Standardbred stakes hitting high gear

Profile Picture: Ted Black

Ted Black

July 26th, 2015

While thoroughbred racing enthusiasts were given a boost by the outset of the Saratoga Race Course summer meet last weekend and will enjoy another this weekend upon the pending return of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in this Sunday's Grade I Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park, standardbred racing fans will have plenty to root for during the first two weekends of August.

Last Saturday night the Meadows near Pittsburgh hosted three, $25,000 eliminations of the Adios Stakes for three-year-old pacing colts and geldings with the $350,000 final slated for this Saturday at the Pennsylvania five-eighths mile oval. Overall, the field for the Adios appeared somewhat soft as recent stakes winners Wiggle It Jiggleit and Wakizashi Hanover were idle, while freshman champion Artspeak was elsewhere on Saturday. But a glimpse back at the elims validated that the two best colts among the 19 entrants were in the same division.

In the first Adios elimination on Saturday, National Seelster (Tim Tetrick) lived up to his billing as the 1-2 favorite when he led throughout through honest fractions of 26.2, 54.4 and 1:22.3 to score by two lengths in 1:51.1. A Bettors Delight colt who was fresh off a 1:51.1 score against New York Sire Stakes foes nine days earlier, National Seelster notched his second straight score and his eighth win in 14 starts this year for trainer Chris Ryder. Longshot Angelo J Fra and Dreams Beachboy also earned a berth in the lucrative final.

But one race later on the card in the second Adios elim, Cooperstown (Yannick Gingras) benefited from a third over trip and overcame a slow early tempo to post a 38-1 shocker in 1:49.3. A Four Starzzz Shark colt trained by Ron Burke, Cooperstown got away fifth in the field of six, angled out third over nearing the half as longshot Tomy Terror (Mike Wilder) led the field by the midway mark in 55.3, followed Badiou Hanover and Lost For Words down the backside and through the far turn then angled off cover and outlasted the late bid of Dudes The Man in 1:49.4.

Cooperstown now owns a 3-4-1 slate and $64,0000 bankroll from 11 starts this year, but he can hardly be considered the favorite for the final despite his connections and he was not the best colt in his elim despite reaching the wire first.

Lost For Words (David Miller) had been idle since a dull, sixth-place effort in the $500,000 Max Hempt Memorial Final at Pocono Downs on July 4 and delivered a gritty effort in defeat. He raced second over down the backside and through the far turn, swept to command at the top of the lane then was nailed late by Cooperstown. But Lost For Words clearly needed the race and he only figures to move up considerably off the effort and should be a major player in the final.

The same can also be said for Dudes The Man (Corey Callahan) who rallied from last with a quarter-mile remaining to just miss second while racing widest of all and he paced his back half in 53 and change. Second one week earlier as an overlooked 38-1 shot in the $750,000 Meadowlands Pace final won by Wiggle It Jiggleit in 1:47.4, Dudes The Man was reserved well off the early tempo and then unleashed a furious late kick to just miss the place spot in a stellar performance that was much better than it appeared on paper.

One race later in the third Adios elim, My Hero Ron (Gingras) lived up to his role as the even-money choice when he left alertly to overcome post six in a 26.3 opener and then led throughout to score in 1:50.3 over stablemate Yankee Bounty (Callahan) who delivered a gritty, first over performance to finish second. My Hero Ron has won three of seven starts for Burke, but was no match for Lost For Words or Wakizashi Hanover in Pennsylvania Sire Stakes action. Yankee Bounty remained winless in 10 starts this year for Burke, but finished second for the fourth time in those outings.

Fans of older horses had plenty to rave about at two New York half-mile ovals on Saturday night, as both offered stellar cards.

The feature of the night was the $260,000 Joseph Gerrity Memorial for older pacers at Saratoga. Defending champion Dancin Yankee (Jim Morrill, Jr.) was the 8-5 favorite, while Ben Franklin hero Luck Be With You (Mark MacDonald) was the 2-1 second choice. PH Supercam (Jason Bartlett), the 2014 George Morton Levy Memorial Series champ who dominated the opening legs of that series this year before settling for fourth from post eight in the final, garnered plenty of support at 9-2, as did Michaels Power and All Bets Off, a Burke trainee.

