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All Eyes On Yoga Pants Saturday

Published: November 10, 2017 3:57 pm ET

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Horseman Jim Marino is in the midst of a career year as a trainer and he's poised to add substantially to his seasonal stash with a number of contenders heading postward on Breeders' Classic Day this Saturday (November 11) at Fraser Downs.

Marino has seven horses entered in the lucrative stakes finals that headline Breeders' Classic Day, and has drives in three of the four races. The majority of the attention and focus will be honed in on sophomore pacing filly Yoga Pants as she'll seek to stretch her current win streak to five in the $100,000 Mary Murphy Breeders Stake Final.

Owned by JJJ Stables, Yoga Pants (Sportswriter - Lucks Pleasure) has been nearly perfect in her two seasons of racing for Marino. After a five-for-six campaign as a two-year-old, Yoga Pants has been just as tight at three with only one blemish in 11 starts. But in order to appreciate Yoga Pants, Marino points to her genes. Yoga Pants is the second foal of Lucks Pleasure, a mare that competed at tracks across Western Canada for nine seasons before retiring with 33 wins and more than $230,000.

"She was tough, she had gate speed," Marino told Trot Insider of Lucks Pleasure. "She bounced around and made a lot of different people money."

Marino might not have experienced the on-track success with Lucks Pleasure that some other barns did, but he felt a debt of gratitude after an incident during a race at Fraser in 2012. There was an accident that, according to Marino, could have turned out much worse for both horse and driver.

"The way she positioned her back legs, she just slid on her head and legs. And I never fell out of the bike. And I was so happy, I was like 'she saved my life. I'm going to breed this mare.'"

After a mating to Santanna Blue Chip, Marino purchased a breeding to Sportswriter off fellow driver Mark MacDonald. The resulting foal in 2014 was Yoga Pants.

"We only had one filly that year and three or four colts training down. And she was always better than them," noted Marino. "In fact, we'd park her the whole mile sometimes. She just never, ever did anything wrong, she was always strong.

"The difference between her and a lot of the other ones we've had around here, when I turn her for home she just kicks in. As soon as we straighten out. It's like she left the gate again a lot of times. I never taught her that, she just always did it. She's different from any of the other horses I train."

Yoga Pants emerged victorious from each of the four Mary Murphy Breeders Stakes legs, winning her last two from Post 7 and 6. This Saturday's test will be even tougher as the filly drew the very outside in Post 8.

"It's not going to be easy from this track, the eight is pretty tough."

Compounding the post position problem is a crucial matter for horses, especially this times of year: health and fitness.

"Hopefully she's healthy; I had her in Alberta and in the Lady Luck she was healthy, she crushed. And then she went to Northlands and she got sick, we didn't have her 100 percent for the [Northlands Filly] Final. She got beat. Then I brought her home and she had to go right into the stakes series. So I think we've got her as healthy as we can get but I'm always a bit worried about that with viruses going around."

Marino acknowledged Yoga Pants will need to be tight to fend off her competition, with a number of fillies rounding into form in a quest for late seasons stakes success.

"There are a few fillies, a couple of nice fillies in the race with speed and gate speed," said Marino. "Tahuya Gameday, she's been racing good. She finished second to us last time out by about a length, she was coming strong [at the end]. And then there's Serge Masse's filly Keys Please, she's got some gate speed too."

While speed is certainly the weapon of choice for Marino when it comes to Yoga Pants, he notes that style is just that: choice. He most often puts Yoga Pants on top simply because she's the best but that doesn't mean he can't tuck Yoga Pants into a pocket.

"I have, once, raced her off the pace. But a lot of times she was so much the best that I'd just go to the front. It made the most sense. But she does have a lot of gate speed and likes to roll."

Fraser's five-eighth mile surface has some unique attributes to its configuration. A former half-mile track, Fraser Downs was converted into a five-eighths mile track in the 1990s but retained one of its half-mile turns in the process.

"Because there's a hockey rink and curling rink right next to it, they could only change one turn," stated Marino. "The one turn is the original half-mile turn, and one is a five-eighths turn. So the first and last turn is still a half-mile turn. But we have close to an eighth of a mile straightaway before we hit the turn, so that helps too."

Before Yoga Pants hits the track in Race 7 on Saturday's card, Marino's eyes will be focused on some of her stablemates. He sends out a trio of freshman pacing colts in the $100,000 Robert Millbank Memorial in Race 3. The threesome includes Shales Storm (PP1, Jim Burke, 15-1), Ron Bakardi (PP6, Marino, 7-2) and Dragon Slayer (PP7, Paul Davies, 4-1)

"We've got some two-year-old colts that are alright...I have one that drew the rail and two that drew the outside. Roddy Therres has a pair of Mach Three colts in there that are nice. That's going to be tough for us but that's who you've got to beat."

Dali Double (PP4, Marino, 12-1) is his single shot at stakes glory in the $100,000 Betty Millbank for two-year-old pacing fillies. With a summary of 0-0-3 in four seasonal starts, Marino wasn't holding his breath on a victory in that event. "I don't think she's the best by any means."

His chances look better in the final stakes race of the card, the $100,000 Robert Murphy Memorial for three-year-old pacing colts and geldings. Bakardi Gold (PP3, J.F. Gagne, 7-2) is on the improve after a disappointing start to the year.

"He was a real nice two-year-old and we've had some trouble with him and getting him gaited," admitted Marino. " He was getting a little rough in the turns and I think we've got him. I have J.F. Gagne catch driving him for me and he's getting better every start. I think he could surprise."

Marino offered Gagne the opportunity to drive Bakardi Gold in the Robert Murphy as a token of appreciation.

"This summer I was stabled at Century Downs, and I was having trouble with him," said Marino. "J.F.'s a good friend of mine, great blacksmith, and he has his own farm so we sent him to J.F. to train on his farm. J.F. got him rolling in Alberta and then sent him back to me here, so I told him he could drive him in the stakes final."

If Gagne was to connect with Bakardi Gold for Marino on Saturday, it wouldn't be the first time this year these two have teamed up for stakes success. Marino entrusted Gagne to drive sophomore standout Mateo in the eliminations for the Western Canada Pacing Derby at Northlands Park. Gagne guided Mateo to a 1:54 win in his elim before Marino took over the driving duties in the final. Unfortunately for Marino, Mateo had trouble with sickness after the Derby and didn't finish his season with the same success that placed more than $230,000 in his seasonal bankroll.

"He ended up getting sick out there, he didn't finish the year like he should have but we had a great run and Justin [Currie] did a great job with him," noted Marino.

Marino's successful season comes just a few years removed from a series of on-track spills that left his career in question. In January of 2015, Marino was involved in his second accident within a week at Fraser Downs. While the first one wasn't serious, the second one required multiple surgeries. Doctors had to repair his ACL and the other collateral ligament in his left knee and added screws to a broken femur bone. He also broke both bones in his left wrist, requiring a plate and screws for corrective healing.

"After the accident, I wasn't even sure if I was going to get back to driving again or if I could even do it again physically," the horseman stated in a 2016 interview. With horses the likes of Yoga Pants and Mateo leading the way, Marino sports 71 wins and more than $738,000 on the training side in 2017 -- both bests by a wide margin. On the driving side, Marino is in the midst of his third million-dollar season and a big day on Saturday would help lift that total closer to his personal best $1.2 million banked in 2012.

To view the entries for Saturday's stakes-stacked card of harness racing at Fraser Downs, click one of the following links: Entries -- Program Pages (Courtesy of TrackIT)

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