04/26/2017 2:31PM

Harness: Elite group of older pacing mares to battle in 2017

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Ken Weingartner/USTA
Blue Moon Stride is ready to go for her 2017 debut Friday according to trainer Mark Harder.

Mention this year’s group of older female pacers to Mark Harder and the longtime trainer can only shake his head in amazement.

The division is led by returning Dan Patch Award winner Lady Shadow and bolstered by the arrival of a gifted class of 4-year-olds that includes two-time Dan Patch Award recipient Pure Country and numerous stakes champions, such as Harder’s Blue Moon Stride.

“Oh my God, those are good mares,” Harder said after watching Blue Moon Stride win a qualifier Saturday at the Meadowlands in her final prep for this season. “Real good mares out there. They’ll beat each other up all year I’m sure.

“I love my mare,” he added. “I’m not saying that I’m stepping out and beating those other mares by any means, but I’ll tell you what, she’ll give them a shake.

“We just have to go race now.”

Blue Moon Stride will make her seasonal debut Friday in a conditioned race at the Meadowlands. Darlinonthebeach, another of last year’s talented 3-year-olds, also is in the eight-horse field.

Of last year’s top eight money-winning 3-year-old filly pacers, seven are staked to at least one of this season’s most lucrative races for pacing mares. The list features the entire top six --- Pure Country, Call Me Queen Be, L A Delight, Darlinonthebeach, Seventimesavirgin, and Blue Moon Stride --- as well as No. 8 I Said Diamonds.

Put those mares in the mix with Lady Shadow as well as returning millionaires Sassa Hanover, Solar Sister, and Venus Delight --- not to mention stakes-winner Bedroomconfessions and New Zealand-bred newcomer Nike Franco --- and it might be the best group of older female pacers since the early 2000s when Eternal Camnation, Bunny Lake, Worldly Beauty, Burning Point, Loyal Opposition, Carolina Sunshine, and Always Cam were among the prominent players.

Blue Moon Stride will start her first test of the year from post No. 4 with Andy McCarthy driving for Harder and owners Emilio and Maria Rosati.

She heads to the race off a 1:51 4/5 qualifier win over Pure Country and Darlinonthebeach last weekend. It was Blue Moon Stride’s second qualifier; she finished fourth the first time out.

“I was very disappointed in her (first qualifier),” Harder said. “I just think she fooled me. Even though she trained well, I don’t think she was quite as fit as I thought she was. I’m much happier this week.”

Last year, Blue Moon Stride won six of 17 races and earned $407,222 in purses. Her victories included the Mistletoe Shalee, New Jersey Sire Stakes championship, and a division of the Bluegrass Stakes.

Blue Moon Stride was purchased as a weanling for $27,000 as part of the Perretti Farms dispersal sale at the 2013 Standardbred Mixed Sale. She is a daughter of Rocknroll Hanover out of the mare Classic Star. Her dam is a full sister to Dan Patch Award winners Bettor’s Delight and Roll With Joe and a half-sister to 2003 Horse of the Year No Pan Intended.

“As a filly, she was big all along,” Harder said about Blue Moon Stride. “She’s just continued to grow and fill out. Even muscle wise and weight wise, she’s just a bigger mare this year.

“She’s pretty much in everything this year but the Graduate,” he added. “Canada, all around, wherever we can go.”

Darlinonthebeach will start Friday’s race from post eight with David Miller driving for trainer Nancy Johansson.

The field also includes Prairie Sweetheart, who was undefeated in a total of 14 races at ages 2 and 3 before finishing third in her 4-year-old debut two weeks ago. The two-time Florida Breeders Stakes champion defeated older rivals, including Lady Shadow, in last year’s Allerage Farms Fillies and Mares Pace at Lexington’s Red Mile.

Prairie Sweetheart, with John Campbell driving for trainer Ross Croghan, starts from post three on Friday.

-Courtesy of Harness Racing Communications, a division of the U.S. Trotting Association. For more information, please visit www.ustrotting.com