Trainers Jimmy Takter and Jeff Bamond Jr. both earned consecutive stakes wins while a pair of Canadian-based fillies pulled off back-to-back upset victories during the Meadowlands Pace undercard on Saturday night.
Hambletonian hopeful Pinkman, driven by Yannick Gingras, kicked off the stakes action with a 1:52.2 triumph in the $157,250 first division of the Stanley Dancer Memorial, sending his career earnings over the million-dollar mark.
The field of three-year-old male trotters was scratched down to just five starters with Muscle Diamond out due to an injury. Crossing to command from the outside, the Ron Burke stable's Habitat (Brian Sears) reached the first quarter in :27.4 ahead of insiders Pinkman and his fellow Jimmy Takter-trained and driven stablemate Canepa Hanover. Gingras then made a quarter-pole move to take over the lead with the 1-5 favourite and proceeded to the half in :57 and three-quarters in 1:25.2. Canepa Hanover was flushed first over by eventual breaker Cruzado Dela Noche (Marcus Johansson) and began to close in on Pinkman while Habitat scooted through along the pylons down the stretch. The 2014 Dan Patch Award winner Pinkman held on by a neck over 2014 O'Brien Award winner Habitat while Canepa Hanover settled for third.
"All three of them are really top colts," said Gingras, who has driven each of the top three finishers in the past. "I got everything my way, but my horse was really strong. I was just playing with him a little bit in the stretch to make him do his job, but he had so much more."
Pinkman came into the race off a 1:51.3 world record victory in the Earl Beal Jr. Memorial Trot at Pocono Downs and now has 11 wins in 14 career starts. He paid $2.60 to win.
The Explosive Matter-Margie Seelster gelding is owned by Takter's wife Christina along with Toronto's John and Jim Fielding, Joyce McClelland of Zanesville, Ohio and Herb Liverman of Miami Beach, Florida.
Team Takter completed a sweep of the Dancer divisions as The Bank trotted to a new lifetime mark of 1:50.4 in the $159,750 second split.
Donatomite (Trond Smedshammer) took the lead from post three and forced the leaving outside assignee Whom Shall I Fear (Gingras), another Takter trainee, to settle into the pocket spot through a sizzling :26.3 first quarter. Meanwhile, The Bank was parked from post six and Takter sent him to the top, clearing near the three-eighths mark. The Bank reached the half in :54.2 and was confronted by 4-5 favourite Crazy Wow (Brian Sears) as they raced to three-quarters in 1:22.3. With the inside advantage around the final turn, The Bank battled back and drew two lengths clear en route to the victory. Takter trainees finished first and third again, with the Ake Svanstedt stable's Centurion ATM recovering from a break in stride down the backstretch and closing to finish second ahead of French Laundry (Brett Miller).
The Bank returned $22.80 for the double-digit upset win.
After the race, Takter noted that the victory was special as the Donato Hanover colt is out of the millionaire mare he trained, Lantern Kronos. The dam was owned by his good friend Goran Falk, who bred and shares ownership of The Bank with Christina Takter.
"We had so much fun with 'Lantern' and I drove her for most of her races as a three-year-old and we had a ball with her," said Takter. "This is a nice colt and it took a little while for him to start to wake up."
With the Hambletonian just three weeks away, Takter shared his thoughts on his eligibles.
"This horse had a hard race," he said of The Bank. "It was a hard opening and he still held on very well. Pinkman is a more laid-back horse. He came home in :27 at the end and he felt like he had everything under control. I was very happy with Canepa, he hadn't raced for a month so he's definitely going to get better."
Spirit To Win pulled off a 48-1 shocker defeating favourites Mission Brief and Livininthefastlane in a photo finish in the $187,000 Delvin Miller Memorial for three-year-old trotting fillies.
The Cantab Hall-Celebrity Spirit filly, who returned $99.40 for a $2 win ticket, is trained by Dustin Jones and owned by Noblock Racing Stable of Collingwood, Ont. and breeder Frederick Hertrich III of Seaford, Delaware.
