The Hambletonian winner just hung on to win the Yonkers Trot on the same card in which Racing Hill won the Messenger.
by Bill Finley
YONKERS, NY – The surprise Saturday night at Yonkers was not that Marion Marauder won the $500,000 Yonkers Trot. It was that he was pushed to the limit in a race most thought would turn out to be an uncontested layup for the three-year-old trotter.
Marion Marauder, the 1-10 favorite, was fully extended by second choice Smalltownthrowdown to win by a head. With the victory, the Hambletonian winner has now won two-thirds of the Trotting Triple Crown but his connections reiterated afterward that it is unlikely he will be supplemented into the final leg, the Kentucky Futurity.
The co-feature on the Yonkers card, the $500,000 Messenger, was also won by the heavy favorite as 1-20 choice Racing Hill scored an easy win over Stonebridge Beach and five other rivals.
Following his win in the Hambletonian, Marion Marauder couldn’t handle Southwind Frank in the Colonial at Pocono, but with that rival bypassing the Yonkers Trot, Marion Marauder (Muscle Hill—Spellbound Hanover) didn’t appear to have much in the way of competition in the Yonkers race. That was indeed the case a week earlier when he was a handy winner in the elims over Smalltownthrowdown.
Either Marion Marauder regressed a step or Smalltownthrowdown turned in the race of his life as this one was too close for comfort for the favorite.
With Scott Zeron driving, Marion Marauder settled into third early before a quick brush down the backstretch for the first time got him the lead. With a :29.3 first quarter and a half in :58.3, Marion Marauder seemed to be in the perfect spot to pull off a comfortable win. But Smalltownthrowdown, driven by trainer Dan Daley, was up to the challenge. He stayed in the pocket before angling inside in the stretch and just missed.
“I thought (Marion Marauder got beat, from where I was standing,” trainer Paula Wellwood said. “I had a bad angle. If he had lost I wouldn’t have been upset because there are going to be times when he gets beat. A lot of people were saying he got it, but I wasn’t going to move until his number went up on the board. I never count anything until it is absolute.”
Zeron said Marion Marauder “did not bring his A game” but he was also quick to credit Smalltownthrowdown.
“(Daley) has to be happy with way the way his horse raced and he gave me a great run,” Zeron said. “Two steps after the wire his horse went right on by. I was surprised to see his horse race that impressively, but, at the same time, he has a nice horse.”
Zeron, one of the bright young stars of the game, has now won the Little Brown Jug, the Hambletonian and the Yonkers Trot in his first try.
“That’s great because if you’ve been in those races 20 times and haven’t gotten it done it will be back in your head every time you go out there,” he said.
Marion Marauder paid $2.40 and his time for the mile was 1:56.1.
Afterward, Daley said he wasn’t the least bit disappointed that he had lost as he was elated with his horse’s effort.
“I am really happy with my horse,” he said. “They were walking up front and he rushed at him the last eighth. That was a good horse that beat us and I thought I was going to get him halfway down the lane because he was driving and running out a little. We were just a step or two too late.”
Marion Marauder will head home to Ontario and race next Saturday at Mohawk in the elims for the Canadian Trotting Classic. For now, that’s the only race Wellwood and her husband and co-trainer Mike Keeling are focused on. They know what would be at stake if they decide to go in the Kentucky Futurity, but it doesn’t appear that they will go for the Triple Crown sweep.
“It’s all about managing the horse and we’ve had a plan since last November with this horse,” Keeling said. “So far it’s all gone ‘According to Hoyle.’ So we’re not going to mess around a whole lot. I’m not ruling it out the Kentucky Futurity. But it is somethingthat is on the back burner.”
Racing Hill has battled the best in his division all year long and never puts in a bad effort. But he came into the Messenger with six losses from 10 starts, four of them coming against either Betting Line or Control The Moment. With neither of those horses in the Messenger field, trainer Tony Alagna could not have found an easier $500,000 race for the homebred by Roll With Joe—Chasing Ideals. Unlike Marion Marauder, the pacer never had an anxious moment. Driver Brett Miller made his move on the backstretch going around the first time, seized the lead and never looked back.
Racing Hill paid $2.10 and went the mile in 1:53. He won by one-and-a-quarter lengths.
“He earned this,” Alagna said. “When horses races as hard as he has all year and when they get in race like this and are 1-9 they deserve a little respect because they have earned it. It’s nice to see him not get punished.”
Betting Line, a winner in Ontario Sire Stakes action last night in his 10th straight triumph, may still be on top of the three-year-old male pacing division, but Alagna believes his horse can match up with anyone.
“I think he’s as good as any of them,” the trainer said. “In the Meadowlands Pace, Brett (Miller couldn’t get his ear plugs out and the horse came surging late and just missed. He was just misfortunate that night. Betting Line is very sharp right now, but I think at some point if this if this horse is on his game he has a shot to beat him.”