Harness racing’s newest stars battled it out Saturday night (August 20) at Mohawk Racetrack in Grand Circuit action.
The Nassagaweya and Eternal Camnation Stakes put two-year-old pacers in the spotlight. Each event carried a total purse of $211,000 and saw two divisions contested. Many of the rookies battling in Saturday’s stakes were preparing for next week’s Metro Pace and Shes A Great Lady eliminations.
The Nassagaweya Stakes started off with a bang, as 60-1 longshot Rock This Way pulled off a stunning upset over eight other colts and geldings in the $106,250 first division.
Bettors Dream was made the 1-5 heavy favourite, as the Scott McEneny trainee carried a perfect three-for-three record into the event. Driven by Doug McNair, the son of Bettors Delight left hard and cleared to the lead at the opening quarter in :26.3.
There was no breather for Bettors Dream in the second-quarter, as 30-1 shot Classic Pro was parked out and pressing the leader to the half in :53.4. McNair kept Classic Pro to the outside, as Bettors Dream continued to power along around the far turn and took the field by the three-quarter pole in 1:22.3.
The big fractions set up well for those near the back to make a stretch bid, including Rock This Way and Mario Baillargeon. The 60-1 longshot got away last and was into the outer flow around the final turn, but continued to sit ninth.
In the stretch, Bettors Dream dug in to try and finish the job, but Rock This Way unleashed a :27.3 final quarter to sweep by his rivals for the 1:51.3 victory. Bettors Dream was a game second, finishing two and a half lengths behind the winner. Classic Pro also showed grit and hung in to finish third.
Trained by Ben Baillargeon, Rock This Way is owned and was bred by Santo and Nunzio Vena. The gelded son of Rocknroll Hanover was winless in four prior starts to Saturday, but Mario Baillargeon had plenty of confidence in the rookie after his start a week ago.
“Last week he came his last three-quarters in 1:21.4,” said Baillargeon. “He’s been battling sickness, but he was our best colt all winter.”
Baillargeon noted many similarities between Rock This Way and another horse he had plenty of success with back in 2002.
“I always told Ben [Baillargeon] that he reminds me of Totally Western. Totally Western was a great two-year-old and he acts exactly like him.”
Rock This Way, who is eligible to next week’s Metro Pace eliminations, entered the Nassagaweya Stakes with just $700 earned, but exits with a bankroll of $53,825. He returned $140 to win.
The second division of the Nassagaweya didn’t feature a major upset, but saw a great three-horse finish.
A field of eight clashed in the $104,750 second split. Macs Jackpot went off as the even-money favourite for new trainer Tony O’Sullivan, who also sent out Calvin K.
Driven by Sylvain Filion, Macs Jackpot got away fourth, while Windsong Napoleon cut an opening quarter of :27.1. Calvin K quickly leapfrogged from second to first entering the backstretch and led the field by the half in :55.3.
Filion was able to pick up cover around the final turn, as Macs Jackpot sat second over. Meanwhile, Calvin K continued to motor along on the lead and had more than three lengths on the field at the three-quarter pole in 1:23.3.
In the stretch, Calvin K had almost five lengths on his rivals with an eighth of a mile to go, but Macs Jackpot and Darlings Dragon, who was third over on the final turn, both hit their best strides late to make it a wild finish. Macs Jackpot reached up in the final strides to score the 1:52 victory. Darlings Dragon finished second by a head, while Calvin K was beat a neck in third.
A son of Somebeachsomewhere, Macs Jackpot had been racing south of the border for trainer Jim Campbell and was sent up to O’Sullivan by owner/breeder Jeffrey Snyder for the Nassagaweya and other stakes events.
“We literally just got him this week,” said O’Sullivan following the race. “I trained him a trip and he felt like he’s a big powerful gelding and Jim had said that he was kind of going in the right direction, so all the credit goes to Jim Campbell.”
Macs Jackpot is the third foal out of Michelles Power, a winner of $1.3 million. He now has three wins in six starts and $79,569 earned. Macs Jackpot paid $4.10 to win.
Over on the pacing filly side, the first $105,550 Eternal Camnation division saw Candlelight Dinner improve to four-for-four to start her career with a 1:52.2 score.
The Casie Coleman trainee was unhurried off the wings of the gate by driver Jonathan Drury and patiently made her way towards the front. Parked by the opening quarter in :27.4, Candlelight Dinner quickly grabbed command entering the backstretch and it was lights out from there.
The daughter of American Ideal posted middle-half panels of :56.4 and 1:25, before firing home in :27.2 to win at odds of 1-9. Happy Hannah finished a length and a half behind Candlelight Dinner in second, while Everyones Watching was third.
Following the Eternal Camnation victory, Drury talked about the development of Candlelight Dinner.
“She qualified like a real nice filly, did everything you asked of her and did it all on her own,” said Drury, who noted he wanted to make things easy for the rookie on Saturday.
“I didn’t want to push her to the front, I wanted to try and get there as easy as I could.”
Candlelight Dinner sold for $110,000 last fall’s Lexington Selected Yearling Sale. She now has $86,675 earned through four starts for owners Mac Nichol, Let It Ride Stables Inc. and Howard Taylor.
With victories in the Whenuwishuponastar Series final and now the Eternal Camnation, Candlelight Dinner is expected to headline next Saturday’s Shes A Great Lady eliminations.
In the $105,550 second division, Bettors Up made a statement of her own with a 1:52.1 victory. The McEneny-trained filly was returning to Mohawk after three starts in the Pennsylvania Sires Stakes, where she posted two victories and a runner-up finish.
Sent off as the 1-2 favourite, Bettors Up and driver James MacDonald got away sixth before making a second quarter brush to the lead. Once on top, the daughter of Bettors Delight posted middle fractions of :57 and 1:25.2.
In the stretch, Bettors Up fired home in :27.2 for a convincing 1:52.1 score. Fade, who got a two-hole trip, was second, while Manhattan Play was third.
Owned by Brad Grant, Teresa Davidson and Michelle McEneny, Bettors Up now has five wins from six starts and earnings of $140,730.
Following the race, Scott McEneny noted that the filly is not eligible to the Shes A Great Lady and next up will be a return to Pennsylvania.
“She’s got one more start at The Meadows and then she’s got the Pennsylvania Sires Stakes final,” he said.
Bettors Up paid $3 to win.
Many of these two-year-olds will return for their respective stakes eliminations next Saturday. The Grand Circuit continues at Mohawk on Friday evening (August 26), as three-year-old trotting fillies will battle in the Casual Breeze Stakes.
In Preferred action, State Treasurer now boasts back-to-back victories in the $34,000 top pacing class, with his latest conquest on Saturday night a season's-best 1:48.3 mile over Nickle Bag and Ellis Park. The reigning Horse of the Year was driven by Chris Christoforou and is trained by Dr. Ian Moore for owners Sally MacDonald and Paul MacDonald.
To view Saturday's harness racing results, click on the following link: Saturday Results - Mohawk Racetrack.
(With files from WEG)