We meet again this Friday, January 11, to celebrate the opening of the 2013 racing season at Yonkers Raceway. On hand to participate in the festivities are some of the Hilltop’s returning stars, along with a spattering of trotters and pacers venturing back across the river from New Jersey’s Meadowlands where most apparently found the mile track experience not to their liking. Most, but not all – more on that later!
Also on the opening night schedule are many of harness racing’s top pilots, including Brian Sears and George Brennan both of whom seem to have taken advantage of the year-end lull to enjoy some extended time away from the track. Others are returning from stints at the Big M where Yonkers regulars Larry Stalbaum, Cat Manzi, Jeff Gregory, Mark MacDonald, and Jason Bartlett caught a few drives to knock off any rust they may have acquired over the Hilltop’s Christmas and New Year hiatus. One regular we will not see is Daniel Dube. He’s on the “vet list” due to a medical issue but he should be back in the bike soon.
Scattered throughout the opening night card are four veteran racers who are approaching millionaire status. Speed Bomb, Ron Burke’s 10 year old Master Lavec horse, takes his $912,633 lifetime bankroll into Race 5, a Non-winners of $18,000 Trot, and gets the driving services of Matt Kakaley. Following in Race 8, the Open Handicap Trot, is Looking Hanover. The 8 year old Muscles Yankee gelding, owned in partnership by Yannick Gingras and Dawn Marie Gannon, boasts lifetime earnings of $953,791 and has Brian Sears subbing for Yannick. The only pacer in this group of achievers is the Pat Lachance trained and driven Hula’s Z Tam, a 6 year old mare by Bettor’s Delight with $904,500 earned to date. She’s set to go in Race 9, a F&M Non-winners of $18,000 affair. Rounding out the group is Mark Ford’s and William Varney’s 9 year old gelding Pembroke Prayer. The Kentucky bred son of Like A Prayer tops Friday’s highest earnings list at $974,207. He’ll be driven by Mark MacDonald in Race 11, a Non-winners of $26,100 Trot. Since none of these millionaire hopefuls found their way across the river during the Winter break, all should be well rested and, their connections hope, ready to race. Although none will reach the $1 million milestone on opening night, all will surely provide some added interest over the next weeks as we watch their progress.
Another Yonkers Raceway stalwart will make us wait another day for his return, but this time we won’t have to wonder when he’ll get his $1 million win. That’s because River Shark, the ultimate competitor, took care of that bit of business in the Big M’s 11th race on January 5. After four straight $100,000 plus seasons, the 7 year old gelded son of Four Starzzz Shark and Riverview Diamond looks to continue his winning ways in Saturday’s Race 6 Open Handicap Pace. Trained by Mark Ford for the ownership group of Ford, VIP Internet Stable, Mo Coo Inc., and Robert DiNozzi, the former $9,000 Lexington Select Sale purchase will be driven by Mark MacDonald in a competitive race that includes Casie Coleman’s Electrofire with Brian Sears in the bike and Amber Buter’s Proven Lover with Jason Bartlett driving. While Mark Ford believes his star is actually better on the mile tracks, we Yonkers fans can appreciate seeing River Shark on the half-mile oval thanks to his limited opportunities at other venues and his connections’ refusal to enter him in claimers. For some additional insight into the career of this gifted pacer, please check out Kimberly French’s homage on the US Trotting website “River Shark is harness racing’s newest millionaire” by following this link: http://xwebapp.ustrotting.com/absolutenm/templates/article.aspx?articleid=51857&zoneid=41
This Saturday’s race card also features the classy Western Shore, winner of $1,233,735 lifetime. Like River Shark, the 10 year old Western Hanover horse is returning from his recent starts at The Meadowlands. He’ll be in Race 5, a NW of $18,000 Pace, with Jason Bartlett driving for John and Tom Cancelliere. Among the challengers will be Scott Blackler’s Line Officer with Mark MacDonald driving, Conor Flynn’s Jerry’s Brown Gold (Eric Goodell), PJ Fraley’s Real Flight (George Brennan), and Brooke Vermett’s Cinderella Guy (Matt Kakaley). The greatest challenge in this race will likely be presented by Western Shore’s unfortunate post 8 draw. Still, we fans will get to enjoy seeing one of harness racing’s most durable campaigners in his 2013 Yonkers debut.
I’m sure many of us have been eagerly awaiting the return of Yonkers racing – and now it’s finally here! I hope we’ll have many great experiences over the coming weeks and months and I look forward to sharing them all on The Winners Wire. Good luck and good racing!