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YONKERS, N.Y. – Harness racing trainer Rene Allard knows how it feels to win the George Morton Levy Memorial Pacing Series Final. The trainer captured Yonkers Raceway’s richest pacing event in each of the last two years with Keystone Velocity and took the 2015 edition with Domethatagain. Allard will take aim at his third straight Levy victory and fourth overall when he sends out Western Fame in Saturday night’s $662,800 series final. The lead up to this year’s final has a distinct feel for Allard, however. His past winners were outsiders, or even longshots. Despite drawing post one, Domethatagain was 6-1 in the final after winning one preliminary leg and finishing second in another. Keystone Velocity pulled off an 11-1 surprise in winning his first Levy title and was a tepid 5-2 favorite last year after scoring just one victory in the preliminaries. Western Fame however, is expected to be a heavy favorite Saturday night. “I think it’s a lot of pressure, more pressure than usual because we’re going to have the favorite,” Allard said. “Having the favorite is always a little extra pressure, but I would rather be the favorite than the longest shot on the board. That means we have a good shot.” A fixture in the barn of Jimmy Takter since the beginning of his career, Western Fame won a division of the Bluegrass and eliminations of the Little Brown Jug and Breeders’ Crown and finished second in the Jug Final, Pennsylvania Sire Stakes Final, Tattersalls Pace, and Matron Stakes at 3. At 4, Western Fame captured the Prix d’Été and Confederation Cup and was third in the Graduate Final. After racing at the FFA level throughout 2018, Allard eyed the Western Ideal son for his stable. “I was looking, trying to find a horse to replace Keystone Velocity. He was going to stud to breed and retire and I was looking for one in that age group,” Allard explained. “I obviously didn’t think McWicked and a couple of those other ones would be for sale, but I thought this one might come up for sale because I knew Jimmy was retiring. I contacted them and said, ‘if this horse ever comes up for sale, let me know.’ ” About a month later, Allard’s phone rang. Western Fame was for sale. Allard agreed on a price, and the deal was complete. “Everything happened pretty fast,” Allard added. Western Fame made a favorable impression from the moment he arrived in the barn. His intelligence and professionalism impressed his new trainer, who owns the stallion in partnership with Go Fast Stable, Stephen Klunowski, B And I Stable, and Gilbert Short. “Classy horses like him are definitely pleasant to be around. He’s a good horse to be around, very smart horse, obviously Takter did a great job with him throughout his career,” Allard said. “Everything he does, he does it right. Working around fast horses, those are the ones I like to work around the best. I don’t mind if they have issues, but if they have speed, that’s half the battle.” Western Fame made his first start for Allard December 2, 2018 when he captured the $100,000 Potomac Pace at Rosecroft Raceway. After a winter break, Western Fame qualified back at Yonkers February 2 before making his seasonal debut March 9 in the Open Handicap at Saratoga. Although he finished third in that start, he was rough around the final turn as he made a bid to circle the field. “The first start this year, he was struggling a little bit in the turns,” Allard said. “We changed his shoeing and did a couple adjustments to his equipment and he’s been super ever since. We changed his shoes, we have spreaders on him, and he’s been really good since.” Western Fame put his Levy rivals on notice with a first-leg blowout win March 17. He scored in wire-to-wire fashion by 5 ¾ lengths in 1:51.1, pacing a final quarter in :27. After a runner-up finish in week two, Western Fame returned to his dominant ways, taking legs three, four, and five by 2, 5 ½, and 1 ¾ lengths, respectively. Western Fame kicked home in :27 in his last two starts and his fourth-leg victory came in 1:50.4, equaling the season’s mark at Yonkers. “We knew he was a good horse. He’s won a lot of races at the highest level, so we thought he’d be a nice horse to have for the aged pacing stakes, but he’s really gone beyond our expectations. He’s been really good,” Allard said. Western Fame drew post position five in the rich Levy Series Final and is expected to be a heavy favorite off his dominance in the preliminaries. However, fellow leavers The Downtown Bus, JJ Flynn, and Anythingforlove all drew inside the series leader. Allard will leave the race tactics to regular driver Dan Dube, who piloted both Keystone Velocity and Domethatagain to their Levy wins. “I think the horse can be driven any way. Throughout his career, he’s done it from every spot, so I don’t think he’s only one way,” Allard said. “But I believe Dube is probably going to be pretty aggressive being the favorite in there. “Western Fame has been super since we purchased him. He’s ultra-consistent and I expect him to be right there on Saturday again,” Allard continued. “He looks good, feels good. Any time you go for that kind of money on a half-mile track, it’s never easy. It’s not going to be easy, so hopefully everything goes well, and we’ll keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best.” For Allard, winning the Levy carries meaning beyond the purse money. He considers Yonkers his home track; he was leading trainer in 2015, 2016, and 2018 and currently tops the trainer standings. Last year, Allard made nearly half of his 1,717 starts at the Hilltop. “Yonkers is the racetrack that I race at the most and this is the biggest race of the year for us there. I haven’t had a chance to have a trotter in the International yet, maybe one day, but the Levy is a race that anyone who races at Yonkers wants to win,” Allard said. “It makes it extra special; that’s our track that we race at, we’re there every night. It means a lot to win that race, it would mean a lot to get it done. “Last time we won, I think I had Dube on top of my shoulders,” Allard continued. “Every time we win, the party gets a little crazier and crazier. We celebrate; that’s one thing that we do with Team Allard is we try to have fun. You live only once, so we try to live right.” The field for the Levy Series Final is listed below: Post Position   Horse   Driver  Trainer  1       Anythingforlove A         Joe Bongiorno             Jenn Bongiorno 2       More The Better N       Scott Zeron                  Ross Croghan 3       JJ Flynn                       Tim Tetrick*                  Josh Green 4       The Downtown Bus     Tim Tetrick*                 Jeff Gillis 5       Western Fame             Dan Dube                    Rene Allard 6       Rodeo Rock                 Andrew McCarthy       Robert Cleary 7       The Wall                       Andy Miller                  Nick Surick 8       Ideal Jimmy                  Brent Holland               Erv Miller Driver choice to be announced. Saturday night’s card also features the $401,600 Blue Chip Matchmaker Series Final, the $100,000 Levy Series Consolation, the $75,000 Matchmaker Series Consolation, and a $50,000 Open Handicap Trot. First post time is 6:50 p.m. For entries to the races, click here.  Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Dennis Watson isn’t getting much sleep these days. His George Morton Levy Memorial Pacing Series contender Lyons Steel is 12th in the standings ahead of the last preliminary harness racing leg Saturday night (April 13). A victory in the last leg would likely earn him a spot in the estimated $660,000 final April 20. It would be the biggest race of Watson’s training career. “That would be the greatest thing for me, I mean the greatest thing,” Watson emphasized. “I’m used to racing cheap horses and I’ve never had the opportunity to train a good stakes horse of my own in my own stable. My head doesn’t get big, the same helmet fits me and I remain humble. A lot of people, my family, everybody watches when he races. It’s a big opportunity.” A regular trainer and driver at Freehold for years, Watson’s career in harness racing began as a teenager working for Sonny Dancer. Amid a difficult upbringing, Watson discovered his passion for working with horses. “I was born in a women’s prison and went to a foster home around where Dancer used to train. I lived down the street from him and I took an interest in training horses and that’s how I got started with Dancer when I was 15 years old,” Watson explained. "He used to pick us up at the foster home and take us to the track and we used to watch them train and that’s how I got started working with racehorses with him. He was a first-class trainer. I enjoyed it, being top trainer at Liberty Bell and these tracks.” Watson eventually went out on his own, but finding horses he could afford proved challenging. Watson improvised and made a career out of rehabilitating Standardbreds sold by the Amish.  “I mainly used to deal with Amish horses. I used to wait at the Amish truck and I’d look at their papers and take them off the truck,” Watson said. “Whatever amount of money I had to buy, I took them off the Amish truck and patched them up and got them back to the races. That’s all I had. Nobody would give you a horse to train, but I would patch those horses up and get them to the races and one time I made the second-leading driver at Freehold racing those horses.” Now semi-retired, Watson’s stable consists of a small group of claimers and young horses. The standout among them is Lyons Steel, a 4-year-old Rock N Roll Heaven gelding who Watson and owner Bryan Dzugan purchased at the 2018 Meadowlands January Mixed Sale for $17,000. Watson and Dzugan connected while campaigning the hard-knocking claimer Whataorse at Freehold and the Meadowlands between 2013 and last summer. Watson worked with Whataorse early in the gelding’s career, but lost him to a claim in 2011. After racing in Pennsylvania for some time, Whataorse returned to Freehold and Watson worked with Dzugan to get the gelding back. The partnership paid off and Watson and Dzugan went to the sale together last winter. “We went over a bunch of young horses at the Meadowlands sale and we picked Lyons Steel out,” Watson remembered. “We went for it and he got him. It was a great deal.” Lyons Steel proved to be a project. After going just 1-for-9 as a 2-year-old and failing to make an impression in the New York Sire Stakes Excelsior A division, Lyons Steel began his sophomore season with an 0-for-10 streak racing in overnights at Freehold and the Meadowlands. “When we got him, he wasn’t performing too well, but I just kept working with him until I got him straightened out,” Watson said. “We had to teach him. He used to make breaks and stuff, but when he did get it together, he would show a lot of speed, so I said this is a horse worth dealing with.” Lyons Steel finally broke through with a 1:58 win in a $2,800 overnight at Freehold April 27, 2018. He doubled up in his next start a week later, scoring in a 1:55.2 victory for $3,300. Lyons Steel continued to improve, surprising his connections with a runner up finish in NYSS individually timed in 1:50 at Vernon Downs May 28.  “I really didn’t know how fast he was. Every place I asked him to go, he would do whatever I asked him to do,” Watson said. “He didn’t start off too good, but he still showed potential. He couldn’t get around the half mile track when I first got him. He was a case. I like dealing with tough cases like that.” Lyons Steel went 5-for-32 in 2018, earning $107,578. His impressive development led to Watson and Dzugan nominating him to the Levy Series this spring. “We just said let’s take a shot and go in there. We were going to race him a couple starts and see if he was competitive and if he was, we were going to let him stay in there. “We took a chance,” Watson said. Lyons Steel ran into trouble in the first leg of the series when the field scattered behind breaking rival Windsong Leo. In week two, Lyons Steel finished fifth beaten 5 ¾ lengths, but Watson saw enough from his :27.3 final quarter to continue in the series. Week three proved to be the breakthrough as Lyons Steel kicked away from his rivals to win by 4 ½ lengths in 1:50.4., the fastest mile of the season at Yonkers. “I kind of put that first race aside and said, let’s see what happens in the next one. And the next race, they went a pretty good last half and he was still competitive, so I said, let’s put him in another one and take another shot, and that’s when he showed real great speed,” Watson said. “He fooled me a little bit, he fooled me. When he came out of that hole like a slingshot, he likes to do that, so I thought if he keeps going, he would fare well,” Watson said. “He did keep going and he didn’t have to get urged. He was in hand, so that means he still has more in him. He didn’t hit him or anything, didn’t have to touch him.” Last week, Lyons Steel left from post six, but was caught in a speed duel with The Downtown Bus. Parked the mile, Lyons Steel tired to finish seventh, leaving the 4-year-old with 163 points heading into Saturday’s last preliminary leg. Lyons Steel is a 7-1 morning line from post four in Saturday’s seventh race while rival The Downtown Bus drew post one as the 5-2 early favorite. Gokudo Hanover is 3-1 from post six while Imarocnrollegend will start at 6-1 from post two. A win by any of the four aforementioned horses would likely earn them a spot in the final. Major Crocker, Always At My Place, Rodeo Romeo, and Bettors Fire complete the field. “I’m a little nervous about the race coming up because the one he got into the duel with has got the rail and we have the four hole,” Watson said. “I never tell a driver how to drive, so the decision is his. I just hope we fare well. I probably won’t sleep (Friday) night; I don’t think so. “Oh, it would mean a lot to make the final. Yes, it would.” Saturday night’s card features four divisions of the Levy Series fifth leg and the regular Open Handicap Trot. The Blue Chip Matchmaker and Levy Series Finals will be held Saturday, April 20. Live harness racing is featured at Yonkers Raceway every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. First post time is 6:50 p.m. For entries to the races, click here.   By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – For the past several years, harness racing driver Jim Marohn, Jr. made a name for himself racing all over the east coast. Logging many miles on the track and on the road, the reinsman’s work ethic paid dividends. Each year from 2010 to 2018, his purse earnings have increased; horses driven by Marohn earned $1,028,569 in 2010 and by last year, the annual haul increased to $5,282,697. “I was a mainstay at the Meadowlands and during stakes season there, I really wouldn’t get a lot of play,” Marohn explained. “I would go to the Poconos and race there. Then I became a regular over there for a couple years. I would run back and forth between the Meadowlands, Pocono, and Chester and it got me in the mix with a lot of trainers and helped me build a lot of relationships.” But over the last couple seasons, Marohn made Yonkers Raceway his home. Backed by powerful stables like Rob Harmon, Marohn made an impression. In 2017, Marohn finished 16th in the local driver standings with 24 wins and $475,633 earned. Last year, he was fourth on the list with 167 victories and $3.4 million. “Things are going really good. I started driving at Yonkers last year and I decided to try to stick it out to be a regular here and it seems like it’s working out very well,” Marohn said. “My big account is with Rob Harmon and he has no problem helping me out and he got me started over here and we’re still doing pretty good together. And I’m just trying to pick up drives. It’s a good place to be because a lot of people watch Yonkers and a lot of trainers go in and out of Yonkers. It’s a good place to get exposure. “You can take any regular at Yonkers and put them at a lot of other tracks and they’re going to be leading driver, if not very close to it,” Marohn continued. “All those guys on one racetrack every night, it’s very competitive and the talent there is limitless.” While Marohn adjusted to racing at the Hilltop with little difficulty, the lifestyle change associated with racing at Yonkers full-time has been more challenging. Accustomed to traveling all over the east coast, the 37-year-old is now more grounded due to Yonkers’ five-night per week schedule.  “The past couple years, I’m not really running around as much as I was. Making the move over to Yonkers, it’s hard to run around as much because Yonkers races when pretty much every other track races except for Wednesdays and Sundays. It’s a little different, but it’s not a bad thing at all,” Marohn explained. “I am still getting used to it and I don’t mean the racing style, I mean not running,” he continued. “I live in New Jersey, so I was always on the road to the Poconos, I was always on the road to Tioga, Chester, Meadowlands, and now it’s just Yonkers. I go to Freehold on Fridays and Saturdays, but other than that, there’s no other place you can race and still race at Yonkers as a regular. You could do Chester and Yonkers, but you’ll wear yourself right out. That’s not a good combination to throw at yourself.” Being a top driver in the standings, Marohn is getting plenty of opportunities in this year’s Matchmaker and Levy Series. Marohn took the time to discuss his drives in this weekend’s series legs with the SOA of NY’s Brandon Valvo. Friday, March 29, 4th Race - $40,000 Matchmaker Third Leg, First Division #2 Medusa (12-1) Ed Hart trainee and Yonkers stalwart Medusa returned off a winter layoff February 12 at the Meadows. Posted a win and two placings in three starts in the Preferred there before returning to Yonkers for the series. Marohn drove the 8-year-old Bettor’s Delight daughter to a sixth-place finish in leg one before she was an improved third last time out in leg two. Drew just outside Apple Bottom Jeans, who is 2-for-2 in the series. “Medusa had a break before she came out here, she raced three starts at the Meadows. She’s old, classy, she’s an open mare wherever she goes. She gets around Yonkers and she raced a lot better in her last start than she did in her first start back at Yonkers. Ed Hart told me he got to train her a little more this past week, so that’s why she raced better. I think she’s in a good spot. Apple Bottom Jeans is right underneath her and it looks like she should get a really good trip in there. She’s a horse for the course; she gets around this track perfect and she’s very classy. She gets a little anxious behind the gate, but once she gets away from the gate, she’s two-fingers, she’s push-button. You can tell her to go on a little more and she will, and she won’t overexert herself and she’ll come right back to you. She can leave good and she can come right back to you, she won’t stay excited the whole mile.” Friday, March 29, 6th Race – $40,000 Matchmaker Third Leg, Second Division #5 Itty Bitty (8-1) Came to the Allard stable early this year and despite being plagued by outside assignments in the local distaff opens, has a win and a second to her credit since the barn change with Marohn in the sulky. Dan Dube drove her in the first two legs of the Matchmaker, but Marohn is back in the bike this week. The 5-year-old mare likes to come from off the pace.  “That’s another nice mare. She had a decent year last year in the Harris barn and Rene bought her early this year. She’s an open-level mare at this track, she deserves to be with those horses. She’s kind of a trippy horse, but she’s no slouch. There were a few weeks where they were assigning her the outside in the open, and it’s just so hard for horses to overcome that. She drew into the three-hole in the open one night and she won. She’s very anxious, she’s really nervous out there. She’s one that you kind of have to keep her by herself and keep her calmed down, you actually don’t want to stir her up much at the beginning of the mile. I think that’s why she races so much better off the pace. She doesn’t like to relax, you have to make her relax. You have to calm her down because she goes out there pretty keyed-up. It is a little tricky. Friday, March 29, 7th Race – $40,000 Matchmaker Third Leg, Third Division #5 Seaswift Joy (5-2) New Zealand-bred daughter of Bettor’s Delight out of the Christian Cullen mare Swift Belle made her debut for trainer Tony Alagna at the Meadowlands in February. After a fourth and a second at the Swamp, she won three straight at Yonkers with Marohn in the sulky, including a division of the Matchmaker first leg March 15. Finished a strong third last week after a difficult trip and drew outside of major danger Don’t Think Twice tonight.  “This is a very nice mare. Tony and his crew have done a great job with her so far bringing her over and getting her ready. I like this mare a lot. She’s raced good every start at Yonkers. Since she’s come here, she’s been right on her game. Last week with a rough trip, she fought and gutted it out right to the wire. She just missed second. She could have been a bad third, but she was still trying. A lot of horses just would have been third. And last week, it was really windy out there, so she had to overcome a lot. Last week was kind of a weird race because she had the seven and Shartin had the eight and we both left out of there, both jockeying for position. Then there was a little mix up going to the half and Shartin was three-wide then. It was a confusing race. I knew going into the first turn, we weren’t going to get the lead and I looked for a spot. As things unfolded, I just wanted to wait as long as I could because in the stretch last week, the wind was really strong. I really didn’t want to be first-up, but I knew I was going to have to be and Jason had moved his horse, I didn’t know at that time Shartin was already on the move. I had to move my horse because I couldn’t get trapped in third. When I moved her, I just wanted to sit and not put too much pressure on her into the wind and then I saw Shartin was three-wide trying to pace around everybody. I had to go on with my horse because you can’t just let someone pace around you going into the third turn and I just had to play along by then and reserve my horse for the top of the stretch. I would like to race her close to the lead this week. I think Jason is probably going to be pretty aggressive with his mare, Don’t Think Twice. I can see me and Jason being pretty aggressive early and see how it shakes out from there.” Saturday, March 30, 4th Race – $50,000 Levy Third Leg, First Division  #1 Beckhams Z Tam (3-1) Breeders’ Crown winner at 3 and Prix d’Été winner at 4 for Macomber, the 5-year-old now races in the Bruce Saunders barn. Marohn qualified him at Yonkers February 15 and the pair finished second beaten only a nose the following week in his seasonal debut. Tim Tetrick drove in two series legs thus far, including a second-place finish in leg two, but Marohn gets the drive back Saturday night. “He’s a really nice horse and last year, he raced in all the free-for-all races, all the top-class races. He’s a classy horse, he gives you what he’s got. He raced great last week. They were really mixing it up on the front and he closed up very nice from behind. I don’t know how this race is really going to shake out. I’m glad I have the inside. I’m looking to keep him close. He went to the Meadowlands to get more of a tightener and Timmy wound up winning with him. He got to keep the drive when he came over for the Levy, but now that he went with Endeavor, I got the drive back.” Saturday, March 30, 11th Race – $50,000 Levy Third Leg, Fifth Division  #2 Rockathon (15-1) The 4-year-old Pet Rock son won a local Open Handicap February 2 and finished second in a $29,000 overnight March 9 for trainer Ricky Bucci. Hasn’t made an impression in the first two legs of the series, but gets post relief tonight. Marohn picks up the drive for the first time. “That’s a horse I don’t know, I’ve never driven him. He’s a high-class Yonkers horse. My approach is always to get some input from the trainer. I always want to find out what the horse’s dislikes are and how he is on the gate. Is he bad with the gate, can he go up to the gate good, can he leave the gate good or not. After that, I’ll read the program and watch some replays beforehand, but I’ll just take it from there.”   By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Glenn Goller watched with interest as Declan Seelster’s harness racing career began in the Ontario Sire Stakes at Mohawk. The Big Jim son turned heads with a 1:51.4 victory on debut August 19, 2017 and followed the effort with several other big miles, leading the Menary trainee to earn a place in the OSS Silver Final.  However, the talented pacer finished up the track in that start and failed to make an impression as a 3-year-old. He raced just six times between May 20 and July 7, 2018 and his best finish was a third-place effort in $13,090 overnight at Woodbine. As a result, Declan Seelster soon appeared on the sales listings. Goller pounced and gave the horse to Mark Harder to train. “The owner had watched the horse as an early 2-year-old,” Harder said. “He had some ability, but he tailed off and when he came up as available for sale, he bought him and asked me to take him.” Goller and Harder gave Declan Seelster plenty of time off. Their patience was immediately rewarded. When Declan Seelster started training back with Harder last November, he made a great first impression. “Looking at his lines, he showed a lot of ability as an early 2-year-old. It looked like it might have been a bit much too soon and it took a while to get over those early miles,” Harder said. “He seemed OK right from the get-go,” Harder continued. “He had a big, long break and he felt like a horse pretty much right from the get-go. He’s pretty mellow, a pretty easy-going horse, easy to be around. There are not many tricks to him, really. He’s pretty manageable.”  Declan Seelster qualified for Harder at the Meadowlands December 8, 2018, finishing fifth in 1:54. He made his first start six days later, winning an $11,000 overnight from off-the-pace in 1:52.3 and posting a :27.0 final quarter.  “He trained like he would be a good horse, but off his lines he showed that he really hadn’t been finishing at all and we really just wanted to make sure we didn’t use him too hard early and that he got braved up, got finishing, and passing some horses, and got a good attitude about it and it worked out right. We took our time with him, raced him the right way, got him finishing, and he’s just gotten better.” Declan Seelster continued to impress on the racetrack, finishing second from post 10 after trailing early December 22 and again being the runner up January 5 after setting the early fractions. Still fitting the non-winners of four races condition, Harder nominated the gelding to the Sagamore Hill Pacing Series at Yonkers Raceway. To prep for the four-week series, Harder gave Declan Seelster about a month off before bringing him to Yonkers to test the waters on the half-mile track. His first attempt February 18 yielded just a third-place finish, but a week later, Declan Seelster went down the road in a $14,500 overnight, winning by 5 lengths. “He started off struggling a little bit on the turns and we rigged him up more and more and he just seems like he’s gotten stronger and stronger every start. He just seems to be getting better with more practice over it,” Harder said. “Some horses take to Yonkers right away and some don’t. He came from the Meadowlands to there and just took a couple starts to get ready.” Declan Seelster continued to fire throughout