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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Sunday, July 27, 2014


Archangel - Fastest Trotter in Meadowlands History


By Darin Zoccali

East Rutherford - Many of the sport’s stars were out on Saturday night at The Meadowlands and none shown brighter than Archangel who won the first elimination for the John Cashman, Jr Memorial trot in a world record 1:50 flat. The mile broke a six-way tie for the fastest mile ever by a trotter on a mile track.

Yannick Gingras sent the handsome five year old millionaire son of Credit Winner out fast for the lead with a wicked 26.1 opening quarter then set even fractions of 54.4 and 1:22.3 in the record mile. Archangel was eared down length and a three quarter winner over Intimidate with Market Share third. Your So Vain and Sevruga round out the qualifiers from this elimination for next Saturday’s $300,000 final.

Gingras had high praise for Archangel in the post-race interview, “I told his caretaker Sarah I was gonna roll him. He has the ability, just hasn’t been lucky. He was staying with Sebastian K in the 1:49 mile at Pocono when he broke on the turn. I think he’ll give Sebastian some competition in the final, I’d take it if I could cut the mile against him next week in the final.”

Ron Burke trains the winner for Legendary Standardbred Farm and Claire Semer.

Sebastian K was back to his winning ways in the second elimination for Ake Svanstedt with an easy three length score in 1:51. The race began with Creatine flying off the wings from the outside for Mike Lachance and clearing Sebastian as they reached the quarter in a dazzling 26 flat.

The pace slowed abruptly when Lachance took up on the lead and Svanstedt was forced to yank Sebastian K out quickly before Mister Herbie could get the jump on him from third. He got out, though the judges flashed inquiry and reviewed the move, and back to the top.

Sweet Justice mounted a final turn challenge but was rebuffed with a 27.3 final quarter. Mister Herbie split horse late to be second, Uncle Peter third in his return to US soil, Appomattox a solid fourth and Arch Madness captured the final berth in next week’s race.

The winner is trained in the Svanstedt barn for Knutsson Trotting and was winning for the sixth time this year in seven tries.

The 2014 Hambletonian Oaks did not require eliminations and Racing Secretary Peter Koch offered the entrants the chance to race in a $35,000 prep. Nine of the eleven accepted but the field was reduced to eight with the defection Cooler Schooner, a sick scratch.

Designed To Be and Shake It Cerry would square off again in what would prove to be a driver’s race. Posted just to the right of Designed To Be and Brian Sears, Ron Pierce send Shake It Cerry away crisply to secure the lead, repelled the mild bid Sears offered from the pocket then slowed the pace through the middle fractions. Clearance would not be availed to Designed To Be again until deep in the stretch and by then Pierce had used Cerry’s quickness to pad the cushion on her rival, which diminished to a half-length at the wire. Lifetime Pursuit was third.

Shake It Cerry is trained in the Jimmy Takter stable for Solveig’s Racing Partners. It was her fourteenth win in eighteen career starts and she has earned over $1 million.

It sets up to be a very interesting contest in the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks next Saturday afternoon.

The United States Pacing Championship drew nine entries that will all advance directly to next Saturday’s $257,700 final and a $40,000 tune-up was offered to that group as well. Sweet Lou has been invincible since uniting with Pierce mid-May and would add another sub 1:48 mile to his résumé in this one with a 1:47.3 score. Pierce brushed the flashy pacer to the front near the 54.1 half then strung together 27.2 and 26 flat quarters to close it out.

Captaintreacherous went a big trip to be second, coming from last in the field of seven at the half and pacing his individual final half 52 flat and 25.4 last quarter to be beaten less than two lengths. Thinking Out Loud also raced great, surviving an uncovered run at Sweet Lou and living to tell of it, finishing third.

The winner is trained in the Ron Burke stable on behalf of owners Burke Racing, Weaver Bruscemi, Larry Karr and Phil Collura. He has now won his last seven starts, all in 1:48.3 or better with a five eighths mile track world record of 1:47 flat the fastest.

The Lady Liberty required a single $40,000 elimination when eleven Free For All quality pacing mares dropped in the box. A free pass to the $177,750 final in the form of a bye was offered to the top seasonal money winners and after a few declined (more on that later) Ron Burke accepted for Rocklamation. The remaining ten went to the post with their assignment to avoid be last and thus eliminated.

They raced it out like it was for the big money here, with Corey Callahan sending Drop The Ball out hard, yielded to Shelliscape for a step then removed and took on all comers. Dead game to the wire, Drop The Ball held sway in 1:49.2 using a 26.4 final quarter to seal the deal. Jerseylicious was a closing second and Charisma Hanover third.

On the flip side, division leader Androvette’s connections declined the bye, then she finished last of the ten (though beaten a mere 3 ½ lengths) and is, at this point, eliminated from the final.

When Drop The Ball is good, she’s really good and she’s looking pretty good lately for trainer Ross Croghan and her owners; Let It Ride Stable, Mentally Stable and Dana Parham. She won the right to select her post for the final and she’ll have to be dealt with.

