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YONKERS, N.Y. – When it comes to the success of New Zealand-bred Italian Delight in the U.S., Darran Cassar says there are no secrets. Italian Delight is 3-for-4 since making his American debut in mid-January and the harness racing trainer says the addition of Lasix has been a key in the horse living up to his potential. “Lasix helps him a lot and he’s just a professional horse,” Cassar said. “Nothing bothers him. He makes my life, everyone’s life a lot easier. He’s good-gaited. He just does everything right. No headpoles and he wants to do it. I have to give credit to the horse, really. He’s made my job easy because he really doesn’t take a lot of work. It’s just a matter of keeping him happy.” Cassar began watching Italian Delight in 2018 when an agent informed Cassar the Bettor’s Delight gelding was for sale. Cassar’s interest piqued after seeing Italian Delight beat Seaswift Joy in Auckland April 6, 2018. However, at that time Cassar felt the price was too high and Italian Delight was sold to Australia. “The first thing is he’s a Bettor’s Delight. Usually I’m a big fan. They usually make good racehorses once they’re over here,” Cassar said. “If you go back through his form in New Zealand, he actually beat a horse called Seaswift Joy. She’s a good Open mare over here for Tony Alagna. He sat on her back and beat her fair and square and that was when I started paying attention.” Italian Delight’s Australian performances lacked luster. He only won two races in 26 starts Down Under between Oct. 20, 2018 and Nov. 23, 2019. Cassar again had the opportunity to purchase Italian Delight, and this time he and owner Windermere Stable took the chance, despite a late modification to the deal. “When you’re buying them for the right price, you can always take a chance on a horse like that,” Cassar said. “He was up in the classes, in the Opens or just below it, and he was still functioning without being as good as he probably could have been. If he was more money, maybe I wouldn’t have taken a chance, but I’ve bought a few horses off the same trainer before and he’s usually steered me in the right direction.” Italian Delight arrived in Cassar’s barn in early December. He looked the perfect size for a Bettor’s Delight, but was just OK in his first training trip. Cassar’s experience told him the horse had a bleeding problem. “The second time (training), I gave him Lasix and he was a totally different horse. Ever since then, we really haven’t trained him too hard because of the bleeding situation. It just seems to be working,” Cassar said. “We took care of the bleeding and got him on a program where we don’t stress him, he doesn’t injure himself during the week and we just race him from there.” After that second training trip, Cassar knew the deal they had struck to buy Italian Delight would pay off. “We had him bought and then they came back and said, ‘no, we want (more),” Cassar recalled. “Usually, I walk away from things like that, but I told the owner, you know what, let’s just buy him. I texted him a week before the qualifier and said, ‘that $5,000 you just spent is the best $5,000 you will spend for a long time.’ ” Italian Delight qualified Jan. 4 at the Meadowlands, a couple weeks ahead of schedule. With Dexter Dunn driving, Italian Delight finished fourth and qualified in 1:55.4 with a :27.0 final quarter. One week later, Italian Delight made his pari-mutuel debut in a $16,000 overnight at the Swamp and kicked home in :25.4 to score an off-the-pace 1:50.1 victory. “He never kicked the earplugs. I think it was a bit of a drop in competition from what he was racing, but he was a pretty good closer back in Australia and the race setup right for him,” Cassar said. “I give credit to the horse because he’s so professional. There’s no fancy equipment, no headpoles, he just goes on the track and wants to do it. When they don’t stress themselves, it makes a big difference.” Italian Delight stepped up in class Jan. 18 and doubled up when making another late move, but was only third Feb. 1 in a $37,500 Meadowlands overnight when he raced on the lead. “He’s definitely better closing. I think we saw that at the Meadowlands when he had to cut that mile,” Cassar said. “Saying that, I don’t think he was quite 100 percent that night. He was sick after that second win and I just don’t think was quite right for that Meadowlands start when he ran third.” Last week (Feb. 8), Italian Delight made his Yonkers Raceway debut in a $27,000 overnight. After warming Italian Delight up, Cassar felt confident when handing the lines to Brent Holland. “I spoke to Brent before the race and said, ‘listen, nothing fancy, just take him off the gate, first-over and he’ll win,’ and I was pretty confident when I told him that.” Everything went according to plan as Holland watched from 5 lengths behind as Anythingforlove set the tempo in :27.4 and :56.4. Holland tipped Italian Delight first-over as the field straightened away into the stretch the first time around. Italian Delight advanced willingly and drew even with Anythingforlove through three-quarters in 1:24.1. Racing around the final turn, Holland sat statuesque as Italian Delight headed Anythingforlove. In the lane, Holland put the whip on Italian Delight’s tail and the horse took off, leaving his competition 2 1/2 lengths behind in a 1:52.4 mile. “He got around Yonkers perfect,” Cassar said. “He just did it pretty easy in the end. It was a perfect situation where he just got the job done. There was no traffic, he just got to do his own thing and he was good enough to do it. It was a stress-free race considering he had to go first-over in 52.” Although the MGM Borgata Pacing Series, formerly the George Morton Levy Memorial Pacing Series at Yonkers Raceway, wasn’t initially on Cassar’s radar, the trainer and owner made the decision this week to nominate Italian Delight. “It’s a tough series for a horse that just came over considering he’s only had four or five starts since he’s been here and there’s good horses in there,” Cassar said. “But after we spoke about it, there may not be another place to race. The other tracks aren’t all open, plus they’re not really going to fill Opens, so if you don’t go to the Levy, you really don’t have any other places to race. Is he good enough? I think so, but we’re just going to have to manage him the right way. It’s a tough series. But as of now, he’s going to be in there.” Italian Delight will face his toughest test to date Saturday night (Feb. 15) in the $40,000 Open Handicap Pace. He and Holland will start from post three in the pacing feature and are 7-1 on the morning line. The competition includes Trump Nation, who exits a 1:49.4 victory in the Meadowlands Preferred Feb. 8. George Brennan will drive the 5-year-old from post seven for Ron Burke. Jack’s Legend won last week’s local pacing feature at odds-on and will look to repeat from post six for Jason Bartlett and Rich Banca. Ostro Hanover’s win 4-race streak snapped with last week’s runner up finish to Jack’s Legend; the Rene Allard trainee will look to start a new streak from post five. Joesstar Of Mia, Harambe Deo, and Tookadiveoffdipper complete the lineup. If Cassar has his way, Italian Delight will make a first-over move again and try to duplicate last week’s win. “I’ll leave it up to Brent now that he’s driven the horse once. He knows the competition,” Cassar said. “Personally, I’d like to see the same thing. It’s tougher competition, it’s probably going to be the toughest he’s faced. Whatever Brent does, he does. I’m sure the horse can be used a little bit early, but after last week, if it ain’t broke, I wouldn’t fix it. “Every week you just don’t know who’s going to show up. It’s the Open, that’s just how it is. If he doesn’t face (Trump Nation) this week, he’s going to have to face him in a month in the Levy. He’s pretty exciting right now, but if that’s his limit, that’s his limit,” Cassar said. “We’ll just take care of the horse. He’s been good to us so far, we want to do the right thing by him. I’ve got a lot of horses there now that are 9, 10, 11 years old that are still racing because we do the right thing by them. They show up to Yonkers week in and week out and that can be a little bit tough on them, but if you do the right thing, they can last a long time and make a lot of money.” Saturday night’s card also features the $40,000 Open Handicap Trot. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. First post time is 7:05 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – When HP Sissy’s name appeared in the entries for the $40,000 Filly and Mare Open Handicap Pace at Yonkers Raceway Friday night (Feb. 14), trainer Mike Ohol’s colleagues on the Western New York circuit voiced their skepticism. “A couple guys up there were telling me, ‘what are you going down there for,’ ” Ohol said, but the harness racing trainer remained steadfast. “You don’t know until you try it.” Ohol campaigned HP Sissy to a 13-win season in 2019. The Up The Credit mare also placed 14 times and earned $116,493 while making the majority of her 37 starts at Buffalo and Batavia Raceways. All but two of her starts last year came at the Open level. Ohol acquired HP Sissy as a project in January 2019. Although the mare won the $50,000 Coupe des Eleveurs at Hippodrome 3R as a 3-year-old in 2016 and competed on the Grand Circuit in the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series as a 5-year-old, HP Sissy went just 2-for-27 in 2018 racing for Rene Allard and Benoit Baillargeon. “She was racing up in Canada and we thought she would be a good buy because she was down in class and she showed a lot of back class,” Ohol said. “If we could get her and turn her around, we thought she could be a heck of a horse.” Despite his high aspirations, Ohol’s first impression of HP Sissy could only be described in expletives. She was high-strung, difficult to handle, and hard to control on the track. However, over time, Ohol and HP Sissy formed a bond. “The more I started working with her and watching her - I pay attention to everything they do in the barn. I feel a horse out like they feel you out - we just seemed to click and once I turned her one time, I said, ‘my god, this horse is pretty fast.’ She just goes.” Ohol’s formula for success with HP Sissy is patience and care. His strategy is focused on managing HP Sissy’s natural speed and not overtraining her. “I don’t let anybody else jog her, I do it all myself. I don’t want anybody else roughing her up. When she gets in an attitude, she just wants to take off on you. I can keep her a little more relaxed and when she gets too hot, I just take her off the track and walk her around a little bit and take her in the barn. She’s got a routine,” Ohol said. “She’ll get to going in the barn,” he continued. “You have to try to keep her relaxed. Don’t bring too many horses around her, she’s always the first one to eat, otherwise she starts kicking the walls down. She wants to be the queen.” With HP Sissy’s record, she may have earned that right. HP Sissy captured the Filly and Mare Open seven times at Buffalo Raceway from February through July before moving on to Batavia, where she took another four features. Ohol ranks her performance Sept. 18 among her best. Starting from post five in a six-horse field, HP Sissy left around rival Lady London and made the lead entering the backstretch the first time. She led at every call and under Drew Monti pistol grips, kicked away from the field in the final quarter to post a 3-length win in 1:53.3. HP Sissy repeated the effort one week later with a 1:53.4 score. “She went to Batavia, she had two wins in a row,” Ohol said. “She won in 1:53.3 and Drew Monti was driving her and he never let her go. He said, ‘Mike, I don’t know how fast she would have gone if I would have let her go. I was hanging onto her the whole mile and she just pulled away from the field. They couldn’t touch her.’ ” HP Sissy’s biggest win in 2019 came Oct. 4, when she shipped to Yonkers to take a $22,000 overnight in gate-to-wire fashion in 1:54.0 with Dan Dube in the sulky. HP Sissy raced through the end of November and reemerged in a qualifier at Buffalo Raceway Jan. 24, posting a 2:02.3 win over a sloppy track with a 3-second variant. “I gave her a couple weeks off in November, but she’s a hard horse to even turn out because she’s just hard on herself,” Ohol said. “I feel she’s better off jogging a little bit. She seems more happy if she’s out on the track doing things instead of out in the field. If you turn her out, she runs up and down the fence. She just seems happy when she’s on the track and doing her thing.” In HP Sissy’s first start of 2020, the 7-year-old posted a 1:57.0 win in the Buffalo distaff feature Feb. 5. In that effort, HP Sissy dueled with Protect Blue Chip, parking that rival through fractions of :28.0, :57.0, and 1:27.0. While the plugs were pulled on Protect Blue Chip before the half, driver Denny Bucceri didn’t get to work on HP Sissy until passing the three-quarters, kicking out the plugs and going to a right-handed whip. Turning for home, HP Sissy still dealt with Protect Blue Chip while Carly Girl angled three-wide and Lady London looked to the passing lane. Despite the onslaught, HP Sissy held off her challengers by a half-length. With her victory, HP Sissy punched her ticket to the Hilltop. “I was extremely happy with her because a horse left against her and she parked that horse who had just won the week before,” Ohol said. “That’s why I thought, if I’m going to go to Yonkers, this is the time to take her because I feel she’s sharp right now.” HP Sissy will be reunited with Dan Dube and the pair will start from an assigned post one in the Valentine’s Day feature. The pair are 7-1 on the morning line. HP Sissy’s rivals include Robyn Camden, who rides a 4-race win streak for Rene Allard and will start from post five as the 5-2 morning line choice. Imprincessgemma posted a win and two seconds in this class to cap her 2019 season last fall. She returns of a qualifying win at Freehold Feb. 8 in which she utilized a :27.0 final quarter to stop the clock in 1:55.4. She and Joe Bongiorno are 4-1 on the morning line. Sandy Win finished second in this race last week for trainer Chuck Connor, Jr. Eric Goodell will drive from post three as a 4-1 morning line. Cay’s Blessing won a local Preferred in December and started her 2020 campaign with consecutive runner-up finishes in the Filly and Mare Open Handicap for Jason Bartlett and Rich Banca. Wishy Washy Girl and Betterb Chevron complete the lineup. “I’m hoping I do good with (HP Sissy); I don’t want to brag, but I think she’s up to the task to give a good race,” Ohol said. “I trained her a little different this week. I hope I didn’t over-train her. I trained her a couple trips instead of just one. I knew I was going down there and was going to be in kind of tough, so I gave her a little extra this week. I don’t think I overdid it, I just trained her within herself. You don’t have to force her to go, she goes.” Ohol expects Dan Dube to utilize HP Sissy’s early speed from her inside post. “Let me tell you, when that gate opens up, look out. She just goes. She went a quarter in :27 at Saratoga, and that’s a half-mile track. If you do sit in a hole with her and pull her out, you better be ready because as soon as you pull on that right line, she’s in high gear; she wants out.” Ohol said. “The gate opens up and she’s on top by the first turn, usually by a length or two. Dube told me last year when I came down there, he said he loved driving her because when that gate opens, she’s gone. You can get to the front, set the pace, an then they have to catch her. “We’ll see what happens. We’ll see if she’s up to the task. You’re up against the best horses there, but she’s raced against them before and done well.” Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. First post time is 7:05 p.m.  By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – On any given day when Soho Lennon comes off the track after training, harness racing trainer Doug Dilloian, Jr. knows there could be a delay in getting back to the barn. Dilloian has trained Soho Lennon since early 2016 and the horse has developed a bond with his conditioner. “He’s easy to fall in love with,” Dilloian said. “When he comes in off the racetrack, when I hook the lines up and go to take the jog cart off, he’ll stop and he’ll rub his head all up and down my back and he’ll do it for four, five, six minutes to the point where sometimes his bridle will come right off.” Around the barn, Soho Lennon rules the roost. He lets his connections know at lunch time he’s ready to eat and he wants to be fed first. Each morning, Soho Lennon goes out in the paddock with barn mate Runrunjimmydunn, and if they aren’t the first two horses out the door, Soho Lennon starts banging on his stall gate and flipping his feed tub over. “He knows he runs the barn,” Dilloian said. And with good reason. Since arriving in the U.S., the Australia-bred Mach Three son has earned $441,380 in Dilloian’s barn for owners David Linker and Howard Perlmutter’s Pit Bull Stable. Soho Lennon had six-figure seasons in each year since his arrival except for 2017, when he only made 20 starts due to sickness. Now at 10 years old, the gelded pacer will try to earn his first victory in the Yonkers Raceway Open Handicap Pace Saturday night (Feb. 8). “We bought him to be a high-level condition horse. His consistency over a long period of time has been more of a surprise. A lot of horses peak and once they get to 9 or 10, start tailing off a little bit classification wise. But for four years, especially in the wintertime, he’s been anywhere from a non-winners of 20 (thousand dollars last five) to an Open pacer consistently every year,” Dilloian said. “He gets a limited amount of starts. He’s a 20- to 25-start per year horse, which is probably why he’s remained as sharp as he has for all these years.  “He’s no world-beater by any means and he’s not the fastest horse, he’s just one of those horses that gives you 110 percent every week.” Soho Lennon showed promise in his home country, winning the Group 2, $50,000 West Australia Nights of Thunder Final over 1,730 meters at Gloucester Park January 2, 2015. However, one year later, Soho Lennon was out of form, finishing sixth or worse in his last four Australian starts. The horse became available for sale and Dilloian saw the opportunity. Dilloian connected with Perlmutter on Facebook via a mutual friend. After the pair had success with Australian import Bettor Reason, a solid partnership had been formed. David Linker later sent Dilloian a text indicating he would like to get involved with a foreign horse. He joined the group and they imported Soho Lennon in Feb. 2016. “We bought him at a very reasonable rate,” Dilloian said. “He’s just been an absolute blessing since.” “Since that time, those two are the two greatest owners I’ve had,” Dilloian said. “They don’t aggravate you; they don’t bother you. Whatever is in the best interest of the horse, that’s what they’ll do. If one needs a month off or two months off, if they need week of from racing, do it. Since I only have eight to 10 horses most of the time, we generally try to take care of our horses and not over race them. We try to get longevity. “We bought Soho Lennon and then we’ve had a bunch of them since then. It’s just really been a good rapport. With those guys, it’s usually anywhere between seven and nine horses in the barn at any given time,” Dilloian continued. “And we just try to focus on quality. If they don’t go a half, I’d rather move them along or send them to other trainers, because I just want to focus on Yonkers. The purses are amazing and I really believe if you just week in and week out stay there, the horses will reward you.” Of Soho Lennon’s 102 U.S. races, 95 have come at Yonkers. One rare exception came at the end of the gelding’s 2019 campaign. After the pacer had a tough trip in a local $22,000 overnight Dec. 14, Dilloian pointed him to a $10,500 race at Freehold. Soho Lennon drew the inside and led gate-to-wire; the win put Soho Lennon over the $100,000 mark in earnings for the year. Soho Lennon returned to Yonkers Jan. 11, posting a 2 3/4-length victory in 1:52.2 in a $20,000 overnight. He continued to climb the class-ladder in his next two starts and posted two more wins over off tracks to run his streak to four, all with Jim Marohn, Jr. in the bike. “Going into the final week before Christmas, he had gotten roughed up at Yonkers, had gotten a tough trip and got parked. We wanted to take care of him the next couple starts, so I entered him at Freehold and he finished out the year over $100 (thousand),” Dilloian said. “It got his confidence back. And then we gave him a little break and since Yonkers reopened, he’s been drawing well, but he’s been earning it. He’s been very sharp.”   Soho Lennon continues to step up in class Saturday night (Feb. 8) as he will make his first start at the Open level since Dec. 15, 2018. Soho Lennon drew post one in the $40,000 feature and will again have Marohn in the sulky. The pair are 4-1 on the morning line. Soho Lennon will face seven rivals, including Jack’s Legend. The Rich Banca trainee impressed in the Open ranks last fall and enters off consecutive placings in the Preferred Handicap from outside posts. He was assigned post four this week and is the 3-1 morning line favorite with Jason Bartlett slated to drive. Ostro Hanover also rides a 4-race win streak into this week’s pacing feature, but has missed three weeks. Dan Dube will drive the Rene Allard trainee from post six. Bettor Memories enters off an upset win in the local Preferred Handicap Feb. 1, but drew post eight. San Domino was the runner up in last week’s Preferred Handicap and the Andrew Harris trainee will start from post seven in his second start of the year. Tookadiveoffdipper is 2-for-3 this season and upset the local Preferred Handicap Jan. 25. Brent Holland will drive the Virgil Morgan, Jr. trainee from post five. Somebaddude and Don Domingo complete the lineup. “The rail is obviously a great equalizer,” Dilloian said. “I don’t know that (Soho Lennon) is a true Open horse and Banca’s horse looks like he’s the real deal. Soho Lennon is one of those horses that when I watch him race, I never count him out, but things will have to go his way for sure to beat this kind of field. He trained good this week and I really believe when horses are sharp in their head, they don’t know who they’re racing against, so I definitely wouldn’t count him out.” Dilloian expects Marohn to utilize the inside advantage and Soho Lennon’s speed to secure a good position early. “He’s probably not the fastest leaver, but he leaves fast enough to where I hope he can protect. His best races are on the front. I don’t see that happening in there because he’s not going to be the favorite and I don’t know that he has enough speed to cut the corner and seat everybody,” Dilloian said. “It looks like he’s hopefully going to get away in the two-hole, but probably third. I’ll let Jimmy Marohn take it from there. Things will have to go his way, but if he has any kind of opportunity where he gets a decent trip, if he’s got to win on heart, he’ll do it. “I’ve had him long enough now where he’ll forever have a home with me. I’ll never race him in a claimer and he’ll retire with me,” Dilloian said. “He kind of started the whole thing with the higher-level condition Yonkers horses, so I’m forever grateful for him. He holds a special place in my heart.” Saturday night’s card also features the $40,000 Open Handicap Trot.  Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. First post time is 7:05 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. by Brandon Valvo, fo the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – After a three-month hiatus, 2019 Yonkers International Trot winner Zacon Gio resumed harness racing serious work last Friday, Jan. 17. With trainer Holger Ehlert in the jog cart, Zacon Gio trained 2,000 meters in his first fast workout of the year. Zacon Gio was timed in 2:49, trotting his final 400 meters in about 30 seconds, according a Facebook post by Ehlert. “After three months of vacation Zacon Gio worked on the round track 2,000 meters (in) 2:49 with 30-(second) last 400 meters in the company of Vai Mo Blessed and Maine [ sic ] in about a month we are ready to run.” To view a video of Zacon Gio’s workout, click here. Zacon Gio is a 6-year-old Ruty Grif son out of the Yankee Glide mare May Galde Font Sm. The three-time Group 1 winner is 21-for-30 in his career with $996,834 earned for owner Giuseppe Franco. Zacon Gio’s last start came in the Yonkers International Trot Oct. 12. In his first start outside Italy, Zacon Gio romped to a 3 1/4-length victory in the $1 million stakes with Roberto Vecchione in the bike. Zacon Gio maintains a 12-race win streak dating to Oct. 25, 2018. Zacon Gio’s first start of 2020 could be less than one month away, according to Ehlert’s post. The trotter’s main targets this year include the Group 1 Gran Premio Lotteria at Agnano in Naples this spring and a title defense of the MGM Yonkers International Trot this fall. Slide So Easy Honored in Denmark Slide So Easy, the 2019 Yonkers International Trot runner up, was honored in his home country of Denmark with year-end awards. After a 10-year-old campaign that saw the Quite Easy son win eight of 16 starts with another six placings and more than double his earnings to 4,464,884 kr, Slide So Easy earned Older Horse of the Year and Horse of the Year titles. Slide So Easy won races at home and abroad in 2019. His biggest wins last 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 was only worse than second in two starts this year, including when seventh in the Group 1 Oslo Grand Prix at Bjerke June 9. Slide So Easy came to the U.S. ahead of the foreign contingent for the Yonkers International Trot, staying with Åke Svanstedt. Slide So Easy took full advantage of his inside draw in the Yonkers International, staying inside and finishing second at odds of 22-1 and adding $250,000 to the trotter’s bankroll. Slide So Easy raced four more times after his Yonkers International Trot bid, finishing his season with a victory in a 2,000-meter League 1 Final at Charlottenlund. Slide So Easy is owned by Team Clemmensen & Christensen and trained by Flemming Jensen. Slide So Easy   Cleangame Presented ‘Save the Date’ for 2020 MGM Yonkers International Trot Yonkers Raceway Director of Racing Alex Dadoyan presented Jean Michel Bazire with a ‘Save the Date’ for the 2020 MGM Yonkers International Trot for his trotter Cleangame. At Hippodrome de Vincennes in Paris for this weekend’s Grand Prix d’Amérique, Dadoyan made the presentation after the Bazire trained and driven C D captured the Prix de Yonkers Raceway Thursday (Jan. 23). Jean-Michel Bazire won today’s Prix de Yonkers Raceway and I gave him a save the date card to bring his top trotter Cleangame to the MGM Yonkers International Trot September 12 pic.twitter.com/8OetA84Z24 — Alex Dadoyan (@AlexAcesRaces) January 23, 2020 Cleangame is regarded among the top trotters in the world. The 8-year-old Ouragan de Celland son went 13-for-16 in 2019, earning 628,750€. His biggest victories to date came in the Group 2, 150,000€ 42nd Grand Prix du Sud-Ouest Oct. 13 and the Group 2, 130,000€ Grand National du Trot Final Dec. 1. Most recently, Cleangame dominated his rivals in the 90,000€ Prix de Brest at Vincennes Jan. 18. Cleangame’s appeared to be on the way to victory over Propulsion, Bahia Questnot, and Bold Eagle in this fall’s Group 2 UET Trotting Master’s Final at Vincennes, but made a break on the lead in deepstretch. In his career, Cleangame has earned 1,269,720€. Cleangame is a gelding, excluding him from the biggest races at the Vincennes Winter Meeting. Yonkers International Trot Veterans Line Up in Grand Prix d’Amérique Sunday Three Yonkers International Trot veterans will start in the Group 1, 900,000€ Grand Prix d’Amérique at Vincennes Sunday (Jan. 26). Uza Josselyn and Bahia Quesnot, mares who started in the 2019 renewal of the International, and Ringostarr Treb, who came to New York in 2018, will each bid for France’s biggest race. Uza Josselyn finished sixth in the 2019 Yonkers International Trot and prepped for the Grand Prix d’Amérique with fourth-place finishes in the Grand Prix du Bourbonnais and Grand Prix de Bourgogne and a seventh-place finish in the Grand Prix de Belgique. The 9-year-old Love You daughter made the field based on her earnings of 1,274,678€. Pierre Vercruysse will drive for Rene Aebischer. Uza Josselyn was seventh in the 2019 Grand Prix