Prior to the draw for Saturday's $415,820 Messenger Stakes for 3-year-old pacers at Yonkers Raceway, trainer Ron Burke said he would "love our chances” if his horse Hillbilly Hanover drew an inside post. After getting post one, Burke will get to see if Hillbilly Hanover can take advantage and get his first victory of the season.
The Messenger is the third jewel in the Pacing Triple Crown. Dynamic Youth won the Cane Pace, the first jewel, and Michael's Power captured the second, the Little Brown Jug. Neither horse is in the Messenger. Completing the eight-horse field, in post position order, are Domethatagain, A Rocknroll Dance, Lawgiver Hanover, Bolt The Duer, Major Bombay, Pet Rock and Steelhead Hanover.
Hillbilly Hanover, who joined the Burke Stable on Sept. 30, is winless in 19 starts this year, but has earned $236,503 thanks in part to a second-place finish to stablemate Sweet Lou in the $510,300 Tattersalls Pace on Oct. 6 at The Red Mile. Hillbilly Hanover missed winning by a head.
Jim Morrill Jr., who drove Hillbilly Hanover in the Tattersalls, as well as to a sixth-place finish in the Breeders Crown, will be at the lines in the Messenger.
"He's o-for-the-year for a reason; he doesn't want to win yet,” Burke said. "But I think he's very competitive.”
Hillbilly Hanover is a son of Dragon Again, out of the mare Hattie. He is a half-brother to Holborn Hanover, who earned $2 million on the racetrack, and millionaire Hyperion Hanover. Prior to Hillbilly Hanover, 10 of Hattie's 11 foals made it to the races and earned a total of $4.62 million.
Dragon Again is the sire of several Burke Stable past-and-present standouts, including Foiled Again (the richest pacer in North American harness racing history), Atochia, Hugadragon and Versado.
"He's the breed that we like,” said Burke, who owns Hillbilly Hanoverwith Weaver Bruscemi LLC, Frank Baldachino and Larry Karr. "He's a Dragon Again and we seem to do well with them. He's kind of our kind of horse; a little bit on the lazy side, but good gaited, has a lot of talent, just needs maybe to be pushed to get it out of him.”
In the Breeders Crown, Hillbilly Hanover started from post nine and raced in 10th for much of the mile before closing with a rush and finishing 3 3/4 lengths from winner Heston Blue Chip.
"He was very good,” Burke said. "He got caught behind one of our other horses (Escape The News) and was flying late. I was really happy.”
Another horse looking to finish the season on a high note is Major Bombay, who returns to Yonkers Raceway for the first time since winning the New York Sire Stakes championship there on Sept. 22. Two days prior to the sire stakes final, Major Bombay competed in one heat of the Little Brown Jug. He was given a month-long respite before tuning up for the Messenger with a fourth-place finish in a conditioned race at Harrah's Philadelphia.
"We wanted to give him adequate time to rest and recover,” said Tony Alagna, who trains Major Bombay for owners Aaron Waxman, Andy Willinger, John Fodera and the Major Bombay Partners. "We didn't take him to the Breeders Crown because we wanted to have him fresh and, hopefully, at his best for the Messenger. We gave him one start to have him ready for the Messenger and he raced well.”
Last year, Major Bombay won the Woodrow Wilson Pace at the Meadowlands and finished no worse than second in six of seven starts. This season, the son of Art Major-Armbro Bombay has won four of 16 races and earned $314,043.
"He got off to a little bit of a slow start, but he's come back to the form we thought he would show us at (age) three,” Alagna said. "Coming back this year we thought he was a nice horse. We never had expectations that he would be the top 3 year old in the country, but we thought he would be a very nice horse for us. He's been exactly that.” (HRC)