Grand Circuit Stakes Continue

Published: September 6, 2014 08:20 pm EDT

Grand Circuit stakes wrapped up on Saturday night at Mohawk Racetrack with the spotlight on two and three-year-old pacers in the Champlain and Simcoe Stakes.

Favourite Dancin Hill ($3.80) and driver Scott Zeron opened the stakes action with a career-best 1:50.1 victory in the first of two $106,038 divisions of the Simcoe for three-year-old pacers.

The 4-5 bettors' choice from the Tony Alagna stable found a spot along the pylons in fourth early on and waited until the half-mile mark to make his move. Meanwhile, Carracci Hanover (James MacDonald) established the early lead with outsider On Golden Ponder (Randy Waples) settling into the pocket through a :27.3 opening panel. Western Vintage (Marcus Johansson) swept from third to first down the backstretch and reached the half in :55 and then three-quarters in 1:22.3 while Dancin Hill advanced first over. Dancin Hill took over the lead down the stretch and drew two and a half lengths clear with Winds Of Change (Chris Christoforou) rallying off cover for second and edging out Carracci Hanover.

Following the race, Alagna noted that the Rocknroll Hanover-Beyonce Blue Chip colt has been on the upswing since finishing fifth by three-quarters of a length in the $225,000 New Jersey Classic on Aug. 3 at The Meadowlands.

"He had an issue with his right hip and we've been working on that. He was getting real bad muscle spasms and we've had a lot of chiropractic work on him and he's finally starting to come around," explained Alagna. "He was actually running over horses to be fifth in the Jersey final. I thought if he shook loose he'd have won the Jersey Classic that day. It showed us that he was coming around and since then he's showed up a nice string of races.

"I was very happy with him [tonight]. I felt good at the head of the lane because I know he always kicks home hard and Scott said he was super."

Owned and bred by Tom Hill of Lancashire, Great Britain, Dancin Hill went two-for-four as a freshman and now has three wins in 12 sophomore starts and more than $133,000 in career earnings.

Dancin Hill is expected to head to Lexington, Kentucky tomorrow.

Heavy favourite Lyons Levi Lewis and driver Sylvain Filion won the first $123,120 Champlain Stakes division for two-year-old pacing colts and geldings in a new mark of 1:52.1.

The race was marred by an incident early on when Sports Bettor fell behind the gate from post three tossing James MacDonald from the sulky. The race proceeded with MacDonald making his way to the safety of the infield while Sports Bettor ran loose towards the paddock before being corralled.

Meanwhile, American Legend (Chris Christoforou) sprinted to the lead from the outside post nine over Some Power (Scott Zeron) into a :26.4 opening quarter before the quick-leaving Sporting The Look (Jody Jamieson) cleared. Filion then rolled Lyons Levi Lewis to the top after getting away fourth and hit the half-mile mark in :55.1. They continued to lead past three-quarters in 1:23.2 and down the stretch while Thinkofagameplan (Randy Waples) advanced into the pocket spot and chased him home one length behind in second. Some Power finished third.

"Leaving the gate, I just didn't want to get caught up in the speed duel," said Filion of his strategy as the race unfolded. "I let them settle and took the lead down the backside so I could control the pace."

Lyons Levi Lewis paid $2.70 to win as the 1-5 favourite. The Well Said-Tongue In Cheek colt entered Saturday's race off three runner-up efforts in stakes action, including a second-place finish to undefeated Artspeak in last weekend's $667,000 Metro Pace.

"He raced huge last week," noted Filion. "He sat in the three-hole and got shuffled back and he came back and fought hard to finish second. I thought he was just amazing last week. This week he was the heavy favourite so I raced him on the front end, but I think his best game is off a helmet.

"I think he's got all kinds of ability; he's got gate speed, he's very handy and he's got a big engine to him."

Trained by Ron Burke and owned by Joseph Lyons Mound of Burford, Ont., Lyons Levi Lewis now has two wins in seven starts and close to $268,000 in earnings.

Sports Bettor was refunded as was Freedomformysoul (Marcus Johansson), who was interfered with before the start when Sports Bettor fell to his outside.

Initial reports indicate Sports Bettor escaped the incident without any serious injuries.

"I'm okay, a little banged up tail bone won't be the same for a bit, but long way from my heart!" MacDonald told Trot Insider after the race.

Happy Becky ($6) was content to return to her winning ways in the first $117,557 division of the Champlain Stakes for two-year-old pacing fillies with a 1:52.2 career-best effort in rein to Chris Christoforou.

Sent postward as the 2-1 second choice, Happy Becky swept from third to first over even-money favourite Shakai Hanover (Jody Jamieson) after the :27-second opening panel and raced past the half in :55.4 and three-quarters in 1:23.4 with Shes A Hot Mess (Scott Zeron) looming first over. However, Happy Becky kept that rival at bay down the stretch with Shakai Hanover locked and loaded in the pocket. Shakai Hanover had to settle for second-place with a persistent Shes A Hot Mess finishing right there in third.

Happy Becky started her career with four straight wins and earned her fifth in seven starts in the Champlain while boosting her earnings over $118,000.

