Here we are rushing through Fall headlong on the road to Winter, but before we can proceed we have one last stakes day at Yonkers Raceway. This year’s 57th edition of the $415,820 Messenger Stakes is scheduled as Race 8 on this Saturday’s Hilltop Oval card. The final leg of the Pacing Triple Crown honors the great Messenger, the foundation sire of the Standardbred breed and the great grandfather of that most famous trotter Hambletonian. While last year’s contest drew a small contingent of six pacers, this year the race has attracted a full field of eight with seven colts and one gelding joining the fray.
Gaining the 3-1 morning line favorite status is the Virgil Morgan, Jr., trained Pet Rock. Owned by Frank Bellino, the son of Rocknroll Hanover returns to the site of his stakes record win in the Art Rooney Pace last June. Driven to that victory by Brian Sears, Pet Rock now has the services of George Brennan, Yonkers’ leading driver. Perhaps that will offset his poor post position draw as he leaves from the 7 hole.
Sears will be at the reins of Tony Alagna’s Major Bombay, winner of the New York Sire Stakes championship atYonkers back in September. Owned by Aaron Waxman, Andy Willinger, John Fodera, and the Major Bombay Partners, the colt competed in one heat of the Little Brown Jug and was held out of the Breeders Crown so that he could participate in the Messenger. Alagna’s “very nice horse” leaves from post 6 at ML odds of 6-1.
Getting lucky at the post position draw, Ron Burke’s Hillbilly Hanover (the lone gelding in the field) came away with the rail and retains the services of Jim Morrill, Jr., who drove him to a second place finish behind stablemate Sweet Lou in the Tattersalls Pace and was also at the reins for his sixth place finish in the Breeders Crown final at Woodbine. Though he’s winless for the year, Hillbilly Hanover certainly has the breeding to overcome that record and may just be ready to step up from his inside position. Made the 4-1 second favorite on the morning line, this son of Dragon Again (also the sire of the very successful Foiled Again), is a half brother to the late Holborn Hanover, winner of over $2 million before his unfortunate demise. Ron Burke and the ownership team of Weaver Bruscemi LLC, Frank Baldachino, and Larry Karr certainly have a way with winners and this could be their next star.
Not to be overlooked at ML odds of 5-1, the Jim Mulinax trained A Rocknroll Dance hasn’t missed many dances this year while compiling over $1 million in 2012 earnings. The winner of the Meadowlands Pace is 4-5-2 from 19 starts and leaves from post 3 with David Miller subbing for Yannick Gingras. It will be a very happy photo if Ohio’s favorite horse gets his small-time connections into the winner’s circle this Saturday.
Sharing the 5-1 ML odds is Peter Foley’s Bolt The Duer with Mark MacDonald at the reins. The Allstar Racing colt drew post 5 and brings a record of 7 wins from 16 starts. Among those wins was the Adios Pace at The Meadows in 1:47.4, a world-record time. Bolt The Duer finished second to Pet Rock in the Art Rooney Pace and second to eventual Little Brown Jug winner Michaels Power in the first heat of that contest.
Completing the field are Erv Miller’s Domethatagain (Brent Holland, Post 2, 10-1 ML), Mark Harder’s Lawgiver Hanover (Eric Goodell, Post 4, 12-1 ML), and Joe Pavia, Jr.’s Steelhead Hanover (Jason Bartlett, Post 8, 15-1 ML).
All in all, this looks to be a very competitive Messenger final. And if that’s not enough to recommend Saturday’s Yonkers card, the companion event, the $229,440 Lady Maude Pace, will feature seven top three-year-old fillies leaving the gate in Race 6. In post position order: Bettor B Lucky (Jim Morrill, Jr., Ron Burke, 6-1), Handsoffmycookie (David Miller, Scott DiDomenico, 5-1), Ramalama (Jason Bartlett, Mark Silva, 15-1), Economy Terror (Eric Goodell, Chris Oakes, 3-1), Major Look (George Brennan, Robert Riddle, 6-1), Romantic Moment (Brian Sears, Jimmy Takter, 8-5), and Rockaround Sue (Mark MacDonald, Tony Alagna, 12-1). The main question here is whether any of the girls can overcome Takter’s heavily favored filly. The man just has a way with winning lasses!
I hope you all make it to Saturday’s races at Yonkers, either in person or via the track’s live video stream. After the Messenger Stakes, we’ll have plenty of time to trudge on down that road to Winter!