Sunday, August 26, 2012

Ron Pierce wins Drivers' Championship; Market Share and Check Me Out star in Zweig Memorial

Multiple Standardbred stars were in orbit around the fast 7/8ths-mile oval at Vernon Downs on Sunday afternoon as the track's State Fair racing weekend concluded with a power-packed 13-race program.

As the dust settled, the brightest stars at day's end were Check Me Out, Market Share and Ron Pierce.

The even-money favorite Check Me Out lowered Vernon's record for 3-year-old trotting fillies to 1:51.3, equaling her world record, with a come-from-behind victory in Sunday's $150,000 Dr. Harry M. Zweig Memorial Final for her age, sex and gait.

The crowd's choice Market Share lived up to his top billing with a fast-closing (final quarter in :26.4) 1:52.1 track record score in Sunday's $350,000 Zweig Memorial championship contest for 3-year-old trotting colts.

Hambletonian winner Market Share wins the Zweig Memorial
Ron Pierce captured three of Sunday's six races in the 6th-annual Drivers' Championship to finish first with 49 points and earn the $25,000 top prize.  He also won this prestigious event in 2010.

"It was a proud day for Vernon Downs and a tremendous day for harness racing in the Empire State," said Jason Settlemoir, vice-president of racing operations.  "It was an ideal day weather-wise, Track Superintendent Tony Rossi had the 7/8ths-mile track in tip-top condition, there were five track records set or equaled, which resulted in a very entertaining day for fans of the sport.  The turnout was great and enthusiastic, which certainly bodes well for the remaining 29 programs of Vernon's 59th season."

Prior to Check Me Out's sensational score in Sunday's eighth event, freshman Vernon record-holder Gym Tan Laundry logged a 1:52.3 tally in race four that became a fresh Downs standard for 3-year-old trotting geldings.  George Brennan drove for trainer Noel Daley and the Adam Victor & Son Stable.

Check Me Out matches her own world record in the Zweig Filly
In the very next race, Jim Morrill, Jr., sitting in for trainer Trond Smedshammer and owner Michael Andrew, steered Chilitodayhotamale to a career-best 1:52.3 victory that became, at that point in the day, a new Vernon standard for 3-year-old trotting fillies.

Check Me Out, currently ranked second to the older trotter Chapter Seven on the sport's Top 10 chart, had to work hard to earn her eighth win (plus a second-place finish) in 10 season's starts.  The swift-footed daughter of Donato Hanover-Illusion Bi was fifth at the half, before rallying first-over around Vernon's final turn to wear down the front-striding Win Missy B and record a 1-1/4 length decision in race eight.  Tim Tetrick, the sport's top money-winning reinsman, did the teaming for part-owner/trainer Ray Schnittker and his partner Charles Iannazzo.

"She's the best horse I’ve ever been associated with,” said Tetrick in Vernon's winner's circle.  "She'll go as fast as you'll want to go with her."

Two races later, Tetrick was back in the sulky behind the Linda Toscano-trained, recent Hambletonian winner Market Share, who also had to rally from off the pace to out-scrap the game-going Magic Tonight in the final strides and gain a two-length triumph.  The track-record clocking equaled his lifetime speed badge and became the Revenue S-Classical Flirt-colt's sixth score in 13 starts this season, and 11th in 18 career outings.  The lifetime winner of $1,272,505 is shared in ownership by Richard Gutnick, William J. Augustine and the TLP Stable.

"This colt is super every time he goes to the starting gate, and he just seems to get better and better every time out," said Tetrick. 

Trainer Toscano, who is enjoying a magical season, pointed out that the championship colt has worked his way up to the top of the season's sophomore trotting class (currently ranked fifth on the sport's Top 10 chart).

Pierce, a Hall Of Fame horseman who trailed first round leader Dave Palone 25-19 after the initial $25,000 Driving Championship leg at The Meadowlands on Aug. 17, earned 30 points during the day after first-place finishes behind the pacers Shark Shooter (race two), Joba Jovi (seven) and Stettin Hanover (11) to out-point local favorite Morrill, Jr., 49-41, in the hard-fought competition.

Sunday's other Driving Championship race winners were former Downs driving champion Brian Sears (Whimzical Britt in race three, and Hot Cowboy in race nine), and Morrill, Jr. (Chilitodayhotamale in event five).

Following Pierce and Morrill in the final standings were Sears and Palone (38 points each), Yannick Gingras (34), Dave Miller (30), Tetrick (19), Brennan (13) and last year's champ Jody Jamieson (nine).

Sunday's $11,000 Open pace was won by the fast-striding Melvyn, who equaled his win-mark and bettered Vernon's all-time standard for 4-year-old geldings after a 1:49.4 performance in race 12.  Brennan did the teaming for owner and trainer Rita Polese as the bay son of Mannart Howard-Cr Charisma collected his fourth season's score, 12th lifetime win and raised his career earnings to more than $212,000.  

DOWNS DOINGS—Defending Driving Championship titleist Jamison was honored with a bobblehead doll giveaway prior to the program…Vernon's fastest trotting mile ever is still San Pail's 1:51.1 win on Sept. 2 last year…Gym Tan Laundry currently owns Vernon's 1:55.3 record for 2-year-old trotting geldings, which was set on Oct. 28 last year…There will be no live racing on Wednesday or Thursday this week, or simulcasting on Aug. 29. …On Wednesday (Aug. 29), Vernon will host a concert by "The Boss," Bruce Springsteen and his E-Street band at the track.  It's a leg of the noted singer's current Wrecking Ball Tour…Live racing at the Downs this week will be conducted at 6:55 p.m. on Friday (Aug. 31) and Saturday (Sept. 1) only.  The track also has a matinee program planned for 1:15 p.m. on Labor Day (Monday, Sept. 3)…Additional information regarding Vernon Downs, its casino, hotel, racing and promotional events can be obtained at www.vernondowns.com.