Harness racing enthusiasts may have diminished in numbers over the years but the remaining group is a genuinely hearty breed that insists on watching Saturday action from noon to midnight at tracks large and small.
As is typically the case on Saturdays, the action begins early at Freehold Raceway in New Jersey. The half-mile oval which once hosted several Breeders Crown events and is designated as the starting point for the sophomore trotters each spring courtesy of the Dexter Cup, now highlights a bevy of overnight horses.
At the midway point of the Saturday card at Freehold, On Accident (Austin Siegelman) benefited from a perfect, pocket trip behind 1-5 choice Lucan Hanover (Andy Miller) through the first three calls then overhauled the odds-on favorite in the lane for a neck victory in a non-winners of $5,000 last five starts class for older pacers. A sophomore son of Well Said trained by Timothy Lancaster, On Accident now owns a 5-6-7 slate and $72,000 banked from 35 starts this year. Lucan Hanover, a durable, nine-year-old Western Ideal gelding trained by Nick Surick, owns over $1.2 million banked during a career approaching 200 starts.
Two races later in the $12,000 Preferred Handicap for older pacers, Hot Deuce (Joe Bongiorno), easily lived up to his billing as the 3-5 favorite in his return from Yonkers Raceway when he gained command before a 27.3 opener, carved out honest fractions then drew clear in the lane under steady urging to a four-length score in 1:54.3. A seven-year-old Armbro Operative gelding trained by Jen Bongiorno, Hot Deuce now owns an 8-3-4 slate and $76,000 banked from 29 seasonal outings. His previous victory came two starts back in the non-winners of $20,000 last five starts class at Yonkers in 1:53.2.
Then one race later in a non-winners of $6,000 last five starts class for older pacers, Clint Westwood (Bongiorno) also lived up to his role as the 1-2 choice when he brushed to command before the half in 57.3 then widened his advantage effortlessly from there to score by almost 10 lengths in 1:54.3. A none-year-old Western Terror gelding trained by Bill MacKenzie, Clint Westwood now owns a 6-3-7 slate and $42,000 banked from 26 starts this year and likely earned a berth in the Preferred Handicap for his next outing.
Later that evening at Northfield Park near Cleveland, Ohio, McDazzle (Ronnie Wrenn, Jr.) forged a mild 5-2 upset in the $15,000 Open Handicap for pacing fillies and mares when she raced parked to gain command in a 27.4 opener, rebuffed a brush bid from 3-5 choice Sea Shadows (Kurt Sugg) before the halfn in 56.1, shook loose from the chalk down the backside then outlasted the late, inside bid of St Lads Gidget (Aaron Merriman) for a nose tally in 1:54.1. A five-year-old Art Official mare trained by Ron Burke, McDazzle notched her 10th win from 31 starts this year and pushed her earnings to $125,000 with the gritty score.
That same evening at Yonkers on the early portion of the card, Joesstar Of Mia A (Bongiorno) easily lived up to his role as the 3-5 favorite in a non-winners of $30,000 last five starts class in his United States debut when he tucked third early then brushed to command before the half in 55.1, strolled by three-quarters in 1:23.3 then held sway through the lane for a three-length score in 1:52.3. A six-year-old Roll With Joe gelding trained by Jen Bongiorno, Joesstar Of Mia A now owns four wins in 13 starts this year and 18 victories from 61 career tries and looks destined for the George Morton Levy Memorial Series next spring.
Speaking of the Levy series, immediately after Joestar Of Mia A prevailed in the first upper-level conditioned race on the card, former Levy hero Bit Of A Legend N was officially retired from racing following a stellar career in which he won numerous six-figure stakes including the Levy final, Gerrity Memorial, Bobby Quillen Memorial, Battle of Lake Erie and Molson Pace for trainer Peter Tritton and catch driver Jordan Stratton. The durable, half-mile track specialist earned over $2.5 million in his career and will next begin his second career as a stallion standing at Midland Acres in Ohio.
Two races later in another non-winners of $30,000 last five starts class for older pacers, San Domina A (Daniel Dube) delivered a powerful effort as an overlooked 5-1 shot. Away well to gain command in a 27 flat opener, Dan Domino A maintained an honest tempo by the half in 55.2 and by three-quarters in 1:23.3 then romped home four lengths clear in 1:51. A six-year-old Somebeachsomewhere gelding trained by Andrew Harris, San Domino A notched his second straight victory and now owns seven wins and nearly $114,000 banked from 21 season starts.
