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Italy Claims Friendship Competition Title

Published: August 19, 2016 10:30 pm ET

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The visiting Italians came from behind at Tioga Downs on Friday night (August 19) to out-point the Americans in the Italian-American Friendship Competition and won the three-race international driving rivalry.

On the strength of two driving victories by Otello Zoretto, the visiting Italians walked away with all the accolades and overcame being on the short end of the 71-53 score that was in play prior to the final two races at Tioga. They ended up winning by a score of 109-94.

Maybe it was the bigger track, or maybe it was the luck of the draw, but whatever it was the visitors stuck it to the Americans. Zorzetto, a business man from the Venice area of Italy and a winner of over 475 career races, put on a driving show against his American counterparts over the Tioga Downs five-eighths-mile oval. But Zorzetto needed help from his teammates for the Italian success.

In the first of the two competition races, the Italians finished second, third and fourth behind Zorzetto’s wire-to-wire 1:58.2 triumph with P & J Stables' trotter Supercourt, ironically trained by a Monticello Raceway regular Gary Messenger.

Sent off as the 3-2 betting favourite, Zorzetto sent his charge to the lead and at the first stanza the Italians held the first four positions in the race. And much to the Americans’ chagrin, the visitors remained in that order all the way to the finish line. In the lane, fellow Italian Raffaello Ruffato made a late charge at the pacesetter with Aruba Vacation, but they fell a head short at the wire. Italy’s Giancarlo Moretti, of Murano Glass fame, finished third with Gliding Boy.

Supercourt paid $5.30 to win.

After winning on the front-end, Zorzetto showed he can come from behind too, which he did with pacer Surge Seelster in the 1:55.3 mile. In the deep stretch, they collared the leader, strangely named Italian Rebel and driven by the USA’s Joe Lee. Third-place went to Cabrera, in rein the Italy’s Giancarlo Moretti.

Owned by Corey, Thomas, Kathleen and Terry Braden and trained by Stacy McLanaghan, Surge Seelster paid $5.60 to win.

“It was a fun competition,” noted NAADA’s Event Planner, Alicia Schwartz. “Everyone had a good time. Of course, we probably could have had a better time if we were on the winning side, but it really didn’t matter.

“But I would like to say thank you to Tioga Downs’ Don Cromer. He was wonderful and he couldn’t have been more accommodating.”

Saratoga invader So Nice ($7.30) led a driving hat trick for Mike Merton on Friday evening's 11-race card at Tioga, holding off all comers in the co-featured $13,000 Mares Open 1 Pace.

The six-year-old Ponder mare sprinted clear authoritatively from post six before reaching the first turn and controlling terms through early splits of :28 and :56.3. Up the far side, So Nice was forced to accelerate by 1-2 favourite Stacia Hanover (Mike Simons), whose first-over pressure prompted a :26.4 third quarter. So Nice withstood the challenge in kind, edging away at head-stretch and holding off a late bid from Heart Major (Jim Meittinis), who lunged from the pocket to just miss. So Nice prevailed by a neck over Heart Major in 1:51.3, while Shutthefrontdoor (Scott Coulter) rallied off stalling cover to save third.

Amber Buter trains 22-time winner So Nice for the Gene Oldford Farms LLC, Steve Oldford, and Tyler Buter.

Merton also prevailed with Brandos Muscle Man ($4.30, 1:56.2) and Lisa On Top ($17.80, 2:00.1).

The $13,000 Open 1 Trot saw Prairie Fortune ($6.60) rally off cover to capture his fifth win in seven tries. He drafted behind Its Payday Friday before vaulting three-wide at head-stretch and lifting to collar Swishnflick in 1:55. Jim Meittinis drove the four-year-old Arapa Victory gelding for Mike Deters -- who trains the 22-time winner -- and Laurie Poulin.

(With files from NAADA and Tioga Downs)

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