the series. He finished second in a first leg division March 5 and followed the effort with two wins in the last two weeks, including an off-the-pace victory from post seven in leg two and a 1:53.3 win last out. He’s earned $25,000 in the series and leads the standings heading into the $60,200 final Tuesday night (March 26). Declan Seelster drew post five in the final and Joe Bongiorno will drive. He is the 5-2 co-second choice on the morning line. The Allard entry of Prologue and Wester Beachboy will start from posts four and six, respectively and together, are the 8-5 favorites. Ron Burke will send out Cheese Melt and Sharp Action Money. The duo drew posts one and seven, respectively and the entry is 5-2. On Accident is 9-1 from post two off wins in the series’ first and third legs. Yeahnah and Bettor Than Spring complete the lineup. “I’ve been watching them all, watching all those preliminary legs, so I sort of know what we’re up against,” Harder said. “It seems like the better ones all drew outside of him, so I’m sure they’ll be some action. You never really know what’s going to happen, so it’s up to the drivers. “I think he can do it either way. The nice thing about him is he’s a pretty relaxed horse in a race,” Harder continued. “He doesn’t take a lot out of himself. You can put him on the front and then the next week you can take him off the gate easily. During the race, he’s not crazy, he’s actually a little bit lazy in the race, so he takes care of himself.” The Sagamore Hill finale is carded as the sixth race while the $30,000 consolation will go as race eight. The Matchmaker and Levy Series continue this weekend. Live harness racing is featured at Yonkers Raceway every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. First post time is 6:50 p.m. For entries to the races, click here.   By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY  

YONKERS, N.Y. – When driver Tyler Buter guides Parkin In Heaven onto the racetrack for the $58,000 final of the Petticoat Series Monday night (March 25), he will doubtlessly be thinking of Gene Oldford. A longtime friend and client of Buter and his father, Todd, Oldford owned the 4-year-old pacer before his passing February 25, 2019 and the filly continues to race in his name. “I’ve trained for him my whole life and dad actually met him on the Michigan Harness Horsemen’s Association Board,” Buter said. “That was how dad and Gene got to be friends. Gene’s son Stephen is also really active in the business and we train some horses for him, too. That’s been a good relationship. “We’re hoping Gene is watching her on Monday and hoping he helps us out little bit,” Buter continued. “We need all the help we can get, right?” The Buters bought Parkin In Heaven for Oldford at the 2016 Harrisburg Sale for $25,000. Sired by Rock N Roll Heaven, the filly was out of Park Avenue, a mare owned by Oldford and campaigned by the Buters to earnings of $558,527. “You buy them as a yearling and you teach them everything they know. It’s definitely rewarding when you buy them as a yearling and they turn out to be a good race horse,” Buter said. “And we also raced her mom, Park Avenue, so that’s kind of cool in the sense that we raced her mom and now we have an offspring of hers that’s doing well. “Her mom was a really nice racehorse. They’re build a lot alike and they’re demeanor in the barn and on the racetrack is similar. You can definitely tell,” Buter continued. “She’s really quiet. You literally don’t even know she’s in the barn. She’s sweet, one of those quiet fillies that doesn’t fuss much.” Parkin In Heaven only made two starts as a 2-year-old, but broke her maiden early in her 3-year-old campaign. She’s 3-for-33 in her career with another 16 placings and has earned $57,690. She’s continued to improve as a 4-year-old and has adapted to racing on a half-mile track, which led to her connections taking a shot in the Petticoat Series. “As a 3-year-old, she had a decent year. She was always a little better on the bigger tracks as a 3-year-old. We raced her a lot at Pocono,” Buter said. “And then as a 4-year-old, she just seems to get better every start. She’s learned to race on a half a lot better. She gets around it a lot better than a year ago.” Despite her steady development, Parkin In Heaven’s path to the Petticoat Final wasn’t a sure thing. After a third-place finish in the series’ first leg March 4 and a runner-up effort to Ella Is Awesome the following week, Parkin In Heaven was on the bubble going into the last preliminary leg March 18. However, after drawing into a field with only five rivals, Buter was confident. “I was confident that if I had her somewhere close to the front, she was going to be top three,” he said. “That wasn’t a huge concern. She always finishes really well. As long as you have her close to the front, she’s going to finish well.” Parkin In Heaven rode the pylons in fourth 5 lengths behind Cabowabocuttie in her last outing. Buter guided her second-over behind longshot Playin The Ponies past the three-quarters and tipped three-wide around the final turn. Parkin In Heaven cruised past her cover in the lane to finish third, elevating her series earnings to $9,800. The total put her eighth in the Petticoat standings and earned her a place in the final. Parkin In Heaven drew post two in the final, slated as the eighth race Monday night, and is a 12-1 morning line chance.Odds On Ashely is 3-1 from post four after two wins and a second in the series while racing on the frond end. Catch An Ace will start from post five and is the 5-2 morning line choice off a first-leg win and two runner-up finishes. Robyn Camden and Cabowabocuttie each posted wins in legs two and three of the series, but drew posts six and seven, respectively while Ella Is Awesome, who won in the first two legs of the series, drew the inside. Bye Hanover and Ghosttothepost complete the lineup. Parkin In Heaven’s start in the Petticoat Final will be especially meaningful for Buter. Not only will it be the biggest race of her career to date, it could also be one of her last races for the Buters as Parkin In Heaven is likely to be included in an online dispersal of Oldford’s stable in the near future. “Hopefully she races good for us and everything works out. Hopefully she makes a good racehorse for someone else, too,” Buter said. “Obviously, we drew good in the final, so we’re hoping they shake it up a little bit and we’re right there at the end. “That’s a good spot. I know some of the better ones drew the outside, so it will be interesting,” Buter continued. “She has gate speed, so as a driver, you just kind of play it by ear. You have to go by what your horse is telling you behind the gate and what the other horses are doing. It all changes when they say ‘go’ that’s for sure.” Tuesday night’s card features the $60,200 Sagamore Hill finale while the Matchmaker and Levy Series continue this weekend. Live harness racing is featured at Yonkers Raceway every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. First post time is 6:50 p.m. For entries to the races, click here.   By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – When Delightfulmemphis wheeled first-over on heavy favorite Bettor Joy in the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series first leg March 15, harness racing trainer Nifty Norman didn’t have high hopes. As rain poured down and the track quickly changed from fast to sloppy, Bettor Joy brushed to the front and cruised untested through a half in :56.1. With Jason Bartlett’s whip on her tail, Delightfulmemphis worked within 1 ½ lengths passing the three-quarters, but appeared to stall around the final turn as Tim Tetrick confidently handled the leader. “I was quite happy to be second, I thought that would be just fine; come first-over and finish second, that would be great,” Norman said. “I knew that other mare was a very nice mare and I didn’t expect to beat her.” Luckily for Norman, Bartlett didn’t concede that easily. Turning for home, the track’s leading driver kicked out the plugs and went to a strong right-handed stick. Delightfulmemphis straightened out, bore down, and inched closer and closer. The mares crossed the wire together and Delightfulmemphis got her nose in front in time to win the $40,000 series split. “I thought it was fantastic. I thought turning for home, she had no shot, but she’s one of those horses who can just hang around and stay close,” Norman said. “Once she’s in the straights, she gets wound up a little bit and right at the wire, she just lunged at that other mare. Jason said on the turns, she struggles a little bit, loses a little ground, but if you can just keep within half-a-length of another horse, she tries like hell.” Despite her first-leg series win, which boosted her seasonal record to 5-for-8 with $92,250 earned, the most of any horse so far this season, the Matchmaker wasn’t Delighfulmemphis’ target all along.  