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Between running their own breeding business together, along with their own separate real estate companies, Marvin Katz and Al Libfeld don't really have time to work themselves into frenzied anticipation for the harness racing season debut of their prized female trotter. That being said, Katz has not completely pushed Ariana G's 3-year-old season opener Friday at the Meadowlands to the recesses of his mind. "Both Al and I are very busy in our own business," Katz said. "We've experienced it enough to not think about it too much, and we haven't. We're very involved at this time of the year on the breeding side of things with foals; matings are going on, we're making preparations for the yearling sale. That really takes a lot of our time and attention in addition to our professional careers, which are demanding." However. . . "I can't help but say I've been thinking about her returning and looking forward to it for sure," Katz continued. "She's a very special horse so we're excited and looking forward to that. She has unlimited potential. She's a very exciting horse. I think in the eyes of many she's a very special horse as well." She was special enough to win the 2016 Dan Patch Award for best 2-year-old filly trotter after winning nine of 11 races and earning $743,967 in purses. Trained by Jimmy Takter and driven by Yannick Gingras, Ariana G won the Breeders Crown for 2-year-old filly trotters, the Jim Doherty Memorial, the Peaceful Way Stakes and New Jersey Sire Stakes championship. In March, Takter told Hoof Beats magazine "I don't think I ever had a better 2-year-old trotting filly." Bred and owned by Katz and Libfeld, Ariana G opens her campaign in a division of the New Jersey Sire Stakes with Gingras back in the sulky. She will start from post No. 3 and is the even-money favorite on the morning line after prepping with two qualifiers. In the first she went 1:56 with a last quarter-mile of :27.1 in finishing second to Magic Presto, and in the second on May 6, she won in 1:55.1 with a :27.2 last quarter. "She was well in hand doing that," said Katz, a Toronto resident who watched replays of both races. "Yannick didn't pop the earplugs or anything like that. So she's still got very good speed. "She also sat in the pocket around the top of the turn and she really accelerated. Her ability to turn on her speed when she starts accelerating is very dramatic. Yannick has commented about that in the past and that was certainly evident in her qualifier." So far, everything looks good to go with the filly. "From what Jimmy Takter said, he's totally pleased with the way she's come back," Katz said. "He's very excited and we're looking forward to her performance." What is interesting to note, is that the last three female trotters to be named the Dan Patch Award winner at age 2 -- Broadway Donna in 2015, Mission Brief in '14 and Shake It Cerry in '13 -- and four of the last five (Check Me Out in 2011) all came back to win the award at age 3. Takter has had three trotting fillies -- Shake It Cerry, Pampered Princess (2006-07) and Passionate Glide (2005-06) -- win Dan Patch awards as 2- and 3-year-olds. Katz feels it's not just a coincidence, noting that when outstanding horses have such a head start in ability early in life, it is tough for the next level to close that gap in just one year. "In the case of trotters in general, particularly if you have horses at the level that are winning Dan Patch Awards and so forth, all things being equal there's going to be improvement between the 2-year-old and the 3-year-old year, just because of the maturity, strength and experience," Katz said. "When a horse is really at the top of their class it's very difficult for an inexperienced horse to make up that much ground that quickly. "There's exception to every rule, of course, but typically, the horses that were the dominant 2-year-olds will be among the dominant 3-year-olds. Horses like Ariana G and horses that had very high speeds as 2-year-olds, if there's improvement they're up near record performances at that point if the normal maturity process takes hold." And while Ariana G's connections are certainly hoping for big things and have her staked in everything, they aren't making any bold plans or predictions past this weekend. "We'll go one race at a time, see how she goes on Friday night," said Katz, who with Libfeld was named 2016 Dan Patch Breeders of the Year. "Hopefully it's a good first outing for her and we'll go from there. I would hope we go through the New Jersey Sire Stakes program and get through the two races