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YONKERS, NY, Wednesday, November 13, 2019--Yonkers Raceway has added Saturday night, Nov. 30th, to its live harness racing calendar, with the usual first post of 6:50 PM. This schedule addition, approved by the New York State Gaming Commission, replaces an earlier program which had been cancelled. The Raceway's Thanksgiving week schedule now reads Monday and Tuesday (Nov. 25th and 26th), along with the aforementioned Saturday. Evening simulcasting continues around the live schedule, while afternoon simulcasting is offered Wednesday through Sunday (altered for NYRA race days). A friendly reminder from Yonkers Raceway that Thursday evening's (Nov. 14th) Pick 5 wager starts with a carryover of $5,379.14 and a $15,000 guaranteed pool. The guarantee is in conjunction with the U.S. Trotting Association's Strategic Wagering Program. The Pick 5 is a 50-cent base wager comprising races 6 through 10 Thursday night. It has no consolation payoff, meaning if no one selects all five winners (as was the case Tuesday night), the entire pool (minus takeout) moves to the next racing program. by Frank Drucker, for Yonkers Raceway

YONKERS, NY, Saturday, November 9, 2019--Former all-age harness racing track record-holder The Real One (Pat Lachance, $13.40) stuck his tongue out at the wire Saturday night (Nov. 9th), winning Yonkers Raceway's $42,000 Open Handicap Pace. Third-over from assigned post position No. 4, The Real One was sixth--then fifth--when he bid in earnest. He snapped a first-over Dancin' Dragon (George Brennan) in 1:53, with Runrunjimmydunn N (Jordan Stratton) tiring to third after intervals of :26.4, :55.2 and 1:24. It was Theartofconfusion A (Dan Dube) and 8-5 choice Jack's Legend N (Jason Bartlett) settling for the minors. The latter, making a North American purse debut after four qualifiers, was caught third in turning for home before knifing through while pacing over rivals. For fourth choice The Real One, a 9-year-old Mach Three gelding trained by his chauffeur for owner Helene Filion, it was his fifth win in 23 seasonal starts (career 52-for-205, $1,229,688). The exacta paid $54.50, the triple returned $129.50 and the superfecta paid $470.50.   By FRANK DRUCKER, Publicity Director

YONKERS, NY, Friday, November 8, 2019--A pocketed Kaitlyn N (Jason Bartlett, $10.60) picked off Write Me a Song (George Brennan) nearing the wire Friday night (Nov. 8th), winning Yonkers Raceway's $42,000 Filly and Mare Open Handicap Pace. In play from assigned post position No. 4, Kaitlyn N stung Write Me a Song, releasing that one before a chilly, 26-second opening quarter-mile. Odds-on pole-sitter Lady Dela Renta A (Matt Kakaley) was cutting her own mile in third. It was after a :55.1 intermission and 1:23.1 three-quarters when Kaitlyn N edged from the pocket, Lady Dela Renta A in behind. Write Me a Song had a diminishing three-quarter-length lead off the final turn, with Kaitlyn N closing. The former whipped the latter by a length in 1:53.3. Third went to Sudden Change N (Austin Siegelman), ahead of an empty, 4-5 fave Lady Dela Renta A. Robyn Camden (Jim Marohn Jr.) was fifth, while returning Wisdom Tree (Jordan Stratton) trailed. For Kaitlyn N, a 6-year-old Down Under daughter of American Ideal co-owned by (trainer) Richard Banca, Barbara & James Boese, it was the third choice's fifth win in 21 seasonal starts. The exacta paid $57, the triple returned $383 and the superfecta paid $934. by Frank Drucker, for Yonkers Raceway

