Last year, the Messenger Stakes and the Yonkers Trot were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The races are back this year at Yonkers Raceway but moved from their usual Labor Day weekend spots to Friday (July 2) as the first legs of the Triple Crown for 3-year-old pacers and trotters.
Last week, eliminations were held for both gaits. Thirteen trotters were entered in the Yonkers Trot with a top four finish needed to secure a spot in the $500,000 final.
In the first elim, driver Andrew McCarthy and Ahundreddollarbill made short work of the field to win in 1:54.2. The son of Chapter Seven took the lead right after the quarter-mile mark to win going away. Securing spots in the final were Mon Amour, Ethan T Hanover and On A Streak.
The second elim produced some drama with stablemates Ambassador Hanover and Johan Palerma going hoof to hoof over the half-mile Yonkers oval. Both are trained by Ake Svanstedt, a regular in trotting and the Triple Crown races. Svanstedt chose to drive Ambassador Hanover, leaving Yannick Gingras to guide Johan Palerma.
The two separated themselves from the rest of the pack with Johan Palerma nipping Ambassador Hanover at the wire in 1:54 flat. These two will likely be the betting favorites.
The third and fourth place finishers were In Range and Arnold N Dicky.
The Trotting Triple Crown consists of the Yonkers Trot, the Hambletonian (Aug. 7) at The Meadowlands and the Kentucky Futurity at The Red Mile (Oct. 10). The last to win all three was Marion Marauder in 2016.
Fifteen horses were vying to make the Messenger Stakes final, the first leg of the Pacing Triple Crown. The two elim winners established themselves as the clear favorites for Friday’s final.
The only New York bred in the field, American Courage, went to the front in the first elim and won comfortably in an eye-popping 1:50.4. Breaking 1:50 is very hard to do at Old Hilltop, but if American Courage is pressed — he wasn’t in this race — we might just see a sub 1:50 this Friday.
The second final saw an odd beginning with 1-9 favorite Abuckabett Hanover. He did not break alertly and veered out to the five path in the early going. He righted himself shortly after the quarter pole but sat fourth at the half-mile. At the 7/8 pole he finally got into gear to pull away from I’ll Drink To That in 1:51.3.
The Pacing Triple Crown consists of the Messenger, the Cane Pace (Aug. 7 at The Meadowlands) and the Little Brown Jug (Sept. 23 at the Delaware, Ohio County Fair).
The fields for both races, with trainers.
Ahundreddollarbill // Tony Alagna
Mon Amour // Ake Svanstedt
Ethan T Hanover // Per Engblom
On A Streak // Luc Blais
Johan Palerma // Ake Svanstedt
Ambassador Hanover // Ake Svanstedt
In Range // Marcus Melander
Arnold N Dicky // Chuck Sylvester
American Courage // Travis Alexander
Charlie May // Steve Carter
Chase H Hanover // Scott Cox
Simon Says Hanover // Tony Alagna
Abuckabett Hanover // Tony Alagna
I’ll Drink To That // Chris Ryder
Highbeachsbest // Linda Toscano
Mysweetboymax // Sam De Pinto
In addition, there are two $150,000 races for 3-year-old fillies. The New York New York Mile will feature the trotters and Mazzarati is the morning-line favorite. The daughter of Cantab Hall wired the field in the lone elimination race for driver Tim Tetrick and trainer Lucas Wallin in 1:55.2.
The Park MGM Pace had two eliminations and they were won by Heart Of Mine and Test Of Faith. Heart Of Mine wired the field in 1:54.2 while Test Of Faith rallied from fourth to win in an impressive 1:52.4
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.