by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228
Two Upstate New York tracks are sharing the spotlight this weekend in the wonderful world of harness racing.
On Friday, we saw that heavy favorites don’t always win as Manchego was beaten by Met’s Hall in the $370,000 Zweig Memorial Trot at Vernon Downs. It was a terrific race contested on the venerable 7/8 oval. Sent off at odds of 12-1, the Hambletonian runner paid a handsome 27.60 to win, completing his work in 1 minute, 52 seconds.
The Zweig filly trot–$180,000 purse–also saw an upset when Supergirl Riley bested seven others, including the heavy favorite, Plunge Blue Chip to win in 1:54.3. At 7 to 1, she paid $17.60 for the $2 winning ticket. The only negative was low attendance (833) and $222,103 in handle for the 10-race card.
To the south of Vernon—115 miles to be exact—sits Tioga Downs and today, this venue offers an intriguing four pack of high stakes races. The first of the biggies is Race 6, the $143,000 Roll With Joe for older pacers. Like many races for the elders, the usual cast of characters are involved and even though it’s only a five-horse field, all are solid runners. Dealt a Winner, Dr. J Hanover, Western Fame, Rockin Ron and All Bets Off will square off. Both Rockin Ron and Dr. J Hanover have won five times this season.
Race 7 is the Empire Breeders Classic Pace ($270,425) for 3-year old fillies. Youaremycandygirl is the class of this field. She is 5 for 9 this year, but more impressively has $222,994 in earnings in this her sophomore season.
Race 8 is the Empire Breeders Classic Pace ($272,025) for the 3-year old boys and there are three heavyweights in a field of nine. Courtly Choice, the Meadowlands Pace winner comes in with over $481,000 in earnings and will likely be the favorite. American History enters with over $191,000 and was a strong second to Dorsoduro Hanover in the Adios at The Meadows at the end of July. Hitman Hill has been impressive in New York Sire Stakes action and has earned over $179,000 in 2018. He was third in the Adios.
The Artiscape Open Mare Pace ($161,000) is race number 9 and Shartin N will be the prohibitive favorite. In 17 starts, she has 13 wins and $681,831 in earnings. One would think a win here gives her a chance to crack the $1 million mark this year. Pure Country, with the combo of Jimmy Takter training and Yannick Gingras driving, can never be dismissed and as we saw on Friday at Vernon, there really is no such thing as a lock in these big races.
In addition to this Grand Slam of races, the rest of the card is a good one. There are two legs of the Miss Versatility Open Trots; each with purses of $30,000 and like many tracks, there is a $12,000 Open Pace. In today’s open, there are eight runners that have combined to make 174 starts in 2018. For Electric Western, this will be start number 29. Dee’s Rocketman will make start number 26 and has been quite the warrior this year, running all winter at Pompano and continuing on at various tracks up North this summer.
The Opens are testaments to the durability of the Standardbred. While most publications focus on the high purse stakes races, these opens are the lifeblood of the sport. Electric Western is 7; last week he ran the open at Tioga and finished second, picking up $3,000 in earnings. That’s how it’s done in this sport. It’s a grind, but a rewarding grind for these older pacers and trotters as well as those who take care of them. They may not be the stars of the sport, but they provide it with consistency and stability and in today’s ever changing world, that has to count for something.