01/05/2017 11:36PM

Miami Valley: Driver Championship highlights opening week of racing

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Miami Valley Raceway launches its fourth season on Friday night (Jan. 6) with the highest projected purses in its brief history, plus an abundance of horse supply, a newly reconditioned racetrack surface and a number of new promotions on its "Winter Racing Festival" calendar.

Following a pair of full-field 14-race programs on Friday and Saturday nights, Miami Valley will introduce the first-ever $25,000 North American Drivers Challenge on a trio of consecutive matinees from Sunday through Tuesday.  Thirty of the continent's winningest drivers will compete in a dozen races on the first two programs with the top 10 point-getters advancing to the championship round on the third day.  Included in the field are two-time defending national dash champion Aaron Merriman and Grand Circuit stalwart Brett Miller, who is also the hottest current driver at The Meadowlands.  They will be joined by a host of track dash champions from throughout the United States and five Canadian reinsmen, including Bob McClure and Alfie Carroll, the two winningest north-of-the-border drivers in 2016.

The opening night feature on Friday is a $22,000 Fillies and Mares Open Pace featuring a trio of $100,000-plus 2016 winners.  All three took 1:50 3/5 seasonal speed badges while racking up double digit win totals.  Safe From Terror notched 13 victories including four of the last six distaff Opens at Pompano Park.  Rock The Look won two of the final four Opens at Dayton Raceway on her way to a 10-win campaign.  American Girl also copped 10 triumphs, including several at both Hoosier Park and Dayton.  The nine-horse field has accumulated 165 lifetime wins and over $2.5 million in earnings.

The male Open pacers will take center stage on Saturday in a slugfest that also features three $100,000 winners last season.  Mykindachip will be the likely favorite after capturing the final feature at Dayton a week ago.  My Buddy Ninkster, who won the two previous Saturday night features in the area will surely provide a stern test, as will E R Rudy, who finished second in his last open attempt, beaten a half-length and clocked in 1:51.  The featured field has totaled 133 winner's circle visits and earned just shy of $1.7 million to date.

The random draw for drivers assignments for the first two days of the North American Drivers Challenge was completed by the judges on Wednesday afternoon.  Using a formula that assigns equal value to both a five-hole and a ten-hole (second tier) start, Jim Pantaleano got the best of the post positions draw with an average post position starting position of 3.25.  Others with fortuitous starting slots will be Bob McClure (3.62), Josh Sutton (3.75), and Aaron Merriman, Simon Allard and Marcus Miller (all with 4.0).  On the other end of the spectrum, John Cummings Jr. didn’t fare as well at the draw, with the highest average starting post position of 6.62 over the course of his eight preliminary drives.  The quartet of Brett Miller, Randy Tharps, Alfie Carroll and Nick Roland also will have a steeper hill to climb, with an average starting slot of 6.12.

Post time for the Friday and Saturday cards is 6:05 p.m.

Post time for the three matinee programs that contain the North American Drivers Challenge is 2:05 p.m.

-edited release (Miami Valley)