Recently named winner of the 2021 USHWA National Amateur Driver of the Year Award, Tony Verruso returned with steam on Saturday (Jan. 1) to pick up right where he left off last year and, on the first card of the new season, reined Masster Blue to a 2:02.1 victory over a "muddy" track in the $9,000 American Harness Drivers Club Trot at Freehold Raceway.
"The track was wet and I got away slowly and trailed the field by six lengths at the quarter in 31 seconds," Verruso said. "So I pulled first-up where the footing was a little better and headed for the front."
Verruso and Masster Blue cleared to the lead up the backside and got first call when they passed the three-quarters in 1:32.1. As they headed into the final turn, John Calabrese had Shoemaker Hanover in high gear and they trotted by Inukchuk Chuck and took dead aim at Masster Blue. In the deep stretch, Masster Blue and Shoemaker Hanover were side by side when they approached the finish line, and a photo was needed to determine that Verruso and Masster Blue were not to be denied. Inukchuk Chuck held on for the show dough.
The race winner, an eight-year-old Muscle Mass gelding is owned and trained by John Novello. Sent off as the betting favourite Masster Blue paid $4.80 for win.