Rosecroft Presents Inaugural Potomac Pace on Tuesday

Profile Picture: Ted Black

Ted Black

November 22nd, 2016

While many Americans will be making their final plans for the upcoming Thanksgiving Day holiday weekend, standardbred racing enthusiasts will certainly want to focus their attentions on the Tuesday evening card at Rosecroft Raceway as the Maryland five-eighths mile oval hosts the inaugural edition of the $100,000 Potomac Pace Invitational for free-for-all pacers.

Rosecroft fans have been accustomed to a steady diet of overnight races two nights each week for most of the year and the Tuesday cards are generally formful and competitive. But serious and novice harness racing fans alike will certainly not want to miss Tuesday's feature, the inaugural $100,000 Potomac Pace for older horses, an event that attracted eight of the best free-for-all pacers in the country.

Initially intended as the last stop this season for reigning horse of the year, Wiggle It Jiggleit, the Potomac Pace continued to move forward even after trainer George Teague, Jr. announced earlier this month that a minor foot bruise would prevent 'Wiggle It' from competing in the $400,000 TVG Final at the Meadowlands and then subsequently the Potomac Pace. The Stronach Group, which purchased Rosecroft Raceway from Penn National over the summer, wanted to have a signature event this fall and gave Racing Secretary Pete Hanley the green light to continue recruiting top class older pacers for the event even after 'Wiggle It' was sidelined.

A glimpse at the field of the inaugural edition of the Potomac Pace illustrates the effort that Hanley made and the $100,000 pot is actually a bargain for the track since many of the pacers entered have competed in races worth considerably more all season. Shamballa (Scott Zeron) the 5-2 morning line favorite from post two, All Bets Off (Matt Kakaley), Dealt A Winner (Andy Miller) and Mach It So (Tim Tetrick) contested both the $400,000 TVG Final earlier this month and the $420,000 Breeders Crown Final last month.

The field from the rail out for the Potomac Pace reads Mel Mara (Corey Callahan), Shamballa (Zeron), All Bets Off (Kakaley), Keystone Velocity (Daniel Dube), Split The House (David Miller), Wakizashi Hanover (Trace Tetrick), Dealt A Winner (Andy Miller) and Mach It So. All eight have combined earnings in excess of $8 million, topped by All Bets Off at $2.15 million, and all eight own career marks ranging from 1:47 to 1:48.3. Mel Mara (1:47), Shamballa (1:47.1) and Dealt A Winner (1:47.3) all own sub-1:48 scores, while both Wakizashi Hanover and Mach It So have recorded 1:48 tallies.

The inaugural edition of the Potomac Pace represents the best collection of Free-For-All pacers to compete at Rosecroft in 30 years. In 1986, Forrest Skipper (Lucien Fontaine) rebuffed an early bid from Falcon Seelster (Tom Harmer) and led throughout to capture a leg of the Graduate Series in 1:54, the all-age track record for Rosecroft when it was still a half-mile oval. One year earlier, On The Road Again (Buddy Gilmour) and George S (Walter Case, Jr.) battled to a dead-heat in 1:54.4 in another leg of the Graduate Series, representing a world record for a dead-heat on a half-mile oval at the time.

Shamballa, who owns a 4-3-4 slate and $420,000 bankroll from 18 starts this year for trainer Rick Zeron, including a 1:47.1 tally in the U.S. Pacing Championship at the Meadowlands on Hambletonian Day when he upset both Always B Miki and Wiggle It Jiggleit, rates the lukewarm favorite at 5-2 from post two. Shamballa has typically shown a fondness for the bigger ovals throughout his career, so it will be interesting to see how well the six-year-old Somebeachsomewhere gelding fares over the Rosecroft five-eighths miler after finishing seventh in the TVG Final and third in the Breeders Crown.

Mel Mara has the rail for the Potomac and has been installed as the 3-1 second choice following a pair of victories as the odds-on choice in the Open/Preferred Handicap at Dover Downs. This seven-year-old Lis Mara stallion trained by Dylan Davis owns a solid 8-4-5 slate and $250,000 bankroll from 25 starts this year and he boasts a stellar 1:47 mark which came courtesy of a victory over Always B Miki. He has ample gate speed and will likely be on the move before the half.

