Weekend harness preview 1/16/15

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Ted Black

January 13th, 2015

While many sports enthusiasts are already looking forward to this Sunday's Conference Championship games in the National Football League that will propel both winners into Super Bowl 49 in Arizona, standardbred racing fans will be seeking to pad their bankrolls via the Friday and Saturday night cards at Yonkers Raceway in New York.

With one week of racing under their belt at the New York half-mile oval, the top pacing mares on the grounds will clash in the sixth race on Friday, the $35,000 Open Handicap. While seven distaffers will go behind the gate on Friday, the main focus will be on the three mares who will start from the three outset slots - Spirit of Desire (Jason Bartlett), Robin Cruiser (Jordan Stratton) and Set Me Up (George Brennan).

Set Me Up prevailed in last week's Open for trainer Ron Burke as the 9-5 second choice in 1:54.4, extending her overall win streak to three races following a pair of victories at the Meadowlands while Yonkers was on hiatus. But last week Set Me Up started from the favorable post two, while this evening she has been assigned the outside seven hole designed to make things tougher for this Burke trainee. Those who believe in her will get a good price on Set Me Up, but she needs to be viewed with caution despite the latest skein.

Two mares to her inside figure to be formidable. Spirit of Desire won a lesser non-winners of $25,000 last six conditioned event last weekend in 1:54.2 as the 7-10 choice and is actually no stranger to facing top-notch distaffers. During a six-week stint at Pennsylvania tracks Harrah's Philadelphia and Pocono Downs, Spirit of Desire routinely faced Yagonnakissmeornot, Krispy Apple, Anndrovette and Sombeachsomewhere, a veritable all-star lineup of pacing mares in the Open at those tracks. She looks poised to garner another score over this oval.

Just to her outside is Robin Cruiser, who finished fourth as the 7-10 choice in the inaugural edition of the F-M Open for 2015 here last Friday. Robin Cruiser is certainly no stranger to winning at this level over the New York half-mile oval, ending the previous campaign with three wins in five starts at the top class. Robin Cruiser did not appear sharp in her seasonal debut, but her lackluster effort will actually enhance her price this evening and make her very appealing to her supporters.

Then several races later in the 11th, an oddly-written non-winners of $26,650 last six starts class for pacing fillies and mares, the two obvious choices are railbound Hot List (Brennan) and UF Dragon's Queen (Mark MacDonald).

Hot List drew the rail and arrives off a sharp score against non-winners of $18,000 last six company here last Friday in 1:55 for Burke. But UF Dragon's Queen is the racing secretary's darling this weekend. This Mark Ford trainee has earned $26,625 in her last six outings - note the strange condition - and should improve off a second-place effort last week in the non-winners of $25,000 last six class. She will start from post four in a race that appeared to be written for her.

Then on Saturday evening the primary focus is the sixth, the $35,000 Open - none of the posts were assigned - in which four returners could prevail and one invader merits respect in his local debut.

Take It Back Terry (Brennan) won last week's inaugural edition of the Open for Burke in 1:53.4 as the 3-5 choice and drew post two in his local title defense on Saturday. While Take It Back Terry certainly deserves top billing as the reigning Open champ here, he is hardly a cinch to duplicate that performance and is worth playing against at a short price.

Railbound BJ's Guy finished a solid third in the Open last week while starting from post six and then racing third over and he should improve this evening. Sapphire City (Eric Carlson) finished eighth while starting from post seven last week, but he has always thrived on this oval. Last fall he won four straight races here while climbing the condition ladder and earned a tally in the Open on Dec. 6 before finishing second in the final Open of 2014 here one week later.

Despite drawing toward the outside, McErlean (Eric Goodell) is certainly going to be a factor. He rallied second over to finish second last week and could get involved early and be a factor late. He prevailed in this class back on Nov. 29. Then Delaware invader Cam B Zipper (Brian Sears) arrives having won his last two starts and three of his last four outings at Dover Downs for trainer Doug Lewis and could be a generous price in his local debut.

Then two races later in the Preferred, a handful of horses have to be respected. O'Sundland (Larry Stahlbaum) drops out of the Open after cutting the fractions from the eight-hole and gets the rail in this spot. Casimir Jitterbug (Brian Sears) finished fifth and sixth, respectively, in two starts against A-2/A-1/FFA rivals at the Meadowlands during the break and returns to a track where he has performed well in recent years. Validus Deo (Bartlett) makes his seasonal debut, but recorded wins at Harrah's Philadelphia and Yonkers late last fall. Eighteen ended his 2014 campaign with a sharp score at Yonkers in the non-winners of $18,000 last six class and the Maryland-bred arrives off a sharp qualifier at Freehold Raceway in New Jersey. Michael's Power returns after three starts at the Meadowlands, while Hang Ten (Brennan) seeks his second straight after taking a non-winners of $25,000 last six class in 1:55.2 last week for Burke, but drew the dreaded eight hole for this outing.