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Proud American Captures Open

Published: April 19, 2009 12:08 am ET

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Chris Lems logged three driving victories at Vernon Downs on Saturday night, April 18, including a 1:55.1 showing behind Proud American in the $9,000 Open Pace.

Sitting in for trainer Lonny Hale, Lems moved Proud American from third into the lead after a half in :58.4, and kept the six-year-old sidewheeler in front to the finish, scoring by a head over the on-rushing Four One One in the featured ninth race. He paid $12.60 to win.

It marked the first start of the season for Proud American, who earned his 16th career tally and increased his career winnings to $196,676 for owner Rocco Manzi. The Village Jove offspring secured his 1:52 lifetime mark over Vernon’s seven-eighths mile oval last year.

In joining Howard Okusko, Jr. as the track’s only three-time winner after two racing nights, Lems also posted first-place finishes behind the pacers Delightful Dancer (1:56.1) in the first test and Hobby Art Benka (1:55.2) in the eighth event.

Proud American’s determined effort also provided twin triumphs for Hale and Manzi. Hale conditions Cape Crusade (1:55.4), who won Saturday’s sixth session, while Manzi holds the registration papers on Delightful Dancer, trained by Howard Okusko, Sr.

Twin tallies were also tacked up by drivers Claude Huckabone, Jr. (Bobby J and Cape Crusade) and Jimmy Whittemore (Outlaw Blues and Preacher Preacher), as well as trainer Bob Gruber, III (Liebeck and Preacher Preacher).

The front-striding 1:54 showing by Outlaw Blues in Saturday’s third race stands as the fastest mile of Vernon’s fledgling 56th season. Whittemore’s father, Dennis, owns the six-year-old speedster.

(Vernon Downs)

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