Yonkers, NY- Back at Yonkers Raceway tonight the NAADA Trotting Series was the second race on the betting card and Dave Offenberg was not deterred by the sloppy racetrack. The longtime owner of prominent racing stock certainly took care of business when he fired Fiji to the front when the starter said go and then raced away and hid from his competition. After starting from the pole position by the time Fiji passed the first stanza he had a six-length lead on the Joe Faraldo-guided Tough Get Going making it the third consecutive season that Offenberg and his trusty steed were victorious over the famed New York double-oval. "He was exceptionally good tonight," Offenberg related via telephone after the race."I tapped him a couple of times and he really took off. After Fiji trotted by the quarter in :27.4 I was just a passenger, " Offenberg said. When they passed the half mile marker in :56.4 they were nine- lengths to the good and sill eight on top when they headed for home. "I tried to slow him down but it wasn't gonna happen," Offenbeg admitted. "So I finally relaxed on the lines and enjoyed the ride. We won the race by 7-1/2 lengths over Faraldo's trotter in 1:58.2." It marked the third consecutive season that Offenberg and Fiji were victorious at Yonkers Raceway. Owned by Offenberg's Allister Stables and trained by Eric Abbatiello Fiji paid $6.70 for win. by John Manzi, for the NAADA Series

YONKERS, NY, Saturday, November 2, 2019--A pocketed Havefaithinme N (Jason Bartlett, $10) slipped up the inside, picking off 2-5 favorite Rodeo Rock (Eric Goodell) Saturday night (Nov. 2nd), winning Yonkers Raceway's $35,000 Preferred Pace. The feature, pared down to a half-dozen after a pair of defections, saw Havefaithinme N--in one notch to post position No. 3--make the first lead. He was then leapfrogged by polester Rodeo Rock. The people's preference then led through early intervals of :27.1 and a flat 56 seconds. Runrunjimmydunn N (Jordan Stratton) tried it first-up from third, prompting through a :27.3 third quarter (1:23.3). Rodeo Rock did own a length-and-a-half lead off the final turn, but drifted, leaving the back door unguarded. Havefaithinme N was more than obliging, scooting through to whip the fave by a length in 1:51.4. Third went to 'Jimmydunn,' with Western Joe (Austin Siegelman) and Turbo Hill (Jim Marohn Jr.) settling for the minors. Dancin' Dragon (George Brennan) received lovely parting gifts. For second choice Havefaithinme N, an 8-year-old millionaire Down Under Bettor's Delight gelding co-owned by Blindswitch and Good Friends Racing Stables, Gary Axelrod & Santo Farina and trained by Jose Godinez, it was his ninth win in 27 seasonal starts. The exacta paid $18.80, the triple returned $39.60 and the superfecta paid $150. by Frank Drucker, for Yonkers Raceway

YONKERS, NY, Friday, November 1, 2019-- A pocketed Write Me a Song (George Brennan, $6.10) picked off harness racing favored I'mprincessgemma A (Joe Bongiorno) nearing the wire Friday night (Nov. 1st), winning Yonkers Raceway's $42,000 Filly and Mare Open Handicap Pace. Making the first lead from post position No. 5, Write Me a Song stuffed Tequila Monday (Eric Goodell) in behind before yielding to 7-5 choice I'mprincessgemma A. All that transpired before a 27-second flat opening quarter-mile. It was a rated :56.1 intermission when Tequila Monday made her second move, advancing from third toward a 1:24.3 three-quarters. That lass stalled soon after, with I'mprincessgemma A taking a length-and-a-half lead in and out of the final turn. Write Me a Song edged by, however, the final margin three-quarters of a length in 1:52.4. 'Gemma' held second, with ground-savers Robyn Camden (Jim Marohn Jr.) and Angel's Pride (Brent Holland), along with Glenferrie Blade A (Jordan Stratton) coming away with the small change. For second choice Write Me a Song, a 4-year-old daughter of Sportsmaster co-owned (as Burke Racing) by (trainer) Ron Burke, Weaver Bruscemi and Phil Collura, it was her ninth win in 23 seasonal starts. The exacta paid $22.40, the triple returned $121 and the superfecta paid $694. Note the Raceway shall open for simulcasting Saturday (Nov. 2nd) at 11:30 AM in advance of Aqueduct's first post of 12 Noon as well as Day Two of Breeders' Cup from Santa Anita (first post 1 PM ET). A friendly reminder from Yonkers Raceway that Saturday evening’s (Nov. 2nd) Pick 5 wager starts with a carryover of $2,961.94 and a $10,000 guaranteed pool. The guarantee is in conjunction with the U.S. Trotting Association’s Strategic Wagering Program. The Pick 5 is a 50-cent base wager comprising races 7 through 11 Saturday night. It has no consolation payoff, meaning if no one selects all five winners (as was the case Friday night), the entire pool (minus takeout) moves to the next racing program. by Frank Drucker, for Yonkers Raceway

