On the same evening in which thoroughbred racing fans watched the last two Kentucky Derby preps at Keeneland and Oaklawn Park, Yonkers Raceway hosted the fifth and final preliminary round of the George Morton Levy Memorial Series for Free-For-All pacers looking to secure a berth in next Saturday’s $665,000 final.
Earlier on Saturday afternoon the focus was on two Derby preps, the Grade III, $200,000 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland and the Grade I, $1 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. Many of the serious Derby contenders had already made their presence known through the various preps one week earlier at Aqueduct, Keeneland and Santa Anita, but several others jumped on board this past weekend.
In the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, Owendale rallied from well off the early pace with a wide, sweeping move on the far turn and edged clear from favored Anothertwistafate to a two-length score while stopping the timer in 1:44.14 for the one-mile and one-sixteenth. A sophomore son of Into Mischief trained by Brad Cox, Owendale notched his second win in three starts this year and now owns three wins from eight career tries and could find himself in the starting gate in Louisville in three weeks.
Then roughly two hours later at Oaklawn, Omaha Beach (Mike Smith) lived up to his role as the 8-5 favorite when he gained command midway down the backside, surged to command on the far turn then outfought 9-5 second choice Improbable (Joe Ortiz) for a length victory in 1:49.91 for the one-mile and one-eighth over a rain-soaked sloppy track. A sophomore son of War Front trained by Richard Mandella for the Fox Hill Farm, Omaha Beach notched his second straight graded score and now owns three wins and $1.1 million banked from seven career outings.
Improbable settled for second for the second straight outing for Baffert and looms a serious contender moving forward. The sophomore son of City Zip had been the odds-on favorite in each of his first four outings, winning the first three of them before running second to Long Range Toddy in the Rebel. Long Range Toddy could not repeat that performance and could be headed to Louisville regardless. Baffert will have at three in the Derby, but it seems possible that neither of them will be favored.
Then just prior to the midway point of the Saturday card at Yonkers, Classy Dragon (Joe Bongiorno) gained command on the first turn and forced Maryland-bred Bellows Binge (Jason Bartlett) before the opening quarter, maintained an honest tempo to the half and three-quarters then edged clear from Fashiononthebeach (Jordan Stratton) and just held safe Bellows Binge late for a neck score in 1:52.3 as the 3-5 choice in the $35,000 Preferred Handicap. The five-year-old Dragon Again gelding trained by Jenn Bongiorno has won four straight races and five times in 10 seasonal outings.
One race later in the featured $44,000 Open Handicap for trotters, Weslynn Dancer (Matt Kakaley) overcame a long, first over bid and wore down favored Winning Shadow (Brennan) on the far turn and edged clear through the lane to a two-length score in 1:54.2 as an overlooked 7-1 shot. A five-year-old Deweycheatumnhowe mare trained by Richard Banca for owners Jim & Barbara Boes, Weslynn Dancer notched her third win in 11 starts this year and pushed her seasonal earnings past $90,000.
Then right at the midway point of the Saturday card at Yonkers in the first of four Levy elims, Bettor Memories (Jason Bartlett) benefited from live cover second over past the half and three-quarters, angled three-wide turning for home then overhauled favored I’m Some Graduate and outlasted the late bid of Mar Nien A for a length score in 1:52. A six-year-old Bettor’s Delight gelding trained by Richard “Nifty” Norman, Bettor Memories recorded his first win in four Levy legs and now sports two wins in eight starts this year and 25 victories in 98 career tries.
One race later in the second Levy split, The Downtown Bus (Scott Zeron) left to secure good early position, yielded to Always At My Place briefly then immediately retook, got a breather to the half in 57.4, met pressure from Imarocnrollegend N down the backside, shook loose on the far turn and just outlasted the late bids of Major Crocker A (Daniel Dube) and Lyons Steel (Stratton) to score by a neck in 1:52.
A four-year-old Mach Three gelding owned and trained by Jeff Gillis, The Downtown Bus notched his second win in five Levy legs and likely earned a ticket to the final next Saturday. He and Lyons Steel had been hooked in a suicidal duel one week earlier, but in this elim The Downtown Bus was able to dictate the tempo while Lyons Steel raced third over and finished third in a decent try that likely sent him into the consolation.
Two races later in the third Levy division, Western Fame (Daniel Dube) easily lived up to his role as the 1-9 favorite when he gained command in a 27 flat opener, got a breather by the half in 56.2, met token pressure from Rodeo Rock (Andrew McCarthy) down the backside and by three-quarters in 1:24 then drew clear in the lane to a two-length score in 1:51 flat. A six-year-old Western Ideal stallion trained by Rene Allard, Western Fame has won four legs in the series and looms the odds-on choice for the final next week.
Despite missing a week, Rodeo Rock raced well first over as the second choice and earned enough points to reach the final. The six-year-old Mach Three gelding trained by Robert Cleary won two legs then was second once and third once chasing Western Fame. He may not be the prototypical half-mile track horse, but with a lively tempo in the final he could certainly make his presence known late.
Then one race later in the fourth and final Levy division of the fifth and final round of action, Ideal Jimmy (Brent Holland) gained command in a modest opener, got a breather to the half in 57.1, faced token pressure down the backside, shook loose on the far turn then drew clear in the lane to a three-length score in 1:52. Anythingforlove A once again offered little in the lane despite a pocket trip as the 7-5 choice, but still earned enough points to reach the final.
One night earlier at Yonkers, the New York half-mile oval offered the last three divisions of the fifth round of action in the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series for Free-For-All pacing mares and all three winners punched their pickets to the $400,000 final this Saturday and one of them looks poised to give defending BCMM heroine Shartin N – who bypassed round five – all she can handle in that lucrative event.
In the first of the three divisions, Seaswift Joy N (Jim Marohn, Jr.) recorded her third win in five series legs and her fifth victory in nine starts this year when she prevailed as the odds-on choice. Then two races later in the second split, Kaitlyn N (Matt Kakaley) forged a mild upset over odds-on choice Feelin Red Hot (George Brennan) to seal her spot in the final while posting her first series triumph in five tries, then two races later Apple Bottom Jeans (Corey Callahan) notched her third win in four series tries when she easily scored as the odds-on choice for trainer Dylan Davis and looks poised to challenge Shartin N for the BCMM title next weekend.