and the final, and then see what happens." * * * Nine Hambletonian-eligible male trotters will be in action Friday at the Meadowlands as the New Jersey Sire Stakes season gets underway. There are two divisions of NJSS for 3-year-old male trotters, with a total of 13 horses. The first division, a six-horse group, includes Hambletonian eligibles Fly On, Southwind Woody, Long Tom, and Deacon Tony. The second includes Hambletonian eligibles King On The Hill, What The Hill, New Jersey Viking, Southwind Cobra, and Signal Hill. What The Hill, from the stable of trainer Ron Burke, won last year's New Jersey Sire Stakes championship for 2-year-old male trotters and the Peter Haughton Memorial. ROAD TO THE HAMBLETONIAN A look at open stakes for 3-year-old male trotters and state-restricted stakes featuring Hambletonian eligibles Date - Track - Event - First - Second - Third May 6 - Freehold - Dexter Cup - Lord Cromwell - Gustavo Fring - Southwind Cobra Hambletonian eligible in bold. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent  

HARRISBURG PA -- Marvin Katz and Al Libfeld, veteran harness racing breeders and racehorse owners who were responsible for the production of two of the top trotting fillies of 2016 - Ariana G and All The Time - were the unanimous choice for Breeders of the Year by the Breeders/Broodmares committee of USHWA. The committee was also undivided in naming the top broodmares of the year: for the trotters, Cantab It All - owned by Libfeld/Katz and the dam of Ariana G and All The Time, and for the pacers, Artstopper, the dam of Always B Miki, who lowered the sport's all-time speed record to 1:46.   The 25+ year partnership of Ontarians Katz and Libfeld certainly had one of its greatest seasons in 2016, owning both diamond gaited fillies and also sending out Breeders Crown champion Bar Hopping and the multiple-stakes winner Idyllic Beach, voted Two-Year-Old Pacing Filly of the Year. "Idyllic" was joined as divisional champion on the trotting side by Ariana G, who dominated the baby trotting misses through the major portion of the stakes calendar. Ariana G's older sister by a year, All The Time, made a remarkable recovery from emergency colic surgery after her Hambletonian Oaks victory to return to the races and win a Breeders Crown elimination.   The dam of these two talented trotting distaffs is Cantab It All, a White Birch Farm-bred daughter of Cantab Hall-Better Odds-Pine Chip, who herself took a mark of 1:53 and earned over $280,000 on the racetrack. Her first two foals, both by top racehorse turned top sire Muscle Hill, are All The Time and Ariana G, and one can only imagine the potential of, and interest in, the next foals in the Cantab It All "production line."   Artstopper, who was unraced, has certainly made up for lost time in the broodmare shed for the Roll The Dice Stable of Delaware's Joe Hurley. Before "Miki" came along, she had produced Yagonnakissmeornot, a $1.45M-winning daughter of The Panderosa who has raced the best of her class for several seasons - and has given Artstopper the rare distinction of having both a son and daughter who have beaten 1:50.   But 2016 was the year of Always B Miki, Harness Horse of the Year, reducer of record speed with a 1:46 mile at the famed Red Mile in Lexington on October 9. A son of Always A Virgin who like his sister Yagonnakissmeornot can trace their topline pedigree back to the hugely-influential Western Hanover, Always B Miki clashed with 2015 Horse of the Year Wiggle It Jiggleit in an epic series of duels in the free-for-all pacing ranks, with Miki winning four, including the season-ending Breeders Crown, and Wiggle winning three. (These two pacing giants brought extra attention to Indiana, where they were both sired, and to Hurley's Delaware, where they are both owned.)   Marvin Katz and Al Libfeld, along with Cantab It All, Artstopper and their connections, will all be feted at the "Night Of Champions," the Dan Patch Awards Banquet Presented by Hoosier Park, which will take place on Sunday, February 26 at the Planet Hollywood hotel/casino in Las Vegas. Information about the banquet and the entire weekend, which will also contain the annual meetings of USHWA, can be found on the communicators' website, www.ushwa.org - including links for making hotel reservations at special rates at Planet Hollywood; banquet tickets; and congratulatory or acknowledgment ads in the keepsake Souvenir Banquet Journal, annually one of the best chronicles of a year in North American harness racing.   United States Harness Writers Association    

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