Even-money favourite Livininthefastlane (Andy Miller) was the first to get a call as she established the lead off the gate over Wild Honey (John Campbell). But Mission Brief (Yannick Gingras) was on the move before the first quarter and advanced from third to take over past that :28.3 marker. Mission Brief continued to lead the field to the half in :57 without any challengers. As she made her way to three-quarters in 1:25.2, Livininthefastlane pulled the pocket with Wild Honey also moving to the outside. Meanwhile, Spirit To Win had followed in fourth-place and slipped up the inside to take third ahead of Wild Honey. Down the stretch, Brett Miller tipped her outside of the duelling Mission Brief and Livininthefastlane and she got up just in time to score by a nose in a career-best 1:52 flat. Mission Brief was second with Livininthefastlane between the top two in third.
Spirit To Win earned her first win of the season following three top-three finishes -- her last two starts in Pennsylvania Sires Stakes competition. As a freshman, the promising filly won the Pure Ivory Series and was a runner-up in Champlain Stakes, but cracked a pastern cutting her season short.
"Tonight, at the top of the stretch, she had a lot of trot," said Miller after the race. "I didn't know if we'd have time to get there, but this is a nice filly."
Moonlit Dance overcame an outside post to win the $201,350 Mistletoe Shalee for three-year-old pacing fillies in sub-1:50 fashion for trainer Tony O'Sullivan and the David Goodrow Stable of Cambridge, Ont.
Driven by David Miller, the homebred daughter of Art Major-Gone Dancing was parked out from the start, but picked up cover as Divine Caroline (Brian Sears) edged out past the quarter and sprinted to the lead ahead of Bettor Be Steppin (Corey Callahan), who clocked a :26.3 first quarter after leaving from post eight. Divine Caroline reached the half in :54.3 with Moonlit Dance left first over and challenging through three-quarters in 1:21.3. Down the stretch, Moonlit Dance wore down Divine Caroline and pulled one length clear to win in a career-best clocking of 1:49 flat. Divine Caroline finished second with Band Of Angels (Matt Kakaley) third.
With the victory, David Miller passed Mike Lachance to become the third all-time money-winning driver in the sport of harness racing, now trailing only Ron Pierce and leader John Campbell.
"That's quite and honour to do something like that," said Miller of the milestone. "Mike has been a top, top driver for many years. It's quite an honour for me."
Moonlit Dance was just nosed out by Band Of Angels in her elimination and paid $17 to win the final at odds of 7-1.
"I can't say enough about her," said Miller. "She took a very tough trip and still had horse left. It was not a great trip at all. She overcame my drive."
"Apart from the 10-hole, I really thought she could hold her own," said O'Sullivan. "She's a good filly I figured after she won her Fan Hanover elim. The trip was going to be a problem, but she has no bottom to her."
Mach It So joined the millionaire club as he closed off cover to win the $430,600 William R. Haughton Memorial Free-For-All Pace.
"I worked out a perfect trip -- second over with live flow -- and it led me right up to where I needed to be and my horse finished off well," said Tim Tetrick, who drove the five-year-old Mach Three-Beach Dancer gelding for trainer Jeff Bamond Jr. and Bamond Racing LLC.
After fanning off the cover of Dancin Yankee (Jim Morrill Jr.) into the stretch, Mach It So stormed past pacesetter Luck Be Withyou (Brian Sears), who had fired off the gate from the outside post nine and put up fractions of :25.4, :54, 1:21.4. Mach It So held off State Treasurer (David Miller) and Foiled Again (Yannick Gingras) by a neck to prevail in 1:48.1.
Sent postward at odds of 17-1, Mach It So returned $36.40 to his backers at the betting windows.
The win was just his second this year, but 21st in 54 races lifetime.
