Bill Finley

Bill Finley has been covering both thoroughbred and standardbred racing for more than 25 years. He is a racing columnist for ESPN.com and can also be heard on the Down the Stretch show on Saturdays on Sirius XM radio.

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Thursday, August 28, 2014


The Speedy Sweet Lou


Ben Ken Weingartner

Only once during his current 10-race win streak has Sweet Lou trailed other horses at the halfway point, but trainer Ron Burke wouldn’t mind seeing it happen again in Saturday’s C$634,000 Canadian Pacing Derby (CPD) at Mohawk Racetrack.

Sweet Lou won his CPD elimination last week by a length over stablemate Foiled Again in 1:48.1, ending a record streak of six consecutive victories in less than 1:48, but still good enough to give his connections the opportunity to pick his starting spot for the final. Sweet Lou, with regular driver Ron Pierce, will leave from post three and is the 4-5 morning line favorite.

In his last six races, Sweet Lou has reached the half-mile point no slower than :53.3. The only time he trailed during that span came in the William R. Haughton Memorial final, when he followed Thinking Out Loud in the outer flow and got by earlier leaders Bettor’s Edge and Captaintreacherous in the stretch to win by 1-1/4 lengths in 1:47.1.

“I wouldn’t mind seeing that trip in the Canadian Pacing Derby,” Burke said. “I’ve got a feeling you’re getting to the point now where people are trying to leave real hard with the intention that if they make the front they know they’re not going to have to cut it because (Sweet Lou) is coming.

“In a way, I’d like to see him race off the back a couple more times because he seems to race that way just as well. It’s tough going these halves in 53 (seconds) every week.

“This race really concerns me in that everybody now is trying to race the same way and all of these horses, one of these days, will end up stringing a half in 51-and-a-piece. I have all the faith in the world in Ronnie that he’ll get us in the right spot, but the right spot, I’ve got a feeling, might not be on the front this week.”

Sweet Lou has won 10 of 13 races and $934,700 this year for owners Burke Racing, Weaver Bruscemi LLC, Larry Karr, and Phil Collura. For his career, the 5-year-old son of Yankee Cruiser-Sweet Future has won 32 of 68 races and $3.05 million.

“I was a little bit worried last week because he was bearing out a little bit late in the mile, but Pierce didn’t seem to be too concerned,” Burke said. “He said he kind of let him drift and he was fine, so we’ll see.”

Foiled Again, who won the Canadian Pacing Derby in 2012 to become the richest pacer in harness racing history, is the 6-1 second choice in this year’s final and will start from post seven with driver Yannick Gingras. Foiled Again, a 10-year-old gelding who now is the richest harness racing horse in North American history, with $6.37 million, has won 80 times in his career.

“He was vicious in his elimination, 25-(seconds)-and-a-piece out and 25-and-a-piece home,” Burke said. “He couldn’t have been any better. I think he’s as sharp as he’s ever been. He keeps drawing bad in the (finals) because he can’t beat Lou in the eliminations. That really hurt him a lot.

“Now from the seven hole he’s got to go out and earn it. But Yannick always seems to get you in the right position, no matter what.”

Burke also sends out elimination winner Clear Vision and Bettor’s Edge in the CPD. Clear Vision and driver Brett Miller will start from post two and are 8-1 on the morning line while Bettor’s Edge and driver Matt Kakaley will leave from post eight and are 7-1.

Following is the field in post order with drivers, trainers, and morning line: 1. Modern Legend, David Miller, David Drew, 20-1; 2. Clear Vision, Brett Miller, Ron Burke, 8-1; 3. Sweet Lou, Ron Pierce, Ron Burke, 4-5; 4. Domethatagain, Tim Tetrick, Rene Allard, 10-1; 5. Captive Audience, James MacDonald, Corey Johnson; 6. State Treasurer, Chris Christoforou, Ian Moore, 9-1; 7. Foiled Again, Yannick Gingras, Ron Burke, 6-1; 8. Bettor’s Edge, Matt Kakaley, Ron Burke, 7-1; 9. Thinking Out Loud, John Campbell, Bob McIntosh, 20-1; 10. Ellis Park, Steve Condren, Brad Maxwell, 20-1.


Written by John Pricci of Harness Racing Update

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014


E.L. Titan Hopes to Loom Large


By Ken Weingartner

Stakes-winner E L Titan has been absent from the Grand Circuit this season, but that is soon to change.

The 3-year-old male trotter, who won three of five starts last season, including divisions of the International Stallion Stakes and Madison County, made his 2014 debut earlier this month and is getting ready for the Simcoe Stakes and Canadian Trotting Classic, both at Mohawk Racetrack.

Riina Rekila, who trains E L Titan for breeder/owner Erkki Laakkonen, qualified E L Titan on July 4 at Mohawk, where he won in 1:57.4, but didn’t see the colt make his first start until Aug. 9, when he was victorious by 4-1/2 lengths in 1:54.2 in a conditioned race at Mohawk.

“He had little issues, but we decided to start a little bit later with him,” Rekila said. “He was staked to the Hambletonian too, but I entered him in a few overnights here and they didn’t use the class, so I just came late with him. I can’t just go and race (in the Hambletonian) without any normal races.

“We hope he’s good now until the end of the year.”

E L Titan is by stallion Muscle Hill out of the mare Courtney Hall, a stakes-winning full sister to millionaire Cameron Hall. E L Titan is Courtney Hall’s fourth foal and the previous three -- E L Rock, Appomattox and E L Rocket -- each earned at least $233,000. Appomattox, who finished second in the 2012 Kentucky Futurity, leads the group with $414,548.

