Older Pacers continue to impress

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Ted Black

March 14th, 2016

One week before the lucrative and ultra-competitive George Morton Levy Memorial Series is set to get under way at Yonkers Raceway in New York, a bevy of pacers tuned up for the five prelims and possible berth in either the final or consolation on April 23 by contesting various overnight events at the New York half-mile oval on Saturday.

Ironically, one of the best performances of the night was delivered by a talented pacer at the Meadowlands that is not among the 50 stalwarts eligible to the Levy. Rockeyed Optimist (Tim Tetrick), lived up to his role as the 4-5 favorite in the $25,000 Open Handicap at the Big M by racing parked past the opening quarter to gain command from Bettor's Edge (Joe Bongiorno), raced unpressed by the half in 55.2 and by three-quarters in 1:23 then sprinted clear in the lane to a four-length score in 1:49.

A five-year-old Rocknroll Hanover gelding trained by Steve Elliott, Rockeyed Optimist has won three straight races at the Meadowlands after finishing second in his seasonal debut. Last year he was among the sport's top four-year-old pacers, winning several legs of the Graduate Series and nine of 17 starts overall, banking nearly $200,000 while taking a stellar seasonal mark of 1:48. But his connections opted not to make him eligible to the Levy, perhaps over concerns about how well he might fare on the half-mile oval, but Rockeyed Optimist is going to be a major player in the older pacing ranks this year.

Saturday night at Yonkers, a dozen pacers were looking to prep for the Levy series with sharp efforts before the pending arrival of Mach It So, Wiggle It Jiggleit and the "Burke brigade" that includes the ageless Foiled Again and series newcomer Always At My Place. For several of the local stalwarts it was clearly mission accomplished, but for several others Saturday night may hev revealed that the Levy may be beyond their reach.

In one of three non-winners of $18,000 last five starts early on the card, Levy-bound Let's Drink On It (Tyler Buter) quarter moved to command and maintained honest splits of 56 flat to the half and 1:23.2 to three-quarters and held safe One Through Ten (Daniel Dube) to score in 1:51.4. A five-year-old Art Official stallion trained by Don Niccum, Let's Drink On It notched his first win in his second local try and should eclipse the $1 million mark in career earnings at some point this season.

Several races later in the $32,000 Open Handicap for older pacers, Levy-bound Bit Of A Legend N (Jordan Stratton) displayed good early speed to park Roland N Rock (Dube) to the quarter, sat a tight pocket to the half and three-quarters, was desperate for room on the far turn as the leader weakened under the pressure from Bad Boy Matt (Mark MacDonald) and rallied inside late to gain the place spot in a very good effort that was much better than it will look on paper next week.

Bit Of A Legend N, a seven-year-old Bettor's Delight stallion trained by Peter Tritton, was among the talented group of aged pacers that arrived with their sights set on the Levy. He has won twice and finished second twice in four starts over the oval since arriving from "down under" and looms a major player in the Levy. Roland N Rock, however, showed no signs of fight in the lane and should bypass the Levy after his second straight poor effort in the Open. Levy-bound Ideal Cowboy closed well in his seasonal debut.

Three of the last four races on the card featured older pacers who tuned up for the Levy by flaunting their speed in overnight races, with two of them prevailing.

In a non-winners of $18,000 last five class, Bettorever (Jason Bartlett) gained command soon after the outset in a 28.1 opener, got a breather by the half in 57 flat and then drew clear in the lane to score in 1:52.3. The five-year-old Bettors Delight gelding trained by Jeff Bamond of Mach It So and PH Supercam fame, notched his first win in two starts this year. He may find the Levy competition considerably tougher than what he is accustomed to facing.

One race later on the card, however, Mattamerican (Bartlett) tuned up for the Levy by setting very honest fractions of 27, 56 and 1:24 en route to a 1:51.3 in his local debut and first outing for trainer Casie Coleman. A five-year-old Allamerican Native stallion, Mattamerican had been unable to topple Preferred rivals at the Meadows for former trainer Norm Parker, but in his first outing for Coleman he was able to overcome post six and carve out fractions that will make him a genuine player in the Levy.

Then two races later in the finale, Sapphire City (Brian Sears) overcame post eight to gain command, set honest fractions if 56.2 and 1:24.3 to the middle fractions and then was overhauled late by 8-5 choice Sam's Escape in 1:52.4 in a non-winners of $18,000 last five starts class. Sapphire City has always thrived over the local oval and he won the Levy consolation last year, but it remains to be seen if the eight-year-old Metropolitan gelding can still compete with the sport's upper echelon.