By John Furgele
One race was full of drama, the other lacked it as the Meadowlands hosted the $250,000 Graduate Series finals for pacers and trotters.
First up were the pacers and the field of 10 was all business with Working On A Mystery setting the hot pace, blasting to the front and hitting the half in what track announcer Ken Warkentin described as a “dazzling“ 52.3 half.
The big favorite, Bettor’s Wish, began to move but the 10 post proved to be too tough to overcome. In the stretch, Hurrikane Emperor shook loose to take command and pull away by a solid two lengths to win in a scintillating 1:47 for driver Mark McDonald.
The Graduate Pace is always a fast one; last year Lather Up equaled the fastest mile ever by a standardbred when he tripped the wire in 1:46 and this year, the final quarter was paced in 26.2.
It was a great drive by McDonald who sat patiently through those fractions. He went to the outside with Bettor’s Wish following as they pushed past three-quarters. That’s when the son of Hurrikane Schmmura found another gear to pick up his 13th win in 22 career starts and $534,476 in earnings.
Not only is he a winner on the track, he seems to be full of character and personality off it.
“As a 2 and 3-year old, he was really nondescript and didn’t have much personality,” said trainer John McDermott. “In the last year, he’s grown into such a clown, a lot like his Dad. On the track, he’s a nice and manageable.”
The Graduate Trot was a one-horse show, a dominant performance by last year’s Breeders Crown champion, Gimpanzee. He went to the lead right before the quarter pole. In the stretch, King’s Country applied some mild pressure, but was rebuffed quickly by the New York bred who finished in 1:50.4 and is now 3-for-3 in 2020 and already has 20 career wins in 26 starts. Warkentin proclaimed him the “current king of the trotters,’’ a statement that very few will argue with.
The win added $125,000 to his bank account, pushing his career earnings to $1.89 million.
“He is doing what he is supposed to do,” said trainer Marcus Melander, who also finished second in the race with Reign of Honor. “He’s (Gimpanzee) going back to the track next week to race in the Hambletonian Maturity, so it was nice to see him get a nice race on the lead. He’s getting more into form, I can feel him getting sharper and sharper. It will be very exciting to continue racing with him.”
This Saturday is the $631,650 Meadowlands Pace and last Saturday, 10 pacers raced to fill eight slots. Two pacers — Chief Mate and Allywag Hanover — received byes into the final based on earnings. That left Tall Dark Stranger as the big money favorite in the Elimination.
Major Betts blasted out at the start but by the quarter, Tall Dark Stranger, trained by Nancy Takter, took command and by three-quarters had a solid lead. Captain Kirk made a nice rally to challenge, but when it was time to go, Tall Dark Stranger pushed the accelerator button and coasted home in 1:48.1 with Captain Kirk a game second and Papi Rob Hanover third.
He’ll be the morning-line favorite for the 44th edition of the Meadowlands Pace next week and will be the one to beat.
“He performs every time,” said Takter. “He’s been a great colt since day one. He’s a winner — the only time he didn’t win was when he had bad blood work and he still finished second with it.”
The post-position draw was held Saturday and Tall Dark Stranger drew the five.
“Post five is a great place,” said Takter. “Yannick (Gingras) has lots of options. We’ll leave it up to him to figure out what to do.”
In addition to the Pace, there are seven other stakes races on the card. The races begin at 6:35 p.m. ET with the Pace scheduled for 10:05 p.m.
|1||Roll with Jr||Jeff Cullipher||Corey Callahan|
|2||Catch The Fire||John Ackley||Mike Wilder|
|3||Captain Barbossa||Tony Alagna||Brian Sears|
|4||Allywag Hanover||Brett Pelling||Tim Tetrick|
|5||Tall Dark Stranger||Nancy Takter||Yannick Gingras|
|6||Monticore||Bruce Saunders||Jordan Stratton|
|7||Chief Mate||Tony Alagna||Andy McCarthy|
|8||Major Betts||Mark Harder||Dexter Dunn|
|9||Papi Rob Hanover||Brett Pelling||Dave Miller|
|10||Captain Kirk||Tony Alagna||Joe Bongiorno|
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.