Since she began her stateside career for Norman last July, the Australian Group 3 winner and Group 1 and 2 placed mare racked up wins in the conditioned ranks and Harrah’s Philadelphia and the Meadowlands. However, the Bettor’s Delight daughter was 0-for-6 at Yonkers, including two tries in the distaff open. “To be honest, I thought she was probably a big track horse,” Norman said. “I thought she was a closer and I thought you’d have to race her at the Meadowlands or Mohawk. I raced her at Yonkers a couple times and she got around it pretty good. I still don’t really think it’s her forte because she likes to get home good. She’s not a great front-runner, which was sort of against her at Yonkers; she’s a little bit lazy in front. But Jason has done a good job driving her. Because of Jason’s help, she’s worked it out and if you don’t use her too hard early, she can really come a good back three-quarters. “I didn’t think she was a Matchmaker horse, really, but she’s gotten better and better.” The turning point came February 1 when Delightfulmemphis scored her first local victory in a $29,000 overnight. The uncharacteristic front-stepping win prompted Norman to nominate her to the series, which closed February 15. Delightfulmemphis won her first local feature that evening and finished second in the Filly and Mare Open Handicap March 8. “I only sent the check in right before they were due,” Norman remembered. “She won a non-winners of $30,000 the week before and I said, ‘you know what, why not?’ You might as well be in it and she had just won, so that helped pay for the starting fee, so that’s when I decided.” Although she established herself as one to watch with her first-leg win, Delightfulmemphis will still have her work cut out for her in week two. She drew post two in the fourth and final division Friday night (March 22), which features fellow first-leg victors Shartin and Seaswift Joy, who drew posts eight and seven, respectively. Feelin Red Hot finished second to Seaswift Joy last week and drew post five while Obvious Blue Chip, compromised by post seven last out, will start along the pylons. Dudesalady, Angel’s Pride, and Sell A Bit complete the lineup.  “It’s a good race. Obviously Shartin is probably the best mare in the country, so she’s tough to beat any time. I think we’re in a good spot there with post two to not do too much work early and just hope we can get a good run at the end and pick up a good check,” Norman said. “Apart from Shartin, I think she’s probably competitive with most of the others. It’s a tough series. I’d actually like to get another top-two finish so you could maybe give her a week off somewhere along the way. Having a good draw helps, so we’ll just see how it works out.” Friday night’s card features four divisions of the Matchmaker Series Second Leg while the George Morton Levy Series goes with six splits Saturday, March 23. Monday night’s card features the $58,000 Petticoat Series Final and the $60,200 Sagamore Hill finale goes Tuesday night. Live harness racing is featured at Yonkers Raceway every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. First post time is 6:50 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Late last summer, harness racing trainer Amanda Kelley skimmed through a sales listing in the hopes of finding a reasonably priced horse who could race in the claiming ranks at Saratoga Raceway. Such a horse would fit longtime owner Fred Scheigert’s stable, which is predominantly comprised of claimers and New York breds who fit at the Spa. Among the listings was Mar Nien, who came with a $12,500 price tag. Kelley began researching the horse and after looking at his lines, realized the listed price had to be a mistake. The Australian-bred pacer by Rock N Roll Heaven out of the Armbro Operative mare Champagnesheffield began his stateside career in August and showed promise. He won his debut at Harrah’s Philadelphia in 1:50.2 for Chris Scicluna before posting two runner-up efforts timed in 1:50.4 and 1:49.2. Kelley followed up on the listing and sure enough, the correct price was much higher. She was sure Scheigert wouldn’t want to make such a sizeable outlay on one horse, but she decided to present the opportunity anyway. “I asked the owners if they would be interested,” Kelley remembered. “I told them it could be a really good investment for the stable and shockingly they said, ‘OK, go look at him.’ So, we did, and it went from there. He checked out with a clean bill of health and came on the team.” Kelley grew up training American Saddlebreds before delving into the Standardbred world working on breeding farms. She spent time helping trainers at Saratoga and fell in love with racing. Pushed by her mentors, Kelley worked to earn her training license. She made her first start in 2015 and soon connected with Scheigert. Less than a year after getting her license, Kelley was training all his horses. “They knew me, they were comfortable with me, and asked if I would take all their horses. It was everything. It was terrifying,” she said. “They like to do things a certain way. They like mostly claiming. Mar Nien is actually one of the first purchases I’ve ever done for them, aside from claiming.”' Mar Nien made his presence known from the moment he entered Kelley’s stable. The gelding came with a personality that set him apart. “He has a little goofball attitude. I feel he’s talented, I really like him, and he’s fast, but his personality is playful,” Kelley explained. “He loves the other horses, he talks to everybody. He’s definitely a neat personality in the barn.  “His head is constantly going, it’s on a swivel. He has to look at everything,” she continued. “You could be jogging him along and his head is completely to the left or right. He’s very observant; he catches everything. He likes his mid-morning naps, don’t bother him then. But he loves attention, you can give him hugs, he’ll put his head on you. He’s cool to be around.” Mar Nien also proved to be a handful on the racetrack and keeping him calm in the morning became a priority.  “He can get a bit aggressive. He likes to work, he likes his job,” Kelley said. “We try to keep him quiet when he jogs because he likes to be a little more enthusiastic than you want. If someone else is training out there, hang on, because he thinks he should be doing it, too. He just has a really good work ethic. He covers the ground nice, he’s smooth, there’s just no wasted movement with him. He’s a little guy but has a big heart and big motor.” Mar Nien debuted for Kelley and Scheigert in a $10,170 overnight at Saratoga September 15. With Bruce Aldrich, Jr. in the sulky, the gelding capitalized on a pocket trip and posted a 1:51.1 victory with a :27.1 final quarter. The following week, Mar Nien circled the field to win the $15,000 Open Handicap in 1:52. “His first start, I said, ‘OK, now we’re going to see what kind of horse he is.’ It’s always nerve-wracking the first start,” Kelley said. “He still had the plugs in. We were like, ‘wow.’ Bruce shook Mr. Scheigert’s hand and he said, ‘you have a nice animal.’ That was really exciting to hear. The next week, it was just a repeat. It was very exciting.” Mar Nien earned three victories and two placings from five more starts to close his 2018 season before Kelley gave him a break for the winter. Although any plans were contingent on how Mar Nien trained back, Kelley kept the George Morton Levy Memorial Pacing Series in the back of her mind. Mar Nien qualified back February 19 at Pompano Park, winning in 1:55.3 from post nine. A week later, the 7-year-old won another trial at the south-Florida oval, skipping over a sloppy track in 1:51. “We qualified him once and he went easy, took him back and just came the second half. I trained him a mile-and-a-half that week, then requalified him. This time, we asked him a little bit,” Kelley said. “When the time came up, we were like, ‘woah.’ I don’t know if we were quite expecting to go that much, but he just does it on his own. He came out of that really good and then we shipped up.” Mar Nien will make his seasonal debut in the ninth race Saturday (March 16) at Yonkers Raceway, the sixth and final division of the Levy Series first leg. It will be Kelley’s first time harnessing a horse in a Grand Circuit race. “It’s terrifying, it’s exciting,” she said. “A lot of people don’t even get this opportunity and I’m so thankful for it. I haven’t done racehorses my whole life, but people give you this opportunity and say, ‘we trust you with this.’ To give you a nice animal, it’s pretty awesome. “I’m really thankful for the people around me, the people in the barn and the people who helped make this happen,” Kelley continued. “The owners and everybody that’s been there for me. I’ve needed help along the way and these are great people.” Mar Nien drew post one and will start as the race’s 5-2 morning line favorite with Greg Merton in the sulky. He will face the likes of More The Better, who drew post three and is 3-1 off a runner-up finish from post eight in a local $23,000 overnight March 9. Gokudo Hanover will start from post two, an improvement from the outside posts that hampered his last two outings; the 7-year-old gelding is 7-2 for Brennan and DiDomenico.  Bellow’s Binge won a $29,000 overnight in his last start March 9 and is a 7-2 morning line for Bartlett and Banca. Mach Doro will make his second start for Cushing and Gibbs after winning on debut March 4, but will have to overcome post seven. Cruise Patrol, Lockton Luck, and Ballerat Boomerang complete the field.  “To me, every horse in there is a threat,” Kelley said. “It’s all the way the race works out. I would love to get away first or second. I’d like to see him get away like that and handle anything that comes at him. I just hope he finishes strong and he races strong. My job is just to make sure he shows up and races and finishes strong.” Saturday night’s card features six divisions of the Levy Series First Leg. Live harness racing is featured at Yonkers Raceway every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. First post time is 6:50 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – When harness racing trainer Jim King, Jr. thinks about returning to the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series at Yonkers Raceway, the trainer admits he’s, “going in with a better chance than most.” King will start a trio of mares in the series first leg Friday night (March 15), and the onslaught is led by Shartin, who will try to become the first mare to repeat in the Matchmaker Series. Shartin’s victory in the $373,000 Blue Chip Matchmaker Series Final last April was the first of nine major Grand Circuit wins last year which propelled her to become the first mare to win over $1 million in a single season and earned her the Dan Patch Award for Older Pacing Mare. The experience is still fresh on the minds of King and his wife, Joann.  “Between my wife and I we’ve got well over one hundred years in this business and to be in a position here where we get this kind of stuff, it’s still very exciting to us,” King said. “This time last year (Shartin) was a real handful,” King remembered. “By now, we’ve kind of got a handle on her, but she started off real big because she won races in January for 11 months straight. That’s pretty good in that class to be doing that. She’s exceeded all our expectations time after time. As far as I’m concerned, she never got beat without a really good reason, not necessarily an excuse, but there was always an answer for why it didn’t work out and a couple were that she just plain old made a break. It’s probably a once in a lifetime go.” While the answers were there each time Shartin tasted defeat, she rarely needed them. Shartin went 19-for-24 last year and took a mark of 1:48.2 in Lexington. She wrapped up her season with a win in the $175,000 TVG Mares Series Final November 24 at the Meadowlands. Shartin made her first qualifying start this year February 13 at Dover Downs, winning in 1:56. She returned eight days later to qualify again in 1:52. “I don’t see where she’s any worse for the wear,” King said. “She qualified back really good. Easy enough the first time, just a good trainer. Then we went back and qualified her like you would expect for a horse like her do to, so that was good.” While Shartin came into the series last year with five races under her belt, Friday night’s start as the 7-5 morning line favorite in the ninth race, the $40,000 fifth and final division of the Matchmaker first leg, will be her seasonal debut. King couldn’t get a race into Shartin without shipping her north, so he opted to stay home in Delaware and wait. King thinks going into the series with a fresh horse is an advantage. “We really couldn’t get her started without sending her to New York and that’s a pretty good trip. I’d be satisfied if we get six starts up there, or even five,” he said. “She’s ready. She always gets back ready when I had time in between. I didn’t go into a race three weeks out that I felt, ‘man I wish I had a race in her.’ She’s always been OK, but not off this long a break, but I feel pretty good about it. “I do think you’re better off going in fresh because it’s such a long, grueling series,” King continued. “We leave home nine hours before a race. That’s a big deal to do that week after week after week. She’s always held up to that kind of stuff. (Bettor Joy) I feel is really competitive also, I just don’t know if she’s that stout, I don’t know if she can stand it week after week, but we’re here to find out. Where they come from, they don’t race regularly like that, but they do ship around.” Like Shartin, Bettor Joy is a New Zealand-bred mare imported to the United States by owner and managing partner Rich Poillucci. A new face in the series this year, Bettor Joy was a two-time Group 2 winner back home and won another two listed stakes.  “Rich Poillucci, he does all the legwork, he does the homework, he finds these horses, he watches the horses that they race with,” King said. “We’ve got some pretty good connections over there now to go over them and give us their opinions on them. It’s a big team effort and we’ve got a pretty good team.”  Bettor Joy, a 5-year-old mare by Bettor’s Delight out of the Road Machine mare Joyfulbelle, completed her final start in New Zealand November 16 and made her first stateside qualifying appearance January 23 at Dover Downs. She finished fourth in her first pari-mutuel start January 30, but returned a winner from post seven in the $27,500 Filly and Mare Open February 27. “She was good enough we made all the payments on her. She’s quick, she’s handy,” King said. “She did what we expected. Dexter Dunn raced her (in New Zealand) and he said that she was all that, she was a really good horse. Her first start was just OK. They went pretty good and we just weren’t up to that kind of mile. Then we got her back in and she was ready to go.” Although they are both New Zealand-bred and are both talented, Shartin and Bettor Joy have distinct personalities on the racetrack. “Entirely different horse than Shartin; she’s just a bull and (Bettor Joy), she’s a lady. She’s a good girl,” King said. “She’s very drivable. You can leave with her, you can take her off, she can step around horses. Shartin, when you get her cranked up she’s ready to roll. You don’t want to be changing course in the middle of a straight, that’s for sure. Bettor Joy’s a lot more professional in that aspect. She lets the driver be a lot more part of the game there.” Bettor Joy will make her Yonkers debut in the sixth race, the $40,000 second division of the Matchmaker first leg, as a 9-5 morning line choice. Her start will come one race after Newborn Sassy kicks off King’s chances in the series at 9-2 in the first division. Perhaps overshadowed by her New Zealand-bred counterparts, Newborn Sassy placed in two preliminary legs of the Matchmaker Series last year before winning a $40,000 consolation shortly before Shartin captured the final. The 6-year-old Western Ideal daughter went 9-for-36 last year and made $289,290, boosting her career tally to $1,036,455. Newborn Sassy “She’s a good girl. She can’t do what the other two can do, but she’s a half-mile track specialist,” King said. “Last year we came up with just one (win in the series), the other starts went wrong. They had just taken out the passing lane, we got locked in a couple times in the two hole and just didn’t work out for her, but still ended up OK. She came back real good, she can do her job good enough.” Tim Tetrick will drive all of King’s starters in the series Friday night. The driver purchased an ownership interest in all three mares, a move that gave King confidence. “Timmy thought enough of them that he decided he’d like to own part of them. I think that’s saying something because that puts him in a position where he doesn’t have any choice, he has to go with them,” King joked. “All those girls, I think they’ll all go out and do their job even if they don’t all come home a winner. If they do their job and we come back and do it again next week, I’m really going to be happy with them,” King said. “We’ve got a good team and that’s what it takes.” Friday night’s card features five divisions of the Matchmaker Series First Leg while the George Morton Levy Series kicks off with six splits Saturday, March 16.  Live harness racing is featured at Yonkers Raceway every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. First post time is 6:50 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY  

