The Potomac Pace Does It Again

A solid field of 8 entered in $100,000 pace

by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228

There are lots of stakes races in harness racing—lots of ‘em—and many of them offer more than $100,000 and still don’t attract as good a field as tomorrow’s Potomac Pace at Rosecroft Raceway.

For some reason, this November classic has turned into a good little show on a Sunday night in Ft. Washington, MD. Yes, it gets buried on a football Sunday, but if you’re footballed out by late Sunday evening, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to tune into the “PP,” on the 5/8 mile track.

The field is led by the reigning Horse of the Year, McWicked. He won’t win the award this year, but after a dawdling start, he has rebounded nicely. In 16 starts, he has six wins, three seconds, three thirds, a 1:47.2 seasonal best clocking and $1,017,466 in earnings. That’s not a bad season for any horse, let alone an 8-year old. Oh, he also gets Brian Sears in the bike, the Hall of Famer who has guided him many times in his illustrious career.

Next up is This Is The Plan who has run well this year despite the misfortune of trying to beat Lather Up in several races this year. In addition to over $770,000 in 2019 earnings, the Ron Burke trainee has a 3-6-0 record in 19 starts. Yannick Gingras is in the bike which is amazing considering that the overall card at Rosecroft does not offer big purses. Other than the Potomac, the only other race with a significant purse is the $25,000 Maryland Invitational, so getting Gingras to essentially come in for this one race is a good get indeed.

American History is the third choice here and will be driven by the young up-and-comer, Joe Bongiorno. AH comes in with 5-2-2 in 18 starts to go along with $437,000 plus in earnings. You can see the pattern develop here. This is a race that features horses that love going to the post. The eight have combined to make 164 starts this year and the results show 45 wins; a 27.4 percentage.

The other two live wires are Dorsoduro Hanover and Courtly Choice; recognizable names that may have lost a half-step, but if things break the right way, they could be there at the wire. And, remember cashing the check is always the goal in harness racing. A third here adds $12,000, a fourth, $8,000, while a fifth gets a check for $5,000 with another race perhaps just five to seven days away.

Dorsoduro Hanover has a resume that reads 4-1-2 in 16 starts while Courtly Choice comes in with 4-3-1 in 17. Matt Kakaley drives Hanover for Burke while Callahan drives Choice for Blake MacIntosh.

If you’re like me—someone who watches races without betting—and want to root for a true warrior than throw your support behind Slick Tony who will fire from the 8-post. The “Slick One,” is listed at 15-1, but don’t be sad; this is a horse that deserves to run in a race like this.

He has made 34 starts this year with 14 wins. Has he raced the best of the best this year? Not even close—his 14-4-5 record has “only” earned him $177,389 this year, but to me that means nothing. You always need that long shot and who knows–a third place showing would put $12,000 in the Slickster’s bank account.

Sometimes, it’s good for the racing secretary to look for a horse like this to fill out the field. It might be wiser to seek out a more accomplished performer, but Slick Tony has performed enough to be a horse of intrigue in this invitational pace.

On paper he is outclassed, but why not let him run in a very nice stakes race for start number 35 of the year. Horses like Slick Tony are what the sport is all about—grinders, battlers, warriors, workers. For trainer George Leager, he now gets to say that he trained a stakes performer and that’s something that will resonate with him forever.

So, if you’re looking to wager a buck or two on a longshot, there is nothing wrong with showing some love for Slick Tony.

The Potomac Pace is scheduled for a 9:55 p.m. ET post, so that gives you time to watch some football, perhaps the MLS Cup Final, eat a nice dinner, get the dishes done, relax a bit and then tune into a quality Sunday night stakes race at Rosecroft Raceway.


Take Five: Observations From The Breeders Crown

by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228

The Breeders Crown is harness racing’s “Night of Stars,” and all of the good ones were on display Saturday night at Woodbine Mohawk Park.  Recaps are often skimmed through or ignored, so rather than take you through each race, let’s go over some lasting impressions on a windy, rainy night in Campbellville, Ontario, Canada.

