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YONKERS, N.Y. – Since harness racing resumed in the Northeast United States in late May, Rich And Miserable has not had much luck racing at the Meadowlands. The talented trotter drew post position 10 in his first start back June 12, got stuck following a blazing 1:50.1 mile by Guardian Angel As in his second start June 20, then drew post position 10 in the Cutler Memorial last time out on Independence Day. As a result, Rich And Miserable failed to take home a check in any of those three starts.  Rich And Miserable made one bid away from the Swamp so far this season, heading to Pocono Downs June 27. He drew post two in the featured $20,000 trot and scored a 2 1/2-length win in 1:52.4. Now, Rich And Miserable looks to capitalize again in the $33,000 open handicap trot at Yonkers Raceway Friday (July 10). He is already having better luck at the Hilltop, drawing post four, but moving inside to the three after the early scratch of Photo Bomber.  “We threw him in with the big guns and we got a couple 10 post positions and that wasn’t a very good starting point. We did take him once to Pocono and he raced very well there, so now we’re going to try the half-mile track again at Yonkers,” said trainer Todd Buter. “The first start over there in the open, he had the 10-hole and just followed along,” Buter continued. “Last week in the Cutler, had the 10-hole and in with those type of horses, it’s tough from the 10, but we’re hoping to turn things around.” Besides the advantageous post position, Rich And Miserable has the resume to compete at this level. The Explosive Matter son always showed promise for Buter, but last year at 4, had a breakout season. After posting a 5 1/2-length win and earning two other placings in the preliminary legs of the SOA of NY Bonus Trotting Series, Rich And Miserable won the $73,000 series final by a nose last April.  Rich And Miserable also won a leg and the final of the Mr. Muscleman Series at the Meadowlands, won the $100,000 Great Northeast Open Series Final at Pocono, and captured a local $42,000 open handicap trot from post position eight last fall. The $305,125 Rich And Miserable earned last year boosted his career tally to $417,922 for owners Buter Farm, Lynette Buter, and William and Carol Fuhs. “Last year was a very pleasant surprise. He showed good things as a 3-year-old and as a 4-year-old, things just kept falling in place and we got a couple nice draws in some big purse races, got good trips, and he lived up to what we were hoping for. It was a great year,” Buter said. “He was always a sound horse as a 2- and 3-year-old and it seemed like he just got bigger, stronger, matured more and could race either way; race on the front, race from the back,” Buter continued. “He just ended up being a very smart horse, very easy on himself. We’re hoping we can turn things around back at Yonkers.” Rich And Miserable raced through the end of December last year before getting some well-earned time off. He was ready to qualify by mid-March, but due to the response to the coronavirus pandemic, harness racing across North America shuttered. Like the rest of the industry, Buter was forced to wait. “We just got put on hold and it was, ‘maybe next week,’ so you’d train them light. ‘Maybe next week,’ so you’d train them a little harder. The next week just train them easy, maybe it will be next week,” Buter said. “Everybody was in the same boat, nobody knew what was going on, so we just had to sit back and wait for them to turn the lights back on and I tried to have him as good as we could.” Rich And Miserable was finally able to qualify May 30 before his bad-luck streak at the Meadowlands began. Friday night will be Rich And Miserable’s first local start since finishing 10th in the $250,000 Harry Harvey Invitational Trot Oct. 12. Regular driver Tyler Buter will be in the sulky and the pair are 5-2 on the morning line. Rich And Miserable will face six rivals, including 2-1 morning line favorite Melady’s Monet, who will start from post four. The 11-year-old and earner of $1.6 million twice finished second in the local open trot and won a local preferred from post seven before the shutdown. He posted a front-stepping qualifying win in 1:58 at Magical Acres Training Center June 23 in preparation for his first start since March 7.  Swansea earned three wins in the local open before the shutdown and picked up right where he left off in his return June 25, tallying a fourth victory in six starts this season in 1:55.3 for trainer Scott DiDomenico. Swansea was assigned the outside post Friday night and is 3-1 with Austin Siegelman programmed to drive.  Paul Kelley’s 10-year-old Obrigado continues to deliver after emerging from retirement late last year. The $1.8 million-earner won an $18,750 overnight in 1:51.2 at the Meadowlands June 5 and was second to Rich And Miserable in his most recent start at Pocono June 27. Obrigado drew post six Friday night. Mostinterestingman, Elysium Lindy, and Lean Hanover complete the lineup.  “We’ll just have to see how it shakes out,” Buter said of Rich And Miserable’s chances. “He’s raced on the front at Yonkers and won and he’s raced from the back at Yonkers and won. He seems good and healthy and sound, so we’ll hope for the best.” Friday night’s eight-race card also features the $33,000 open handicap pace. The amended Yonkers Raceway calendar will see live harness racing conducted Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday nights until July 17. Beginning the week of July 20, the schedule will add Saturday nights as the track returns to its normal five night per week schedule through Dec. 19. First post time is 7:05 p.m. The complete revised racing calendar is available online here. By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – The Grand Circuit returns to Yonkers Raceway with the eliminations of the MGM Springfield Stakes Monday night (July 6). For many trainers across North America whose stables are heavily invested in 2- and 3-year-olds, the resumption of stakes racing post-coronavirus lockdowns has been a huge relief. Blake MacIntosh, who will debut three 2-year-old colts in the Springfield eliminations, includes himself in that group. “For two months there, I was worried. I didn’t have any money coming in and we make all of our money over the summer with the stakes races,” MacIntosh said. “I have 70-something in training and I own at least a quarter of 65 of them, so it’s nerve-wracking. You’re worried about racing coming up and we’re lucky enough all the governing bodies let us start racing and to just have money coming in, cash flow coming in. I can sleep again at night.” Originally scheduled for July 4 with a final July 11, the MGM Springfield Stakes (formerly the Lawrence B. Sheppard Pace) was minimally displaced by measures to contain the coronavirus, with the eliminations and final moving to July 6 and July 13, respectively. There were 16 entries to the stakes for 2-year-old pacers, resulting in two full fields of eliminations racing for $25,000 each. MacIntosh feels his trio is led by Major Makeover, part of a coupled entry in the first elimination who drew post position three with George Brennan. A $25,000 purchase out of the 2019 Harrisburg Sale for MacIntosh, Hutt Racing Stable, and Touchstone Farm, Major Makeover shares a stallion with MacIntosh’s 2018 Meadowlands Pace winner Courtly Choice and will be the first foal to race for the Cam’s Card Shark mare Mako Wish. “He’s an Art Major. With ‘Courtly’ being an Art Major, we always look at all the Art Majors,” MacIntosh said. “He was a very good looking individual. He looked very much like ‘Courtly’ I thought. He stood good and he’s just a nice colt. “To drive, he does everything perfect. He does nothing wrong,” MacIntosh continued. “You can do whatever you want with him. He was really good that way. In the barn, he seems like a nice horse. He was actually right close to my office, so I saw him every day. He didn’t do anything wrong as far as I know and was pretty easy to handle.” All three of MacIntosh’s entries sport a pair of qualifiers June 12 and 20 at Woodbine Mohawk Park. Although their times may not appear flashy on paper in comparison to the baby racing at venues like the Meadowlands, MacIntosh says that is by design. “I don’t tell the drivers anything when we qualify them. I don’t want them rolled is the whole thing, I want to make sure their last quarters are their best quarters, sit them in, try to get away third, fourth and let them pace for home is usually what I like to see,” MacIntosh said. “The second qualifier, we may let them go a little more, but up here, it’s not like the Meadowlands where they go fast qualifying. We teach them a little more the first couple times than they do down there. There’s no specific time or anything set for the horse, it’s just teaching them so they can learn.” Major Makeover finished second in his first outing, clocking a mile in 2:00.2 with a :29.2 final quarter. In his second trial, Major Makeover was more aggressively handled, leaving from the gate and initially sitting the pocket before brushing to the lead upon reaching the backstretch. Major Makeover opened up a 4 1/2-length lead under confident handling by driver James MacDonald on the final turn.  MacDonald put the whip on Major Makeover’s tail straightening away and cracked the sulky shaft once with a furlong to pace. Major Makeover finished with a :27 final panel to post a 1:56 win. “He’s probably the best of the three,” MacIntosh opined. “He qualified really well last week, he was under wraps. He’s been very consistent all winter and we’ve been very happy with him. Just a nice little guy.” Ole Joe comprises the other half of the entry in the first elimination. A son of Roll With Joe out of the unraced Western Hanover mare Bandolera Hanover, MacIntosh and partners Hutt Racing Stable and Steve Heimbecker paid $14,000 for the colt at the 2019 Goshen Yearling Sale. “Ole Joe was a pretty cheap yearling. We had some luck with Roll With Joe in the past with Groovy Joe and a couple others,” MacIntosh said. “He’s a nice-looking little guy, wasn’t an overly striking horse, but I’ve had some luck with them in the past. He’s a nice little horse.” Ole Joe finished third in both of his qualifiers and paced a final quarter of :28.3 each time. In his first outing, he clocked in in 2:00.1 and he paced a mile in 1:57.2 in his latest baby race. Although not charted as a break, Ole Joe was a bit steppy around the first turn in his latest outing.  “Last time qualifying, he wasn’t as good as he should have been I felt because training down he’s been a lot better than what he showed qualifying,” MacIntosh said. “I think he got on the big track and got lost. I think he’ll be more of a half-mile track specialist.” Jim Marohn, Jr. will drive Ole Joe from post four. The coupled entry of Major Makeover and Ole Joe is 9-5 on the morning line. The first elimination also includes American Courage, one of only two horses in either elimination to make a pari-mutuel start. The Fiddler’s Creek Stable homebred son of American Ideal won his debut by 6 lengths in 1:54.1 in a $10,400 overnight at Pocono Downs June 30. Matt Kakaley will drive the Travis Alexander trainee. Owned by the same connections as Ole Joe, MacIntosh’s Victory Move will start as part of an entry with Erv Miller’s Carrythetorchman in the second Springfield Stakes elimination. By American Ideal, Victory Move is out of the Powerful Toy mare Ireneonthemove, a multiple Delaware-sired stakes winner of the mid-2000s and later a consistent open-type who earned $846,091. She has produced three winners to date, including 10-time winner and $155,848 earner Carly Girl. MacIntosh and partners paid $65,000 for Victory Move at the 2019 Lexington Selected Yearling Sale. Victory Move finished second in his first qualifier, clocked in 1:59.2 with a :28.3 last quarter. He was fourth in his second trial timed in 1:58.1 with a :27.3 final panel despite being charted with broken equipment.  “Training down, he was in the top set,” MacIntosh said. “His two qualifiers were as good as we expected out of him.  You have to work him a little more. I think being in New York will be a lot better for him than being up here whereas you can get after them a little more, chase them a little more because he’s a little lazy. Other than that, he’s got a great gait to him and does everything pretty good. “In the qualifiers up here, I wasn’t disappointed, but there was one time I thought he was going to blow by them and he sort of waited on them,” MacIntosh continued. “I know what talent he’s got and I think he’ll be fine. I think Matt (Kakaley) will get the best out of him this week.” With travel restrictions in place at the U.S.-Canada border, the trio of Major Makeover, Ole Joe, and Victory Move shipped to MacIntosh’s New York stable in Middletown, which is headed by Jessica Dowse.  “We stayed on track with the 2-year-olds. The only difference right now is I’m not going down to the barn down there. I train them all up here and then send them down. Usually, I’d be down every week splitting my time 50-50. This year, I won’t be down until they lift the border restrictions because when I come back I have to quarantine 14 days,” MacIntosh explained. “Jessica Dowse will be running the stable down there full time. She sends me videos and we talk every day; she’s a great communicator and we’re able to talk throughout. That’s the only difference right now, but we’ve got them hung up the way we want them and our training track is a tight track, so when I send them down, they don’t have to change much.” With 2-year-old racing commencing across North America, MacIntosh already has four freshman winners this season, including two in Woodbine Mohawk Park overnights and two in the Stallion Series at Harrah’s Philadelphia. The trainer hopes his luck will continue in the Springfield Stakes.  “It’s a little nerve-wracking. You work so hard all winter, you hope everything goes well. You hope you have a couple that can make the money and do well for you,” MacIntosh said. “We’re fortunate enough to have had some luck right out of the gate with the 2-year-olds. We just hope everything keeps going good. We have a big chunk of money out there that we have to make back. If we can win in the first couple and do well and keep going forward and get the bills paid, we’ll be happy.” The amended Yonkers Raceway calendar will see live harness racing conducted Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday nights until July 17. Beginning the week of July 20, the schedule will add Saturday nights as the track returns to its normal five night per week schedule through Dec. 19. First post time is 7:05 p.m. The complete revised racing calendar is available online here. By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY  

YONKERS, N.Y. – One of the biggest rivalries in harness racing resumes with another round Tuesday night (June 30) at Yonkers Raceway as Horse of the Year Shartin and reigning Breeders Crown Pacing Mare Champion Caviart Ally headline the featured $33,000 filly and mare open handicap pace. The pair of star mares were assigned the outside post positions, with Caviart Ally starting from post seven for driver Andy McCarthy and trainer Brett Pelling while Jim King Jr.’s Shartin will start from post eight with Tim Tetrick. “I actually think when you’re racing in those divisional races, when you’re in a rivalry, a rivalry is by far the greatest thing we have in the sport. It’s great,” Pelling said. “You know the other horses inside and out, the drivers get to know the horses inside and out. I think it’s cool.”  With 20 rounds between Shartin and Caviart Ally completed to date, the record stands at 15-3 Shartin with only two occasions where another horse has won when they have both been in the field. However, Caviart Ally has proven victorious in three of the last four matchups: the Filly and Mare Allerage Pace at the Red Mile Oct. 6, the Breeders Crown Open Mares Pace Oct. 26, and the TVG FFA Mares Final Nov. 23, the pair’s most recent faceoff. “Last year, it took us different attempts at different ways of trying to beat Shartin. I’m not saying we figured it out, but we got better at it,” Pelling said. “It was trial and error on Andy’s part, my part, everyone’s part. We never gave up trying to beat her. “I think one of the big things was not going full gas out of the gate. We found that (Caviart Ally) was just better to be put in position rather than trying to out-speed (Shartin) because Shartin gets off the gate extra-good and they have a lot of speed, so they take advantage of that speed. If you have three horses that are trying to race the same way, something has to give.  “A lot of times, we were drawn outside of her, so you had work that little bit harder early and you’re put in the wrong spot, sitting in the two-hole,” Pelling continued. “The two-hole is not actually a good spot to race against Shartin because she’s so quick at the top of the lane, she’d just put a length on us and we’d never really get close enough. Getting away in the three or the four spot and being able to work up close to her, that seemed to help. Sometimes the two-hole is not the best place to be; they have you stuck where they want you and horses are so good these days, they only need an eighth-of-a-mile breather and they’re tough to beat.” While Shartin is a Yonkers veteran, owning seven victories in 10 local starts, including back-to-back Blue Chip Matchmaker Series Finals in 2018 and 2019, Tuesday night will mark Caviart Ally’s first start at the Hilltop since logging a pair of third-place finishes in the Lismore Pace Eliminations and Final in May 2017 for previous trainer Noel Daley. “I had nowhere else to race, it’s as simple as that,” Pelling said of the decision to enter at Yonkers.  Caviart Ally was entered multiple times at multiple tracks since her last start June 5 at the Meadowlands, but Yonkers proved to be the only venue carding a filly and mare open. As such, Pelling was not surprised when Shartin also showed up in the entries. “They had the same issue that we had, so I kind of expected that,” he said. “I nearly raced her the week before, but I just tried to time it a little bit as well. We always planned on racing there through the winter. She was in the Matchmaker, we had her all ready for the Matchmaker, that was a real goal. The best laid plans have gone awry this year I’m afraid.” Caviart Ally Caviart Ally, a 26-time winner and earner of $1.8 million for owner Caviart Farms, qualified twice in February before winning her 2020 debut in 1:49.4 in a $30,000 filly and mare preferred at the Meadowlands March 6. She was entered in the first leg of the Matchmaker March 13, the same week racing halted at Yonkers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With no way of knowing when racing would be allowed to resume, Pelling kept Caviart Ally in training throughout the interruption.  “We never missed a day, we just kept right on going,” Pelling said. “I didn’t bike them up and go (1:) 53 or any of that stuff, I just couldn’t do that. We basically treated every day as if it was an off week and just let her cruise along, just keeping her on hold. I never buzzed her or anything. She had a good time; for a horse, it was a good time. It might have been a bit boring, but she definitely wasn’t put under any stress.” Pelling describes Caviart Ally as “a machine” and says the most difficult part of training her is managing her weight. “Every time I look at her, I think she’s carrying twins. People that see her can’t believe she’s a racehorse because she carries so much condition,” he said. “She thrives on racing because she’ll just eat anything. She’s one of the best eaters you’ve ever seen in your life,” Pelling said. “Keeping the weight off of her is always the goal, it’s really nothing else; no soundness issues, no health issues, it’s all about keeping the weight off her. She was all up and ready to go in March and she really hasn’t done a lot. You can only train them so much.” Caviart Ally qualified behind Kissin In The Sand May 30 before finishing third behind the same rival upon her return to racing in a $22,500 filly and mare preferred at the Meadowlands June 5. While Kissin In The Sand dictated the pace in that start, Caviart Ally was followed the cover of Imprincessgemma, who never got closer than 1 3/4 lengths of Kissin In The Sand. Although Caviart Ally closed with a :25.4 final quarter after kicking off the cover, she could not make up the ground. “She got away fourth, she got away in the right spot and then a horse who was (10-1) pulled in front of her and basically just got in her way,” Pelling said. “She would have been much, much better just coming first-over and I think if she had got to Kissin In The Sand’s wheel, it would have been a dogfight, but she just never got close enough.” Caviart Ally tuned up with a 1:51 qualifying win at the Meadowlands June 20 ahead of her return to Yonkers.  Like Caviart Ally, Shartin had one start in March ahead of a planned attempt at a third conquest of the Matchmaker Series. Shartin earned a neck victory in 1:50 in a $50,000 filly and mare invitational at Dover Downs March 4 before the shutdown hit. She qualified twice for her return Tuesday night, scoring a 2-length win in 1:53.3 at Magical Acres training center June 3 and another qualifying win in 1:51 at Harrah’s Philadelphia June 18. Owned by Poillucci, King, and Tetrick, Shartin is a 42-time winner and earner of $2.1 million. In addition to the two heavyweights, Tuesday night’s pacing feature also includes last week’s winner Snobbytown, who drew post three for George Brennan and Ron Burke, and last week’s runner up Imprincessgemma, who will start from post five for the Bongiornos. Machnhope scored a 1:51.4 victory in a local $20,250 overnight June 23 and will start from post four for Dexter Dunn and Noel Daley. Delishka, Sandy Win, and Anytime complete the field.  “I’d just like to stay in front of Shartin, that’s all,” Pelling said. “I’m sure that will mean moving forward. (Caviart Ally) will get around there like a hoop around a barrel. She won the Jugette, so I’m not concerned about how she gets around there or anything. She’ll be fine. She also has a long stakes season coming up, so this is another race, and it’s a race because we need to race. “It’s a good race. I’m really thankful to Yonkers for going with the filly and mare open,” Pelling continued. “No one else is. For a Tuesday night, I can guarantee you that the harness racing world will be watching Yonkers, and I think that’s a good thing. Good on them for doing that.” The amended Yonkers Raceway calendar will see live harness racing conducted Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights until July 2. Beginning the week of July 6, the schedule will add Friday nights. Saturday night racing will resume the week of July 20 as the track returns to its normal five night per week schedule through Dec. 19. First post time is 7:05 p.m. The complete revised racing calendar is available online here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – The lucrative weekly features return to Yonkers Raceway June 23 as the filly and mare open headlines the Tuesday night harness racing program. Major Occasion is the 9-5 morning line favorite in the $33,000 feature after drawing post four off an impressive mile last time out at the Meadowlands. Major Occasion made her first start post-coronavirus shutdown in the filly and mare preferred at the Meadowlands June 5. While Grand Circuit performer Kissin In The Sand played catch me if you can, and won, Major Occasion made it close. Major Occasion raced on the inside in fifth 5 lengths behind Kissin In The Sand throughout before closing in the stretch with a :25.3 final quarter. Kissin In The Sand had an open-length lead at the sixteenth pole, but Major Occasion lunged under Dexter Dunn urging, closing within three-quarters of a length at the finish. The effort surprised both the bettors who dismissed Major Occasion at 17-1 and trainer Nifty Norman, who thought Major Occasion would need a start having just one qualifier on May 30 since her last race March 4. “She was very good. I was pleased,” Norman said. “It was like having a win there racing against that caliber of horse and she was good and strong through the wire, too. I was really happy with the way she finished up. She’s a really nice mare. “I thought she was probably going to be a run short and she went even better than I expected,” Norman continued. “She’s been a real pleasant surprise since she came over. She’s been good every start really, so I’ve been really happy with her.” Although Major Occasion was individually clocked in a blistering 1:48 in her runner-up effort, Norman tries to avoid obsessing over the timer. “We’re seeing a lot of it now. The Meadowlands, the miles they go there are crazy. It doesn’t even pay to look at the clock anymore because it’s just crazy what they’re doing,” he said. “Now 48 is just acceptable, no one even talks about it; it’s commonplace to go 48, which is just amazing.” Major Occasion is a 6-year-old Art Major daughter out of the Fake Left mare Fake Occasion. The Australia-bred was a stakes performer before exporting to the United States last October, having won the Group 2 Sibelia Stakes at Menangle Feb. 16, 2019 before finishing second in the Group 1 Ladyship Mile a fortnight later. Major Occasion also finished second in the Group 1 Empire Vicbred 2-Year-Old Fillies Stakes at Melton in 2017. “I had some owners that wanted to buy the mare and she really wasn’t for sale,” Norman recalled. “I got talking to the owners and we just hit it off really good, ended up having several conversations with them. The trainer (Chris Frisby) and the owner (Peter Ward) are just really top guys. They decided to send her over to me and it’s working out great for me and for them.” Norman heard from many Down Under horsemen that Major Occasion was a good mare and when she arrived stateside, Norman could see why. “When she arrived, she was such a specimen,” he said. “She’s an absolutely beautiful, big, strong, good-looking thing, fantastic nature and when you sit behind her, it’s like sitting behind a bus. There’s nothing bad about her. She’s nice to look at, she’s nice to drive, she’s nice to be around. She’s just a perfect horse. “She’s a big mare, but she’s well put together,” Norman continued. “She’s got good conformation; she’s an Art Major, so Art Major’s are pretty good-looking. She carries a lot of weight, wears a big hopple, just impressive to look at.” Major Occasion made seven starts for Norman and owner Enzed Racing Stable before the shutdown, earning three wins and a lifetime mark of 1:49.4. She came within a neck of Shartin in a $50,000 filly and mare invitational at Dover Downs March 4. Major Occasion, an 18-time winner and earner of $241,105, was then entered into the first leg of the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series March 13, which was indefinitely postponed as the coronavirus ceased harness racing in North America. “It was very tricky to manage. The hard part was, there were rumors that we would get going, so you’d go train your horses up a little bit thinking maybe we’re going to race in two weeks,” Norman said. “It dragged on and on. I kind of wished I had turned the horses out since owners were paying bills while nothing was happening and they had no money coming in. “It was a difficult period, but I basically backed off, didn’t do a whole lot with them, just tried to keep them fit,” Norman continued. “You could tell the horses were getting sour like us. They were ready to get back to work, too. They were sick of just training, and training, and training. It was a strange time. I don’t think anyone really knew what the right thing was to do.” Major Occasion will make her second start post-shutdown in Tuesday’s feature and regular driver Dexter Dunn will be in the sulky. With the fate of Yonkers’ winter series still uncertain and with no distaff feature carded at the Swamp since June 5, Norman chose to test Major Occasion over the smaller track at Yonkers. “I elected to go to Yonkers and find out whether she can get around there. Obviously, she’s great at the Meadowlands, but going 1:48 every week isn’t the greatest plan either,” Norman said. “I thought I would try to avoid those big miles, try her on a shorter track and see how she handles it. I trained her on a half-mile track and she got around it good. She runs in a little bit, but most horses do. I don’t have any concerns, I think she’ll be fine.” Major Occasion will face seven rivals in the Tuesday feature, including three who exit the same race: Snobbytown, Imprincessgemma, and Gold Orchid. Snobbytown finished ninth last out, but earned $150,635 last year for trainer Ron Burke and won the local distaff feature Feb. 28. She is the 3-1 second choice on the morning line and will employ the driving services of George Brennan. Imprincessgemma won the local filly and mare open handicap impressively by 2 3/4 lengths Feb. 14 and was second in the feature the following week. She is 9-2 for the Bongiornos. Gold Orchid earned $120,170 last year for Mark Harder, won the local filly and mare preferred March 6, and will make her third start of the season. She and driver Brian Sears are 6-1 on the morning line. The field also includes Diamondtoothgertie, Sandy Win, Crystal Sparkles, and Dibaba. “I think, like a lot of foreign horses, (Major Occasion) is better with a target,” Norman said. “She could come first-up or she’s got good speed on the end too, it wouldn’t matter if she came from off the pace. I’d imagine Dexter, since he’s coming over to drive her, is going to be reasonably aggressive. I’ll leave it up to him.” The amended Yonkers Raceway calendar will see live harness racing conducted Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights until July 2. Beginning the week of July 6, the schedule will add Friday nights. Saturday night racing will resume the week of July 20 as the track returns to its normal five night per week schedule through Dec. 19. First post time is 7:05 p.m. The complete revised racing calendar is available online here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY  

YONKERS, N.Y. – Expectations were low when Affluent Seelster started in the first division of the M life Rewards Ladies Pacing Series first leg March 2 at Yonkers Raceway. Despite starting from the inside, the public dismissed the 4-year-old harness racing mare at 33-1 in favor of Darn Tooth Hanover, who was the even-money favorite, and North Star Ideal, who was the 6-5 second choice. Both favorites entered on three-race win streaks. Despite Affluent Seelster’s long odds, she left from her inside spot, but yielded to North Star Ideal to ride a pocket trip. Turning for home, Affluent Seelster was still breathing down the neck of the longtime leader and straightening away, driver Joe Bongiorno pulled the ear plugs and angled Affluent Seelster inside. With a few right-handed whip taps, Affluent Seelster glided past North Star Ideal to post a neck win in a lifetime best 1:53.4 and kick off the series with a $69 mutual. “I thought that was maybe a little bigger number than she needed to be from the rail,” trainer Paul Stafford said. “Her qualifier was OK. She’s a big mare. Going into the series, she had raced there before, so we knew she could get around the half-mile racetrack, as big as she is. It just worked out perfect, Joey put her in a great spot getting a two-hole trip.” Stafford and Tom Ceraso purchased Affluent Seelster online last fall. The Mach Three daughter had five placings in eight starts racing for Richard Moreau in Canada and fit the bill for the conditions at Yonkers. However, Affluent Seelster’s size gave Stafford pause. “She’s big, so when she showed up, obviously you have a question mark about whether she would get around Yonkers,” Stafford said. “Really lightly raced, which is what we like to see. We like to buy 3-year-olds with not very many starts, non-winners of two-, non-winners of three-type horses.” Affluent Seelster debuted for Stafford at Yonkers Nov. 18, finishing second in a $14,000 overnight. She broke her maiden from post seven in the same class one week later, and then doubled up from the same post Dec. 9. In all three of those starts, Affluent Seelster left the gate hard and got wound up. “She was one who would get excited behind the gate because she thought she was going to leave every week,” Stafford said. Training back this winter, Stafford pointed Affluent Seelster to the M life Rewards Ladies Series and focused on teaching her to relax in her races. When she returned in a qualifier Feb. 21, Affluent Seelster came from off the pace to finish third. Stafford was happy to see the mare comfortable in the pocket in her first start of the season. “She trained back exceptionally well and we taught her a few manners training back so she wasn’t a front-running thing, which is how we finished