Levy series set to begin at Yonkers

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Ted Black

March 17th, 2016

While many sports enthusiasts are eagerly looking forward to the next round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament on Thursday, standardbred racing fans are already gearing up for some "March Madness" of their own this weekend as the George Morton Levy Memorial Series for Free-For-All pacers gets under way on Saturday night at Yonkers Raceway.

Of the 50 horses nominated to the Levy, 42 are slated to be on hand for this Saturday's opening round, divided evenly into six, seven-horse divisions each worth $50,000. Among the notable absentees is Wiggle It Jiggleit, the 2015 harness horse of the year who actually prepped for a likely start in the second leg of the series by uncorking a 1:50.1 qualifier at Dover Downs on Wednesday morning. There will be five preliminary rounds of the series with the $500,000 final and $100,000 consolation both slated for April 23.

Saturday's fourth race is the first division of the opening Levy leg and this field gets mixed reviews. Take It Back Terry (George Brennan) was a factor throughout the series last spring and finished second in the final, but he did not look smooth in his 2016 return at The Meadowlands on March 5 and he may be among the lesser portion of the talented "Burke Brigade" that trainer Ron Burke has pointed for the series.

But Pompano Park invader Scott Rocks (Brian Sears) arrives off a sharp, 1:49 victory in the Open 1 Handicap at the Florida five-eighths mile oval and looms a serious threat here and throughout the series. Mattamerican (Tim Tetrick) looked very good in his local debut for trainer Casie Coleman last week while capturing a conditioned event in wire-to-wire fashion in 1:51.3. Texican N (Eric Carlson) and Dream Out Loud N both exit the Open Handicap here.

One race later in the second Levy split the action heats up considerably. Railbound Doctor Butch (Brennan) and Lucan Hanover (Tetrick) both arrive from Dover Downs. Lucan Hanover won his first two starts of the season in sharp fashion over the Delaware five-eighths mile oval, including his most recent score in 1:49. Doctor Butch has been second four times and third twice in eight winless starts to the campaign for trainer Linda Toscano, but having the rail for the opener helps his cause.

Although he will likely yield the favorite's role to Lucan Hanover this weekend, Foiled Again (Yannick Gingras) will certainly garner plenty of attention this weekend and throughout the series. The elder statesman of the Burke Brigade, Foiled Again will make his 12-year-old debut from post two in this division. The gelded son of Dragon Again boasts 86 wins and a record $7.34 million bankroll from 246 career outings and the eventual Hall of Famer will make his 250th career start at some point during the Levy series.

Also going behind the gate in this event are local mainstays Casimir Jitterbug (Sears), Melmerby Beach (Brent Holland), Ideal Cowboy (Jason Bartlett) and Domethatagain (Daniel Dube) last year's Levy final hero who arrives from Pompano Park off a pair of good efforts. He overcame a first over journey to win the Open 3 in Florida last out, but had the misfortune of drawing post seven in his local debut this spring.

One race later in the sixth, another talented member of the Burke Brigade makes his seasonal and series debut. Always At My Place (Gingras), a five-year-old Always A Virgin gelding trained by Burke, arrives off a pair of sharp qualifying scores at the Meadowlands. He emerged late on the scene last summer and fall, winning several Invitational events and 4YO Opens at Pocono Downs, Hoosier Park and Yonkers while sporting an eye-opening 1:47.2 mark. Always At My Place draws the rail for his seasonal debut and will likely look to secure ideal position once the gate folds.

Looking to foil his seasonal debut are Canadian invader Evenin Of Pleasure (Dube), and local stalwarts Santa Fe Beachboy (Bartlett), Texas Terror N (Kakaley), Sunfire Blue Chip (Brett Miller, Sapphire City (Sears) and Phil Your Boots (Tetrick). Phil Your Boots has faced the toughest foes locally, but draws post seven in his series debut. Sapphire City prepped for this event with a good effort against conditioned foes last week and will likely be on the move early from post six.

Then one race later in the seventh, Mach It So (Tetrick) makes his seasonal debut off a pair of decent qualifiers at the Meadowlands and drew the rail. A fixture in the Levy each of the past two seasons, Mach It So later scored in the William Haughton Final at The Meadowlands and the Bobby Quillen Memorial at Harrington during a solid campaign in which the Jeff Bamond, Jr. trainee posted a 6-4-6 slate and $650,000 bankroll from 23 outings.

Mach It So will hardly be a cinch in his seasonal debut despite getting the rail, but his six rivals all appear somewhat suspect. Bettor Rock On N (Sears) has won his two local outings against conditioned foes and was among a stellar group of New Zealand invaders that includes Bit Of A Legend N and Vapour N, a sharp winner of the Open 2 Handicap at Rosecroft on Tuesday. Polak A (Sears) won two editions of the Open here for trainer Tony O'Sullivan but has been idle since Feb. 27. Forty Five Red, Roland N Rock, McErlean and Northview Punter N look overmatched.

Then two races later in the fourth Levy opening split, The Real One (Pat Lachance) makes his seasonal debut and draws the rail off two good qualifiers at the Big M. Undoubtedly the best older pacer on the circuit last season, The Real One will make his Levy debut on Saturday off a sharp, 1:52 qualifying score. Last fall The Real One captured the last two editions of the Open Handicap that capped a stellar season in which he posted a 9-6-8 slate and $289,000 bankroll from 32 starts for his trainer-driver.

Like Mach It So, The Real One hardly drew in with the buzzsaws in his seasonal debut. Beach Memories, Limelight Beach, Western Rockstar A, Fort Knox, Arque Hanover and PH Supercam all head into the Levy winless this season. PH Supercam won four legs of the Levy last year before drawing post eight for the lucrative final and he showed little while fifth in his seasonal debut two weeks ago. None of the others look like serious contenders to earn a berth in the final.

Then one race later in the 10th, the sixth Levy series opener, Bit Of A Legend N (Jordan Stratton) makes his series debut following a quartet of solid local outings since arriving from down under. This seven-year-old Bettor's Delight stallion defeated conditioned foes in his first two tries then has been second in each of his last two outings for trainer Peter Tritton. He displayed gate speed last week in the Open, but his best efforts have been from off the pace.

Burke trainee All Bets Off (Kakaley) won the Open Hcp in his second start this year despite being assigned post eight that night and figures to be forwardly placed in this event. Let's Drink On It (Tyler Buter) defeated conditioned foes last week in 1:51.4 for trainer Don Niccum, while Bettorever (Bartlett) won a similar, split condition in 1:52.3. Somewhere In LA (Bartlett) won the 4YO Open twice over the oval last fall, but makes his seasonal debut for trainer Steve Elliott and drew post seven.