Ariana G set for another race against the boys
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Ariana G was among three elimination winners last weekend -- along with Long Tom and Perfect Spirit -- and begins Saturday's final with driver Yannick Gingras from post No. 8. Horses win 5.8 percent of their starts from post eight at Pocono, which is second to only post nine's 5 percent victory rate for the lowest at the five-eighths-mile oval.
"It looks like there could be a lot of horses leaving (quickly from the gate). The horse to beat is Long Tom; he's the one that looked the best in the eliminations. But it is going to be a really interesting race."
Ariana G and Long Tom both enter the Beal final undefeated in three races this season. Ariana G is the 5-2 morning line favorite while Long Tom, who starts from post one, is the 3-1 second choice. Both trotters are New Jersey Sire Stakes champions.
The Beal is one of four stakes finals Saturday at Pocono, with the $500,000 Ben Franklin Pace for older male pacers, $500,000 Max C. Hempt Memorial for 3-year-old male pacers and $300,000 James M. Lynch Memorial for 3-year-old female pacers.
North America Cup champion Fear The Dragon and stablemate Downbytheseaside are the top choices in the Hempt while the top four finishers in the Fan Hanover Stakes -- Bettor's Up, Agent Q, Tequila Monday and Idyllic Beach -- are ready for a rematch in the Lynch. Elimination winners Mel Mara and Keystone Velocity lead the Franklin.
Ariana G, who has won 12 of 14 career races and earned $816,467 in purses, is owned by breeders Al Libfeld and Marvin Katz. She is a daughter of Muscle Hill out of the mare Cantab It All and is a full sister to 2016 Hambletonian Oaks winner All The Time.
Last week, Ariana G won her Beal elimination in gate-to-wire fashion by 1-1/2 lengths over Bill's Man in 1:53.4. She opened with a :27.3 first quarter-mile and closed with a :27.3 final quarter. The middle half was :58.3.
"She had a very nice elimination," Takter said. "I was a little bit concerned bringing in a horse off a three-week layoff; I don't train horses hard between races. I was very happy for her to get a nice mile; she raced for basically a half. She should be sharp. She came out of the race super and felt wonderful here jogging.
"She's much more a horse this year," he added. "Last year she was a little awkward looking. She just was fast. Now she is very solid. She grew a good inch and a half and she filled out. She probably weighs 150 pounds more than she did last year. She couldn't be better. She's gorgeous now."
Takter is uncertain whether Ariana G will race against the fillies on Aug. 5 in the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks at the Meadowlands or challenge the boys in the $1 million Hambletonian Stakes. And he is in no rush to make a decision.
"We'll just take one step at a time with her," Takter said.
Takter remains hopeful that colt Rubio can find consistent winning form in time for the Hambletonian. Rubio has won six of nine career races, with two of his losses -- including a seventh-place finish in his Beal elim -- coming in races in which he went off stride.
"I'm still very optimistic about Rubio," Takter said. "I know (last week) he was over-trotting himself in the last turn, but Yannick said he had plenty of go. I know he can go with these horses. I don't say he can go with (returning Dan Patch Award winner) Walner, but he's a very good horse.
"If Rubio is really good, then I'll probably keep Ariana in the (Hambletonian Oaks). I've been in this game a long time, and you can look like you have five horses going into the Hambletonian and you have none. And it can look like you have no horses going to the Hambletonian and you have five. There is so much going on. It's how these horses handle these tough races. The main thing is don't get panicked. If you know you have a good horse, you can be a little more patient."
Racing at Pocono begins at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.--By Ken Weingartner/Harness Racing Communications