up the year with her,” Stafford said. “That’s what we worked on training her back the last six weeks, teaching her that’s is OK to sit in, you don’t always have to be on the front. That transitioned into her qualifier and into her first race.” Affluent Seelster drew the inside post again in the second leg of the series Monday (March 9) and will again have Bongiorno in the sulky. The pair are the 3-2 favorites on the morning line. One race after Affluent Seelster’s upset win last week, Stafford sent out Windsong Parisian to a runner up finish in the second series split. Like her stablemate, Windsong Parisian and driver Matt Kakaley started from the inside and got a pocket trip. After chasing 3-5 favorite I’m Very Special around the track, Windsong Parisian finished second beaten 2 lengths and was 9 1/4 lengths clear of third-place finisher Saskatoon. An acquisition for Patricia Ceraso last fall, Windsong Parisian came to Stafford’s barn with more experience than Affluent Seelster, having logged 23 starts and four wins. Despite showing half-mile track experience at Grand River, Flamboro Downs and Western Fair, Windsong Parisian struggled in her first two starts at Yonkers in October. She made breaks in each start and was well beaten. “We bought a horse that showed half-mile racing, so we brought her to Yonkers and for whatever reason, she just decided that she wasn’t going to participate at Yonkers Raceway, she couldn’t get around the first turn for whatever reason,” Stafford said. The trainer decided a change of scenery was needed and Stafford took Windsong Parisian to Harrah’s Philadelphia. Despite starting from post seven and getting away 8 1/2 lengths behind the field, Windsong Parisian posted a :27.4 final quarter to rally for third beaten just a length. She won her next start at Harrah’s Philadelphia Nov. 29 and finished second in her final 2019 start Dec. 13. “We decided to change her look and took her to Chester,” Stafford said. “We had the seven hole, Tim Tetrick raced her like he should, ducked her last and she was flying on the end of it. She finished third, but she almost got there. She definitely showed she was OK at Chester.” Despite Windsong Parisian’s lackluster performances at Yonkers, she just made the earnings cutoff to be eligible for the series, so Stafford nominated for the low $200 fee. The move proved prudent. “She trained back well, you couldn’t ask for them to train back any better. For whatever reason, I can’t explain it, maybe it was just a matter of growing up, but she was good the other night. I think that was a little better than we expected. I thought maybe she would have been third or fourth in there, but she was good. Matt was happy with her.” Windsong Parisian will start from post five in Monday’s first series division in race one. With Kakaley opting for rival Lovin Cocoa, Brent Holland will drive Windsong Parisian as the 8-5 morning line favorite. “I think she drew into a good division. I think she’ll be OK in there,” Stafford said. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. The M life Rewards Series for Ladies and Gents continue with their second legs Monday (March 9) and Tuesday (March 10), respectively. The Blue Chip Matchmaker Series will return Friday, March 13 and the Borgata Pacing Series starts Saturday, March 14. First post time is 7:05 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Stormy Kromer will make his first start of the year Saturday night (March 7) in the $44,000 Open Handicap Trot at Yonkers Raceway. The Dejarmbro son rose through the harness racing ranks last year, earning eight wins and $154,195 in 2019, and became competitive in the weekly trotting features, exceeding the expectations of his trainer, Paul Stafford. A private trainer for Tom Ceraso, Jr. since Aug. 2018, Stafford manages a 26-strong stable at Gaitway Farm. When the duo shop for horses, they have Yonkers Raceway in mind. Such was the case when they acquired Stormy Kromer last spring. “I’ve known Tom for probably 10 years, maybe a little longer,” Stafford said. “I had trained a horse for him in Chicago and we’ve been friends ever since. Never really had any discussions about training his horses out here, but opportunity presented itself, and here we are. “We race primarily at Yonkers,” Stafford said. “We like to race at Yonkers. It’s the best money. We try to buy horses that can go around a half-mile racetrack.” Stormy Kromer raced for Pete and Melanie Wrenn in the Midwest and at Pompano during the winter. Stormy Kromer won his last three starts for the Wrenns, including two legs and a final of a late-closing series at Hoosier Park in April 2019, all on the front end and all by open lengths. His victory in the $16,000 series final came by 8 3/4 lengths. “He looked like a nice horse on the track,” Stafford said. “It’s tough to adjust times off a five-eighths or a seven-eighths to a half, but we knew were buying a horse who obviously had a ton of gate speed because the horse was always on the front for Pete when he was good. It was just a matter of if he was going to be OK for the half.” Stormy Kromer made his first start for Stafford at Yonkers Raceway May 3, 2019 and removed any doubt. Starting from post seven in a $23,000 overnight, the gelding made the lead and never looked back, cruising to a 1 3/4-length win in 1:56. “When I talked to Pete, it was ‘what you see is what you get.’ The horse wears almost no equipment. It’s nice to take a horse that you’re going to race on a half-mile racetrack and not have to put any additional equipment on,” Stafford said. “First impressions were maybe he wouldn’t be able to go the other way, maybe he would just be able to go on the front, but about five or six starts in for us, he raced out of a hole and he was good and it was like, ‘OK, maybe we have a horse who can do it both ways now.’ " After his triumphant Hilltop debut, Stormy Kromer was unplaced in two Open Handicap tries before posting a pair of seconds in $29,000 overnights. Ten starts after his initial victory, Stormy Kromer found the winner’s circle again in an $18,500 overnight July 30 after posting a 13 1/4-length win in 1:54.4. By late-fall, Stormy Kromer became competitive in the higher classes. He finished second in a Preferred Handicap Nov. 9 and rode a pocket trip to a 1:54.0 victory in the same class two weeks later. Stormy Kromer earned checks in two of three Open Handicap tries late last year. “We thought we were buying a middle condition horses, non-winners of $10,000, non-winners of $20,000, maybe jump up in (non-winners of) $30,000 every once in a while, but Stormy Kromer has decided otherwise for us that he wants to be an Open trotter,” Stafford said. “I think he’s maybe a step below the top, top trotters, but he’s definitely shown us that he can compete either way. He can go on the front or he can race off the pace, which those horses are tough to come by.” Despite his acceleration off the gate, Stormy Kromer doesn’t get headstrong and settles for his driver after a quick opening quarter. “Once you get in the Opens and the Preferreds, you’re not going to be able to have your own way on the front like he was in those lower classes,” Stafford said. “Those are great horses that make a lot of money up there because they’re going to come after you, they’re not just going to let you stay up there. “One of the luxuries of ‘Stormy’ is when he leaves the gate, he comes right back to you, which is another thing you don’t usually see with horses, especially trotters. Usually, if you get them wound up a few weeks in a row, you have to reel them back in otherwise they get too excited behind the gate thinking they’re going to leave every week. ‘Stormy’ isn’t like that. He can leave in :27 with the car or he can duck and get away sixth if you need him too.” Stormy Kromer raced through the end of the 2019 season at Yonkers and got three weeks off before resuming training. He had one qualifier with regular driver Brent Holland in preparation for his return Saturday, winning the trial gate-to-wire by 7 1/4 lengths in 1:56.4 at Yonkers Feb. 28. “So far, he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. I thought he qualified really well. Brent was happy with him,” Stafford said. “When you start talking about a horse that you know is going to have to go into an Open in his first start, you have to get them a little tighter. I spent some extra time at the farm and trained him fast one more time because we knew we had to go a little quicker qualifier than you normally would like because of where he had to go.” Stormy Kromer drew post two and is a 5-1 morning line in his return. He will face five other trotters, including Melady’s Money, who was handicapped the outside off a 1:54.3 victory in the Preferred Feb. 22 and Weslynn Dancer, who looked like her old self winning a $27,000 overnight by 5 1/2 lengths Feb. 29. Elysium Lindy was beaten a nose by Lean Hanover in last week’s Open and drew post one. Arabella’s Cadet and Mostinterestingman complete the lineup. “I think he should be OK. He got a tough bunch. I know it’s only a six-horse field, but that’s a nice group of horses that we’re in with,” Stafford said. “He did draw the inside. I think with the qualifier and the way he came out of his qualifier, I think he’s competitive in there.” Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. The M Life Rewards Series for Ladies and Gents continue with their second legs Monday and Tuesday night, respectively. The Blue Chip Matchmaker Series will return Friday, March 13 and the Borgata Pacing Series starts Saturday, March 14. First post time is 7:05 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. by Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Stormy Kromer will make his first start of the year Saturday night (March 7) in the $44,000 Open Handicap Trot at Yonkers Raceway. The Dejarmbro son rose through the ranks last year, earning eight wins and $154,195 in 2019, and became competitive in the harness racing weekly trotting features, exceeding the expectations of his trainer, Paul Stafford. A private trainer for Tom Ceraso, Jr. since Aug. 2018, Stafford manages a 26-strong stable at Gaitway Farm. When the duo shop for horses, they have Yonkers Raceway in mind. Such was the case when they acquired Stormy Kromer last spring. “I’ve known Tom for probably 10 years, maybe a little longer,” Stafford said. “I had trained a horse for him in Chicago and we’ve been friends ever since. Never really had any discussions about training his horses out here, but opportunity presented itself, and here we are. “We race primarily at Yonkers,” Stafford said. “We like to race at Yonkers. It’s the best money. We try to buy horses that can go around a half-mile racetrack.” Stormy Kromer raced for Pete and Melanie Wrenn in the Midwest and at Pompano during the winter. Stormy Kromer won his last three starts for the Wrenns, including two legs and a final of a late-closing series at Hoosier Park in April 2019, all on the front end and all by open lengths. His victory in the $16,000 series final came by 8 3/4 lengths. “He looked like a nice horse on the track,” Stafford said. “It’s tough to adjust times off a five-eighths or a seven-eighths to a half, but we knew were buying a horse who obviously had a ton of gate speed because the horse was always on the front for Pete when he was good. It was just a matter of if he was going to be OK for the half.” Stormy Kromer made his first start for Stafford at Yonkers Raceway May 3, 2019 and removed any doubt. Starting from post seven in a $23,000 overnight, the gelding made the lead and never looked back, cruising to a 1 3/4-length win in 1:56.0. “When I talked to Pete, it was ‘what you see is what you get.’ The horse wears almost no equipment. It’s nice to take a horse that you’re going to race on a half-mile racetrack and not have to put any additional equipment on,” Stafford said. “First impressions were maybe he wouldn’t be able to go the other way, maybe he would just be able to go on the front, but about five or six starts in for us, he raced out of a hole and he was good and it was like, ‘OK, maybe we have a horse who can do it both ways now.’ ” After his triumphant Hilltop debut, Stormy Kromer was unplaced in two Open Handicap tries before posting a pair of seconds in $29,000 overnights. Ten starts after his initial victory, Stormy Kromer found the winner’s circle again in an $18,500 overnight July 30 after posting a 13 1/4-length win in 1:54.4. By late-fall, Stormy Kromer became competitive in the higher classes. He finished second in a Preferred Handicap Nov. 9 and rode a pocket trip to a 1:54.0 victory in the same class two weeks later. Stormy Kromer earned checks in two of three Open Handicap tries late last year. “We thought we were buying a middle condition horses, non-winners of $10,000, non-winners of $20,000, maybe jump up in (non-winners of) $30,000 every once in a while, but Stormy Kromer has decided otherwise for us that he wants to be an Open trotter,” Stafford said. “I think he’s maybe a step below the top, top trotters, but he’s definitely shown us that he can compete either way. He can go on the front or he can race off the pace, which those horses are tough to come by.” Despite his acceleration off the gate, Stormy Kromer doesn’t get headstrong and settles for his driver after a quick opening quarter. “Once you get in the Opens and the Preferreds, you’re not going to be able to have your own way on the front like he was in those lower classes,” Stafford said. “Those are great horses that make a lot of money up there because they’re going to come after you, they’re not just going to let you stay up there. “One of the luxuries of ‘Stormy’ is when he leaves the gate, he comes right back to you, which is another thing you don’t usually see with horses, especially trotters. Usually, if you get them wound up a few weeks in a row, you have to reel them back in otherwise they get too excited behind the gate thinking they’re going to leave every week. ‘Stormy’ isn’t like that. He can leave in :27 with the car or he can duck and get away sixth if you need him too.” Stormy Kromer raced through the end of the 2019 season at Yonkers and got three weeks off before resuming training. He had one qualifier with regular driver Brent Holland in preparation for his return Saturday, winning the trial gate-to-wire by 7 1/4 lengths in 1:56.4 at Yonkers Feb. 28. “So far, he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. I thought he qualified really well. Brent was happy with him,” Stafford said. “When you start talking about a horse that you know is going to have to go into an Open in his first start, you have to get them a little tighter. I spent some extra time at the farm and trained him fast one more time because we knew we had to go a little quicker qualifier than you normally would like because of where he had to go.” Stormy Kromer drew post two and is a 5-1 morning line in his return. He will face five other trotters, including Melady’s Money, who was handicapped the outside off a 1:54.3 victory in the Preferred Feb. 22 and Weslynn Dancer, who looked like her old self winning a $27,000 overnight by 5 1/2 lengths Feb. 29. Elysium Lindy was beaten a nose by Lean Hanover in last week’s Open and drew post one. Arabella’s Cadet and Mostinterestingman complete the lineup. “I think he should be OK. He got a tough bunch. I know it’s only a six-horse field, but that’s a nice group of horses that we’re in with,” Stafford said. “He did draw the inside. I think with the qualifier and the way he came out of his qualifier, I think he’s competitive in there.” Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. The M Life Rewards Series for Ladies and Gents continue with their second legs Monday and Tuesday night, respectively. The Blue Chip Matchmaker Series will return Friday, March 13 and the Borgata Pacing Series starts Saturday, March 14. First post time is 7:05 p.m. For entries to the races, click here. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – Of the 19 entrants to the M Life Rewards Ladies Series first leg at Yonkers Raceway Monday (March 2), Lovin Cocoa is the least experienced with just nine pari-mutuel starts under her belt. However, harness racing trainer Travis Alexander hopes she will make up for it on speed and talent. She is also one of four starters in the series for Alexander. The 4-year-old Rock N Roll Heaven mare enters the M Life Rewards Ladies off an 8-length victory in a local $14,000 overnight Feb. 11, an effort that caught even her trainer by surprise. Lovin Cocoa had bar shoes on in that start, a move Alexander was sure was a mistake after she warmed up that night. “To be honest, before the race I was absolutely petrified because I had put bar shoes on her and she was absolutely terrible warming up, to the point where we almost scratched her,” Alexander said. “I told Matt (Kakaley) just to be careful, that it was my fault, not hers, she doesn’t like these bars, she doesn’t like the frog pressure. She’s not lame, she just doesn’t like the shoes.” Lovin Cocoa raced in fifth early 9 1/2 lengths off the pace. She moved to the outside straightening away the first time and advanced without cover. Reaching the backstretch, rival Thaneeya pulled the pocket, forcing Lovin Cocoa three-wide approaching the three-quarters. Passing the 6-furlong marker, she glided past the leaders effortlessly and opened up a pair of lengths. Lovin Cocoa kicked clear in the stretch under Kakaley pistol grips to post the dominating score at 1-9. Although Lovin Cocoa enters the M Life Rewards Ladies as a first-leg morning line favorite, last summer, she was a longshot to race at all. A homebred for Mark and Leslie Wasserman’s Fiddler’s Creek Stable, Lovin Cocoa is out of Scrapping Beauty, the first horse the Wassermans and Alexander had together in 2008. Lovin Cocoa and DD Delicious, Alexander’s other M Life Rewards Ladies entrant, grew up together in the same field. Prone to making breaks at 2, Lovin Cocoa was unraced as a freshman. Last year at 3, Lovin Cocoa had one qualifier June 5 before starting in the New York Excelsior B Series over a sloppy track at Tioga Downs June 10. She finished sixth beaten 6 3/4 lengths and came out of the race with an injury, forcing her to the sidelines. “She bowed both front tendons in the mud at Tioga. She hurt both tendons that night,” Alexander said. “It’s a kick in the butt because that day, DD Delicious won the sire stakes and then two races later, that happens. Highs and lows. It wasn’t terrible, but it was enough to where we had to shut her down. We just did the right thing and Lovin Cocoa is one of Mrs. Wasserman’s favorite horses. That’s been her filly since she was born and so we did what we had to do to go forward. “We healed her tendons and lo and behold, here we are. Honestly, she shouldn’t be racing. Her legs were bad. We didn’t give up, we gave her time, healed her up. Her caretaker (Armando Barragan) does an amazing job, he works hard on her legs. She wants to race, she’s fast enough, it’s just a matter of keeping her sound and happy.” Lovin Cocoa qualified back at Yonkers Nov. 15. She paced her mile in 1:55.4 with a :28.2 final panel. The effort took Alexander and Kakaley by surprise. “Once we had the legs set up and the ultrasounds were good, I knew we were looking good. I didn’t know if she’d get around the half and I didn’t know how much speed she truly had and how much she would have lost due to injury,” Alexander said.  “I qualified her the first time at Yonkers and she paced 55. To be honest, I was mind-blown. Matt and myself were like, ‘where did this come from? What in the world?’ ” Despite the encouraging result, Lovin Cocoa made breaks in her next three starts, all at the Hilltop. Alexander regrouped, sending the filly to the Meadowlands. With Alexander in Florida training babies, Roy Marohn drove Lovin Cocoa to a qualifying win at the Swamp in 1:55.3 Dec. 21. Six days later, she finished third in a $15,000 overnight, pacing the mile in 1:52.4 with :27.2 on the end. “She has a temper. That’s why she was making those breaks early. I had too big of a head pole and I was trying to make her do it our way instead of letting her do it her way,” Alexander said. “I took her to the Meadowlands to get her mind right and I took everything off. Roy Marohn did an amazing job getting her qualified and going. “After that 52 mile at the Meadowlands, I knew,” Alexander continued. “She’s always had speed, her whole family has had speed. The colts of that family have the same temper, but they’re a lot tougher to deal with. I knew she’d be more than competitive in this series. Once we got her racing good, we set her up for that.” Lovin Cocoa enters the M Life Rewards Ladies first leg off nearly three weeks rest. Alexander was forced to make adjustments after her outing with bar shoes and then prepped her for this start. “I had to take the shoes off because the day after, she was sore, so we had to adjust again,” Alexander said. “Young horses or lightly raced horses are a learning curve. You have to find what they will tolerate, you have to find a balance. We went back to the drawing board and I’m very happy with what we came up with. “She’s missed two weeks on purpose just to get her right,” the trainer continued. “She’s trained up very well. I expect a big effort on Monday and going forward. Four weeks in the series, I didn’t want to race her, so we’re managing her and we have high hopes for her.” Lovin Cocoa will start from post four with Matt Kakaley in Monday’s fourth race, the third division of the M Life Rewards Ladies Series. The Series kicks off in race two, where Alexander will send out DD Delicious. DD Delicious started her career last year with two straight overnight wins before jumping into New York Sire Stakes competition. She won one leg at Tioga June 10 and placed in five others to earn a berth in the $225,000 NYSS Final at Batavia Sept. 14. After drawing post eight, she earned a check finishing fifth, boosting her earnings to $140,470 for