Cumberland's Auld Lang Syne To Ira Chief

Ira Chief
Published: December 23, 2023 07:30 pm EST

Retiring pacer Ira Chief made his final official start as a 14-year-old a winning one, conquering his peers in the $6,000 Auld Lang Syne race at Cumberland on Saturday, Dec. 23, which was part of the track’s third annual Au Revoir Retirement Showcase.

Race six on the Winter Festival’s penultimate card was reserved for the soon-to-be retired racehorses. Four 14-year-olds lined up behind the Wes Brown starting gate and when the wings folded the fastest record holder of the bunch, Cee Pee Panic, was out and pushing to the top. Driven by Garrett Mosher, he got to the first panel in :29.4 without much urging.  As predicted by announcer Mike Cushing, the half was a much slower 1:02 as the field prepared for its last dash for the cash. 

Nick Graffam, driving Ira Chief, pulled the pocket into a 1:32 third stanza and used his momentum to cruise through the far turn as the new leader with cousin Bruce Ranger hot on his heels second-over with his own Twin B Impressive, the 3-5 favourite.

"Storming down the stretch for the final time," exclaimed announcer Cushing as the son of Chief Silverheels prevailed by a pair of lengths in 2:00.4 for trainer Mike Graffam. It was the 53rd win of his lengthy career. He paid $6 to win.

In the winner’s circle, the connections swarmed around the big steed, who stood patiently amidst the fanfare and a visibly moved owner and part-time caretaker Chris Hamilton.

Cee Pee Panic hung on for second and Twin B Impressive was third, with Penneys Spirit finishing fourth for McKenzie Sowers. All four horses returned to winner's circle following the race to be recognized one final time for their on-track career performances.

The entire day was dedicated to the Maine harness racing industry and the 17 Standardbreds that were 14 years old with Pine Tree State connections. Throughout the card, the horses and their handlers, walked, jogged, were ridden and otherwise paraded in front of the stands while being recognized by the announcer, photographed and feted in the winner’s circle with gifts and prizes, and most of all—admired by the fans. 

The entire day was dedicated to these special horses, with the sixth race reserved for the soon-to-be retirees. Overall, the 17 horses have a combined start total of a staggering 5,200 with an average of 305 starts per horse. Total combined wins are 761 with an average of 45 victories per horse.  Below is a list of all the 14-year-old participants and their credentials and trainer or current owner.

  • Cee Pee Panic - p,5,1:49.2f - $475,379 - John Kiernan, Benson Merrill
  • Drunk And Dramatic - p,4,1:52.f - $118,391 - Michel Bilodeau
  • Fuzzylegsandall - p,6,1:51.1f - $356,149 - Gretchen Athearn
  • Ira Chief - p,5,1:50.1 - $562,476 - Mike Graffam, Chris Hamilton
  • J J S Jet - p,8,1:51.2h - $315,779 - Jaelynn Swan, Drew Campbell
  • Mountain Rock - p,6,1:53.1f - $79,054 - Shelly Basford
  • Natural Breeze - p,7,1:55f - $145,591 - Craig Hall, Kirsi Bertolini
  • Neverdie - 9,1:55f - $329,517 - Mike Cushing, Sara Fernald
  • Northview Punter N - p,7,1:51f - $517,733 - Michelle Hardin
  • Nucular Enemy - p,4,1:52.4f - $245,006 - Brian Kelley
  • Penneys Spirit - p,8,1:54h - $223,190 - McKenzie Sowers
  • Putnams Storm - p,5,1:50.4 - $203,430 - Bob Nadeau
  • Remix p,3,1:53.3f - $148,161 - Sharon Hardy
  • Southern Swan - p,8,1:53f - $206,880 - Amy Taggart
  • Stardust Memories - 8,1:54.1f - $338,596 - Eric Bickmore
  • Supreme Mach N - p,8,1:50.3f - $446,537 - Dalton Lee
  • Twin B Impressive - p,4,1:51 - $693,510 - Mary Beth Ranger

Two of the participants, Neverdie and J J S Jet, were both former Maine state record holders for their respective gaits and got together before the event for an historic photo op. Steve Wilson, co-owner of trotter Neverdie, was joined by Jaelynn Swan, a 15-year-old high school student and equestrian enthusiast, the new owner of J J S Jet.

In addition to a half-page biography with photos throughout the program, each horse’s connections received a Barbara Dresser-designed and handcrafted name plaque, a Blue Seal Feeds gift bag and a couple of souvenir programs. They will also receive a Joe Shaw photo of the festivities.

The $10,000 featured Winners Over Pace was captured by The Bird Dance N in 1:56.1. Driven by Dan Deslandes for trainer Karl Butterfield, the eight-year-old son of A Rocknroll Dance is owned by Jose Cerventes. He paid $6.60 to win. Alex Having Fun (Aaron Hall) finished second and Drinka Beer (Bruce Ranger) was third.

Kevin Switzer Jr. had four wins on the program, pushing him to the lead in the Cumberland’s overall driver standings with 78. Following close behind with 76 is perennial leader Bruce Ranger, who had a pair of winners. Dan Deslandes and Nick Graffam also picked up two wins on the afternoon card.

On Sunday’s closing day (Dec. 24), the track will host four $10,000 finals of the various winter late closing series, with five additional $7,000 consolations to compliment the card.  In addition, the $8,000 winter Maine Amateur Driving Club (MADC) final will be contested as race two. As always, the MADC events are sponsored by the Blue Seal Feed Stores of North Yarmouth and Windham.

First Tracks Cumberland will offer a $5,000 guaranteed Pick-5 pool on Christmas Eve, which is carried on races three through seven and have a mandatory payout.

Racing concludes at Cumberland with the final Winter Festival racing date on Sunday, Dec. 24. First post is 10:50 a.m.

(With files from First Tracks Cumberland)

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