One week after a gigantic effort in his seasonal debut, Voukefalas came back and was even better Saturday night (May 13) at The Meadowlands in one of seven, leg two $30,000 divisions of the New Jersey Sire Stakes for three-year-olds, taking the sole split for colt and gelding pacers in 1:50.
“He’s been good his whole life,” said winning trainer Mike Russo. “This is a different kind of animal.”
The son of Lazarus N-Inittowinafortune backed his trainer’s words up in a big way.
Driver Jordan Stratton had Voukefalas in the three-hole early as Laz went the opening quarter in a sensible :27.3. Handlelikeaporsche, the 5-1 second choice, was keyed up in the pocket and went to the outside to go after the lead. Voukefalas followed that foe and wrestled the top away while parked at the half in :55.2.
And that was that.
Russo’s prized pupil reached three-quarters in 1:23 and coasted home from there as Stratton sat as still as a statue in the sulky through the length of the lane. Voukefalas won it by 1-1/4 lengths and paid $2.40 as the 1-5 public choice, with Handlelikeaporsche second and Laz third.
“He’s been sharp,” said Russo. “I’m just trying not to get ahead of myself. I don’t know what to say about this horse. He’s a good boy; does his work at the farm. I’m just pointing him for every race one at a time.”
In the first of two dashes for trotting fillies, the Chris Ryder-trained Walner Payton gave the chalk players some anxious moments when sixth at the half, but Dexter Dunn moved the Walner-Lonely Lady product into contention after a blistering opening half of :53.4 with a swift move at the five-eighths before recording a safe 1-1/4-length win over Blonde Bombshell in 1:51.4.
“She’s a lovely filly,” said Dunn. “I could not have been more happy with her tonight. I did do a double take when the half popped up. My girl travelled great. She had her ears fully pricked inside the final eighth.”
As the 2-5 public choice, Walner Payton moved her earnings to just shy of $600,000 after returning $2.80 to win.
Special Way finished her 2022 campaign with seven consecutive victories, and the daughter of Walner-Special Hill kept on rolling with a much-the-best win in her seasonal debut in the second of two filly trots.
The Dan Patch divisional award winner from a year ago brushed to the top at the half and rolled home a 2-3/4-length winner over Mambacita in 1:53.1 for trainer-driver Ake Svanstedt while upping her lifetime winnings past $820,000.
“She loves to race, loves to fight the other horses,” said Sarah Svanstedt. “Everything [this year] has been going by the book. She’s sound, eating and sleeping well and relaxes on her days off. Tonight’s race came to her, and Ake moved at the right time.”
As the 1-20 favourite, Special Way returned $2.10 to win.
In other NJSS action:
- Air Power (Muscle Hill-Beyond Blue) surprised Ari Ferrari J for a second consecutive week in the first of two divisions for trotting males, challenging the 1-2 favourite, who was on the point, at three-quarters, before wearing that one down through the stretch on the way to a three-quarter-length win in 1:51. Tim Tetrick drove the Marcus Melander trainee, who returned $7 to his backers as the 5-2 second choice.
- Tactical Approach led at every call with smart handling from Scott Zeron. The Nancy Takter trainee took the second of two colt and gelding trots in 1:52.1 after cutting rated fractions of :28.2, :56.4 and 1:25.1. As the 2-1 second choice, the son of Tactical Landing-Sarcy paid $6 while staying perfect in two 2023 starts.
- Two Pistol Annie, a Nik Drennan student who paid $5.40 to win as the 8-5 second choice, made it two-for-two in Sire Stakes action after going wire-to-wire in the first of a pair of filly paces. Dunn drove the daughter of Lazarus N-Magical Bestern to a 1:51.1 score, hitting the finish a neck ahead of Get Answers. Ucandoit Blue Chip, the 7-5 favourite, was third.
- Alexas Fantasy (Lazarus N-Pirouette Hanover) took the lead at the half and was pressured by second-place finisher Canadian Ballet the rest of the way but held sway to the wire in a brave performance to score by a head for Todd McCarthy, completing a sweep of the sophomore filly paces for Drennan. As the 4-5 favourite, she returned $3.80 to win.
Dunn capped off a six-winner weekend after pacing the driver colony on Saturday with four walks down victory lane. Drennan had a training double.
Saturday's handle was $3,303,553 for the 14-race card.
Racing resumes Friday, May 19 at 6:20 p.m. (EDT).
(With files from The Meadowlands)