Bill Finley

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

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Takter Preparing For A Monster Year

By Perry Lefko

With a barn full of superstar horses, including a couple that he considers the best two- and three-year-old male and female trotters he has ever trained, Jimmy Takter is optimistic about the 2014 season.

Given that Takter, voted three times as trainer of the year and an inductee in the Harness Racing Hall of Fame, he could be headed for another banner campaign.

Takter is excited about the prospects of three-year-old colt trotter Father Patrick, a winner of 10 of 11 races and currently with nine consecutive wins, who won the Breeders Crown last year and the Dan Patch Award for his particular division.

Takter is also looking forward to the sophomore season of female trotter Shake It Cerry, a winner of eight of 11 races, including the Breeders Crown, and also a Dan Patch winner. As if that weren't enough, Takter acquired Nuncio, who was the only one to beat Father Patrick last year, in January when the colt's trainer, Jim Oscarsson, returned to Sweden.

Add in Uncle Peter, a five-year-old who beat standout mare Maven in a recent qualifier, along with numerous quality two-year-olds, and it is easy to understand why Takter is looking forward to competing in all the big races this year.

Takter told Harness Racing Update that he is fortunate to be equipped with better horses than ever, although he has also learned in the last few years how to make them perform to their optimum best.

"It's a lot of good fortune, plus I've developed them myself (better) in the last four or five years," he said in an interview in which he talked about a variety of subjects. "You always try to experiment a little bit in your training methods. With a combination of all those things, the results get better.

"With more experience you see the signs to go on harder or when to back off. Things like that make a big difference when you train young horses. Pushing a horse when it's not ready to be pushed that's very important not to do or push when you're supposed to push. That's something where experience (helps)."

With more than 30 years experience and a who's who of top horses he's trained in both the trotter and pacer sides, Takter is proof that you're never too old to learn.

Father Patrick, whose other big wins came in the Peter Haughton Memorial (by 10 lengths), William Wellwood and Champlain, is expected to make his three-year-old debut some time in May, likely at Pocono Downs in a Sires Stakes race. He is by the Pennsylvania sire Cantab Hall.

"He's been training super," Takter said. "He's a bit older now and he's matured quite a bit actually. Going into a three-year-old season, it's the best horse I've ever had. He's the best colt I've ever developed.

The best horse I ever trained was Moni Maker, but he's the best horse I've developed. I think I saw that potential in him quite early."

With the addition of Nuncio, Takter said it's a privilege to have two quality three-year-old trotters.

Written by Bill Finley of Harness Racing Update

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Morrill Banned at Pocono, Has No Idea Why

There’s a reason why Jim Morrill Jr. has yet to drive a race this year at Pocono: he has been banned.

Morrill, who was the third leading driver last year at Pocono and is widely considered one of the very best in his profession, said he has heard no explanations from track management and the only way he
knows he is not welcome is because trainers have told him that every time they try to enter a horse with him down as the driver the racing office tells them they must choose someone else.

“I have no idea what’s going on there,” he said. “I just know they won’t accept any entries with me down to drive. I’ve been calling around to everyone there to try to get an answer and no one will call me back.

I’ve called (VP Racing Operations) Dale Rapson a bunch of times and left messages and I hear nothing back.”

Rapson did not respond to an email message from Harness Racing Update asking for information on Morrill’s status.

Morrill said he has asked attorney Howard Taylor to take up the case and see if he can’t get some answers from Pocono, but Taylor’s job won’t be an easy one. Privately owned racetracks are not required explain their decisions when ruling someone off.

“I like driving there and I give 150% every time I am out on the track,” he said. “I don’t know what this is all about. I know it can’t be anything major because I know I haven’t done anything wrong. I haven’t failed a Breathalyzer test, I haven’t fought with any racing officials. I didn’t fix any races, I didn’t drug any horses.

Since 2010 Morrill has had 588 winners at Pocono and has won at a 21 percent rate. Unable to drive at Pocono, Morrill has set up shop at the Meadowlands, where he is driving the Ron Burke horses while Yannick Gingras is participating at Yonkers in the Matchmaker and Levy. Morrill will also pick up plenty of business on the New York sire stakes circuit.

He says one of his primary concerns is to pick up enough drives this year to remain eligible for his pension.

Written by Bill Finley of Harness Racing Update

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Foiled Again, Burke Dominate in Levy

On a miserable, rainy night the story at Yonkers was no different than it was last week and it probably will be more of the same as the Levy series continues. You can’t beat Ron Burke and you can’t beat the 10-year-old Foiled Again.

In a virtual re-run of last week’s rendition of the Levy Burke won three of the four legs and failed only in the third Levy on the night when the P.J. Fraley-trained Mach It So scored an upset win at 20-1. That’s the same Mach It So who won last week over Burke. Fraley and Burke are the only trainers to have won 2014 Levy races so far.

The betting public was so enamored with the Burke entry, which consisted of Foiled Again, Aracache Hanover and Hillbilly Hanover, in the 11th race that there were bridgejumpers in the win pool. Yonkers did not allow place or show betting. Of the $56,387 bet in the win pool. $54,143 of it was on the Burke trio.

“He can’t surprise me anymore,” driver Yannick Gingras said of Foiled Again prior to the race. “He’s done so much in his career and he’s not done yet.”

This was Foiled Again’s 200th career start and it’s hard to imagine any were any easier. Having drawn the four post, Gingras didn’t waste any time as he took his geriatric wonder right to the front, controlled the pace through modest fractions and was never seriously challenged. Stablemate Aracache Hanover was second. It was the 78th career win for Foiled Again.

Burke’s first Levy win on the night came with Bettor’s Edge in the fourth race. He finished 1 1/12 lengths ahead of stablemate Clear Vision and went in 1:53.4 over the sloppy track. The win was his second straight in the series.

Written by Bill Finley of Harness Racing Update

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