When Nocturnal Bluechip came to Jeff Gillis’ stable in Canada late last summer, the trainer admittingly didn’t know what to expect. Then a five-year-old gelding, Nocturnal Bluechip was a stakes winner at two and three and established himself as a consistent type in the conditioned and non-winners ranks at Yonkers and Pocono Downs in his four- and five-year old seasons.
Immediately before heading north, the Bettors Delight son even made a start in the Great Northeast Open Series at Pocono, finish fifth in a 1:49.2 mile.
“The owner called me and asked me to try him up in Canada, and so I did not really knowing what to expect,” Gillis said. “He’s not a horse that I had followed. I haven’t had a ton of success with Bettors Delight, although many others have. Being that he’s an older sire, I expected Nocturnal Bluechip to be a little lazy, which he can be at times. I watched a bunch of replays on him and just kind of played it by ear.”
Nocturnal Bluechip made his first start for Gillis at the non-winners of $30,000 last five level August 25 and won his first race for his new trainer in his fourth start after dropping to the non-winners of $11,000 last five level September 15. Then, the gelding got on a roll.
Nocturnal Bluechip made it four straight victories over the following month, including two at the Preferred level, and took a mark of 1:48.2 in the process. He’s raced almost exclusively at the Preferred level since, racking up another two victories and six placings. The streak boosted the gelding’s earnings to $473,351 for owner NLG Racing Stable.
“I just went into it with an open mind, clean slate, let him dictate and tell us what he is. Not really many expectations good or bad,” Gillis said. “He’s certainly has surprised me. Initially, I wasn’t quite sure about him, but he found his form toward the late summer-early fall and he’s been pretty consistent since.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” the trainer continued. “He’s a horse that’s got good tactical speed, he’s been pretty consistent, he’s got a turn of foot, so there’s a lot to like about him.”
Nocturnal Bluechip’s impressive run over the winter gave Gillis the confidence to nominate to the George Morton Levy Memorial Pacing Series. It’s the first time Gillis will compete in the six-week event, which begins March 16. The trainer will also bring Obvious Blue Chip to the Matchmaker Series.
“I’m excited to have a couple that I think can be factors in the series,” Gillis said. “It’s kind of a quiet time of year for stakes and this gets the ball rolling for the year, so I’m very much looking forward to it.”
Nocturnal Bluechip will prepare for the series with a start in Saturday night’s (March 9) $44,000 Open Handicap Pace. Unlike many of his Levy Series rivals, Nocturnal Bluechip raced through the winter. However, with only two starts this year, Gillis thinks the gelding will still be fresh heading into the grueling series.
“I guess it’s the old adage, rest versus rust,” he said. “Early in the series, it would favour a horse that’s been racing and then as the series gets on, maybe it favours a fresher horse being that it is six straight weeks if you make the final. But I’m going to say that Nocturnal Bluechip fits somewhere in between because he’s raced through the winter, but he’s raced fairly infrequently. It will be four weeks off heading into this week and he’d only raced twice in the previous seven, so he’s fresh at the same time I feel.”
Although Gillis is unsure how much of a role the seven-eighths mile track at Mohawk has played in Nocturnal Bluechip’s recent success, the trainer doesn’t think the switch back to the half-mile oval at Yonkers will be an issue. The gelding is 1-for-16 on the half with another five placings.
“I haven’t ever raced him on a half, but I don’t expect it to be an issue at all,” Gillis said. “I guess we’ll wait and see. I’ve reviewed his lines and seen that he’s raced there before. We’ll wait and see.”
Nocturnal Bluechip drew post two for his first local Open try and will employ the driving services of Dan Dube; the pair are 15-1 on the morning line. Bit Of A Legend drew post six off his first win of the year in the Open February 23 while the runner up from that race and a winner of the Open February 16, Don Domingo, drew post seven.
Preferred runner up last out Killer Martini drew favourably in post four while three-time Preferred winner this season Imarocknrollegend will start from post eight. Australian import Sams A Champ debuted a winner at Freehold last out for Tahnee Camilleri and was assigned post one. Bettor Memories and Shneonucrzydiamnd complete the lineup.
“I don’t know the field very well. I just know that this horse is quick off the wings, so I feel like he’ll get himself spotted most of the time. I find that those horses tend to get you pieces a lot on a small track, even if they don’t win,” Gillis said. “This is really a dress rehearsal for the series, so I’m not going in with any expectations. I’m just going to experiment and see how it goes.”
The first leg of the Bluechip Matchmaker Series is Friday, March 15 while the George Morton Levy Series kicks off Saturday, March 16.
Live harness racing is featured at Yonkers Raceway every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. First post time is 6:50 p.m.
(SOA of NY)