Stakes races and fast times highlight the weekend
by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228
Summer is here and with July approaching, things are really beginning to heat up with stakes races aplenty and blazing fast times.
On Friday, Always a Prince stopped the clock in 1:47.3 at The Meadowlands en route to victory in the fourth leg of $50,000 Graduate Series. In the $60,000 Rainbow Blue for mares, Caviart Ally blazed a 25.3 final quarter to win in 1:48. Then, the Downtown Bus got into the act in his leg of the Graduate Series when he used a 25.3 last quarter to get by Courtly Choice in 1:48. The $250,000 Graduate Series final is set for Saturday, July 6.
On Saturday, the focus was on two tracks—Northfield Park and its hosting of the $175,000 Cleveland Trotting Classic and Pocono Downs, which hosted four races on what is dubbed Sun Stakes Saturday.
The Trotting Classic saw a who’s who in harness racing square off at the place that calls itself “The Home of the Flying Turns.” The race featured the 2015 Hambletonian winner, Pinkman; the 2016 Trotting Triple Crown winner, Marion Marauder; as well as the accomplished Weslynn Dancer, Plunge Blue Chip, Dayson, Emoticon Hanover, Guardian Angel As, and Musical Rhythm. Unlike many finals that require eliminations, the Classic is an invitational; the race director makes the calls and when eight except, it is game on. When the smoke cleared, Guardian Angel As stopped the clock in 1:52, a track record for trotters on the half-mile oval and collected $87,500 for the effort. Musical Rhythm battled hard in the stretch to finish second with Emoticon Hanover third.
The Sun Stakes produced some drama of its own over its four races. First was Stonebridge using the inside lane to win the $300,000 James Lynch Memorial pace for 3-year old fillies in 1:49.3 over the 5/8 mile surface. The top four all broke 1:50.
In the $500,000 Max Hempt, an open pace for 3-year olds, Shake That House sizzled down the stretch with Brian Sears in the bike to win in 1:49.2. Sent off at 8-1 odds, he paid $19.40. Brassy Hanover and Captain Victorious garnered place and show honors.
Race 3 of the Sun Stakes was the $500,000 Ben Franklin Free-For-All which featured reigning Horse of the Year, McWicked. The 8-year old just started his racing season and was looking to find his stride. While McWicked lingered midway in the pack, This Is The Plan overtook Western Fame and appeared to be cruising to victory, when McWicked woke up and began charging down the stretch. In the end, This Is The Plan held on for the win, stopping the clock in 1:48.2 and paying his supporters $26.40 for a $2 bet.
The final Sun Stake was the $500,000 Earl Beal Memorial for 3-year old trotters. The heavy betting choice was Greenshoe, a horse that many expect to be the favorite for the August 3 Hambletonian at The Meadowlands.
Dismissed at 57-1 was Marseille driven by Ake Svanstedt. Those that know harness racing know that the Swede is not afraid to get to the lead and cut fast fractions and that’s what happened when the opening quarter was a sharp 26.2. When the opening quarter is that fast, the strategy is simple—to see if the driver of the leader can slow things down in the second quarter and get that proverbial breather. That’s exactly what happened when Svanstedt slowed to a pedestrian 30.3
At ¾, Greenshoe looked cooked sitting in sixth, but then he unleashed a furious final quarter only to come up short by a few noise hairs. Marseille hung on and paid an impressive $116 for the win and the $250,000 in earnings. Despite the win, Greenshoe will still be heavily supported come Hambletonian time. He’s simply too good of a horse and being able to stretch those legs on the Big M’s mile oval will only help him.
There will fireworks this Thursday as America celebrates birthday number 243. In harness racing, the fireworks have already started and they won’t be stopping anytime soon.