By Bill Finley
Photo by Mike Lizzi
YONKERS, NY – You had one top horse break stride and another get disqualified from second and placed fifth after a rare drivers’ objection. This Yonkers Trot had a little bit of everything, from controversy to a blow-out win from a horse that was lost in the shadow of his more highly regarded stablemate.
Crazy Wow was supposed to be the horse that would give Ron Burke a win in the Yonkers Trot, but he went on a break at the start and finished last. But for the Burke stable and those who played the favored entry, Habitat saved the day with a 3 1/2-length win in the $500,000 race Saturday night.
Hambletonian winner Pinkman finished second but was disqualified after Trond Smedshammer, driving Buen Camino, successfully claimed foul. It took the judges a full 20 minutes to declare the race official.
Two races later, Revenge Shark won an extremely tight $500,000 Messenger Stakes, prevailing by a nose over favorite Dude’s The Man. In the Arsenal finished another nose back in third.
Buen Camino and Smedshammer went right to the top, but Brian Sears was quick to pounce and took control approaching the three-quarter mark. Pinkman made a first-over bid but clearly wasn’t the horse who won the Hambletonian as Habitat scooted away from him in the stretch to win easily.
The time was 1:54.4 and the Crazy Wow-Habitat entry paid $3.40.
“It’s always a race to wire and you never take anything for granted, but I liked my position and I liked where I got away,” Sears said. “It was good to get Pinkman in behind me. I knew he kind of struggled last week around here and tonight he put in a big effort from the seven hole. But I liked my spot. (Habitat) is a very handy horse and Ronnie Burke has done a great job with him. It was great to have the opportunity to drive him again and get it done.”
Sears keeps finding himself in the right place at the right time when it comes to the 3-year-old trotters. He won the Hambletonian with Pinkman, but only after Gingras decided to drive Mission Brief in the final. Last week, Gingras won a Yonkers Trot elim with Habitat, but, as expected, chose to drive Pinkman in the final. That decision led to Burke naming Sears to drive in the final.
“I’ve been in the position where Yannick was in where you have to make choices,” Sears said. “I know how difficult it can be. I picked off Hambletonian winners, Meadowlands Pace winners. It is part of the game. It’s good to have those opportunities when someone else has to make difficult choices.”
Gene Kurzrock, a co-owner of Crazy Wow and Habitat, admitted he thought his hopes of winning last night went down the tubes when Crazy Wow broke.
“I can’t tell you how worried I was when Crazy Wow broke,” he said. “But we still had Habitat and it was a big thrill that he won. I thought Crazy Wow was the horse that was going to win this for us, but I also thought Habitat had a shot. He’s a nice horse and has done very well for us.”
As for Pinkman, Gingras said the horse again had trouble with the tight turns at Yonkers.
“He was tons better than he was last week,” Gingras said. “He was a lot more on the bit. He still struggles through the turns here; he runs in pretty hard here. He is not a big fan of the half-mile racetrack but I thought he raced really good. Post seven really handicapped us and if he drew inside and was able to make the front I think the race would’ve have been a lot different. Give credit where credit is due. Habitat put in a huge mile and deserved to win.”
Pinkman wasn’t even able to settle for second. On the final turn, he came over on Buen Camino, which forced Buen Camino to come over on Billy Flynn. The latter broke stride at that point. Not only was Pinkman taken down, but so was his stablemate French Laundry, who crossed the wire fourth. Under New York racing rules, all stablemates of horses causing an infraction must be placed behind any and all horses that were bothered.
Both Gingras and trainer Jimmy Takter were clearly upset by the decision of the judges.
“Pinkman is a horse that I love,” Gingras said. “You want to have things done the right way and I strongly disagree with the disqualification. I don’t blame the judges. They have a job to do and I wouldn’t want their job. But we’re going to have to agree to disagree and this time I disagree. I was close (to Buen Camino), but that was something that happens in every single race. If they’re going to start taking horses down for what happened in that race then there will be a disqualification in every race.”
Takter wasn’t happy that Smedshammer claimed foul, arguing that he crossed a line and that only the judges should initiate possible disqualifications.
“That’s why we hire judges,” he said. “It doesn’t bother me if I get taken down if it is done just by the judges. When a driver claims foul that’s poor sportsmanship. So he just made $35,000. He needs money more than I do, with the way his stable is going.”
At least Gingras had something to smile about last night as he won the $500,000 Messenger with Revenge Shark.
In the Arsenal cut the mile for Sears and was not pressed through a half in 56.4. Meanwhile, Revenge Shark sat third with Gingras waiting patiently to make his move.
“I talked to some guys who drove the horse before and they said he’s a really good sprinter,” Gingras said. “Maybe first up is not his cup of tea, but sitting in the three hole and being able to sprint at the end would be something he would like.”
In The Arsenal, Dude’s The Man and Revenge Shark all had their shot and little separated them at the wire. Revenge Shark paid $21.60 and went the mile in 1:53.1.
It was by far the biggest win on the year for the son of Cam’s Card Shark.
“I always felt this horse would get a nice payday this year,” winning trainer Tony Alagna said. “He’s been knocking on the door and Yannick put him in a position to win.”