Matchmaker, Levy Series Set to Get Underway

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Ted Black

March 15th, 2017

While millions of Americans across the country were diligently filling out their brackets for numerous office pools and other contests surrounding the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament often dubbed "March Madness", Standardbred racing fans were eager to catch a glimpse of the entries for the first round of both the Bluechip Matchmaker and George Morton Levy Memorial series at Yonkers Raceway on Friday and Saturday nights.

Much like the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament - commonly referred to as the UConn Invitational - the Bluechip Matchmaker has taken a secondary role in comparison to the big boys who battle in the Levy. But among the 24 mares on hand Friday, look for Devil Child, Tessa Seelster, Mach It A Par, Bedroomconfessions, Mackenzie A, Krispy Apple, Sell A Bit N, Regil Elektra and Nike Franco N to greatly impact the series and any of them could emerge victorious in the final. Devil Child was the 2015 Maryland-bred harness horse of the year.

Saturday's four opening leg divisions of the George Morton Levy series should quickly weed out the pretenders from the serious contenders. In fact, several pacers that still fit various non-winners conditions at Yonkers and The Meadowlands opted to follow-up their initial $5,000 nomination fee with a $1,000 starting fee. They may find it difficult to break even during the series, even if they eventually pony up $10,000 to stay involved through all five preliminary rounds, with the $500,000 final and $100,000 consolation both slated for April 22.

Just prior to the midway point of the Saturday card eight pacers will clash in the first division of the series opener, where much of the attention will be on railbound Keystone Velocity, Missile J, Blood Brother, Guantanamo Bay, Caviart Luca and McArdles Lightning (John Campbell) who unluckily drew the eight hole. Both Burning N and Our Sky Major N look hard pressed to have an impact on the series and may find overnight races more appealing over the next four weeks.

Caviart Luca was already won the Open Handicap at Yonkers on four occasions this season for trainer Ron Burke, but gets post six here. Guantanamo Bay and Blood Brother were one-two in the Open Hcp last week and both should impact the series and loom candidates for a spot in either the final or consolation. Keystone Velocity needed the start last week for Allard and should be better in this spot, especially from the rail, while Missile J returns to the scene of several big efforts last season at age three.

Then one race later in the next Levy leg split, Open regulars Long Live Rock, Santa Fe Beachboy and Melmberby Beach will tackle railbound Great Vintage, All Bets Off and McWicked. Both Great Vintage and All Bets Off will make their seasonal debuts in this spot, with All Bets Off having won two legs and been the runner-up in the Levy final last spring and eventual hero of the inaugural $100,000 Potomac Pace at Rosecroft Raceway. McWicked looked best of the pacers that prepped over the strip last week, while both Mattamerican and Anwar Hanover appear overmatched here.

Then one race later in the third Levy division opener, Provocativeprince N and Rockin Ron have both scored here recently against upper level horses, while Texas Terror N rallied from a difficult spot to win a non-winners of $15,000 last five starts class. Provocativeprince N hails from the same connections of 2016 Levy hero, Bit Of A Legend N, and looms a major player here. Mach It So, a proven commodity in this series and elsewhere over the years, makes his seasonal debut off a pair of qualifiers at The Meadowlands. Americanprimetime fits much cheaper, while Dr J Hanover may need another start to be formidable.

Then in the fourth Levy leg split, defending hero Bit Of A Legend N seeks his first win of the season and finally garners an inspde draw and looms a serious threat in this spot and throughout the series. Somewhere In L A has appeared dominant at times in the Open Hcp and merits serious respect, as done Delaware invader Soto, who owns an Open Hcp score here two starts back and should have benefited from last week's outing. Wakizashi Hanover was the beaten favorite in a conditioned event last week in his local debut but deserves a reprieve, as does Artistic Major who was unlucky in the draw for a second straight week. Always At My Place has the rail but will have to improve on his most recent outing at Dover, while Te Kawau N and P H Supercam appear outclassed in this spot and they will start from posts six and eight, respectively.

Only eight horses will earn a spot in the $500,000 final and only eight others will make the $100,000 consolation and obviously post positions, pace scenarios and trips will largely impact which pacers reach which spots. With just the opening draw to consider right now, my initial elite eight final list consists of Blood Brother, Guantanamo Bay, All Bets Off, Provocativeprince N, Mach It So, Bit Of A Legend N, Soto and Somewhere In L A, while my early choices to appear for the consolation includes Keystone Velocity, Missile J, Caviart Luca, Santa Fe Beachboy, Wakizashi Hanover, Artistic Major, Rockin Ron and McArdles Lightning.

Horses earn points for first (50), second (25), third (12), fourth (8) and fifth (5) and each horse gets 25 points just for starting. So horses that take a week off occasionally find it tough to make the final, while horses that win two legs of the series are almost assured of making the final. Most of the 30 horses in the opening round - and potentially several new shooters - will be around for the second leg, but after that the pretenders will begin to step aside and seek to find softer spots in the overnight races which means the last two preliminary rounds on April 8 and 15 will be very, very contentious events.