01/16/2017 9:57AM

Bergman: The arrow is pointing up for trainer Andrew Harris

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John Sannucci
Trainer Andrew Harris won 91 races in 2016.

Trainer Andrew Harris saw himself on the biggest stage last year when he sent the 3-year-old trotter Waitlifter K postward in the Hambletonian. It was an unexpected position to be in, but Harris acquitted himself rather well at the highest level.

“He just turned out to be fourth or fifth best. He wasn’t as good as Marion Marauder, Bar Hopping or Southwind Frank,” said Harris of the colt now back with trainer Rich Gillock.

The memories of last August are distant to most and Harris doesn’t have much time to look back these days with a stable of 45 and a solid group of racehorses competing regularly at Yonkers.

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“I’m looking for 3 and 4-year-olds that can race on a half-mile track,” said Harris. “The non-winners classes race for huge purses and if you can get a non-winners of 2 horse you’re racing for $15,000 to start.”

Harris understands the nature of the game and realizes that while stakes may be the ultimate prize for some, managing a successful racetrack operation could in fact be more profitable.

“I’m not looking for the stakes horse. I’m looking for something that can fit these conditions. If you get a decent non-winners horses you can go all the way up to non-winners of 8 races and they go for $30,000,” Harris said. “You don’t have to win every race.”

That’s the beauty of the revised condition sheet at Yonkers. There is plenty of room to develop a young horse and plenty of money to race for each week. Breeders have longed for the opportunity to reward those that spend money on yearlings with the opportunity to recover their investment while not forced to compete at the stakes level.

Make no mistake, the non-winners at Yonkers are not easy races to win anymore. Once you reach the non-winners of 6 races you are guaranteed to race some future stars, but at the same time you race against horses of the same caliber.

Harris had a breakout year in 2016 that saw his stable earn above $1.5 million, the first time he exceeded the seven-figure mark and more than double any of his previous yearly earnings. With 91 winners, Harris surpassed his win output from both 2014-15 combined.

Harris is already off to a quick start at Yonkers this season. Last Monday he sent out six pacers all in the non-winners level category and came away with two winners, two seconds and a third and a fourth for his efforts.

Cousin Mary was one of the two winners. She is a 4-year-old mare by Camluck that had a so-so year racing in Ontario over the half-mile tracks. She arrived in time to qualify at Yonkers in December and then was an easy non-winners of 2 winner on January 9. The victory will elevate Cousin Mary to non-winners of 4 races or $40,000 lifetime for this coming Monday, a level the mare could win at on two more occasions without being bumped up.

For Harris, this may be the perfect type of fit for the Yonkers conditions, but he’s mindful that not all that come through his stable will meet the rigorous requirements of the half-mile track or that quality of competition.

“If they can’t cut it in the non-winners of 2 I can always drop them into the 3 & 4-year-old claimer,” said Harris.

While the focus this winter for the 30 actively racing from Harris’ stable based at White Birch Farm will likely be overnight events at Yonkers, the conditioner is hoping to have a few geared up for the coming Levy series.

“Lucan Hanover is one we’re definitely pointing for the Levy,” said Harris. Now a 7-year-old, Lucan Hanover is fast approaching the $1 million mark in career earnings.  The son of Western Ideal closed out his 2016 season with a solid second-place finish at The Meadowlands capping a campaign that began last February.

Lucan Hanover won back-to-back Levy legs to start the 2016 series but got bitten by the bad-post bug and failed to get a check in the lucrative final from post eight.

The imported Bettor Rock On N came out in full force last year at this time at Yonkers upon his North American arrival. After two consecutive wins he advanced into the Levy series where he finished second on two occasions.

“I’m not sure where we are right now with Bettor Rock On N,” said Harris about Levy expectations. “He’s in to go Friday night at Yonkers and we’ll see how he comes back before making the call. If I don’t think he’s good enough for the Levy there is always the Preferred level.”

The 32-year-old Harris is committed to a strong racehorse stable but he still has aspirations of hitting a home run with the youngsters. He’s currently training a dozen 2-year-olds. “I’ve got a couple of trotters and the rest are pacers,” said Harris. “They’re all going good right now.”

With the experience Harris gained knocking heads with some of the sport’s superstars in 2016 on the trotting front, there’s plenty of room for growth going forward. His understanding of the dynamics of a racehorse stable combined with his ability to focus in on quality young horses and bring out the best, are sure signs that he’ll be attracting stakes caliber horses come the summer time.

For now, Harris appears to have amassed a solid group of horses to race with regularity and perform at a high level, primarily at Yonkers, and early 2017 appears to be setting up quite well for his stable.

At this time last year Harris had to figure he’d be watching the Hambletonian from the grandstand as opposed to training the eventual fourth-place finisher in the $1 million contest. A year later he appears to be in the same situation. While he may not return to the Hambletonian immediately, there’s good reason to believe he’ll show up in some major stakes races with a winning attitude.

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