When trainer Rich Banca purchased Mach It A Par sight unseen last winter, he thought he was getting a mare who knew how to win and who could be effective in the mid-level conditions at Yonkers. When she showed up to the barn, her appearance didn't instill confidence, but Banca was undeterred.
"If you looked at her and didn't know who she was, you wouldn't want to give $20,000 for her," Banca said. "She's just a tiny little thing. She's very plain, small. I thought she was a non-winners of 15, 20, 25 (thousand dollars last in her last five starts-caliber horse). But you see a lot of horses that don't look like anything special that are."
Mach It A Par's debut for Banca came in last year's first leg of the Bluechip Matchmaker Series at Yonkers March 18. To Banca's surprise, she upset the field, paying $81 to win, and set the tone for the rest of the year. At the end of her 39-race campaign, she amassed 13 wins and another 17 seconds and thirds good for $404,200. In winning Yonkers' Filly and Mare Open Handicap in 1:50.3 on Sept. 18, she set a world record for an aged pacing mare on a half-mile track.
"It was just unbelievable from start to finish," Banca recalled. "She was good just about every single start of the year. The only start that she wasn't 100 percent was the final of the Matchmaker, but she was good all year long. What she's accomplished is really amazing. I could have never imagined it."
Compounding Mach It A Par's success is the thrilling way in which she races. She frequently comes from well off the pace and sometimes circles the field to win, a rarity at Yonkers.
"I've seen her go races that I didn't know she'd get a check and she ended up winning," Banca admired. "She could be sitting eighth at the top of the stretch and still win. I don't know if you could ever see another horse at Yonkers do that as often as she does. It happens every once in a while, but she did it a lot of times."
As the 7 year old by Mach Three out of the Village Jiffy mare Taylorlane Action gears up for her 2017 campaign, Banca is setting his sights on redemption in the Matchmaker Series. The only black mark on her record last year, she finished last of eight in the series final in 2016.
"There'd been other races last year that she was just too far back and had no chance, but she was still good. But the final of the Matchmaker, she just wasn't good that night," Banca explained. "I think I know her better now. She ended the year last year very strong. She wasn't tired and she got a little break. I think she's the best horse in there."
Mach It A Par appeared on the racetrack for the first time since winning a Filly and Mare Open Handicap at Yonkers on Dec. 16 when she went behind the gate for a qualifier Saturday, Feb. 11. With the earplugs still in, she finished second, pacing her mile in 1:55 and posting a final quarter of :27.2. Driver Jason Bartlett was satisfied with the effort.
"Going into the qualifier, obviously you just want to qualify, get a good run in her, make the last quarter her best quarter," he explained. "Everything worked out pretty well. Just trying to get a good line, not overdoing it, and just having her hit their best stride at the wire; I think that's the main goal."
Although he's grown accustomed to her and paired up with her for several of her victories last year, like Banca, Bartlett's first impression of Mach It A Par was lackluster.
"To watch her score down and even sitting behind her, you would never think she does what she does," Bartlett said. "She's small, she's going slow, she's half -galloping, half-pacing. When you turn her in front of the gate, her attitude changes and she's very willing. She loves her job."
Mach It A Par's 2017 campaign will mirror last year's: She'll contest the Bluechip Matchmaker Series and the Filly and Mare Opens at Yonkers, but won't travel for other stakes due to her tendency to tie up. Although Banca isn't one to push a horse in their first start, he is optimistic about Mach It A Par's chances in her seasonal debut in Friday's Filly and Mare Open Handicap at Yonkers.
"Usually they need a start or two before they're at their best. I don't like to train them very hard before they qualify. It's a long year," he said. "I know it's her first start of the year, but she's a good horse. I expect her to race well."
Mach It A Par will face seven rivals Friday and landed the unusually comfortable post position five. It's one of the rare occasions she won't be handicapped by the seven or eight hole.
"I don't know what she's going to think about having the five hole," Bartlett joked. "It's her first start of the year, so obviously I want to give her the best trip I can possibly give her and be as easy as I can on her, but at the same time, put her in a spot to win the race. With the five hole, take off the gate and try to find a helmet to the top of the lane."
Mach It A Par is the 3-1 second choice on the morning line for Friday's $50,000 sixth race at Yonkers Raceway, trailing 5-2 favorite Bedroomconfessions. Regil Elektra, Arielle Lynn, Empress Deo, Bettor N Better, Wrangler Magic, and Set Me Up complete the field. First post is 7:10 p.m. (Yonkers)