Miami Valley racing fans waited a month for an inevitable showdown between top trotters Penn and Il Mago on Sunday (Feb. 28) afternoon, but a taxing :26.3 speed duel between the two star square-gaiters ended any dreams for an ensuing memorable stretch drive in the weekly $20,000 Open. Both trotting titans sped from behind the gate with intentions of dictating the tempo, but three other contenders also left alertly in hopes of finding good early seats. When the dust settled, Il Mago (Trace Tetrick) did finally secure the front end as the teletimer flashed the extremely quick first quarter fraction, but Penn (Josh Sutton) was hopelessly parked as the others fell in line at the pylons.
Driver Randy Tharps secured the pocket ride for Blackwolf Run, who had been knocking on the door with a pair of place finishes in four recent open starts. Tharps, who recently was the 103rd driver in harness history to join the elite 5,000 career wins club, parlayed the two-hole trip into an upset 1:55.3 victory when Il Mago tired in the stretch and drifted just enough for Blackwolf Run to sneak through and narrowly defeat fellow closers Martz Time (John DeLong) and Dancing Dynamite (LeWayne Miller). Penn, who was riding a five-race win streak, paid the price for his brutal first quarter when he was four and five wide on the bend early, and faded to ninth.
Matthew Bencic and Jodi Schillaci own the winner, a six-year-old son of Credit Winner who now sports 14 lifetime wins and is nearing $300,000 in earnings. Sam Schillaci conditions Blackwolf Run, who has now banked $22,000 in five 2016 starts, all at Miami Valley.
A $12,000 top condition trot was also contested Sunday with Nordic Venture (Kyle Ater) notching an upset win over Boytown (LeWayne Miller) and Atlas Peak (Sandy Beatty) in a thrilling three-horse photo finish. Gary Campbell trains the 11-year-old gelding, who now sports 57 life wins, for Tony Maione. The 1:58.1 triumph was Nordic Venture's third already this year, with the other two coming at Northfield Park. (Miami Valley)