When the gate folded in the Gerrity on Saturday, Michaels Power and Dancin Yankee both left alertly but Luck Be With You made a break entering the first turn and dropped back to last and never became a factor. Dancin Yankee brushed to command past the opener in 26.3 then maintained an honest tempo by the midway mark in 54.2. PH Supercam angled out first over from third and then drew alongside the favored leader down the backside and through the far turn and eventually wore that one down late for a neck score in 1:50.1. Domethatagain, the Levy final champ, rallied from far back to finish third in a solid effort.

PH Supercam, an eight-year-old Million Dollar Cam gelding owned and trained by Jeffrey Bamond, now owns an 8-4-1 slate and $365,000 bankroll from 17 starts this year and reaffirmed his status as one of the best aged pacers in the land. He appears certain to get an invite to the $200,000 Robert Quillen Memorial at Harrington Raceway in Delaware on Sep. 21, as does Dancin Yankee and Domethatagain. Dancin Yankee owns a 3-6-2 slate and $265,000 bankroll from 15 starts this year, but has yet to regain his solid 2014 form. Domethatagain owns a 3-4-3 slate and $530,000 bankroll from 16 starts and thrives on half-mile ovals.

One race later on the card, JK Panache (MacDonald) overcame a first over journey to capture the $22,000 Open Handicap at Saratoga in 1:51.2 for his third straight win. The six-year-old Art Major gelding trained by David Dewhurst had dominated Open Handicap foes at Vernon Downs in New York, including a 1:47.3 score there on July 19. He sports a 6-4-4 slate and modest $56,000 bankroll from 18 starts this year, but JK Panache is developing into a budding star on the aged pacing ranks and he had little trouble overhauling Smooth Criminal in the lane at Saratoga last weekend.

That same evening at Yonkers Raceway in New York the older pacers were also on display and several of them delivered stellar performances, including one for the record books.

Saturday's $48,000 Open Handicap featured the return of Levy finalist Take It Back Terry (George Brennan) who was assigned the outside eight hole, but it was Crombie A (Brian Sears) who emerged triumphant in record fashion. Reserved off a wicked early tempo carved out by Forty Five Red, Crombie A angled first over down the backside and through the far turn and edged clear late to score in 1:50.1, establishing a new, all-age track record at Yonkers. A nine-year-old Life Sign stallion trained by Rene Allard, Crombie A has now won three straight races and five of 16 outings overall this year and looks like a Quillen invite candidate at this point.

In the $35,000 4-Year-Old Open Handicap on the same card, Always At My Place (Brennan) overcame post eight and an early gallop to gain command briefly, yielded to favored Ideal Cowboy (Eric Goodell) before the half, sat a loose pocket down the backside and through the far turn and then easily overhauled the choice late to score in 1:51.3. A four-year-old Always A Virgin gelding trained by Burke, Always At My Place has won three straight races and sports a 5-2-1 slate and $59,000 bankroll from nine starts this year.

Also on the card, Limelight Beach (Brennan), another Burke trainee, rebounded from a dull, third-place effort as the 3-5 favorite in his previous start against similar to defeat the "winners over" class in wire-to-wire fashion in 1:51.4. A four-year-old Somebeachsomewhere gelding who was among the sport's top three-year-old pacers in 2014, Limelight Beach regained his winning ways as he notched his first win in 10 starts on the season. One year earlier he posted a solid 5-8-1 slate and $600,000 bankroll from 19 outings.

Then in the finale on the 12-race card, Lucan Hanover (Sears) easily overcame post six to gain command before a 27.4 opener and was never remotely threatened thereafter as he set honest splits of 56.1 and 1:24 for the next two calls and then sprinted clear in the lane to a three-length score in 1:51.2 in the non-winners of $25,000 last six starts class. A five-year-old Western Ideal gelding trained by Casie Coleman, Lucan Hanover has delivered some of his best efforts over the New York half-mile oval and last Saturday night he was clearly on top of his game while posting his second win in 16 starts this season, albeit in the second-fastest clocking on the card.