Things didn’t look good for Heavens Pic in the feature race at The Meadowlands on Friday night (April 14).
After all, the four-year-old gelded son of Archangel-Allerage Belle was last in the field of seven at the three-quarter mark as 4-5 favourite Mon Amour had just rated a middle half in :58.4 and extended his lead to 3-1/2 lengths as they hit the top of the stretch.
But Heavens Pic wasn’t done.
Driven and trained by Delaware regular Victor Kirby, Heavens Pic started rolling on the far outside with a little more than an eighth of a mile to go, before swerving to the inside and gunning down the leader with a flourish nearing the finish in a lifetime-best 1:53.4. It was a neck back to an also late-closing Dribbling Bi, who got past third-place finisher Mon Amour.
“I didn’t want Dribbling Bi to follow me, so I waited it out,” said Kirby. “I was extremely pleased the way it worked out. I was a little disappointed last week. He should have reached, but they need a race up here over the track to get acclimated, and tonight kind of proved that.”
After starting his season with seven starts at Dover Downs (winning twice), Kirby brought Heavens Pic to The Meadowlands a week ago, and he did well, finishing a close second to Dribbling Bi in a non-winners of $10,500 for trotters. On Friday night, he shrugged off a bump up to the non-winners of $14,000 level – which had a purse of $18,000 – and recorded his third win of the season in spectacular style.
“Honestly, at the head of the lane, it looked like I might end up third, but then he hit high gear," said Kirby. "The conditions were perfect and he responded. We bought him last fall hoping he’d have a big meet at Dover, but with soundness issues nagging him all winter, he didn’t have the meeting we expected, but he’s been getting more and more healthy.
“When we bought him, he was racing at [Mohawk] and I thought he would love the Meadowlands track, so we’ll probably plan on staying here. This track is better for him because he’s a big horse.”
Heavens Pic returned $8 to his backers as the 3-1 second choice in the betting.
Friday's card included a pair of $20,000 third leg divisions of the SRF Series for three-year-old fillies and the winners were the maiden-breaking Noel Daley-trained trotter Wilder Days (Todd McCarthy) in 1:55.4 and the Nancy Takter stable's pacer Always B Naughty (Josert Fonseca) in 1:51.1.
The Meadowlands upped its streak of nighttime handles topping $3 million to 28, even though a handful of factors figured to make it extremely hard to do so.
The 14-race card saw all-source wagering total $3,106,731, despite…
- Three amateur races;
- Top Big M regular drivers Yannick Gingras, Dexter Dunn, Andy McCarthy and Scott Zeron absent racing some of the best mare pacers in training at Yonkers in the Matchmaker Series; and
- One four-horse field, one five-horse field, one six-horse field and a pair of seven-horse fields, with two of those races seeing wagering fail to reach $100,000.
“We are extremely appreciative of our fan base, who supported us tonight despite some short fields,” said Jason Settlemoir, Meadowlands' Chief Operating Officer and General Manager. “To have wagered over $3 million on every Friday and Saturday night program this year is something to be proud of, especially, given how competitive the marketplace is for horses as more tracks open as the weather warms up.”
For clarity, there have been 28 Friday and Saturday night programs contested at The Meadowlands during 2023, and each one has seen betting bust the $3-million barrier.
During 2022, there were a total of 85 race cards contested at the mile oval, and betting went past the $3-million plateau 23 times.
Big M TV talent Jessica Otten liked giving out the Early 50-cent Pick-4s so much, she went out and gave her following the Late Pick-4 as well. Otten, who will serve as the primary talent on the eight national live broadcasts that will show Big M races live on the networks of Fox Sports starting April 29, saw her Early Pick-4 pay $390.50 while the Late Pick-4 came back $99.90. Otten’s backers invested a total of $54 to create a profit of $436.
Who’s an amateur? With two wins in Meadowlands Amateur Drivers Club races, Tony Verruso led the driver colony.
Racing resumes Saturday at 6:20 p.m.
(With files from The Meadowlands)