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The journey began exactly a month ago, when Bold Eagle and his harness racing caretaker Hugues Monthule boarded a horse van in the French countryside. The pair made their way to the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, flew into Toronto International on Oct.19 and were ensconced in the woodsy, overgrown Mohawk backstretch by the first race on Breeders Crown elimination night. Flash forward to 10 a.m. Sunday morning (Oct. 27), Pierre Pilarski, Thomas and Sabine Bernereau, and Francois Jamier sat around a high-top table near the front of the Quest Restaurant on the ground floor of the Hilton hotel in Mississauga. Situated about halfway between downtown Toronto and Woodbine Mohawk Park, the hotel was quiet, save for a few families checking out and a handful of early risers enjoying the pool and hot tub, and only a few of the restaurant's tables were occupied. Outside, overnight downpours late in the preceding evening and early that morning gave way to gray, overcast skies. The sharp, cold air left flags in tatters and whipped open hotel doors as high winds gusted through the Eastern Ontario city. Despite the dreary conditions, Bold Eagle's connections sat looking relaxed and content. Bright-eyed and with smiles on their faces, they enjoyed each other's company and cordially entertained the occasional visitors who offered congratulations, accolades, and thanks to the team who brought their champion trotter across the Atlantic to post a dominating victory in the Breeders Crown Open Trot only 11 hours before. While the aftermath proved tranquil, the hours leading up to Bold Eagle's victory were fraught with nerves and stress. Bold Eagle arrived in the Mohawk paddock around 8 p.m. on race night and took his place in a stall in the northwest corner near the test barn. With his cotton-stuffed ears forward and head held up in the crossties, Bold Eagle stood quietly with a black-and-red cooler draped cleanly over his back as the finishing touches were put on his braided forelock. As the time to warm up grew closer, though, the stallion became animated. While longtime caretaker Monthule and trainer Sebastien Guarato began to pull equipment out of the black tack box positioned in the aisle just in front of the stall, Bold Eagle began lowering his head and pawing at the rubber-matted floor. Gentle pats on the shoulder, stern warnings, and kisses on the nose from Monthule helped stem the trotter's eagerness, but Bold Eagle soon grew more excitable. As Breeders Crown winners made their way past to the test barn, Bold Eagle fixed his gaze on them, extended his neck, and delivered deep, loud roars. His demonstrations intensified as the sophomore trotting fillies, stationed in the row across from Bold Eagle's stall, lined up to head out to the track. Jamier, an agent, the Bernereaus, co-owners, and Priscilla Navillod, Bold Eagle's masseuse and dentist, joined Monthule and Guarato as Bold Eagle prepared for his warmup around 9:45 p.m. Absent from the group was Pilarski, who remained in the clubhouse. "He was too nervous to come see 'Bold,' " said Kim Gudmand, a Danish photographer and fan who has followed Bold Eagle around Europe since the trotter's 3-year-old campaign and has become close with the trotter's owners. "He wanted to stay upstairs." "I was nervous, but it was not so much pressure from outside, it was more inside pressure," Pilarski explained via translation by Jamier. "Now (Bold Eagle) is getting on the edge where he is not so easy in front like he used to be. We came over here, so of course there was some pressure. "We arrived (Friday). We were pretty tired (Friday) night. We were at the racetrack," Pilarski said. "We went to downtown Toronto (Saturday) to get lunch and we all tried to get time just to destress. But when we arrived here, we could feel the pressure." In the early years of Bold Eagle's career, the trotter would warm up twice on race day, once with Monthule and once with his driver. Now, the 8-year-old is too excitable on the track and only goes for one light preparation with his driver. Two races after winning a Breeders Crown with Winndevie and immediately after driving McWicked to a fourth-place finish in the Open Pace, Brian Sears met Bold Eagle in the paddock and headed out onto the track with him, led by Monthule and with the rest of the team in close pursuit. The warmup was Sears' first time taking the lines behind Bold Eagle and although he talked briefly with the connections in the days leading up to the race, there was little other prep work the Hall of Famer could do ahead of hopping in the sulky. Sears took Bold Eagle one lap clockwise around the seven-furlong oval during a short break in the rain. Although high-strung, Bold Eagle quickly trotted up on the heels of two other joggers near the end of his lap and slowed to match their pace. Sears took Bold Eagle past the paddock and down the stretch, turned him, and went a short spurt at a quicker tempo before returning Bold Eagle to the hands of Monthule. Sears hopped off the bike outside the paddock door and made a B-line for the front of the paddock, darting down a narrow alley formed by the building's exterior and the parked starting gate. The White Knight's colors were tarnished with wet stone dust and the driver chomped furiously on a piece of gum. "He was alright, pretty grabby," Sears quickly commented before jumping in the bike behind Greenshoe and heading out for another heat. After his warmup, Bold Eagle's attitude changed again. After returning to his stall, Bold Eagle stood with all four feet planted firmly on the ground. Neck bowed and ears pinned back, the trotter put on his game face as the final preparations were made for his start. Boosted by Bold Eagle's work leading up to the race, Guarato had been steady all night. The trainer felt confident his trotter would earn a check after training Bold Eagle over the Mohawk oval Thursday (Oct. 24) "I was very satisfied and confident about the fact that he trained well," Guarato said via translation by Jamier. "He handled the turns the right way and he was calm and relaxed and had good energy. I was confident to be one-two-three." A chink in Guarato's armor of confidence finally showed as the trainer watching unnervingly as a Go-Pro was affixed to one of the shafts of Bold Eagle's sulky shortly before race time. Only after being reassured that American History carried the camera in his Open Pace victory earlier in the evening did Guarato's fixation on the device subside. At 10:40 p.m., Guarato and Monthule were at work in Bold Eagle's stall making the final preparations for the race. Sabine Bernereau found a seat on the edge of the tack box while Thomas stood in front of the stall, hands shoved in his pockets, shuffling his feet. Finally, Monthule unhooked the crossties and led Bold Eagle into the aisle. Guarato and Navillod hitched the brand new black-and-red Gorilla race bike to Bold Eagle's harness and tightened the Go-Pro mount a final time. The Gorilla was one of two equipment changes that evening, replacing the Custom model bikes used by Björn Goop and Franck Nivard overseas. Bold Eagle would also race without an undercheck in the Breeders Crown. "He has a tendency to play with it. It was the first time I took it off," Guarato said. Sears donned Pilarski's black-and-red colors, slipped a yellow cap over his helmet, and adjusted his goggles before striding up to Bold Eagle. Tucking the whip under his right arm, Sears clipped the pull-cord for the earplugs in place near his left stirrup, took the lines in his brown-gloved hands, and then came the call from the judge crackling over the paddock's loudspeakers. "Bring 'em out." Monthule led Bold Eagle to the paddock door, Sears hopped in the bike, and the trio made their way out. While the rain had given way for Bold Eagle's warm up, it returned with a vengeance for his race. In combination with high winds blowing down the stretch, the monsoon delayed the start of the 3-Year-Old Colt and Gelding Pace as pylons floated up out of their moorings and blew into the center of the track. Earlier in the evening, a wayward pylon forced a recall. Such delays and recalls proved Bold Eagle's undoing before the 2018 Elitloppet elimination. Although there were no such hindrances before the Open Trot, Bold Eagle still appeared agitated in the post parade. He threw his head up and down, darted left, then right, and looked to the grandstand as something caught his eye. Monthule watched from the porch outside the paddock, seeking refuge from the weather under the overhanging roof. Photographers, journalists, and fellow horsepeople - by now, friends - put their hands on his shoulders, hugged him, and wished him luck. Monthule politely accepted each, but his gaze never left his champion on the track. Each time Bold Eagle passed in front of the paddock, Monthule hopped down from his perch and ran to the edge of the track, black-leather shank in hand, ready to lend assistance to Sears if needed. Once, he obliged and Monthule led Bold Eagle up the stretch, past the row of photographers before turning Bold Eagle loose again. Monthule remained out on the track at the end of the line of cameras as Bold Eagle and his 10 rivals faced the gate for the Open Trot. Even as his competitors put their noses on the barrier, Bold Eagle lagged behind from his inside post position, throwing his head and jerking from side to side. However, as he caught the gate, Bold Eagle picked up his head and put his nose to the wings. As the truck sped away, Bold Eagle trotted straight and true, quickest off the car for the first several strides before letting Atlanta, Guardian Angel As, and Lindy The Great dictate the tempo. Reaching the backstretch, Sears yanked on the right line, tipping Bold Eagle's face into the stiff wind. Bold Eagle glided up from a 4 1/4-length deficit to take the lead passing the half. Lindy The Great faded in the pocket while Six Pack tried to follow Bold Eagle's move, but was left without cover, and Atlanta rode the pylons. Bold Eagle straightened away with the lead as Six Pack continued to give chase and Atlanta angled wide. Sears turned the whip onto Bold Eagle's hind end, and as easily as Bold Eagle left the gate, he put up 2 lengths in deep stretch. Sears took three glances over his right shoulder and on the last, realizing he could not be caught, raised his whip in victory. Bold Eagle trotted past the finish post with the plugs still in and his ears pricked as he completed the mile in 1:52.0. A huge smile lit up on Monthule's face and the caretaker thrust both arms straight up over his head as he part-ran, part-skipped, part-jumped up the stretch watching Bold Eagle cross the line. In the clubhouse, Pilarski, the Bernereaus, and Jamier stood pressed up against the glass. They clapped, clamored, and leaned as Bold Eagle neared the finish. Just like Monthule, the quartet threw their hands up as he crossed the line before embracing in a group hug. The pent-up stresses of the evening were instantly lifted, and the heavy rains went unnoticed to the dozens of owners, friends, and fans of Bold Eagle who flooded the track on the way to the winner's circle. Pleas of "clear the track, clear the track," from the outriders as a new batch of horses started their warmups went unheeded as Bold Eagle returned to the winner's circle. Sears threw a Bold Eagle scarf around his neck, "Allez Bold Eagle" and French flags flew, and smiles lit up the night as the cameras clicked away. Back in the paddock, after completing the post-race testing procedures and getting cleaned off, Bold Eagle stomped around with his neck bowed and his ears pinned back, looking none the worse for his dominant display. "I'm very, very happy for Bold, just to get this race in his record. To come here and to win," Pilarski said, looking over his champion. "It's going to make all his fans very happy." Although Bold Eagle is most regarded for his victories in the French classics going 2,700 meters, Guarato praised the trotter's abilities at 1-mile. "The first time he went to Solvalla, he beat the European record. It was amazing. The first time he went to Solvalla, nobody saw that before, what he did there," the trainer said. "The first time he's come here, he's a monster." The Breeders Crown Trot is Bold Eagle's 46th victory and boosts his earnings to $5,692,680. It is the first North American win for the horse, owner, and trainer. Although Bold Eagle and Pilarski had never raced in North America before, Guarato sent Rapide Lebel to a second-place finish behind San Pail in the 2011 Breeders Crown Trot at Woodbine. "I'm extremely satisfied and happy," Guarato said. "This horse brings a lot of happiness to everybody. The last couple of months, he was maybe not as good as he used to be. But he's still a champion and today, to win in front of everybody in North American is huge, huge." Bold Eagle traveled home to France Friday, Nov. 1. He will seek a third victory in the Grand Prix d'Amérique at Vincennes this January. "The plan is to probably race every four weeks to prepare for the Prix d'Amerique," Guarato said." It depends on how he takes the trip back home, but he could race in the Prix du Bourbonnais (Dec. 8) or the Prix du Bourgogne (Dec. 29)." The connections have since stated the Dec. 8 race at Vincennes will be Bold Eagle's next start. The morning after their Breeders Crown win, as Jamier sat with Pilarski and the Bernereaus back at the Hilton, it wasn't too early to dream about the future. "Maybe we'll be back next year," Jamier teased with a smile. by Brandon Valvo, for the Breeders Crown

YONKERS, N.Y. – The Blindswitch Racing Stable has built success on importing harness racing pacers from Australia and New Zealand over the past several years and Lady Dela Renta is no exception. Blindswitch purchased the 5-year-old Well Said daughter this spring and shipped her to the U.S. early this summer. Since then, she’s earned six wins in 10 starts and has a chance to claim her second victory in the $42,000 Filly and Mare Open Handicap Pace at Yonkers Raceway Friday night (Nov. 8). Despite her impressive stateside record, Lady Dela Renta proved an unlikely candidate to ship to North America. Lady Dela Renta was owned by partners Colin Belton, trainer Annie Belton, and S. W. Hoffmann in Australia. While Hoffmann was eager to sell, the Beltons were attached to their mare. When agent Cameron Lee contacted Blindswitch’s David Litvinsky, the deal proved difficult to settle. “It was tough to get her,” Litvinsky said. “The owners there, Colin and Annie Belton, they bought her at a sale and raised her and they owned half of her. It was not easy to pry her away from them.” Litvinsky began researching Lady Dela Renta and liked what he saw. However, he felt the ranking system at Western Australia’s Gloucester Park placed the mare at a disadvantage in many of her starts. “I started watching her races and replays and she was just a super horse,” Litvinsky said. “She always kind of sat at the back and came home at the end and I figured she’d be perfect for Yonkers. She could take advantage of the early speed. I just kind of fell in love with her from the beginning. “With the ranking system in Australia, she was racing in Western Australia and she was always drawing outside because of her high rating,” he continued. “She was put in a disadvantage pretty much in every race, unless it was a random draw.” Finally, Litvinsky made the Beltons an offer they couldn’t reject. In addition, to a generous sum, Litvinsky agreed to race Lady Dela Renta in Belton’s stable in Australia for several starts before bringing her to the U.S. Lady Dela Renta made her first start for Blindswitch in an AUD$20,000 Gloucester Park overnight April 5, finishing second and becoming Blindswitch’s first Australian starter. Four starts later, Lady Dela Renta connected with a victory at the same level May 18. Lady Dela Renta wrapped up her career Down Under with a win in a Filly and Mare FFA Pace at Gloucester June 21. “I established a relationship with them and promised to send pictures and videos every chance I get. I promised that I would race the horse there with them for a few months as well, which turned out to be a great move,” Litvinsky said. “She won a few races over there and she won her last race there before she came here, which is really special. “It was pretty cool. They’re interviewing the drivers in the bike minutes before the race. It’s a whole different perspective, a lot more in your face, and beautiful HD cameras,” he continued. “You can see every aspect of the race. So, it was a new experience for me, which was nice and I like it a lot. “They race for good money there and they’re not hard on their horses; they don’t go too fast,” Litvinsky said. “And Gloucester Park is a half-mile track, which definitely helped with buying her because I knew she would be able to get around the Saratoga and Yonkers tracks. The first win was very exciting, and the last win was even more exciting.” After her final Australian start, Lady Dela Renta shipped to the U.S. to join trainer Jose Godinez’s barn at Golden Shoe Training Center in Montgomery, N.Y. While she proved a handful when she first arrived, Lady Dela Renta adjusted to her new surroundings in a few weeks’ time. “Colin and Annie were super tight with the horse. They sent me a five-minute video of them putting the horse on the trailer to go. I couldn’t even watch the whole thing. It was so sad. She was crying,” Litvinsky remembered. “They said when you put the gear on her, you have to have somebody standing with her. She gets race ready. When she came over, she was kicking, so we padded her stall with rubber,” Litvinsky said. “Within her first few weeks, she completely relaxed. Now, she’s a complete professional. She’s super before the races and she just does everything right. She’s definitely just accommodated to our training program.” Lady Dela Renta qualified at Pocono Downs Aug. 14 and made her first start from an outside post Aug. 20. When she drew inside Aug. 27, Lady Dela Renta took a spot in fourth early and came first-over on favored leader Rockin The Boys. The pair tore away from the field around the final turn and Rockin The Boys appeared to give Lady Dela Renta the slip in the stretch, but Lady Dela Renta reengaged nearing the wire and tracked down her rival in 1:50.3. One week later, Lady Dela Renta repeated at Pocono in a lifetime best 1:49.2. “She was coming around the final turn and Rockin The Boys had a pretty good lead on her. I was like, ‘OK, she’s going to be second,’ and then she just went into another gear,” Litvinsky said. “It looked like she was going to settle for second, but she just grinded it out. I said, ‘alright, maybe we’ve got something that you don’t see often,’ and then September 3, she won first-over in 1:49.2 and I said, ‘alright, we’ve got ourselves something really good here.’ ” Lady Dela Renta finished fifth in her Yonkers debut Sept. 20 after starting from post seven in the distaff feature. She drew post two in the $42,000 Filly and Mare Open Handicap Oct. 4 and tracked down Feelin Red Hot to win by a neck in 1:52.1. “When she drew inside on October 4 and went first-over on that Burke monster Feelin Red Hot, I thought this was going to be an interesting year next year,” Litvinsky said. “I think we’re going to stake her. We think she is something really special and we’ll see how far she can go.” After drawing outside again in consecutive starts at Yonkers Oct. 12 and 18, Lady Dela Renta went to Saratoga, where she posted back-to-back wins in the Spa’s $18,000 distaff feature. “She was just drawing outside at Yonkers, so we wanted to give her a little break,” Litvinsky said. “Shorter fields and we knew we would be able to get (Billy) Dobson that first week. We took a shot and she was super. And then the last one, she was supposed to race from off the pace, but Frank Coppola had different ideas. He went to the top and she won again.” Lady Dela Renta is now 20-for-51 with $226,164 earned. She will return to the Hilltop Friday night and will start from post one with Matt Kakaley in the sulky for the first time. The pair are 7-2 on the morning line. Lady Dela Renta will face five rivals, including Write Me A Song, who was assigned the outside post off a 1:52.4 victory in the distaff feature Nov. 1. George Brennan, who leads Jason Bartlett in the driver standings by five victories, will drive for Ron Burke. Wisdom Tree will start from an assigned post five in her return to Yonkers. The 4-year-old mare is 4-for-14 this season and enters off a 1:52.0 qualifying victory at Hoosier Park Oct. 30, which followed a fourth-place finish in the Filly and Mare Allerage Open Pace at the Red Mile Oct. 6. Jordan Stratton will take the lines for Jeff Cullipher. Kaitlyn also returns to Yonkers in this race off a fifth-place finish in the Breeders Crown Mares Open Pace at Woodbine Mohawk Park Oct. 26. Sudden Change and Robyn Camden complete the six-pack. “She drew between one and three. It’s a short field. I think if she gets some kind of trip and has room, she should close pretty strong,” Litvinsky said. “Obviously, there are a couple other horses that are pretty good and you always need some racing luck when you’re racing these caliber horses. We got Matt Kakaley. I really like the way he drives, and I think he’ll get along with her. “I’m happy she’s doing well because Colin and Annie follow her. I’m happy they made the right decision by sending her here because she can expand her racing, make a name for herself,” Litvinsky continued. “I feel like she’s graduated the Australian ranks and she can go on to do bigger and better things here in the U.S. and see how far she can go. Maybe in the end, she could go back to Australia and breed her.” Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. First post time is 6:50 p.m. By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – In the early morning hours on Wednesday, October 2, Talvikki Niiniketo prepared to travel across the Atlantic Ocean with Zacon Gio ahead of the trotter’s start in the Yonkers International Trot Oct. 12. Joining Zacon Gio in his equine transport container, the pair were hoisted into the bay of a cargo 747 jumbo jet and waited for their departure to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport from eastern Belgium’s Liège Airport. For seating, Niiniketo made do with an overturned bucket. For safety, she held on tight. “It was actually really exciting. It was the first time to go on a really big airplane and when it leaves, sitting there in a big container on a water bucket,” Niiniketo recalled. “First, I was thinking, ‘how am I going to hold on.’ In the end, it was really easy. And also for the landing, I was sitting there on a water bucket with him. It wasn’t so bad. I think it’s worse where the people sit, you feel it more.” Traveling to the United States to compete in harness racing’s World Cup was beyond Niiniketo’s dreams even one year ago. As a self-described city girl, the idea would have seemed impossible to Niiniketo growing up in Helsinki, Finland. “I’m the only one from the family who likes horses,” said Niiniketo, who tried to recall her first equine encounter. “I don’t know, I just saw them and I loved them. I don’t remember, maybe it was some carnival or something where I saw this pony. Then I started riding school to ride the ponies. I actually had a riding horse, that was my first own horse, a riding horse. I did dressage. It’s a Finnish horse, a cold-blooded horse named Syntipukki.” Niiniketo’s passion for horses led her to the sport of harness racing. A desire to see the world took Niiniketo to Italy in the mid-2000s and she worked as a groom and caretaker in trainer Erik Bondo’s stable. Niiniketo returned home to Finland in 2008 to complete her schooling and with that accomplished, in 2011 she moved back to Italy where she’s lived ever since. After six years working for Bondo, Niiniketo sought new surroundings, eager to see how training varied from stable to stable. She came to work for Holger Ehlert in March 2018. Zacon Gio arrived in Ehlert’s barn a few months later and Niiniketo was assigned his caretaker. A son of Rudy Griff out of the Yankee Glide mare May Glade Font Sm, Zacon Gio was then a 3-year-old with nine wins in 16 starts, but had failed to factor in stakes company, finishing third of five in the Group 3 Gran Premio G. Stabile, eighth in the Group 1 Gran Premio Citta' di Napoli, and seventh in the Group 3 Gran Premio Regione Puglia. Thinking highly of the trotter and desiring to unlock his potential, owner Giuseppe Franco transferred the horse to Ehlert. Intent on getting Zacon Gio to the Italian Trotting Derby in late September 2018, Ehlert started the horse September 1 in a Cesena invitational. However, after getting a second-over trip and angling three wide into the stretch, Zacon Gio finished a flat fourth. His connections thought better of their Derby dreams. “We tried to make (the Derby), it was really short time,” Niiniketo said. “We raced him once almost immediately so that we could see how he was. He wasn’t good in that race. He wasn’t ready for the Derby. Thank god, the owners, even though it was really big money, they agreed to skip the Derby so we had time to try to make him better. We tried to make him better because no one knew what he would become.” In her time working with Zacon Gio, Niiniketo has learned to work with the trotter’s big personality. “He has a lot of character and he’s really playful,” Niiniketo explained. “Sometimes he does some things that are a little bit silly, but that’s only because he just wants to entertain himself. Maybe it’s boring to just go around the track, so he has to make something fun. “He eats all the blankets, he eats everything,” she continued. “When we had the bottled water (in quarantine) and I go to put the water in the bucket, he takes the bottles from me and throws them around. Blankets, he eats right away. If he feels it’s a little bit too warm, he takes them off right away and then it’s in little pieces in the box. He is the boss.” Zacon Gio reemerged for Ehlert October 25, 2018 when he cruised in a Bologna overnight. After that, the wins piled up. Over the following 11 months, Zacon Gio won his next 10 starts, including Group 2 successes in the Premio Citta' Di Torino and the Gran Premio Regione Campania and Group 1 wins in the Premio Unione Europea and Gran Premio Tino Triossi. “He’s been only getting better every race,” Niiniketo said. “He’s only 4. He’s growing mentally and he’s growing physically. From when he came last year, he’s really gained much muscle. He’s double that of when he came.” Zacon Gio’s exploits in Italy improved his record to 20-for-29 with $496,834 earned. Zacon Gio also garnered the interest of the Yonkers racing office, which awarded him an invitation to the New York track’s signature race, the Yonkers International Trot. Zacon Gio’s connections accepted and in late September, Niiniketo and Zacon Gio began their trek to America. They endured a long ride from Ehlert’s stable to Grosbois Training Center southeast of Paris, France. There, Zacon Gio went his final training trip before flying overseas, completing 2,000 meters over the Grosbois track October 1. Then, it was on to Belgium to board the plane before finally landing in New York. However, with a mandatory 48-hour quarantine, Zacon Gio couldn’t ship to Yonkers Raceway until October 4. “We were really worried about the 48 hours when we couldn’t see them, but in the end, it was quite fun because then we were free to go anywhere. After that, you’re stuck going to feed him three or four times a day and can’t really go so much,” Niiniketo said. “I’ve never been in America before. This is the first time. We went to the Empire State Building and we walked around. It was quite fun. We were in the city both days, just shopping.” Niiniketo and Ehlert worked with Zacon Gio at Yonkers in the week leading up to the Yonkers International Trot. Unlike at home, Zacon Gio spent nearly all of him time in his stall. Whenever the caretaker fretted over the upcoming race, she looked to the horse to settle her nerves. “He can’t go to the paddock. He’s used to spending a lot of time out, I just leave him in the paddock and I just take him in just before I have to train him. He gets ready and I go,” Niiniketo said. “Here, he has to be in the box, so he’s like a little bomb when you walk here. “The only thing that was worrying me was how would he take the trip. He’s been drinking and eating, but you never know because they can’t tell you if something’s wrong, so you never can be sure,” Niiniketo said. “All the team has been really nervous and they come and see, is he tired, is he OK, and I have to just keep in my head that I know him, I (work with) him every day, and I think he’s like always.” Zacon Gio confirmed Niiniketo’s intuition Saturday afternoon, October 12, when he crushed his competition in the $1 million stakes while running his streak to 12. Although driver Roberto Vecchione typically puts Zacon Gio on the point at home, the pair came from off the pace in the trotter’s first start outside Italy. Racing in fourth early, Zacon Gio hugged the pylons around the first of five turns in the 1 1/4-mile Yonkers International as Atlanta set a dawdling tempo and Uza Josselyn prompted to her outside. Entering the second turn, Vecchione angled Zacon Gio to the outside to follow the Swiss mare’s cover. Zacon Gio remained on hold for Vecchione until they reached the midway point of the backstretch the final time. Forced three deep by Guardian Angel As, Vecchione put the whip on Zacon Gio’s tail and the trotter took off like a Manhattan taxi getting a green light. Entering the final turn, Vecchione yanked out the ear plugs and by the midway point of the bend, Zacon Gio left Atlanta in his wake. With Vecchione calling out to his mount, Zacon Gio put up a 3 1/2-length lead in the stretch. In the final sixteenth, the driver took the lines in his left hand and letting Zacon Gio trot through the finish on a loose line, pumped his right hand to the sky in celebration. Slide So Easy of Denmark, who rode a pocket trip behind Atlanta, angled out behind the tiring pacesetter and finished second 3 1/4 lengths behind Zacon Gio. Marion Marauder of Canada was third. Niiniketo met Zacon Gio on the track and hooking a lead to his bridle, walked him to the winner’s circle. She held onto Zacon Gio as dozens of people – owner, trainer, driver, blacksmith, family, friends, and more swarmed around the trotter. Zacon Gio stood quietly as Italian flags fluttered around his head and his connections were hoisted into the air in celebration. Someone even tucked a flag into Zacon Gio’s browband in the chaos. “I’m always scared about the winner’s circle. When he won the first Gran Premio, that was in Florence, and there he also went really fast and should have been tired,” Niiniketo remembered. “Roberto gave the horse to me to take him. I drive around to go in because he’s supposed to be really nice after the race because he’s supposed to be tired. I went by some horses and he just put the tail up and was ready to go again.’ ” With pictures taken, Niiniketo walked Zacon Gio back to the paddock. When the trotter returned to his stall with his new white and blue Yonkers International Trot blanket draped over his back, the trotter stood tall, cotton-stuffed ears forward, eyes wide and bright, nostrils barely flaring as he breathed gently. His vanquished foes were blowing hard and restless after their 10-furlong journey around the hilltop oval. “He’s not ever tired. I’ve never seen him tired,” Niiniketo commented. “He’s just getting better and now this was again another step. He had to race against the older horses who are strong. We don’t know what the limit is.” Niiniketo walked Zacon Gio across the paddock to the washstand and waiting for their turn, the pair circled around with Zacon Gio on a loose lead as Niiniketo accepted a congratulatory phone call. After being hosed off, Zacon Gio took a few gulps of water from a bucket and completed the post-race testing procedures at his own pace before Niiniketo led him back to the barn down the hill from the paddock. Taking the horse path back to the barn, Niiniketo and Zacon Gio encountered three of the adoring connections and were greeted with chants of, “Zacon! Zacon! Zacon!” Niiniketo’s face lit up in a smile and one of the roisterers thrust a beer into Niiniketo’s hand. Zacon Gio stopped and waited quietly for his caretaker to take a few sips before she passed the drink back and the pair continued on their trek. After crossing the road feeding from the Yonkers Ave entrance, the horse path bent to the right, hugging the southeast side of the parking lot and winding downhill. At the bottom, it swung to the left again back toward the barn. On the half-mile hike, Niiniketo looked forward to giving her trotter a well-earned break after getting home. Zacon Gio will be reunited with his paddock, a luxury he was deprived of while staying at Yonkers. “The trainer makes the decisions and talks with the owner now, but I think he’s going to now have a little vacation and take it easy and then start to train for the Gran Premio Lotteria in May,” she said. “That’s our next big thing. I’m going to just forget about him for a week in the paddock so he can just do what he wants to do. Eat grass and be by himself. He likes it.” As Niiniketo approached the barn with Zacon Gio, she reflected on her time in New York. Only an hour removed from the race which more than doubled the trotter’s earnings to $996,834 and opened doors for more adventures to come, she tried to grasp the magnitude of the victory. “It’s been amazing and everything has been so nice,” Niiniketo said. “It’s so well-organized. You never have to worry. If there’s something (wrong), in five minutes, they fix it. That’s really nice. In Italy, it’s never like that. Here, in five minutes everything is fixed. “It’s a dream come true, of course. Doesn’t happen to every girl,” Niiniketo said. “It’s unbelievable. I can’t even get hold of it yet, what he just did, what we just won. It’s unbelievable. I couldn’t even imagine it a year ago. And I’ve been doing quite good with normal horses, but no one like him because there is no one like him, there’s no one like him.” Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. First post time is 6:50 p.m. by Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – While many of the horses competing in the Dan Rooney Invitational Pace compete on the Grand Circuit, traveling from track to track chasing harness racing’s biggest purses, Theartofconfusion will be at home. The $250,000 stakes on the Yonkers International Trot undercard will be the 99th local start for the 9-year-old Riverboat King gelding and his 55th straight race at the Hilltop. Theartofconfusion has the Yonkers all-age track record to his name after he became the first Standardbred to pace a sub-1:50 mile in the track’s 120-year history. The mile came unexpectedly in a $30,000 overnight Aug. 31. Despite Theartofconfusion’s typical off-the-pace tactics, driver Austin Siegelman gunned the gelding off the gate that night. Chasing Theartofconfusion with the whip, the pair left around Mach N Cheese and forced Ideal Cowboy to take the pocket. The rest was history. Theartofconfusion was on top by 2 lengths through a :26.2 opening panel and his lead increased to 2 ¾ lengths passing the half in :54.2. Twenty-seven-year-old reinsman Siegelman felt confident despite the torrid pace. “When I hit the half with him, and pretty much the whole race, I was just daring the horse to run away with me,” Siegelman said. “Setting the bit in his mouth and kind of growling at him and he was just responding to that.” Theartofconfusion left his rivals behind, pacing through three-quarters in 1:21.3 while up by 5. With Siegelman motionless in the sulky, Theartofconfusion pinned his ears back, kept his head down, and powered determinedly through the stretch to score by 10 lengths in the track record clocking. “I probably didn’t need to go that much with him, but at the three-quarter pole, when I saw the timer, I knew he’d set the track record because he just goes faster and faster,” Siegelman said. “I didn’t think he’d go that kind of mile until that day, but he is pretty much unbeatable on the front end. He doesn’t get tired. He’s big and strong,” Siegelman said. “He could have gone whatever that day.” Off his track record mile, which has since been equaled by Dan Rooney rival American History, Theartofconfusion won the $46,000 Open Handicap Pace Sept. 7 before a string of outside handicaps in the weekly feature saw him lose three straight from Sept. 14 to Oct. 5. However, Theartofconfusion landed post position two in the Rooney’s random draw. “Drawing outside, he really had no shot in any of those miles,” Siegelman said. “The horses that drew inside of him have a lot more speed than him. Finally drawing back inside, he did it at the right time. He’s been good the past three starts, just no shot.” Siegelman started driving Theartofconfusion in June, taking over from Mark MacDonald. Siegelman is in the midst of his biggest season to date. After getting the chance to drive full time at Yonkers and getting first call on Gilbert Garcia-Herrera’s horses, Siegelman has 283 wins this season with $2.97 million earned. While his Yonkers exploits are only responsible for 83 of his wins, his mounts have earned $2.22 million here. “This has for sure been my best year. I didn’t expect to drive at Yonkers, and now I’m getting stakes drives and I never get stakes drives,” Siegelman said. “It’s cool. I think I’m ready for it and I think I can drive with just about anybody. It’s just about getting the mounts and getting the security to where I can just relax on the racetrack about it and not worry about every race that I have to win. I think I’m finally getting there.” Despite his powerhouse season, Siegelman’s focus on Yonkers and his relationship with Garcia-Herrera were unexpected. “I just got lucky,” the driver said. “Guys called out sick and they needed to call me in. So, I showed up. Right after Monticello one day, I went over to Yonkers and showed up and happened to do some good for people and got listed back. “I drove a few odd times for (Gilbert). We just did all right whenever he got stuck with me and MacDonald started going to stakes races and I was there each night.” Theartofconfusion was among those Siegelman began to drive for Garcia-Herrara. Over their 16 starts together, Siegelman has learned to read the horse. “He’s a cool horse. He doesn’t do anything wrong. He’s nice to be around. He’s a little bit hot,” Siegelman said. “He’s a little hard to drive in that he doesn’t have the real quick speed that some of those other horses have, so that kind of puts me at a disadvantage. He’s kind of a one speed grinder that just doesn’t get tired. Every once in a while, you can get him out of the gate fast. “I think you either have to decide before the wings fold whether you’re just going to go on a mission and go forward,” he continued. “You have to take him off the gate otherwise. You either have to tell him he’s going to leave or not.” Despite Theartofconfusion’s track record performance, he’s a longshot in the Rooney. He’ll face Horse of the Year and defending Rooney winner McWicked, who enters for Casie Coleman and Brian Sears fresh off a win in the Allerage Open Pace at the Red Mile Oct. 5. Other rivals include Jimmy Freight, who drew the one hole off his Dayton Pacing Derby victory Sept. 27 and None Bettor, who will start from post five off a victory from the eight hole in the local $42,000 Open Handicap last out Sept. 28. Regular Yonkers competitors The Real One and Micky Gee drew will start from posts three and four, respectively, while This Is The Plan and American History will need to overcome wide draws. “He’s a 20-1 morning line. I don’t really look at the morning line, I don’t think it means much. I’m just happy to be in the race and have a shot to get money,” Siegelman said. “I have to push him out no matter what so he doesn’t gap,” the driver said. “We’ll see how it works out. It’s just a matter of whether I want to really tune him in scoring down or not. I’ll have to talk to Gilbert about that, see what he wants to do and how he feels he should race. I don’t have any strategy right now. We’re still thinking about it.” Although a Grand Circuit victory on the Yonkers International Trot undercard would be a milestone in Siegelman’s career, the reinsman thought first of Garcia-Herrera and co-owners Barbara and Donald Arnstine. “It would be cool for me, but I would just be happy to get the win for Gilbert, who’s pretty much supported me now for the past year,” Siegelman said. “It would be cool for him and those owners to get that. It’s not really about me. “Gilbert’s first owner owns this horse with him. They’re out of California. They’ve been with him the longest. It would be cool for those people.” The $250,000 Dan Rooney Pace will be held on the undercard of the $1 million Yonkers International Trot, slated for Saturday (Oct. 12) at Yonkers Raceway. The card will also feature the $250,000 Harry Harvey Trot at 10 furlongs. For more information on the event and its participants, click here. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. 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. – At the beginning of 2019, Atlanta appeared primed to have an exceptional 4-year-old harness racing campaign. On the heels of a sophomore season that included victories in the Empire Breeders Classic, the Kentucky Filly Futurity, and the Hambletonian, Atlanta’s connections should have been riding on cloud nine with their distaff star. However, after going through a public drama that ended with the mare being transferred from trainer Rick Zeron to Ron Burke, co-owner Michelle Crawford was nervous ahead of Atlanta’s seasonal debut in the $100,000 Miami Valley Distaff. “I think one of the most important races was in Ohio, her first start,” Crawford said. “We had that $100,000 race and we were watching with huge anticipation. We went through a lot of drama in the beginning of the year, she changed trainers and you don’t know how they’re going to start up again as 4-year-olds.” Atlanta extinguished any fears Crawford had with a 7 3/4-length romp in the Distaff May 6. Her first start with Yannick Gingras in the sulky, Atlanta led at every call and extended her advantage from a length at the half to 5 passing the three quarters before stopping the timer in 1:50.4. After the Distaff, Atlanta’s Grand Circuit victories continued to pile up. She took a leg of the Graduate at Woodbine June 1 then captured the elimination and final of the Armbro Flight over the following two weeks. Atlanta returned to the Meadowlands in July to take another Graduate leg and the $250,000 Graduate Final July 6, where she toppled male rival Six Pack in a lifetime best 1:49.1. In her career, Atlanta is 19-for-35 with $1,799,089 earned. Crawford isn’t sure what enables Atlanta to go toe-to-toe with males like Six Pack, but believes her mare by Chapter Seven is simply a standout. “I do know that some of the Chapter Sevens are freaks. I think they’ve shown themselves on the track for the last few years,” Crawford said. “You have Walner, you have Atlanta. There are some significant Chapter Sevens out there. I think when you have filly or mare like this, anything goes.” In addition to her victories, Atlanta finished third (and was placed second by the stewards) in the $450,000 Hambletonian Maturity and second in both the elimination and final of the Maple Leaf Trot. In the Maple Leaf Trot final, Atlanta left from post 10 and never saw pylons, tracking the cover of Crystal Fashion throughout. Despite her overland journey, Atlanta tipped off cover and cut into Guardian Angel As’ lead in the stretch, losing by just a half-length in 1:50.4. Crawford felt Atlanta’s defeat was one of her most impressive efforts yet. “Even though she didn’t win the one in Canada, I think she was the best horse in there that day,” Crawford said. After the Maple Leaf Trot, Atlanta recorded a hard-fought head win the Charlie Hill Memorial Trot at Scioto Downs and now looks to add the $1 million Yonkers International Trot to her resume. It’s a race Crawford has become accustomed to watching from the sidelines with dreams of winning. “Who doesn’t have that race on their bucket list? I think there are a few big races I’ve had on my bucket list and the International Trot, obviously we haven’t had anything in there before,” Crawford said. “To have a girl representing the U.S.A., I don’t think it can get better than that. “I’ve watched it before from the Yonkers bleachers and it’s just a really powerful thing when they come out and the flags are flying. It’s an honor to be part of that.” Heading into the Yonkers International Trot Oct. 12, Atlanta hasn’t raced since the Hill Sept. 7. She has one qualifying victory at Harrah’s Philadelphia Sept. 24 and worked out 1 1/4 miles at Yonkers before the races Oct. 1. The break in Atlanta’s racing schedule was by design. “I think that she proved to us that she can do what she needed to do and she had some fabulous wins. I think there is something to be said about treating them at this level like Thoroughbreds,” Crawford said. “Rick always did that last year, he treated her very much that way and it worked well. You don’t need to race her week-in and week-out to keep her ship-shape, I think you need to protect her a little bit. Ronnie has done everything in between the races to keep her up and in shape.” Even with Atlanta’s preparations at home and the qualifier, the workout over the half-mile track with Gingras in the bike was key. Atlanta made her first start as a 2-year-old in New York Sire Stakes at Yonkers July 18, 2017 and she made a break when trotting into the first turn. Her next start at Batavia produced an identical result as Atlanta jumped it off entering the first bend. She hasn’t started on a half since. “I think it was really important since she doesn’t race on a half-mile. Ronnie needed to know up front if he needed to adjust or make any changes,” Crawford said of the Oct. 1 workout, in which Atlanta successfully navigated the Yonkers oval, going 10 furlongs in approximately 2:26. “Yannick was pretty happy with her. I was pretty pleased with the mile,” Crawford said. “I think I would be more nervous if they came out of that training and said, ‘we need to change a whole bunch of things because it wasn’t that easy for her to get around.’ Then I’d be a little bit more nervous. She’s pretty pure-gaited. Given that, it should be a no-brainer for her.” Atlanta drew post position three in the $1 million Yonkers International Trot and will again have Gingras in the sulky. She is the 3-1 morning line favorite. Cruzado Dela Noche seeks a title defense for Sweden and drew post seven in this year’s International, one slot inside of last year’s runner up Lionel of Norway. Denmark’s Slide So Easy also competed last year and returns; he drew post one. Guardian Angel As will also represent the United States and will start from the second tier in post nine. Marion Marauder will make his third appearance in the International representing Canada. European sensations Bahia Quesnot (France, post two), Uza Josselyn (Switzerland, post four), Zacon Gio (Italy, post five), and Norton Commander (Germany, post 10) complete the field. “All of us are hoping she puts her head down and gets out of there and doesn’t look back, doesn’t look left or right, just keeps going,” Crawford said. “It’s hard to say. I can’t predict how the race is going to set up. There are some fabulous horses in there and a lot of those horses like to be parked all of their miles; they have the endurance, so you really don’t know. You have no idea what to expect, but I think Atlanta has proven to everybody that she definitely deserves to be there. “It gives you goosebumps to see the company she’s in and they’re all coming over to the United States for this crazy race.” Atlanta would be the ninth mare to win the International Trot and the first since the race was revived in 2015 after Hannelore Hanover and Ariana G failed to join the ranks of Peace Corps (1991), Kit Lobell (1989), Classical Way (1980), Delmonica Hanover (1973 and 1974), Fresh Yankee (1970), Roquepine (1967 and 1968), and Armbro Flight (1966). Crawford Farms Racing owns Atlanta in partnership with Bradley Grant and Howard Taylor, a group Crawford calls the dream team. The group will be in attendance Saturday to cheer their mare on. “We’ll all be there rooting her on together and I’m really excited about that, too,” Crawford said. “We’ve come a long way and we have a great partnership. It’s just a lot of fun.” The $1 million Yonkers International Trot is slated for Saturday, October 12 at Yonkers Raceway. The card will also feature a pair of $250,000 invitationals, the 1 1/4-mile Harry Harvey Trot and 1-mile Dan Rooney Pace. For more information on the event and its participants, click here. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. First post time is 6:50 p.m. by Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Entering the 2018 edition of the Yonkers International Trot, Cruzado Dela Noche hadn’t started in a pari-mutuel race in four months and hadn’t won a major harness racing stakes race since capturing the Group 1 Copenhagen Cup in May 2017. Predictably, bettors dismissed the 6-year-old Muscle Massive son at 30-1 odds in the $1 million stakes. However, off two qualifying wins for trainer Marcus Melander and picking up Brian Sears, Cruzado Dela Noche worked out a brilliant trip in the 1 1/4-mile stakes, tracking Lionel’s first-over assault on leader Marion Marauder. With the plugs pulled and the whip on the trotter’s tail, Sears angled Cruzado Dela Noche three-wide with five-sixteenths of a mile to trot and joining Marion Marauder and Lionel, made it a three-across battle entering the final turn. Lionel put away Marion Marauder as he straightened into the lane and with Cruzado Dela Noche losing ground around the fifth bend, appeared to be on his way to International Trot glory. However, Sears went to the right-handed stick in the stretch and his trotter reengaged. As Lionel reached for the wire, Cruzado Dela Noche lunged, nailing his white-blazened rival in the shadow of the finish post. One year later, the enormity of Yonkers International Trot victory sticks with Sabine Kagebrandt, Managing Director of Cruzado Dela Noche’s ownership company Stall Courant Ab. “That brought us so much joy,” she said. “That meant a lot to us and it meant a lot to me because that horse brings us so much joy and he’s a really good horse and he has a really big heart. That he can take that win and show that he is an international horse, that’s the main thing. He had some wins in big races in other countries, but then he had one in America. “To win that big race under those conditions, it’s not so easy to go that many turns at Yonkers,” Kagebrandt continued. “It’s more money than the Prix d’Amérique, so it was a really big win for us and it was a big win for the horse. It means a lot, it’s a very big race to win, so we were so happy for that.” Cruzado Dela Noche’s Yonkers International Trot victory joined the Copenhagen Cup and Group 1 Grosser Preis Von Deutschland on the trotter’s resume, improved his record to 15-for-55, and boosted his earnings to $1,202,771. It was also the biggest win in Melander’s training career, which began in 2014 after he relocated from his native Sweden. The 27-year-old conditioner’s rapid rise to the top of the sport goes hand-in-hand with his partnership with Courant. “We love to be part of that. We’re so glad that he can make all that success,” Kagebrandt said. “I have known Marcus since he was a child and we have followed his move here to America. I think we were the first big owners that put horses in his stable. It started with one or two horses and then we started with more and expensive horses. We have always had a good faith in him. He has that kind of mission like we have, so we feel like it’s a good match. “We have the same view, how he should train and take care of the horses. We are very much involved also, talking about the training and where we should race,” Kagebrandt continued. “Of course, he’s the one who’s in charge, but he shares that information with us and we feel that we are part of it. That’s how we like it. We really love to work with Marcus. That’s really beautiful, I think.” Like Melander, Kagebrandt’s career is on the rise. Over the past year, Kagebrandt’s role at Courant evolved from doing the daily accounting and taking care of horses in the owner’s Swedish stable to managing the company’s budget and finances, selecting yearlings, and working alongside owner Anders Ström. A far cry from her initial aspirations of becoming a trainer, Kagebrandt appreciates the rarity of occupying such a role in a harness racing stable. “It’s really nice to work with Anders, we work really good together,” Kagebrandt said. “I really enjoy it. I travel all around the world to do what I love. I love my job. It’s beautiful. This kind of job, there are not so many jobs out there that are like mine.” Following his International Trot win, Cruzado Dela Noche finished sixth in the Breeders Crown Open Trot at Pocono and seventh in the TVG Free For All Trot at the Meadowlands. After a winter break, he returned this May to win the Arthur J. Cutler Memorial at the Swamp. Cruzado Dela Noche topped 11 rivals in the 9-furlong stakes to take the winner’s share of the $175,000 purse. Although he’s placed in another two stakes in six other seasonal starts, Cruzado Dela Noche hasn’t found the winner’s circle since the Cutler. He often comes from off the pace, but tends to run out of ground going the standard mile distance in America and Canada. “I think he’s been really, really great. He’s one year older, but he still gives his best. He gets home really fast every time,” Kagebrandt said. “He goes really, really good every time, so we’re really happy with him.” Cruzado Dela Noche only failed to earn a check once this season when he finished last of six beaten 14 1/2 lengths in an elimination of the Maple Leaf Trot at Mohawk Aug. 24. Although he made a long first-over move in that start, Cruzado Dela Noche tired in the final 3 furlongs, uncharacteristic of his typically strong final quarters. “He didn’t like the shipping and he was not to be recognized. He wasn’t feeling well. He wasn’t himself, that’s for sure,” Kagebrandt explained. “After that, he got some medication and he got to rest for two weeks to recover. He’s been training at home. Marcus and Mikaela (Melander), they have been really happy with him. He has been strong again and really happy and he’s doing his work really good.” After regrouping at Melander’s New Egypt, N.J. stable, Cruzado Dela Noche prepared to defend his Yonkers International Trot title with a 1:55.2 qualifying win at Harrah’s Philadelphia Oct. 1. Racing 10 lengths off the pace in third at the half, Cruzado Dela Noche moved on the outside and kicked away with a :28.4 final panel to score by 4 1/2 lengths. Returning to represent Sweden in the Yonkers International Trot, Kagebrandt is confident. She feels the added distance is ideal for the 7-year-old trotter. “He doesn’t have that kind of speed like Greenshoe, but he can go another lap,” she said. “I’m really hopeful for the International because it’s his distance. He’s so much better at longer distances and he’s shown that in Europe as well. That’s why I’m hopeful because now he finally gets a longer race and that’s what he’s best at.” Cruzado Dela Noche and Brian Sears drew post seven in this year’s International, one slot outside his starting position last year and one slot inside of returning rival and last year’s runner up Lionel of Norway. Denmark’s Slide So Easy also competed last year and returns; he drew post one. The new faces in this year’s edition are 2018 Hambletonian winner Atlanta, who will represent the United States from post three. Guardian Angel As will also represent the United States and will start from the second tier in post nine. Marion Marauder will make his third appearance in the International representing Canada. European sensations Bahia Quesnot (France, post two), Uza Josselyn (Switzerland, post four), Zacon Gio (Italy, post five), and Norton Commander (Germany, post 10) complete the field. “It is tougher. They have a really good field. They did last year, but this is tougher than last year, absolutely,” Kagebrandt said. “The class of this year’s International is really good. It’s good for the race, it’s good for everybody. “We have great respect for our opponents. This year, Atlanta and Guardian Angel As should probably be seen as favorites,” Kagebrandt said. “Among the Europeans, Uza Josselyn is super quick and Zacon Gio also comes with great reputation. They also have good post positions. We need racing luck to beat those horses for sure. But we have the best driver and a horse with a heart of gold.” Cruzado Dela Noche would join Su Mac Lad (1961, 1963), Roquepine (1967, 1968), Une de Mai (1969, 1971), Delmonica Hanover (1973, 1974), Ideal du Gazeau (1981, 1982, 1983), and Lutin d’Isigny (1984, 1985) as a repeat winner of the International should he prove victorious Saturday afternoon (Oct. 12). “It would mean a lot, especially with ‘Cruzado’ because we know he’s a really good horse,” Kagebrandt said. “It’s really hard for him to win races here. When he cannot open from the start, he always gets a bad trip. He really needs this win so people understand that he’s a great horse. It’s really hard competition, but I’m not worried. I think he’ll be in good shape.” The $1 million Yonkers International Trot is slated for Saturday, October 12 at Yonkers Raceway. The card will also feature a pair of $250,000 invitationals, the 1 1/4-mile Harry Harvey Trot and 1-mile Dan Rooney Pace. For more information on the event and its participants, click here. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. 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 the European harness racing contingent for the Yonkers International Trot bedded down at Yonkers Raceway Friday afternoon, Slide So Easy wasn’t among their ranks. Denmark’s representative flew to the U.S. ahead of the pack this year. Accompanied by his caretaker Martin Bjerregaard, Slide So Easy arrived stateside last week and shipped to Åke Svandstedt’s Legend Farm in Wrightstown, New Jersey. “We went over a little earlier this year,” Bjerregaard said. “He’s not really that good when you have to do a long travel like that. We just wanted to come over a little earlier so that maybe he would settle in a little better.” Slide So Easy competed in last year’s renewal of the Yonkers International Trot, finishing eighth for trainer and driver Flemming Jensen. The long journey from Jensen’s stable just west of the northern Denmark town of Hjallerup to Yonkers proved tough on the trotter. “We’ve been doing travel to Sweden and Norway and he’s been OK about that. But being on a plane for eight hours, it was hard on him.” Bjerregaard recalled. “We were at the farm last Thursday, so a week ago. It’s good up here and he’s likes it, too. They have a lot of good paddocks and a nice trail, so that’s really good being up here. “He’s better this year, he really is,” Bjerregaard continued. “For him to be able to settle in, that’s good for him.” Not only has Slide So Easy settled in better, he’s also been better on the track this year. Now 10 years old, the son of Quite Easy out of the Smokin Yankee mare Elegante Frokjar is 7-for-11 overseas, racing in Sweden and Norway, in addition to his home country for owners Team Clemmensen & Christensen. Slide So Easy’s biggest wins this season each produced lifetime marks. He trotted a 1:10.3 kilometer rating when besting Coktail Fortuna by a neck in a 1640-meter Gulddivisionen leg at Kalmar June 23. Slide So Easy lowered his mark again to 1:10.2 in a 1600-meter League 1 trot at Charlottenlund Aug. 25. Slide So Easy has only been worse than second in one start this year, when seventh in the Group 1 Oslo Grand Prix at Bjerke June 9. “This is maybe his best season since we’ve had him,” Bjerregaard said. “Either he wins or he’s second and he’s been winning against really nice horses in Sweden. He did two new lifetime marks this year as well. He’s just been really good this year. “It is kind of a surprise,” Bjerregaard continued. “He is 10 years old and it seems like he’s the best he’s ever been. It is kind of surprising for him to be in that good shape as a 10-year-old.” Bjerregaard has worked with Slide So Easy since the gelding came to Jensen’s barn from Kenneth Nielsen in early 2016. Two key factors come to mind when the caretaker considered Slide So Easy’s success. “First of all, he really loves his job. That’s the main thing,” Bjerregaard said. “He’s easy going, he’s got a really good gait to him. He goes easy over the ground. That’s the main thing for him. Everything is just easy for him.” Bjerregaard grew up taking care of ponies. However, he dreamed of doing more with horses and began working in a racing stable as an after-school job. The pursuit of his passion led him to Jensen’s stable in 2015. “When I was 11 or 12, I wanted to be working after school. I got in touch with a trainer in Denmark and I started coming to his barn after school,” Bjerregaard said. “I did that for a few years, I was with him for two years full time. “I just went on with it, working for a couple of different trainers. I worked for Lindy Farms for two years over here and then when I went back, I called up Flemming. He was looking for people and I called him and he said, ‘let’s try it.’ I’ve been there for the last four years now.” Over those years, Bjerregaard has learned it’s better to cooperate with Slide So Easy than to fight him. “He’s a gentleman. Sometimes he can act a little spoiled, but I guess that’s me spoiling him. He’s good to be around. He’s a nice horse,” the caretaker said. “There are things you have to do his way and you don’t really want to fight with him about it. "Sometimes when you come back from jogging, he just wants to push you around and he wants to push his head up against you. You just have to let him do it. If you want to fight him, he just gets all mad, so that’s one of his things.” After arriving at Legend Farm, Slide So Easy got one day off in the field before returning to work. Bjerregaard likes the way Slide So Easy is training ahead of his second Yonkers International bid. “The first day we were here, I just turned him out in the paddock. He had been on a plane for many hours and he just wanted to get outside, so the first day he was only in the paddock. The next couple days, I jogged him a few miles. And then he trained Monday (Sept. 30) and he did train (Thursday, Oct. 3) as well. He’s just been jogging all the other days,” Bjerregaard said. “He’s doing intervals on the sand over here at Åke’s farm. I think Åke is going to take him a mile on his track maybe Monday (Oct. 7) just to see what he feels like,” Bjerregaard continued. “He’s been really good. He’s used to the sand from home, but still it’s different. He’s been doing it really in a good way, so I’m happy with him.” Slide So Easy will compete against nine trotters in the $1 million Yonkers International Trot Saturday, Oct. 12, including Cruzado Dela Noche, who beat Slide So Easy and nine others in last year’s edition and returns as the defending champion for Sweden. 2018 Hambletonian winner Atlanta and Guardian Angel AS will each represent the U.S. while Marion Marauder will race for Canada. The other European invaders are Bahia Quesnot (France), Lionel (Norway), Norton Commander (Germany), Uza Josselyn (Switzerland), and Zacon Gio (Italy). “It is really good horses this year. Last year, we drew the 10 hole and it wasn’t really good, but hopefully, we’ll get a better draw this year and maybe we can get a check or something. It is really good horses he’s competing against,” Bjerregaard said. “To win would be absolutely crazy,” he continued. “I don’t know what it would feel like, but of course it would be amazing. For us to just be here and competing against these great horses and hopefully he’s going to get a nice race and get a check or something. That would be really nice, too.” Win or lose, the experience of competing in the Yonkers International Trot isn’t lost on Bjerregaard. “It’s a good experience to be a part of. Everybody is good to you and it’s a big thing for us to come over here and compete in this big race. They’re just doing everything they can to make you feel at home, so it’s a really good experience and it’s a lot of fun.” The $1 million Yonkers International Trot is slated for Saturday, October 12 at Yonkers Raceway. The card will also feature a pair of $250,000 invitationals, the 1 1/4-mile Harry Harvey Trot and 1-mile Dan Rooney Pace. For more information on the event and its participants, click here. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. First post time is 6:50 p.m. For entries to the races and full results, click here. by Brendon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – What would it mean to you to win harness racing's Yonkers International Trot? Conni Lugauer pondered the question in silence for some time Saturday morning (Sept. 21), hours before his trainee Alegra B won the Breeders Crown Mares at Trabrennbahn Mariendorf in Berlin, Germany. Finally, Lugauer conceded. “This is a really good question,” he said. “I’m always thinking about victories, but I didn’t think about victory in the International Trot. The question is too big. I don’t know.” Come Oct. 12, Lugauer may be in a better position to answer the question. The German-born trainer will send Norton Commander to represent his homeland in the $1 million Yonkers International Trot. Although Lugauer hoped to secure an invitation to Yonkers’ premier race for trotters for months, his aspirations seemed crushed as the initial list of 10 probables didn’t include Norton Commander. However, after the defection of Sobel Conway Sept. 18, Norton Commander’s invitation arrived. “It was my opinion to put him in the race because he’s now arrived at the top. He’s been racing this year against good competition and he almost beat them quite often. It was my plan to get him into this race, actually,” Lugauer said. “We are proud of course and happy because we are a stable who wants to race in the big races. It’s impressive to race in America. It’s the next step in my vision. We are really proud about it. “First of all, the history. It’s one of the most famous international races in the world that we have. If you look at the winners of this race, they are mostly really famous racehorses. It’s the biggest point, I think,” Lugauer said. “It’s always nice for the European horses to race in America. And the last point is the prize money.” A native of Regensburg, Bavaria, Germany, Lugauer grew up in a harness racing family. His father, Johann, was a successful trainer and Lugauer became fascinated by the horses at a young age. At age 16, Lugauer drove his first winner and two years later in 1992, he became a professional trainer. He moved his stable to Sweden in 2004 and has been there since. Lugauer’s stable is now about 90 horses strong and in the midst of its best year to date. Lugauer has trained winners of 108 races from 397 races so far this season, good for 12.9 million Swedish Krona. In addition to Norton Commander and Alegra B, his stars include Ferrari Sisu, who finished second in the Group 1 Swedish Travderby. “This year is our best year in my career. We have some quite good horses,” Lugauer said. “I feel extremely confident and it’s a lot of fun at the moment.” Owned by Ulrich Mommert, Norton Commander came to Lugauer as an unraced 2-year-old. The tall chestnut sported white socks that reached his knees and a blaze that began just below his forelock and widened down his face to fully engulf his nose. “First of all, he’s a really beautiful horse,” Lugauer said. “He sticks out in the field because of the nice color and he’s a big one. He has the white socks and he has the really long legs. I felt quite early this horse had the future before him.” Norton Commander qualified at Lugauer’s Jägersro base Sept. 1, 2017 and won eight of his first twelve races from Sept. 11, 2017 through Sept. 19, 2018. After Norton Commander won a class 1 trial for 3-year-olds worth 125,000kr Dec. 26, Lugauer knew big things were ahead. Norton Commander is 3-for-7 in 2019. His first win this year came in a class 1 trial at Åby on the Olympiatravet undercard. Norton Commander next raced at Solvalla Elitloppet weekend, taking the class 1 final over 2,140 meters on the Saturday card. Norton Commander ran his win streak to three when taking a 45,000€ trot at Vincennes in a 1:10.9 kilometer rating for the 2,100 meters. Although Norton Commander enters the Yonkers International Trot off three straight losses, the 5-year-old hasn’t missed by much. Lugauer tried the Gift Kronos son in Group 1 company for the first time in the Jubileumspokalen at Solvalla Aug. 14. Norton Commander started from the inside post and Lugauer kept the trotter three back along the pylons throughout the 2,140-meter race while favorite Who’s Who tracked cover to his outside. Up the backstretch the final time, rival Vincero' Gar pulled the pocket and Norton Commander followed the move, shifting to the outside. The cover took Norton Commander to the top of the stretch, where he dived back inside for a clear path. However, he couldn’t outkick Who’s Who and Milliondollarrhyme, who each stormed down the center of the track to take the top two spots, respectively. Norton Commander finished third a half-length behind Who’s Who. “He was racing against the best 5-year-old horses in Europe in the Jubileumspokalen,” Lugauer said. “He was third and he was a little unlucky because I (kept him inside) for quite a long time in the race and didn’t come out early enough. He won at Vincennes in a time of 10.9 over 2,100 meters quite easily, so he has now arrived at the top.” Lugauer thinks racing at Yonkers will suit Norton Commander. While many trotters are faster without shoes, the trainer feels Norton Commander is just as fast with them, which plays to his favor on the Hilltop oval. In addition, Lugauer thinks the race flow will work to Norton Commander’s advantage. “He doesn’t have to go without shoes and I think at Yonkers, it’s better you go with shoes, so that’s a little plus for him. We are really looking forward to it, because I don’t think those horses will be running away from him,” he said. “I think also the racing system in America, how they drive the races, is also a plus for my horse because he likes a strong tempo and he’s also really strong in the end, so if he gets a good post, I’m almost sure he’ll do a good race and get some money,” Lugauer continued. Although confident in his training and in his horse, Lugauer respects the competition Norton Commander will face in the 1 1/4-mile Yonkers International Trot. His nine rivals will include defending champion Cruzado Dela Noche (Sweden) and 2018 Hambletonian winner Atlanta (U.S.). Guardian Angel AS will also represent the U.S. and Marion Marauder will race for Canada. The other European invaders are Bahia Quesnot (France), Lionel (Norway), Zacon Gio (Italy), Slide So Easy (Denmark), and Uza Josselyn. “Atlanta and those horses, they are really famous and really fast,” Lugauer said. “I’m really interested in how my horse handles those horses. But the European horses are also quite fast and maybe a little stronger for the distance.” Like most of the European connections, Lugauer’s main concern is the mandatory quarantine faced by the foreign horses. The European contingent for the International will be stabled at Yonkers for the week leading up to the International Oct. 12 and will spend most of the time in their stalls, with exceptions made for training and grazing in the track’s infield. “The quarantine, in my opinion, is the biggest challenge,” Lugauer said. “I don’t know how he’ll handle that because he’s normally out in the field a lot. That won’t be happening for 10 days before the race, so I don’t know how he’ll handle that, but normally, he’s quite uncomplicated, so I trust in him. I think he’ll manage it.” Although Lugauer won’t be in New York to see Norton Commander race in the Yonkers International firsthand, the trotter will be in good hands. Lugauer’s 25-year-old son, Marc Elias, will drive in the International as Lugauer must take the lines behind trainee Campo Bahia in the Group 1 Grand Prix de l'UET at Helsinki the same day. Elias has driven Norton Commander in four of the trotter’s 12 wins. Lugauer is optimistic. “It’s a dream come true because this is one point in my career that I want to do, race in America. This is extremely big for us, but now we will see what happens.” The $1 million Yonkers International Trot is slated for Saturday, October 12 at Yonkers Raceway. The card will also feature a pair of $250,000 invitationals, the 1 1/4-mile Harry Harvey Trot and 1-mile Dan Rooney Pace. For more information on the event and its participants, click here. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. First post time is 6:50 p.m. by Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. - Junior Guelpa has traveled New York City in the past, but his next trip to the Big Apple will be nothing like his previous visits. The French trainer and driver will bring trotting mare Bahia Quesnot across the Atlantic to compete in the Yonkers International Trot. The $1 million stakes, slated for Saturday, Oct. 12, will be Guelpa’s first time competing in the United States. “I want to see the Statue of Liberty again,” Guelpa said with a laugh last Saturday (Sept. 7) at Hippodrome de Vincennes. “No, seriously, it's a privilege to be able to participate in such a big race in the United States. “I have never had a chance to drive there and I do not know Yonkers, but I went to the United States and to New York City on holidays, to take some rest,” Guelpa continued. “There, it will not be the same. But I can't wait.” Guelpa’s excitement about the trip ahead was bolstered by Bahia Quesnot’s second-place finish in the Group 2 European Trotting Masters Series Final. Guelpa sent the 8-year-old straight to the lead at the start of the 2,700-meter stakes, beating Bold Eagle and Queer Fish to the top as the field exited the chute and joined the big track at the Paris racecourse. Racing into the stretch the first time, Bold Eagle and Björn Goop glided up on the outside and took the lead, crossing over to the pylons in front of Bahia Quesnot. However, Mindyourvalue W.F. and Bel Avis ranged up on the outside and peeled away in a speed duel. Soon, Bahia Quesnot found herself four back along the pylons and pinned in. Racing up the backstretch, Bahia Quesnot kept her nose pressed to Goop’s helmet and raced just to Propulsion’s inside. When the Swedish star tipped three-wide nearing the final turn, Guelpa yanked on the right line and slid out, looking to keep Bold Eagle jailed. However, as Queer Fish back peddled on the rim, Guelpa dove back to the pylons. With Queer Fish fading, Bold Eagle slid out and Bahia Quesnot followed the champion’s move. Guelpa angled Bahia Quesnot four-wide into the lane outside of Propulsion and for the first time in the race, the driver became animated. He leaned forward in the bike, prodding and swiping at his mare with the whip in his right hand and hitting the sulky shaft. While rival Cleangame made a break in the final 200 meters, Propulsion inherited the lead, but Bahia Quesnot kept coming as her driver kept asking. Although Propulsion’s nose hit the finish first, Bahia Quesnot was just a head behind. She trotted out past the post well ahead of the field. “Fantastic,” Guelpa exclaimed after the race. “Once again, she was great. She was the fastest horse in the race over three sections so it's fantastic. She recovered so easily too. I turned around after the post, I went back to the clubhouse and by the time she headed to the stables, she was breathing normally. She’s amazing.” By multiple Group 1 winner Scipion du Goutier out of the Install mare Queen Ines, Bahia Quesnot was bred by Alain Léon Lefebvre and is owned by Tahar Ait-Hamouda. Bahia Quesnot began her career in Cédric Herserant’s stable, winning six races including the Group 3 Grand National du Trot in 2016. However, after a 35-race losing streak, the mare found her way to Guelpa. “I had befriended her owner during a trip to Norway, where we each had a horse to run. We met there and got along pretty well,” Guelpa said. “A few years later, the mare needed a change of scenery. That's when she was sent to me.” Bahia Quesnot made her first start for Guelpa in the Group 3 Grand Prix de Noel at Cagnes-sur-Mer December 23, 2018. She won at first asking with her new conditioner in the sulky. “I knew she was already very good because she had achieved great performances. At work, she quickly became very good too,” Guelpa said. “She won straight out at Cagnes-sur-Mer. She’s not that good in the winter, but I was lucky that she’s still improving. “She has got her ways; she is a lady you know,” Guelpa said. “But she is kind and endearing. The people who care for her are in love with her. My sister Paola and Christophe Ceccareli take care of her on a daily basis.” Although Bahia Quesnot finished ninth second time out for Guelpa in the Prix Ourasi at Cagnes-sur-Mer January 3, Guelpa entered the mare back in the Group 2 Grand Prix de Belgique at Vincennes 10 days later. She finished second in the “B” race, punching her ticket to the Grand Prix d’Amérique in the process. Bahia Quesnot finished 10th in France’s biggest trotting race and after thirds in Group 1 company in the Grand Criterium de Vitesse Nice-Matin and Olympiatravet and a win in a Gold Division leg this spring, took a shot in the Elitloppet. Although she finished sixth in her Elitloppet elimination and didn’t advance to the final, Guelpa, who has 239 training victories since launching his career in 2012, was thankful to compete on such big stages. “It is fantastic to already have a horse of her class in your stable for a little trainer like me,” he said. “It's a privilege. She has allowed me to take part in the most beautiful races.” Since the Elitloppet, Bahia Quesnot has been the runner up in five grouped stakes: the Oslo Grand Prix, the Grand Prix de la Ville de Cagnes-sur-Mer, the Prix Maharajah, the Grand Prix du Département des Alpes-Maritimes, and the European Trotting Masters Final. Although her earnings swelled to 878,346€ from 84 starts, making her the richest horse Guelpa has trained, the defeats can be disappointing. “It's frustrating, that's for sure. But you know, the most important thing is that she continues to progress and repeat her best form,” Guelpa said. “I would prefer to be second six times rather than win once and not see her again. Sometimes, she didn’t miss by much, like the last time in Vincennes.” Guelpa will bring Bahia Quesnot to New York to represent France in the World Cup of trotting, the 10-furlong Yonkers International Trot. After she endured long land-based travel across Europe, Guelpa is confident about the trans-Atlantic flight. He is also confident about Bahia Quesnot adapting to the half-mile track at Yonkers based on her performance on the five-eighths ovals in Sweden. “The trip does not worry me because it will take less time to go to the United States than to go to Sweden. To race in Scandinavia, she had to stand 26 hours in a truck,” Guelpa said. “(The half-mile track) will not be a problem because she has shown that she is able to cope in Sweden. In addition, (the race) will be over a mile-and-a-quarter, so it will be perfect for her.” Once extended an official invitation by the race office, Bahia Quesnot will join defending Yonkers International Trot winner and Swedish representative Cruzado Dela Noche and Hambletonian winner Atlanta, who will race for the United States, as confirmed starters for the storied stakes. The remaining invitees will be announced over the coming weeks. Both Atlanta and Bahia Quesnot will vie to become the ninth mare to win the International. Bahia Quesnot looks to join 13 previous French winners of the International. “It's a great opportunity, a challenge and a reward,” Guelpa said. “There are many ways to look at things, but one thing is certain: it's fantastic, especially since I just settled with my horses on the training center of Grosbois to try to improve my career again and this race could also help me to reach new heights.” The $1 million Yonkers International Trot is slated for Saturday, October 12 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. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. 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. – San Domino’s United States harness racing debut went according to plan for trainer Andrew Harris. The Australian import started in a $17,500 overnight at Pocono Downs Aug. 17 and with George Napolitano Jr. in the sulky, tracked from fourth until the field reached the backstretch the final time. Napolitano picked up cover nearing the final turn and San Domino hit his best stride. With his driver horizontal in the bike and with a good hold of the lines, San Domino advanced into a 1:21.4 three-quarter split set by Rebellious. Turning into the stretch, Napolitano kicked out the plugs, angled three-wide, and went to a right-handed whip. San Domino pinned his ears back, extended, and glided past the pacesetter to score by a half-length in 1:49.1. “He was pretty impressive,” Harris said. “He got a perfect drive, George ‘Nap’ did an awesome job, got him a second-over trip. You know because it’s Pocono that you’re going to go fast. You can only put so much stock into a fast mile at Pocono on a nice, sunny day, but it was a good mile to see what he had, and he exploded home. “When he tipped him, he really did have a nice turn of foot, so he did everything that he was supposed to do and he looked great doing it and he came out of the race great,” Harris continued. “There wasn’t anything more to dwell on, it was just, OK, now where’s the limit, where’s the bottom on this horse and where are we going to find that?” By Somebeachsomewhere out of the Maple Lanes Strike mare Reggae Miss, San Domino went 14-for-51 in Australia from February 2016 to May 2019. Although he failed to make an impression in nine tries in grouped stakes company, San Domino earned $140,187 Australian and took a mark of 1:52.2 at Melton April 12, 2019. San Domino attracted the attention of Joe Pennacchio and Steve Oldford, who bought the 6-year-old gelding, imported him to the United States, and sent him to Jenn Bongiorno. After one qualifier for that stable July 30, the owners transferred San Domino to Harris and the new conditioner started dreaming. “It was the question of whether or not he was as good as None Bettor, or better,” Harris said. “It was that kind of mentality with him. I don’t know that they can compare them, but he is definitely a very nice horse, that’s for sure.” When he arrived in the barn, San Domino proved to have a big personality. “He goes out in the field with the Kiwi horses, loves his field time. He’s got a little quirk to him, he’s got a little