Mid-Atlantic tracks to get an upgrade in quality

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Ted Black

September 8th, 2017

Over the next three weeks at several thoroughbred and standardbred tracks throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, racing fans of both sports will have the opportunity to see various potential division champions compete in several lucrative stakes races on dirt, turf and stonedust.

Next Saturday afternoon Laurel Park will host a handful of stakes, including the Grade III, $350,000 Frank DeFrancis Memorial Dash for three-year-old and up sprinters perhaps looking to head west six weeks later for the Grade I, $2 million Breeders Cup Sprint at Del Mar. The DeFrancis Dash once held Grade I status when it was arguably the best sprint stakes in the summer, launching such winners as Housebuster, Smoke Glacken, Cherokee Run and Orientate to divisional honors. In more recent years it was held after the Breeders Cup Sprint, but still attracted quality fields and even a BC hero.

Then two nights later at Harrington Raceway in Delaware, the half-mile oval will garner the spotlight when it hosts its signature event, the $150,000 Bobby Quillen Memorial for aged pacers. Past winners include Wiggle It Jiggleit, Mach It So, Foiled Again, Clear Vision and Betterthancheddar and this year's field could shed some light on the potential division champion during a year in which no aged free-for-aller has truly stood out above the class.

Those seeking to scout potential Quillen arrivals should definitely pay close attention to the $225,000 Jim Ewart Memorial at Scioto Downs in Ohio tomorrow night. Mel Mara (Dave Palone), Boston Red Rocks (Josh Sutton), McWicked (Brian Sears), Rock N Roll World (Dan Noble), Luck Be Withyou (Aaron Merriman), Check Six (Chris Page), Rockin Ron (Matt Kakaley), Sintra (Andrew McCarthy), Keystone Velocity (Simon Allard) and Night Pro (Dale Decker) will all be looking to attain the six-figure winner's share and then attain an invite to the Quillen.

Mel Mara won the $15,000 Open Handicap at Harrington in his most recent outing and almost assuredly will be headed back to the Delaware oval for the Quillen. He was burdened with post position eight in last year's edition, while 1-9 favorite Wiggle It Jiggleit led throughout from the rail. McWicked has been very unlucky in his last two starts at Mohawk and looms a serious contender in the Ewart, although he may pass on an invite to the Quillen. Luck Be Withyou and Rockin Ron both possess tremendous gate speed and will be out and rolling early tomorrow night and will look to employ the same tactic at Harrington in the Quillen.

Sintra rallied inside late to win the $500,000 Canadian Pacing Derby in his most recent start, but gets post eight here and has typically shown a greater fondness for the bigger ovals. Keystone Velocity already owns lucrative tallies in both the $530,000 George Morton Levy Series final and $500,000 Ben Franklin final at Pocono Downs and he was the beaten favorite in the Canadian Pacing Derby after a dull, first over try. But trainer Rene Allard has yet to be licensed in Delaware, so Keystone Velocity is likely not headed to the Quillen.

That same evening at Yonkers Raceway, a handful of older pacers will be looking to audition for an invite to the Quillen in consecutive races on the card.

In the fifth, a Winners Over $30,000 class, Always At My Place (George Brennan) won his most recent outing against Open company at Tioga Downs and previously won the Cup & Saucer elim before settling for second in the final and he prevailed handily in an overnight race at Pocono Downs in 1:48.3 two starts earlier. This Ron Burke trainee has always displayed immense ability, but he usually finds the Open ranks to be his ceiling so it will be interesting to see how he fares in the class right below that at Yonkers.

Speaking of the Open, this week's edition of the feature could not have come up much tougher and likely two or three pacers from this event will garner an invite to the Quillen.

Bit Of A Legend N (Jordan Stratton) already owns victories in the $260,000 Gerrity at Saratoga and the $150,000 Molson Pace at Western Fair during a campaign in which he sports a 5-4-3 slate and $385,000 bankroll from 19 outings. Just to his outside in Somewhere In L A (Jason Bartlett), a fixture in the Open Hcp and a regular in the Levy series who finished fourth in the Gerrity after being pressed hard early. Mach It So (Brent Holland) won the Quillen in 2015 and was second in the race last year and should get a serious tightener from post eight for trainer Jeff Bamond, Jr.

Then one week later Charles Town will host its annual 'Race For The Ribbon' card, featuring the Grade III, $300,000 Charles Town Oaks for three-year-old fillies at the two-turn distance of seven furlongs under the lights. Maryland-based Shimmering Aspen has won her last two starts impressively in one-turn stakes at the same distance and looms a serious contender in the Oaks for trainer Rodney Jenkins and owner Ellen Charles. The card also includes four $50,000 state-bred stakes for West Virginia-breds prepping for the Oct. 14 West Virginia Breeders Classics card over the oval.

Keep in mind that six weeks after the Quillen, many of those same older pacers will likely be returning back to the region to contest the second annual $100,000 Potomac Pace for aged pacers at Rosecroft Raceway. Burke trainee All Bets Off (Kakaley) won the inaugural edition in 2016 in 1:48.2 to equal the all-age track record on a night when temperatures dipped into the upper teens by post time. Burke, Tritton, Bamond, Allard, Steve Elliott and Chris Oakes will likely be represented in the second Potomac Pace at Rosecroft on Sunday, November 5.