Things are shaping up nicely for a fantastic end to the 2014 Championship Meet with next Saturday’s Hambletonian program.

On the wagering front, total handle for the Saturday program yielded an increase of nearly 10-percent from the same program in 2013, while live handle was up nearly 15-percent.

Written by John Pricci of Harness Racing Update

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Thursday, July 24, 2014


It’s Magic


By Ken Weingartner

After watching Bee A Magician put together an 18-race win streak that began at age 2 and covered her entire 3-year-old season, harness racing fans wanted to know what was wrong with the 2013 Horse of the Year as she went winless in her first four starts this season.

Not much, says trainer Nifty Norman, other than the fact that winning is difficult.

“Lots of people have said to me that she’s been no good, but only once really,” Norman said. “Her first start was a great run, [second in 1:51.3] right off the bat and she had trot finishing. We kind of raced her easy in her second start and she was second; she was a little bit flat. Then she was sick, but she’s been good again ever since.

“People just expect her to win,” he added with a chuckle. “It’s not that easy; I wish it was. But I think she’s been pretty solid.”

Bee A Magician, owned by Mel Hartman, Herb Liverman, and David McDuffee, returned to her winning ways with a world-record 1:51.1 triumph July 12 in the third round of the Miss Versatility Series at Meadowlands Racetrack. She now holds the records for fastest 3-year-old (1:51) and 4-year-old female trotters in history.

She will try to make it two victories in a row when she meets six rivals in Friday’s second leg of the Ima Lula Series for 4-year-old female trotters at the Meadowlands Racetrack.

Bee A Magician and regular driver Brian Sears will start from post one. The rest of the field in post order is Handover Belle, Rockin With Dewey, NF Happenstance, Ma Chere Hall, Mistery Woman, and Classic Martine.

Handover Belle won the Ima Lula’s first round on July 18 by a half-length over Ma Chere Hall in 1:51.4. The $55,000 estimated final is Aug. 2, Hambletonian Day.

Bee A Magician -- who has won 28 of 35 career races, finished second on four occasions, and earned $2.45 million -- was eligible to the John Cashman Jr. Memorial, but the mare’s connections decided against facing the boys. She raced against her male counterparts in the Hambletonian Maturity on July 5, finishing second to Your So Vain.

“I want to race her as easy as I can,” Norman said. “I’ll consider racing those horses again later in the year maybe, but not right now. You can’t be too tough on them. You see some of the other 4-year-olds that have come back and are not what they were. It’s a tough thing to do because most of them have laid it all on the line last year.”

As it is, racing against the mares is difficult enough.

“It’s a tough division; very solid,” Norman said, adding about her 1:51.1 win in the most recent Miss Versatility round, “It was a good race. She didn’t jog, it was a good race.”

GIFTED WAY IS THE RIGHT PRESENT FOR ALAGNA HEADING INTO HAUGHTON MEMORIAL


Trainer Tony Alagna hopes Rare Gift delivered a special present in the form of 2-year-old colt trotter Gifted Way.

Gifted Way, a son of stallion Cantab Hall out of the mare Rare Gift, was purchased for $170,000 at the 2013 Lexington Selected Sale. Gifted Way makes his third start Friday in the single elimination for the Peter Haughton Memorial for 2-year-old male trotters at Meadowlands Racetrack.

The colt is owned by Brittany Farms, Joe Sbrocco, Little E LLC, and Deo Volente Farms. Gifted Way is part of a four-horse entry in the Haughton elim, along with Jimmy Takter-trained Special Action, The Bank, and Uncle Lasse. The group is 3-5 on the morning line.

Rounding out the horses in the elim, from which the top seven finishers advance to the $280,000 estimated final on Aug. 2, Hambletonian Day, are Ake Svanstedt’s Centurion ATM and Amicus, Ray Schnittker’s Broken Record, Erv Miller’s SS Poseidon, Nancy Johansson’s Cruzado Dela Noche, and Mark Harder’s True Blue Stride.

Three horses received byes to the final: Takter’s Canepa Hanover, Nik Drennan’s Guess Whos Back, and Jim Campbell’s Honor And Serve.

Gifted Way won his debut, a division of the Pennsylvania All Stars, on July 4 at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. He went off stride at the start in his second race, which was won by Canepa Hanover, on July 18 at the Meadowlands.

“He’s a nice colt,” Alagna said. “When the gate left the other night, he just got off on the wrong foot and made a break, which he hadn’t done before. He trotted good after making the break, came out of the race fine, and trained back good [Tuesday]. I think we’re set for the elimination on Friday night.”

Gifted Way is Rare Gift’s fourth foal, and first by Cantab Hall, who was the sport’s leading trotting sire in 2012 and 2013. Rare Gift is a full sister to stakes-winner Stand Strong and a three-quarter-sister to 1996 Horse of the Year Continentalvictory and stakes-winner Victory Abroad.

“The family has been a little stagnant, but this was by far the best colt the mare had thrown,” Alagna said. “He’s very correct. He was very athletic in the paddock. He just had everything going for him.

