12/31/2015 5:11PM

Meadowlands: Trainer Michael Russo has busy night at the Big M

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The Meadowlands kicks off its 2016 season on Saturday night with a full assortment of pacing talent among a 15-race program with an early 6:35 p.m. estimated first post time. Large fields will be the norm and Michael Russo, one of the Big M’s leading trainers, has arrived in force for the opener. Russo will send out 40 percent of his stable of 15 looking to get the New Year started off just right.

Russo entered a few horses at the same level and had to make some concessions when racing secretary Peter Koch drew up the final card. Amped Up makes his debut for Russo on Saturday in the opener, a conditioned event in which Amped Up entered for a claiming tag of $12,500.

Though Amped Up had been racing in $10,000 claimers Russo doesn’t think this particular division will pose a problem. “Fraternity (post 1) is a good one,” said Russo, “but I think he can go with the rest.”

Amped Up has been idle for three weeks, something that will be quite common among many racing this Saturday at the Meadowlands. “I’ve had him for a few weeks and I’m not worried about the trip with John (Campbell) driving,” said Russo.

Giant Slayer has been with Russo for two starts and the last was a win at the $10,000 claiming level. He drew post eight in Saturday’s third race, another conditioned optional claimer. “He’s a well-bred horse that’s good gaited,” said Russo. “I really like him so far.”

With a stable of 15 Russo says that when looking for a new horse he tries to think through both sides of the equation. “I always look for a horse that can step up, but at the same time I have to think about getting out if things don’t work out,” said Russo. In other words Russo tries to protect the down side for his investors. He’s confident that Giant Slayer can do at the $10,000 claiming level if Saturday’s task is too much.

Restless Native is another of those in the stable to draw outside on Saturday but that didn’t seem to bother Russo. “I really like this horse. I don’t generally claim horses back but I think he can do in $10,000 claimers any time. He scoped sick after his last race.”

Restless Native will be going the distance on Saturday not just because of the outside draw but because the field of 14 will race at one and one eighths mile.

“I think with the longer run to the first turn there will be five others leaving with him,” said Russo. He believes the horse can race on or off the pace and will leave the decisions to new driver Scott Zeron. Restless Native is 7-2 in the eighth race on the program.

Invictus Hanover has had great success for Russo at Yonkers after he plucked the altered son of Yankee Cruiser from a $25,000 claimer. In his last start on December 12 he defeated a $40,000-50,000 claiming handicap field over the Westchester County half-mile oval.

“He’s a big horse and I think he’ll be fine over the big track,” said Russo. “We’ll see how he fits over here and if we can race him at the higher level where the purses are comparable we’ll keep him here.” Prior to the most recent victory Invictus Hanover had not been racing up to the level Russo had expected out of him. “Some of those starts from post seven and post eight at Yonkers you just don’t have any chance,” said Russo.

Invictus Hanover drew post two in the evening’s 10th race, a non-winners of $11,000 in last 5 starts conditioned event.

Rated at 5-2 in the 11th race is Rockin Wizard, a six-year-old son of Rocknroll Hanover.

“That’s a good spot for him,” said Russo. “He’s a lazy horse that takes care of himself.”

With the inside draw from post two Rockin Wizard returns to Corey Callahan as his pilot.

He Rocks The Moon (post three) makes his debut for Russo in the 13th race on the program. “He should fit this class,” said Russo, who pointed towards Capozzo as one of his chief concerns in this field.

Russo’s stable of 15 has been extremely competitive over the last couple of years at the Meadowlands as the conditioner appears to have a realistic sense of where to race his horses and has them prepared for battle each and every time.

[DRF HARNESS LIVE: Real-time insights from the DRF Harness team this Saturday at 6:50 p.m.]