Weekend harness preview

Ted Black

October 17th, 2014

Throughout the month of October harness racing fans will get to see the best trotters and pacers compete in numerous, lucrative stakes as their respective trainers seek to enable their horses a way to end the season on a high note, especially with year-end honors close at hand. Over the next two Saturdays, Yonkers Raceway will take center stage as the New York half-mile oval offers a pair of Triple Crown events, one each for trotters and pacers.

While thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown events are conducted in the spring, the standardbreds vie for Triple Crown glory in the summer and fall. The prestigious, $1.5 Hambletonian and then the Kentucky Futurity for three-year-old colt trotters kicks off the Triple Crown trail for that gait, while the Cane Pace, followed quickly by the Little Brown Jug starts the road to the crown for sophomore pacers. Yonkers Raceway will conduct eliminations for both the Messenger Stakes and the Yonkers Trot, the last two legs of the Triple Crown, with the finals set for next Saturday, Oct. 25 on a stellar card.

Saturday's stakes-filled card at Yonkers Raceway is an early preview of major programs to come, with the November 6 card at Dover Downs, featuring a handful of Matron Stakes finals, with eliminations for the Breeders Crown races being contested on Nov. 14 and Nov. 15 at the Meadowlands, with the lucrative finals for those events slated for Nov. 21 and Nov. 22. All four nights that feature finals, beginning with next Saturday's card at Yonkers Raceway, will give bettors plenty of good wagering opportunities and give owners and trainers one last chance to securing division honors and potentially horse of the year.

This Saturday evening the Yonkers card will get warmed up early as nine sophomore pacers will compete in the $40,000 Messenger Stakes elimination, with one of them eliminated from competing in next Saturday's $500,000 Messenger final. Trainer Ron Burke again appears to hold the upper hand, but several other talented colts will look to use this week's elimination as a prep for next week's final. Luck will certainly play a role in both, especially with the importance of the post position draw on the half-mile oval. In fact, there's a good chance that the colt who drew the dreaded eight hole for the elim will not return for the final.

Among the Burke trio looking to secure the honors in the Messenger Stakes elim this weekend is one potential standout, All Bets Off. Although considered somewhat outside the limelight in the glamour division, All Bets Off has enjoyed a superb campaign, winning 10 of 13 starts and over $650,000. His primary success has come at Yonkers in the New York Sire Stakes events, but he did capture the $400,000 Milstein Memorial at Northfield Park near Cleveland in August. His entrymates, Forty Five Red and Double Your Bets are clearly a notch below him.

Perhaps the colt with the best chance of upending the Burke trio is McWicked, a talented son of McArdle trained by Casie Coleman. Two weeks ago in his prep for the Messenger here, McWicked raced second over into a serious back half as All Bets Off cruised home two lengths clear in 1:52.4. McWicked, the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes champion sophomore colt, had earlier finished third in his Jug elim and fifth in the final. He was the 3-10 choice in the Milstein, but after carving out lively early fractions was eventually nailed late by All Bets Off. They will continue their rivalry this weekend and next, although both will be primed for their best effort in the final.

Among the other contenders for the Messenger are Luck Be Withyou, last year's Breeders Crown Two-Year-Old Colt final hero who has disappointed this year winning only four of 12 starts and earning less than $150,000. National Debt, a Maryland-bred son of Allamerican Native trained by Ron Coyne, Jr., has won five of 13 starts and earned nearly $145,000 this year although his biggest claim to fame this season has been capturing the $100,000 Milstein consolation at Northfield in 1:49.4, nearly a second faster than the clocking All Bets Off posted in the final.

Two races later on the card in the first $40,000 Yonkers Trot elimination, all eyes will clearly be focused on Nuncio (John Campbell), who has won eight of 13 starts and earned just over $1 million this year for trainer Jim Takter. The talented sophomore son of Andover Hall has never been worse than second in his 23-race career, although many would often describe him as the third-best trotter in Takter's barn. Stablemate Father Patrick has won nearly every major stakes except the Hambletonian, while the recently retired Trixton upended both to claim the Hambo.

Nuncio, who was second to Trixton in the Hambo and second to Father Patrick in both the Stanley Dancer and the Zweig, has since gained a hint of revenge by upending Father Patrick in the $435,000 Kentucky Futurity at Lexington. In the first of two Yonkers Trot elims on Saturday, Nuncio will likely be the prohibitive favorite while starting from post five and only a costly early break would enable rivals such as DD's Hitman, Way Outta Here, Don Dorado, Amped Up Hanover or Skates N Plates to post a shocking upset this weekend.

Then in the second Yonkers Trot elimination in the very next race on the card, the Burke tandem of Gural Hanover (Jim Morrill, Jr.) and Hillustrious (Daid Miller) will garner much of the attention since the duo also drew the two inside posts. Gural Hanover, a late supplement to the Yonkers Trot, has won nine of 13 starts and banked over $400,000 this year although much of his success has come in the New York Sire Stakes events. Hillustrious has tried several open stakes but was simply no match for Nuncio or Father Patrick in the Kentucky Futurity, beaten 14 lengths despite a ground-saving journey.

While Resolve (Corey Callahan), Flyhawk El Durado (Mark MacDonald) and E L Titan (Ron Pierce) have tried open stakes with little success, Datsyuk (Charlie Norris) actually owns a victory over Father Patrick. A sophomore son of Explosive Matter trained by Norris, Datsyuk posted a 25-1 upset over Father Patrick in a Tompkins division at Tioga Downs in August. He came right back to win a PASS event at the Meadows, but then proved no match for Father Patrick, Nuncio or Don Dorado when fourth in the PASS final at Harrah's Philadelphia.

Two races later in the seventh, the first of two, $20,000 eliminations of the Lady Maud Stakes for three-year-old filly pacers, certainly much of the attention will be focused on railbound Fancy Desire (George Brennan), who owns a solid 5-2-4 slate and $250,000 bankroll from 16 starts this year and was recently third in the American-National at Balmoral Park. Fancy Desire, who boasts the fastest mark in the field of 1:49 at Pocono Downs, has certainly been no stranger to facing the best three-year-old pacing fillies in the land and will be the solid choice here.

Then two races later in the second Lady Maud elimination, Act Now (George Brennan) looms as the solid choice despite drawing post six in a field of that size here. The Western Ideal filly trained by Nikolas Drennan was a sharp second behind Precocious Beauty in the American-National at Balmoral last weekend, one week after capturing the Glen Garnsey Memorial at Lexington.  Act Now will likely be on the move early in an attempt to overcome post six and secure a spot in next week's final as only two of the starters will be eliminated.

Looking to upend Act Now this weekend and again next Saturday in the $150,000 final are Tyra (Tim Tetrick), Also Encouraging (David Miller) and Beautiful Lady (Matt Kakaley). All three are accustomed to facing open stakes rivals, with Tyra owning her biggest score at Yonkers in the spring. Also Encouraging won the Shady Daisy final at Tioga Downs on Labor Day, while Beautiful Lady won the first heat of the Jugette by seven lengths then finished a game second in the final for trainer Ron Burke.