CHESTER PA – The first Top Ten poll of North America’s harness horses was posted on Tuesday – and the top six horses in the poll, including #1 Manchego, will be at Harrah’s Philadelphia on Sunday for what must be rated as one of the best, if not the best, card of the young stakes season.
The big program is topped by three $100,000 Invitationals – the Commodore Berry FFA Pace, the Betsy Ross FFA Mares Pace, and the Maxie Lee FFA Trot. These races are complemented by two divisions of the third preliminary of the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes for the glamour guys, the three-year-old pacing colts, and all five of the PaSS winners so far this year – no one won in both the first two legs – will be racing at Philly. There are also eight divisions of this group’s Stallion Series third leg – eleven of the twelve winners (there were no repeaters in the PaStS, either) are present.
Here’s a brief look at the major events of the day:
Manchego was rated #1 in the Top Ten poll on the strength of her only start this year – but what a start that was, out at every call yet the winner of the Cutler Trot at The Meadowlands in 1:51.1. A three-time Breeders Crown winner and a winner of $2.8M, Manchego was going to be retired at the end of last year, but she gives the racetrack another go this year, and has drawn post five for driver Dexter Dunn and trainer Nancy Takter.
It’s Academic (#3 in the poll) comes to the Maxie Lee off three straight victories, including the Charlie Hill Trot at Scioto and a Graduate event at The Meadowlands, but he’ll have to solve the difficult post eight (only 5.6% winners at Philly) for driver Yannick Gingras and trainer Ron Burke.
The field also includes millionaires Amigo Volo, Lindy The Great, 2019 Hambletonian winner Forbidden Trade, and Guardian Angel AS (track record holder for OTH), and averages a lifetime bankroll of over $1 million per horse. The track record for trotters at Philly is the 1:50.2 of Market Share, set in 2014 – and 1:50.2 is the average lifetime mark of this field.
$100,000 COMMODORE BARRY PACE (FFA Pace, race 11)
This field contains two millionaires in American History (post seven, driver Andrew McCarthy, trainer Tony Alagna) and This Is The Plan (#2 in the Top Ten Poll, post eight, driver Yannick Gingras, trainer Ron Burke), but if they have trouble with their starting spots, ready to make his mark is quite a development story.
Nicholas Beach had a win and a second at two, then missed his sophomore season. But he was 10-9-1-0 last year, with several wins at Philly, and in his last five starts against very tough stock at Meadowlands, he has three wins and two seconds, including a 1:47.2 victory in his last start that earned him the #6 position in the Poll. The hard-trying pacer has the best post by far at Harrah’s, post five, for the sister/brother team of trainer Jennifer and driver Joe Bongiorno.
The all-time track record at Harrah’s is 1:47.3, set by the legendary Wiggle It Jiggleit in 2016.
$100,000 BETSY ROSS PACE (FFA Mares Pace, race 12)
We’ve been mentioning track records, and the mark for older pacing mares here is 1:48, set by Shartin N in her Horse of the Year campaign in 2019. The same trainer/driver team – Tim Tetrick, Philly’s leading driver, and trainer Jim King Jr. – have Soho Burning Love A in this contest, and she comes in on fire with three straight wins, including a 1:48.2 at Meadowlands in her last start where she came home in an incredible :25.2!
But it is Machnhope (post four, driver Andrew McCarthy, trainer Noel Daley) who is the ranked horse in this field (#5), and at $215,877 her earnings for the season are more than double anyone else. More than half that total came when she came on to win the Blue Chip series final at Yonkers.
JK First Lady, out of former Horse of the Year JK She’salady, has been first or second in two-thirds of her lifetime starts, has been right there in both her 2021 outings, and has post three, driver Dexter Dunn, and trainer Nancy Takter.
$153,058 PENNSYLVANIA SIRE STAKES, 3RD PRELIM – 3YO PACING COLTS (races 6 and 14)
As noted, no one was victorious in both of the two PaSS legs conducted so far, but the Poll voters have settled on their favorite – Abuckabett Hanover (#4), who is undefeated in two starts this year, a 1:49.1 win at The Meadowlands and then a 1:50 head win in a Sire Stakes where he handed Perfect Sting his first career loss. Abuckabett Hanover starts from the rail in the sixth race division for driver Andrew McCarthy and trainer Tony Alagna.
This division also contains Perfect Sting, last year’s two-year-old champion, who certainly had nothing to be ashamed of in his second to “Abuckabett” in his 2021 debut, coming his individual last quarter in :26. Perfect Sting will be looking to start another win streak from post five for driver David Miller and trainer Joe Holloway. Also in this cut is the other PaSS winner Literl Lad Hanover (post two, driver David Miller also listed, trainer Ron Burke).
The three other Sires winners are matched in the fourteenth race section. Southwind Gendry (post two, driver Yannick Gingras, trainer Ron Burke) has the fastest PaSS victory this year, a 1:49.4 at The Meadows, but he was outblasted last time by the pocket rocket One Eight Hundred (#9 in the Poll, post six, driver Tim Tetrick, trainer Nancy Takter). The other Sires winner, Exploit, was very good winning first-over last week – and he’ll have to be good again to beat the outside post seven here for driver Joe Bongiorno and trainer Tony Alagna.
There are also no fewer than eight Stallion Series races for the glamour division, spanning the card from race one to race fifteen. As noted, this group is also extremely competitive, with no repeat winners, and eleven of the dozen successful so far all back for more Sunday at Philly.
Those are the highlights of Sunday’s terrific card at Harrah’s Philadelphia. You will not want to miss any of this great racing action. First post time Sunday at Harrah’s Philly will be 12:40.