d’Amérique. Bahia Quesnot made a break at start of the 2019 Yonkers International and did not finish the race. However, she rebounded at home for trainer and driver Junior Guelpa, finishing second in the Grand Prix de Bourgogne to punch her ticket to the Grand Prix d’Amérique. Guelpa will drive again on Sunday, Bahaia Quesnot’s second Grand Prix d’Amérique bid after finishing 10th in 2019. Ringostarr Treb was favored in the 2018 Yonkers International Trot, but made a costly break in stride on the first turn of the $1 million stakes. The 2018 Elitloppet champion won two Group 1 races in 2019: The Hugo Åbergs Memorial and the Sundsvall Open Trot. The Jerry Riordan trainee made a break in the Grand Prix de Bourgogne, but qualified for the Grand Prix d’Amérique field on earnings of 1,648,631€. Ringostarr Treb’s Grand Prix d’Amérique bid will be his final start before going to stud. The 2020 Grand Prix d’Amérique field is the richest ever assembled, with the 18 starters combined earnings standing at 25.9€ million. The race will be streamed on LeTrot.com. Lionel Wins in Norway Norwegian trotter Lionel, who finished second in the 2018 Yonkers International Trot at 11-1 odds and eighth in the 2019 renewal after making a break in deep stretch, found the winner’s circle in his home country Jan. 18. The 10-year-old trotter bested nine rivals at Bjerke Travbane with owner and trainer Gøran Antonsen in the sulky. The 2020 edition of the $1 million MGM Yonkers International Trot is set for Sat. Sept. 12. For more information on the race and its participants, visit http://www.internationaltrot.com. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Trainer Rene Allard is off to a fast start in the 2020 season at Yonkers Raceway. Allard has topped the track’s trainer standings in three of the last five years and was the runner up in the other two. Just nine programs into the new season, Allard’s tally is 13-for-42 with another 15 seconds and thirds. “We’re only racing about half the barn right now and the ones that we’re racing are in good spots, so it helps. When you’re only racing half the barn, it’s easier to keep a higher average,” Allard said. “I have approximately 30 horses who are going to qualify between now and the middle of February. I’m very happy with the start of the year so far. During the Yonkers break, we kept them fit and trained and as soon as they opened, we were ready to go.” The trainer recently completed an addition to his Middletown, N.Y. barn that added another 12 stalls, brining his total to 84. Only seven remain unoccupied, and that number could shrink to zero after Sunday’s Mixed Sale at the Meadowlands. “I try to keep the barn full and there’s the young horses that are training down in Florida right now. I have nine yearlings that are down in Florida training down. In the spring they’re going to come here. We always make it work,” Allard said. “The winter, we back down to usually 60. In the summer, we go up to 120. Right now, I probably have a little bit more horses than I usually do this time of the year, so I have a feeling we’ll be pretty busy.” Allard has four entrants on the Saturday night (Jan. 18) program at the Hilltop. Among them is Ostro Hanover, who seeks his fourth straight victory in the $35,000 Preferred Handicap Pace. The 5-year-old gelding, owned in partnership by Go Fast Stable, B And I Stable, VIP Internet Stable, and Kapildeo Singh is 15-for-46 in his career with $256,466 earned. “He finished his year very strong, I was very happy with him. He’s been sharp and we’re taking a shot in the Preferred,” Allard said. Ostro Hanover won seven of his first 16 races for Frank Yanoti before joining Allard’s ranks as a companion to his standout 3-year-old pacer Springsteen in July 2018. However, Ostro Hanover went 0-for-6 to close his sophomore season, finishing third in the New York Sire Stakes Final beaten 11 1/4 lengths. “We really liked what we saw. I saw him win a couple times. We contacted the owner and we bought him and we thought he could be a great 3-year-old for the New York Sire Stakes,” Allard said. “Since we were going with Springsteen and they have multiple divisions, we thought, why not have two? We bought him and he was OK. I think we just did OK with him. We expected him to maybe be a little better the first year.” Allard stopped with Ostro Hanover after the NYSS Final Sept. 22, 2018 and he reemerged as a gelding a qualifier March 27, 2019. Ostro Hanover rattled off two straight wins in the conditions at Saratoga to begin his 4-year-old campaign. “He got a little bit sore at the end there. He was always a little bit weird behind, we couldn’t figure it out,” Allard said. “We castrated him, turned him out, and gave him time, and he came back really good. He was always pacing a little funny behind before, but once we did that, he came back good.” Although Ostro Hanover earned a check in nine straight starts, he continued to find the winner’s circle elusive. His next victory came July 6 in a $17,500 overnight at Pocono Downs. “The 4-year-old year is the toughest year for any horse. You go from racing only 3-year-olds and then you have to race against the world,” Allard said. “I don’t race my 4-year-olds as heavily. Last year, I had Springsteen, Simple Kinda Man, and Ostro Hanover, we didn’t race them as hard as some of the 5-, 6-, 7-, 8-year-olds. As the year goes on, it seems like they catch up to the rest.” As the year progressed, Allard saw Ostro Hanover continue to develop physically and mentally. “The one thing I’ve noticed is he used to gallop a lot when he jogged and now he paces almost all the time. He’s gotten stronger, he’s built a little more muscle,” Allard said. “His attitude has been great since he’s a gelding. When he was a colt, he was a little bit inconsistent. He had better days, bad days. Now, he never has a bad day. As they year went on, he got better and better, so we were happy with that.” By the end of the season, Ostro Hanover was firing on all cylinders. He won a $20,000 overnight at Yonkers Nov. 9 and after a third-place finish Nov. 21, earned a win in a $30,000 overnight Nov. 30. The next logical move was the Open Handicap Pace. However, Allard had another plan. He put Ostro Hanover in a $75,000 claimer for a $30,000 purse Dec. 7, taking advantage of the 25% allowance in the final month of Ostro Hanover’s 4-year-old season. The move paid off as Ostro Hanover doubled up. He won in the same class on the final Saturday of the season, scoring his third straight victory. “We figured he was a 4-year-old, so if anybody claimed him, they had to pay $100,000 for the horse,” Allard said. “We didn’t think anybody was going to claim him and we thought it was a good spot for him, so we took advantage of his 4-year-old allowance to get a couple wins out of it. But the plan was, after January to put him back in the conditioned races.” Ostro Hanover qualified Jan. 10, finishing second by a neck to Preferred rival Jack’s Legend. Allard thinks the gelding is ready to go in his first pari-mutuel start of the year. “We’ll see what happens. He’s been training good, he’s trained every three days for the last three weeks in the Yonkers break and then last week, they didn’t use the Open or the Preferred, so we qualified him and he qualified well; we were happy with him. “I think the horse is feeling good, he’s fresh, and I think he belongs in there. It’s a bit of a step up, but when the horse’s feelings are not hurt and the confidence is there, usually they show up. They’re kind of like humans with their feelings. Right now, he thinks he’s one of the best because he’s won his last three. I think that reflects in their performance when they’re feeling brave.” Ostro Hanover will start from post six with regular driver Dan Dube in the sulky. Jack’s Legend, who won two Open Handicaps and finished second in another last fall for Rich Banca, will start from post seven with Jason Bartlett in the bike. Reagan’s Avenger and Tookadiveoffdipper each won their last start in the Yonkers overnight ranks and step up into the Preferred. Benson Boys, Twin B Tuffenuff, and Benhope Rulz complete the lineup. “I think it’s not too bad of a spot,” Allard said. “There’s a couple nice horses in there. Banca’s horse is probably the best horse, but he drew outside. There’s a couple nice horses, but I think if he gets in the hunt with the right trip, he’ll definitely be right with them.” Saturday night’s card also features the $40,000 Open Handicap Trot. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. First post time is 7:05 p.m. by Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Entering the penultimate night of racing at Yonkers in the 2019 season, Jason Bartlett led George Brennan in the driver standings 423 to 420. The Dec. 16 program saw the drivers combine for six wins on the 11-race program and at the end of the night, Jason Bartlett extended his margin to 4, leading with 427 victories. However, Bartlett would be absent from the Closing Night program, Tues. Dec. 17 as he departed on a family vacation, never anticipating the driving title would be decided on the final night of a 2,657-race season. To that point, the two drivers had never spoken about the dash title. However, as Bartlett left the driver’s room, the pair acknowledged their rivalry for the first time. “OK, I got you by four. Win four tomorrow and we’ll just end in a tie,” Bartlett told Brennan.  “OK. Done,” Brennan responded. The tongue-in-cheek exchange proved prophetic as the Closing Night program unfolded. Brennan won four of the first 10 races, tying the standings at 427 apiece. After each victory, the Yonkers TV department displayed the standings on the track’s simulcast feed and track announcer John Hernan narrated the update for the viewers. “Yonkers had it on TV the last few nights. They were keeping count for us,” Brennan said. “It was very exciting. I’ve been leading driver before, but this was the most exciting driving race I’ve been involved in. It was a lot of fun.” Brennan drove Lord Of Misrule from post three in the 11th race, the final heat of the season. Leading trainer Scott Di Domenico sent out the 8-year-old gelding who chased only his second seasonal win in his 31st start of the year. “Bruce Saunders said to me, ‘do you like your chances in the last race,’ ” Brennan recalled. “I said, ‘well, he’s 1-for-30 for the year. That says it all right there.” Lord Of Misrule raced along in third throughout, but lost ground in the stretch and finished fourth 7 lengths behind a 1:53.4 score by Knocking Around. “(Lord Of Misrule) ended up getting a perfect trip, he sat third, I never had to pull him, but they went a really good mile in 1:53.4 and 1:53.4 kind of stretches him out in the summer anymore,” Brennan said of the $545,485-earner. “It was going to have to work out, it was going to have to line up perfectly for him. And it actually did and I didn’t have enough horsepower.” With the final race complete, Brennan had four on the card as promised and shared the driving title with Jason Bartlett. “I just went about my business and that’s how it ended,” Brennan said. “It’s a lot of work, a lot of dedication, good clients. It means a lot.” Bartlett enjoyed a lead from January through June as he focused solely on racing at the Hilltop. However, as New York Sire Stakes season ramped up through the late spring and summer, Barlett’s time was divided while Brennan stayed put at Yonkers. Bartlett and Brennan flip-flopped on the lead in July, but by September Brennan seized command with a double-digit advantage. The race narrowed again in late fall, as Brennan’s margin shrunk to eight wins by Nov. 1. By December, the drivers were in a tug of war. Brennan was sure his scheduled vacation in December would crush his chances. “He was creeping back up there pretty quickly,” Brennan said. “But then, I honestly didn’t think it was going to be close when I was taking four days off in December. I thought he would have a comfortable lead after that. I got lucky, got some good mounts, good post positions, and things worked out.” Brennan’s approach to the contest, much like his opponent’s, was to block out the race as much as possible. “You can’t really think about it. You just have to go about your business and try to stay safe and win races,” Brennan said. “There was something going on with the driving title, but in a sense, it’s secondary because you still have to get the job done, you still have to get the most amount of money for your owners and trainers you’re driving for. That’s the number one priority there.” Considering memorable horses or victories on the season, Brennan zeroed in on DW’s NY Yank. The 11-year-old Dilbert Hanover gelding has earned 58 wins and $1.5 million in 200 starts. His most recent score came with Brennan in the second race Closing Night, a $17,000 overnight in which DW’s NY Yank aired by 2 easy lengths. It was the pair’s 82nd start and 25th win together. “Some horses I really enjoy driving. Some of those old horses for Burke, like DW’s NY Yank, he’s one of my favorites. I enjoy driving those older horses like that,” Brennan said. “I’ve been driving him now since he was 4 years old. He tries hard. He’s definitely not what he was anymore, but he’s just a lot of fun to drive. He’s tailor-made for a half-mile track.” Although the spotlight was on the drivers for the final few weeks of the racing season, Brennan pointed out that the drivers only comprise a small piece of the puzzle and expressed gratitude for the other hardworking individuals who hand over the lines for two minutes each week. “I just want to thank all the trainers and owners and caretakers that look after and train the horses, because I can’t do it without them. A big thank you to them,” Brennan said. To read Jason Bartlett’s account of the driver’s race, visit http://ustrottingnews.com/bartlett-to-make-case-for-yonkers-driving-title-monday/. Yonkers Raceway opens its 2020 live racing season Monday, January 6. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. First post time is 7:05 p.m. For entries to the races, visit https://www.empirecitycasino.com/racing/condition-sheets-entries-results/. by Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY  

YONKERS, N.Y. – By the time December comes around, the driving and training titles at Yonkers Raceway are usually sewn up. After nearly 11 months of racing and over 2,000 starts by the track’s leading drivers, there is typically little left to be settled in the meet’s final weeks. By December 1, 2018, Jason Bartlett had a 104-win edge on Jordan Stratton. In 2017, Bartlett came into the stretch of the meet with a 153-win margin. However, with two racing days left in the 2019 season, Jason Bartlett and George Brennan are locked in a tight battle for the Yonkers driving title. At December 1, the duo was separated by just three wins, with Brennan ahead 406 to 403. After trading blows throughout the last two weeks, Bartlett brings a three-win margin into Monday night (Dec.16) with 423 wins. It is the closest race in Bartlett’s memory. “Not since I’ve been to Yonkers, never have. Usually by this time, everything is cut and dry of who’s going to get it and who’s not,” Bartlett said. “Between me and George, we drive hard against each other. We’ve always done that. At the end of the day, we still respect each other on and off the track. It’s a good competition, but at the end of the day, we still have a job to do and that’s to win races and get as much money as we can for the trainers.” Although the race is proving a nail-biter, Bartlett had written off the title at the end of stakes season, when Brennan lead by double-digits. However, after Brennan took a week off from Dec. 7 to Dec. 14, Bartlett took a slight edge. “Obviously, in any sport, you want to be number one. At that track, that year, it shows what a good year I had and the hard work I put in,” Bartlett said. “Going through the year, it’s not something you really think about. I was chasing Sire Stakes all year. Obviously, I can’t be in both places on a given night, so you have to give up something. This year, I focused a little bit more on the Sire Stakes, which got me behind a little bit not being at Yonkers all the time. “As the stakes races got done, I was behind him and I kind of just chalked it up that I wasn’t going to catch him,” Bartlett said. “Then I got a little bit closer and he ended up going on his normal annual vacation, so I knew I would be able to close the gap a little bit then.” Bartlett, 38, is chasing his ninth Hilltop title while Brennan, 52, seeks his third. Bartlett saw Brennan as a mentor and an inspiration growing up, making the contest even more meaningful. However, the pair can leave the competition on the track and focus on their work. “He’s a driver that I’ve looked up to my whole life,” Bartlett said. “Being in a competition against him, running for number one, is a pretty big deal for me. Growing up and knowing George and looking up to him. “Between me and him, we’ve never really mentioned (the standings). I know he’s aware of it. Obviously, I’m aware of it. But we’re not driving any different against each other,” Bartlett continued. “You have enough to think about and try to put your horses in the best spot. That’s hard enough. Then you start thinking about George all the time and what I’m doing, is it going to affect George winning the race or not? You can only control what you can control. I can do my best to try to win races, I can control that. I can’t control what he’s doing and whatever else is going on. I try to control what I can and after that, it’s horse racing.” Bartlett enjoyed another season as Yonkers top money-earner, with horses he drove winning $8.3 million through Saturday (Dec. 14). With Brennan away, Bartlett won 12 races last week. He won five races Friday (Dec. 13), including Mach It A Par’s final bow. The Minister of Speed answered with three victories upon his return Saturday, including a wire-to-wire score from post eight with 18-1 upsetter Shoreview. Barlett will drive in all 11 races Monday night (Dec. 16) while Brennan has nine calls. The contest could be decided sooner than expected as Bartlett will miss Closing Night (Dec. 17) as he leaves on his family vacation. Brennan will drive in all 11 races on the Tuesday program. Regardless of the outcome, the contest is validating to Bartlett. “For me, it means I’m doing my job. I’m there to win races and business is good. Every year, you shoot for it. You’ve got to have a little luck along the way and get some horsepower,” Bartlett said. “It’s a job that I love to do, I’m very competitive at it and it’s really nice to go to work and know every race matters. There’s no messing up. I know a lot of people are watching it. The track announcer is right on top of it. It’s nice to see it’s going to come down to the wire and to put a little spin on it, I will not be there the last day, so whatever I get through Monday is it. “Whatever happens, happens. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. And if not, it was fun while we were doing it.” Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. The 2019 season closes Tuesday, Dec. 17 and the 2020 season opener is set for Monday Jan. 6. First post time is 6:50 p.m. By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Multiple stakes winner Obrigado made his last harness racing start in the $200,000 Caesars Trotting Classic at Hoosier Park Sept. 21, 2018. Despite finishing fourth beaten just 1 3/4 lengths by Triple Crown winner Marion Marauder and trotting his final quarter in :27.0, Obrigado did not emerge from the race well. Trainer Paul Kelley faced the reality that the career of his $1.8 million earner was over. “He had a little bit of a suspensory issue going around there, which was something we had never experienced with him before. "He’s had other aches and pains for sure. It wasn’t really looking too good. We scanned it a few times and pretty much the prognosis looked like retirement was probably the right thing to do,” Kelley said. “Wintertime was coming on and you want to find any horse a good, permanent home,” Kelley continued. “I was kind of scrambling; I didn’t really have any options. I figured the best scenario would be to get him someplace where he could be turned out for the winter and let him heal up naturally on his own.” Kelley sent Obrigado to Chris Coyle's Olive Branch Farm in North Carolina, where the 9-year-old son of Boy Band wintered and recuperated. Come April, Kelley still didn’t have a forever home lined up for the Boy Band son, so the trainer brought him to his racing stable at Congress Hill Farm in Monroe, N.J. “He’s one of those horses that you don’t really want to part with,” Kelley said. “At one point, I was thinking maybe I’ll be the permanent home.” However, Obrigado didn’t find retired life of daily paddock turnouts interesting enough, especially when forced to watch the other Standardbreds going to the track every morning. Kelley recognized the horse needed work. “We were putting him out in the paddock every day, but you could tell he was a little bored just doing that; that wasn’t enough, especially being in the barn with all the other horses that were getting tacked up and going to the track every day. He’s an intelligent horse and he wanted to do that too,” Kelley explained. Kelley had Obrigado’s leg scanned again, and with a green light from the vet, began light jogging on the track, swimming sessions, and under saddle riding. Obrigado took to his work and started to rebuild his foundation. With routine scans coming back clean, Kelley started to step on the gas over the summer. “The horse loves being on the track. He loves being out there with other horses. That was really the easy part of it all,” Kelley said. “It wasn’t like we had to push him along. He’s always been a happy horse, likes work, likes the competition and all that. “We just gradually increased the workload to the point where we got to August and we felt like he’d had enough groundwork, maybe we can start some more speed work with him. We did that and I held my breath for a long time thinking, ‘Is he going to be OK? Is he going to come out of it OK?’ So far, he’s been remarkable, he’s been just fine.” A 45-time winner in 92 starts, Obrigado’s accomplishments include a pair of Maine Sire Stakes championships in 2012 and 2013 and the Crawford Farms Open Trot in 2015. Obrigado’s biggest season came in 2016, when he captured the Maxie Lee, Charlie Hill Memorial, Cleveland Trotting Classic, Cashman Memorial, repeated in the Crawford Farms Open Trot, won the Dayton Trotting Derby, and competed in the $1 million Yonkers International Trot before closing the year with a victory in the $400,000 TVG FFA Trot. Obrigado remained competitive on the Grand Circuit in 2017 and 2018 before going on the shelf. “Mentally, that horse has never changed. That’s what’s remarkable about him,” Kelley said. “You see people sometimes; your attitudes go up and down throughout a racing season. You see that with horses; horses have lulls where they just don’t seem to be too keen. He’s never ever been that way. He’s always just been real bright-eyed, real keen, head out over the gate, and ears are always forward. That’s just the kind of horse he is. He’s a happy fella and he really loves being out on the track and he loves being out with other horses all the time.” Obrigado will make his comeback Saturday night (Dec. 7) in the $42,000 Open Handicap Trot at Yonkers Raceway. Dan Dube will drive the 8-1 morning line shot from an assigned inside post position for owners Paul Kelley Racing Stable, S R F Stable, and Linwood Higgins. Obrigado prepared for his return with three qualifiers at Freehold. Rene Sejthen drove Obrigado to a second-place finish in 2:01.1 over a good track with a minus two variant Nov. 1 and again took the lines in a 13 1/4-length qualifying win on a fast track in 2:00.0 with a minus one variant Nov. 8. Kelley brought in Dube for Obrigado’s final trial Nov. 22, in which the gelding posted a 1:59.2 win. “My second trainer Rene took him the first two times and he was doing the right thing with the horse and being cautious and letting the horse do it on his own,” Kelley said. “I know from talking to Rene the weather conditions on those days weren’t particularly good. According to Rene, they were both really good miles for Obrigado considering the conditions and the horse did everything on his own and real easy. “I skipped a week and then I had Dan Dube take him the last time and I just told him, ‘Make sure he does a little work the last half of the mile. He’s got to go a little bit.’ It was kind of a funny qualifier because he got caught in and a couple of pacers were battling things out up front. When Dan finally got him out and got rolling, I think he trotted his back-half in about :57.2 and he came a good last quarter, so that was good. It gives him a little bit of speedwork.” Obrigado will face a difficult field in his return, including the first four finishers from the $35,000 Preferred Handicap Nov. 23: Stormy Kromer, Will Take Charge, Lean Hanover, and Swansea. Sumatra and Winning Shadow step up off overnight wins Nov. 22 to complete the lineup. “I suspect it’s going to take him a couple of races to get up to speed with the rest of the horses he’s got to race against, but everything has gone very well,” Kelley said. “He’s come back very well, so it will really be interesting to see what happens over the course of the winter. “He’s coming off the bench and he’s been on the bench for 14 months, so I can’t expect him to be tip-top, but maybe by having the inside, he can save some ground,” Kelley continued. “I know the horse is going to be competitive from his own standpoint, but maybe he’s not physically ready quite yet. I would expect it’s going to take two races for him to get up to speed. I think that’s realistic.” Although he will take things on a start-by-start basis, Kelley hopes to race Obrigado at Yonkers throughout the winter. Obrigado sports a 7-for-19 record at the Hilltop with seven additional placings, all at the Open level or higher. Kelley will also look for options during Yonkers’ hiatus beginning Dec. 18 and continuing into early Jan. 2020. “We’ll get a couple of starts in at Yonkers and then they go on break,” Kelley said. “Maybe with Yonkers down, (Freehold) will be able to fill an Open. That’s a possibility if I can do that for a race or two until Yonkers comes back, but I think Yonkers is where I’d like to race him the most over the course of the winter. I think he could be a real good winter horse for Yonkers.” Kelley also hopes to reunite Obrigado with Mark MacDonald, who’s last driving start came with Kelley’s The Veteran at Saratoga July 20. MacDonald suffered a fractured shoulder joint, among other injuries, in a pre-race spill later that night, but is approaching a return to the sulky. “(Obrigado) definitely likes this track, he knows his way around that track for sure, so it makes sense,” Kelley said. “I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but I’m hoping around the first of February, Mark MacDonald should be back and it would be great if I have the horse coming off the shelf and Mark coming off the shelf and we can reunite the two of them. “The partners are all excited. They’re all amazed just like I am that he’s back. Horses like that, they’re once-in-a-lifetime horses,” Kelley said. “They’re remarkable in their own way. Where there’s a will, there’s a way and they find a way to get back in the game. I’m just hoping we can go week to week, he can stay sound and we can manage him properly and it can be a fun 2020.” Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights through December 17.  