Major Athens brushed to the lead with a quarter-pole move and went on to victory in a stake-fastest 1:56.1 in a division of Wednesday's $315,724 Hickory Pride, a Pennsylvania Sires Stake for freshman cold and gelding trotters, at The Meadows.
Impressive as Major Athens was, he had to share the spotlight with Jimmy Takter. Harness racing's newest Hall of Famer swept the other three Hickory Pride splits — as both trainer and driver — with Dontyouforgetit, High Bridge and Bluto.
Major Athens entered the Hickory Pride following an easy victory in a Pennsylvania All Stars event at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, and he was much the best again Wednesday. After grabbing the lead for Dick Stillings, he waltzed home in 1:56.1, a tick off Stormin Normand's stake record. Whicked Hanover was second, 1-1/2 lengths back, with Its Complicated third.
"I said all along he's the real deal, so I hope I wasn't wrong,” said winning trainer Rich Gillock. "His best trait is his manners. He's very versatile and will do anything you want. That helps with a trotter, especially at this stage. It's like he's done this all his life.”
Stillings also was impressed with the colt's maturity. "He goes like a senior citizen — just like me,” Stillings said.
Thomas Brice and Charles Receski bred and own Major Athens, a son of Andover Hall-Miss Athens who will be pointed to the Peter Haughton.
Dontyouforgetit could be described, charitably, as diminutive. But the Cantab Hall youngster is out of Solveig, the 2004 Dan Patch Award winner at 2, and he flashed some of his mom's talent and determination. He pulled the pocket before the final turn and outkicked early leader Arctic Tale to defeat that rival by 2-1/4 lengths in 1:57. Ergo Hanover completed the ticket. Solveig's Breeders bred and own Dontyouforgetit.
"When he came in from the farm, he was no bigger than my dog,” Takter said. "But he has long legs and he's grown some, and he has a good attitude. I was confident he would win stake races. Does he remind me of Solveig? Not really, but he has that nice way of going.”
High Bridge ground out a first-over win in 1:57.4, 1/2 length better than Theatrical Session, with Max Andover third. "He was looking all around, but he's learning,” Takter said. "He'll be a nice horse.”
Christina Takter, John Fielding, Joyce McClelland and Jim Fielding own High Bridge, a son of Cantab Hall-Madame Volo.
In the $22,500 Preferred Pace, Jojo N Goliath made it three straight with a 1:50.3 victory for Eric Ledford, trainer Paul Kennedy and owners Daniel and Thomas Courtemanche. The 6-year-old Keystone Raider-Jo Jo Cadet gelding now boasts $534,353 in career earnings.
Tony Hall drove four winners on the 15-race program. (The Meadows)