and he lets me do my job. He’s all trot and doesn’t want to make breaks, so he’s pretty nice. I’m not worried about that. Jim will have him right. Who knows what happened, maybe he just got in a bad spot or took a bad step, but Jim said he didn’t really have an answer for it.” Race 4 - $225,000 NYSS Final for 2-Year-Old Pacing Colts and Geldings Hickfromfrenchlick – Post 6 – 9-2 Tetrick will take the lines for the first time behind the Schnittker-trained colt. The So Surreal son recorded a blowout 14 ¼-length win in the Landmark at Goshen in his debut June 29 and won the $100,000 Lawrence B. Sheppard Pace July 14. Hickfromfrenchlick posted two wins in Sire Stakes company in his next four starts, including a 1:51.3 lifetime best at Vernon September 3. “I’ve seen him race. He looks like he’s pretty tough, he looks like he can leave the gate good and he’s very versatile. He won the stakes race earlier in the year with Ray driving and I’ve always done good for Ray and Ray’s always done good for me, so I’m excited to get to drive him. I’ll talk to Ray and watch some replays and go from there. Mainly just feel the horse out when I get out there.” Race 5 - $225,000 NYSS Final for 2-Year-Old Pacing Fillies So Awesome – Post 6 – 2-1 Tetrick drove the daughter of So Surreal to three wins, including her maiden-breaking score in Sire Stakes at Yonkers July 6, another local leg of the Sire Stakes July 24, and a Sire Stakes split at Saratoga August 31. The freshman filly also earned a Sire Stakes win at Batavia with Morrill in the sulky. She’s earned $176,190 to date, the most of any 2-year-old on the card, and all four victories have come in wire-to-wire style. “She’s been awesome. She’s a professional, she goes out there and does her job. You want to leave, you want to duck, she’s got tons of speed and she’s been at the top of her class all year. I think she’s definitely the one to beat in there. She’ll be going forward. When you’re one of the better ones, it’s hard to give up three or four lengths early whenever you think you have the best horse. She’ll definitely be looking left when you go out of there. She’s all professional, she does what she’s supposed to do. She acts like she’s six years old and acts like she’s done it more than me.” Race 6 - $225,000 NYSS Final for 3-Year-Old Trotting Fillies Repentance – Post 8 – 9-1 Tetrick returns to the bike behind Diamond Creek Racing’s homebred Chapter Seven filly. She finished sixth with Tetrick in the Mary Reynolds at the Meadowlands July 7 and fourth in the Frank Zanzuccki on Hambletonian Day. The Linda Toscano trainee went 3-for-4 in Sire Stakes this year, winning at Tioga, Batavia, and Saratoga in her most recent start September 7. Toscano sends out two other trotters in this race while Åke Svanstedt will start five. “I’ve raced her a few different times and she is a talented mare. She’s well bred. I know the eight hole is going to be tough for her, especially with the entries. We’ll just have to play it by ear and hope somebody makes a mistake. We’ll have to get into the race somehow late in the mile. A couple times she’s raced good for me and a couple times she hasn’t. When I’ve gotten to drive her, it’s been against open company. That makes a difference, sometimes it’s a little tougher.” Race 7 - $225,000 NYSS Final for 3-Year-Old Pacing Fillies Wisdom Tree – Post 4 – 7-5 After going 3-for-11 as a 2-year-old, Wisdom Tree drew post eight in the Sire Stakes Final and made a break, finishing seventh. Now 3, the daughter of Betterthancheddar out of the Artsplace mare Wisdom has 10 wins from 13 starts and $274,851 earned this year. Wisdom Tree’s crowning achievement to date came when she beat open stakes rivals in a 1:49.4 score in the $142,000 Nadia Lobell at Hoosier Park July 6. Trainer Ed Hart will hand Tetrick the lines for the first time since last year’s Sire Stakes Final. “I drove her last year in the two-year-old final. She had go, but she made a break or got run into. She’s come back and been a great three-year-old. I’m excited to get to drive her again. It just worked out because Scotty (Zeron) and Matt (Kakaley) both had to leave and I was in the right place at the right time to get her back. They told me she’s just one good drive away from winning, so if she gets beat it’s my fault.” Race 8 - $225,000 NYSS Final for 3-Year-Old Trotting Colts and Geldings Cruising In Style – Post 5 – 8-1 The Andrew Harris-trained colt has just one win this year in a Yonkers overnight, but made the Sire Stakes Final with five seconds and thirds in the series this spring and summer. Jason Bartlett drove the son of Muscle Mass to victory in last year’s $50,000 Sire Stakes Consolation at Monticello and was named to drive in the final, but Tetrick picked up the drive when Bartlett opted for rival Clive Bigsby.  “I’ve never driven him. That was a pick up after they saw me on the sheet. He’s a good trainer, the kid does good. We’ve got the five hole, I know Åke’s horse and Linda’s horse are pretty tough, but hopefully we can get a good piece of it.” By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Bringing Will Take Charge to race in Saturday night’s Open Handicap Trot at Yonkers Raceway isn’t an expedient move for Jeff Gillis. He’s passing up a chance to race in the $200,000 Caesar’s Trotting Classic at Hoosier Park next week and he was certain to be assigned post eight in the weekly $44,000 trotting feature. However, Gillis made the choice to race the 5-year-old gelding at the Hilltop with good reason: the International Trot is just a month away (October 13), and Gillis is determined to represent Canada in the $1 million stakes. “That’s the whole reason for being down here. He’s eligible to a race at Hoosier next Friday that I may bypass. I’m not sure about racing him off six days with all the travel,” Gillis said. “It wasn’t a convenient time to come down from a scheduling perspective, but I really want to be in that race and I’m going to do anything I can to get him noticed.” Although Will Take Charge is in the midst of a career year, winning the Maxie Lee Invitational at Harrah’s Philadelphia in May, taking the Crawford Farms Trot at Tioga in a romp in July, and finishing second in both the Cutler Memorial and Cashman to the tune of $387,965 this season, Gillis doesn’t think the son of Kadabra has made enough of an impression to earn one of the 10 invitations to Yonkers’ signature race for older trotters. “The Maxie Lee, he was spectacular that day. To that point, he’d won off of cover and he’d won on the front, but we’d never grinded out first-over. That was the hand we were dealt that day and I was really impressed with him. I would argue that’s been his best race for me,” Gillis said. “The race at Tioga, I don’t think the field was quite as deep and he was never really threatened. Two very different races.” Will Take Charge finished eighth beaten 6 ½ lengths behind likely United States representative Crazy Wow and probable Canadian representative Marion Marauder in the Maple Leaf Trot at Mohawk September 1. Gillis doesn’t think Will Take Charge was at his best that night and believes his trotter will deliver a standout performance worthy of garnering an invitation Saturday night. “I gave him four days off after the Maple Leaf Trot and then just jogged him up until Wednesday and trained him. He’s ready to go tomorrow,” Gillis said. “We haven’t yet received an invite and I certainly want it. I’m hoping for him to race well tomorrow and in turn receive that invite. “I feel like after the Maple Leaf Trot, I’m not sure if they’ll invite more than one Canadian horse, but I was concerned that Marion Marauder had the upper hand on us and the only thing I could do to turn the tables is bring him down here and hopefully showcase him a little bit,” Gillis said. Will Take Charge will start from post eight in Saturday’s sixth race. The 1-mile trot attracted last week’s dominant Preferred winner Gruden and July 7 Open winner Weslynn Dancer. Madhatter Bluechip, New Heaven, Barry Black, Fashion Creditor, and Lord Cromwell comprise the lineup. Despite his outside assignment, Will Take Charge is the 5-2 morning line favorite with Mark MacDonald down to drive.  “I’m going to leave it up to Mark MacDonald. I don’t want him to get away eighth. I expect him to go forward in some manner,” Gillis said. “I think it will depend on how many leavers there are inside of him. I’m confident if he has to go to the lead, he’ll be good and I’m confident that he can do it from off the pace as well.” Will Take Charge won a local $30,000 Preferred Handicap in April, racing from off the pace to score a 1:56.1 win. Gillis believes Will Take Charge excels on small tracks and relishes the tight turns of the half-mile oval. “He trots the turns as fast as any horse I’ve ever had, as fast as the straightaways really,” Gillis said. “The smaller tracks are really his bread and butter; in fact, I’ve developed the opinion that he hasn’t raced quite as well at home as he has on the road and most of his starts on the road have been on the smaller tracks. “I really think, with him trotting the turns so good and I don’t know that this horse particularly tires,” Gillis continued. “He’s been a mile-and-an-eighth a couple of times and been second beat a neck both times. I think on a half, the advantage kind of shifts to him. I’d really like the opportunity to find out for sure.” Saturday’s 12-race program co-features a $44,000 Open Handicap Pace in race eight and a $35,000 4-year-old Open Handicap Pace in race nine. First post time is 6:50 p.m. For entries to the races, click here.  by Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY  

YONKERS, N.Y. – Rob Harmon was skeptical of the French American Trotting Club when the idea was announced. The trainer initially passed over the opportunity, but pressed by owners Dein Spriggs, Barbara Kurtin, and Barbara Lucarelli, Harmon took the plunge. Under the Harmon Racing Stable name, the quartet joined the program. “At first, I was kind of hesitant, I just didn’t know how it was going to be,” Harmon said. “Then I had a bunch of owners called me at the last second and there’s actually four of us that own this horse and they all just wanted to try it. When you break it down, it was only seven-grand per person, so it wasn’t that bad. We all just threw in for a quarter.” Harmon received Aigle De La Vallee, an 8-year-old son of Norginio out of the And Arifant mare Indian Queen. The gelding went 4-for-81 overseas, his last win coming under saddle at La Capelle in July 2015. Harmon wasn’t enthused when he saw the chestnut for the first time. “He was red. That was the only thing I didn’t like about him,” the trainer said. “He was OK, he’s a good-looking horse. I’m not a big red horse fan. That’s just me. If I go to the sales looking for a baby and it’s red, I’m not buying them. I just never had any luck with them.” Like his other chestnut endeavors, Aigle De La Vallee looked to be destined to disappoint after the first leg of the French American Trotting Club Series August 5. Off a pair of solid qualifiers, including a 1 ¼-mile trial in 2:31.2 with a :27.4 final quarter, Aigle De La Vallee made a break in the first leg. He finished a distant last in the 10-horse field. “He just got a little hot on Jimmy (Marohn Jr.). He got a little hot and he wouldn’t wear head poles, so we tried line poles and at 8-years-old, he’s set in his ways. He was just too hot,” Harmon said.  