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Shepherd Sticks With Panongahela

Published: September 27, 2012 8:11 pm ET

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When David Menary and Robert Shepherd swept the two-year-old pacing colt Grassroots Semifinals last week it put driver Shepherd in the difficult position of having to choose which talented young pacer to drive in this Saturday’s $100,000 Grassroots Championship.

The Cambridge resident opted for Panongahela from Post 7, leaving Panpero Firpo for Randy Waples to steer from Post 4 in the fourth race, but says the decision was anything but straightforward.

“I’ve kind of second guessed myself,” Shepherd admits. “But Panongahela, he raced so good his last couple starts. In Dresden (Sept. 3) he was really good and at Georgian (Sept. 11) he was awesome, he got away last, tipped three-wide at the three-quarters and swooped the field.”

Panongahela was also impressive in last week’s Semifinal win, controlling the tempo for most of the mile, fighting off a challenge from Sly Ruler through the last quarter and sprinting home in :27.4 to record a one length victory in 1:54.4. The win was the No Pan Intended son’s third straight and his fourth this season.

Panpero Firpo’s Semifinal win was the colt’s fourth straight, and came from an off the pace effort that saw him circle the leaders in the final strides to record a half length victory in 1:55.4. Shepherd says the win is typical of the long legged pacer, whose margin of victory is usually less than one length.

“He’ll never make you say, ‘Wow.’ He’ll only win by a head or a half a length. He saves himself,” explains the driver. “I think that might be in his favour in the long run.

“I think he might be a better horse as a three-year-old,” adds the driver.

Bred and owned by Peter Pan Stables Inc of Pepper Pike, OH, both Panongahela and Panpero Firpo started the season under the tutelage of Pennsylvania-based trainer Ron Burke, who tested their skills in two Gold Series events before transferring care over to Menary in late July. Panpero Firpo made his first start for Menary on Aug. 3, scoring a half length victory at Flamboro Downs in an overnight event, and Panongahela got his first start for the Cheltenham resident in the Aug. 13 Grassroots event at Mohawk Racetrack where he was a 1:53.1 winner.

“The first start I raced him was at Mohawk and he came first up and won in 1:53.1 and I gelded him at eight o’clock the next morning,” says Menary. “I kind of really think that made his year. He had a lot of little quirks and when we gelded him he matured.”

Shepherd agrees with Menary’s assessment and says Panongahela has improved with each start since his early morning veterinary appointment.
“Ever since Dave castrated him he’s gotten better every start,” says the driver. “And he’s gotten smarter in the race. Now when you move him he puts himself into gear. All you have to do is move him.

“He’s handy, that’s his best quality,” Shepherd adds. “He’s handy and he’s smart.”

In addition to his pair of No Pan Intended freshmen, Menary will also harness three-year-old pacing filly Driving Miss Deo from Post 5 in the eighth race. The filly finished third from Post 6 in her Semifinal, off a first over effort that Menary admits caused him a few moments of concern.

“The only thing with her, all year she’s never been very good first up so I was a little worried when she was first up for that long,” explains the trainer. “But she hung around and kept digging. I was impressed with her race.”

Anthony MacDonald piloted the Lis Mara daughter in her Semifinal and will be back in the race bike for Saturday’s championship. The Guelph resident crafted two of the filly’s four wins this season for Menary and his partner Putnam Training Centre Ltd of Mossley. Through 18 sophomore starts Driving Miss Deo boasts a record of four wins, four seconds and three thirds for earnings of $50,235.

“She’s just kind of been a nice surprise filly,” says Menary. “She’s definitely better on a half. She’s super handy.”

MacDonald and Driving Miss Deo will be looking to carve out a trip behind Semifinal winners Jet Speed and Machet Rocket, who will start to their inside at Posts 1 and 4 respectively.

Grand River Raceway will showcase Ontario’s gifted Grassroots finalists in Races 2 though 5 and 7 through 10 on Saturday night. Post time for the first race at the Elora oval is 7:05 p.m.

(OSS)

To view entries for Saturday's card of harness racing, click the following link: Saturday Entries – Grand River Raceway.


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