“Cantab Hall has just been red hot the last couple years, so we thought we would take a shot. We’re glad we did. I think he was the right horse.”

Gifted Way is not the only horse in the Haughton elim with well-known relatives.

Uncle Lasse is a full brother to Shake It Cerry, the 2013 Dan Patch Award winner for best 2-year-old filly trotter and a top contender in the upcoming Hambletonian Oaks, and Broken Record is a half-brother to 2005 Hambletonian winner Vivid Photo. Special Action’s family includes 2006 Hambletonian winner Glidemaster and The Bank’s dam is millionaire Lantern Kronos.

Friday’s card also features two eliminations for the Merrie Annabelle Stakes for 2-year-old female trotters and the second round of the Ima Lula Series for 4-year-old female trotters.


USTA Communications

Written by John Pricci of Harness Racing Update

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014


On Edge


By Ken Weingartner


Bettor’s Edge is not the highest profile pacer in the Ron Burke Stable, but he is holding his own against the best in the sport. It’s something he has done pretty much throughout his million-dollar-earning career.

The 5-year-old gelding heads into Saturday’s $463,300 William R. Haughton Memorial for older pacers at the Meadowlands off a second-place finish in the Ben Franklin Pace on June 28. He finished between stablemates Sweet Lou, who edged him by a neck, and Foiled Again.

Sweet Lou and Foiled Again also are entered in the Haughton, as well as Burke-trained Clear Vision. Sweet Lou, who has a five-race win streak, is the 8-5 morning line favorite. Bettor’s Edge is fourth choice at 6-1, behind Captaintreacherous (3-1) and State Treasurer (9-2).

Foiled Again, who with $6.31 million in career purses is the richest harness racing horse in North American history, starts from the outside in post No. 10 and is 12-1.

The Haughton and $776,000 Meadowlands Pace for 3-year-old pacers will be shown live starting at 9 p.m. on CBS Sports Network. Saturday’s card also includes the $317,000 Stanley Dancer Memorial, $213,500 Delvin Miller Memorial, $212,150 Mistletoe Shalee, $178,450 Golden Girls, and a $40,000 leg of the Miss Versatility Series.

Bettor’s Edge, who joined the Burke Brigade in November 2013 after a successful stint with trainer Linda Toscano, has won six of 17 races this year, including three divisions of the spring Levy Series, and earned $285,340.

“We’re high on him,” said Mark Weaver, who owns Bettor’s Edge with Burke Racing, Mike Bruscemi, and M1 Stable. “In the Franklin, it looked like he was going to get by [Sweet] Lou and beat the best horses around. He’s solid. A lot of people that follow him really like him. His lines are better than they look. He’s been in against tough horses in tough spots.”

As a 3-year-old, Bettor’s Edge won six of 25 races, including the Monument Circle, and had on-the-board finishes in the Breeders Crown, Tattersalls Pace, Little Brown Jug, Cane Pace, and Progress Pace on his way to $573,797 in season’s earnings.

“We always liked the horse,” Weaver said, adding about Bettor’s Edge’s foaling year of 2009, “That year, [Sweet] Lou’s crop, I love those horses. I don’t think people realized how good they were. I think last year they started to realize, with Pet Rock and A Rocknroll Dance and some of the others and the way they raced in the aged pacing division.

“We’re trying to look at the immediate future as well as down the road. Foiled [Again] can’t last forever; [Sweet] Lou eventually will be in the breeding shed. We like to buy horses we think can help fill voids when they happen. We thought he could do that. So far it’s worked out. I wouldn’t be surprised if he does some bigger and better things.”

If nothing else, Bettor’s Edge has proved to be a durable money-earner. When he starts in the Haughton it will give him at least one race in 14 of the last 15 months.

“A lot of these horses, you map out every start,” Weaver said. “With him, we’ve been kind of winging it. He’s had 38 starts since he’s had a real break. Believe me, he’s not getting one soon as well as he’s racing. At some point he’ll get the break he deserves and maybe he’ll come back even better next year.”

Following is the Haughton field in post order with listed drivers, trainers, and morning line odds: 1. Thinking Out Loud, John Campbell, Bob McIntosh, 8-1; 2. Captaintreacherous, Tim Tetrick, Tony Alagna, 3-1; 3. Sweet Lou, Ron Pierce, Ron Burke, 8-5; 4. State Treasurer, David Miller, Ian Moore, 9-2; 5. Captive Audience, David Miller, Corey Johnson, 30-1; 6. Bettor’s Edge, Yannick Gingras, Ron Burke, 6-1; 7. Bolt The Duer, Mark MacDonald, Pete Foley, 12-1; 8. Sunshine Beach, Brian Sears, Mark Steacy, 20-1; 9. Clear Vision, Matt Kakaley, Ron Burke, 15-1; 10. Foiled Again, Yannick Gingras, Ron Burke, 12-1.



Harness Racing Communications/USTA


Written by John Pricci of Harness Racing Update

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