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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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