YONKERS, N.Y. – When Nocturnal Bluechip came to Jeff Gillis’ stable in Canada late last summer, the harness racing trainer admittingly didn’t know what to expect. Then a 5-year-old gelding, Nocturnal Bluechip was a stakes winner at 2 and 3 and established himself as a consistent type in the conditioned and non-winners ranks at Yonkers and Pocono Downs in his 4- and 5-year old seasons. Immediately before heading north, the Bettor’s Delight son even made a start in the Great Northeast Open Series at Pocono, finish fifth in a 1:49.2 mile. “The owner called me and asked me to try him up in Canada, and so I did not really knowing what to expect,” Gillis said. “He’s not a horse that I had followed. I haven’t had a ton of success with Bettor’s Delight, although many others have. Being that he’s an older sire, I expected Nocturnal Bluechip to be a little lazy, which he can be at times. I watched a bunch of replays on him and just kind of played it by ear.” Nocturnal Bluechip made his first start for Gillis at the non-winners of $30,000 last five level August 25 and won his first race for his new trainer in his fourth start after dropping to the non-winners of $11,000 last five level September 15. Then, the gelding got on a roll. Nocturnal Bluechip made it four straight victories over the following month, including two at the Preferred level, and took a mark of 1:48.2 in the process. He’s raced almost exclusively at the Preferred level since, racking up another two victories and six placings. The streak boosted the gelding’s earnings to $398,493 for owner NLG Racing Stable. “I just went into it with an open mind, clean slate, let him dictate and tell us what he is. Not really many expectations good or bad,” Gillis said. “He’s certainly has surprised me. Initially, I wasn’t quite sure about him, but he found his form toward the late summer-early fall and he’s been pretty consistent since. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” the trainer continued. “He’s a horse that’s got good tactical speed, he’s been pretty consistent, he’s got a turn of foot, so there’s a lot to like about him.” Nocturnal Bluechip’s impressive run over the winter gave Gillis the confidence to nominate to the George Morton Levy Memorial Pacing Series. It’s the first time Gillis will compete in the six-week event, which begins March 16. The trainer will also bring Obvious Bluechip to the Matchmaker Series. “I’m excited to have a couple that I think can be factors in the series,” Gillis said. “It’s kind of a quiet time of year for stakes and this gets the ball rolling for the year, so I’m very much looking forward to it.” Nocturnal Bluechip will prepare for the series with a start in Saturday night’s (March 9) $44,000 Open Handicap Pace. Unlike many of his Levy Series rivals, Nocturnal Bluechip raced through the winter. However, with only two starts this year, Gillis thinks the gelding will still be fresh heading into the grueling series. “I guess it’s the old adage, rest versus rust,” he said. “Early in the series, it would favor a horse that’s been racing and then as the series gets on, maybe it favors a fresher horse being that it is six straight weeks if you make the final. But I’m going to say that Nocturnal Bluechip fits somewhere in between because he’s raced through the winter, but he’s raced fairly infrequently. It will be four weeks off heading into this week and he’d only raced twice in the previous seven, so he’s fresh at the same time I feel.” Although Gillis is unsure how much of a role the seven-eighths mile track at Mohawk has played in Nocturnal Bluechip’s recent success, the trainer doesn’t think the switch back to the half-mile oval at Yonkers will be an issue. The gelding is 1-for-16 on the half with another five placings. “I haven’t ever raced him on a half, but I don’t expect it to be an issue at all,” Gillis said. “I guess we’ll wait and see. I’ve reviewed his lines and seen that he’s raced there before. We’ll wait and see.” Nocturnal Bluechip drew post two for his first local Open try and will employ the driving services of Dan Dube; the pair are 15-1 on the morning line. Bit Of A Legend drew post six off his first win of the year in the Open February 23 while the runner up from that race and a winner of the Open February 16, Don Domingo, drew post seven.  Preferred runner up last out Killer Martini drew favorably in post four while three-time Preferred winner this season Imarocknrollegend will start from post eight. Australian import Sams A Champ debuted a winner at Freehold last out for Tahnee Camilleri and was assigned post one. Bettor Memories and Shneonucrzydiamnd complete the lineup. “I don’t know the field very well. I just know that this horse is quick off the wings, so I feel like he’ll get himself spotted most of the time. I find that those horses tend to get you pieces a lot on a small track, even if they don’t win,” Gillis said. “This is really a dress rehearsal for the series, so I’m not going in with any expectations. I’m just going to experiment and see how it goes.” The first leg of the Bluechip Matchmaker Series is Friday, March 15 while the George Morton Levy Series kicks off Saturday, March 16.  Live harness racing is featured at Yonkers Raceway every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. First post time is 6:50 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – When harness racing trainer Scott DiDomenico thinks back on the journey Angel’s Pride has taken so far, he feels a sense of pride. DiDomenico purchased the Roll With Joe daughter as a yearling and she’s been a fixture in the barn sense. Friday night, the 5-year-old mare will seek her first win in the $44,000 Filly and Mare Open Handicap at Yonkers ahead of a bid in the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series. “It’s truly been gratifying. We broke her and trained her and raced her every start, watched her mature and get better,” DiDomenico said. “There’s a lot of gratification to see that. “She’s a sweetheart. She’s a big strong mare, you’ve got to feed her first because she gets pretty anxious when it’s lunchtime and time to eat,” he continued. “As far as her personality on the track, you can’t say enough good things about her. She’s really a very, very nice horse.” Angel’s Pride had a difficult beginning to her racing career. Before she started as a 2-year-old, she suffered a fractured sesamoid. Although she showed potential, the injury left her future in doubt.  “Training her down as a 2-year-old, we really, really liked her and she broke a bone and she missed the majority of her 2-year-old year,” DiDomenico remembered. “Gave her a lot of time and she healed up and came back strong. You don’t want to see broken bones and you definitely don’t want to see broken sesamoids. It’s a difficult injury to bounce back from, but she has, and she’s done it gracefully.” Angel’s Pride finally made her first start November 25, 2016 and she debuted a winner, taking a $12,000 maiden at Harrah’s Philadelphia. She finished second in her only other start at 2 before coming back at 3 to win a division of the Weiss Series at Pocono Downs and two legs of the New York Sire Stakes, adding a runner-up finish in the Lady Maud Pace at Yonkers along the way.  Angel’s Pride continued to improve last year at 4, winning six races and finishing second in another six from 28 starts, including two runner-up placings in the Filly and Mare Open Handicap at Yonkers to end her 2018 season. She earned $136,420 last year, boosting her career earnings to $326,588 for Triple D Stables and JFE Enterprise. “She was good all year. She was iron-tough all year,” DiDomenico said. “To see her not have to be awarded the one or two hole and get an easy trip or get lucky was good. She was drawing middle to the outside and still able to do a good job. The racing at Yonkers is tough and to see her do that was good.” DiDomenico attributes Angel’s Pride’s steady improvement to her physical and mental progression. Angel’s Pride has learned to be versatile on the track, a trait her trainer admires. “She’s gotten bigger and stronger. She’s learned how to race both ways, being leaving the gate going forward and spots where she’s come off the gate and still raced good and come home good,” DiDomenico said. “She’s picked that element up, to be a professional racehorse and being handy and her versatility to go either way.”  Angel’s Pride ended her 4-year-old season with a second-place finish in the $44,000 distaff feature December 7 and got a well-deserved break from training. She qualified back February 23 at the Meadowlands before making her return March 1 at Yonkers, where she drew post eight in the Filly and Mare Open. She will start in the same class tonight (March 8) with DiDomenico eyeing the first leg of the Matchmaker series March 16. “We put her in the Matchmaker. There’s a lot of good mares,” DiDomenico said. “If she can show that she can go with them, I think that would really be special. I don’t know that I’m sold on that or not, but we’re going to give it a try and see how it goes.” Angel’s Pride drew post four in tonight’s $44,000 feature and will have regular reinsman Brent Holland in the sulky. She will face a strong lineup of mares, including February 15 winner Delightfulmemphis, last week’s winner Lispatty, and February 22 winner Itty Bitty, who drew posts six, seven and eight, respectively. Twinkle, Write Me A Song, and Lakeisha Hall all return from layoffs of qualifying efforts and will start from posts one, three, and five, respectively. Slick Artist is the only mare in the field not nominated to the Matchmaker; the longshot will start from post two. “We’re going to race a little more aggressively and see what the future holds. We’ll let her dictate what we do and how we do it. Hopefully she can show that 5-year-old season, she can go with the better horses at Yonkers and just try to work with it,” DiDomenico said. “I hope we go out of there, she can win, and that would be a good building block to the Matchmaker Series. But it’s a tough race, there’s good horses. Racing at that level is difficult, it’s a tough task.” Live harness racing is featured at Yonkers Raceway every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. First post time is 6:50 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. - Trainer Lance Hudson imported five harness racing horses from New Zealand and Australia in late 2018 with the hopes of having a fresh band of competitors for Yonkers Raceway's 2019 season. The new pacers included Betterb Chevron, who won her first three races including