There were five stars that came out of those conditions.  First, was Manchego in the Mare Open Trot.  She was dominant against a quality, quality field.  As she turned for home, the word I bellowed out was “domination,” and that was more than accurate as she dismissed her rivals easily.

Next was Caviart Ally once again getting the best of Shartin N in the Open Mare Pace. Shartin had been the dominant horse all year, but it looks like she hit her peak in the summer with those big wins on Hambo Day at the Meadowlands and then another in the Clara Barton Pace at Plainridge Park.  You never know if this is the case of one race too many, but clearly, the Wonder from Down Under is tired in this the fall racing season.

On the other hand, Caviart Ally is running her best right now, so let’s not take anything away from her. She proved that her defeat of Shartin at The Red Mile in the Allerage was no fluke.  As the mares turned for home, there really was no doubt that Caviart Ally would win. Shartin had the lead, but the leg turnover told the story.  It was a matter of when, and Caviart Ally took the Crown and likely ended Shartin’s quest for overall Horse of the Year.

In the 3-year old Filly Pace, Warrawee Ubeaut dominated as advertised. She was 1/5 as the gates opened and she dismissed her rivals with little sweat.  If she continues to race and mature she will be something to see as a 4-year old.  As for the remainder of 2019, might we see her in the TVG Open Pace, taking on the older ones?

In the Hambletonian many thought heavy favorite Greenshoe “goofed around,” too much, eventually succumbing to Forbidden Trade in the $1 million race.  It sort of looked like he was up to those tricks again in the 3-year Colt and Gelding Trot and again, he allowed the race to get away from him as the talented New York-bred, Gimpanzee prevailed in 1:52.3.

Take nothing away from ‘Zee; he was the best horse deserving of the victory.  The one great thing about racing is you have to bring your game in a race with all that talent.  Gimpanzee sure did.

And, what else can we say, but “Vive la France.”  Those that follow harness racing know all about Bold Eagle, the 8-year old Flying Frenchman.  We may not have seen many of his races, but when a horse has 45 career wins and nearly $8 million in earnings, it’s pretty hard to not pay attention.  Eight days ago, he came to North American to run over here for the first time, and those that have followed his career in Europe say his belter days have passed.

I don’t know if “The Eagle,” read those clips, but he was simply marvelous in the Open Trot.  Driven masterfully by Hall of Famer Brian Sears, the Bold One got away perfectly in fourth and then at the half-mile, took over—for good.  When they came after him late, he had an answer and simply outclassed the field to score win number 46.

It makes you wonder how much fun it would have been to see Bold Eagle come over here at his peak, because he certainly looked like he plenty of race left in him.

It’s always great to see an athlete/horse live up to the hype.  Had Bold Eagle performed badly, the narrative would have been “at least we got to see him race over here,” before his career ended.

If Bold Eagle lost in a close one, the narrative would have been, “wow he ran well, I’m glad we got to see him compete here for what may be one of his final races.”

The narrative was even better and fans walked away thinking, “look at that, the horse lived up to his billing and did so in dominating fashion.”  As he neared the finish line, a wry smile appeared on my face with the thought, “good for him,” muttering out.

A good two days of racing at one of the best racetracks in the sport is in the books.  Next year, the Breeders Crown returns to Hoosier Park for the second time, which like WMP is a 7/8 mile layout.

It won’t disappoint.




Columbus Day Comes To Life at Plainridge Park

by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228

Let’s give credit when credit is due. There are many who think harness racing is stuck in the past, that the sport needs more marketing and that it needs to force its way into the stream of American conscientiousness. That is easier said than done, as the American sports fan has become more discerning than ever. Other than football, what other sports really draw massive audiences? Baseball is down, as his basketball. Baseball has their Division Series’ going on right now, and I’m sure the ratings will continue to trend lower.