Last year, E L Titan won his division of the International Stallion Stakes by a neck over Trixton in 1:53.4. The time was fifth fastest among all 2-year-old male trotters last season. He also finished second to Father Patrick in a division of the Champlain Stakes.

“I really liked him,” Rekila said. “He’s lazy training, so you can’t tell too much. We were very surprised he raced that well (on Aug. 9) because he had only one qualifier. At home, I just train him under saddle or on my sand track. I don’t train him too fast, so I was happy he went (1):54 pretty easy at Mohawk.”

Rekila drove E L Titan as a 2-year-old, but Chris Christoforou was in the sulky for the colt’s first start this season. Rekila hopes Christoforou will drive E L Titan again in the Simcoe, which is Aug. 30.

“If he doesn’t take him, I’ll take him,” Rekila said with a laugh. “I like Chris. He’s nice with the horse and he’s one of the best drivers up here.

“I like to drive 2-year-olds because maybe they are not so handy to drive,” she added in explaining why she gave up her seat behind E L Titan this year. “I know them, so it is easier.”

Following the Simcoe and Canadian Trotting Classic, E L Titan’s stakes schedule includes the American-National, Galt, Yonkers Trot, and Breeders Crown.

“I’m racing him lightly because we would like him to race as a 4-year-old as well, maybe when he’s a little older,” Rekila said. “The owner is the nicest person ever, so we can do whatever we want. He doesn’t want me to push the horse. If there are issues we can wait and race the horse whenever he’s ready. We just want to have a nice horse.

“I like him,” she added about E L Titan. “They’re all horses, so you never know, but I think he’s a very nice horse.”


Harness Racing Communications

U.S. Trotting Association




Written by Publisher of Harness Racing Update

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Thursday, August 14, 2014


Father Patrick Ready to Roll Again


By Ken Weingartner

Three-year-old trotter Father Patrick is ready to get back to action Sunday in a division of the Tompkins-Geers Stakes at Tioga Downs in New York, looking to return to his winning ways after going off stride in the Hambletonian, snapping a 15-race unbeaten streak.

His driver, Yannick Gingras, is ready too.

“Win or lose, I’d always be looking forward to getting back on the track with him,” Gingras said. “He’s a great horse. He’s provided me with great thrills so far, and I’m sure there are plenty more to come.

“I’m looking forward to showing everybody what a great horse he is.”

Father Patrick’s return is part of a card that features 10 Tompkins-Geers divisions for trotters and pacers. Among the horses competing Sunday are 3-year-old male pacer JK Endofanera, who earlier this year won the North America Cup, and multiple stakes-winning 3-year-old female pacers Precocious Beauty and Uffizi Hanover.

Trained by Jimmy Takter, Father Patrick has won 16 of 18 career races and $1.26 million. He was the Hambletonian favorite, but drew post No. 10 – the outermost spot on the gate at the Meadowlands Racetrack – and went off stride at the start.

The million-dollar race was won by Trixton, another colt from the Takter Stable, with Takter himself in the sulky.

“I scored (Father Patrick) down pretty hard because I’ve never left with him before,” Gingras said after the race. “I wanted him to pay attention and be ready for (the start). The gate opened and I touched him on the tail with the whip and he took off running. It’s so unfortunate. Knock on wood, I’ll have another chance. But he never will.”

Gingras, who leads all harness racing drivers in purses with $7.23 million this year, won five stakes races on Hambletonian Day. But he still had difficulty feeling upbeat.

“It was a great day, but I still went home and was very disappointed,” Gingras said. “When you focus on a race for so long, that’s what makes it such a disappointment. There are only a couple million-dollar races and I haven’t won one yet. That day had it all – the million dollars, the Hambletonian, Father Patrick and everything he’s accomplished. It was such a downer. Even though I had a great day, I didn’t feel like celebrating.

“I do still think about it. It’s a race I’ll always want to take back, but you’ve got to live with it now at this point.”

Father Patrick races Sunday in the second of two Tompkins-Geers divisions for 3-year-old male trotters. His split also includes Datsyuk, who finished sixth in the Hambletonian.

“They said he came out of the (Hambletonian) fine and he trained back good,” Gingras said about Father Patrick. “That was to be expected. There’s nothing wrong with him, so I’m sure he’ll be ready to go on Sunday.”

The first of the Tompkins-Geers divisions for 3-year-old male trotters includes Dexter Cup winner Sumatra and Hambletonian fifth-place-finisher Resolve, a colt trained by Takter’s daughter, Nancy Johansson.

Precocious Beauty, who was the 2013 Dan Patch Award winner for best 2-year-old female pacer, and Uffizi Hanover meet in the sole Tompkins-Geers for 3-year-old female pacers. Precocious Beauty is coming off a win in the Empire Breeders Classic on Sunday at Tioga.

The Tompkins-Geers for 3-year-old male pacers includes not only JK Endofanera, but Sweet Rock, who won the New Jersey Classic at odds of 92-1 on Hambletonian Day, and New Jersey Sire Stakes champion Doo Wop Hanover.

Among the 2-year-old female trotters in action is Jolene Jolene, who finished second in the Merrie Annabelle Stakes.

“There are a lot of nice horses racing there, that’s for sure,” Gingras said.


Written by John Pricci of Harness Racing Update

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