Fiddler’s Creek Stable, and was pointed to the M Life Rewards Series. “She’s special. She’s a very nice mare. We had some issues last year with some sickness, unfortunately a couple bad posts in the wrong stakes races,” Alexander said. “It worked out because now she fits this series. As soon as she didn’t win the sire stakes final, I shut her down and aimed her just for this series because it’s a good starting point for her 4-year-old year.” DD Delicious spent a couple months turned out in Ohio before shipping to Alexander’s Florida stable to train back. She qualified a winner in 1:56 at Pocono Downs Feb. 12 and prepped for the M Life Rewards Ladies with one start at Yonkers Feb. 18, finishing second in a $16,000 overnight from post eight with Kakaley in the bike. “We sent her down to Florida and she prepped as well as any horse could. Her first start, that was beautiful,” Alexander said. “He sat as long as he could, she sprinted home, had pace on the end of it. She trained very, very well (Friday), couldn’t be happier.” Unraced at 2, DD Delicious had 14 starts at 3. Now entering her 4-year-old season, Alexander feels DD Delicious is coming into her prime. “She’s much stronger, she grew, she put on a lot of muscle. I could tell all winter in Florida and when we qualified her at Pocono, that was the first time (Matt) drove her and he even said he could feel she’s just stronger than last year,” Alexander said. “They race the first year at 3, not having those starts at 2 does hinder them a little bit as far as strength goes.” DD Delicious is the 5-2 morning line second choice behind Tom Milici’s North Star Ideal, who enters off three straight wins. Alexander will also send out two starters in the M Life Rewards Gents Series first leg Tuesday (March 3). Marco Beach will start from post four with Joe Bongiorno and is the 5-2 morning line favorite in the first division. Despite his 6-for-19 record and $51,400 in earnings, Alexander doesn’t feel Marco Beach has lived up to his potential yet. “He’s probably one of the smartest horses I’ve ever had, but he’s the hardest horse I’ve ever broke,” Alexander said. “He’s been a challenge to get to this point. “He would notice any change. If a tractor moved, he would stop and try to figure out what was different. If somebody’s truck was parked on the side of the hill and then the next lap was gone, he would sit there for 20 minutes and try to figure out what was different, and you couldn’t make him move. He would sit there and just stare,” Alexander explained. “Last year, there was a race where he was crossing over to the front and he saw the starting gate and went to the outside of the track to go behind the starting gate again,” Alexander continued. “It was bad. That’s why John Kakaley drove him a lot last year because I needed someone that I could get every start that would educate him. He’s so fast, I haven’t even scratched the surface. I can’t train him by himself, his mind wanders. Mentally, he’s a tough horse.” Alexander has seen improvement in Marco Beach from 3 to 4. He qualified in 1:56.4 at Pocono Downs Feb. 12 and won his seasonal debut at the Wilkes-Barre five-eighths-mile track by a neck in 1:53.4 with a :27.3 final quarter Feb. 23. The M Life Rewards Gents first leg will be Marco Beach’s first start on a half-mile track. “I don’t know how he’ll get around the half because he’s never seen a half. Not that he’s bad-gaited, he’s very good-gaited, but you just never know. He is a big horse. That’s the only thing that concerns me is him not being on Yonkers before the series started,” Alexander said. “The reasoning was just more the way things fell in place as far as timing,” Alexander explained. “I shipped him north and qualified him at Pocono and I didn’t want to short rest him and race him at Yonkers with the series coming up. It was better to race on Sunday at Pocono. It was scheduling.” Alexander’s final series entrant is Tellitsabb, a 4-year-old Tellitlikeitis gelding who recently came to Alexander’s stable for owner Brian Carsey. After going 3-for-13 last year in Ohio with Ernie Gaskin, Tellitsabb is 3-for-3 with $24,000 earned already this season. “He’s a fantastic horse. The Gaskins did a great job with him. When they sent him out, he was ready to go. I liked him, so Brian Carsey bought him because I liked him so much,” Alexander said. Tellitsabb’s victories have each come by at least 2 lengths and he’s paced his miles in 1:53.1, 1:53.4, and 1:54.0 with Matt Kakaley and Joe Bongiorno alternating drives to this point. Despite the impressive results, Alexander sees room for improvement. “He’s a horse that wants to lean in on the turns. The last two starts, I’ve tried to help with that and it’s made him worse, so I have to take everything off and go back to how it was the first start,” Alexander said. “I don’t know how fast he is. Joe and Matt are both very high on him. It’s just how he is on the turns and the more you rig him, the more he tries to fight you,” Alexander continued. “I’ll have to leave it to the drivers, let them earn their money a little bit. Speed wise, he’s extremely fast.” Tellitsabb is a 5-1 morning line with Matt Kakaley set to drive. He drew post eight, but with valuable points at stake, Alexander expects the gelding to leave. “We’ve got to go forward. I don’t know how forward we’re going to go, but we can’t just duck and sit and wait,” he said. “We’ve got to race, so we’ll see. I’ll leave that to Matt though.” Alexander hopes to build on early-season success in the M Life Rewards Series. His stable is 11-for-44 at Yonkers this year with an additional 14 seconds and thirds. He credits his wife, Alaina, and caretakers Wilder Allverz (Marco Beach), Lucia Sanchez (Tellitsabb), and Barragan (DD Delicious and Lovin Cocoa). “We’ve had a very good start to the year. We’ve had a lot of horses fit the right spots, that always helps. Nice diversity from non-winners of two up to non-winners of $30,000 trot. It’s been a very good winter and hopefully it keeps going,” Alexander said. “My crew has done a tremendous job. I have to thank them. I’ve been going back and forth between here and Florida. My wife Alaina, she’s amazing. She runs the northern barn. I have no worries when she’s up north. She treats these horses like they’re her kids and it shows. She’s the reason they’re all racing the way they are. She does an amazing job.” Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. The M Life Rewards Ladies Series begins Monday night, March 2 while the M Life Rewards Gents Series kicks off Tuesday, March 3. The Blue Chip Matchmaker Series will return Friday, March 13 and the Borgata Pacing Series starts Saturday, March 14. First post time is 7:05 p.m. By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – The Standardbred Owners Association of New York will make a presentation to the 2019 leading drivers and trainer at Yonkers Raceway Monday night (March 2). Drivers Jason Bartlett and George Brennan, who dead-heated for the most wins last season with 427 each, and trainer Scott Di Domenico, who dominated the trainer’s standings with 180 victories, will each be recognized for their achievements on the racetrack The driver’s race became one of the highlights of the 2019 season at Yonkers and put an unexpected twist on the final few days of racing. After nearly 11 months of competition and over 2,000 starts by the track’s leading drivers, there is typically little left to be settled in the meet’s final weeks. For instance, by Dec. 1, 2018, Jason Bartlett had a 104-win edge on Jordan Stratton. In 2017, Bartlett came into the stretch of the meet with a 153-win margin. However, with two racing days left in the 2019 season, Jason Bartlett and George Brennan were locked in a tight battle for the Yonkers driving title. At Dec. 1, the duo was separated by just three wins, with Brennan ahead 406 to 403. After trading blows throughout December, Bartlett brought a three-win margin into the penultimate night of competition (Dec.16) with 423 wins. It was the closest race in Bartlett’s memory. “Usually by this time, everything is cut and dry of who’s going to get it and who’s not,” Bartlett said. “Between me and George, we drive hard against each other. We’ve always done that. At the end of the day, we still respect each other on and off the track. It’s a good competition, but at the end of the day, we still have a job to do and that’s to win races and get as much money as we can for the trainers.” Bartlett drove four winners on the penultimate card to Brennan’s two, giving the former a 427-423 edge going into the final night of racing Dec. 17. Adding a further complication to the contest, Bartlett missed the final card due to a previously scheduled family vacation. Brennan won four of the first 10 races on the Closing Night program, tying the standings at 427 and had a chance to take sole possession in the final race with Lord Of Misrule. However, when that pacer finished fourth, the standings were final. After 2,657 races from January 7 through December 17, the contest ended in a dead heat. “It was very exciting. I’ve been leading driver before, but this was the most exciting driving race I’ve been involved in. It was a lot of fun,” Brennan said. “I just went about my business and that’s how it ended. It’s a lot of work, a lot of dedication, good clients. It means a lot. “You can’t really think about it. You just have to go about your business and try to stay safe and win races,” Brennan said. “There was something going on with the driving title, but in a sense, it’s secondary because you still have to get the job done, you still have to get the most amount of money for your owners and trainers you’re driving for. That’s the number one priority there.” Bartlett and Brennan both experienced memorable wins in the final week of racing. Bartlett drove Mach It A Par to victory Friday, Dec. 13 in her final career start. The $1.1 million-earning mare aired by 4 1/2 lengths in her bow, her 82nd start and 17th win with Bartlett. Brennan scored with 11-year-old millionaire trotter DW’s NY Yank on the final night of racing in the pair’s 82nd start and 25th win together. Bartlett, 38, won his ninth Hilltop title while Brennan, 52, earned his third. Bartlett saw Brennan as a mentor and an inspiration growing up, making the contest even more meaningful. However, the pair can leave the competition on the track and focus on their work. “He’s a driver that I’ve looked up to my whole life,” Bartlett said. “Being in a competition against him, running for number one, is a pretty big deal for me. Growing up and knowing George and looking up to him. “For me, it means I’m doing my job. I’m there to win races and business is good. Every year, you shoot for it. You’ve got to have a little luck along the way and get some horsepower,” Bartlett said. “It’s a job that I love to do, I’m very competitive at it and it’s really nice to go to work and know every race matters. There’s no messing up. I know a lot of people are watching it.” “I just want to thank all the