By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – “He’s back.” That’s the first thing that went through harness racing trainer Nick DeVita’s mind after watching Heaven’s Gait score a comeback win in the $14,000 winners over at Saratoga Nov. 9. Although the race setup for a closer as a pair of leaders hooked up in a speed duel through panels of :26.3 and 54.2, Heaven’s Gait proved impressive. The 5-year-old wheeled first-over from a 6-length deficit in sixth passing the half, went three-wide around the leaders on the third turn under Jay Randall pistol grips, and opened a 4-length advantage through three-quarters in 1:22.4. With Randall still statuesque in the bike, Heaven’s Gait reported home a 5 1/2-length winner in 1:52.2. “That was a big relief to see him win the way he did at Saratoga. That’s the horse we knew we had,” DeVita said. “There was no doubt anymore that he was going to come back as good as he was. “Obviously, we have bigger plans for him next year with the Levy and everything,” DeVita continued. “We are just trying to get his feet back under him and trying not to push him too hard. He’s come back pretty good and we’re real happy with him so far and just trying to race him back into shape now.” The Saratoga victory was Heaven’s Gait’s first victory and only his second pari-mutuel start since winning the Empire Breeders Classic Final at Tioga Downs Aug. 20, 2017. Heaven’s Gait emerged from his 1:49.2 victory in the $263,000 stakes with an injury that send him to the sidelines. “He didn’t come out of that race too great,” DeVita said. “He was a little sore for a few days and we took a few X-rays and saw that he broke his P1 (first Phalanx). We just stopped with him, obviously and gave him the rest of the year off to heal.” By Rock N Roll Heaven out of the Somebeachsomewhere mare Booya Beach, Heaven’s Gait is a homebred for John Cummins. The horse stood out to DeVita from day one. “When he first came into the farm, he just looked like a big ball of muscle. He looked like he was going to be a nice athlete,” DeVita said. “He did everything right from the start and as we started going faster miles, he just did it so easily and seemed to enjoy it so much. He never gave us any problems and he just had a special look about him, the way he carries himself. He’s a very intelligent horse.” Heaven’s Gait made just five starts at 2, winning a pair of overnights at Pocono Downs. At 3, he won two legs of the New York Sire Stakes and the $75,000 Hempt Consolation. He crossed the wire first in the last five starts of his sophomore campaign, culminating with the Empire Breeders Classic. “He was a homebred for us, so we really worked with him from the ground up,” DeVita said. “To win a big race like that, it was quite a thrill and such an honor. I was just proud to be part of the team and John has been so hands-on with him. John loves his horses, so it was really special to win that race. It was very rewarding, the road to get there.” DeVita took Heaven’s Gait’s injury in stride and the support of Cummins, a veterinarian based in Lexington, proved invaluable. “It’s part of the game, so you can only play the card you’re dealt. Dr. Cummins is a very knowledgeable veterinarian and he told us what we needed to do. He was onboard in helping us any way he could,” DeVita said. “We followed his advice and he said, ‘if you do the right thing, he should come back no problem,’ and he did. “We’re very careful with him. John doesn’t put a lot of pressure on us; he wants the right thing done by his horse and we respect that,” DeVita continued. “That makes it so much easier when the owner wants the best thing done with their horse and you don’t have the pressure to bring them back too early or do something that you don’t feel comfortable doing. We just took our time with him and he let us know when he was ready to come back.” Heaven’s Gait qualified five times between Aug. 22, 2018 and Dec. 1, 2018, but never started in a pari-mutuel race. He trialed again Oct. 9 at Pocono Downs in 1:55 before posting a final qualifier one week later in 1:54.2. Heaven’s Gait finished second in his return to the races at Saratoga Nov. 2. After his comeback win, he started from post eight in Saratoga’s Open Handicap, but found himself at a 12 1/2-length disadvantage through a :57.1 half. In his last start at Yonkers Nov. 23, Heaven’s Gait finished sixth in the $35,000 Preferred Handicap. “His last start at Saratoga, they nearly went a second quarter in 31 seconds and he was sitting last. It doesn’t matter how good you are, if you’re that far out of it, especially at a track like Saratoga, you’re hoping to finish fifth at that point,” DeVita said. “We had the rail last week and just our first start at Yonkers, tried to get around there safely. He did and he finished strong. Hopefully we get away a little closer this week.” Heaven’s Gait will continue his comeback in the $42,000 Open Handicap Pace Saturday night (Dec. 7). George Brennan, who leads Jason Bartlett in the driver standings 411 to 407, will drive the stallion from post one. The pair are 6-1 on the morning line. Last week’s Open Handicap winner Mac’s Jackpot will start from post six as he seeks four straight wins. Jack’s Legend was assigned post eight off a pair of impressive victories in the Open Handicap and Preferred Handicap in his last two starts Nov. 16 and 23, respectively. The Real One and Saying Grace, who finished second and third to Mac’s Jackpot last week, drew posts seven and two, respectively. The Wall, who was handicapped by post seven last week, drew post five Saturday night. Raukapuka Ruler and Sunfire Blue Chip complete the lineup and enter off wins for $27,000 Nov. 23. “He’s in against tough horses, but we plan to race him against the best horses,” DeVita said. “I think he can go with them no problem. He was one of the best 3-year-olds in 2017 in New York and he raced against good horses then and I’m sure he’ll be able to compete with them. “He’s shown that he can win on the lead, he can win from off the pace, he can fly home. He’s great off a helmet. I really have no concern there,” DeVita continued. “Yonkers is a good track to race off the pace and there’s really no pressure on George to put him on the lead by no means. He is in against those tough horses and hopefully he can work out a trip and hopefully it works out for us.” Regardless of the outcome Saturday night, DeVita still sees the same spark in Heaven’s Gait that made him stand out as a yearling. “He loves to work, very classy horse, professional. He never gave us a problem. He’s still a stallion and he’s a perfect gentleman. You can walk a mare right past him. He’s a pleasure to work with. You know a special horse when you’re around them. They act different, they carry themselves differently, they know they’re special.” Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights through December 17. First post time is 6:50 p.m.  By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Havefaithinme’s start in the Open Handicap Pace at Yonkers Raceway Saturday night (Nov. 30) will likely be his final race of the year and the gelding will try to add a harness racing victory in the Hilltop’s $42,000 feature to an impressive seasonal resume. Havefaithinme has earned 10 victories and nine placings from 29 starts this year, good for $188,755 in earnings for owners Blindswitch Racing Stable, Gary Axelrod, Good Friends Racing Stable, and Santo Farina. Although Havefaithinme’s record isn’t out of place for a champion imported pacer, the 8-year-old New Zealand-bred’s road to success in America was anything but ordinary. Campaigned in New Zealand and Australia by Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen from July 2014 to January 2018, Havefaithinme established himself as one of the best pacers in the Southern Hemisphere. The Bettor’s Delight son earned four Group 1 victories at 3, including the Northern Derby and New Zealand Derby. At 4, Havefaithinme added another Group 1 from a standing start in the Auckland Cup over 3,200 meters on New Year’s Eve in 2015. Havefaithinme continued his 4-year-old campaign in Australia, rattling off four straight wins at Menangle, culminating in two Group 1 wins in the Chariots of Fire Feb. 13, 2016 and the Miracle Mile 15 days later. Havefaithinme’s 1:47.5 clocking in the Miracle Mile established a new standard for pacers in the Southern Hemisphere. Although the Miracle Mile was Havefaithinme’s final Group 1 victory, the pacer remained competitive at the top level until Blindswitch Racing’s David Litvinsky received a call from an agent in late 2017. Havefaithinme had just finished second to Lazarus in a heat of the Inter Dominion Pacing Series Gloucester Park Dec. 1 and the pacer was for sale. “There was an agent I was dealing with, I had gotten a bunch of horses from him in the past, and he said there was an opportunity to buy one of the top horses in Australia at the time,” Litvinsky recalled. “The owner would sell the horse, but he wanted to race the horse in three more races over there. “When he contacted me, he just came in second, first-over, three-wide. It was really amazing. He was outside the entire race and just flying home, he lost to Lazarus,” Litvinsky continued. “I was like, ‘this is something special.’ I got a group together and we told the agent we would buy the horse and we were OK with him racing three more times for the old owner and we would get the horse afterwards.” Havefaithinme finished last in his next three starts in the Group 1 Inter Dominion Grand Final Dec. 8, the Group 2 Village Kid Pace Dec. 29, and the Group 1 Western Australia Pacing Cup Jan. 19, 2018 before shipping to Blindswitch’s stable in Montgomery, N.Y. However, Litvinsky and trainer Jose Godinez soon discovered something was amiss. “I think he shipped within a week or two after the races. We brought him in, gave him a week off, and let him recoup himself after the travel,” Litvinsky said. “We took him for a jog, and he was dead lame, dead lame. We brought him back in and in the next day or two, we X-rayed his back leg and he had a pretty bad fracture in a hind leg.” Although the exact cause and timing of the injury remains a mystery, the fracture wasn’t fresh. “I sent the X-rays to our vet as well as Dr. Nutt and both of them basically said it was an old fracture, that it was already calcifying,” Litvinsky said. “If it was something that happened within the flight, it would have been fresh. It might have happened during his last three races in Australia.” Dr. Nutt repaired Havefaithinme’s leg with three screws. Although the injury wasn’t life-threatening, the surgeon gave the horse a 60 to 70 percent chance of returning to the races. Although Litvinsky praises Dr. Nutt for his work and friendship throughout the process, the ordeal soured what should have been an exciting venture with an imported champion. “It was frustrating when you find out it happened prior to him shipping. Was it just an honest mistake? We tried to get the money back, but basically, buyer beware,” Litvinsky said. “We didn’t vet the horse after his last few races. The vet report was before those races, so we really should have vetted him out again, but that’s hindsight. Luckily, he’s just an amazing horse and he was able to rebound from an injury like that.” After four months off, Havefaithinme began training back. He qualified twice at Pocono Downs in Sept. 2018, finishing second and first clocked in 1:56 and 1:53.2, respectively with final quarters of :27.1 in both trials. “It was scary. You don’t want to see him break down or hurt himself. Watching his qualifier, just hoping that he comes out OK and doesn’t fall down during the race,” Litvinsky said. “Usually, you aren’t that nervous during a qualifier, but for him, it was almost like a race. He was super, he brushed and came home in :27.1. Just incredible, he’s an amazing horse.” Havefaithinme went 1-for-9 last year, his lone win coming in a $23,000 overnight at Yonkers Oct. 30. After a brief freshening over the holidays into January, Havefaithinme found his best form this year. Havefaithinme returned with a victory in a $29,000 overnight at Yonkers Feb. 9 and posted a win in Saratoga’s pacing feature the Feb. 18. After hitting the board in three straight starts, Havefaithinme posted three consecutive wins in April before taking on top competition in the Great Northeast Open Series at Pocono Downs May 18. Although he finished sixth in his first attempt in the series, Havefaithinme finished second to None Bettor in 1:49.2 after a pocket trip June 22. “He chased None Bettor when None Bettor was super sharp, just missing by a neck at Pocono in one of the Great Northeast Open Series legs. He’s just that type of horse. He gives it all, doesn’t matter who he’s racing against,” Litvinsky said. Havefaithinme’s remarkable comeback continued throughout the summer as he earned three more victories in overnights at Yonkers and Pocono. He’s raced at Yonkers exclusively in his last eight starts, finishing second in the Open Handicap twice and posting victories in the $35,000 Preferred in two of his last three starts. “He’s just one of those horses that likes to win. Whenever you pull him up and a horse comes up next to him that looks like he’s going to pass him outside, he just won’t let anybody pass. He just goes into another gear when he sees another horse come up to him,” Litvinsky said. “He knows. He won’t give up that lead. In Australia, he didn’t race on the front a lot, but over here on the front end he’s a monster. If he’s 100 percent, no one’s passing him, I don’t care who it is. “He’s also the sweetest horse. He’s like a dog,” Litvinsky continued. “My son goes up and pets him and kisses him and gives him love. It’s an extra bonus of having a super horse on the track and also in the barn. He just does everything right.” Havefaithinme will start from post five in Saturday’s pacing feature. Jason Bartlett drove in Havefaithinme’s two Preferred wins and takes the call again. The pair are 7-2 on the morning line. New Zealand-bred Bettor’s Fire returns to the Hilltop after two front-stepping wins in the Plainridge Park feature November 7 and 14. Ron Cushing drives the 11-year-old gelding for Heidi Gibbs. The third New Zealand import in the field, Saying Grace, won three straight in the Open ranks at Hoosier Park before shipping in to finish second to Jack’s Legend here Nov. 16. The Jeff Cullipher trainee was also on the lead in his prior two races. Ron Burke will send out Windsong Leo, who has led at every call in each of his last three starts at the Meadows and Dover, but drew post eight in his first local start since the Levy Series. Fine Diamond, Mac’s Jackpot, The Real One, and The Wall complete the lineup. “There’s good horses and it’s probably his last race before getting turned out. He’s going to go to Chris Coyle’s (Olive Branch Farm) in North Carolina, probably after this race. He’s probably getting a little tired,” Litvinsky said. “It’s the Open, anything can happen. It’s wide open, I just trust Bartlett will do the right thing and hopefully Havefaithinme has another one in him and hope for the best. Honestly, whatever happens, I’m grateful for an amazing season from him.” Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights through December 17. First post time is 6:50 p.m. By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Few harness racing owners exhibit the passion for their horse that Giuseppe Franco shows for Zacon Gio. Following the 4-year-old trotter’s breakout victory in the $1 million Yonkers International Trot Oct. 12 at Yonkers Raceway, Franco returned home to Naples, Italy keeping Zacon Gio close by all the way. Franco and his team left through New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport toting hardcase luggage emblazed with images of the champion trotter. The baggage not only put Franco’s passion for his horse and team on display, but also invited a host of questions from curious passersby. While Zacon Gio returned to Holger Ehlert’s stable to find his stall adorned with Italian and Yonkers International Trot flags, red, white, and green balloons, and a poster reading, “Benvenuto a casa Zacon Gio! Nostro campione,” (Welcome home Zacon Gio! Our champion), Franco returned to a block party at his Ribar Caffé in southeaster Naples. While Zacon Gio’s Yonkers International Trot winner’s circle celebration was lively, Franco received even more support for his homecoming. Posters and balloons in the Italian colors adorned every table and wall of the corner restaurant while banners flew over the street from one building to another and corks flew out of champagne bottles. At another event, Franco crafted a pizza with his trotter’s name on it as a tribute. The SOA of NY’s Brandon Valvo caught up with Franco to reflect on Zacon Gio’s Yonkers International Trot victory and the celebrations that followed…. BV: It’s been over a month since Zacon Gio won the Yonkers International Trot. Has the win sunken in? What was the experience like as you look back at it? GF: More than a month has passed, but I tell you that I think about it almost every day and it was an indescribable emotion. BV: Does winning a race like the Yonkers International Trot change your life? GF: Life at the racetrack, certainly. Personal life, no. BV: There was a huge crowd in the winner’s circle after the race. Can you tell me a little about who was there? What did it mean to you to have so many people there supporting you and the horse? GF: I think that we brought 17 people from Italy between family and team of ‘Zacon.’ Then in America, there is my family, so we were more than 30 people to support Zacon Gio. BV: The Zacon Gio suitcases really caught my eye! Did you have those custom made just for this trip? GF: We made it for this American trip, and I do not hide that we had so many compliments.” BV: It looked like there was a big celebration for Zacon Gio when you returned home. I saw pictures of balloons, posters, flags, banners, I think I even saw a picture of a pizza with Zacon Gio’s name on it! Tell me about the celebrations and the parties when you got home. GF: After we got back from the airport, we went out to an activity at my restaurant and bar and I tell you that the whole neighborhood participated in this beautiful party and it was a very beautiful thing. Then there was another activity of mine at a pizzeria and we invented a pizza with the name Zacon Gio and it is having so much success. BV: How did harness racing fans in Italy react to Zacon Gio’s win? GF: They were happy. BV: How long have you owned racehorses? How did you get involved in the sport? GF: I was born into horses because my father (Giovanni) owns a stable that is 50 years old. BV: How did you acquire Zacon Gio? GF: ‘Zacon’ we purchased after he had done five races. I followed him and already he gave me the impression of an important horse. BV: Did anything stand out about him when you first acquired him? Did you always think he was special? GF: I always thought he was a good horse, but did I think that he could then become ‘Zacon’ and win the International Trot, I tell you the truth, no. BV: How did you feel before the Yonkers International Trot? Were you confident, nervous, or both? GF: I was very excited. I knew we played it because Holger (Ehlert) had told me we were going to America with the right confidence to be able to fight the victory. BV: Had you ever been to America or to New York City before? GF: I was in America 7 years ago on my honeymoon. BV: Zacon Gio is still a young horse. Are you excited about his future? What other big races would you like to compete in going forward? GF: The horse is young and healthy this makes us hope that it can have a long career. The next goal will be the Gran Premio Lotteria at Agnano in Naples, my city of origin. Then I would like to participate in the Prix d'Amérique next year and schedule a return to America and make two or three races in America. by Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

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

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