Beaton Sweeps Meadowlands Pace Elims; Close Calls In Graduate Finals

Published: July 7, 2024 12:01 am EDT

Pepsi North America Cup winner Nijinsky stamped himself as the likely favourite in the $650,000 USD Meadowlands Pace final with a determined 1:47.3 score over rival Funtime Bayama in the second of two $68,493 eliminations of the summer classic for three-year-old male pacers on Saturday, July 6 at the Meadowlands. Legendary Hanover captured the first elim, giving trainer Anthony Beaton a sweep of the preliminary dashes. 

Driver Louis-Philippe Roy settled Nijinsky in fifth off a stampede to the first turn that saw Captain Luke (driven by Scott Zeron) vault clear of McCrunch (Yannick Gingras) from his outside post eight through a taxing :25.4 first quarter, only to yield control to McCrunch upon reaching the backstretch. Meanwhile, Nijinsky latched onto live cover behind Captain Albano (Todd McCarthy), lost that cover when Captain Albano cleared with nine-sixteenths to go, and pushed clear himself just beyond a :53.1 half.

There was no respite for Nijinsky after he made the lead as Funtime Bayama (Dexter Dunn) — who was third-over on the backstretch — aggressively took aim midway on the far turn, and the two dueled past three-quarters in 1:21.1 and off the corner for home. Nijinsky stood his ground in the stretch, though, and repelled his outside challenger by three-quarters of a length in a career-best showing. Captain Albano became rough-gaited in upper stretch and finished a detached third, 3-1/2 lengths farther behind, followed by Captain Luke and Its Saturday Night (Andy McCarthy).

Despite the early exertion and late pressure, Roy was high on his colt's fitness level exiting the race:

"I didn't even pull the earplugs; I know every time I pull the plugs he goes to another gear. Every time we've tested him, he always answers nicely. Tonight, I feel like he had more left than in the N.A. Cup final."

Nijinsky is a perfect six-for-six this season, and now has won seven of his 16 career races for the partnership of West Wins Stable, John Fielding and Mark Dumain. He paid $4.80 to win as the narrow 7-5 favourite.

The first elimination saw Mirage Hanover (Tim Tetrick) protect inside position to establish the early lead over Breeders Crown champion Gem Quality (Dunn) through a :26.3 first quarter while Canada's 2024 National Driving Champion James MacDonald settled Legendary Hanover in third. Mirage Hanover maintained control of the pace through a rated :55.1 half, and the top trio remained unchallenged on the far turn after the first-over Ivy Park (Gingras) failed to get any closer than four lengths from the lead on the far turn before fading.

After hitting three-quarters in 1:22.4, Mirage Hanover found himself under pressure from Gem Quality, who edged out of the pocket turning for home. With Ivy Park weakening off the corner, MacDonald had room to hook Legendary Hanover three-wide in upper stretch, and the Huntsville-Lillian Hanover colt surged to the fore with a sixteenth to go, capping his 1:48 lifetime-best performance with an astonishing :24.4 sprint home. Mirage Hanover narrowly held off Gem Quality for second, 1-1/4 lengths back; Captains Quarters (Jody Jamieson) and Number Cruncher (Zeron) completed the top five finishers.

"Today I was looking for a nice trip and to have him pacing at the end; it couldn't have worked out any better," said MacDonald. "I didn't think fitness would be a problem. I was confident he'd be fit enough; it was my job to find a nice trip for him."

It was the ninth career win in 15 starts for Legendary Hanover, who races for the partnership of Eric Good, West Wins Stable and Mark Dumain. As the 5-2 second choice, he paid $7.00 to win.

The top five finishers from each elimination earned berths to the Meadowlands Pace final on Saturday, July 13. Meadowlands rules for races with eliminations dictate that Nijinsky and Legendary Hanover will draw for posts one through six by virtue of their elimination wins; the draw will take place Tuesday (July 9).


Winners Bet flew uncovered into a sizzling three-quarters to seize the lead and win the $230,000 Graduate Trot final at The Meadowlands on Saturday.

Dexter Dunn steered the Walner four-year-old to a winning mile in 1:50.4. It was Winners Bet's third straight win of the 2024 season and it was Dexter Dunn's second straight winning drive in the Graduate Trot Final, winning last year with the mare Jiggy Jog S against the boys.