Anndrovette gave Tetrick and Bamond back-to-back stakes wins as the four-time divisional champion won the $213,450 Golden Girls for older pacing mares, going the distance of 1-1/8 miles in 2:02.4.
Another upset winner from the 10-hole, Anndrovette paid $74.20 to win and came within one-fifth of a second of the world record for the added distance that was set by Doo Wop Hanover in the Graduate Series.
Tetrick sent the triple millionaire off the gate to lead the 12-horse field through a :26-second opening quarter and a :55 half while Table Talk (Andy Miller) followed in the pocket spot. Meanwhile, 5-2 favourite Sandbetweenurtoes (John Campbell) was parked out mid-pack and she began to work her way to the top with Rocklamation (Yannick Gingras) tracking her cover and left first up when she cleared. Taking over the lead, Sandbetweenurtoes raced past three-quarters in 1:22.3 while Tetrick pulled Anndrovette from the two-hole. Anndrovette took over past the 1:49.1 mile mark with Table Talk chasing her to the wire and finishing one length behind. Sandbetweenurtoes was third.
"I think the mile and the eighth definitely helped her and you can definitely never count her out," said Bamond. "She's one-for-10 [this year] but she definitely surprises you."
Co-owned by Joseph Davino of Clarksburg, New Jersey, the eight-year-old Riverboat King-Easy Miss mare is now a 43-time career winner.
JL Cruze continued his storybook season winning the $443,000 Hambletonian Maturity for four-year-old trotters, which was contested at a distance of 1-1/8 miles.
Following his 1:49.4 world record victory over a mile track in the Graduate Series Final last week, JL Cruze's connections supplemented him to the Maturity for $50,000 and he lived up to expectations turning in a 2:04.2 world record performance for the expanded distance.
Even-money favourite JL Cruze trailed the six-horse field early on while the mare Shake It Cerry (Jimmy Takter) brushed to command ahead of Gural Hanover (Matt Kakaley) past the :26.1 opening quarter mark. Her Takter stablemate, Father Patrick (Yannick Gingras), took over the lead next at the half-mile mark in :54.3. At that point, John Campbell made his move with JL Cruze and the 4-5 favourite swept up and cleared to command into the final turn, hitting three-quarters in 1:23. Resolve (Ake Svanstedt) followed and chased him past the 1:50.1 mile mark, but JL Cruze held on down the stretch to win by a neck. Shake It Cerry finished five and three-quarter lengths behind in third.
"They were trotting out of there hard the last two weeks and I just thought I was going to have to use him pretty hard the first part of it to get there," said Campbell of his off-the-pace racing strategy. "I was able to come down the backstretch when the pace had slowed a little bit and once he made the front he did the rest."
Eric Ell trains the Ontario-bred Crazed-Topcat Hall gelding for owners Ken Wood of Denton, Maryland, Bill Dittmar Jr. of Langhorne, Pennsylvania and Stephen Iaquinta of Havertown, Pennsylvania. JL Cruze now has 16 wins in 18 seasonal starts.
Campbell also sent Melmerby Beach first over to score a nose victory in 1:48.1 over All Bets Off (Matt Kakaley) in the $26,000 Open Handicap Pace. Doctor Butch (Tim Tetrick) finished three-quarters of a length behind in third. The four-year-old son of Somebeachsomewhere and DB Blue Chip is trained by Mark Ford and owned by Schooner Ii Stable of Truro, N.S.
The early 50-cent Pick 4 was a jackpot bonanza for one lucky bettor who took home $56,333.55. The wager was made through the Twin Spires betting network. The sequence started with Stimulus Plan paying $39.40 to win the fourth race. Next up, The Bank ($22.80) won the Stanley Dancer Memorial followed by Dragon Eddy ($5.40) before Spirit To Win closed it out with $99.40 score in the Delvin Miller Memorial.
Total handle for Meadowlands Pace Night was $4,247,602.
Click here for coverage of the featured $706,000 Crawford Farms Meadowlands Pace.