The sport's top rookie pacers were showcased on Saturday evening (Aug. 24) at Mohawk in a trio of $40,000 Metro Pace eliminations. Arthur Blue Chip (1:51.2), Western Vintage (1:51.3) and Lets Drink On It (1:51.1) captured their respective eliminations and stamped themselves as top contenders for this year's $683,000 final on Saturday, Aug. 31, at Mohawk.
The top three finishers in each elim, plus a fourth-place finisher drawn by lot (Ideal Magic), advanced to the final, and the elim winners chose their post before the open draw. Here is the field for the final: 1--Boomboom Ballykeel, 2--Lets Drink On It, 3--Western Vintage, 4--Arthur Blue Chip, 5--Tellitlikeitis, 6--Winds Of Change, 7--Luck Be Withyou, 8--Beat The Drum, 9--Play It Again Sam, 10--Ideal Magic.
As for the elims, favored Arthur Blue Chip, with Randy Waples driving, fended off all challengers to handily win the first of three eliminations. Taking over from Luck Be Withyou after a 27.1 opening quarter, Arthur Blue Chip took the field to the half in :55.4 and three-quarters in 1.24.2.
For a moment in early stretch it looked like the pacesetter would need to repulse Tellitlikeitis and Yannick Gingras, who were rallying on the inside, but Arthur Blue Chip, a son of Shadow Play-Advantest, pulled away late for the 1 1/2-length tally in a career best 1:51.2. Luck Be Withyou out-nodded Tellitlikeitis for second, with Some Major Beach getting up for fourth.
"He's getting to be a really nice colt now,” said trainer Dr. Ian Moore. "He's just getting better every day. Tonight, he was quite quiet in the paddock. I thought something was wrong with him. But he came his last quarter in 27 flat, so looks like he's okay for now.
"Last week was the first time he raced off the front. I told Randy I'd leave it up to him as to how he wanted to race him tonight.”
A $135,000 yearling purchase and a half brother to Kenneth J, Arthur Blue Chip came into his elim fresh from a comfortable front-end score last week in a division of the Nassagaweya in 1:52. He's now won five of seven starts for the Shadow One Stable of Guelph, Ontario, while pocketing $194,495.
Arthur Blue Chip paid $4.20, $2.90 and $2.30, combining with Luck Be Withyou ($4.90, $3.30) for a $15.60 (4-5) exactor. A 4-5-2 (Tellitlikeitis, $2.70) triactor was worth $69.40 while a $1 Superfecta [4-5-2-7 (Some Major Beach)] returned $148.75.
Odds-on choice Western Vintage coasted to a two-length score in the second Metro Pace elim for driver Yannick Gingras. Western Vintage, a Western Ideal-Major Harmony colt, took over from Ideal Magic after the first quarter in 27.4 and blasted to the top, getting to the half in 55.2.
Around the far turn and into the stretch, the favorite was pressed by Somewhere in LA after reaching three-quarters in 1:24.3, but Gingras let out another notch and Western Vintage drew off impressively in 1:51.3.
Winds of Change blew by the rest of the field to collar second place, with Play It Again Sam third and Ideal Magic fourth.
It was also the fourth win in five starts Western Vintage, who is trained by Nancy Johansson trainee. His only blemish came the previous week in a Nassagaweya division, when he made a break before the start as the 7-5 choice and was distanced.
"He was a little anxious last week on (driver) Marcus (Johansson), that's why he ran,” explained Gingras. "He was a little anxious on me a little bit tonight, too. That's why I let him do his thing.
"He was full of pace. He was just waiting for me to call on him. Every time I've called on him so far, he's had something left. I've yet to pull the ear plugs on him but I'm sure next week we'll have to. I think he has as good a chance as anybody (next week) and he's done nothing wrong so far.”
Gingras is now undefeated on the colt in three pari-mutuel starts, including a New Jersey Sires Stake on July 13 at the Meadowlands.
Just a $7,000 yearling purchase by owner Perry Soderberg of Manalapan, New Jersey, Western Vintage has now banked $117,250. Western Vintage paid $3.70, $2.70 and $2.10, teaming with Winds of Change ($7.10, $3.80) for a $21.60 (3-2) exactor. A 3-2-1 (Play It Again Sam, $2.20) triactor returned $52.20, while a $1 Superfecta [3-2-1-8 (Ideal Magic)] was worth $127.50.
Favored Let's Drink On It gamely out-fought Boomboom Ballykeel in deep stretch to post a neck decision in the third and final elimination.
Boomboom Ballykeel took the field through an opening quarter in :27.2, before Let's Drink On It was hustled to the front by driver Jim Morrill, getting to the half in a leisurely :56.1. After three-quarters was reached in 1:23.4, it looked like the chalk was home free, but Boomboom Ballykeel mounted a rail rally and appeared to put a head in front before Let's Drink On It re-rallied for the close victory in a life best 1:51.1, the fastest of the three elims. Beat the Drum came on for third, 6 1/4 lengths behind the top pair, while Somesizesomestyle was fourth.
Trained by Joe Seekman for U.S. interests, the son of Art Official, who was also trained by Seekman, was only a $12,000 Lexington yearling purchase. Art Official was the only horse to beat Somebeachsomewhere, and he did it in the $1 million Meadowlands Pace in July of 2008.
"Jimmy (Morrill) said he thought tonight maybe he might be better covered up,” said Seekman. "There was a little scare in the stretch when the other horse come up the inside. But he's two fingers. He can go anywhere. He doesn't have to be on the front.
"Art Official never won at two and this horse already has four wins. We thought we stole him (for only $12,000 at the sale).”
Let's Drink On It, winning his fourth in six starts, paid $4.70, $2.80 and $2.50, combining with Boomboom Ballykeel ($4.40, $3.60) for a $16.20 (4-7) exactor. A 4-7-3 (Beat the Drum, $3.10) triactor was worth $103.10 while a $1 Superfecta [4-7-3-1 (Somesizesomestyle)] returned $242.25.
The rich classic has been won recently by a host of champions, including last year by Captaintreacherous, Sportswriter in 2009, Somebeachsomewhere in 2007 and Rocknroll Hanover in 2004.