YONKERS, NY--After a NAADA amateur event at Monticello this afternoon members of the CKG Billings Series gathered gathered at Yonkers Raceway tonight to compete in two harness racing trotting events before the first race on the betting card and oddly each contest was won in wire-to-wire fashion. In the first $6000 split "Mighty Matt" Zuccarello took advantage of the rail position and sent Broadway Bruiser to the front when the wings of the mobile gate folded and the veteran trotter made every pole a winning on en route to a 2:02.1 victory over the wet racetrack. "Coach Paul" Minore used the same tactics in his $6000 event when he sent his veteran trotter, Wygant Prince, to the lead from the two-hole and cruised to an easy two-length triumph in a 2:00 clocking. Zuccarello, who doubles as the publicist for the GSY Amateur Drivers Series, enjoys every chance he gets to sit behind a spirited steed under battle conditions, something he's been doing since 2011. Tonight he took no prisoners and rebuffed any and all challengers to score a two-length triumph over Noble Warrawee, and driver,"Iron Mike" Polansky finished second and last year's National Amateur Driver of the Year, "Joltin' Joe" Pennacchio, garnered the show dough with Cheeky Little Miss. Broadway Bruiser, 4-year old Muscle Mass gelding, is owned by Harmon Racing, Winners Circle Racing and John Campagnuolo and trained by Rob Harmon. In his split, Minore sent Wygant Prince to the front and once there it was 'Katey-bar-the-door' as the veteran trotter cruised virtually unchallenged to notch his 41st career victory and raise his career earnings to over $466,000. Tough Get Going, in rein to "Smokin' Joe" Faraldo stalked the leader throughout but couldn't overtake him and went home with the place money. And although Finnick Odair rallied strongly at the three quarters he then flattened out and finished third for Melissa "the Contessa" Arbia.. Wygant Prince is also owned by Minore and trained by Taylor Gower. by John Manzi, for the Billings Series  

YONKERS, NY, Saturday, October 26, 2019--A second-over Melady's Monet (Eric Goodell, $10.40) and a grinding harness racing favorite Micky Gee N (Jordan Stratton, $4.50) delivered the goods Saturday night (Oct. 26th), winning Yonkers Raceway's pair of $42,000 Open Handicaps. It was a 61st career victory for Melady's Monet in the week's marquee trot. From post position No. 6, he stalked 19-10 choice Tight Lines (Jeff Gregory) as that one disposed of The Veteran (Brent Holland) early in the lane. The Veteran had laid down intervals of :27; :57.1 and 1:25.3, before weakening to fourth. Melady's Monet prevailed by a half-length over Tight Lines in 1:54.1, with There'sademoninme (Stratton) third. Icanflylikeanangel (George Brennan) picked off the remainder. For fourth choice Melady's Monet, a 10-year-old homebred Revenue S gelding owned by Melady Enterprises and trained by Hermann Heitmann, it was hisninth win (third consecutive) in 23 seasonal starts. The exacta paid $31, the triple returned $146.50 and the superfecta paid $524. The week's adult-table pace saw Micky Gee N--from post No. 5 (in one notch after a defection)--settle fourth. Alluneedisfaith N (Jim Marohn Jr.) fronted the fray (:28.2; :57; 1:24.4), but could not stall Micky Gee N.  Micky Gee N                                                                                             --Mike Lizzi photo The one moved toward the lead in earnest down the backside, taking over in and out of the final turn. Micky Gee N whipped Havefaithinme N (Goodell) by a length, with Alluneedisfaith N, Dancin' Dragon (Brennan) and The Real One (Pat Lachance) settling for the small change. For Micky Gee N, a 6-year-old Down Under Bettor's Delight gelding owned by William Hartt and trained by Lance Hudson, it was hisninth win in 27 '19 tries. The exacta paid $19.60, the triple returned $38.20 and the superfecta paid $192.   by Frank Drucker, for Yonkers Raceway

