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Banca Pupils Lead Yonkers’ Series Finals

Published: April 21, 2017 10:15 am ET

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When trainer Rich Banca purchased Somewhere In L A at the 2016 Harrisburg Sale, he thought he was getting a solid older gelding with potential to race in the upper-level conditions at Yonkers Raceway. Instead, heading into Saturday (April 22) night’s $529,000 George Morton Levy Series Final, Somewhere In L A tops the leader board with 287 points earned in the series’ five preliminary legs and leads all Standardbreds in North America by earnings in the young racing season with $180,750 on his card.

“If you told me that in November when I bought him, I would have told you, you were crazy,” Banca joked. “Even if he was just a winners over kind of horse at Yonkers, it would have been good to have him. He ended up better than I thought.”

While Somewhere In L A competed on the Grand Circuit at two and three and earned more than $800,000 before selling last fall, the six-year-old is in career form at the Hilltop Oval. After finishing third in the first leg of the series, Somewhere In L A posted consecutive second place efforts in weeks two and three before getting his first series victory in leg four. Last week, Somewhere In L A doubled up, winning the final preliminary in wire-to-wire fashion in 1:51.3. The victory pushed his earnings over the million dollar mark.

“He’s been good the whole time,” Banca said. “That’s a tough series because it’s hard to make the final. He pretty much had to race every leg, but he has been good. He’s just a nice horse, he’s just consistent.”

While Somewhere in L A is a star on the track, he’s unassuming in the barn. In contrast to his flashy gate speed on race day, his laid-back training style makes his easy to work with. Five consecutive weeks of tough racing in the series means the son of Somebeachsomewhere had a relaxed week ahead of the biggest race of his career.

“He’s just a quiet horse. He really doesn’t do anything wrong,” Banca explained. “We definitely didn’t work him that hard. He just had a normal week because he’s been racing hard every week. Hopefully he’s got one more week in him before he gets a little break.”

While Somewhere In L A and regular driver Jason Bartlett are the 2-1 morning line favourites from post position five in the Levy Final, he isn’t Banca’s only chance. Yonkers’ leading trainer in 2017 will also send out Blood Brother, a 12-1 shot who drew comfortably in post two and picks up the services of Brian Sears.

Despite finishing second to rival Missile J in week one and winning his division in week four, Blood Brother’s ability to make the Levy Final remained in doubt until last Saturday due to the five-year-old gelding’s bad luck in legs two and three. Back-to-back bouts with post seven resulted in off the board finishes. In his final chance to earn points last Saturday, Blood Brother again faced Missile J and the series’ defending champion Bit Of A Legend.

“I really wasn’t sure if he would make the final,” Banca admitted. “I thought he was in by far the toughest division and I didn’t know how it was going to work out. I was hoping he would, but I thought there was a good chance he wouldn’t.”

While Bit Of A Legend wired the field, Blood Brother worked first-over and charged his final quarter in :26.3. At odds of 30-1, he finished third beaten just 1-1/4 lengths and secured his spot in the final with 217 points.

“I thought he raced as good as any horse last week. He’s a very fast horse, but he’s not as tough as Somewhere In L A,” Banca explained. “If you race him hard early, he’s not going to have as much late; he’s got to get his trip.”

While Banca is confident in the ability of his finalists, the depth of this year’s Levy Final means no result would surprise him.

“I don’t know if there’s a horse in there that if he won, I’d be surprised,” he said. “Somewhere In L A, I’m sure he’s going to leave. I don’t know if he’s going to end up on the front or not. These finals end up being crazy races and you never know what’s going to happen.

“Blood Brother, I think Sears will give him the best trip he can. He’ll finish with any of them if he’s anywhere close. I think he’s very fast, but he’s got to get things his way.”

Two races before Somewhere In L A and Blood Brother race in the Levy, Banca’s star mare, Mach It A Par, will go postward as the 2-1 morning line choice in the $310,600 Blue Chip Matchmaker Series Final. For the seven-year-old daughter of Mach Three, it’s a chance at redemption after she finished eighth in last year’s Matchmaker Final.

“Last year, she wasn’t good. It was one of a few weeks last year that she wasn’t really any good, for whatever reason, but she wasn’t really good in the final last year,” Banca said.

Like her stablemates in the Levy, Mach It A Par raced in all five preliminary legs of the Matchmaker Series. She defeated Bedroomconfessions by a nose in leg one and hit the board in weeks three and four. Her most impressive performance, however, came last week when she willingly tracked the cover of rival Hidden Land before tipping wide in the stretch and powering home with a :27 final panel to a 2-1/2-length victory in 1:53.2.

While some horses require a week off in the middle of the grueling series, Mach It A Par thrives on racing. Last week’s effort shows just that, Banca explained.

“I think she was a lot more of her old self last week. She really hadn’t been as good and last week she looked like her old self, so I was really happy to see that,” he said. “She’s not that hard on herself. I probably could have given her a week off if I wanted to, but I just think she’s better when she’s racing every week. It just seems like she’s better when she has the same routine every week.”

While Banca thinks the results of the Matchmaker will largely depend on trips, he is optimistic that Mach It A Par will prove best. While raising the trophy would be nice, Banca mainly wants to see Mach It A Par’s toughness and heart rewarded with a Grand Circuit win.

“I’d love to win it, more because she deserves it than anything else. She races so hard and you really appreciate it because she’s just a tiny little thing and she just tries as hard as she can,” he admired. “There’s a lot of horses who are fast, but a lot of times, they don’t give you all they’ve got. She does. She’s got a big heart, that’s for sure.”

First post time at Yonkers is 7:10 p.m. Click here for entries for Saturday’s card.

(SOA of NY)


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