In what turned out to be a bit of a shocker, Aaron Byron and Secluded Island stalked the pacesetter and 1-5 favorite, Hickory Louie, until the final turn and then they battled all the way to the wire with Byron's pacer prevailing by a head in a 2:01.3 clocking over a muddy racetrack in the Heritage Drivers Series final at Monticello Raceway on Thursday.
Monticello Raceways Heritage Drivers Series final-- dubbed the America Cup--pitted the winning drivers in each of the eight preliminary races for different ethnicities. Byron earned a berth in the race by winning the Maple Leaf Mile, which represented those of Canadian heritage.
When the gate folded in this year's contest Jimmy Marohn Jr., winner of the St. Paddy Pace, fired Hickory Louie to the lead as Byron, starting from the pole position, grabbed leather and was content to follow the favorite. Tight on Marohn's helmet with Secluded Island the two leaders paced by the quarter in :29.1 and the order remained the same at the halfway point.
The first to pull on the leader was Dennis Watson (the Martin Luther King Jr Pace winner) but his charge, Five Star Stud, didn't make up much ground. Up the backside Byron and Secluded Island were still tight on Marohn's helmet and just before the three quarters he moved his pacer out to challenge the 1-5 favorite showing the way.
"I saw Jimmy pecking at his horse as we neared the three quarters so I moved ( my horse) to the outside and we raced side by side on the final turn. It might have been a little early to move at that point but I did so because the trainer told me not to try to pass on the inside or use the passing lane because Secluded Island won't try if you do,” Byron explained.
When the two pacers came off the final turn it appeared that Hickory Louie would be up to the challenge but Secluded Island just kept stalking and drew even with the pacesetter by midstretch. Then in the final strides Secluded Island stuck his head in front just as the photo finish camera snapped.
The margin of victory was just a head but that was good enough for the victory, an upset one at that.
High Mileage and driver Mike Merton (Munich Mile winner) rallied to be third a neck in front of fourth-place finisher Majo Just Do It, driven by the Godfather Pace winner, Rock Vinci.
"I never sat behind him (Secluded island) before but we had a good trip. He's a classy old timer and he showed some grit as we neared the finish line,” Byron later added as he got off his sulky in the winner's circle for the trophy presentation.
Sent off at odds of over 6-1, Secluded Island paid $15.80 for win. The pacer is owned and trained by Jack Sheehan. (Monticello)