bit of sass to him, but nothing serious,” Harris said. “In the barn, he’s great. His caretaker, Jamie, takes great care of him and loves him and he clearly loves her. He plays around a lot, but he lets you know he’s got a little attitude. He’s not all just friendly. If you get too close, he’ll let you pet him for about five seconds then all the sudden, he lets you know that’s enough.” On the track, San Domino takes his time, but Harris obliges the talented pacer’s laid-back training style. “On the track, it takes an extra 10 minutes to jog him than any other horse in the barn. Very lazy horse, just does everything at his own pace,” Harris said. “We let him get away with that, it keeps him happy. Training, he picks up the bit a little bit. He’s still not super aggressive, but he lets you know he’s got a little bit of a hold of you.” After his sparkling debut at Pocono, Harris brought San Domino to a $30,000 Yonkers overnight August 24. Starting from post three, Jason Bartlett put the gelding on the lead. Although he went gate-to-wire, he won by a neck in 1:52.2 as Rodeo Rock appeared to give San Domino all he could handle in the stretch. However, Harris thinks there is more in the tank. “He was actually a little bit sick and I don’t think his game is front-end. He’s just not used to being on the front-end. Most of his races down under were coming from off the pace,” Harris said. “I had an open bridle on him and Jason said his ears were going back and forth because he was looking at everything. I think it would have been more impressive last week if he wasn’t on the front because he would have been concentrating.” Harris added a hood with eye cups and San Domino responded well to them in training. He will start with the change of equipment in Saturday night’s $46,000 Open Handicap Pace. “It will be different this week because we’re adding a hood with eye cups to him so he can focus a little bit more on what’s in front of him and not what’s beside him,” Harris said. “Jason said even finishing, he wasn’t done at all, he was just looking at everything and he didn’t know what he was doing. It was almost like he was green up front. When you’ve got him on a helmet, he’s got a nice hold at the end and he lets you know he’s ready to explode whenever you want it. On the front was a totally different animal, and I wasn’t expecting that.” San Domino will start from post five in his first local Open try, just outside of Theartofconfusion, who established a new standard at Yonkers last week. The fellow Australian-bred pacer went to the front in race 11 on the Yonkers Trot and Messenger undercard, a $30,000 overnight. With Austin Siegelman in the bike for trainer Gilbert Garcia-Herrera, Theartofconfusion streaked through fractions of :26.2, :54.2, and 1:21.3 before kicking away in the stretch to win by 10 lengths in 1:49.3, logging the first sub-1:50 mile in the history of the Hilltop oval. “I think the way the Yonkers track is, it was going to break 1:50 sooner or later. The track is so good right now, I knew that kind of speed would be coming, didn’t know when, but it sure came the other night,” Harris said. “I’m surprised it came in a late race, not in the early races. That horse is a good horse, Gilbert does a fantastic job his with horses. Nothing surprises me with speed at Yonkers. When you shake a loose lead and you can keep carrying your speed. The horse obviously finished up strong. Those type of horses love to do that when they can shake loose.” The six-pack of pacers in the Saturday co-feature also include last week’s Preferred Pace winner Mickey Gee, who will start from the outside for Lance Hudson, last week’s Open runner up I’m Some Graduate, who will start from an assigned post two for George Brennan and Ron Burke, and The Real One, winner of the Open in two of his last five tries. Benhope Rulz completes the lineup. “I hope that we’re not on the front,” Harris said of San Domino. “I don’t ever tell Jason how to drive, but I can’t see Austin taking back. I have to think off that mile, that Austin will be going forward. I think we’ll be off the pace, but who knows once the gate folds. “I definitely think if we manage him properly, he’ll be a Levy horse next year,” Harris said. “He’s going to be a fun horse. We just have to keep him healthy, happy, and sound and he’ll do the rest.” Saturday night’s card also features the weekly $46,000 Open Handicap Trot and the $37,000 4-Year-Old Open Handicap Pace. By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Quincy Blue Chip is a rare type to find for sale. Blue Chip Farms bred the Chapter Seven daughter out of the Cantab Hall mare Sirenuse and the filly accomplished big things for her breeder and owner. At 2, Quincy Blue Chip won four legs of the New York Sire Stakes for trotting fillies and placed in another three before finishing second to Winndevie in the $225,000 Final at Yonkers last September. At 3, Quincy Blue Chip returned to sweep the elimination and $209,500 final of the Empire Breeders’ Classic for sophomore trotting fillies at Vernon Downs May 17 and 27, respectively. She then rattled off another two wins and two seconds in New York bred stakes in the barn of Gareth Dowse, including a 1:53.2 lifetime best score at Tioga July 14. One day later, Quincy Blue Chip sold to Rich Banca in an online auction for $335,000. “She’s a good horse. You don’t see horses like her where you’re able to buy them very often, if ever,” Banca said. “I bought her on OnGait. I saw her race, but I didn’t see her in person before. It’s very hard to find good horses and she’s a good horse. She came up for sale and I bought her.” When Quincy Blue Chip arrived at Banca’s stable and the trainer finally laid eyes on her, he was impressed. “I loved her. She’s beautiful. She’s just a perfectly built horse,” Banca said. “She’s really good-looking. She looked really healthy; she was well taken care of. I couldn’t ask for more.” Quincy Blue Chip debuted for Banca and co-owners Barbara and Jim Boese in a $118,800 leg of NYSS at Monticello July 29. Starting from post two, the filly led at every call and posted a 1 3/4-length victory in 1:56.2. Quincy Blue Chip then returned to Vernon Downs Aug. 8 for another NYSS leg. Starting from post seven, driver Jim Morrill, Jr. had the whip on the filly’s tail leaving the gate in a bid to secure the early lead. However, Sweet Chapter and Sensibility left to Quincy Blue Chip’s inside and Woodside Charm blasted to her outside. Barreling three wide into the first turn, Quincy Blue Chip made a rare break in stride before a :26.2 opening quarter. Despite the miscue, which left her eighth 9 1/4 lengths behind, Quincy Blue Chip recovered to finish fourth. “Jimmy said they were just flying into that turn and it’s just something that happened. I don’t think there was any real reason for it, they were just going that fast. It just happened; she made a mistake,” Banca said. “I don’t think that was her fault, I just think she got pushed a little hard into the turn,” Banca continued. “I think she was really good even after she made a break. She came back to finish fourth. If that didn’t happen, I don’t think they could have beat her.” Quincy Blue Chip’s next effort gives credence to Banca’s high opinion of the filly. She went to Batavia Aug. 23 and streaked to a 2-length win over Winndevie in a track-record 1:55.4 mile. Quincy Blue Chip’s 11th win in 20 starts boosted her earnings to $525,387. “She was super. Jimmy said she was just unbelievable. She was great,” Banca said. Off her latest win, Banca feels Quincy Blue Chip has earned a chance to compete in open company stakes. She will do so for the first time at Yonkers Raceway Saturday night (Aug. 31) when she starts in the $124,334 Hudson Trot. Quincy Blue Chip drew post five in the first of four stakes on the card and will again have Morrill in the sulky.  “I just think she’s good enough. I think she’s good enough for it. It’s close to home and I wouldn’t miss it,” Banca said. “There’s good horses in there. It’s not going to be easy, but I think if she gets a good trip and nothing unfortunate happens, I think she’ll be fine.” Quincy Blue Chip is the 3-2 morning line favorite, but will have six challengers. Joe Holloway’s Starita will make her first start on a half-mile track. She won in the Reynolds at the Meadowlands July 6 and enters off a third in the $135,000 Zweig Memorial at Vernon Aug. 17. Jezzy’s Legacy posted a 4-length win in the Stallion Series at the Meadows Aug. 19 and drew the inside post in the Hudson Trot. Magical Beliefs won in the Arden Downs Stakes at the Meadows July 27 and enters the Hudson Trot off a third in Pennsylvania Sire Stakes Aug. 19. Sexy Wow, Golden Tricks, and Personal Paradise complete the lineup. For Banca, a win with Quincy Blue Chip on the Grand Circuit at Yonkers would be especially meaningful. Leading trainer at Yonkers in 2017 and third in the current standings with 80 wins in 544 starts, the Hilltop is Banca’s home track. Banca was also introduced to the Boeses through an SOA of NY program. “It would be unbelievable for me, especially since it’s at Yonkers where I race. The owners are great people and I would love to win the race for them,” Banca said. “The first horse I got for them was one of those French trotters (Adagio de la Tour). They called me up about getting one of those and it’s really just worked out. They own Weslynn Dancer and a lot of nice horses. They’re great owners and friends and it’s worked out great for us.” Saturday night’s card also features the $500,000 Messenger Stakes Final, the $500,000 Yonkers Trot, and the $122,224 Lady Maud. The $46,000 Open Handicap Pace supports the stakes-laden 12-race card. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. First post time is 6:50 p.m.  By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Trillions Hanover will have a big harness racing crowd rooting for her in Saturday night’s Lady Maud at Yonkers, and not only because she is the 7-5 morning line favorite in the $122,224 stakes. Trillions Hanover is owned by VIP Internet Stable and a number of partners who are new to the game own her through the fractional ownership group. “We’ve got several newer partners on her,” said Ed O’Connor, VIP Stable’s founder and Managing Partner. “We ended up getting several folks who are not our normal big hitters and they have been ecstatic with her. She’s been a fun horse all the way around and it’s not often you get a horse that’s first or second six-out-of-seven times as a 2-year-old, races huge as a 3-year-old, puts in a good mile just about every single time. She’s been really, really popular with our partnership group.” In addition to VIP Stable’s fractional owners, principal partners Falcon Racing and Paul Lang co-own the filly. A $20,000 yearling at the 2017 Harrisburg sale for trainer Tom Fanning, Trillions Hanover went 4-for-7 at 2, winning the $40,000 Pennsylvania Stallion Series Final at Harrah’s Philadelphia last September. This year at 3, Trillions Hanover has competed in a host of Grand Circuit events, including the Fan Hanover, Lynch, Mistletoe Shalee, and the Shady Daisy. She’s earned $130,968. “It is the absolute best advertising we can possibly have. Seeing a fractional ownership group is involved in these big races really gives credibility to what we’re doing,” O’Connor said. “It shows that we’re able to pick out good horses and put partners in a spot where they can have a lot of fun.  “And we really appreciate when it happens with a horse we bought as a yearling. There’s been several horses who we’ve done really well with, but they’ve been high-dollar purchases, we kind of already knew they were really good,” O’Connor continued. “In situations like that, you’re kind of in a no-win situation; if you do well, you were supposed to do well, if you do bad, you look really bad. This is the opposite. Yearlings, you just never know and when they turn out to do pretty good, it’s just really exciting.” Although Trillions Hanover’s two victories this season came in overnights at the Meadowlands, the Somebeachsomewhere daughter has been competitive on the Grand Circuit. She made the Fan Hanover Final with a third in her elimination at Mohawk June 8 and finished second in the Lynch Consolation at Pocono June 29. However, her biggest performance came on the Hambletonian Day undercard. Off a lifetime best 1:50 win at the Meadowlands July 26, Trillions Hanover started as a 15-1 shot in the Shady Daisy Aug. 3. Starting from the inside, she saved ground as the pace developed and stormed home with a :25.1 final quarter to finish second by a neck to Tall Drink Hanover in a 1:48.0 mile.  “That was super. All year, we knew she was really good, still maturing, has a ton of speed, and seems to have a really good late kick,” O’Connor said. “For whatever reason, we just had never been able to get a really good trip with her. When she was coming off cover, the pace had been slow. One or two times she had been on the front, she went really fast fractions, so we never really had a shot where things were going her way until Hambletonian Day. “She was able to sit in, let a lot of the horses mix it up, up front and she came flying at the end,” O’Connor continued. “I thought she was going to get home and in that kind of time, a 48-mile is huge. Coming home in :25.1, I don’t recall having a horse that’s done that before. It was really exciting, and we were really thrilled with what she did. It’s a good testament to how good she is and how good of a job Tom Fanning has done with her so far.” Trillions Hanover comes into the Lady Maud off two defeats in Pennsylvania Sire Stakes behind star filly Warrawee Ubeaut. Although Trillions Hanover has never raced on a half-mile track, O’Connor said it wasn’t by design and thinks she will handle it well. “I think it’s a coincidence. She’s not a huge horse, so I think she’ll fit in there fine. She’s Pennsylvania sired and she raced a light season last year, so there was really no reason to head over to Yonkers and she’s actually pretty lightly raced this year,” O’Connor said. “This is our first opportunity to head over there and we’re looking at her possibly being a good horse for Yonkers if we end up keeping her next year. That’s just a good spot to make money and if she’s as good on a half-mile track as we think she’s going to be, we think that’s really going to be a good spot for her.” George Brennan will drive Trillions Hanover for the first time in the Lady Maud and the pair will start from post four. Their five rivals include JK American Beauty, who is 3-1 from post one and enters with two wins and another four placings in New York Sire Stakes company this year.  Bestseller Hanover won the Lismore Pace earlier this year for Jason Bartlett and Scott Blacker. She was ninth in the Shady Daisy and won a $17,000 overnight at Pocono last out and is 4-1 from post five. Blue Ivy will start from post two and ships in from Kentucky after off the board finishes in Sire Stakes from tough post positions. Annie Hill and Abuelita Hanover complete the lineup. “It’s kind of an unusual situation. We’ve raced her three times in Sire Stakes and we’ve gotten beat by the best 3-year-old filly in the country and then we got to a more prestigious race like the Lady Maud and we’re pretty significantly down in class,” O’Connor said. “Not that there’s any bad horses in here at all, but there’s no Warrawee Ubeaut in here.  “So, we think it’s a tough race, she’s got to race well, but she’s been racing against the very best 3-year-old fillies in the country in just about every start this year. If she can work herself out a trip, we hope we can come away with a big check at the end,” O’Connor continued. O’Connor hopes to add another Yonkers stakes victory to VIP Stable’s resume. The group co-owned two-time George Morton Levy Series winner Keystone Velocity. “We love racing at Yonkers. We probably race at Yonkers as much as any place,” O’Connor said. “That’s been one of the tracks we’ve looked at as the place we want to go, even back when they were just starting to get the slots there. It’s a prestigious track, this is a prestigious race, and we’re really excited to be in there.” Saturday night’s card also features the $500,000 Messenger Stakes Final, the $500,000 Yonkers Trot, and the $124,334 Hudson Filly Trot. The $46,000 Open Handicap Pace supports the stakes-laden 12-race card. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. 