Harness action heats up long after Derby ends

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Ted Black

May 5th, 2018

While most thoroughbred racing fans will look to take an extended nap after the conclusion of the Kentucky Derby tomorrow evening at Churchill Downs, especially those patrons confined to the Louisville oval for 10-12 hours, serious harness racing fans will turn their attention to the Meadowlands and Pocono Downs as those tracks offer plenty of quality stakes action that evening.

Right at the midway point of the Meadowlands card on Saturday, Fillibuster Hanover will make his seasonal debut in one of two Graduate Series divisions for four-year-old pacers for trainer Ron Burke off a steller 1:49.3 qualifier over the Big M oval. Filibuster Hanover concluded last season with a 5-8-1 slate and sports a solid 7-9-3 slate from 33 career outings and was battle tested last fall and now will look to embark on a four-year-old campaign in the one-mile and one-eighth event.

But just to his outside is Blood Line, a 1:50.4 qualifier winner in his final tuneup, while further out is Highalator (Victor Kirby), who arrives riding a three-race win streak and sporting four wins in 10 starts this year for trainer Jenny Bier; Western Joe (Scott Zeron), who is burdened with post 10 in this spot and Classic Pro, a talented Maryland-bred who won his seasonal debut at Pompano Park in 1:53.1 over a sloppy surface.

Then several races later it will be the older trotters on display in the one-mile and one-eighth Alfred J. Cutler Memorial and most of the attention will be focused on Hannelore Hanover (Yannick Gingras), the reigning harness horse of the year who makes her seasonal debut from post 12 in the second tier. This durable Ron Burke-trained mare won 10 of 17 starts and earned over $1 million last year and sports 36 wins and earnings of $2.47 million from 58 career outings and she won her two qualifiers in 1:53.2 and 1:52.2 in preparation for her return.

Looking to spoil the horse of the year's return bid in the Cutler are Crazy Wow, another Burke trainee who has been among the best of his division since age three, Mambo Lindy, Sutton and Will Take Charge. Crazy Wow is the only serious threat to Hannelore Hanover, but both talented trotters hail from the same barn and may not engage in a serious dual despite racing uncoupled on Saturday night.

Then one race later in the second Graduate Series opening split, Donttellmeagain will look to make his presence known from the rail for trainer Jim King, Jr., while Music Is Art arrives from Pompano Park off two sharp scores for trainer Michael Deters. Lawrencetown has already made six starts this year for Burke, while Rock N Tony makes his seasonal debut for Burke sporting a 7-3-4 slate and $300,000 bankroll from 19 starts last year.

That same evening Pocono Downs will offer two divisions of the Van Rose Memorial Invitational for older pacers, each worth $50,000 and both bring some genuine starpower to the Pennsylvania oval.

In the first division, Boston Red Rocks will leave from the rail against George Morton Levy mainstays Long Live Rock, Always At My Place, Dr J Hanover and defending Van Rose hero Barimah. Boston Red Rocks won only once in 19 starts last year for trainer Steve Elliott, but owns a solid 10-14-10 slate and $1.35 million banked from 47 starts. Dr J Hanover won three Levy legs but was no threat in the final, while Always At My Place won the Levy consolation after a modest showing in the prelims.

Then later in the second Van Rose split, two-time Levy final hero Keystone Velocity will leave from the rail against fellow Levy finalists Rockin Ron and Mach It So, while Christen Me N and Rockeyed Optimist will look to get involved from the outside. Keystone Velocity owns 29 wins and over $1.64 million lifetime from 116 career outings, including a stellar 1:47.3 score in the second edition of the $100,000 Potomac Pace at Rosecroft Raceway last fall. Mach It So boasts 42 wins and $2.55 million banked from 126 lifetime outings for trainer Jeff Bamond, Jr., and this aged pacer has made his presence known in major stakes on tracks big and small throughout his career.