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Pace Night One For The Ages

Published: July 15, 2021 9:30 am ET

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The $700,000 Meadowlands Pace is the crown jewel of "The Greatest Night In Harness Racing", a claim substantiated by the fact that, over the course of the 14-race extravaganza, 130 horses with total earnings well in excess of $50 million will compete for over $2.5 million in purses.

Pace Night is Saturday (July 17), and will begin with an early post time of 6 p.m. The Meadowlands Pace, Hambletonian Maturity and both the Dorothy and W.R. Haughton Memorial stakes will be televised live in a joint effort with NYRA as a part of the popular America's Day At The Races series on Fox Sports 2 from 8 to 10 p.m. These four races constitute a special "Fox Sports 2 Stakes Pick-4" on races 6-9 with a $125,000 guarantee.

The Big M’s TV team of Dave Brower and Dave Little will be at the desk spearheading the broadcast with Jessica Otten handling back paddock and training centre interviews with some of the primary contenders. The voice of The Meadowlands, track announcer Ken Warkentin, will call his fifth Pace, while Gabe Prewitt, veteran race caller at Pompano Park and Lexington’s Red Mile and director of racing at Caesars Entertainment, will join the team and handle winner’s circle interviews.

The Meadowlands Pace became an instant classic when Escort won the inaugural for a purse of $425,000, the largest ever offered at the time. The roster of past champions includes the legendary Niatross (1980) and his greatest son, Nihilator (1985); the iron tough Captaintreacherous (2013), and Tall Dark Stranger‘s thrilling rally back to victory after being headed just last year. It remains an absolute on the résumé of those who aspire to greatness in the pacing world.

Last week’s elimination races yielded a pair of surprising winners. Southwind Gendry, driven perfectly by Yannick Gingras for trainer Ron Burke who owns the Always B Miki gelding with Phil Collura, Knox Services, J&T Silva and Purnel & Libby, got a soft middle three-eighths, then sprinted home in :25.3, making catching him impossible. His backers were rewarded with a generous $22 return.

Hellabalou, whose win payoff of $165.60 was the largest in Pace history, was put in play early by driver Andrew McCarthy, who called an audible at the start when he observed that none of his inside rivals were pushing off the gate hard. That resulted in a great trip behind the favourite, which the Sweet Lou colt converted into an unexpected victory for trainer Eddie Dennis and owner Eric Good.

Both beaten favourites, Perfect Sting and One Eight Hundred, will seek redemption on Saturday. Both clearly possess the talent to win the biggest race of their career.

The list of supporting stakes on the evening's menu is an imposing one, led by the $400,000 E.T. Gerry Jr. Hambletonian Maturity. This stakes for four-year-old trotters will pit the winner of last year's Hambletonian, Ramona Hill, with Andrew McCarthy in his customary position behind the Muscle Hill mare for trainer Tony Alagna and the ownership group of Brad Grant, Crawford Farms Racing, Robert LeBlanc and John Fodera and Steve Wienick as In The Gym Partners, against the winner of the 2020 Hambletonian Oaks, Sorella, and her formidable team of Meadowlands leading driver Dexter Dunn and the 2020 Trainer of the Year, Nancy Takter, who labour for owners Brent and Elmer Fannin and Al and Michelle Crawford’s racing division in a talent-laden field of a dozen at a mile and one-eighth.

The filly companion stake to the Meadowlands Pace is the $174,400 Mistletoe Shalee, sponsored by Odds On Racing & Best Bets Stable, where the currently unbeaten princess of the pace, Hot Mess Express (McCarthy) will bring her act back to town after having an easy time with her Indiana rivals over the last month. Tony Alagna trains the Panther Hanover lass for University of Kentucky basketball legend Sam Bowie.

The $530,000 W.R. Haughton FFA Pace, Sponsored by Winbak Farms, drew no fewer than 20 of the fastest Standardbred gunslingers in the business and will be raced as two ultra-competitive fields of 10. Among those competing in the Haughton will be This Is The Plan (Gingras), currently sitting at No. 1 in the Hambletonian Society/Breeders Crown Top Ten poll. He races out of the Ron Burke barn for Burke Racing, Weaver Bruscemi, J&T Silva and Purnel & Libby.

The $178,500 companion race for mares, memorializing Mrs. Dorothy Haughton and sponsored by David and Mary Ellen McDuffee, will pit 11 of the fastest females in the game with current division queen Lyons Sentinel hampered by the extreme outside post. Driver Tim Tetrick tricked them all back in May when he engineered a cover trip from a bad post and caught everyone — including the betting public — napping as she returned a $43 win mutuel. She has had the favourite’s target on her back ever since and responded with a forwardly placed world record tour de force in the Artiscape for trainer Jim King Jr. and Threelyonsracing.

The Miss Versatility, raced for a mere $40,000, would be the feature on just about any race card as it renews one of harness racing’s most entertaining and enduring rivalries in racing between the great six-year-old trotting mares Atlanta (Gingras/Burke) and Manchego (Dunn/Takter). Manchego, owned by Barry Guariglia’s Black Horse Racing, has a slight edge in earnings at $2,871,152 over Crawford Farms Racing, Brad Grant and Howard Taylor’s Atlanta at $2,792,973, while Atlanta holds a 7-5 edge in winning heads-up matches.

With the $1 million Hambletonian just three weeks off, the trotting faithful will get a last look at the top players for those in the $273,000 (div.) Stanley Dancer Memorial, sponsored by Tattersalls.

Dancinginthedark M (Tetrick), a Menhammar Stuteri homebred son of Readly Express trained by Marcus Melander, is one misstep away from a perfect season and caught a friendly spot in the first division, a short field of six. Division two is loaded, with Breeders Crown champ On A Streak with Dan Dubé driving for trainer Luc Blais and owner Determination, as pretty a pair of trotting colts as you’ll ever see in Pennsylvania Sire Stakes final winner Captain Corey, who gets Yannick Gingras for the first time for trainer Ake Svanstedt and partners SRF Stable, Knutsson Trotting and Midnight Sun Partners along with the enigmatic New Jersey Sire Stakes final runner-up, D Farms' Cuatro De Julio, driven by Lucas Wallin for trainer Marie Ortolan Bar joining Dan Patch 2020 freshman and Mohawk Million winner Venerate, driven by Andy Miller for trainer Julie Miller and partners Pinske Stables, in a slugfest.

The fillies will prep for the Hambo Oaks with the $282,000 Del Miller, sponsored by Pollack Racing, and an evenly-matched group it is. Beltassima (McCarthy/Alagna for Crawford Farms Racing) currently sits atop the division with wins in the New Jersey Sire Stakes final and Reynolds, and she seems to have caught the easier division. Iteration, driven by Brian Sears for trainer Melander and owner Courant Inc., who has been dominant in the New York program, heads up division two, where she will find plenty of adversity from the likes of last year’s Breeders Crown winner Lady Chaos and 2020 Doherty Memorial winner Darlene Hanover.

Saturday's action at The Meadowlands is completed with popular local food trucks and the highly sought-after Pace T-shirts. Free programs are available for the entire card, as they are every night of racing.


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