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Chiodo Chimes In On Mighty Joe Young


Published: April 30, 2009 9:11 pm ET

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He might very well be the longest pari-mutuel proposition for Yonkers Raceway's $370,000 final of the George Morton Levy Memorial Pacing Series Saturday night, but Mighty Young Joe is perhaps also the most unique.

Start with the name, a sort-of dyslexic version of the 1949 movie ape, Mighty Joe Young, brought from Africa by a girl to a Hollywood nightclub.

In the Levy series, the girl has been played by trainer/driver Stacy Chiodo (type-casting?), and her "gorilla" - with a preliminary-round win to his credit - enters the final with career earnings in excess of $254,000.

"He was originally named N F Trombone Alley, and we changed it," Chiodo said. "Mighty Joe Young was already taken, so we just turned it around a bit."

"Joey," as he's referred to in the barn, is owned by Chiodo's mother, Pamela Jane Menosky. "Mom had a yearling by On the Road Again, and she looked at this horse because the dam's sire is On the Road Again," Chiodo said. "And, he fit our ($5,000) budget."

The six-year-old Blissfull Hall gelding drew post position four for the final of Yonkers' premier Free-For-All event, which goes as the ninth race on the 11-race card (first post 7:10 p.m.).

The race, inaugurated in 1978 - a year after Levy's death - honours the founder of Roosevelt Raceway and a 1966 inductee into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame. It is the richest harness race of the season to date.

So how does a $4,500 yearling who came complete with a nasty scar on his left rear leg end up in the same room with some of the best older pacers in training?

After a modest two-year-old season - that one win in a division of the Reynolds at Pocono was Chiodo's first driving victory - he was staked at three.

"But didn't come back good, so we gelded him," Chiodo said.

"Joey" won thrice in 28 starts in his sophomore season, earning just under $18,000.

Then, the light bulb went on. Mighty Young Joe found his stride in the back half of 2007, racing very well in series competition at both Pocono and Chester.

"He just loves the five-eighths mile tracks," Chiodo said. "He finishes his races better on those tracks, even when he's racing against better than on a mile track."

As a four-year-old, Mighty Young Joe had seven wins, five seconds and seven thirds in 35 starts, while banking a healthy $102,397. One of those victories - a life-best 1:50.3 at Chester in mid-September - made Chiodo the "fastest woman driver" in harness history.

Last season, while "Joey" paid the freight with more than $53,000 in the bank, it took until Start 20 of a 21-race season to get his lone '08 victory.

Mighty Young Joe won his first 2009 race here Valentine's Night (1:56.1), but overnight company and the Levy series are two different entities.

"We had thought about nominating for this series (in 2008), but he had a hard ('07) season and needed a break," Chiodo said. "When it came around again, with the chance to race for $50,000 a week for five consecutive weeks, and even knowing you have to go all those big miles on a half-mile track, we thought it was worth a shot. Even if it cost $5,000 (nomination fee) of mom's money."

After finishing up the track in Round 1, "Joey" rebounded with third-place effort the next week.

"In the third week, we drew the rail and I was too anxious from the pocket," Chiodo said. "I moved too early in the stretch and the horse behind me (Atochia) went in the passing lane and won (Mighty Young Joe was third). I thought about the drive all week, and promised myself I'd be more patient."

Chiodo and "Joey" authored the biggest prelim-round surprise in round four, working out a perfect, second-over trip for a 15-1 win in 1:53.3 – his quickest win time in 2009.

A sixth-place finish last week left Mighty Young Joe tied for eighth in the points standings with Psiluvuheartbreaker, which ordinarily would have meant a draw to see who earned a berth in the final. However, since three of the leading seven horses were trained by Ron Burke - and conditions say a trainer cannot have more than two starters in the final (or consolation) - both "Joey" and "Heartbreaker" are behind the gate for big coin.

"At this level, the gender of the driver isn't a factor," Chiodo said. "It's the class of the horse that matters. Other drivers don't treat me any differently.

Chiodo, who has 13 horses in the barn at Congress Hill Farm (Monroe Township, NJ), has a special place for 'Joey."

"It's been such a great relationship with him," she said. "He's a once-in-a-lifetime horse."

(Yonkers Raceway)

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