Ari Ferrari J took some brutal pressure while on the front end but proved to have more than enough octane in his tank to prevail in a determined effort on Friday night at The Meadowlands while taking the overnight trotting feature.
After starting his season with three straight second-place finishes, the three-year-old colt by Walner-Dream Child put up a lifetime-best 1:53.4 mile to get into the win column. Last week, he went a tough trip when sixth in the New Jersey Sire Stakes final, which was won by Air Power in 1:50.4, so Friday night, with the drop back in with non-winners of two, he was predictably bet down to 2-5.
Things didn't go as easily as his backers had hoped.
With Corey Callahan doing the driving, Ari Ferrari J was on the lead at the quarter in :28. Heading to the half, the heavy favourite was heavily pressured by a first-over 79-1 longshot, Strongerwithlindy, as 2-1 second choice Dapper swung three-wide with good momentum while Ari Ferrari J hit the half in :56.2.
Dapper actually had a half-length edge on the chalk at the five-eighths and looked like a winner, but Ari Ferrari J refused to let that get around him as the pair reached three-quarters in 1:23.4 on even terms. Ari Ferrari J then dug down for more, reclaiming the lead by 2-1/2 lengths at the head of the stretch before going on to a five-length romp in a new lifetime-best 1:52. Devilish Hill rallied for second with Dapper holding third.
“[Trainer] Tony [Alagna] has done a really good job with him,” said Callahan. “He looks a little funny out there but he’s done good work smoothing him out. I hated to park [Steve] Smitty [driving Strongerwithlindy] out, but with [Lucas Wallin's horse Devilish Hill] right behind me, I just left him out there and it worked out.”
Ari Ferrari J returned $2.80 to his backers while winning for the third time from 18 lifetime outings. His career earnings now stand at just a hair under $250,000 for owner Kenneth Jacobs.
In the closest finish in the two-year history of the event, Jessica Otten edged past Ken Warkentin by $5 on Night 3 of the Battle of The Meadowlands Masterminds handicapping contest with a winning wager in the eighth race to finish with $725 on the night.
Warkentin, whose lone hit was for $720 with a $100 Exacta play in the fifth race, seemingly had the competition wrapped up, but Otten’s $100 win, $50 place bet on Texas Miki in the eighth gave her just enough to secure the victory.
The competition will take place for the next 16 live race nights and on-track patrons who select the winning handicapper on a given card will have a chance to win a grand prize of $10,000. The drawing will take place on Hambletonian Day, Saturday, Aug. 5.
Otten also gave her fan’s bankrolls a jolt when she correctly selected the Early 50-cent Pick-4, which returned $289.35.
Michael Annunziata had the red-hot hand, leading the trainer colony with three winners on the card. Todd McCarthy, Brett Beckwith, Andy Miller, Corey Callahan and Tony Beltrami all had two winners each. Beltrami gets the nod as the night’s top pilot, as his pair of victories came from just four drives, all in Meadowlands Amateur Driving Club action.
All-source handle totaled $2,743,797 on the 14-race program.
Racing resumes Saturday at 6:20 p.m.