Plainridge Park deserves kudos for a clever concept that will take place this Sunday; aka Columbus Day weekend.  Yes, we all know that Chris Columbus was a mean guy; a guy who treated people poorly and for that, some believe the holiday should no longer exist. That said, most Americans will go to work that day, so it’s not like Columbus Day will ever be confused with Thanksgiving Day in the United States.

In case you didn’t know, our Columbus Day is Thanksgiving Day in Canada, so while most of us work Monday, Canadians will be home eating Thanksgiving dinner.

All right, back to the concept.   When Columbus “came to America,” he used three ships—the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria—and in honor of that, Plainridge Park is introducing three stakes races this Sunday named after those three ships.

The Nina will be for trotters; non-winners of $25,000 this year who have made at least 10 starts at the Massachusetts harness track. Leg 1 goes this Sunday, with leg 2 on Oct. 20 with the final slated for Oct. 27. Legs 1 and 2 run for $10,000 with the final going for $20,000. The purses are modest, but it’s a nice way to do something fun and clever for the horseman who toil at the track.

The Pinta follows the same format; it’s for filly and mare pacers, while The Santa Maria is for colt and gelding pacers. The Sunday, Oct. 27 card will feature the three finals which is easy to hype that week, that morning and that afternoon.

What makes this fun is that the track is thinking of ways to gain attention. We know that there will be nothing in the Boston Globe or the New York Times and we know that ESPN, NESN and FS1 won’t be broadcasting but let’s think about how harness racing grabs attention.

Fans of harness racing know where to go to get their information. I assume that most start with and then move to other sites like drfharness, and perhaps someday,

When you visit these sites, you see the usual recaps, some fine previews and some excellent feature stories. But a headline like “New Columbus Day Series Announced for Plainridge,” it does make you take notice. That’s what the sport needs more of.

There will always be discussions on how to expand the harness racing fan base and that expansion may or may not happen. People wake up early go to fishing, but most do not.   Sometimes, the key is to take care of your own. Plainridge Park is doing that. They’re looking to grab some attention; instead of just running three non-winners of $25,000 races, they came up with a gimmick—a clever one—to see if harness racing fans would notice. This one did.

The purses aren’t blowing anybody away, but that’s not the point.  It’s a nicely designed series that will attract a solid field, eliminate some of them and have three finals on a Sunday afternoon. We know that football fans aren’t giving up a Sunday to watch and see who will win The Nina, The Pinta and The Santa Maria, but if you’re a harness racing fan, you might want to check and see when the post times are.












Warrawee Ubeaut Romps in Jugette

by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228

She definitely tried and the she I’m referring to is Treacherous Reign and her effort in the Jugette, the signature race for 3-year old fillies at the Delaware County Fair.  Warrawee Ubeaut came into the Jugette as the heavy favorite and after she won her elimination by 6.5 lengths, that didn’t change.

In the final, Dexter Dunn did what the others apparently didn’t try to do—win the race.  Dunn took his filly out through a blistering 26.2 first quarter on what seems to be an always blazing Delaware track.  Yannick Gingras tried to take the lead shortly after that quarter but was thwarted by Dunn and Treacherous Reign.  Those watching could see the head on Warrawee Ubeaut snap back as Gingras calmy tucked her back into the pocket.

Dunn was able to rate the second quarter in 29, but as they raced down the backstretch, once again, it was Gingras taking Warrawee Ubeaut to the outside and this time, he and his filly would not be denied.  She surged to the lead, hitting three-quarters in 1:23.3 and the only drama coming home was the colt’s wheel running over a fallen pylon.  The final time was impressive for the Ron Burke trained filly, as she tripped the wire in 1:50.1.

Burke thought about racing the filly against the colts in the Little Brown Jug, but fear of drawing the seven or eight post gave him enough pause to keep her with the girls. In pacing, it is very rare to mix the sexes.

