Things Are Warming Up

by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228

One of the joys–or pains–of harness racing is eliminations. For some, they are outright enjoyable. Bettors get a glimpse of who looks good or not so good for the upcoming final. For others, it causes confusion. If a horse looks good in his or her elimination that doesn’t always translate to success in the final. And there are also times where elimination races are run for no reason at all.

Freehold Raceway’s Dexter Cup, which like the Kentucky Derby, occupies the first Saturday in May had just eight entrants. Rather than have an elimination for post position only purposes, all eight will advance to the $150,000 final at the venerable track in The Garden State.

Five of the eight have paid their dues and are eligible for the Hambletonian this August at The Meadowlands. They include Brave By Design, Grizzly Bare, Pour Mea Double, Justice and Pretender. Whether they get there is a big if, but a victory in the Dexter Cup can only enhance.

The other three include Bar Coins, Paymaq and T Rex Blue Chip. Justice is trained by Ake Svanstedt, a man who loves driving in the Hambletonian, so we know if Justice can find a way to The Big M in late July and early August, Svanstedt will be there. The draw for Freehold’s signature race will be May 4.

Under the radar this week was a nice $100,000 stakes race at Massachusetts’ Plainridge Park on Thursday (April 28). A field of nine competed in the Grand Circuit race, the inaugural Paul Revere Stakes. In the race, Groovy Man took the lead before the quarter and was able to hold off a game and charging Layton Hanover to win in 1:52.1. Longshot Rocknroll Gold was third which helped with the trifecta payout. The $2 exacta paid $20.40 and the $2 trifecta a robust $424.00

Stakes races are important and all one has to do is look at yesterday’s handle at Plainridge Park. The Paul Revere race saw a handle of $43,101. The next biggest handle was race eight at $22k. The remaining nine saw handles ranging from $10k to $14k. Once again, a few more big dollar races and yes, better marketing, might indeed see higher wagering totals.

Last Monday, Yonkers had two showcase races; the Borgata Pacing Final and the Bluechip Matchmaker for pacing fillies and for those who lament that racing at Yonkers is too boring and too predictable, here’s hoping they caught the Borgata.

When you’re racing for a purse of $549,000, I suppose the tactics might be a bit different than one for $14,000, but this race was a dandy. Defending champ This Is The Plan tried his best to defend, but blistering fractions of 26.3 and 53.4 did him in and he ended up last of the eight starters. Jack’s Legend, who tried to keep up with The Plan also got cooked and finished seventh.

Those efforts set things up for those off the pace and Leonidas, who won all five of his preliminary legs, looked like he would take advantage of the hot pace. He gained the lead by three-quarters which went in 1:21.4, but 16 to 1 longshot Funatthebeach was ready, waiting, and raring and he took command in deep stretch to win in a sizzling 1:50.1 at Old Hilltop. He rewarded supporters with $33.20 on a $2 wager and put $274,500 in his bank account.

Funatthebeach is an 8-year old gelding by—you guessed it—Somebeachsomewhere out of Minnie Moose. We all know how great Somebeachsomewhere was as a racehorse; could he actually be better as a sire?

This group will be battling in future Yonkers Opens and any other pacing stakes races for older pacers this summer, so one thing is for sure—they’ll be beating each other up through the remainder of the year.

The Bluechip was a two-horse affair with Drama Act getting by Racine Bell in the stretch to prevail in 1:51.2. The 5-year old daughter of Well Said was driven by George Brennan and paid $8.10 to win the $381,000 stake.

The big race this Saturday is the Bobby Weiss Final for 3-year old pacers at Pocono Downs. Eight are entered with Lanjo Lee the tepid 5-2 favorite. All Or Nothing is 3-1, Letmecallyouback is 9-2 and Shake It, 4-1. Post time is scheduled for 4:12 pm ET for the $50,000 event.

Saturday’s Open Handicap Pace at The Meadowlands goes for $31,000 and features the horse that crossed the line first at last year’s Meadowlands Pace, Charlie May. Charlie was disqualified for interference, but he is back and making his first start of 2022. He’ll face five others who have combined to make 44 starts thus far this season, so it will be interesting to see how conditioned the Steve Carter trainee is. Post time for this race is scheduled for 10:05 pm ET.

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