YONKERS, NY -- I'mprincessgemma A (Joe Bongiorno, $5.10) rated and sprinted to harness racing victory Friday night (Oct. 25th), winning Yonkers Raceway's $42,000 Filly and Mare Open Handicap Pace. Sent to an immediate lead from assigned post position No. 5, 'Gemma' left around Write Me a Song (George Brennan) before a :27.4 opening quarter-mile. A pokey :57.1 intermission would serve her well with 9-10 favorite Tequila Monday (Eric Goodell) advanced from last. A :27.1 third quarter (1:24.2) dispatched Tequila Monday, with I'mprincessgemma A opening a length-and-three-quarter lead into the lane. She held Write Me a Song at bay, winning by a length in 1:51.3...another :27.1 substation to match a season/life-best effort. Glenferrie Blade A (Jordan Stratton) was a third-hole third, with Mach it a Par (Jason Bartlett) and Robyn Camden (Jim Marohn Jr.) settling for the minors. Tequila Monday backed away, winding up last among the half-dozen. For second choice I'mprincessgemma A, a 5-year-old Down Under daughter of Village Jolt trained by Jennifer Bongiorno for co-owners driver, trainer, Steve Manzi and Wish Me Luck Stable, it was hereighth win in 13 seasonal starts. The exacta paid $32.20, the triple returned and the superfecta paid $426. A friendly reminder from Yonkers Raceway that Saturday evening’s (Oct. 25th) Pick 5 wager starts with a carryover of $3,944.05 and a $15,000 guaranteed pool. The guarantee is in conjunction with the U.S. Trotting Association’s Strategic Wagering Program. The Pick 5 is a 50-cent base wager comprising races 7 through 11 Saturday night. It has no consolation payoff, meaning if no one selects all five winners (as was the case Friday night), the entire pool (minus takeout) moves to the next racing program. by Frank Drucker, for Yonkers Raceway

YONKERS, NY ---Two divisions of the sixth leg of the NAADA Fall Trotting Series is now in the books sfter the judges declared each official, Joe Faraldo and Melissa Arbia walked away with the lions share of their respective $8000 harness racing divisions. Faraldo won his heat with Tough Get Going in 2:02.1 by the shortest of noses while Arbia copped her split after rallying Finich Odair a head triumph in a 1:58.3 clocking. After starting from the three hole Faraldo ducked to the pylons and was content to allow Joe Pennacchio and Cheeky Little Miss to cut the fractions. Once on top Pennacchio was unhurried and got his trotter by the quarter in soft :30.2 and the half in 1:02.1 despite keeping Glenferrie Dreamer (Paul Minore) on the limb. Meanwhile Faraldo sat chilly with Tough Get Going until the top of the lane where he rallied his trotter and both he and Pennacchio's Cheeky Little Miss charged to the wire. "We won it but it was by the shortest of noses. In fact it was so close that I wasn't sure my horse won until they posted the order of finish on the infield tote board "I'm telling you it (the victory) couldn't have been by more than an inch," Faraldo explained. Even with his overland trip Glenferrie Dreamer took home the show dough. Tough Get Going is owned by Faraldo and Richie Banca and trained by Banca. For Faraldo who was National Amateur Driver of the Year in 2000 it marked his sixth victory this season. The first event was nearly a carbon copy of Faraldo's victory. In that one Arbia and Finnick Odair benefited by a two-hole trip as Paul Minore and Wygant Prince kept Bob Hechkoff and Five Towns parked from the three-eighths as they raced one-two until the three quarters when Five Towns began to tire. After traveling along in the two-hole while using the leaders for cover, when Arbia asked Finnick Odair for more the veteran trotter responded and got-up in the final strides for a head triumph over Wygant Prince. Five Towns hung on for third money. The winner, a 4-year-old altered son of Cantab Hall, is co- owned by his driver along wuth Joe Bongiorno and Jennifer Bongiorno. The latter is the horse's trainer. by John Manzi, for NAADA  

