09/21/2015 12:57PM

Bergman: Persistence pays with Dayson

Mike Lizzi
Dayson has yet to taste defeat in seven career starts.

Trainer Howard Okusko wasn’t interested in training Dayson, the likely heavy favorite this Saturday night in the New York Sire Stakes Final for juvenile trotting colts and geldings at Yonkers Raceway.

“I really didn’t want another horse to train,” said Okusko. “Doug Ackley asked me to take this horse and I turned him down.

“I know Doug for a long time and he kept insisting, but at my age (80) I really wasn’t looking for another horse.”

Ackley’s persistence paid off and after Dayson captured a qualifier at Buffalo in 2:05 4/5 on June 19 with Ackley guiding the son of Conway Hall, Okusko agreed.

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“Margaret Butler (co-owner) buys horses to race on the New York Fair Circuit,” said Okusko. “I was a little surprised that they staked this horse for the Sire Stakes. She’s got a fabulous record with the Fair horses.”

Indeed Butler has an exemplary record sending out winners in the less lucrative Fair circuit, but clearly when it comes to the Sire Stakes she and her sister Amy were more confident putting the gelding into the hands of someone with considerable experience.

An $18,000 yearling purchase by the Butlers from last year’s Morrisville Sale, Dayson enters Saturday’s final with an unblemished record in seven starts. He concluded his preliminary leg sweep with an impressive 1:55 2/5 victory in a $53,500 Sire Stakes division on Friday at Vernon Downs. Jeff Gregory handled the assignment.

The victories on the circuit have been easy with the exception of one incredible effort at Buffalo where Dayson recovered from an early miscue and spotted the field nearly 20 lengths. He came back to win in 2:02 2/2 while trotting a 28 4/5 final quarter.

Having initially turned down the freshman, Okusko is quite thankful now. “I’ve never had someone give me a horse like this,” said Okusko of the June gift that has him not just on the map but a key player as the juveniles close out their season at Yonkers. Considering Okusko has been doing this for 60 years that’s quite a statement.

Dayson impressed Okusko after his 1:56 victory at Tioga on September 5. “When he got back to the paddock and was next to the other colts, they were all blowing except for him,” said Okusko. “It was like I just brought him in after jogging a few miles.”

“He’s just a good horse,” said Okusko. “The only thing I would say about him is that when you take him out to any new track he’s hard to handle for the first quarter mile but once he settles down he’s a pleasure.”

For many in the breeding and yearling buying business, spending $18,000 or under is a surefire way not to come up with a top horse. However, Dayson’s purchase price probably doesn’t shed a light on a solid pedigree on his dam’s side.

Dayson’s dam, Nervey’s Taurus, earned $157K and was a New York Sire Stakes winner herself as a 2-year-old. She has had six foals of racing age and all have made it to the races including the ageless NYSS-winning Crypto Man.

Dayson’s second dam, Nervey’s Flak, was also successful winning a New York Sire Stakes at Yonkers as a 2-year-old as well. His third dam, Nevele Zinger, is a half-sister to one of the earlier New York-based stallions, Nevele Thunder.

So for $18,000 there was plenty of pedigree to produce at least a New York Sire stakes horse and one that has not lost in his first year at the races. Okusko has been careful with equipment recognizing certain elements in Dayson’s gait that could prove problematic. “With the kind of stride he has he tends to land on his heels,” said Okusko, who initially had outfitted Dayson with bar shoes but has since abandoned and moved to the more traditional five-eighths half round.

Dayson is quite sound but Okusko admits that when he got him there was some problems with quarter-cracks that he now believes are under control.

Harness racing may have its share of problems attracting a wider audience but on the inside of the game it is all-inclusive. It’s refreshing that respect exists within the sport that would lead owners and drivers to seek the services of someone with Okusko’s experience.  Okusko trains just a few horses and essentially wants to keep himself in the game at a time where many others look to retire. The fact that Okusko’s horses keep winning at a high rate shows a great attention to detail. While he was quick to deflect credit, insisting that this was a good horse when he got him, it’s not an easy task to keep a young trotter perfect.

Recently Okusko accepted another horse from the Butler sisters and was pleasantly surprised.

“They sent me a really nice horse that hadn’t gone that fast on the fairs and they didn’t know if he would do,” said Okusko of J A T O, a 3-year-old by Big Apple Deli. J A T O had won 19 of his 21 starts for Butler over the last two seasons before making his debut for Okusko at Vernon on Friday night. With Jeff Gregory in the bike he breezed to a career best 1:57 1/5 clocking, shaving nearly three seconds off his personal best.

“I trained him a mile under 2:00 and really liked him,” said Okusko prior to sending him out to victory on Friday.

J A T O was a $6,000 purchase at the Morrisville sale that appears to have a bright future now that he’s graduated from the fairs.

With four $225,000 New York Sire Stakes finals at Yonkers this Saturday night for 2-year-olds of both sexes and gaits, the pressure will be on. More than likely others will feel a lot more of that pressure than Okusko or the Butler sisters. With more than $182K earned, Dayson has already returned 10 times on their initial investment.

Completing the season undefeated as New York Sire Stakes champion would be nice ending to a wonderful storybook campaign.

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