Aigle De La Vallee needed to requalify in order to continue racing in the series. Harmon took the gelding to Pocono August 8, but he again went off stride. Three days later, Aigle De La Vallee qualified at Tioga with hopples and got a clean line on his card. However, the hopples had the unintended effect of tiring Aigle De La Vallee and he only trotted the mile in 2:00.2. Yonkers qualifying standards dictate a horse must trot in 2:00 on a five-eighths track in order to race. “We trained him in hopples and I was actually going to do that at Pocono when we qualified him and I decided not to. Jimmy thought it was something extra to help him out, so I did,” Harmon said. “They were a little tight on him in the qualifier and he just got tired in them, so we weren’t qualified for the next leg.” Harmon sought out another spot for Aigle De La Vallee to race in order to qualify for the final leg of the series August 26. He needed a spot that would mesh with the Sunday schedule at Yonkers and that didn’t have purse caps on classes as Aigle De La Vallee raced in the $35,000 series leg in his prior start. Harmon found a $4,815 conditioned trot at Saratoga Friday, August 17 and entered, but Aigle De La Valle drew post eight with Frank Coppola Jr. named to drive. The trotter would need a 2:02 mile on the half-mile track to qualify to race at Yonkers. “I told everybody, let’s just take him to Saratoga and just let him race and he is what he is,” Harmon said. “I told Frank, ‘you’ve just got to go 2:02. I don’t care if he’s last, you just have to trot in 2:02 so I’m qualified for the last leg.’ He drove him that way and he raced good.” Complicating the time trial, a deluge hit Saratoga that evening and left the track sloppy. Devoid of any gate speed, Coppola took Aigle De La Vallee back to last and raced 10 ½ lengths behind at the quarter. Coppola guided the French trotter around two breakers in the opening half-mile and joined the outer flow in the second lap. Aigle De La Vallee advanced without cover from 7 lengths back and caught the leaders. Coppola tipped four-wide around the final turn and he swooped past the field to win by a length in 1:59.1. “He actually raced good, he had the eight hole in a monsoon. He ended up catching up to the field on the last turn, went four deep, and just trotted home good,” Harmon said. “Out of the eight hole, he overcame a lot.” Qualified for the final leg of the series, Aigle De La Vallee started from post two in the $35,000 second division August 26. He raced first-over and although he was passed by winner Versachet in the final three-eighths of the 1 ½-mile marathon, Aigle De La Vallee finished second to earn a spot in Sunday’s $120,000 final. “When we brought him back in the last leg when we were second, I told Jimmy, ‘just get away wherever you’re going to get away and just pull him and let him grind away.’ That’s what he did,” Harmon said. “He didn’t brush, he stayed first-over and just went one speed. Jordan Stratton came behind us and went around us, but we got up for second and that helped. “He’s the kind of horse who always goes :29 in three quarters,” Harmon said. “He’s just a grinder, he has no brush to him. The further we go, the better he is. He just doesn’t slow down, but he doesn’t have a big brush to him.” Aigle De La Vallee drew post seven in the series final, carded as the second of 10 races Sunday. Harmon is keeping his expectations in check for the 15-1 morning line, who will start just inside of series leader Ursis Des Caillons, who is undefeated at Yonkers in three starts. Last week’s other winner Versachet drew post four while earlier series winners Deo and Alpha d’Urzy will start from the second tier in posts 10 and 12, respectively. Bosse Du Fosse, Akhenaton, Uhlan Noir, Barry Black, Adagio De La Tour, Bioness, and Undici complete the field. “That would be unbelievable. It really would be unbelievable. I don’t see him doing it,” Harmon said of winning the final. “He’s going to have to have a lot of things go his way. That’s what we’re all in it for, don’t get me wrong.” Harmon doesn’t think the outside post will hurt Aigle De La Vallee. The trainer is rooting for action early in the 1 ½-mile race to set up for Aigle De La Vallee’s grinding style. “After he raced his last time, he showed that he’s a little more honest now. You know what you’ve got and he did trot a good race last time,” he said. “There’s just going to be a lot of road traffic for us. I’m glad I’m not driving, I’m glad I’m watching. “Even if we had the inside, he would get away in the same spot, he’s just not a big leaver,” Harmon continued. “We’re going a mile-and-a-half, I just hope everybody pulls early and tries to get position and then there’s just going to be a lot of tired horses and we can beat them at the end.” First post time Sunday is 12:15 p.m. The Empire Terrace will be open for Sunday brunch in conjunction with the series final. For free full-card past performances, click here.  By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

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