trainers and owners and caretakers that look after and train the horses, because I can’t do it without them. A big thank you to them,” Brennan said. While Bartlett and Brennan battled to the wire for the driving title, Scott Di Domenico enjoyed an insurmountable lead in the training ranks. The 38-year-old harnessed 180 winners at Yonkers in 2019, 27 more than 2018 champion Rene Allard. It is Di Domenico’s first training title at Yonkers, a goal the he has been working toward for years. He was second in the standings last year with 160 wins and third in 2017 with 117. “It was great. To do that, it’s been something that I’ve been close to a few times over the last three or four years, but never got it solidified. To be able to get it done last year was really special,” Di Domenico said. “It was never anything that I was praying every night that I would get, but you work hard every day and you strive for goals and you strive to win races. When it all comes together like it did, it was really gratifying.” Allard topped the standings through July, but Di Domenico took over a narrow lead in August. Di Domenico extended the margin through the end of the season. However, which such a long season, the title wasn’t something Di Domenico focused on nightly. “Never gave it a lot of thought. Just tried to have our head down working hard and tried to come to work every night prepared and tried to win races,” he said. “The rest of it, it was going to work out one way or the other. I’m glad it worked out the way it did, but it was never something that you sat there every night getting your voodoo doll out and hoping the other guy didn’t win any races.” By mid-November, when he enjoyed a lead of more than 30 victories, Di Domenico could finally step back and look at the big picture. “It was looking promising, it really started to set in, in the middle of November. I was paying more attention to it than I had been at any other point in the year,” Di Domenico said. “But you still try to work hard, and you didn’t want to let up on the gas any to not be able to win. Just tried to stay on the same plan we were on the whole year and tried to keep buying horses and have fresh horses coming in and out all the time and doing the best we could.” Di Domenico averaged 60 to 70 horses in his stable throughout 2019, most of which were pointed to Yonkers, where he made 810 starts last season. Di Domenico credits owners Dana Parham and Jo Ann Fucci not only for being great clients, but also for being great for the industry. “Last year we took kind of a step up. As always, as it’s been since I’ve been out here, Yonkers was my main focus,” Di Domenico said. “All of (the owners), they’re the key to any success. If you don’t have good clientele behind you and guys that are ambitious about buying horses, ambitious about racing, then it is what it is. You’ve got to have people that are ambitious about it and want to win as much as you do.” One of the highlights to Di Domenico’s season was the development of trotter Swansea. The Swan For All gelding joined Di Domenico’s stable in late 2018 and rose through the ranks in 2019. He won three preliminary legs of the SOA of NY Bonus Trotting Series last spring before finishing second in the $75,000 Final. Swansea then made the leap to the Open Handicap, winning three local trotting features before year-end. For the season, he went 14-for-29 and earned $255,815. “He was a horse that came from Indiana that nobody had any real high expectations of and to see him come here and make $250,000 and win a lot of races,” Di Domenico said. “He had a little bit of bad luck in the Trotting Series Final in the spring where the trip didn’t work for him as well as we were hoping that night. That horse, he’d have to be at the top of the list. “That series, three horses that really stood out to me now that you can look back on it, Swansea, Joey Bats, and Rich And Miserable,” Di Domenico continued. “It says a lot about that series and it shows how tough that racing can be at Yonkers.” Di Domenico also praised his team for the training title win. “It’s special, those guys work hard every day and certainly they deserve a lot of the credit,” he said. “They’re in the thick of going to the races every night, getting home late, up early, and taking great care of the horses. They certainly deserve a lot of credit for that.” Looking ahead to 2020, Di Domenico hopes for continued success and has his sights set on a repeat. “I’d like to do it again,” Di Domenico said. “It was fun and just the fact that you go to the track and most nights you feel like you’re prepared and you have as good a chance as any to win is a very good feeling. Going home after winning a race or two races is very gratifying.” Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. The M Life Rewards Ladies Series begins Monday night, March 2 while the M Life Rewards Gents Series kicks off Tuesday, March 3. The Blue Chip Matchmaker Series will return Friday, March 13 and the Borgata Pacing Series starts Saturday, March 14. First post time is 7:05 p.m. For entries to the races, By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

YONKERS, N.Y. – At around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday night, the door to Alex Dadoyan’s office opened and an employee provided an update: the main camera still didn’t have power, but the electrician was on the way. With about a half-hour to first post and an electrical issue threatening to sabotage the nightly simulcast, Dadoyan remained level and calm. Dealing with such urgent issues is part of the job for the Director of Racing at Yonkers Raceway. “Otherwise it’s going to be hard to show the races,” Dadoyan said with a laugh. Since taking on the role of Director of Racing in Sept. 2019, Dadoyan has made several changes: published post times are now more accurate and there was a shakeup to the betting menu. The nightly pick fours now start in race one and race seven, the sequences no longer overlapping. The pick five moved to race five each night, whereas in the past, its starting point varied depending on the number of races offered. Superfectas are now offered on even races only and there are seven pick threes on a 12-race program. “The biggest thing that I couldn’t stand was overlapping pick fours. It just made all the sense in the world to have an early and a later pick four,” Dadoyan said. “We’ve done really well on the early pick four. It’s averaging around $10,000 a night. The late one is not as strong, but they’re both stronger than they were last year. It just makes sense to split them up and give people different races to look at. “I just made a wagering format I liked and wherever there was nothing else, I put a pick three. I lowered the frequency of supers. That was another thing I felt strongly about,” Dadoyan continued. “I just wanted to build up the pools as best as I could. I think you see it in some races where there’s no super, the tri and exacta pools are really strong. If you can get a $35,000 tri pool at Yonkers, that’s pretty good. I was happy to see that.” If Dadoyan gets his way, another change to the betting menu could be coming soon. The track submitted a proposal to add a nightly pick six wager to the offerings and Dadoyan feels the New York Gaming Commission is close to approving the bet. “We had a traditional pick six at the Meadowlands when I was there and I was a huge fan of it. Everyone wanted to get rid of it and I was the one trying to fight to keep it,” Dadoyan said. “It stayed there until I left and then they replaced it with a jackpot bet. But now years later, they brought it back, but they’re at 20 cents.” The proposal Dadoyan submitted would see the pick six at Yonkers offer a $1 minimum stake, which will boost payoffs to those who hit it and boost the frequency of carryovers. The wager was proposed with a 20-percent takeout rate, the lowest the NYGC will allow on exotic harness wagers. If approved as proposed, the bet would include a 25-percent consolation payoff and 75-percent carryover provision on nights when it is not hit. “I had been trying for a little while to get a pick six in at Yonkers. We had some slight delays but I’m hoping that in the next month we could offer it,” Dadoyan said. “There’s no doubt that any time there’s a carryover, there’s going to be far more eyes on your product. Especially if you’re not the top signal out there, you need to try to get more eyes on your product and a carryover is one of the best ways to do that. “We’re not allowed to offer carryovers in the pick four, we’re not allowed to offer carryovers in the superfecta, so all we’ve got is the pick five, and that’s great, but it’s one race a night. And there’s plenty of nights where you’re not going to get a carryover. A slightly harder bet has the ability to produce more carryovers. Dadoyan sees the $1 minimum as the key to success for the pick six at Yonkers, a half-mile track with eight-horse fields. “Other tracks go for the lower minimums and that’s fine, but Yonkers being smaller fields and more winning favorites, I think the dollar makes more sense,” Dadoyan said. “The drawback is the pools may be smaller at a dollar minimum, but I think the potential for having carryovers is better than having slightly bigger pools each night with a lower minimum.” Dadoyan also hopes the $1 minimum fuels more carryovers, which produce value for horseplayers by reducing the effective takeout of the wager. He cited Tuesday’s $8,300 pick five carryover, which attracted over $46,000 in new money wagered and returned $331.50 for a 50-cent bet, to explain how the pick six may behave differently. “If you have what we have tonight, an $8,000 carryover in the pick five, it’s getting hit tonight. Whatever comes in, it’s getting hit with a 50-cent minimum and a five-race sequence,” Dadoyan said. “If it’s a dollar bet in a six-race sequence, it might not get hit and now your carryover is really big. That’s the goal. “The more carryovers you can create and provide value, you can get more eyes on the product and the better you’re going to do,” Dadoyan continued. “Whether it’s just that night or hopefully in the future too if people follow horses, or want to bet back a horse, whatever it might be. That’s the way horseplayers operate.” One of the most visible and polarizing changes to take place since MGM acquired Yonkers Raceway is the rebranding of many stakes races this season. Notable examples are starting soon: The Petticoat and Sagamore Pacing Series are now the M Life Rewards Ladies and Gents Series and begin Monday (March 2) and Tuesday (March 3), respectively. The George Morton Levy Memorial Pacing Series is now the Borgata Pacing Series and begins March 14. The changes are more than just new names. Dadoyan revealed they are part of a broader marketing strategy by MGM that is designed to cross-promote its properties. Complete details will be announced by the track soon, but Dadoyan teased some of the promotions to come. “We renamed a bunch of the stakes races to incorporate the