Older pacers take center stage over the weekend

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Ted Black

August 16th, 2015

While many thoroughbred and standardbred enthusiasts are very adept at following the top three-year-olds, especially during a season in which American Pharoah captured the Triple Crown and Wiggle It Jiggleit contends for harness horse of the year honors, the vast majority of races that fans watch each weekend are comprised of older pacers. Several of them delivered stellar performances at various venues last weekend and any number of them could be headed to Harrington Raceway for the $200,000 Robert Quillen Memorial on September 21.

On Saturday night at Pocono Downs, a five-eighths mile oval in Pennsylvania, Always At My Place (Matt Kakaley) continued his emergence as one of the sport's budding stars among the free-for-all ranks. A four-year-old Always A Virgin gelding trained by Ron Burke, Always At My Place notched his fifth straight victory while capturing the $30,000 Open at Pocono Downs last weekend and he did so despite a long, first over bid into a serious back half. It may be a bit premature to rate Always At My Place among Burke's best, but he could join the likes of Foiled Again, Clear Vision and All Bets Off next season.

Sent out as the 4-5 favorite in the Open, Always At My Place was reserved well off the early tempo as Musselsfrmburssels left to gain command from Malak Uswaad before reaching the opener in 26 flat and then he got a breather before the half in 54.3. Always At My Place angled out first over at that point and loomed alongside the leader as they rolled by three-quarters in 1:21.2 then the Burke trainee surged past that one in the lane under confident handling from his driver to score by two lengths in 1:48.1. He virtually paced a 53 flat back half while first over en route to his seventh win in 11 starts this year.

One race earlier on the card, Wake Up Peter (Brett Miller) benefited from a second over trip to capture a non-winners of $22,500 last five starts class by a length in 1:49.3. A five-year-old Rocknroll Hanover stallion trained by Larry Remmen, Wake Up Peter notched his third win in 10 starts this year and pushed his career earnings toward $910,000. Bandolito (Daryl Bier) delivered a gritty, first over effort and held the place spot, while Bushwacker finished third after sitting a pocket trip behind favored Art History.

Several races earlier on the card onlookers caught a glimpse of another budding star among older pacers when City Hall (David Miller) brushed to command before the half and held sway late to score by two lengths in 1:49.2 in a non-winners of $13,500 last five starts class. A five-year-old Metropolitan gelding trained by Amber Buter, City Hall has now won three straight races, including a 1:48.2 score against overnight rivals at the Meadowlands on a night when he broke stride before the start and still brushed to command before the three-quarter mark. He has won nine of 27 starts this year and appears capable of climbing the conditioned ladder at Pocono.

That same night at Yonkers Raceway in New York, a pair of classy veterans clashed in the $48,000 Open Handicap for older pacers and occupied the top two spots at the wire.

Both Doctor Butch (Brian Sears) and Great Vintage (Daniel Dube) vied for favoritism throughout the wagering and they controlled the tempo from the outset. Doctor Butch gained command initially, but Great Vintage brushed past him to lead before the opener in 27 flat, got a breather by the half in 56.1 and by three-quarters in 1:24 and then outlasted the inside by of Doctor Butch and the surprising outside flourish from Dream Out Loud N (Tyler Buter) to score in 1:51.2.

Great Vintage, a seven-year-old American Ideal stallion trained by Jimmy Takter, has won six of 10 starts and over $180,000 this year and looks like a prime candidate for the Quillen. Doctor Butch sports a 3-5-5 slate and $185,000 bankroll from 25 starts this year for trainer Linda Toscano and raced well in defeat last weekend. He tried top-notch older foes in the Gerrity at Saratoga and then Gold Cup at Mohawk to no avail, but a better post draw might help his chances in the Quillen.

Great Vintage may have garnered the biggest paycheck on Saturday night at Yonkers, but several other pacers posted faster clockings in the other events on the card.

In the $35,000 4-year-old Open Handicap, Forty Five Red (Mark MacDonald) equaled the all-age track record of 1:50.1 when he carved out wicked early fractions - just as he had done two weeks earlier when Crombie A set the track mark of 1:50.1 - to outlast Somewhere Fancy (Jordan Stratton) for the length score. An If I Can Dream stallion owned and trained by Ricky Bucci, Forty Five Red now owns a 7-3-3 slate from 25 starts this year and he continues to lower his lifetime mark with each subsequent victory. He scored on July 18 in 1:51 and previously on July 4 in 1:51.3.

Several races before the Opens, Heez Orl Black N (Sears) lived up to his billing as the 1-5 favorite in a non-winners of $18,000 last five starts class when he led throughout to score in 1:51, ending a modest four-race skid. A seven-year-old In The Pocket gelding owned and trained by Shaun Vallee, Heez Orl Black N notched his sixth win from 24 starts this year and pushed his seasonal earnings to nearly $100,000. He began the campaign in the tough George Morton Levy Memorial Series for older pacers where he held his own for the most part.

Then in the finale on the Yonkers card, Mcerlean (Buter) lived up to his role as the even-money favorite in a none-winners of $25,000 last five starts class when he brushed to command before the quarter and controlled the tempo en route to a handy score in 1:51. A six-year-old Mcardle gelding trained by Darran Cassar, Mcerlean has won six of 23 starts and earned over $125,000 this year and he has spent much of the summer in the Open Handicap at Yonkers, even winning it on May 30. Mcerlean got a hint of class relief on Aug. 1 and captured the non-winners of $25,000 class by two lengths in 1:51.3 and he notched his second straight score last weekend.

That same evening at Saratoga Raceway in New York, JK Panache (Wally Hennessey) continued his recent form spree and potential emergence as a budding star among older pacers when he led throughout to capture the $18,000 Open Handicap in 1:50.2 as the 3-10 choice. A six-year-old Art Major gelding trained by David Dewhurst, JK Panache left alertly to overcome his assigned six post to gain command in 27.1, got a breather by the half in 55.4 then sprinted a back half in 54.3 to complete his latest tally. JK Panache has won five of his last six outings and 8 of 21 on the season, including a stellar 1:47.3 triumph at Vernon Downs.