Standardbred Stakes Season Set to Start Friday!


Stakes time is here at last! We have been stuck handicapping and wagering on overnight events for the last few weeks from venues all across the continent. But, now, times have changed. We are now stuck handicapping and wagering on the top harness horses in the country, as stakes season kicks off with the Bluechip Matchmaker and George Morton Levy Series at Yonkers Raceway.

Who cares about conditioned races anymore? Pfft, I sure don’t.

Round one of the Bluechip Matchmaker goes on Friday, March 17. Many mares, but very few fillies, will compete in this filly and mare event, all with the hope to win a night out with one of the many eligible bachelors at Blue Chip Farms. First, they will have to survive five preliminaries, a final… and a tightrope walk over a pool of alligators before they can be crowned champion.

MATCHMAKER | Div. One – Race 4 

This is the first division. Top-level pacing mare Devil Child makes her seasonal debut here for trainer John Butenschoen. If not sent off the public choice, she is definitely worth considering as value on the ticket.

However, Change The Rulz N should offer a price. Climbing up the class ladder, she has snuck her way into contention against the preferred and open ranks at Yonkers, but has also benefitted from inside draws. Now, racing from post seven, she will be forced to use her closing ability in order to snag a check. Hence, using her as an exotic booster would be the safest move.

MATCHMAKER | Div. Two – Race 5 

Yonkers’ open competitor extraordinaire Mach It A Par starts from post two as the 6-5 morning line choice off a second-place effort in 1:54.3 from post seven in open company. As she moves closer to the rail on the starting gate, her odds quickly dip down.

The value in this affair is dependent on Mach It A Par’s performance. She stands out on paper so much that whatever move she makes may have the greatest influence on the outcome. Yet, her short odds will only increase the prices of those against her, such as Mackenzie A.

Mackenzie A, an Australian shipper, makes her third start stateside for Kiwi Man Peter Tritton. She was sent off the favorite in her debut, where she was against Mach It A Par in the open, finishing second by a head off a closing trip. She traveled a similar mile in her next start, but was caught behind lagging cover forcing her to lug the rest of the way to the finish. If she can replicate the form she displayed in her first start in the US, she may pose the greatest threat to the favorite.

MATCHMAKER | Div. Three – Race 6 

Capping the opening splits of the Matchmakers is a hodgepodge of a race, consisting of mostly podge but definitely its fair share of hodge. In here are Sell A Bit N and Regil Elektra, both of whom raced well in this series last year, and Nike Franco N, shipping up from Dover, where she continually pounded the mares in open company as well as the boys when she won an open handicap on Dec. 1. All of them are great in their own right, but they just aren’t the horses for us.

If there ever was a horse for us, first off, they would win and pay $168 on a $2 ticket. But since those don’t come around too often, we’ll consider Medusa in this division. Prominent on the preferred circuit at The Meadows, she has a blend of on-the-lead and off-the-pace ability which will benefit her in this series. Really, she may be better off trying to find cover to ride for the mile, especially if she can draft behind Nike Franco N. Ultimately, expect her to be coming from off the pace.

‘Levy’ the Handicapping to Me! 

Horses, geldings, and male pacers of other circumstances will compete in five preliminaries of the George Morton Levy Series before advancing to a final or a consolation or even a consolation to the consolation. Unlike the Blue Chip Matchmaker, these are males competing at the half-mile oval and they are not in pursuit of a night with one of the many studs at Blue Chip Farms. Round one goes on Saturday, March 18 starting with:

HarnessRacing030817bLEVY | Div. One – Race 5 

The first division. Entered here are Blood Brother and Caviart Luca, who have raced well in the open ranks here at Yonkers. But there are two others in this event that could provide better value than the sneeze-inducing chalkfest presented.

Keystone Velocity should be the longer of the two. Moving to the rail after a poor seasonal debut from post seven, the conjecture here is that he will improve greatly from that mile, seeing that this is his second go-around the track and all. He ended his season last year with a start against other top pacers in the Potomac Pace at Rosecroft Raceway and was second in three straight outings against open stock at Yonkers. With the right trip — and only the right trip — he appears to be a factor, but I’d demand a price, say 8-1 or greater.

