Yannick Gingras had, what for him, was just another night at the salt mine on Friday night (April 21) at The Meadowlands, as the 43-year-old Hall of Fame pilot won both $40,000 Standardbred Retirement Foundation Series finals for three-year-olds.
In the filly trot, Sheer Faith, who tasted defeat in her last two starts at odds of 1-5, got some friends back in her corner, scoring in wire-to-wire fashion in 1:56.2 to record her fifth win from nine lifetime starts as the 2-1 second choice in the wagering.
Gingras rushed the daughter of Better Caviar-Sheer Delight to the lead at the quarter in :28.1, putting 6-5 favourite Bella Macchiato in the pocket.
“We got a little but lucky,” said Gingras. “Going into the race, I didn’t want to cut it. I was hoping those two [Bella Macchiato and The Empress Ice] would go at it, but when Timmy [Tetrick, driving The Empress Ice] went on a break in the first turn, that changed things.”
It all looked so easy for the eventual winner, as a big challenge from Jet Zette kept Bella Macchiato with no place to race through the stretch, but nearing the wire, the favourite found some space as Jet Zette weakened.
“I almost messed it up there,” said Gingras. “It kinda opened up a little bit too early, but, thankfully, we came out on top.”
Sheer Faith, a Per Engblom trainee owned by Engblom Stable and Fac Racing, returned $6.20 to win to her backers, holding off Bella Macchiato by a neck. Jet Zette finished third at odds of 70-1.
Always B Naughty (pictured above) won the filly pace as much the best, drawing off to a 6-1/4-length romp in a lifetime-best equalling 1:51.1. The lightly raced daughter of Always B Miki-Ooh Shesa Badlands, who won a week ago and paid $2.10, once again returned a nickel on the dollar. She’s now won three of five starts after not appearing on the track during 2022.
“We turned her out early last year,” said winning trainer Nancy Takter. “She was kind of growthy and immature and she was kind of sore, so my owners get all the credit. It’s not always easy for owners to agree with the trainer to make those decisions. It played to our favour that she got that extra time that she needed.”
Gingras put Always B Naughty on the point and cut out fractions of :27.1, :56.1 and 1:25 before exploding home in :26.1 to win for fun. Always A Dancer held off Ultimate Loulou in the race for place.
“She has Pennsylvania Sire Stakes and Kentucky Sire Stakes coming up,” said Takter of her prized pupil. “She’s in the Nadia Lobell and the Breeders Crown and the Jugette and some of those other bigger races, so we have to take it race by race and kind of see how she develops, but right now, she shows the speed to be able to do it.”
Takter co-owns the winner with J L Benson Stables and R B H Ventures.
Early Action took the overnight feature – a $20,000 high-end conditioned event on the pace – after a thrilling stretch run that saw the Joe Holloway trainee get up on the wire after sneaking through the inside late before holding off 4-5 public choice Stonebridge Reef by a neck in 1:51.3.
After a huge two-year-old season that saw him bank more than $400,000, Early Action went winless at three during 2022, but the son of Huntsville-Fashion Katie could have a big 2023 after his determined win on Friday night.
“Last year was hopeless,” said Holloway. “I guess I overraced him at two, I’m not really sure. But he wouldn’t fight at all last year. He did at two, and so far this year, he seems more like his two-year-old self.”
As the 9-5 second choice, Early Action paid $5.60 to win.
The four-year-old gelding is owned by Val D Or Farms and Theodore Gewertz.
Needing $180,000 in action on the 14th and final race of the night, The Big M’s streak of $3 million handles lived on after $226,878 was pushed through the windows. All-source wagering for the night was $3,047,560. There have been 30 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.
Gingras’ four winners led the driver colony while Ron Burke led the trainers with three victory lane jaunts.
Racing resumes Saturday at 6:20 p.m.
(With files from The Meadowlands)