Harness racing's best set to compete this weekend

Profile Picture: Ted Black

Ted Black

September 1st, 2017

While many Americans will be looking to find an ideal vacation spot this coming Labor Day weekend, marking the unofficial end to summer since many schools will open next Tuesday, harness racing enthusiasts will have the chance to see five of the sport's to 10 horses and 14 of its top 25 standardbreds compete during a three-day stretch at three different ovals.

Later this evening Ariana G, currently rated second among all horses in the latest top 10 poll and clearly the best three-year-old filly trotter in the land and among the favorites for trotter of the year, will compete in the Simcoe Stakes at Mohawk Raceway in Canada. Ariana G has already won the Grade I, $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks and was third against male rivals in the $500,000 Earl Beal, Jr. Memorial final at Pocono Downs and looms the odds-on choice in the Simcoe against her gender.

While Ariana G will take center stage on Friday night, Saturday's Mohawk card will highlight numerous pacers from various divisions.

Tomorrow night's second race is the first $170,000 Champlain Stakes division for two-year-old pacing fillies. Percy Blue Chip (Trevor Henry), who has won all four of her starts for trainer Dr. Ian Moore and garnered enough support from voters to reach 16th in the latest poll, looms the odds-on choice against Maryland-bred foes Play The Bell (David Miller) and Color Envy (Brett Miller) and Kissin In The Sand (Yannick Gingras) who was third to 'Percy' following a long, first over grind last week in the $200,000 Eternal Camnation.

Three races later in the first of two $100,000 divisions of the Champlain Stakes for two-year-old pacing colts, Stay Hungry (Doug McNair) makes his stakes debut following a sharp 1:53.1 score against conditioned foes in his initial outing last weekend for trainer Tony Alagna, while Odds On Lauderdale (Scott Zeron), Torrin Hanover (Brett Miller), California Cruisin (Tim Tetrick) and Trump That (Jody Jamieson) all exit the Nassagaweya.

Then one race later in the $165,000 Simcoe Stakes for three-year-old colt & gelding trotters, much of the attention will be on International Moni (Scott Zeron) who will look to rebound from consecutive sub-par performances in the $320,000 Zweig Stakes and Grade I, $1 million Hambletonian. Upset prospects include Lindy The Great (Tetrick), Seven And Seven (McNair) and Only Passing Thru (Rick Zeron).

Then one race later the top older pacers in the land will garner center stage in the $615,000 Canadian Pacing Derby final, a genuine wide open affair that could send a handful of horses south in two weeks time for the latest renewal of the $150,000 Bobby Quillen Memorial Invitational at Harrington Raceway in Delaware.

Elimination winners Rockin Ron (Louis Phillipe Roy) and Keystone Velocity (Simon Allard) arrive with varying styles. Rockin Ron won his elim last week powerfully in virtual wire-to-wire fashion in 1:47.2, while Keystone Velocity, hero of both the $530,000 George Morton Levy Memorial Series final and $500,000 Ben Franklin final, rallied from far off the pace with an explosive late kick to score in 1:48.2.

Elim runner-ups All Bets Off (Gingras) and Sintra (Jamieson) both displayed speed in their splits, while McWicked (David Miller) and Dealt A Winner (Scott Zeron) both rallied for third. McWicked was stuck third over behind dull cover and finished well in the lane to grab the show spot behind runaway winner Rockin Ron and this Casie Coleman trainee looms a dangerous sleeper from the rail.

Then two races later in the second $100,000 Champlain Stakes for two-year-old pacing colts and geldings, Maryland-bred Summer Travel (David Miller) will look to remain perfect in four starts for Coleman from the rail despite scratching sick out of the Nassagaweya last weekend. This Western Ideal colt owns a stellar 1:50.3 mark in his most recent tally and rates the edge over Nutcracker Sweet (Tetrick), Dragon Time (Gingras) and Hudson Phil.

That same evening at Yonkers Raceway in New York, fans will have the chance to see the best sophomore colts of both gaits compete in a pair of Grade I events being held consecutively on the card.

Saturday night's fourth race is the $500,000 Messenger Stakes for pacing colts and the middle jewel of harness racing's Triple Crown for his gait again appears to be a walkover for Downbytheseaside (Brian Sears), nine-length winner of the elim last weekend in 1:51 for trainer Brian Brown. Downbytheseaside has won seven of 13 starts this year and earned over $700,000 and sports 15 wins in 24 career tries with a bankroll just shy of $1.3 million and his post seven draw should not prove too burdensome.

One race later the top sophomore trotting colts will clash in the $500,000 Yonkers Trot where the middle jewel of this gait's Triple Crown appears considerably more wide open.

Railbound Devious Man (Andy Miller) was a gritty second in his elim and will be favored to turn the tables on elim winner Yes Mickey (Ake Svandstedt) and Guardian Angel As (Jason Bartlett), who won his elim in sharp, first over fashion. Devious Man was promoted to second as the favorite in the Hambo final when eventual winner What The Hill was disqualified for impeding the progress of Guardian Angel As. Yes Mickey has won his last two starts courtesy of perfect trips, but that could prove difficult from post six with his two main foes drawn inside of him.

Then on Sunday afternoon the sport's top horse, Fear The Dragon (David Miller) will face an old nemesis, Huntsville (Tetrick) in the $250,000 Pennsylvania Sire Stakes final for three-year-old pacing colts and geldings at Harrah's Philadelphia, while Agent Q (David Miller) will look to continue her bid for divisional honors in the PASS final for three-year-old filly pacers.

Those standardbred racing fans looking for something to do on Labor Day could head to Harrington Raceway in Delaware for their 10-race card and then make the short trip to Ocean Downs in Berlin, Maryland for their seasonal finale. Several horses on the Harrington card are looking to earn an invite to the $150,000 Bobby Quillen Memorial Invitational on Sep. 18 - last week's Open hero Mel Mara already secured one - while those trotters and pacers at the seaside oval outside of Ocean City are simply seeking minor spoils to cap the meet.

While Ocean Downs may conclude with an overnight card, harness racing fans in the Free State will want to keep tabs on several talented Maryland-breds competing in lucrative stakes this weekend.

Devious Man is the likely choice in the $500,000 Yonkers Trot and Agent Q looks tough to beat in her PASS final. Freshmen Summer Travel, Play The Bell and Color Envy will seek Champlain Stakes scores at Mohawk on Saturday night and Lady Shadow, the reigning champion aged pacer and Maryland-bred harness horse of the year, will contest the $20,000 Open at Scioto Downs in Ohio that same night.