Several races later in the $42,000 Open Handicap for pacers, Mac’s Jackpot (Brent Holland) overcame an extended first over journey to wear down 3-5 favorite Jack’s Legend N (Jason Bartlett) to prevail in the lane in 1;52.2. A five-year-old Somebeachsomewhere gelding trained by Jeff Smith, Mac’s Jackpot recorded his fourth win in his last five starts and now owns 10 wins and nearly $245,000 banked from 28 seasonal tries.
Several races in the Saturday night finale at Yonkers, Mike’s Z Tzm (Pat Lachance) just lived up to his role as the 4-5 favorite in a non-winners of $20,000 last five starts class for pacers when he led throughout through pedestrian fractions and held safe the late inside bid of In Spades (brent Holland) to score by a neck in 1:54.3. A five-year-old Betor’s Delight gelding trained by Lachance, Mike’s Z Tam now owns a 9-4-5 slate and nearlty $120,000 banked from 31 atarts this year and remains eligible to the non-winners of $20,000 last five starts class despite winning at the level on Saturday night.
Across the Hudson River at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, Mindtrip (Victor Kirby) rallied from well off the pace and widest of all to capture a non-winners of $15,000 last five starts class/optional $50,000 claiming event for pacers in 1:51.3. A six-year-old American Ideal gelding trained by Dylan Davis, who grabbed him for $40,000 at Hoosier Park in October, Mindtrip recorded his 12th win from 32 starts this year and looks poised to remain in the upper conditions for another start here.
Then two races later in a non-winners of $20,000 last five starts for trotters, Nows The Moment (Dexter Dunn) dominated this event from start to finish when he gained command before the opener in 28.2, rolled by the midway mark in 56.2, sprinted clear from his foes on the far turn then held sway while drifting late to score in 1:52.4 in his local debut. A four-year-old Credit Winner gelding trained by Alex MacDonald, Nows The Moment recorded his eighth win from 34 starts this year and a 15-14-9 slate and nearly $200,000 banked from 54 career tries.
One race later in the $30,000 Preferred for older pacers, Trump Nation (Yannick Gingras) lived up to his role as the 6-5 favorite when he quarter moved to command, maintained ah honest tempo by the half in 55.2, met token pressure from Lyons Steel (David Miller) through the far turn and by three-quarters in 1:23.2 then outlasted the outside late bids of Franco Totem N (Dunn) and Geez Joe (Marcus Miller) for a neck win in 1:51.1. A four-year-old Betterthancheddar gelding trained by Burke, Trump Nation had won two straight over the oval and now owns a 5-3-1 slate and nearly $100,000 banked from 17 starts this year and a 13-5-4 slate and nearly $380,000 banked from 35 career outings.
Further north at Saratoga Race Track in New York, Crockets Cullen n (Larry Stahlbaum) benefited from a lively tempo up front early then launched his bid down the backside to sweep to command and held safe the late bid of Waimac Attack N (Jay Randall) to score in 1:55. An eight-year-old Christian Cullen gelding trained by Tracy Tarantino, Crockets Cullen N notched his ninth straight win in the Open at Saratoga and 15th victory in 43 starts this year overall. He now sports 32 wins and nearly $295,000 banked from 141 career tries and looks destined to have a race named for him at the oval in the near future.
Then out west at Cal-Expo, king Of The Crop (Steve Wiseman) rallied from midpack and first over to west down 3-10 favorite Allmyx’sliventexas (Lemoyne Svendsen) to prevail in the $10,000 FFA Pace in 1:56.2. An eight-year-old Real Artist gelding trained by Kathleen Plested, King Of The Crop now owns a 6-7-4 slate and $50,000 banked from 26 seasonal tries and ended the three-race win streak and local dominance of Allmyx’sliventexas who had won the three previous editions of the Open for trainer Bob Johnson and owner-breeders Wayne and Rodney Knittle.
Then several races later in an otherwise obscure non-winners of $750 last five starts class for pacers, My Friskie Boy (Gerald Longo) prevailed despite being parked first over through much of the mile. An eight-year-old Feelin Friskie gelding owned, trained and driven by Longo, My Friskie Boy scored with his owner-trainer-driver donning a complete Santa Claus outfit and track announcer Gary Seibel trumpeting Old St. Nick’s early arrival on the West Coast and genuine ability to handle the reins.