You see it in trots, but pacing is different. Trotting is part speed, part form and part style; the latter two can keep the speed down enough for the fillies to keep up. In pacing, it’s more speed than form, more strength than style and the consensus is that filly and mare pacers can’t keep up. Shartin N may beg to differ, but, as good as she is, she hasn’t raced against the boys.

The two wins on the day put Warrawee Ubeaut over $1 million in earnings; $1,175,393 to be exact and for trainer Burke and driver, Gingras, it was Jugette number three for each.  Ideation Hanover passed a tiring Treacherous Reign to earn place honors with Reign holding on for third.

Jugette Day is not one for the weak. The card featured 20 races with an 11:15 am ET post. The Jugette runners were sent on their way at 6:21, meaning that the card was over seven hours in length.

Today is Little Brown Jug Day with 15 entered in the most well-known race for 3-year old pacers. There are two eliminations with the top four in each advancing to the $384,000 final. The three most accomplished are Southwind Ozzi, Shake That House and American Mercury.

Like the Jugette, Jug Day features 20 races and over $1.3 million in purses. Post time is set for 11:15 am ET with the Little Brown Jug scheduled for 4:57 pm ET. The safest bet is the over on the 4:57 pm, but the 40,000 plus in attendance likely won’t mind, especially with sunny skies and a high temperature of 82 degrees in the forecast.


Batavia’s Biggest Night Ever

The track is hosting the Sire Stakes finals for the first time and there is $1.8 million up for grabs.

by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228

Batavia Downs has hosted harness racing for—-a lot of years (the track opened in 1940).  It is the oldest lighted harness track in the USA, but they have never had a night like they will have this Saturday.

For the first time, the Genesee County track will host the finals of the New York State Sire Stakes.  That’s eight races for 2 and 3-year old fillies, colts and geldings with each race carrying a $225,000 purse.  In short, with $1.8 million in purses, it is the “biggest night ever in Batavia Downs history.”

Those that follow harness racing know what the sire stakes are.  Most states have them and the purpose is to encourage those who love the game to breed and race in a particular state, in this case, New York.

One could make the argument that Ohio might be best of the all when it comes to sire stakes action.  The Buckeye State has become a terrific place to breed and race horses.  There are four harness tracks—Northfield Park is the year-rounder while Scioto, Miami Valley and Dayton split the calendar in thirds.  With only two tracks running at a time, the fields are full and cards are long.

If Ohio is 1, New York is 1A; it all depends on who you ask.  New York divides its sire stakes into three classes—Sire Stakes, Excelsior A and Excelsior B.  Horses have to be nominated the year prior and have to be pay the corresponding nominating fees.  The races take place throughout the year at New York’s seven harness tracks.

Those that scored enough points are racing in the finals at Batavia with the consolations held this Sunday at Vernon Downs.  The Excelsior finals are slated for Saratoga Casino Hotel on Saturday, Sept. 21.

The headliner is Gimpanzee, who will race in the 3-year colt and gelding trot.  He was good enough to make the Hambletonian final where he finished third behind upset winner Forbidden Trade and the favorite, Greenshoe.

In the second leg of Trotting’s Triple Crown, the Yonkers Trot, he turned the tables, beating Forbidden Trade in the $500,000 final.  The horse loves half-mile tracks and should find Batavia Downs to his liking.

All eight races have full eight horse fields which we all love to see.  Harness racing is having a good year.  Through Sept. 10, total handle for 2,438 racing dates is $1.043 billion, up 4.54 percent from last year.  Batavia is one of the reasons why.

The track is on an uptick.  Purses are up, handle is up and so too, is attendance.  The Sire Stakes is always a good card as it showcases the best that New York breeding has to offer. One would hope that the word will get out and there will be a nice crowd at the venerable track come Saturday night.

In addition to the 64 horses, the sport’s best drivers will be heading west on the New York State Thruway to take part in these big money races.  The names include Hall of Famer Brian Sears, Jason Bartlett, Tyler Buter, Joe Bongiorno, Matt Kakaley, Scott Zeron and many more.

