Two and Dunn in the Meadowlands Pace

Four-time USHWA Driver of the Year, Dexter Dunn, may have a big choice to make for next week’s Meadowlands Pace.

by Debbie Little

Heading into Saturday’s (July 6) Meadowlands Pace eliminations at The Meadowlands, driver Dexter Dunn will be looking to qualify two for next week’s $650,000 final.

Should Dunn be doubly successful, he will have an important decision to make, as he seeks his first victory in The Meadowlands’ signature pace.

Dunn will be driving Gem Quality for trainer Chris Ryder in the first of two Pace eliminations (race 7).

In the second Pace elim (race 8), Dunn will make his debut behind Funtime Bayama.

In 13 career starts, Funtime Bayama has only been driven by someone with the last name Filion. Canadian Hall of Famer Sylvain Filion drove the gelded son of He’s Watching—Tymal Sugrbabydoll in his last 11 races, while his Hall of Fame father, Yves, was at the controls for the first two starts of Funtime Bayama’s career.

When the partnership of Bill Pollock, Bruce Areman and Andrew Harris purchased Funtime Bayama in late June, they knew they needed to find a driver since Sylvain was not looking to travel outside of Canada.

Even though Funtime Bayama has never been off the board in his baker’s dozen of starts, which includes eight victories, finding a driver in the glamour boys division isn’t always easy.

“So, we looked at everything that we could and said at the end of the day, we go for the best driver and we go from there,” said trainer/co-owner Harris. “When we looked through who we considered the top guys, everybody had a horse already in that division.

“We have a great relationship with Dex, so, I mean, that was a big player in it. Dex and I get along great… and I think that Dex is understanding, too, that when we make these big purchases, that he’s in mind. So, I think that helps us, too.”

Harris went into the “Funtime” conversation with Dunn knowing that the driver had guided Gem Quality in all five of his races this year, and in all but one of his 13 career outings. Not to mention that Dunn is extremely close to Ryder, who has been referred to as Dunn’s “American Dad.”

According to Harris, Dunn said, “[Gem Quality’s] been good to me. I won the Breeders Crown with him.”

With that in mind, Harris still asked Dunn to go a training mile with Funtime Bayama at The Meadowlands this past weekend.

Harris said the trip at The Big M was important because Funtime had never raced outside of Canada before and track surfaces are different between the U.S. and Canada, so they needed to be sure the horse was shod properly.

“So, you want the driver to go sit behind them and sit behind them at a high enough speed to where they can get a feel for what they’re capable of and where their strengths and weaknesses are,” Harris said.

According to Harris, after the training mile at The Big M, Dunn said, “Yeah, he’s a really, really nice horse.”

“So, I’m sure it puts Dex in a very hard place,” Harris said. “But at the end of the day, my job is to get the horse ready and put who I think is the best available driver on him.

“If Yannick didn’t have McCrunch, he was a big possibility, but he had McCrunch and he’s got a big, huge account with Nancy Takter.”

McCrunch drew into the same Pace elim as Funtime Bayama, but in the first elim, Gingras is piloting Harris’ other Pace contender, Miki Ray.

At this point, Harris said there’s no Plan B.

“You can’t have a Plan B because you don’t know who else is going to be in the race,” Harris said. “So, to have a Plan B is just lunacy. You go with your gut, you go with the driver that you had come train the horse and if something, God forbid, goes against us and we can’t get him, then we have to sit down and look at who’s available and the best fit for our program and horse.”

Gem Quality raced in a 3-year-old open at The Big M last Saturday (June 29), and although he finished third, he was first-time Lasix and came home in :24.4.

“Well, I’m pretty sure [the Lasix] helped him come the back half in :52, and if I can keep him doing that, we’ll be in good shape,” Ryder said. “I think the 3-year-olds this year are terrific. There are eight horses in there that have a shot at winning it.”

Although Dunn never told Ryder that he’d been asked to drive Funtime, it appears the word got out.

According to Ryder, he had a conversation with Harris to see if the rumors were true.

“[Harris] said, ‘Yeah,’” Ryder said. “I just wanted to confirm what I’d heard, but I haven’t had a conversation with Dexter.”

Should both Funtime Bayama and Gem Quality make the final, Harris and Ryder know that Dunn has to do what’s best for him.

“You know, I understand he’s going to take the horse that he thinks has a better shot at winning and that’s okay,” Ryder said.

Harris said, “He’s my number one driver. I mean, he’s the first one listed on 90 per cent of the stable, I’m not saying he takes all of them, but he takes all the ones that he can, and that’s with any driver. Usually, if they pick off it’s because it’s a better horse and if it’s a better horse, then, I mean, you’ve got to be a real idiot to get mad at them for that. I mean, that’s their job, to win races, and if you tell them you can’t have a good opportunity to win the race because you want them to drive your horse, then I think that bad karma comes back your way for that.

“The beautiful part about The Meadowlands is there are 10 great drivers. So, somebody’s going to be available for that final and at the end of the day, we’ve still got to make the final. This is the type of horse where I don’t have to worry so much about who’s going to drive him. Somebody wants to drive.”

Ryder said he doesn’t get bummed out thinking about whether or not Dunn will choose his horse.

“Life’s too short to worry about it,” Ryder said. “We do what we can; let the chips fall where they may.

“I don’t believe in pushing the issue too much because it usually backfires on you.”


Both Pace elims, as well as the Graduate Open Trot and Pace finals, will be featured on the New York Racing Association’s America’s Day at the Races telecast from 8-11 p.m. on FOX Sports 2.

For the first time, in their now three-year broadcast partnership with NYRA — which started with the 2021 Meadowlands Pace — The Meadowlands will be sharing the spotlight with another harness track.

Instead of a thoroughbred track filling the time between Meadowlands races, it will be Ohio’s Scioto Downs showcasing 3-year-old trotters in the Moni Maker and 2-year-olds trotters and pacers in the Next Generation.

The good relationship between Meadowlands president/chief executive officer Jeff Gural and NYRA president/CEO Dave O’Rourke is responsible for starting these broadcasts back in 2021, which have benefited the entire harness racing industry as the number of shows have expanded and now include tracks outside of The Meadowlands.

With multiple races being shown from both tracks — 12 in all are planned — as well as commentary from Chris Griffin and Paul Verderosa on set at Aqueduct, Jessica Otten at The Meadowlands and Jenna Otten and Gabe Prewitt at Scioto and possible features and commercials, it is an ambitious undertaking.

With less time in between races than a typical thoroughbred card, which is what America’s Day at the Races generally deals with, Eric Donovan, the senior director of TV broadcast operations for NYRA said what contributes to a good broadcast is everyone keeping it tight.

“I mean, that’s one thing we tell our talent a lot on the thoroughbred shows, is that when we have a lot going on and a lot of people, the tighter you are, everyone gets a chance to say what they want to say,” Donovan said. “And it makes for better TV, actually.

“When some of the analysts ramble on a little bit more, it kind of just makes it a little bit of a tougher watch and when you’re short and to the point, that’s kind of what it’s all about.”