by Brett Sturman
You wouldn’t know it with the amount of snow in the mid-Atlantic region this past week, but the Levy series at Yonkers beginning Saturday (March 18) marks the unofficial start of spring in many harness racing circles. The free-for-all series has been typically known to deliver a parade of short priced favorites, but this year’s edition seems more evenly matched than in years past. With that, let’s take a look at the main contenders along with my estimation of their odds to win the series final in April.
McWicked (5-2): It’s hard to believe that prior to winning his comeback race at Pompano a month ago, the last time we saw McWicked win a race was back in December of 2014. That was the same year he won Dan Patch and O’Brien awards for wins that included the Breeders Crown and a separate 1:47:3 world record in the Hempt and he’s looked no worse for the wear so far in 2017 following surgery to correct his breathing. He cruised over this track last week as a prep for this series and looked very much like the McWicked of old; the one to beat in my opinion for Elliott and Zeron.
Bit of a Legend N (7-2): Was a model of perfection in this series last year when the Down Under import swept all Levy preliminary legs (dead-heating in one of them) and then captured the rich final over All Bets Off for the training and driving combination of Tritton and Stratton. Prepped nicely for this series with two off-the-pace tries in the open handicap where he closed with crisp pace; no reason to think he won’t be one of the top contenders once again this year in search of a repeat.
Mach It So (5-1): Won three out of five preliminary legs in this series last year before being doomed in the final with an outside post. A winner here in 1:50:2 last season, he was second in the Breeders Crown at the Meadowlands to Always B Miki. Looks to have returned fresh for trainer Bamond Jr and Tetrick knows this one well; has an affinity for these half-mile tracks and is a true FFA type when at his best.
All Bets Off (6-1): This is one tough horse that probably has never gotten the respect he deserves despite being a lifetime earner at nearly $2.2 million. He was a game runner up in this series final last year to Bit Of A Legend and closed out 2016 with a career best 1:48:2; regular pilot Kakaley will be aboard.
Caviart Luca (8-1): One of four Burke entries to this series, this one has already won five of seven on the year while racing exclusively in the Yonkers opens, good for $113,000. The six-year-old has never been better and Brennan fits him well; could be the series the pacer makes a name for himself.
Missile J (10-1): Moved from Toscano to DiDomenico at the start of this year and has responded by winning four of five, including a 1:49:1 romp at Dover two back. Won eight of 19 and over $300,000 as a sophomore last year and lures Tetrick off Our Sky Major N in Saturday’s opening leg; intriguing upstart to this series.
Bettor’s Edge (10-1): No stranger to this series and the eight-year-old qualified mightily two back at the Meadowlands when he beat similar FFA types by open lengths; lands the fortune of drawing the rail in his opening leg Saturday. Inching toward the $2 million career earnings mark and only knock is that listed trainer Kokinos is 1 for 50 at Yonkers this season; had raced in years past for Burke.
Rockin Ron (15-1): Beat Wiggle It Jiggleit twice last year in Canada including the Confederation Cup over the half-mile oval at Flamboro Downs. He was an excellent addition to the Burke barn last year and jogged at Yonkers two back before cruising at the Meadowlands last week; figures to make a good showing for himself as the series progresses.
Foiled Again (N/A): This year marks the first time since 2008 that the near $7.5 million lifetime earner won’t be participating in the series. While being a non-factor over the last two years in this series, Foiled Again had at least hit the board in the series final going back to 2009, including 2009 and 2010 when he won the Levy final in back to back years. He’s given us many thrills in past Levy editions and will be missed this year; races Saturday in the Yonkers nightcap for N/W $25,000 in last 5 starts.
Provacativeprince N (20-1): Not a bad stablemate to Bit Of A Legend for Tritton and this one shot himself right up the class ladder at Yonkers so far in 2017 setting himself up with a perfect three-for-three record heading into this series. Stratton gets the call on this guy too and that was impressive last week when this Grinfromeartoear gelding swept from seventh off a :58:1 middle half; you don’t see that too often here and he deserves a shot against these.
Field (10-1): Our Sky Major N is a former Kiwi star and makes his US debut after prepping twice at Woodbine; had the look of a killer in his NA debut when he crushed lesser in 1:50:2. Keystone Velocity is one of two Allard entrants and the combination of Dube and Allard won this series final two years ago with Domethatagain. Santa Fe Beachboy won a leg of the series last year and is still consistent enough that he can accumulate valuable points in each leg; should be respected coming from Banca. Wakizashi Hanover was a popular standout at age three when he won the North America Cup but struggled last year as an older horses winning only twice in 12 starts; seems to be in line for something more this year. Soto won a Yonkers Open two back and isn’t terribly outclassed against these; capable of holding his own.
Last Week’s Bankroll: $1,001
Total Wagers: $127
Total Return: $46
This Week’s Bankroll: $920
Yonkers – Saturday, March 17
Race 7: PROVACATIVEPRINCE N aims for four straight and catches a favorable post in his first preliminary leg of the Levy series. He was able to win last out despite trailing all but one horse after a pedestrian half mile and he’s never been this good since arriving in these parts. Lands the post edge on his main rival; worth a swing if the price is fair. MACH IT SO is the class of the field but make just his first start back since SOMETIME. He was one of the top contenders in this series last year and looms a serious overall threat once again; rallies. ROCKIN RON has been superb in his last pair and versatile type can do it either way; Yannick might look to take an early shot. BETTOR’S EDGE lands the rail in his second start since the qualifier and might actually go overlooked in here; wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss at the expected square price.
$20 Win 2
$4 Exacta Box 2/1,3
Race 11: ROCK ABSORBER was never a threat last out against winners over types from post 7 but prior to that he fired in a big way first start off the claim for Banca when he won by 5 in 1:51. This is a more reasonable spot and he’ll figure more prominently in here. HILLBILLY HANOVER did well for himself to chase home McWicked last out and the obvious problem now is the post; 7/1 morning line looks enticing. WINDS OF CHANGE qualified well for Takter against stablemate and Levy entrant Great Vintage; might need a start to re-acclimate while making first start since December. FOILED AGAIN will be a sentimental choice on Levy night but this level is where the waters have gotten too deep for him of late; will likely be coming from off the pace. STATESMAN N has looked like his old self since the barn change from Remmen to Ruiz; the step up though combined with the outside post might be asking too much now.
$20 Win 3
$1 Trifecta 3-8 / 1-3-8 / 1-3-5-8 $12