Weekend harness preview

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Ted Black

October 24th, 2014

This Saturday evening a pair of standardbred tracks will offer stellar cards that include the best trotters and pacers on the continent as Yonkers Raceway in New York hosts a quartet of stakes for soohomores while Woodbine Raceway in Canada presents a quartet of stakes for freshmen trotters and pacers. All of the stakes at both venues will likely go a long way toward determining year-end honors.

On Saturday night, Yonkers Raceway will actually host a pair of Triple Crown events, the Yonkers Trot for sophomore trotting colts and the Messenger Stakes for three-year-old pacing colts. While thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown is conducted during a frenetic, five-week stretch in the spring, the standardbreds have varying Triple Crown events in the summer and fall. The schedule often fluctuates from year to year and both the trotting and pacing Triple Crowns remain equally elusive despite the different set-ups.

While the first one-third of the races at Yonkers on Saturday night will be overnight events, the middle one-third is a tremendous handful of stakes beginning with the $500,000 Yonkers Trot, the third leg of the Trotting Triple Crown for sophomore colts. Trixton won the Hambletonian at the Meadowlands in August, but Nuncio, the Hambo runner-up, came right back to win the Kentucky Futurity at Lexington and he will be the solid choice this evening although he will once again be barred from the wagering.

Nuncio (John Campbell), who won his Yonkers Trot elim handily in 1:56.2 and then promptly drew post two for the final alongside the other elim winner, Gural Hanover (Jim Morrill, Jr.) who got the rail, has been the ultimate model of consistency throughout his career for trainer Jim Takter. Although often racing in the shadow of illustrious stablemates, Father Patrick and Trixton, who has since been retired, Nuncio has won nine of 14 starts this year and earned over $1 million and he has captured 14 of 24 lifetime outings while never finishing worse than second.

Just to his inside is the talented but most untested Gural Hanover, who has won 10 of 14 starts this year while racing primarily in New York Sire Stakes action throughout the Empire State. Gural Hanover led throughout from the rail to score in 1:56.3 in his elim last weekend, but he gets a serious acid test facing Nuncio in the final. He has enough speed to secure the garden spot early, but it remains to seen whether or not this Ron Burke trainee can stay close to Nuncio when the real racing begins at the top of the lane.

One race later in the $500,000 Messenger Stakes for sophomore pacing colts, the third leg of the Triple Crown for pacers following the Cane Pace on Labor Day at Tioga Downs and the Little Brown Jug in the middle of September, a handful of horses are likely to get backing. Luck Be Withyou (Tim Tetrick), last year's Breeders Crown Two-year-old colt pace hero, also won last week's Messenger elim courtesy of a perfect, pocket trip. But he drew post five this evening and will likely remain an outsider.

The Ron Burke-trained tandem of All Bets Off (Matt Kakaley) and Forty Five Red (George Brennan) finished fourth and second, respectively, last week in the elim while starting from favorable posts, but tonight they will leave from posts six and eight, respectively, which could have a detrimental impact on their chances. Stevensville (Mark MacDonald) drew the coveted rail, while Maryland-bred National Debt (Jason Bartlett) has post two, but they also appear to be on the outside looking in despite their favorable draws.

Undoubtedly the two best pacers in the Messenger will begin alongside one another. Lyonssomewhere (Brett Miller), who posted a 19-1 upset in the $450,000 Cane Pace at Tioga Downs last month, will start from post three for Takter. Starting alongside him is McWicked (David Miller), a fast closing third despite slow early fractions and dull cover in the elim. McWicked, the beaten favorite in both the Milstein at Northfield Park and his Jug elim, has raced superbly in each of his last two starts over the Yonkers oval and looks poised to capture the Messenger Stakes tonight for trainer Casie Coleman.

Then one race later on the card in the $125,000 Hudson Trot final for three-year-old trotting fillies, any number of the six sophomores could succeed. Market Rally (Jim Morrill, Jr), a Maryland-bred daughter of Cash Hall who has won seven of 10 starts and was the dominant force in her division on the New York Sires Stakes circuit, will leave from post two for Burke. Her entrymate, Avalicious (MacDonald), was also very good on the NYSS circuit this summer and fall before an uncharacteristic miscue in the final.

One race later in the $150,000 Lady Maud final for three-year-old filly pacers, the Burke tandem of Beautiful Lady and A La Notte Hanover finished second and third, respectively, in their various elims last week. But they will start from posts seven and eight this evening, respectively, which will likely doom their chances of attaining anything other than minor spoils.

While Act Now and Fancy Desire both arrive off sharp elim victories, there is little that the two have in common. Act Now, earlier triumphant in the Glen Garnsey Memorial at Lexington, was simply giant last week. Away in sixth, Act Now brushed to command past the grandstands the first time, maintained honest fractions on an uncontested lead and then cruised home to a five-length score in 1:53.1 for trainer Nikolas Drennan. Fancy Desire led throughout to capture her elim in 1:54, but started from the coveted rail then got challenged late by Scandalicious (Daniel Dube).

Then one race later in the ninth, the $250,000 International Trot Preview for older trotters at the demanding distance of one-mile and one-quarter, the stellar, eight-horse field features the sport's best older trotters of all ages and both genders. It's a deep, competitive wide open event in which any number of trotters could prevail. In fact, the race features the reigning horse of the year and one of the leaders for this year's coveted title.

The field from the rail out reads Commader Crowe (Orjan Kihlstrom), Bee A Magician (David Miller), Archangel (Kakaley), Obrigado (Bartlett), Arch Madness (Trond Smedshammer), Sebastian K (Ake Svanstedt), Natural Herbie (Verlin Yoder) and Not Afraid (Brett Miller). The eight trotters have combined to win 246 races and earn nearly $17 million.

Longtime European import Commander Crowe has won 60 of 106 starts and earned nearly $4.8 million in his stellar career, while former Euro Sebastian K has won eight of 11 starts this year in the U.S. and Canada and recorded the fastest mile ever for a trotter courtesy of his 1:49 score at Pocono Downs this summer. He arrives having lost his last two starts and three of his last six outings and he had the misfortune of drawing post six for this event. Either durable aged trotter - they are combined 19 years of age - could be the post-time favorite and this trotting classic will have an impact on two continents.

Bee A Magician arrives as the reigning horse of the year, but the four-year-old Kadabra mare is hardly being considered a potential repeat winner. She has won only three times in 12 starts this year while finishing second on six occasions. Arch Madness heads into the event with plenty of back class and a 36-29-15 slate and $4.25 million bankroll from 123 lifetime starts, but he appears to be past his prime at age 10. Natural Herbie has won 11 of 22 starts and earned over $235,000 this year while racing primarily at Hoosier Park in Indiana, but he has enjoyed success in open stakes and appears to be in peak form.