by Brett Sturman
What started off as five divisions of horses in the first leg of the Levy series is down to just three divisions this week, and for all intents and purposes the Matchmaker series may be realistically between just two or three mares at this point.
The big horse in the Levy through the first three legs is the only one to win all of them: Dr. J Hanover. He may have been aided by favorable draws (the rail in two races and an easy lead in the other), but take nothing away from him. He’s won all races deservingly and he’ll get this week off to rest with a spot in the safely assured.
Even with that 1:46 mile from last year I think we can say that he’s surprised with just how good he’s been in the series thus far. He finished last year just 5-for-23 including races in the Yonkers opens where he never threatened from outside posts. He’ll get tested before everything is said and done, but for now you can’t knock a horse that’s been perfect.
On that opposite end of the spectrum, what happened to the supposed strong crop of a record 12 horses from New Zealand and Australia? In fact, of the 12 Down Under horses, the only one to be well positioned to even race in the finals is the former defending champion, Bit Of A Legend N. There’s no way around it that the most disappointing of the imports has been Waikiki Beach A. He tied up in his first Levy start, but even discounting that, he was always outpaced in his next two races. With that foreign record early in his career and then the 1:50 mile in his second start at Pompano it looked like he’d be a threat in the series. Hopefully the connections can figure him out and we’ll get a chance to see his best at some point in the future.
One who has seen his stock rise sharply in the last couple weeks is the Takter-trained Western Fame. He came into this series after having not raced since September and after a tune-up in the opening leg, he surged off cover two back for a sharp score and then wore down from the two-hole the heavily backed favorite Rockin Ron last week. Mark Macdonald has driven this one perfectly during that time and he and the trainer do produce good results together when they team up. Sitting pretty at number 3 in the Levy standings, he’ll get this week off, as well.
This week could be a make or break of sorts for defending champion Keystone Velocity. Through three legs he sits in 14th place and needs a first or second place finish to stay in contention for a top 8 finish. He didn’t quite have it last week when going first over against Rockin Ron and has only been just okay in his two starts prior. He faces a serious foe from the rail in his division this Saturday, but aside from that, it appears to be a field he should be able to handle if right.
Other horses on the bubble with two preliminary legs to go include Evenin of Pleasure and Bettor Memories, who currently cling to the 7th and 8th spots, respectively. The problem for both is the outside posts they both landed this Saturday. After winning a leg two back, Evenin of Pleasure drew post 8 last week and couldn’t land a punch, and lands post 8 once again this week in an even tougher field. Bettor Memories has been an overachiever of sorts for trainer Nifty Norman and although he lands the outside post, he does get a big-time driver change to Tetrick.
Mach It So is on the outside looking in by just one spot at the moment, but conversely to the other two aforementioned horses, this one lands the rail Saturday and is likely to go off in the area of 3-5. He’s almost certain to move up. Continuing to lurk in the weeds are Somewhere In L A and Missile J; both of whom won for the first time last week. They meet head to head on Saturday in the toughest of the three divisions, being joined by Rockin Ron and Christen Me N.
After three weeks, the contenders have been separated from the pretenders but there still isn’t much to separate the top half-dozen horses. It’s still a wide-open series heading into the last two preliminary legs and then the final.
The same can’t be said on the lady’s side, where Shartin N is delivering big time on lofty expectations. A Group 2 winner in New Zealand, she’s been nothing less than brilliant in the Matchmaker and her only loss all this year was by a nose at the Meadowlands in a race that no one could even see anyway because it occurred in a total white-out.
She’s won in the Matchmaker from both on and off the pace, and she won last week in a time that went a full second faster than any other division. Still new to these parts for the same connections of top import mare Nike Franco N, it seems this one has tons of room to continue to grow and may just be getting started.
Not to be overlooked however is last year’s champion, Mackenzie A. The 6-year-old mare has now come from well off the pace to win her last two Matchmaker starts, which is no easy feat at this track. She’s yet to clash with Shartin N and won’t do so this week either as they’re entered for separate legs, but it could be quite a showdown if these two were to get together for the first time in the final. Trainer Tritton still alive with a Levy/Matchmaker double between this one and Bit Of A Legend N.
Impressing in a quieter way is Twinkle N. For the team of Let It Ride and Croghan, all this mare does is win. She’s only lost twice in her career (12 out of 14 in the win column) and could have a say late in this series.
Despite being well positioned to make the finals, I wouldn’t say this series has gone according to plan for Lady Shadow. After a first round win, she faded without any real excuses in both of her last two races. She lands the rail for Friday, but faces a killer in #4 (Shartin N); we’ll see if she can find a way to bounce back.
Unless something dramatic changes, Shartin N looks well in control of her own destiny in being able to capture the Matchmaker. Things remain much more up for grabs on the Levy side.