Guantanamo Bay should also be great value. He enters off a win in the open ranks, where he beat the potential favorite Blood Brother by a nose coming from off the pace. Most likely, he will be attempting to race from off the pace, which could explain the public’s lack of support (bettors tend to like faster-starting horses on the smaller tracks), but with a potentially vulnerable pacesetter like Caviart Luca and the possibility of a live flow generating, Guantanamo Bay may not get closed down.

LEVY | Div. Two – Race 6 

This split is all about Mcwicked and All Bets Off. Both were well known as tough three-year-olds and, for some reason, they’ve continued racing. Now, they will likely share favoritism along with Santa Fe Beachboy, who appears to be trying desperately to be a part of their clique. That’s all fine, dandy, adequate — whatever. There’s a possible price in here, though.

And that possible price is Long Live Rock. Moving onto the Yonkers grounds from the great wilderness of conditioned racing, he returns with an inside draw after going miles from posts four, six and eight, all of which he did not appreciate. Four starts ago he raced well against open foes from post two, going first-over to finish second by a neck to another Yonkers open stalwart, Somewhere In L A. Now, drawing better and having a mile over the track under his belt, he should display great improvement.

LEVY | Div. Three – Race 7 

Rockin Ron, Mach It So, probable favorites… yadda, yadda, yadda. Outside contender: Bettor’s Edge. Drawing the rail after a sharp effort from post 10 at the Meadowlands, he started off the season roughly with breaks and illness, but seems to be regaining his form. I’d look for around 5-1 or 6-1 odds.

LEVY | Div. Four – Race 8 

Wow, we’re already at the last race of our first week of the stakes season. I have a lot of people to thank for helping me get to this point, but that’s for a later blog.

This blog, but really, this race, is focused on 2016 Levy winner Bit Of A Legend N and Somewhere In L A, who has recently been a menacing force in open company at Yonkers. Hopefully being neglected because of those two here will be Soto, who won a round against open competition two starts ago and enters off a swift effort from off the pace and post eight. With his inside draw, he should be able to forwardly place himself well enough where his tendency to race from the back won’t put him at a disadvantage.

Bounce Backs

The “Bounce Back” list features contenders we touted in the past who did not win in their first outing, but are worth considering a second time.

Party Jammer – Friday, Mar. 17 | Saratoga Harness, Race 9
Ado Duharas – Saturday, Mar. 18 | Woodbine, Race 6
Dialamara – Saturday, Mar. 18 | Woodbine, Race 4
Grandpa Don – Saturday, Mar. 18 | The Meadows, Race 10
Jackson Wyatt – Saturday, Mar. 18 | Miami Valley Raceway, R10
King Harvest – Saturday, Mar. 18 | Miami Valley Raceway, R12
Single White Sock – Saturday, Mar. 18 | Woodbine, Race 10
Champagne Phil – Sunday, Mar. 19 | Flamboro Downs, Race 8

Preview Review

At Western Fair, we began our weekend with a winner, when Daniellas Shadow ($16.60, $5.30, $4.30) rode a pocket trip and flew to victory.

Our two contenders to cap the pick-4 at the Meadowlands, Cantad Kid (seventh at 29-1 odds) and Downundermatter (fifth, 23-1) were recipients of misfortune, with Cantad Kid breaking and taking Downundermatter out of the mix early in the mile.

Jackson Wyatt (sixth, 12-1) and King Harvest (ninth, 12-1) were never able to assert themselves into the race, with Jackson Wyatt faltering and King Harvest not pushing for the lead early.

In the jackpot hi-5, two of our contenders hit the ticket. Single White Sock (fifth, 18-1) and Dialamara (second, $5.40, $3.50) helped fuel the $38,000 payoff on a $.20 ticket, though Machal Jordan was the ultimate cause of the gargantuan return, winning the race at 20-1 while the favorite, Erle Dale N, missed the board. Champagne Phil (seventh, 15-1) and The Rev (11th, 5-1) were a part of the pace early before faltering, and Mach On The Beach (sixth, 10-1) was closing late to miss the ticket by a narrow margin.

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.

Posted on