Dexter Cup Eliminations Signal Start of Primary Harness Stakes Season

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Ah yes, it’s that time of year. Now, I’m aware that I said the very same thing regarding the George Morton Levy and Blue Chip Matchmaker Series (God, I miss them), but it’s now another time of year.

Kentucky Derby season!

That’s right, even I’ve got the fever for Kentucky Derby 143 — so much so, that my body temperature recently rang in around 143.0 degrees Fahrenheit. Needless to say, I am writing this from beyond the grave. And don’t dare ask me how the weather is down there.

But we are now faced with the Kentucky Derby of harness racing: the Dexter Cup! The time-honored sophomore trotting event at Freehold Raceway will have two eliminations contested on Saturday, April 29 in order to determine the lineup for the eight finalists on Kentucky Derby Day.

Preceding the eliminations on the Saturday program, however, is a three-year-old filly trotting event acting as a prep for the Lady Suffolk, scheduled for Friday, May 5. Headlining these debutantes is Princess Aurora, the Jimmy Takter-trained filly who outclasses this field like Muhammad Ali in a bar fight. Nonetheless, I believe Princess Aurora is beatable here since this is her first start of the season.

Starting from the outermost post, Royal Pinot is capable of upsetting this bunch. Although disadvantaged by her draw, her lone qualifier of the year leading into this race is a great deal better than any pari-mutual race she has ever entered. If anything, expect her to be sweeping into the mix to hit the exotics.

To the inside, Jacqueline Ingrassia has Patty La Paige, who could have the race set up for her. Likely to be stalking at the rail, she will have to hope for the passing lane if she is able to win this race. Minus that, she is still an exotics contender at a decent price.

Sir John F highlights the first elimination for the Dexter Cup off a 1:59 victory at Freehold in a three-year-old open event the week prior. Again, we will go elsewhere.

Trond Smedshammer sends Texican for his first start of the season. Since adding hopples, he appears to have some amount of ability, as he trotted a qualifier in 1:55.4 while gaining ground. He may put in an effort that is leaps and bounds better than anything he did at two, unless he, of course, leaps and bounds.

Finally, the latter Dexter elimination attracts Ei Ei O, a half-brother to pacer-trotter, freak-of-nature, abomination-of-all-God-intended Googoo Gaagaa. The trotting pacer is undefeated heading into this race, winning his lone two races easily at Rosecroft Raceway.

Outside of him, you guessed it… There. Is. Value!

Making the second start of his career, Muscle High is likely to put in an improved effort relative to his career debut, where he broke as the 1-9 favorite in a conditioned race at Northfield Park. With the addition of hopples, he qualified decently over a good track at The Meadows before shipping here and will hopefully get the race to set up for him.

And those are my contenders for the Kentucky Derby (of harness racing)!

Preview Review 

My handicapping expertise was put to the test for the first time in my US Racing career as I attempted to mine value out of the Blue Chip Matchmaker and George Morton Levy consolations and finals at Yonkers Raceway on Saturday, Apr. 22.

Sell A Bit N ($4.50; $2.40) raced aggressively and was pressured on the lead before succumbing to a late challenge by Hidden Land in the $75,000 Blue Chip Matchmaker consolation, finishing second.

Getting the trip I envisioned, Medusa ($10.20; $8.60) came flying home in the $310,600 Blue Chip Matchmaker final, but was unfortunately outkicked by Mackenzie A to finish second.

With this trend, can you guess where my selection finished in the $100,000 George Morton Levy consolation? That’s right, Great Vintage (6-1) was fifth! However, I noted Clear Vision’s ($8.40; $4.20; $3.60) credentials and he won off a first-over grind as the second choice.

I have no idea if Guantanamo Bay has finished the race yet, but I’m hoping he will soon.

Remember how Missile J was supposed to win the $529,000 George Morton Levy final? Turns out that passing lane is more destructive than I remember. Keystone Velocity sat the pocket before sliding up the inside to win the Levy final. My outside contender, Blood Brother (sixth, 23-1) did a no-no and tried to be a factor in the race by pulling first-over on the final lap instead of riding the rail to glory.

Ray Cotolo
Ray Cotolo is a seasoned handicapper and harness writer. At 17-years-old, he has worked in the harness racing industry for approaching a decade. Known for his creativity, humor, and eccentric personality, he works to promote harness racing while also entertaining. He is also known as the son of harness-racing guru Frank Cotolo and focuses primarily on the pari-mutuel side of the sport, invested in seeking value.

Ray hosts the weekly radio show “North American Harness Update,” which combines his talents to both entertain and aid the public in discovering overlay contenders from the highest-stake harness races to the cheapest overnights at Truro Raceway. He strives to put on the greatest show possible for all audiences along with his co-host, Mike Pribozie. It airs from 9-11pmEDT on SRN One.

Outside of racing, Ray is a playwright, writer, and, debatably, a comedian. He has performed and written sketch comedy while attending high school, as well as plays and varying side projects. He continually updates his Twitter account, @RayCotolo, with thoughts either pertaining to or not pertaining to harness racing.

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