Thursday harness preview

Ted Black

November 5th, 2014

Throughout its prolonged fall-winter standardbred meet that began on Sunday, Dover Downs will have its best cards each week on Thursdays when the top overnight horses on the grounds compete. This Thursday the track will set the bar considerably higher when it hosts eight Matron Stakes for two- and three-year-olds of both gaits and genders worth roughly $1.6 million.

Beginning with the opening race on the card, Thursday's 15-race program could play a significant role in various year-end divisional honors and potentially horse of the year. Among the divisions that will be effected by Thursday's card include the champion three-year-old colt pacer, three-year-old colt trotter and three-year-old filly pacer and possibly two-year-old colt pacer. The older horses will have their chance to shine in the Breeders Crown finals at The Meadowlands Nov. 21 and 22.

Thursday's opening race, the $200,000 Matron Stakes for two-year-old filly trotters, features one of the leading candidates for divisional honors in Wild Honey. The Cantab Hall filly trained by Jim Takter has won eight of nine starts and banked just over $325,000 and will likely be the odds-on favorite from post seven this evening with Yannick Gingras in the bike. This looks like another trotting stakes in which Takter has the upper hand. The main threats to Wild Honey this evening will come from the same barn in Smexi (Corey Callahan), who sports a 2-3-2 slate and $337,500 bankroll from 12 starts and Lilu Hanover (Scott Zeron) who has won three of 13 outings but will start from post eight this evening.

One race later in the $237,500 Matron Stakes for two-year-old trotting colts, a trio of freshmen trotters will look to garner the top prize. Uncle Lasse (Ron Pierce), Habitat (Gingras) and Billy Flynn (Brett Miller) have all performed well this season, combining for 18 wins and over $1 million in earnings from a collective 30 starts among them. Habitat is expected to be the slight favorite from post six for trainer Ron Burke, but Uncle Lasse and Billy Flynn both merit respect. Billy Flynn has won eight of 10 starts and was second in each of his two setbacks for trainer Steffan Lind and has enough talent to overcome his outside eight hole draw.

Several races later in the sixth, the $200,000 Matron Stakes for two-year-old filly pacers, both Bettor Be Steppin (Callahan) and Sassa Hanover (Gingras) will vie for favoritism despite their opposing luck in the draw. Bettor Be Steppin, a daughter of Bettor's Delight trained by Joe Holloway, has won 4 of 9 starts and banked nearly $220,000 and will leave from post three as the likely favorite. But the Burke-trained Sassa Hanover has won 8 of 10 starts and earned over $250,000 and will pose a serious threat despite starting from post eight. Another Burke trainee, Southwind Roulette (Tim Tetrick) will be a factor late despite drawing the seven hole.

One race later in the seventh, the $200,000 Matron Stakes for two-year-old colt pacers, the post time and sentimental favorite will likely be Yankee Bounty. A Maryland-bred son of Yankee Cruiser now trained by Ron Burke for owner Frank Chick of Harrington, Delaware, Yankee Bounty has won 8 of 9 starts and earned nearly $320,000 and is one of the leading contenders for divisional honors now that Artspeak has been sidelined for the remainder of the campaign.

Yankee Bounty began the season in trainer Kevin Lare's barn, but was transferred to Burke after his owners purchased 95 percent of the colt from Chick, who will still receive 10 percent of what the pacer earns this year and next. Railbound Tomy Terror (Callahan) has won 4 of 10 starts and been second in all six defeats for trainer John Butenschoen, while Cartoon Daddy (Gingras) has won six of 11 starts and nearly $270,000 for Burke and In The Arsenal (Brian Sears) has won five of eight outings and banked over $170,000 for trainer Kelvin Harrison.

Then one race later in the $160,000 Matron Stakes for three-year-old filly trotters, much of the focus will be on the prolonged rivalry between Lifetime Pursuit (Gingras) and Shake It Cerry (Ron Pierce). Lifetime Pursuit gained the upper hand early when this Takter trainee won the Hambletonian Oaks, but Shake It Cerry, sporting 13 wins in 15 outings and seasonal earnings of $900,000, is certainly peaking at the right time with recent wins over her arch-rival at Balmoral Park and Hoosier Park.

Two races later in the $200,000 Matron Stakes for three-year-old colt trotters, Takter trainees Father Patrick (Gingras) and Nuncio (John Campbell) will meet in an early prep for the Breeders Crown elims next week and pending divisional honors. The third part of the famed Takter trio, Hambo winner Trixton, has already since been retired.

Father Patrick, last year's champion two-year-old trotting colt, has won 11 of 15 starts and earned nearly $1.45 million this year, but several of the sport's most coveted events have eluded him thus far. Nuncio, who has won 10 of 15 outings and banked $1.3 million this year, has never been worse than second in his career and owns recent victories in both the Kentucky Futurity and Lexington and the Yonkers Trot in New York and earlier he finished second in the Hambo behind Trixton while Father Patrick made an early break.

Father Patrick will start from the rail and should be the solid post time choice, while Nuncio will look to use his early speed to overcome his eight hole draw. Those looking to upset the talented Takter tandem include Harper Blue Chip (Tim Tetrick), Datsyuk (Charlie Norris) and Don Dorado (Pierce). All three have been regulars in the top open stakes this season and Datsyuk was recently second to Nuncio in the Yonkers Trot and earlier he upset Father Patrick in a Pennsylvania Sire Stakes event at the Meadows.

Then one race later in the $185,000 Matron Stakes for three-year-old colt pacers, any number of sophomores could win this event and gain some early momentum toward capturing divisional honors in a year when there is certainly no standout. Messenger Stakes winner All Bets Off (Matt Kakaley) boasts 11 wins in 15 starts this year and has the rail for Burke. Luck Be Withyou (Tetrick) has raced well in recent weeks for trainer Chris Oakes and has post two. McWicked (David Miller) has won 9 of 18 starts and earned over $1 million this year for trainer Casie Coleman, but will have to improve on his dull, third-place effort in the Messenger, while Lyonssomewhere (Gingras) will look to regain his winning ways for Takter.

Then in the 12th, the $180,000 Matron Stakes for three-year-old filly pacers, much of the attention will be on the razor sharp Act Now (George Brennan) who has has five of 12 starts for trainer Nikolas Drennan, including a sharp score in the Lady Maud at Yonkers two weeks ago. Looking to play the spoiler role is Weeper (Dave Palone), a Maryland-bred sophomore who sports a solid 7-3-1 slate and $340,000 bankroll for trainer Kelly O'Donnell and will start from post five.