Quillen Invitational highlights Monday harness racing

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Ted Black

September 15th, 2017

Both thoroughbred and standardbred racing fans are accustomed to seeing their respective stars compete primarily on weekend cards, but this coming Monday evening Harrington Raceway in Delaware will present its signature event when it hosts the latest edition of the $150,000 Bobby Quillen Memorial Invitational for free-for-all pacers.

In a relatively short period of time, the Quillen has genuinely one of the top invites for older pacers on a half-mile track anywhere in the land with a list of past winners that includes Foiled Again, Clear Vision, Betterthancheddar, Mach It So and Wiggle It Jiggleit. This year's edition of the Quillen could propel the winner or even the runner-up to divisional honors with many of the participants likely to compete in the Breeders Crown, TVG Final and even the second renewal of the $100,000 Potomac Pace at Rosecroft in early November.

Speaking of Mach It So (David Miller), the 2015 Quillen hero and last year's runner-up drew the coveted rail for owner-trainer Jeff Bamond, Jr. Earlier this summer Mach It So posted a 16-1 upset in the $425,000 William R. Haughton Memorial final for aged pacers at the Meadowlands, winning that event for the second time in the last three years. He then finished a sharp second behind Bit Of A Legend N in the $260,000 Jim Gerrity Memorial final at Saratoga Harness despite being parked-the-mile from post seven.

Bit Of A Legend N (Jordan Stratton) arrives off a sharp score in the $50,000 Open Handicap at Yonkers Raceway and the Peter Tritton trainee already boasts victories in the $150,000 Molson Pace and $260,000 Gerrity Memorial. He brings a solid 6-4-3 slate and $410,000 banked from 20 starts this year for the late Harry von Knoblauch, but Bit Of A Legend N is often viewed as being a step slower than last year when he emerged on the scene by taking all five legs - including a stirring dead-heat with Wiggle It Jiggleit - and the $600,000 final of the George Morton Levy Series at Yonkers.

Just to his outside is Wakizashi Hanover (Victor Kirby) who arrives off a determined score against conditioned foes at Harrah's Philadelphia last Sunday afternoon in 1:49.4. The five-year-old Dragon Again gelding trained by Jim King, Jr., has always displayed a fondness for the big tracks, taking a 1:47.3 mark at the Meadowlands earlier this year and previously having edged Wiggle It Jiggleit to capture the $1 million North America Cup final at Mohawk.

Just to his outside is Mel Mara (Corey Callahan), who arrives off a hugely disappointing effort in the $225,000 Jim Ewart Invitational at Scioto Downs last weekend when he faded to 10th as the 2-1 favorite. Two starts back Mel Mara circled the field to score in the $15,000 Open Handicap here and earlier owned sharp tallies in the Preferred at the Meadowlands and the Franklin elim and was second as the 3-5 favorite in the $500,000 final won by Keystone Velocity. Onlookers will be eager to see which Mel Mara will arrive for the Quillen.

Then just to his outside is Somewhere In L A (Anthony Morgan), a fixture in the Open Handicap this year and a regular in the Levy series at Yonkers. Somewhere In L A finished a good third behind Bit Of A Legend N last weekend in the Open after being hard used early from post seven after missing the week before. This Richard Banca trainee has an abundance of gate speed and was roughed up in the Gerrity, although it might speak volumes that Bartlett was not willing to pass on his ample drives at Yonkers to steer him in the Quillen.

Two spots to his outside is All Bets Off (Matt Kakaley), a well-traveled sort for trainer Ron Burke who owns a modest 3-4-2 slate and $415,000 bankroll from 18 starts this year and a commendable 25-22-13 slate and $2.6 million banked from 95 career tries. All Bets Off has always thrived on the smaller tracks, with a seasonal mark this year at Northfield Park in Ohio and a lifetime mark of 1:48.2 taken at Rosecroft last fall when he captured the inaugural edition of the Potomac Pace, but post seven may prove too difficult to overcome in this spot.

The last two combatants for the Quillen are Mr Wiggle Pants (Aaron Merriman) and Rock N Roll World (Ross Wolfenden) who drew posts six and eight, respectively, and also still need to prove they are genuine free-for-allers. Mr Wiggle Pants has won three of his last six starts at Mohawk Raceway while climbing the condition ladder, while Rock N Roll World is not blessed with much gate speed and was further hindered by post eight and listed driver John DeLong bypassed the trip.

One race earlier Harrington will present the $17,500 Open Handicap which drew a competitive group that includes Special T Rocks (Allan Davis), Papa Ray (Victor Kirby), Framed Art (Art Stafford, Jr.), Soto (Kakaley), Christen Me N (Stratton) and Kid PK (Morgan). Papa Ray has won his last two against conditioned foes and gets an acid test here, while Soto performed well earlier this year in the Open Hcp and the Levy series at Yonkers for trainer Eric Ell. Christen Me N may own the most ability of any pacer in this group but arrives off three qualifiers and three months rest.

Two races earlier on the card, the youthful pacers will be on display when the track offers the second of two opening round elims for the Delaware Standardbred Breeders Fund for two-year-old colt pacers. America First (Jeff Fout) won his local debut after finishing second in a Maryland Standardbred Race Fund split at Ocean Downs. Two races earlier railbound Slick Tony (Russell Foster) will be seeking to transfer his Ocean Downs form to Harrington. The George "Ronnie" Leager homebred has won four of five starts and banked $17,000 this year and gets an acid test against Transitioning Joy (Montrell Teague) who scored in his career debut at Pocono Downs in 1:53.4 then was second in a sharp qualifier behind three-year-old Funknwaffles.

Three races after the Quillen, Ponderingjacksfame (Wolfenden) will be looking to continue his newfound winning ways when he leaves from post two in a non-winners of six races or $40,001 lifetime conditioned event for trainer Les Givens. Last season at age two Ponderingjacksfame looked like a budding star in The Stallion Series events in Pennsylvania, but he needed 12 starts to notch his first win of the season then won again last Monday in 1:54.1. Railbound All The Cookies (Morgan) and Big Place (Stafford) loom the ones to beat in the finale.