10/23/2014 8:43PM

Giwner: Yonkers Raceway takes center stage


I fell in love with harness racing at Yonkers Raceway back in the early 1990s when top trotters like Scenic Regal, Dr Trotta, and H H Killington were competing in the Open Handicap every Friday night. Having been a semi-regular attendee at the Westchester oval over the last 25 years, I can honestly say that the program offered this Saturday night (October 25) might be the best I have ever seen at Yonkers.

While the Triple Crowns in harness racing have lost most of their luster, the Yonkers Trot and the Messenger Pace still offer fans something special. Say what you will about half-mile racing, but I want to see the best in the standardbred world handle four turns and prove they can win under different circumstances.

With both $500,000 races finally placed late in the calendar year, and combined to form a must-watch night with the $250,000 International Trot Preview, the stage is set for one of the more memorable nights in the track’s history.

The most recent card with such a marquee was held back in 2008, oddly enough on October 25. The great Somebeachsomewhere battled in the slop on a rain-soaked night to defeat the ultra-game Shadow Play in the Messenger. The card also showcased Foiled Again and Enough Talk winning the Hudson Valley and Oleg Cassini Invitationals. Thankfully the weather is expected to be in the upper 50s and dry this year.

Of course 2006 was the last time two Triple Crown events were raced simultaneously. Glidemaster won the Triple Crown that night by taking the Yonkers Trot and Palone Ranger scored in the Messenger.

Beyond getting to watch Nuncio as the heavy favorite in the Yonkers Trot this year or McWicked romp in the Messenger (this is an opinion column, right), we will be treated to a revival of sorts as the track presents the preview to the long awaited International Trot. While horses from every country will not be represented in the 2014 edition, as they were when Roosevelt Raceway originally hosted the event or for the handful of Yonkers Raceway renditions, we do get the special opportunity to watch some of the best trotters in training.

Derick Giwner   Commander Crowe drew the rail.

The list of participants is exciting. Sebastian K has taken North America by storm and will renew his rivalry with fellow Swede Commander Crowe (reports vary as to whether Commander Crowe leads 6-5 or 7-5 in the heads-up competition). Four million-dollar winner Arch Madness will try to parlay his track record 2:00 3/5 (1 1/16 distance) performance from Friday against the division’s elite. You also have 2013 Horse of the Year Bee A Magician and the red-hot Natural Herbie in the field.

From a handicapping perspective this race is quite intriguing. Potential odds-on favorite Sebastian K is drawn outside in post six with the speedy Archangel to his inside. Even with the 1 1/4 mile distance, the horses will reach the first turn in a hurry and Sebastian K and driver Ake Svanstedt could find themselves having to work very hard to make the front. Commander Crowe doesn’t appear to leave quite as fast off the gate and despite having post one might be looking at more of a brush around the three-eighths marker on the backstretch the second time.

The most intriguing plays for my money are Archangel, Bee A Magician, and Commander Crowe. All three are capable of beating Sebastian K and will offer value. Plus they all drew inside posts, which is always key at Yonkers no matter how long the distance of the race.

Races like Saturday’s International Preview are the reason I go to the track. It is the reason I love Harness Racing. It inspires me to keep writing stories, shooting photos, and tending to social media duties so I can encourage others to participate.

Attending races live is an entertainment option of the past for most of the last couple of generations. That is why we need special nights and days like this Saturday, Hambletonian Day, the Breeders Crown, and others.

Hopefully you’ll come join me at the track. If not, you can watch the races from Yonkers live and view a complete video preview of all five stakes race on our event page. Plus you can follow along with live coverage on my Twitter account.