While the Sire Stakes is the highlight, it wouldn’t be right to neglect those who race the Batavia circuit on a regular basis, thus, there are three races with local flavor.

The lidlifter is a $15,000 open trot while the11th and 12th  races are $11,000 and $10,000 open paces.  It’s always important to have a couple of races for the regulars to give those who wager there some familiarity.

The other “wild card” race is the $50,000 Robert Kane Memorial Pace.  The seven horses have combined to make 129 starts this year, led by the venerable Southwind Amazon, who has a record of 12-6-3 in 27 starts to go along with $161,000 in earnings.  Yonkers regular Somewhere in LA will make start number 24 and Imarocnrollegend will start for the 22nd time.

Post time is set for 6 pm and it looks like the weather will be ideal for Batavia’s “Night of Champions.”

The full card is right here.




Grow or Die? The Flamboro Downs Dilemma

Stunted Growth?  Flamboro Downs Wrestles with Ethics and Marketing in Decision to Ban Minors from the Grandstand

by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228

You’re trying to grow the game.  You’ve heard the critics, the doubters and the naysayers.  They say that harness racing is for old people, that young people don’t pay attention and when the old-timers “permanently retire,” the sport will fade into oblivion.

One way to grow the game and secure its long term future is to find ways to expose young people to it.  Every sport wants to get younger.  Young people are the future and once they reach their 20s, many have what businesses desire—–discretionary income.

Every sport is trying to find ways to lure families and kids to it and harness racing is no different.  The thought is simple; get the youngsters to the track, get them engaged, hope they fall in love with the horses and just like that, you have a fan for life.

On the other hand, harness racing relies and sustains itself on gambling.  Every harness track would love to see 25,000 fans watching races on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, but if nobody is wagering, how does the sport sustain itself?

With that comes the danger.  Sure, harness racing wants young people to come to the track, just like cigarette companies want kids to try smoking, but how do you market that?  The sport needs kids to become fans, but do we want them exposed to gambling?

The issue gets further complicated by the slots that accompany harness racing tracks.  When you take your kids to a Yonkers, a Saratoga, a Buffalo or a Harrah’s Philadelphia, young people will see gambling, gambling and more gambling.  As they head to the track, they will hear the bells and whistles that are electronic gaming machines.  We all figure that if an 18, 19 or 21-year old chooses to gamble (or smoke for that matter) it’s an adult decision.

Flamboro Downs is located in Southern Ontario, near Hamilton, and like the tracks mentioned above has a casino.  Because of that, the track recently announced that nobody under age 19 can enter the grandstand to watch harness racing. They will be allowed to view races from the tarmac, but in order to be in the grandstand you have to old enough to legally gamble, which in Ontario is age 19.  Great Canadian Gaming, the parent company of Flamboro Downs issued the following statement.

“We have made a significant investment in our gaming and entertainment facilities, and we are eager to share them with our guests,” the track said in a statement. “These enhancements include the addition of new gaming and entertainment amenities and the addition of approximately 100 new jobs.

“In order to accommodate these new enhancements, Flamboro Downs will become a 19+ entertainment destination on Tuesday, September 3, 2019. All ages are still welcome to enjoy live racing on the tarmac and will have access to washroom facilities.”

Naturally, this went over like a lead balloon.  Most harness racing fans went to the comment boards to express their displeasure.  They cited that kids are our future, kids don’t gamble and so on and forth.  Others blame harness racing for selling out to casinos, saying that when you do that, you have to play by their rules.

Some theorized that Great Canadian Gaming had to do this to comply with provincial laws and statutes.  We all know that on-track attendance has suffered for years and many think that tracks should direct their monies to improving their internet product as most feeds still feature grainy, 1980s quality.  I watch enough harness races to know this; only Yonkers Raceway provides HD beauty on their internet stream.

