By Ken Weingartner, USTA Media — If Saturday’s $200,000 Battle of Lake Erie Invitational for older male pacers plays out like April’s MGM Borgata Series championship, Jordan Stratton might be the happiest driver at MGM Northfield Park.
Stratton drove Funatthebeach N to victory in the $549,000 Borgata at half-mile Yonkers Raceway, where the 8-year-old gelding was sixth through an opening half of :53.4 before kicking home quickest in the field to win by a length over Leonidas A in 1:50.1.
The time was the fastest ever in a final of the event, which until 2019 was known as the George Morton Levy Memorial Series.
On Saturday, Funatthebeach N will face eight rivals on the half-mile oval at Northfield Park. The group includes 2021 Breeders Crown Open Pace champ Ocean Rock, the 3-1 morning-line favorite from post four, as well as harness racing’s No. 1-ranked horse this year, Jimmy Freight, who is 4-1 after drawing the outermost starting spot on the gate, post eight.
Also in the field are this season’s fastest horse, Nicholas Beach, who is the 7-2 second choice from post two, Tattoo Artist (9-2, post six), Catch The Fire (6-1, second-tier post nine), This Is The Plan (8-1, post five), Sectionline Bigry (10-1, post one), and Leonidas A (15-1, post seven).
Funatthebeach N, whose $412,267 in purses this year is tops in North America, is 20-1 from post three.
“There is really no slouch in the race at all,” said Stratton, who drives Funatthebeach N for owner/trainer Mark Ford. “It’s going to be a crazy race with that kind of draw. If they can go a quick half like they did in the Borgata final, I’m all set. If they mix it up, I think he’s got a shot.”
Funatthebeach N has hit the board in 11 of 19 races this year, winning six. Since arriving in North America in 2020, the New Zealand-born pacer has won 19 of 73 starts and earned $644,877. Overall, the son of Somebeachsomewhere-Minnie Moose has 29 victories in 106 races, good for $746,016.
All but one of Funatthebeach N’s wins in North America have come on either half-mile or five-eighth-mile tracks, with the half-mile ovals leading the way with 12. That said, he has only competed seven times on bigger tracks since arriving from Down Under.
“He can go on any track, but he probably excels on the smaller track,” Stratton said. “I think a half-mile (track) is probably his specialty because he gets around the turns so good. The half kind of equalizes the bigger horses, so he probably picks up a little bit when they get equalized.”
Funatthebeach N has raced four times since winning the Borgata, but only once on a half-mile track, when he finished fourth in the Camluck Classic won by Jimmy Freight. His other starts were at Woodbine Mohawk Park, where Stratton did not drive the horse, and The Meadowlands.
“He was really good in the Camluck,” Stratton said. “I think if I follow Jimmy Freight, I don’t know if I get by him, but he’s probably second to him. It looks like he raced good the start before that at Mohawk (finishing third behind Jimmy Freight and Tattoo Artist in a free-for-all pace). I expect him to be just as good as ever.”
Stratton said Funatthebeach N’s best quality is his ability to finish strong.
“Just how much he can kick home,” he said. “If they set up a fast half and he closes into it, that’s his game.”
Battle of Lake Erie morning-line favorite Ocean Rock heads to the race off a win in the Open at Scioto Downs, where he defeated Catch The Fire by one length. In his only other start this year, Ocean Rock was fifth in the Camluck Classic.
Jimmy Freight brings a six-race win streak to the Battle of Lake Erie. Also heading to the race off a victory is Tattoo Artist, who captured a free-for-all pace at Mohawk last week. He has finished worse than second only twice in 10 races this season.
The Battle of Lake Erie is race 11 on Northfield Park’s 15-race card. Action begins at 6 p.m. (EDT). For complete Saturday entries, click here.