Hard-Luck Pacer Triumphs In Series Final

Published: March 28, 2015 01:42 am EDT

The brief career of Heavenly Knox has been marked by unusual financial situations and tragedy among his connections. But the four-year-old The Panderosa-Mystic Tiger N gelding showed Friday what perseverance and faith can achieve, as he captured the $30,500 championship of the Walter Russell Memorial Pace for three and four-year-old colts, stallions and geldings at The Meadows.

The track hosted three other series finals Friday, with Wu Long, Keystone Chester and One Over Par also earning titles. Aaron Merriman won two championships behind Keystone Chester and One Over Par.

Heavenly Knox was sound enough at two and three but, according to his trainer, John ‘Johnny Z’ Zawistowski, he was prevented from racing by an odd glitch.

“The original owner was having financial trouble, and he didn’t make the stud fee,” Zawistowski said. “We kept training him, but he couldn’t get papers. This horse didn’t have a name until just a day before we qualified him.”

He got that name in the most heartbreaking way. When Zawistowski’s grandson Knox died at birth, the trainer decided to name the horse in honour of the child.

“I gotta believe he’s watching over us tonight,” Zawistowski said.

Now campaigned by an ensuing owner, Wolf Creek Farm, Heavenly Knox rewarded Zawistowski’s confidence by winning six of his first seven starts. In the Walter Russell final, he retook the lead for Eric Ledford near the half and handily defeated Terror Of The Nite, who won his first three series splits, by 2-1/4 lengths. Big World Of Rock earned show.

The Illinois-based Zawistowski said he likely will ship Heavenly Knox east.

“He’ll probably go to Yonkers, Pocono and a couple other places,” he said. “We’ll give him a shot out there.”

$32,600 Mary Wohlmuth Memorial Trot

Wu Long completed her series sweep, but she had to overcome a determined Main Gate Tam and a snow shower that compromised her footing. Wu Long set sail after Main Gate Tam with a first-over move down the backside and finally nailed her in the shadow of the wire, prevailing by half a length in 2:00 for Dave Palone. Seduce A Stranger earned show despite bleeding during the race.

”I thought I’d get by, but she really struggled with the track tonight,” Palone said. “She was slipping pretty good. I didn’t think I could put her in gear and feel 100 per cent safe. So I just kind of rode my way up there and, thankfully, we didn’t make a mistake.”

Rob Harmon trains the four-year-old daughter of Explosive Matter-Strong Tea for Harmon Racing Stable and Knightstalker Stable.

$33,200 Ken Weaver Memorial Trot

Keystone Chester made it look easy again, drawing off after an uncovered move to score in 1:58 for trainer Andy Rickert and owner Murdock Racing Stable. Flying Muscles rallied for second, 4-3/4 lengths back, with Great Magic third.

Rickert called the four-year-old Chocolatier-Keystone Chickadee gelding “a nice surprise.”

“We bought him in the sale last May for $6,500,” Rickert said. “When I got him, I said, ‘What did they bring home?’ There wasn’t much to him, so we turned him out for four months. When we brought him in, he looked like a horse. He’s matured, filled out, and the green grass did him good. He doesn’t have many stakes, so we’ll try to pick our spots in overnights for him.”

$28,100 Donna Dunn Memorial Pace

One Over Par provided the toteboard excitement for the evening, scoring at 13-1 despite finishing no better than third in the three preliminary legs. She followed the first-up cover of Somewhere Fameous to triumph in 1:57, a neck better than Dream Ball. I Plead The Fifth completed the ticket.

“I was very confident with her last week, but she made a break,” Merriman said. “Her gait was really bad, so we put our heads together and made some changes. She definitely has the talent. The trip helped, and maybe the conditions.”

Kelly O’Donnell conditions the three-year-old daughter of Dragon Again-Susie Girl for Mark Maynard, KO Racing Stables and Tangie Massey.

(The Meadows)