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Leonidas A, Alexa Skye Seek Perfection

Published: April 16, 2021 1:50 pm ET

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Leonidas A and Alexa Skye finished the preliminary rounds of the MGM Borgata Pacing Series and the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series at Yonkers Raceway with equal four-for-four records, but for their respective finals on Monday night (April 19), both of them face outside draws, with Leonidas A starting from post seven and Alexa Skye beginning from post six.

Driver Austin Siegelman raced Leonidas A from second-over in the first leg of the MGM Borgata Pacing Series, and that trip resulted in a victory, and then in his subsequent three starts in the event, which also saw Leonidas A emerge triumphant, Siegelman was more aggressive with his charge, planting him on the point before or just after the opening quarter. While Siegelman acknowledged that stalking horses is the six-year-old Mach Three gelding’s preferred journey, he had no issue with more aggressive handling either.

"He got stuck on the front three out of four of those races. I don't think that's particularly his strong suit, but he didn't have a problem winning those races," Siegelman said. "We just kind of drew inside, and there was no reason not to put him on the front in any of those races. He was just better than those horses that he was racing against. There's no reason to take a risk and go to race him off the pace when he can easily just go on the front."

While it might look like on the program that Leonidas A and Siegelman will be switching it back up to race off the speed in Monday’s $514,000 final now that they’re stuck outside on the gate, Siegelman explained that that’s not necessarily going to be the case, due to the presence of known early speedster This Is The Plan to his right at post eight.

"I think he's a better horse off the pace, but I wouldn't 100 per cent say he's going to race from behind because I'm sitting eighth then, and that's not really ideal,” offered Siegelman. “Even from off the pace, as long as he doesn't hit too many roadblocks, I think he can still be close at the wire."

Racing over five weeks like horses do in the MGM Borgata Pacing Series certainly separates the true contenders from those that are a notch or two below, so everybody in the field merits respect, but Siegelman noted that he does have his eye on a few particular horses when the big purse is on the line:

“There are a few horses in that race that worry me a little bit. We raced Backstreet Shadow the first leg, and he didn't really have a problem beating that horse, although he's very sharp right now,” remarked Siegelman. “Obviously, This Is The Plan - he's probably the class of that field. I think Lyons Steel is a bit of a sleeper in there. He was good both starts I drove him there. He was easily good enough to win the second time I drove him. He just got unlucky and didn't get any room. Hesa Kingslayer N (post two) drew a very fortunate spot in that race. Those would be my two or three that I'm worried about in there."

Siegelman and Leonidas A, who is trained by Sheena McElhiney for the Jesmeral Stable, had a taste of success late last year when they teamed up to win the Potomac Pace at Rosecroft Raceway. And while the MGM Borgata Series will be race with the biggest purse Siegelman has competed in to date, the 29-year-old driver is heading in with a positive mindset.

"I'm confident going in. It is what it is, whether we race for $20,000 or $500,000. It's a horse race, and (the purse) doesn't change anything," he said.

Alexa Skye, co-owned by trainer Jeff Cullipher in partnership with Pollack Racing LLC, came into the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series with high expectations, and she certainly delivered, winning her four appearances by 4-1/2, 1-1/2, 1-3/4, and 2-3/4 lengths. Todd McCarthy has driven her in all but two starts since Oct. 16, 2020, and he said she handled the grind of the series like a pro.

"She felt pretty good through all the prelims. I was really happy with her each time. I think that Jeff and the team have done a terrific job managing her through the prelims,” said McCarthy. “It can be tricky when they race week in and week out going to the final over so many weeks close together. She had that week off there prior to the last leg, and she felt terrific the last time around, so I'm sure she'll be spot on for the final on Monday."

While her performances through the series would have been impressive no matter the circumstances, it certainly catches the eye that Alexa Skye is the only four-year-old in Monday’s $232,800 championship, bucking the popular notion that aged mares have the upper hand in this event.

"It was always going to be a little bit of an ask for her, but each time she's faced a challenge, she's sort of taken the step,” remarked McCarthy. “Early on, even when I was driving her, I kind of didn't know where she was at, but each time she had to take a step, she took the step. She's doing what the good horses do, and I'm certainly pleased to have her in the final."

Starting from post six with all the other fancied contenders starting to her inside certainly isn’t the most ideal situation for Alexa Skye, but she has experience racing from outside posts at Yonkers before, so McCarthy is expecting her current sharp form to remain status quo.

"Obviously any time it's half-mile racing, the closer you draw the better it is. I would have liked to have been a little closer in, but in a lot of the prelims she drew out there too,” McCarthy stated. “She can leave pretty good when I ask her, and she's always been the sort of horse that likes being a part of the action and racing up on the speed. Hopefully it doesn't faze her too much, but I think she'll be okay from there."

The $232,800 Blue Chip Matchmaker Series final goes as race seven on the 10-race program on Monday at Yonkers Raceway, and the $514,000 MGM Borgata Pacing Series final follows it in race eight. There are also consolations for both events, with the MGM Borgata Pacing Series consolation carrying a purse of $100,000 and the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series consolation going for $60,000. Post time is at 7:15 p.m. The full fields for both finals, with drivers, trainers and morning line odds, are listed below.

$514,000 MGM Borgata Pacing Series final

1-Rockapelo (George Brennan/Ron Burke, 9-2)
2-Hesa Kingslayer N (Jim Marohn Jr./Mike Deters, 6-1)
3-Mach N Cheese (Joe Bongiorno/Edwin Quevedo, 8-1)
4-Lyons Steel (Corey Callahan/Dennis Watson, 20-1)
5-Western Joe (Dexter Dunn/Chris Choate, 3-1)
6-Backstreet Shadow (Tim Tetrick/Ron Burke, 4-1)
7-Leonidas A (Austin Siegelman/Sheena McElhiney, 6-1)
8-This Is The Plan (Yannick Gingras/Ron Burke, 5-1)

$232,800 Blue Chip Matchmaker Series final

1-Machnhope (Andrew McCarthy/Noel Daley, 4-1)
2-Siesta Beach (Matt Kakaley/Nick DeVita, 5-1)
3-Blue Ivy (Tyler Buter/Todd Buter, 2-1)
4-Monica Gallagher (Jason Bartlett/Chris Height, 20-1)
5-Snobbytown (George Brennan/Ron Burke, 7-1)
6-Alexa Skye (Todd McCarthy/Jeff Cullipher, 5-2)
7-Caviart Cherie (Austin Siegelman/Nick DeVita, 20-1)
8-My Reube Star N (Jordan Stratton/Shane Tritton, 20-1)

(Yonkers Raceway)

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