Mach It So is the third choice thanks largely to drawing post eight, but the Jeff Bamond, Jr. trainee arrives off a solid second-place finish behind Always B Miki in the TVG Final. Mach It So owns an 8-5-0 slate and $390,000 bankroll from 26 starts this year and recorded a victory in the Open Handicap at Yonkers in between efforts in the Breeders Crown and TVG Finals. He has also been a regular in the ultra-tough George Morton Levy Memorial Series at Yonkers each spring and was also second to Wiggle It Jiggleit in the $150,000 Bobby Quillen Memorial at Harrington in September, a race he won the year before.
Article Image
Like Mach It So, All Bets Off is no stranger to facing the elite older pacers in the land throughout the season. Another veteran of the Levy Series and the runner-up behind Bit Of A Legend N in the final, All Bets Off sports a 3-5-7 slate and $575,000 bankroll from 26 starts this year for trainer Ron Burke and he has traveled to numerous tracks to compete against Always B Miki and Wiggle It Jiggleit. All Bets Off is also very versatile and can either leave and protect position or look to get into the flow at some point in a race blessed with ample leavers.

Keystone Velocity has been a bridesmaid lately in the Open Handicap at Yonkers Raceway, but the eight-year-old Western Hanover stallion has displayed ample speed and grittiness since being moved to trainer Rene Allard. He owns a solid 5-5-0 slate and modest $110,000 bankroll from 15 starts this year, but Keystone Velocity has enough early speed to make his presence known early and he sports a 1:48.2 mark over the slop at Pocono Downs, which also makes him a competitor in this spot.

Split The House has been idle since finishing fourth in the Breeders Crown last month, but he arrives off a pair of sharp qualifiers, including a 1:52.4 score last Wednesday morning at Pocono Downs for trainer Chris Oakes. Split The House has always possessed plenty of ability, but he is easily the least experienced horse in the field with only seven starts this year and only 22 in his career - Mel Mara, Shamball and Mach It So have all made more this year alone - and will get tested early and often in this group.

Just to his outside is Wakizashi Hanover, a fixture in all of the top three-year-old races last season capped by a victory in the North America Cup at Woodbine over Wiggle It Jiggliet. But Wakizashi Hanover has only made seven starts this year and recently notched his first win of the campaign when he rallied to capture the 5-under Open at Dover Downs in 1:49.2. A winner 14 times in 33 career outings, Wakizashi Hanover could be rounding into form at just the right time for trainer Jim King, Jr.

Then just to his outside is Dealt A Winner, another regular in many of the major stakes this year for older pacers for trainer Mark Silva. A four-year-old Cam's Card Shark gelding trained by Mark Silva, Dealt A Winner only sports two wins and $156,000 banked from 15 starts this year, but he has traveled extensively to face the best older pacers in the land. He also owns a 1:47.3 mark at age three courtesy of his upset score in the Cane Pace at the Meadowlands on Hambo Day.

Handicappers will have little trouble finding value in the Potomac, since the morning line favorite, Shamballa, could actually drift up slightly from his 5-2 early price. There will also be plenty of early speed in this event and plenty of action before the half, since Mel Mara has enough speed to protect position from the rail and All Bets Off, Keystone Velocity and Split The House will be off the gate rapidly. Once the dust settles in a potential 25-change opener, look for Mel Mara to brush to the top before the half in 53 flat or quicker and then the outer tier will come.

Once Mel Mara clears to the top, look for Shamballa to start the outer flow and Wakizashi Hanover, Dealt A Winner and Mach It So to get into the action. Don't be surprised to see Mel Mara click off three-quarters in 1:20 flat or faster and then all eyes will be on the teletimer when the pacers hit the wire as the all-age track record of 1:48.2 held by Nuclear Breeze will certainly be in jeopardy. In fact, the inaugural edition of the Potomac Pace might require the winner to complete the distance in 1:48 flat or faster, which would certainly add some sparks to the cooler temperatures expected on Tuesday evening.