Top standardbreds compete day and night on Saturday

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Ted Black

July 30th, 2017

Most harness racing fans are accustomed to seeing the sport's biggest events contested at night, but on Saturday afternoon at the Meadows and again on Saturday evening at the Meadowlands many of the sport's best sophomores of both gaits were on display in various stakes.

Saturday's feature at the Meadows near Pittsburgh was the latest edition of the $400,000 Adios Pace for three-year-old pacing colts and the race attracted the sport's two best sophomores - Fear The Dragon and Huntsville. Fear The Dragon arrived as the top rated horse in the sport, having already won the $500,000 Max Hempt Memorial final at Pocono Downs and the $750,000 North America Cup final at Mohawk Raceway in Canada, edging Huntsville in that event.

Huntsville (Tim Tetrick) was last year's champion two-year-old colt pacer and he has raced well all spring and summer, winning six of eight starts including the Meadowlands Pace narrowly over Downbytheseaside. But he had also finished second twice to Fear The Dragon, resulting in him being rated second in the National Top 10 poll. Nevertheless, Huntsville was made the slight 4-5 favorite in the Adios final off a sharp 1:49.3 elim score while Fear The Dragon was the even-money second choice off his 1:50.3 elim tally. Not surprisingly, they dominated the event over the last quarter mile.

When the gate folded in the Adios final, longshots Eddard Hanover (Brett Miller) and Miso Fast (Matt Kakaley) were away very quickly, with Huntsville away in second briefly while Fear The Dragon was reserved off the pace in his customary fashion. Huntsville was out and rolling before reaching the opener in a wicked 26.1.

Huntsville led the field by the grandstands the first time while well off the pylons and rolled by the midway mark in 53.3 with Fear The Dragon out and moving first over from fifth. Huntsville led the field down the backside but soon had company from Fear The Dragon who loomed alongside the odds-on choice as they sped by three-quarters in 1:21.1, setting the stage for the battle to come.

Huntsville and Fear The Dragon continued to duel through the far turn and at the head of the lane it looked as though the speedy two-year-old champ was finally going to get the better of his nemesis. But inside the final sixteenth of a mile Fear The Dragon found another gear and he overhauled Huntsville yet again for a neck score in 1:49.1, with longshot R J P (Yannick Gingras) rallying inside late to get third.

Fear The Dragon, a sophomore son of Dragon Again trained by Brian Brown, has now won nine of 10 starts this year and earned nearly $925,000. In 21 lifetime outings Fear The Dragon now sports 14 wins and over $1.15 million banked and right now he is the unquestioned division leader. Huntsville, a three-year-old Somebeachsomewhere colt trained by Ray Schnittker, boasts a solid 6-3-0 slate and $725,000 banked from nine starts this year, but right now he can only lay claim to being the second best sophomore pacing colt in the land.

One race earlier in the second $63,500 division of the Adioo Volo for three-year-old filly pacers, Blazin Britches (Trace Tetrick) benefited from a backside brush to gain command from favored Bettors Up (Brett Miller) before reaching three-quarters in 1:22.3 then kept the choice at bay through the lane to score by two lengths in 1:50.1. A sophomore daughter of Rock N Roll Heaven trained by Brown, Blazin Britches has now won three straight races and seven of eight on the season and earned just shy of $70,000.

One race earlier in the first $63,500 Adioo Volo split, longshot Ella Christina (James Pantaleano) overcame post seven and her 50-1 longshot status to rally along the rail and through the passing lane to overtake Colorful Jasmine (Corey Callahan) and Rosemary Rose (Mike Wilder) in 1:52.2. A three-year-old daughter of Western Ideal owned and trained by Nick Surick, Ella Christina notched her third win from seven starts this year and recorded her fifth victory from 15 tries and pushed her earnings to nearly $100,000 lifetime after taking the slower of the two Adioo Volo splits.

That same evening at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, the top three-year-old trotting fillies in the land clashed in two $40,000 Hambletonian Oaks eliminations, with the top five finishers from each split returning for next Saturday's Grade I, $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks final on the Hambletonian Day card at the Big M.

In the first of the two Oaks elims, Ariana G (Yannick Gingras) lived up to her role as the 1-9 favorite when she rallied second over to score by two lengths in 1:51.3 for trainer Jimmy Takter. Last year's champion two-year-old filly trotter has now won five of six starts this year and her lone loss was a third-place finish behind male rivals Devious Man and Long Tom in the $500,000 Earl Beal, Jr. Memorial at Pocono Downs.

Then one race later in the second Hambo Oaks elim, Magic Presto (Brian Sears) lived up to her billing as the 4-5 favorite when she brushed to command before the half and kept second choice Feed Your Head (Gingras) at bay through the lane for a length score in 1:52.1. Trained by R. Nifty Norman, Magic Presto ended a modest two-race skid to notch her fourth win in seven starts this year and her eighth victory in 16 career tries. Next Saturday she will get another chance to upend division leader Ariana G in the Oaks final.

Then two races later in the $50,000 Reynolds Memorial for three-year-old colt trotters, many of which are likely eyeing next week's Hambo, What The Hill (David Miller) left to gain command before a modest opener, got a breather to the half, sprinted clear briefly at the top of the lane and then held safe Yes Mickey and Bill's Man to score by a length in 1:52.1. Earlier on the card in an overnight race designed as a Hambo prep, Giveitgasandgo (Corey Callahan) benefited from a pocket trip through the first three calls then angled out in the lane to score in 1:52.1 for trainer John Butenschoen.

Then two races later in a $20,000 Preferred Handicap for older pacers being used by several trainers as a prep for the $400,000 U.S. Pacing Championship on the Hambo Day undercard, Mel Mara (Callahan) lived up to his role as the 3-5 favorite from post four in a compact field of four when he overhauled Wakizashi Hanover (Tetrick) before the opener in 26.2, got a breather by the half in 55 flat, cruised by three-quarters in 1:23 then sprinted home to prevail by a length in 1:49.1. An eight-year-old stallion trained by Dylan Davis, Mel Mara notched his fourth win in seven starts this year and recorded his 22nd victory in 78 career outings and pushed his lifetime earnings to nearly $900,000  and he could eclipse the $1 million plateau on Hambo Day.