One of Canada’s leading owner partnerships, The announced that they will boycott and not send any of their horses to race at Flamboro Downs.  Anthony McDonald is the President and Co-Founder of The and here is some of what he told

“I must say, I couldn’t have been more disappointed. How are we to reach the next generations if they aren’t welcome at the racetrack? This is straight out of the ’70s and does not meet any reasonable standards in racing in 2019……….Let’s hope Flamboro decides that the original statement was a bit premature and short-sighted, and they are indeed truly committed to racing………We will not support racing in this form and NONE of our horses will race at Flamboro Downs if this decision about age restrictions at their facility is not revisited and rectified.”

The lines have been drawn in the sand. The new regulation will begin on Tuesday, September 3 and it appears that the ball is now in the court of the racetrack and Great Canadian Gaming.

On the surface, the quick, knee-jerk reaction is to agree with McDonald and call the decision short-sighted.  How many kids would actually want to gamble on harness racing?

That said, gambling is the intricate part of the game.  My kids are under the age of 19, yet all of them know how to read the racing form.  I’ve taken them to several harness tracks and once there, I let them read the form, pick the winners and then me, the responsible parent, saunters to the window and makes the bets, usually with my young ones right next to me.

Is that harmless or harmful?  Like a good parent, I preach responsible betting.  I use the old dinner and movie line to justify a night of gambling—if you and your friend went to a nice restaurant, had a great meal and some drinks followed by a movie, it would cost you at least $100.  If you went to a racetrack, you would take the same $100 and spend it at the track.  Once the $100 is gone, you’re done.  Of course, if you get lucky, that $100 could end up $200, $300, $500 or even more, but no matter what happens, you can only lose that original $100 investment.

My guess is that if a family went to Flamboro, it would be to look at the horses, pick some cool names and throw a couple bucks down on a race or three.  I can’t see Mom and Dad going to the ATM and emptying their kids 529s on a trifecta in race four.  The family goes there to expose their kids to the sport; if they really wanted to get down and dirty with betting, the kiddos would be left at home.

My goal was not to make my kids degenerate gamblers, but to make them appreciate the sport, the beauty and to create options and opportunity.  Someday, I’ll be long gone, and they might have kids that are “bored and need something to do.”   Perhaps they’ll remember that dear old Dad took them to a few tracks and might do the same with their offspring.

We take our kids camping, to amusement parks, to lakes, oceans, museums, Niagara Falls and Disneyworld to expose them and create memories.  I’m not sure how much my kids loved the horse and harness racing experience, but I do know one thing—it’s an experience that they know and will be able to share with their kids—should they choose to.

I understand the Flamboro dilemma, but that doesn’t mean I understand it.  They are not forbidding kids under 19 entry, but they are restricting them.  It’s easy to say that they’re being short-sighted, but rules are rules and laws are laws.  I think most agree that it’s a no-win situation all the way around.

Let’s hope time brings clarity.

A Night to Remember

A special Saturday night in Harness Racing at Yonkers and Woodbine Mohawk Park

by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228

Saturday, August 31 should go down as one of the best nights the sport of harness racing has ever seen. There were four major stakes races—two at Yonkers Raceway and two north of the border at Woodbine Mohawk Park—that more than lived up to their respective purses of $500,000, $500,000, $600,000 and $525,000—and there were two smaller races that captivated as well.

At Yonkers, the $500,000 Yonkers Trot was the one-sided affair.  The race featured the Hambletonian winner, Forbidden Trade, who was seeking to add the second leg of the Trotting Triple Crown to his resume.  Despite his presence, the big favorite was the 1/5 New York-bred, Gimpanzee, who has really exceled on half-mile tracks.  And, that excellence continued.  He was pushed by 99 to 1 longshot Sheena’s Boy for about ¾ of the race until he, in the words of track announcer John Hernan, fled the scene to win in 1:53.3.