MGM name. Part of the reason for that is because there is going to be marketing support for the new events,” he explained. “Those events are now upon us. The M Life Rewards Series starts next week and the Borgata Series starts the week after that. We have a bunch of promotions for those events. I don’t think anything like that has been done at Yonkers around racing.” Each night of the series, horseplayers making a racing bet at Yonkers will receive a coupon to enter in a drawing. There will be six drawings nightly and prizes include cash and trips to the MGM Borgata in Atlantic City. “That’s the whole point of it, they can leverage their properties to support each other. Hopefully racing fans can participate and take advantage of it,” Dadoyan said. “MGM is an entertainment company and racing can be a form of entertainment in their properties and they’re going to try to support it.” The most astute viewers of racing at Yonkers will have noted small tags adorning the horses’ saddle pads over the last few weeks. The tags are part of the Trakus system and are part of another initiative in the works at the Hilltop. Trakus is a tracking system which determines the exact location of each horse throughout the entire race via tags carried by the horses. The system can provide real-team graphics showing the exact location of each horse throughout the race, along with handicapping information, such as sectional times for each horse throughout the race and ground loss. “I was a Trakus fan from day one. I was trying to get it at the Meadowlands back in the day and it was really expensive. When the tracks got privatized, I was trying to work out a deal to get it at Meadowlands and Monmouth together, but we couldn’t work it out,” Dadoyan said. “Trakus has a new version of the product that they wanted to demo at a smaller track, so they asked us. That’s all we’re doing right now, you don’t see it on the graphics or anything,” he continued. “It remains to be seen whether we would pursue it because there would be a cost involved, but I’m a big fan of the product, so hopefully assuming everything works out OK with the testing, maybe there’s a way we could implement it.” Although Trakus hasn’t been used extensively on a half-mile track to this point, Dadoyan takes the stance that any additional data that can be provided to horseplayers is a positive. “The data it provides is so much more than what we have in harness racing now. I think it would be a great addition,” he said. “I understand that everyone watches races differently and things like ground covered or top speed, or speed at a point in the race, those are all factors that people might or might not see value in,” Dadoyan continued. “The data for all that stuff just doesn’t really exist right now. On a smaller track, you don’t have as much going on, but still, people might be interested in how much ground is covered. On a half-mile track, some horses are outside a lot longer than others. There is probably a lot of variation in the distance covered. “I’ll be excited to see some of the test results and see how it turned out. I saw a couple the first week, but I think they’ll be more to see before we’re done.” The changes that have been implemented and those still to come are part of Dadoyan’s strategy of incremental improvements and the philosophy that a series of small changes can make a big difference in handle. “There’s so many different things to address and try to take care of. You have to pick your spots and pick your battles, you can’t do everything at once.” Dadoyan said. “I try to tell people it’s small, incremental, gradual changes to make it overall better. You can’t come in and change everything at any racetrack, but especially one that’s been around a long time. Hopefully we can continue to make gradual improvements.” Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. First post time is 7:05 p.m.  By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY  

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

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

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

YONKERS, N.Y. – After a three-month hiatus, 2019 Yonkers International Trot winner Zacon Gio resumed harness racing serious work last Friday, Jan. 17. With trainer Holger Ehlert in the jog cart, Zacon Gio trained 2,000 meters in his first fast workout of the year. Zacon Gio was timed in 2:49, trotting his final 400 meters in about 30 seconds, according a Facebook post by Ehlert. “After three months of vacation Zacon Gio worked on the round track 2,000 meters (in) 2:49 with 30-(second) last 400 meters in the company of Vai Mo Blessed and Maine [ sic ] in about a month we are ready to run.” To view a video of Zacon Gio’s workout, click here. Zacon Gio is a 6-year-old Ruty Grif son out of the Yankee Glide mare May Galde Font Sm. The three-time Group 1 winner is 21-for-30 in his career with $996,834 earned for owner Giuseppe Franco. Zacon Gio’s last start came in the Yonkers International Trot Oct. 12. In his first start outside Italy, Zacon Gio romped to a 3 1/4-length victory in the $1 million stakes with Roberto Vecchione in the bike. Zacon Gio maintains a 12-race win streak dating to Oct. 25, 2018. Zacon Gio’s first start of 2020 could be less than one month away, according to Ehlert’s post. The trotter’s main targets this year include the Group 1 Gran Premio Lotteria at Agnano in Naples this spring and a title defense of the MGM Yonkers International Trot this fall. Slide So Easy Honored in Denmark Slide So Easy, the 2019 Yonkers International Trot runner up, was honored in his home country of Denmark with year-end awards. After a 10-year-old campaign that saw the Quite Easy son win eight of 16 starts with another six placings and more than double his earnings to 4,464,884 kr, Slide So Easy earned Older Horse of the Year and Horse of the Year titles. Slide So Easy won races at home and abroad in 2019. His biggest wins last season each produced lifetime marks. He trotted a 1:10.3 kilometer rating when besting Coktail Fortuna by a neck in a 1640-meter Gulddivisionen leg at Kalmar June 23. Slide So Easy lowered his mark again to 1:10.2 in a 1600-meter League 1 trot at Charlottenlund Aug. 25. Slide So Easy was only worse than second in two starts this year, including when seventh in the Group 1 Oslo Grand Prix at Bjerke June 9. Slide So Easy came to the U.S. ahead of the foreign contingent for the Yonkers International Trot, staying with Åke Svanstedt. Slide So Easy took full advantage of his inside draw in the Yonkers International, staying inside and finishing second at odds of 22-1 and adding $250,000 to the trotter’s bankroll. Slide So Easy raced four more times after his Yonkers International Trot bid, finishing his season with a victory in a 2,000-meter League 1 Final at Charlottenlund. Slide So Easy is owned by Team Clemmensen & Christensen and trained by Flemming Jensen. Slide So Easy   Cleangame Presented ‘Save the Date’ for 2020 MGM Yonkers International Trot Yonkers Raceway Director of Racing Alex Dadoyan presented Jean Michel Bazire with a ‘Save the Date’ for the 2020 MGM Yonkers International Trot for his trotter Cleangame. At Hippodrome de Vincennes in Paris for this weekend’s Grand Prix d’Amérique, Dadoyan made the presentation after the Bazire trained and driven C D captured the Prix de Yonkers Raceway Thursday (Jan. 23). Jean-Michel Bazire won today’s Prix de Yonkers Raceway and I gave him a save the date card to bring his top trotter Cleangame to the MGM Yonkers International Trot September 12 pic.twitter.com/8OetA84Z24 — Alex Dadoyan (@AlexAcesRaces) January 23, 2020 Cleangame is regarded among the top trotters in the world. The 8-year-old Ouragan de Celland son went 13-for-16 in 2019, earning 628,750€. His biggest victories to date came in the Group 2, 150,000€ 42nd Grand Prix du Sud-Ouest Oct. 13 and the Group 2, 130,000€ Grand National du Trot Final Dec. 1. Most recently, Cleangame dominated his rivals in the 90,000€ Prix de Brest at Vincennes Jan. 18. Cleangame’s appeared to be on the way to victory over Propulsion, Bahia Questnot, and Bold Eagle in this fall’s Group 2 UET Trotting Master’s Final at Vincennes, but made a break on the lead in deepstretch. In his career, Cleangame has earned 1,269,720€. Cleangame is a gelding, excluding him from the biggest races at the Vincennes Winter Meeting. Yonkers International Trot Veterans Line Up in Grand Prix d’Amérique Sunday Three Yonkers International Trot veterans will start in the Group 1, 900,000€ Grand Prix d’Amérique at Vincennes Sunday (Jan. 26). Uza Josselyn and Bahia Quesnot, mares who started in the 2019 renewal of the International, and Ringostarr Treb, who came to New York in 2018, will each bid for France’s biggest race. Uza Josselyn finished sixth in the 2019 Yonkers International Trot and prepped for the Grand Prix d’Amérique with fourth-place finishes in the Grand Prix du Bourbonnais and Grand Prix de Bourgogne and a seventh-place finish in the Grand Prix de Belgique. The 9-year-old Love You daughter made the field based on her earnings of 1,274,678€. Pierre Vercruysse will drive for Rene Aebischer. Uza Josselyn was seventh in the 2019 Grand Prix d’Amérique. Bahia Quesnot made a break at start of the 2019 Yonkers International and did not finish the race. However, she rebounded at home for trainer and driver Junior Guelpa, finishing second in the Grand Prix de Bourgogne to punch her ticket to the Grand Prix d’Amérique. Guelpa will drive again on Sunday, Bahaia Quesnot’s second Grand Prix d’Amérique bid after finishing 10th in 2019. Ringostarr Treb was favored in the 2018 Yonkers International Trot, but made a costly break in stride on the first turn of the $1 million stakes. The 2018 Elitloppet champion won two Group 1 races in 2019: The Hugo Åbergs Memorial and the Sundsvall Open Trot. The Jerry Riordan trainee made a break in the Grand Prix de Bourgogne, but qualified for the Grand Prix d’Amérique field on earnings of 1,648,631€. Ringostarr Treb’s Grand Prix d’Amérique bid will be his final start before going to stud. The 2020 Grand Prix d’Amérique field is the richest ever assembled, with the 18 starters combined earnings standing at 25.9€ million. The race will be streamed on LeTrot.com. Lionel Wins in Norway Norwegian trotter Lionel, who finished second in the 2018 Yonkers International Trot at 11-1 odds and eighth in the 2019 renewal after making a break in deep stretch, found the winner’s circle in his home country Jan. 18. The 10-year-old trotter bested nine rivals at Bjerke Travbane with owner and trainer Gøran Antonsen in the sulky. The 2020 edition of the $1 million MGM Yonkers International Trot is set for Sat. Sept. 12. For more information on the race and its participants, visit http://www.internationaltrot.com. By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

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

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

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