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. – Wisdom Tree’s first three starts at Yonkers all yielded the same results. The then 2-year-old filly started from outside posts and make breaks late in her miles, failing to earn a check in New York Sire Stakes company, including the $225,000 final October 14, 2017. Since that race, the Betterthancheddar daughter is perfect at the Hilltop in four tries and made amends for her freshman defeat with a 1 1/2-length score in the NYSS final for 3-year-old pacing fillies last fall. Wisdom Tree will look to run her Yonkers streak to five when she starts in the $46,000 Filly and Mare Open Handicap Friday night. It will be the Jeff Cullipher-trainee’s first start in the Yonkers distaff feature. “I think she gets over (Yonkers) very well,” Cullipher said. “She’s just really easy. She can leave, she’s very versatile, she can do anything. She’s great-gaited, that helps. She’s just a medium to small horse, she does everything right for a half-mile track.” Wisdom Tree went 11-for-18 last year and earned $436,111 for Cullipher and co-owner Tom Pollack. The pair bought Wisdom Tree out of the 2016 Lexington Selected Yearling Sale for $28,000. Out of the Artsplace mare Wisdom, Wisdom Tree caught Pollack’s eye as a half-sibling to Rich Wisdom. “Me and Tom Pollack, we go (to the sale) with a budget and she was within that. Tom actually had a brother to her and that’s how we originally noticed her,” Cullipher said. “We always try to get a couple of New York breds, we like the New York Sire Stakes. That wasn’t our forte, but we knew eventually we would branch out that way.” Cullipher, leading trainer at Hoosier Park in 2017 and 2018 and currently topping the standings, has branched out east as intended. He has about 20 horses at White Birch Farm in New Jersey and Wisdom Tree now races out of his stable when she treks east, having previously gone to Ed Hart. “Before, we would only send two, three out and we always sent them to Ed and everything always worked out good. Now, I’m enlarging my stable of my own,” Cullipher said. After Wisdom Tree’s NYSS final win last September, Cullipher took her to the Red Mile where she finished second a division of the Tattersalls in 1:48.2 October 6. She raced three more times through October 26, but only mustered two thirds and a fifth. Cullipher decided to give the filly a break. “We got pretty tough on her. We took her to Lexington and she went a huge mile, paced 48-and-2. That took a lot out of her,” Cullipher said. “We raced her a couple more times and she just wasn’t herself. She’s been good to us, so we just gave her extended time off and tried to shoot for this year.” Wisdom Tree returned with victories a pair of qualifiers at Hoosier Park in early May. Although she’s now 4, Cullipher sees much the same filly he did working with her at 2.  “She’s actually still the same today as she was training her down as a baby,” Cullipher said. “She never did anything flashy, but always did everything right. That’s still her today.” Wisdom Tree started 2019 posting a :25.3 final quarter to finish second in a distaff open at Hoosier Park May 22. She won her next start in 1:50.4 in the same class a week later, but made a break next out June 8. “She laid over those horses. The night she made a break, she came from last and was blowing right by them, but she did it coming off the turn and I think she was just going so fast she took a little dive in and overpaced herself,” Cullipher said. Wisdom Tree returned to her winning ways in her next start June 22, taking another Hoosier distaff feature in 1:50.4. After a local win in a $30,000 overnight July 5, Cullipher took Wisdom Tree to the Grand Circuit.  Wisdom Tree finished ninth with a tough trip in the Golden Girls July 13, fifth in the Lady Liberty while individually timed in 1:48.0 on Hambletonian Day, and fourth in the Artiscape in her last outing August 18. Year to date, she’s 3-for-9 with $62,971 earned. “Obviously, she’s made good money, but she’s just a tick below what she needs to be to really compete with Shartin and Caviart Ally. We’ll continue to give her a chance. She’s not getting embarrassed,” Cullipher said. “The money’s not on her card like we would like for it to be. That’s why when we can, we’re going to hit spots like Yonkers and hopefully we can do OK going for good enough money there to get some money on her card." In her return to Yonkers, Wisdom Tree will start from post two and face six rivals. Unlike in her 2- and 3-year-old seasons when she had 13 different drivers, Cullipher has tried to keep a consistent presence in the bike this year. Sam Widger drove in each Midwest start while Dexter Dunn got the call in her last three starts on the East Coast. Dunn will drive again Friday night. “I liked when Dexter called and said he would come and drive. It made me feel a lot better that he had the confidence in her,” Cullipher said. “That’s made things a lot easier this year. She’s been so easy, and easy to drive, so everybody seems to get along with her.” Apple Bottom Jeans is also dropping out of stakes company for trainer Dylan Davis. She finished second in the Rainbow Blue June 28, third in the Golden Girls, second in the Barton at Plainridge July 28, and paced 1:47.4 when fourth in the Lady Liberty. She is 5-for-18 this year with $272,015 earned and will start from post six with Corey Callahan in the sulky.  Alexa’s Power won this Open in her last start two weeks ago and drew immediately outside of Wisdom Tree for Jim Marohn, Jr. and Jim Campbell. Last week’s winner Betterb Chevron landed post four after starting from the seven last out. Jordan Stratton has the return call for Lance Hudson. Miss You was second to Betterb Chevron last week, but drew post seven this time. Feelin Red Hot was third behind Alexa’s Power and Dibaba in her last outing and will start from post five for George Brennan and Ron Burke. Nine-year-old mare Mach It A Par will start from an assigned post one. “I’m going to leave it in Dexter’s hands, but I think it’s going to work out very well. She’s versatile enough that she can do whatever she needs to do and I have the confidence in Dexter to have her in the right spot,” Cullipher said. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. First post time is 6:50 p.m.  By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Rodeo Rock will make his first start since June 30 when he races in the $46,000 Open Handicap Pace at Yonkers Raceway Saturday night. The 6-year-old was in the midst of his best season to date for trainer Robert Cleary before suffering from minor setbacks in the beginning of the summer. Rodeo Rock’s big 2019 season began at the end of his 2018 campaign. Although the Rock N Roll Heaven son had six wins on the season by last November, his victories had come in mid-level conditions and he didn’t make an impression with two fourth-place finishes in legs of the Levy Series last spring.  Rodeo Rock’s breakthrough came in a $29,000 overnight at Yonkers November 17. Rodeo Rock utilized a :27.2 final quarter to come from off the pace and score by 1 1/4 lengths in 1:53. Two weeks later, he returned to claim his first victory in the $44,000 Open Handicap Pace by three-quarters of a length in 1:52.4. “He was super sharp,” Cleary recalled. “He won a non-winners of 30 event at Yonkers last November. Brian Sears drove him, and he was actually fifth at the top of the stretch and he won going away and Brian never touched him with the whip. You don’t normally do that in non-winners of 30 at Yonkers. In his next start, he won the Open at Yonkers. It wasn’t just the start of this year, he finished off the end of last year very sharp.” After some time off over the winter, Cleary brought Rodeo Rock back in a Meadowlands qualifier this February, which he won in 1:53.1. The gelding proved he was still sharp in winning his first pari-mutuel start of the year March 2. “He got a break at Christmas and came back and qualified late February,” Cleary said. “He was super sharp, the sharpest he’d ever been. He won his first start at the Meadowlands, took a life mark of 49-and-4, swooped the field from last to first.” Rodeo Rock then came to the Levy Series at Yonkers. He captured divisions of the first two legs of the series March 16 and 23 before finishing third and second in subsequent legs March 30 and April 13, respectively.  Rodeo Rock drew post six in the $664,000 Levy Final April 20 and despite racing seventh 10 lengths off the pace at the quarter with Andrew McCarthy in the sulky, rallied to finish second 4 3/4 lengths behind Western Fame. Rodeo Rock earned $166,000 for his runner up placing, more than the $136,350 he banked in 28 starts last year. “It was a great feeling. I thought the horse deserved to be second because I thought he was the second-best horse in the series,” Cleary said. “No doubt about it, Western Fame was the best horse in the series. I would have loved to have sat on Western Fame’s back in the final and seen if we could’ve had a shot at him from the two hole instead of sitting seventh at the half.  “My horse was racing good and he deserved to be second there,” Cleary continued. “It was very exciting. It was great to race for that kind of money and it was great to pick up a purse like we did. It’s a great series when you have a sharp horse.” Cleary has trained Rodeo Rock since 2017 when the pacer still fit the non-winners of six condition at Yonkers. He praised driver Eric Goodell for helping develop Rodeo Rock.  “I have to give a lot of credit to Eric Goodell,” Cleary said. “He drove him a lot at 4, he raced him in the 4-year-old Open at Yonkers. He did a good job with him. He raced him the way he was supposed to race him. When he was in the right spot, he got him on the front or first-up. And when he was meant to ride the fence, he rode the fence. I think he did a good job in bringing the horse along. “He was an immature big horse that had some soundness issues at 2 and 3,” Cleary continued. “When he developed into a 4-year-old, he just became a bigger, sounder, stronger horse.” After the Levy Series, Rodeo Rock went to Pennsylvania to compete in the Great Northeast Open Pacing Series. He won a leg at in a lifetime best 1:49.0 at Pocono May 18 and followed it with a second in the Commodore Barry Invitational at Harrah’s Philadelphia May 26. However, when Cleary shipped Rodeo Rock to Northfield Park for the Battle of Lake Erie June 8, the horse finished up the track beaten 29 lengths. “He’s actually a really calm, relaxed horse, but he just can’t handle shipping,” Cleary said. “He shipped out there, I thought he was OK. He made no noise in the trailer, drank a little bit on the way out. But when he came off the trailer out there, he was very, very uncomfortable. We did what we could to make him as comfortable as possible. The way he warmed up, I actually thought he was going to be OK, but in the stretch of the race, he didn’t want any part of it. I had a veterinarian check him out after the race and he actually had a touch of a gas colic.” Cleary gave Rodeo Rock a few weeks off to recover, but after a fifth and seventh in his next two starts at the end of June, Cleary stopped again. “He raced OK one start at Pocono after the break. I raced him once more at Chester and he was horrible. He wasn’t acting good, he wasn’t feeling good, so I sent him to the clinic,” Cleary said. “They scoped his stomach and he had ulcers. I gave him two weeks in the field and I treated him heavily for his stomach. He’s acting much better. “You just have to go back to the basics, let them be a horse, let them get back out into the field,” Cleary said. “They’ll rectify a lot of those problems themselves when they get out in the field.” Rodeo Rock returned in a qualifier over a sloppy track at Harrah’s Philadelphia August 6. He came from 8 1/2 lengths behind in fourth at the half to win by 2 1/4 in 1:55.2 with Goodell back in the bike. Despite the slow time, which Cleary attributed to the adverse conditions, the trainer was encouraged. “The biggest goal going into the qualifier was to braven him up and let him run down horses because that’s what he loves to do,” Cleary said. “It’s a little bit hard to get a reading on it because the weather was so bad. It was an absolute downpour, so I think it was hard for every horse to get around the track. Eric knows him pretty well and was happy with him. He said he was very strong, he was very pleased with him, so I’ll take his word on that.” Rodeo Rock drew post six for his return Saturday night and will be paired with Goodell again. Dr J Hanover is the 3-1 morning line favorite from post four off a nose loss on the front end in this class two weeks ago. Control Tower, who beat Dr J Hanover in that start, was sixth last week from post six, but drew post two this week and is 10-1 for Austin Siegelman and Nick Surick. Perfectly Close has been claimed three times in his last six starts and now trainer Michael Temming is bumping him up into the Open ranks. He will benefit from an assigned post one. The Real One was third in the Open last week and won it July 27; he will start from post five. Shneonucrzydiamnd, I’m Some Graduate, and Imarocnrollegend complete the lineup. “I know the horses that are in there and I want him driven the right way,” Cleary said of Rodeo Rock, who he plans to campaign at Yonkers and in Pennsylvania for the remainder of the year. “We can’t overdrive him when he’s been off for two months since his last start. I’ll be more than happy to let him race like he did in the Levy Final. Let him race from off the pace and pace home hard, hopefully he’s got some pace on the end of it. “It’s not even about a check, it’s about the horse racing good and finishing up strong.” Saturday’s card also features the $46,000 Open Trot and $46,000 Filly and Mare Open Handicap Pace.  Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. 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. - Tristan Sjoberg distinctly recalls a trip to Ake Svanstedt's stable in March 2018 when he visited his 2- and 3-year-olds in training. Before he left the barn, Svanstedt pulled out Six Pack. The freshman New York Sire Stakes Champion the previous fall hadn't embarked on his sophomore season yet, but Sjoberg loved what he saw. "He brought Six Pack out and said, 'take one good look, take one mental picture of this horse here right now, because this is the perfect conformation of a horse. This is the perfect horse,' " Sjoberg remembered. Sjoberg watched Six Pack's 3-year-old harness racing campaign with interest and soon, the entire trotting world followed. He won the Empire Breeder's Classic Final, the Stanley Dancer, the Yonkers Trot, the Kentucky Futurity, and the Matron and finished second in the Beal and the TVG Open Trot against older horses. By year's end, Six Pack's earnings swelled to $1,358,290 for owners Svanstedt, Jeff Gural's Little E, and Stall Kalmar. Six Pack also secured the Dan Patch Award for champion 3-year-old male trotter. Sjoberg got the opportunity to join the group this season and bought in under his stable Knutsson Trotting. "Jeff being a close friend and partner of mine, (Six Pack) was my favorite horse of the 3-year-olds and I was given an opportunity to buy into the horse earlier this year," Sjoberg said. "I thought it was great, so I took a piece of him and I'm very happy with that." Saturday night (August 10), Six Pack will return to Yonkers Raceway in the $46,000 Open Handicap Trot. Assigned post eight, the 4-year-old Muscle Mass son enters in the mist of a mixed season. Six Pack began his 2019 campaign with a 1:53.1 win in a $50,000 leg of the Graduate at the Meadowlands May 18. He was third to Crystal Fashion and Fiftydollarbill in the next leg June 8 and second to the latter rival in a third leg in a 1:50.2 mile June 21. Six Pack met Atlanta in the $250,000 Graduate Series Final July 6. He started from post nine and forged to the lead in a :54.2 half-mile, but lost to the Hambletonian winner by a neck while trotting 1:49.1 "I thought he was absolutely excellent considering where he was," Sjoberg said. "He wasn't meant to be 100 percent at that race. The Swedish trainers usually don't have them super ready at the beginning of the season, they do need a couple of tighteners and he is a big horse and we're expecting a long season. A lot of the big races are near the end of the season. "To beat Atlanta, you've got to get a good trip and you have to be 100 percent," Sjoberg continued. "He was probably 95 percent at the time. He wasn't quite enough and the form Atlanta was in was fantastic. It was a great race, one of my favorite races, even if we lost by a neck." Six Pack faced Atlanta and Crystal Fashion again the following week in the $450,000 Hambletonian Maturity. Starting from post 11, Six Pack got away seventh and was interfered with late in the 9-furlong stakes, finishing third behind his two rivals. Three weeks later on Hambletonian Day, Six Pack blasted from post nine in the $280,000 Cashman, but was tracked down late by Crystal Fashion and Guardian Angel As. "Six Pack is a big horse, he takes a bit of time to get going, and I think it's been a good season so far. I wouldn't call it a great one yet," Sjoberg said. "He's come back strong, he's had a lot of tough races, and particularly a lot of bad posts. He's been stuck on the outside, had a trailing post, he was interfered with, so he really hasn't had a lot of racing luck this year." Sjoberg, present for the difficult loss on North American harness racing's biggest day, felt the :26.3 first quarter compromised Six Pack. He also conceded the three weeks between races heading into the Cashman may have been too much. "I thought the first quarter really took a bit of sting out of him because he had to leave so hard from post nine to get to the front," Sjoberg said. "On those kind of days, no quarter is asked, no quarter is given. Nobody was letting anyone down to the rail. From post nine, there was just no hole to get to. He had to go to the front and I think that initially took the sting out of him. That whole first turn was a killer. "Three weeks in between races might not have been ideal from the Hambo Maturity to the Cashman," he continued. "In hindsight, maybe we should have thrown in one more race in between. I think that was a little on Ake's mind as well." With another three-week gap to Six Pack's next major target, the Maple Leaf Trot, Svanstedt aimed for a tightener and entered Six Pack in the local weekly trotting feature one week after Hambletonian Day. Besides the timing, Sjoberg also hopes Six Pack can make his case for a ticket to the $1 million Yonkers International Trot October 12. Atlanta has already accepted an invitation, and Sjoberg wants to see the rivalry continue. "The International Trot is one of the most absolutely important races for Swedish people. We don't even call it the International Trot, we call it the World Championship of harness racing, so that's really how important that race is for us Swedes," Sjoberg said. "I remember when I was at Roosevelt, I would get up early in the morning. It wasn't televised, but it would be on the radio. I would turn the radio on and listen to all those great races. I remember when one of my favorite horses won it (in 1987), Callit. Legolas, that was the first race he was beaten at when Ideal du Gazeau won. It's a very important race. "I'm super excited to have a horse that's in contention for this race," he continued. "I think with these kind of races, it's very important also to try and get not just the flag horses from abroad, but it's also important to look at the rivalries you have in North America at the time. You want to see those continue in the International Trot as well." Saturday's trotting feature also includes Eye Ofa Tiger As, who beat Will Take Charge last out July 27 and seeks a repeat win in the local Open Handicap from post seven. Weslynn Dancer's last Yonkers start resulted in an Open win and she returns after tries in the Armbro Flight, Cleveland Trotting Classic, and Spirit of Massachusetts Trot. She will start from post five. Tight Lines finished eighth in the Cashman and drew an advantageous post two dropping back into the Open. New Heaven, Cash Me Out, Lord Cromwell, and Such An Angel complete the lineup. Although Six Pack is likely to be a heavy favorite, Sjoberg isn't sure how the horse's trip will set up from the far outside post. Contrary to Six Pack's recent tactics, Sjoberg feels he is better off cover than on the lead. Six Pack's only loss at Yonkers from four starts came in a NYSS leg at 2 when he started from post eight. "I would love for him to get a helmet drive and get some cover and give the horse a breather and maybe attack with a quarter left to go. I would love some live cover, but whether that's possible or not, that's debatable," Sjoberg said. "Obviously from post eight, you either take him down immediately and hope you get good cover or you go to the front again. That's it," he continued. "There's some good horses there with Eye Ofa Tiger As, who's in the form of his life, and Weslynn Dancer, she's a very good mare. There's a couple of horses who are tough to beat on a half-mile track and know Yonkers. I think a lot will be decided in the first 50 yards." Saturday night's card also features the $46,000 Open Handicap Pace and $37,000 4-Year-Old Open Handicap Pace. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. 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. – Monday evening at Yonkers Raceway, Steve Starr gathered in the winner’s circle with about 30 of the track’s drivers, horsepeople, officials, and even the outrider. The group came together in recognition of Starr’s 47-year career at the track, which ended Monday as Starr announced his retirement. Growing up, Starr dreamed of becoming a Standardbred breeder and graduated from Delaware Valley College with a degree in animal husbandry. However, life guided him to Yonkers Raceway, where he took a job assisting Ed Parker and Richard O’Donnell in the race office in the mid-1970s. That job blossomed into a career and Starr soon became the track’s race secretary, a position he maintained through Monday.  Starr reflected on his career, the challenges facing the industry, and looked ahead to retired life with the SOA of NY’s Brandon Valvo Wednesday evening. BV: Congratulations on your career and on your retirement. How does it feel? SS: I’ve been retired for 24 hours and it feels great. I spent most of the day with my wife and my youngest grandchild, and I couldn’t be happier. I’m off on the right foot.  BV: They had a big ceremony in the winner’s circle for you. What was that like for you, how did you feel? SS: It was great. Over the course of the years, there have been so many great people in that winner’s circle and it really was a thrill to be down there. To have all those drivers and trainers and grooms and officials with me, I enjoyed it. BV: What made you decide now was the right time to call it a career? SS: Truthfully, I’ve put 47 years in and I’m going to be 70. I worked for the Rooneys my whole life, and it was great working for them and their family. They couldn’t have treated me any better over the period of 47-years and I have no regrets ever working for the Rooneys and (Vice President and COO) Bob Galterio. When MGM bought the place in late January, I just thought I was too old and too set in my ways to go forward with MGM and adjust to their changes. I spoke to my wife and I wanted to work until we got through the International Trot, but that’s two-and-a-half months away and we’d miss the whole summer, so I decided to get out now while the getting is good. BV: You mention the summer, do you have any plans coming up or anything you’re looking forward to? SS: Just staying local, I have a son and daughter. I live in Pleasantville, they moved to Pleasantville, with my grandchildren. I’m very happy right now. What my wife and I want to do is sell our house, we want to downsize, stay in Pleasantville. So, we have some work to do to keep us busy and once we do that, my new life will begin. This is still business. BV: How did you get involved in racing and how did you decide this was the career for you? SS: When I got out of college, I got the opportunity to work at some stud farms and I took that opportunity. I wanted to stay in the breeding business, that’s what my desire was early in my life. When I got to the farms, I felt they weren’t using me to the best of my abilities, so when an opportunity opened up at Yonkers, their assistant had moved on and I went down to interview for the job and I was very fortunate to start working for Ed Barker and the Rooney family. That was in 1974 and from there, my tutelage was under Ed Barker and Richard O’Donnell. In early 1977, I was given the job of race secretary and I was there in that position ever since. BV: What was it like when you first started working at Yonkers? What was the racetrack like back then? SS: It was great. It was $2 million a night in handle, good attendance. The work was outrageous, I never worked so hard. Ed Barker, he wasn’t a slave driver, but he was meticulous about how he wanted everything done. It was a tie and a coat when you went in to draw in the morning and then when you came back in the evening, it was a tie and a coat. There wasn’t a relaxed atmosphere back then, it was more business than anything else. The ABC system requires a lot more time than conditioned racing and that’s how I started. I worked that system until ’91 or ’92. It was a lot of work then; I can’t even tell you how much work. They days were 10, 12 hours, and those were good days. BV: You would spend a good portion of your day handicapping the horses and trying to classify them appropriately? SS: Yes, I learned that under Ed Barker and Richard O’Donnell. As an assistant, you work a little harder than most, but the whole system was different. You had to really watch those races pretty carefully so you could be sure about what you wanted to do. Move them up, move them down. These guys livelihoods were in your hands. It was important to do things right if you could. I liked it until Roosevelt closed and everyone was doing conditions except me. It was very difficult at that time to do ABC. When Roosevelt, was open, they could go to Roosevelt for a few months, then come to Yonkers for a few months. We both worked the ABC system, so it was easy to keep them classified and know where they were going to race. When we were the only ones doing ABC, every horse that came in had to be reclassified unless they were claimers.  BV: I imagine one of the biggest changes made during your career was the switch from ABC to conditions at that point? SS: Absolutely. It was night and day, like two different jobs. You give the horsemen more latitude to decide where they wanted to go. Your condition racing was by age, sex, money earned. There was a lot of opportunity to decide where you wanted to race, plus the claiming races. It really turned over the racing program more in the hands of the trainers and owners than the race secretary. There were a lot less arguments then, too. BV: What was it like when the casino came to Yonkers? SS: That was something brilliant, that was the greatest thing that happened to harness racing at Yonkers and in the State of New York. We were all in the same boat and the Rooneys kept that place going. When we opened the casino in 2006, it really made all the difference in the world. When we first opened, we got somewhere between $40- and $45 million for purses and that worked its way up to $50 million dollars. That made the biggest difference in the world. It sure made my job a lot easier. BV: Talk a little more about how the game has changed over the last 10 years or so. How has your job changed more recently? Everyone talks about the horse shortage; did you feel that at Yonkers? SS: Before we closed for the casino to be built, we were really struggling because the purses were not good. They still had the shipping to do, they had bridges to cross, and probably a lot of people just didn’t want to come to Yonkers. When we reopened, our purses gradually got much better. At that point in time, we had more horses than we knew what to do with. Eventually, that started to wean itself. The horse population is really bad at Yonkers only because for someone to ship to Yonkers, it costs about $250 and that probably doesn’t include the groom and paddocking, just for tolls and gas just to pull one of those trailers across the bridge. The expense is just exorbitant to get to us. Sometimes when they have to opportunity to race at Chester or Pocono, they race there instead. Now it’s more difficult and the only thing that makes it more difficult is lack of horses, but I’m not alone. I think that’s going to be one of the biggest problem the industry faces in the future. I think the horse population will be more important to deal with than anything else and I don’t think it’s far away, either. I would say probably within 5 or 10 years. BV: You look at entries for the top pacing races at a lot of the tracks, you have 20 or 30 New Zealand- and Australia-bred horses per night.  SS: That’s right, they’re filling these races, really. Especially the better classes. You can’t fill and Open and a Winner’s Over, you can’t fill those two classes. There was a time when you had an Open and two Winner’s Overs and they were pretty good horses. Now, you can’t fill them the same day, with mares, trotters, and the aged pacers. There just aren’t that many horses who can race in those classes. Chester and Pocono, if they didn’t have their series back and forth with the final, if they didn’t have that, they wouldn’t have any high-class races at their tracks. They don’t even try to fill Opens over there anymore. BV: How do you think that problem is going to be addressed? SS: I don’t think they’re taking it seriously right now. They know there’s a problem, but I really don’t think they realize how big this problem is going to be. There’s only one way to address it and that’s to have more horses. I don’t know how you get people to breed. These farms are putting out as much as they can. There really aren’t that many individuals that breed anymore, there’s just a few big farms that do most of the breeding. I don’t see that changing other than them increasing their broodmare bands and producing more yearlings, but I don’t know if they can do that or not. To raise a mare and a yearling and sell it is really expensive. BV: You mentioned the Yonkers International Trot at the beginning of our conversation. Talk about what it was like for you when that race was revived in 2015. What was it like to be a part of that? SS: I was tickled to death. I was scared. I didn’t know how it was going to work, I couldn’t speak anything but English. I was lucky, I was introduced to a guy from Europe. He’s a racetrack operator, but he’s also a friend of the horsemen. His name is Klaus Koch. With his assistance, we were able to put these fields together. When we started in 2015, it was not easy. The purse is $1 million, and you would have thought you weren’t giving them anything but a slice of pizza. It was comical. You have to wait a long time to fill these races because the Europeans don’t make a commitment right away. You have to be within a month of the race before they make a real commitment. It’s getting better now, but in 2015, they just didn’t want to make an early commitment. From the horseman’s side, I can’t argue with them, but as the race secretary, I wish they made up their minds a lot sooner. This year could be the best year ever. It certainly would have been if that French horse (Aubrion Du Gers) didn’t get killed in that accident on the track. He had already made a commitment to come with Dijon, the horse that won the Elitlopp. This was shaping up to be a really good race. Every horse I wanted to come was a grade 1 winner. This was the best year I ever had, it was unbelievable the way this was turning out and it’s still shaping up to be one of the best fields ever. I’m sure Bob Miecuna working with Klaus, they’ll get this race together. If the people who are interested now make a commitment, it will be a great race in 2019. BV: Listening to you talk about the International, it sounds like something you are really passionate about. SS: Oh, I was. When they came back with the race in 2015, it was $1 million. That was the second time we had a million-dollar race, we had an Art Rooney Pace for $1 million once. MGM was gracious enough without knowing much about racing to keep this race going. The SOA of NY of course, they’re very much a part of the race. They contributed 100 percent to the affair. BV: Talk more about the relationship with the horsepeople and the SOA of NY. That must have been a big part of your job as well. SS: It was, and I’ll tell you something, it’s a lot easier to get along with the horsemen than it’s not. Back in the ‘80s when Joe Faraldo and the SOA took over, it was a war zone at Yonkers. I didn’t know if I was going to make it home every night. But as things turned around and things got better, our relationship with the horsepeople got better. My relationship with Joe Faraldo and the SOA is 100 percent sound. They’re great people to work with, they’re reasonable, and if you work together and think together, you can make anything happen. The best way to run your business is to get along. Joe and I, we eventually many years ago started to get along and it really made things a lot better and I think it made the races a lot better, too. by Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

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