by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228
As Glenn Frey once said, “The heat is on,” and it certainly will be today across much of the country. Many race tracks have bowed to Mother Nature and have canceled racing for today, but Monmouth Park and the harness tracks are going forward. Monmouth is relying on its proximity to the ocean, and the fact that it is running its signature race—the $1 million Haskell—as reasons to run. The race is also scheduled for broadcast on NBC and should the card be canceled, that exposure goes bye-bye.
Most harness tracks are delaying their start times in the hope that as the sun sets, it will cool down enough to make things bearable for horses and patrons alike. In New York, if the heat index is 105 or higher, there can be no racing. The index should be under 100 by 7 pm, so officials at Saratoga Casino Hotel (the harness track) are figuring that an 8 pm post time should offer the opportunity to race safely.
Like Monmouth, it’s a big night at SCH. The signature race of the year takes place with the $260,000 Joe Gerrity Memorial Pace. It’s one of the best races for older pacers and has attracted a star-studded cast and should no doubt keep things hot at SCH.
PJ Iovino is the race director and he makes the calls, trying to assemble the best eight horse field that he can. Some years are better than others; in 2015 he lured Wiggle It Jiggleit, at the time the reigning Horse of the Year and he blazed to victory. Last year, Iovino admitted it wasn’t a stellar, but Evening of Pleasure put on a dazzling display when he broke 1:50 on the half-mile track.
Personally, I thought Iovino was being hard on himself, but he did a great job in assembling this, the 2019 field. It is led by reigning Horse of the Year, McWicked. Last year, he became the oldest—age 7—to win that award as he won and won often and made over $1.5 million, but this year, he hasn’t been on his game. Granted he has only made five starts, but I think this is a big race for him. A win gets him back on track; a disappointing performance may cause his handlers to rethink and map out a different course of action going forward. He gets the 3 post, so there shouldn’t be any excuses.
The first quarter should be quite a spectacle. The race is full of leavers and many will want that lead over the first 440 yards. Could we see a 25 and change fraction? I doubt it on a half-mile, but it certainly will be under 27. The first half will be fast, so the question is simple—who can hold on over the final 880 to nab the $130,000 first place check?
The eight horse field has combined to make 95 starts this year. In addition, they have earned a total of $2,100,227. Western Fame accounts for 25 percent of that with $526,300 and will certainly be in contention tonight.
You can make a case for all eight, but as we know winning from the seven and eight post requires a herculean effort and both Ideal Jimmy (the 7) and Done Well (the 8) are the least accomplished pacers in the field. Ideal Jimmy is the warrior with 22 starts, but he has only banked $262,556. Done Well makes his ninth start with $118,539 in earnings.
Here is the field, the drivers and the odds.
1–The Wall/Jim Pantaleano/8-1
2-Western Fame/Daniel Dube/9-5
4-This Is The Plan/Yannick Gingras/Ron Burke/5-1
5-None Bettor A/Joe Bongiorno/5-2
6-Jimmy Freight/Scott Zeron/10-1
7-Ideal Jimmy/Brent Holland/15-1
8-Done Well/Matt Kakaley/25-1
None Bettor A is the mystery horse, having done his work outside North America and the 5 post will not hurt. I am never one to make picks, but I’m thinking This Is The Plan. I like Gingras in the big race and this is a big one. If I’m wrong; you don’t know me.
The 14 race card features New York Sire Stakes action for 2-year old colt/gelding pacers, open handicaps running for $20,000 and $25,000 and $594,500 in total purses.