Hambo winner Forbidden Trade did not have the best of trips, but showed his class by rallying to grab the place sport.  Soul Strong broke at the start, but showed his colors by getting back on stride to finish third.

In 16 starts this year, Gimpanzee is an impressive 14-0-1 and now has $1.1 million in earnings. Trainer Marcus Melander was not afraid to tout his talents.

“Since day one when I brought him here, he lays down and turns over like a motorcycle,” Melander said.  “This is an amazing race to win and I don’t think there’s a better 3-year old on a half-mile track.”

The $500,000 Messenger Stakes followed that and delivered a pulsating performance.  Half-mile track racing is much different than racing on the bigger surfaces.  In order for racing on the smaller oval to excite, you need action in the form of pace pushers.  Too often, a horse gets to the lead with the trailers following in single file fashion, allowing that leader to dictate the tempo, the rules and the action.

That was not the case in the Messenger.  Bettor’s Wish was the 1/9 favorite and he got to the lead and set the fractions, but kudos have to go to 26-1 longshot US Captain.  He came first over and pressed the pace and the big favorite.  It would have been easy for driver Jason Bartlett to tuck in and finish an easy third, but driver and colt were looking for upset glory.  His pushing allowed American Mercury to get into contention and despite no passing lane at Old Hilltop, Tyler Buter was able to slither through on the pylons to nip Bettor’s Wish by a nose.  The game US Captain held on for third in a scintillating race, scintillating enough to get me out of my recliner in the final quarter mile.

“I knew if I found room he would go forward,” driver Buter said, “he’s gone forward on the wire all year.”

The win was the seventh in 10 starts this year for the Chris Oakes trained gelding, who has adjusted well to the anatomy change.

“He’s been more focused this year (since being gelded),” Oakes said, “Hopefully, we’ll be moving on to the Little Brown Jug.”

And, just when you thought things were over at Yonkers, late in the card was a $30,000 pace for non-winners of 30k in their last five and all Theartofconfusion did was set the all-time track record at Yonkers when he romped home in 1:49.3.

Racing is different at each track and despite Yonkers having the best purses and best “overnighters,” the track usually produces slower winning times than tracks that offer lower purses. To see a horse break 1:50 was something to be seen.

In Canada, all eyes were on Lather Up in the $525,000 Canadian Pacing Derby.  The colt has been tearing things up this year, winning race after race in record times, but once again, there’s a reason why they race and the Pacing Derby proved just that.

Lather Up did what he wanted to do; he got to the front and led through a half-mile in 54.1, but like the Messenger, a long shot decided to challenge.  At 89-1, Done Well did just that, forcing Lather Up to stay on the gas pedal.  That allowed 34-1 shot Courtly Choice to come out of nowhere to get the win in a thrilling finish. And, if we think Lather Up may have peaked for 2019, please note that Courtly Choice had to run a 25.3 last quarter to beat the talented colt.

The $600,000 Maple Leaf Trot featured 10 very talented horses.  The field featured last year’s Hambletonian winner, the filly Atlanta; the 2016 Trotting Triple Crown winner, Marion Marauder, Guardian Angel As and another superfilly, Manchego.

Manchego took it out hard, but by three-quarters, Guardian Angel As took over and it looked like he would cruise to victory.  But Atlanta had other ideas and closed with a flourish, but “The Angel,” at 9-5 was able to dig in and hold on.  The time of 1:50.4 was a stakes, track and Canadian record.

The $173,503 Simcoe Stakes was on the undercard at WMP, but it featured three of the best pacing colts, led by Meadowlands Pace winner, Best in Show, Cane Pace winner Captain Crunch and the under-the-radar, Century Farroh.  As expected those three battled and it looked like Captain Crunch had the win but once again, the rail was open and Century Farroh, the 7-1 choice used it to get by for the 1:49.3 win.

It was quite a night for harness racing.  Six great races, two tracks, two countries with upsets to boot.  That’s what you want to see in sport and that’s what we saw on Saturday night.