"I thought she was an upper class filly," said Christoforou of his initial assessment of Cams Card Shark-Happy Doris filly. "I won't say I was totally convinced the first time I sat behind her that she was a world class kind of a horse because she just doesn't look the part. She's kind of a small. She's thick but she's not that tall, but she's got a lot of determination and a very nice gait so she's been a pleasure."

Casie Coleman trains and co-owns Happy Becky with the West Wins Stable of Cambridge, Ont., J. Robert Darrow of Dublin, Ohio, Ron Broadstone of Columbus, Ohio and David Miller of Cream Ridge, New Jersey.

Happy Becky's win kicked off a natural hat trick for Christoforou and Coleman. After winning the next race with former Horse of the Year Michaels Power, the duo took another $123,120 Champlain division as two-year-old pacing colt If You Want Fire ($8.60) swept past the favourite in the final strides for a career-best 1:52.2 triumph.

There was a three-wide battle for the lead through a sizzling :26-second opening panel with Kona Kid (Paul MacDonell) parking out Southwind Indy (Jody Jamieson) and outsider Mitt Jagger (Scott Young). Southwind Indy worked his way to the lead past the first quarter mark and then Mitt Jagger eventually cleared, but favourite Lyons Again (Sylvain Filion) made his move after watching the early speed duel from fourth and brushed by.

Lyons Again led the field past the half in :54 and opened up a couple of lengths on top as he raced to three-quarters in 1:22.2 with first over Traceur Hanover (Randy Waples) tucking into the gaping two-hole. Jake Blue Chip (James MacDonald) was left uncovered with If You Want Fire on his back.

As the field straightened up down the homestretch, If You Want Fire sprang into action and sprinted his final quarter in :28.3 to collar runner-up Lyons Again at the wire for the three-quarter-length victory. The winner's stablemate, Mikes Powerhouse (Scott Zeron), came on for third over Traceur Hanover.

After starting his career in the New York Sire Stakes, If You Want Fire has earned three straight wins at Mohawk. The Bettors Delight-Dream Of Treasure colt has banked over $77,000 in seven career starts for West Wins Stable, Broadstone and partners Leslie Halsted of Columbus, Ohio and Dr. Fred Kruszelnicki of Brooks, Alta.

Scott Zeron picked up his second stakes win of the night as he guided the popular two-year-old pacing filly The Show Returns ($4.90) to victory lane in the next $117,557 Champlain division.

Zeron fired the post six starter to the lead over Sports Chic (Jody Jamieson) and posted a :27.2 first quarter before Solar Sister (Doug McNair), away third, rolled by in the backstretch. Solar Sister proceeded to the half in :56 and three-quarters in 1:24.1. She rebuffed a challenge from first over Dancin Caroll (Randy Waples) into the stretch, but couldn't fend off the pocket-pulling The Show Returns and pylon-skimming Sports Chic. The Show Returns matched her lifetime mark of 1:52 taken in last weekend's Shes A Great Lady Consolation. Sports Chic finished one length back in second with Solar Sister two and three-quarter lengths behind at the wire.

Owned by Richard and Joanne Young, the Rocknroll Hanover-Stienams Place filly, who is now three-for-eight with earnings climbing over $94,000, was making her first start from the Tony O'Sullivan stable.

"She's a very nice filly to have dropped off, but all the credit goes to [trainer] Chris Ryder...She's such a sweetheart, she's a professional, she does nothing wrong and for a two-year-old filly she's so relaxed. She obviously has the pedigree, but those fillies that look after themselves are usually the special ones."

The victory was the second of the night for the tandem of Zeron and O'Sullivan as they also joined forces earlier with back-to-back Preferred Pace winner Dovuto Hanover, who took this week's $34,000 event in 1:49 flat.

Saturday's Grand Circuit stakes concluded with Melmerby Beach ($6.50) holding off Play It Again Sam in a one-two finish for Maritime connections in the $107,538 second split of the Simcoe for sophomore pacers.

Leaving from post five, driver Paul MacDonell sent Melmerby Beach to the lead and carved out fractions of :26.4, :54.4 and 1:22.1. Meanwhile, Play It Again Sam (James MacDonald) swept around early pocket-sitter Three Of Club (Doug McNair) and moved back out to challenge the leader heading into the stretch. However, Melmerby Beach paced strong to the wire in 1:50.2 with Dr. Ian Moore trainee Play It Again Sam, owned by Wayne Eric Whebby of Dartmouth, N.S. and R G McGroup Ltd. of Bathurst, N.B., missing by just a quarter-length. Favourite Jet Airway (Randy Waples) came on for third.

The homebred Somebeachsomewhere-Db Blue Chip colt is trained by Brent MacGrath and owned by Schooner II Stable of Truro, N.S. After just one win in five freshman starts, he has earned six victories in 14 starts this year with Saturday's score his biggest yet, pushing his bankroll to nearly $160,000.

"The last few weeks we've been leaving with him pretty good. We haven't really done that much most of the year and he seems to be responding to that style of racing so far," said MacDonell after the race. "I think the Fall weather is going to help him. He's suffered a bit of allergy symptoms most of the summer and he's just getting strong and better and we're hoping for a good Fall season with him.

"He just has automatic speed and he's got some power," said MacDonell, noting some of the colt's strengths. "He's got a lot of things that can take a horse a long way."

To view Saturday's harness racing results, click on the following link: Saturday Results - Mohawk Racetrack.

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