YONKERS, NY, Sunday, October 20, 2019--It wasn't harness racing parimutuel, but rather political bragging rights that were up for grabs Saturday night (Oct. 19th), with Yonkers Raceway hosting the Legislators' Challenge. The 'Challenge' was comprised of four before-the-card races, featuring 17 New York State elected officials competing in double-seated jog carts...with sporadic assistance from the Raceway's leading drivers. The opening division saw Bronx Democrat State Senator Jamaal Bailey carry both Pembroke Joey and Jim Marohn Jr. across the line. From post position No. 2, the trio went the distance in 2:11.1. Assembly Member Andy Raia (R-Suffolk) was second, with Assembly Member Steve Stern (D-Suffolk) third and Assembly Member Stacy Pheffer-Amato (D-Queens) fourth. "This was wonderful, a great opportunity to see what the harness drivers really do, and how important their job is," State Senator Bailey said. "Jim (Marohn Jr.) was excellent, a great steward, and I helped him out a little bit as well. It worked out pretty well. "These are real athletes and it's a real skill set. You can't just wake up, roll out of bed, and think you're going to hop in a harness and do it, right? We have to respect these athletes and what they do. I have a greater appreciation today than I did yesterday, and even before that when I did the training. Phenomenal day." Bronx Democrats found themselves at it again in the second Challenge event as Assembly Member Marcos Crespo--from post No. 3 with Shaun Vallee and Galactic Galleon N--edged past State Senator Shelley Mayer (D-Westchester) late to win in 2:10.1. The lone five-participant field was completed by Assembly Member Andrew Garbarino (R-Suffolk), Assembly Member Michael DenDekker (D-Queens) and Assembly Member Taylor Darling (D-Nassau). "I've missed some of the previous events due to scheduling conflicts, but that won't happen again," Assembly Member Crespo said. "I'm grateful to Yonkers and MGM for this opportunity, and really, a great experience to see the joy and the respect that people have for these racehorses and just the entire function of these races. It's a great experience. "I think the plans (for MGM here) are exciting, and certainly the Bronx is one of the great beneficiaries. So many people call this place home, and this is their workplace. This is how they provide for their families, and also Bronxities who love to come here and enjoy their time. It's a great opportunity, and hopefully we'll see how things play out." A Bronx Democrat hat trick was finalized in the third event as Grand Master and pole-sitting Assembly Member Michael Benedetto (with Jordan Stratton) led from start to finish in 2:10.2. It was a match race to the wire, as multiple-season Challenge champion, Assembly Member Gary Pretlow (D-Westchester) took his shot from the pocket but missed. The quartet was completed by Assembly Member Anthony Palumbo (R-Suffolk) and Assembly Member Michaelle Solanges (D-Nassau). "It was exhilarating," Assembly Member Benedetto said, joking that "I was able to break the Pretlow Curse. "We're looking forward to working with MGM in its effort to do more at Empire City Casino." The fourth and final Legislators' Challenge event gave the Democrats a clean sweep as Queens made the tally sheet. State Senator Joe Addabbo Jr., with Vallee and Vanquished N, circled their rivals from last to win in a night's-fastest 2:09.1. From post No. 3, the trio defeated Assembly Member Steven Cymbrowitz (D-Brooklyn), Assembly Member Joe DeStefano (R-Suffolk) and Assembly Member Nathalia Fernandez (D-Bronx). "It's about time Queens came in first in something," State Senator Addabbo said. "We had a good strategy and I had a great time." All four winners have committed to defending their titles at the next Legislators' Challenge. The event was a joint effort of the Raceway, its race office and horsemen along with the Standardbred Owners Association of New York. Upon conclusion, many of the participants and their guests stayed to enjoy the evening's 'other' races. by Frank Drucker, for Yonkers Raceway  

