By John Furgele
The rivalry between Atlanta and Manchego is becoming more and more intriguing in the harness racing world, with last weekend’s showdown in the Arthur J. Cutler Memorial Trot at the Meadowlands a humdinger. In all likelihood, these two talented mares will meet a bunch more times.
There’s summer stakes races to plan for, the Breeders Crown and the TVG Free-for-All, and hopefully plenty more duels down the road for these two stars.
The $170,900 Arthur J. Cutler, run with limited spectators on the grounds on July 4, was won by Atlanta, the 2018 Hambletonian champion in a stakes record time of 1:50.1. Manchego, the 2018 Hambletonian Oaks champ, was the closest of noses behind.
The first quarter was run in an absurdly fast 25.4 second with Manchego fighting hard to get to the lead. That first quarter ultimately did her in as Atlanta sat off the pace and then used a 26.4 last quarter to win in the shadow of the wire. Driven by the master, Yannick Gingras, the 5-year old daughter of Chapter Seven is now 1-1-0 in three starts.
“We wanted to get the lead, but we didn’t want to pay that price,” said Gingras. “She settled in nicely and had just enough left to get there.”
Two weeks ago, Manchego beat Atlanta in the Miss Versatility and if these first two encounters of 2020 are any indication, there should be fireworks aplenty going forward.
Also, there were three divisions of the Graduate Series for pacers contested at the Big M on July 4, and last year’s top money winner, Bettor’s Wish ($1.6 million), showed great form rallying from fifth to take the third division in 1:48.2. The other division winners were Brassy Hanover and Bllack Hole. The $250,000 Graduate final for both pacers and trotters is set for Saturday (July 11) in East Rutherford.
The Meadows in western Pennsylvania played host to a race that could have Hambletonian implications when 10 trotters squared off in the $102,245 Currier and Ives 3-year old open trot. It’s Academic made quick work of the field, taking the lead early and cruising home to a six-length victory. Gingras — a busy man — was aboard and thinks the colt has room for improvement.
“He’s just a real gentleman — perfect to drive,” he said. “I left him alone down by the wire. He’s a little bit lazy, but he’s a nice horse.”
Is he nice and good enough to get to the Hambletonian eliminations and final on Aug. 1 and 8, respectively?
“To be a top colt, he’ll have to go faster, but for here (Meadows) and Ohio, he’s the perfect horse,’’ said Gingras.
We will have to see how the son of Uncle Peter progresses, but in his defense, he wasn’t pushed on the 5/8 mile track.
The $207,250 Empire Breeders Classic featured 11 filly trotters at the 7/8 mile layout at Vernon Downs and Hypnotic Am put the spell to the competition with an easy two-length win over Love A Good Story. The Chapter Seven daughter tripped the wire in 1:53.4.
There was some gamesmanship on the filly and mare side for open pacers. On June 30, Shartin N bested her nemesis Caviart Ally in the $33,000 Open pace at Yonkers and over the weekend, Caviart Ally entered the Preferred at the Meadowlands while Shartin N was directed to Harrah’s Philadelphia for a $20,000 condition race. While Caviart Ally finished third behind Soho Burning Love and Kissin In The Sand, Shartin N was scratched due to an undisclosed injury.
We should keep an eye on Soho Burning Love who just arrived from Australia where she faced some tough competition down under. In her Meadowlands debut, she beat two formidable mares and like the New Zealander, Shartin, might take a liking to racing on American soil. She was third in the stretch but when Tim Tetrick asked her to go she sailed past Kissin In The Sand with a 25.4 final quarter.
This week, Ocean Downs will open its 2020 season as will Plainridge Park in Massachusetts, which got the green light from Gov. Charlie Baker last week to open on July 6. Yonkers Raceway, which had been running three days per week increases to four, adding Fridays to go along with Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.
As a kid growing up in the Buffalo suburbs in the 1970s and 80s, the radio was one of John Furgele’s best friends. In the evenings, he used to listen to a show on WBEN radio called “Free Form Sports,” hosted by Buffalo broadcast legend Stan Barron. The show ran weeknights from 6 to 11 pm and featured every kind of sport you could imagine. One minute, Mr. Barron was interviewing a Buffalo Sabres player; the next, he was giving high school field hockey scores.
But there was always one thing that caught John’s ear. During those five hours, Barron would give the results from Western New York’s two harness racing tracks — Buffalo Raceway and Batavia Downs. This is where John learned what exactas, quinellas, trifectas and daily doubles were all about. From then on, he always paid attention to harness racing, and when Niatross (a legendary Western New York horse) hit the scene in 1979, his interest began to blossom.
John believes harness racing is a sport that has the potential to grow and he will explore ways to get that done via marketing, promotion and, above all, the races themselves.
When he’s not watching races, John is busy with his family and his job in sales. Like the pacers and trotters, he does a little running himself and you’ll occasionally find him “going to post” in a local 5K race.