The weekly $20,270 top-class events for both gaits were carded on Thursday afternoon (Feb. 8) at Batavia Downs and the winner of both races claimed their first victory of the year in impressive fashion.
The Open Handicap Trot was won by City Of Hope (Kevin Cummngs), who turned a three-wide move into a 1-1/4-length victory.
City Of Hope got away fifth as J S Swanman (Dave McNeight III) took the lead and forced fellow leaver Big Box Hanover (Larry Stalbaum) into the two-hole on the strength of a :28.3 quarter. Positions remained unchanged to the half where Ricky B Sharp (Mike Baumeister) and City Of Hope initiated an outer flow that would eventually initiate two lead changes. First, Ricky B Sharp cleared J S Swanman before three-quarters and crossed over as City Of Hope dropped into the pocket. These two stayed in line around the last turn and to the top of the stretch where Cummings tipped City Of Hope and trotted right by Ricky B Sharp under a line drive to win in 1:57.2.
A 14-time winner in 2023 who earned $149,382, City Of Hope ($8.10) got his first win of the new year for owners Philip Hale and David Dewhurst, who also trains the winner.
Then in the Open Handicap Pace, Umberto (Dave McNeight III) capitalized from a perfect trip to win in a romp.
Umberto eased into the garden spot as Avion Seelster (John Cummings Jr.) flew to the front. After getting to the half in :57.1 with no challenges, Ideal Artillery (Drew Monti) and Alta Engen A (Kevin Cummings) tried to push the issue heading into the second circuit. However, Cummings Jr. hit the gas with Avion Seelster and a :28 flat third quarter squelched those attempts from the rear, leaving only the pocket-sitting Umberto with a legitimate shot. McNeight pulled Umberto in the final turn and rocked him to the lead around the fading leader. Then Umberto opened up a three-length margin in deep stretch and was a wrapped-up winner in 1:53.4.
The victory was the first win of the year for Umberto ($15.80), but also the first win for his new connections, El Dorado Stables, who claimed him two weeks ago for trainer Dave McNeight Jr.
Drivers Mike Baumeister, John Cummings Jr., Kevin Cummings, Dave McNeight III, Jim McNeight Jr. and Jim Morrill Jr. all had two wins apiece while 13 different trainers each won one race on Thursday.
Live harness racing resumes at Batavia Downs on Monday, Feb. 12 at 3 p.m. and the card will feature the fourth round of the Western New York Trackmaster Series for pacers. There will also be a $1,852 carryover in the Jackpot Super Hi-5 pentafecta in the 14th race.
(With files from Batavia Downs)