YONKERS, NY, Saturday, October 19, 2019-- Harness racing pacer Allusneedisfaith N (Jim Marohn Jr., $10.40) took it the distance Saturday night (Oct. 19th), winning Yonkers Raceway's $42,000 Open Handicap. From post position No. 4--in one notch after a defection--Alluneedisfaith N slipped past Dancin' Dragon (Jason Bartlett) before a :28.4 opening quarter mile. The teletimer didn't get much more of a workout by a :57.4 intermission, which was fine by the leader. Nearing the half, Theartofconfusion A (Austin Siegelman), The Real One (Pat Lachance) and Prairie Panther (Brent Holland) found themselves in an outer-tier logjam, with Prairie Panther pushed wide as the other two seemed to extricate the cones late. Meanwhile, Alluneedisfaith N continued past a 1:25.2 three-quarters, opening a length-and-a-half lead in and out of the final turn. He finished it off, whipping Dancin' Dragon by a length in 1:53.2. The above troika of The Real One, Theartofconfusion A and Prairie Panther wound up third, fourth and fifth, respectively. Micky Gee N (Jordan Stratton) never fired as the slight 2-1 choice, winding up last in the seven-horse soiree. For fourth choice Alluneedisfaith N, a 5-year-old Down Under Art Major gelding owned by Robert Cooper Stables and trained by Ross Croghan, it was his sixth win in 22 seasonal starts. The exacta paid $41, the triple returned $141 and the superfecta paid $376. A friendly reminder from Yonkers Raceway that Monday evening’s (Oct. 21st) Pick 5 wager starts with a carryover of $3,543.11 and a $15,000 guaranteed pool. The guarantee has been approved by the New York State Gaming Commission and is in conjunction with the U.S. Trotting Association’s Strategic Wagering Program. The Pick 5 is a 50-cent base wager comprising races 7 through 11 Monday night. It has no consolation payoff, meaning if no one selects all five winners (as was the case Saturday evening), the entire pool (minus takeout) moves to the next racing program. by Frank Drucker, for Yonkers Raceway

YONKERS, NY, Friday, October 18, 2019--Harness racing favorite--and lone leaver--Tequila Monday (Eric Goodell, $3.90) finished it off Friday night (Oct. 18th), winning Yonkers Raceway's $42,000 Filly and Mare Open Pace. From post position No. 6, Tequila Monday worked around pole-sitting Robyn Camden (Jim Marohn Jr.) before a 27-second opening quarter-mile. From there, the Raceway's fastest-ever femme (a 1:50 flat effort in late June) was sufficiently swift through intervals of :56.1, 1:24.3 and 1:52.2. Tequila Monday held off a second-over I'mprincessgemma A (Joe Bongiorno) by a half-length, with Robyn Camden third. The small envelopes went to a first-up Write Me a Song (George Brennan) and Glenferrie Blade A (Jordan Stratton). For Tequila Monday, a 5-year-old statebred daughter of American Ideal co-owned by Northfork Racing & Chuck Pompey and trained by Chris Oakes, it was her 10th win in 13 seasonal starts (career 27-for-57). The exacta paid $12.60, the triple returned $29.20 and the superfecta paid $74.50. by Frank Drucker, for Yonkers Raceway

This week's special guest on the Harness Racing Alumni Show was Yonkers Raceway's new Director of Racing, Alex Dadoyan.   Yonkers Raceway, with its take over by the massive casino conglomerate, will MGM cause the demise of harness racing there...??? We discuss its future with Alex Dadoyan, the new Director of Racing at Yonkers.   From Fred Hudson, for the Harness Racing Alumni Show

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

McWicked and harness racing driver Brian Sears were able to grind it out first-over in capturing the $250,000 Dan Rooney Invitational Pace at Yonkers Raceway Saturday for the second straight year. The 11th race feature saw Jimmy Freight (Scott Zeron) and None Bettor A (Jason Bartlett) trade control of the lead with Jimmy Freight winning out by the first quarter in :26.2. Coming around the second turn Jimmy Freight remained in control as Sears started McWicked up first-over past the half mile :55.1 and right through to the three-quarters in 1:22.4 with The Real One (Pat Lachance) hanging in the hunt second-over. McWicked was able to grind by Jimmy Freight by the top of the stretch and then was barely able to hold off a late flying Micky Gee N (Jordan Stratton) to win by a long nose in 1:51.1. Jimmy Freight was third by a length. “I can’t say enough about the horse and the way he races,” Said Brian Sears of McWicked. “He has been battling hoof issues all summer, but he shows up every week. I was pretty pleased where I got away in the race. I did come first-up a little earlier than I like, but he battled tough and held on to the wire.” It was the second straight win and sixth of the year for McWicked. The eight-year-old stallion by McArdle is trained by Casie Coleman and owned by the S S G Stables of North Boston, NY. (Ed James) and paid $6.90 to win. With the $125,000 winners share of the purse, McWicked now sports career earnings of $4,878,342. By Steve Wolf, for Harneslink

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