the distaff feature in her latest start Feb. 1 and Letschasethedream, who ran his streak to three wins before coming up short January 26. The surprise of the bunch, though, has been Don Domingo. The 7-year-old gelding has won four straight races to begin his Stateside career and will try to extend his streak to five in Saturday night's $35,000 Preferred Handicap Pace at Yonkers Raceway. "I knew he had some ability, I knew he was fast, but he just seems like a horse that gets it done," Hudson said. "I've got a horse that he's training with that I like better, but he hasn't been quite as good. He's been OK, but he hasn't had four wins in a row like Don Domingo. Don Domingo just seems to be an over achiever right now. I've got some talented horses in my barn. I didn't think he was a slouch by any means, but I didn't think at this point that he'd be 4-for-4." Hudson considered buying Don Domingo after being approached by agent Peter Larkin. Despite Don Domingo's form in New Zealand tailing off in late 2018 with two straight eleventh-place finishes at the free for all level, Hudson saw potential for Don Domingo to have a successful career in the United States. Hudson noticed Don Domingo had been racing at distances of 2,600 to 3,000 meters and felt the American Ideal son would benefit from a turnback. In addition, Don Domingo had been keeping company with the likes of Dream About Me and The Fixer, two of the top pacers in the Southern Hemisphere. "An agent called me one day and told me about the horse. Basically, he went and worked him and he thought the horse had good manners and he thought he would be OK at Yonkers, so we purchased him for $63,000 landed and that's how it all began," Hudson said. "He was going distance. He was going basically 2 miles and he was racing the best over there," Hudson continued. "He's a horse that I don't think is super durable. He's a horse that's more fit for a mile race than 2 miles. When you look back in his form, when he wasn't going that distance, he was very competitive when he was going shorter distances." Don Domingo finished final race in New Zealand October 5 and arrived in Hudson's stable later that month. He arrived healthy and without suffering from any ailments from the long trek north, was ready to qualify in mid-December. However, with Yonkers closing for the holidays, Hudson took a conservative approach for Don Domingo's first United States trial. "I knew he had some ability, but there was no other place to qualify at the time. The last week of Yonkers, he was ready, but we started him at Monticello, just a qualifier, and then raced him once just to get him a start and get him acclimated to racing in the States," Hudson explained. Don Domingo finished second to Texas Terror in his qualifier and won his debut in 1:54.4 in the winner's over at Monticello January 2. Hudson then brought Don Domingo to Yonkers where the gelding won three straight; he took two $23,000 overnights in off-the-pace fashion before posting a pocket-sitting victory over I'm Some Graduate for $29,000 in his latest outing February 2. "He's basically done it about any way," Hudson admired. "We haven't really put him on the front even though we've left the car with him a little bit. He's been first-over, he's been third-over, and he's sat the two-hole. He's very versatile, that's for sure. Whatever situation he's in, he always seems to find a way. He just seemed like an average horse, but he always seems to get the job done no matter what he's got to do." Don Domingo will face his toughest test so far in Saturday night's pacing feature. The competition includes last week's Open winner Rockathon, last week's Preferred winner Imarocknrollegend, and Anythingforlove, who will seek his third straight win from post seven off scores in 1:52.4 and 1:51.4. Mighty Mr Sharkey, Stormount Czar, Techtor Hanover, and Bellow's Binge complete the field. "He's definitely in with better horses, but the horse that he beat sitting on his back, I'm Some Graduate, is a pretty decent Open horse," Hudson said. "A lot of times at Yonkers, it's just how the trip goes and how everything goes down, but they'll know he's in there." Although he' unsure how good Don Domingo is, Hudson expects to find out in the coming weeks. Saturday's race will help determine whether Don Domingo is nominated to the George Morton Levy Series, which closes next Friday (February 15). "We have some options whether to put him in the Levy and that type of thing," Hudson said. "I'm not exactly sure. We're OK where we are with him for now. We'll see what happens Saturday and we'll have to make some decisions about what we're going to do with him." Live harness racing is featured at Yonkers Raceway every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. First post time is 6:50 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Last year, Rich Banca and Barbara and James Boese watched as New Zealand-bred mare Kaitlyn went on a tear. The American Ideal daughter won her first four harness racing starts in the United States at Harrington for trainer Josh Parker and went on to win across the East Coast at Harrah’s Philadelphia, the Meadowlands, and Yonkers.  Although she began her campaign in the non-winners classes, Kaitlyn worked her way up to Harrington’s Open ranks. She beat the top mares at Harrington four starts in a row last fall and earned $110,875 in the season. Boese, the track’s Chief Operating Office and General Manager, took notice and bought her, bringing Banca in on the partnership and giving him the horse to train. “I had seen her at Yonkers. (The Boeses) watched her down there and they liked her. They picked her out and they bought her,” Banca said.  Kaitlyn is the latest horse the Boeses have teamed with Banca on after their successful partnership began with the Adagio de la Tour last summer. The French-bred came to the United States as part of the French American Trotting Club, finished second in the $120,000 final, and went on to earn $122,640 last year. “I have quite a few horses with them, they’re really good people,” Banca said. “It started with the French trotters. They wanted to buy one of the horses coming from France and they called me up and asked if I would take the horse. I said yes. That’s where it started and I’ve gotten a bunch more sense.” Kaitlyn made her last start for Parker November 21, finishing second in the Filly and Mare Open Handicap at Dover Downs. Banca turned her out with the intention of getting her ready for a 2019 campaign. She qualified back in 1:56.2 with Matt Kakaley in the sulky while finishing second to Havefaithinme at Yonkers February 2. “We bought her, she got turned out for a while, and we brought her back and qualified her last week,” Banca said. “We turned her out for a while after we bought her, gave her a break and got her fresh and well. It was probably about a month and then we trained her back and qualified her. “I didn’t see it, I wasn’t there, but Kakaley likes her a lot. He said she was very good, so that was enough for me,” Banca continued.” Although it is difficult to gauge her talent without seeing her race, Banca is pleased with Kaitlyn so far.  “I haven’t had her very long, we haven’t raced her yet. We’ll see how it goes. We’ll see what happens, but so far, I can’t say a bad thing about her,” he said. “She’s nice. She’s a good-looking horse, she doesn’t do a thing wrong. I like her. I’m really happy with her. She’s perfect.” Kaitlyn will start from post six in the $44,000 Filly and Mare Open Handicap Pace at Yonkers Friday night (Feb. 8). She is a 7-1 morning line with Kakaley back in the bike. Her rivals include 5-2 early favorite Delishka, who won three straight Opens in Delaware in January before finishing fourth and third in her first two tries at the Hilltop, respectively.  Invader Nerida Franco is 4-1 off two victories in the Filly and Mare Select at Dover, but drew a difficult assignment in post seven. Amateur Hour is also 4-1 and benefits from an assigned inside post after Paul Blumenfeld claimed her for $30,000 two back. Ella Michelle won the Yonkers Distaff feature two starts ago and will start from post three with Joe Bongiorno in the sulky. Shez Sugarsweet, Shezza GNP, and Itty Bitty complete the lineup. “She’s only got one qualifier, she’s been off for quite a while. I’m not expecting to see her best. I think she’ll need a start or two,” Banca said of Kaitlyn’s prospects first time out. “We’ll try and get her right for the Matchmaker. “I hope she’ll be a contender in the series,” he continued. “It’s hard to say, we haven’t raced her yet, but I hope she is. She’s done everything right and part of the reason for buying her was for that race and we’re going to stake her to some other things. Hopefully she’s up to it.” Live harness racing is featured at Yonkers Raceway every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. First post time is 6:50 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. by Brandon Valvo, for the SOANY

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

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

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

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

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