The gate opened with 17-1 shot Oh Well's ambitious move from post eight for driver Todd McCarthy. He rolled three wide on the first turn trying to get the lead while Winners Bet took back to race fifth. The first quarter was clocked in :27.3 with Oh Well slugging to the lead. Hasty Bid (MacDonald) secured the spot behind the leader and Chapercraz (Yannick Gingras) was shuffled to third as Oh Well trotted to the half in :55.3 with no foes yet looming.

Staying steady from fifth, Dunn soon fired with Winners Bet to challenge Oh Well into the final turn and was within striking distance by three-quarters in 1:23.3. Winners Bet took over the lead from Oh Well in the stretch and then fended off late haste from second-over Special Way (Tim Tetrick) in deep stretch to win by a nose at the beam. Chapercraz closed late to take third and Oh Well held fourth.

Nancy Takter trains Winners Bet, out of the Donato Hanover mare Side Bet Hanover. He is now a nine-time winner and lifetime earner of $938,318 in 23 starts. Lindy Farms of Connecticut owns Winners Bet with Robert A. Rudolph.

The win mutuel for the overwhelming favourite, Winners Bet, was $2.40.

A crafty speed steer from Jordan Stratton perched Voukefalas in a pocket spot, from which he pounced to the lead and then lasted to the end of a 1:47.3 mile to win the $230,000 Graduate Pace.

Starting from post six, Stratton floated off the wings with Voukefalas while a three-pronged charge barreled for the first turn. Ken Hanover, the 2-1 favorite, grabbed the point out of post nine for driver David Miller in the :26.3 sprint to the first quarter with No Control (Jody Jamieson) on his back. But Stratton had Voukefalas rolling on the rim through the turn and promptly planted himself on a brief lead entering the backstretch.

Once pocketed, Ken Hanover pulled off the pylons and retook control moving for a :54 half. All the while the backfield awaited someone to pull first over, and eventually Huntinthelastdolar (Gingras) made the move out of fourth and began a moderate advance through three-quarters in 1:21.2. Huntinthelastdolar’s bid was brief and he stalled on the turn for home, which gave Stratton clearance to angle outside with Voukefalas and send him into top gear. Voukefalas vaulted past Ken Hanover in the stretch and stayed strong as his competition closed in late stretch to notch the win by three-quarter lengths over No Control, who tipped to the centre of the track and rallied for second. Act Fast (Todd McCarthy) came from near last for third and Seafire (Scott Zeron) rallied off cover for fourth.

“He’s been really good these last couple of weeks going forward and charging at the wire,” winning driver Jordan Stratton said after the race. He’s really come back good as a four-year-old and it helps racing four-year-olds. The horse is a dream come true. He shows up every week. It’s been a lifelong dream to win a Grand Circuit race at The Meadowlands and tonight feels great. All the credit goes to the connections and the ownership.

“I was super confident in this whole series with him," trainer Michael Russo said. “In his last two starts here, I thought he was the best each time. He didn’t get a clean trip either time. Going in I thought I could win, I thought I should win, but obviously I thought Ken Hanover was the best when the series started.”

Voukefalas, a four-year-old stallion by Lazarus N out of the Cams Fortune mare Inittowinafortune, notched his fourth win on the season and his 11th victory from 28 starts. He’s now banked $821,120 for owner-breeder Michael Pagonas and paid $18.40 to win in his mild upset.

ARDAN PARTY: The incredible Oakwood Ardan IR, a six-year-old gelded son of Sweet Lou-Trend Setter, displayed his usual explosive late pace in taking the 11th-race finale high-end conditioned pace for driver Andy McCarthy in 1:48.1, just a tick off his lifetime best.

Since his arrival from Great Britain last December, the Robert Cleary trainee has won 10 times from just 11 Meadowlands starts. His only other North American outing came in the June 15 Gold Cup at Woodbine Mohawk Park, in which he finished fifth in Linedrive Hanover’s 1:47.2 score.

A LITTLE MORE: Andy Miller led the drivers with two victories while Tony Beaton had a double to top the trainers. All-source handle on the 11-race card totaled $2,893,666, an average per race of $263,060. On a usual 14-race program, that per race number would put total business at $3.68 million. Live harness racing resumes Friday, July 12 at 6:20 p.m.


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