This week’s Grand Circuit schedule opens on Friday (June 19) at The Meadowlands with the $40,000 opening leg of the Miss Versatility for trotting mares, featuring another battle between Atlanta and Manchego.
Grand Circuit action will also be held this week on Sunday (June 21) with the $164,000 Roll With Joe for open pacers and three $50,000 divisions in the first leg of the Graduate Series for four-year-old open pacers.
Last time: The 2019 USHWA Trainer of the Year Marcus Melander picked up right where he left off on Sunday (June 14) at Tioga Downs, picking up a pair of victories in the $50,000 Graduate Series divisions with Gimpanzee and Grand Swan.
Last year’s Breeders Crown three-year-old colt trot champion Gimpanzee (Brian Sears), making his first start of the year, quickly went to the lead from post six. He led Chin Chin Hall (Dexter Dunn) through a torrid opening marker of :26.4, before getting a breather in the second panel of :28.2 (:55.1).
As the field moved up the backstretch, Gimpanzee faced no challengers and leisurely trotted through three-quarters in 1:23, with Chin Chin Hall and Reign Of Honor (David Miller) in tow. As they trotted through the stretch, no one could get close to Gimpanzee who was hand driven through the stretch by Sears, winning by 1-1/4 lengths over Chin Chin Hall in 1:51.2. Reign Of Honor wound up third.
Gimpanzee (Chapter Seven-Steamy Windows) scored his 18th victory in 24 lifetime starts, pushing his earnings to $1,745,111 for owners Courant Inc. and S R F Stable.
Grand Swan completed the Melander sweep with a game performance in the second division of the Graduate.
Pure Chance (Aaron Merriman) wasted no time getting to the front, pushing the gate away to a 1-1/4 length advantage. Pure Chance would have company around the first turn in the form of Hatikvah (Mattais Melander) and Grand Swan (Brian Sears). Sears patiently guided Grand Swan to the front after an early three-wide skirmish just past the quarter in :27.3.
Sears was able to control the fractions on the front end with a :29.1 (:56.4) second panel, leading Grand Swan and a parked out Hatikvah into the backstretch for the last time. Heading to the three-quarter marker in 1:25, Grand Swan tried to get away, but Merriman latched onto the Sears helmet and would take his shot through the stretch.
The second victory for Sears and Melander did not come as easily as it had in the first division, as Pure Chance tipped to the outside turning for home. Under a drive, Grand Swan dug in late, winning by a neck over a hard-charging Pure Chance in 1:53. Explosivebreakaway (Tom Jackson) closed to be third.
Bred in Indiana by Larry Miller Jr. and owned by Never 2 Late Stable, Grand Swan Racing, Bruce Soulsby and Alan Weisenberg, Grand Swan (Swan For All-Queen Mum) was able to secure her 19th career victory in 28 starts. Her earnings now stand at $624,107.
Grand Circuit Standings: In 2020, the Grand Circuit leaders in three categories (driver, trainer and owner) will once again be tracked on a points system (20-10-5 for the top three finishers in divisions/finals and 10-5-2 for the top three finishers in eliminations/legs). Winbak Farms is the sponsor for the 2020 Grand Circuit awards.
Here are the leaders following this past weekend:
Drivers: 1. Brian Sears – 20; 2t. Dexter Dunn – 5; 2t. Aaron Merriman – 5; 4t. Tom Jackson – 2; 4t. David Miller – 2.
Trainers: 1. Marcus Melander – 22; 2t. Chris Beaver – 5; 2t. Nifty Norman – 5; 4. Fred Grant – 2.
Owners: 1t. Courant Inc. – 5; 1t. S R F Stable – 5; 3t. (eight different owners with 2.5 points).
Looking ahead: Next weekend Grand Circuit action will be taking place at The Meadowlands and The Meadows. The Meadowlands will feature the second leg of the Graduate Series for four-year-old open trotters, while The Meadows will offer the Arden Downs for three-year-old filly trotters.