08/21/2014 11:31AM

Mohawk: Norris looks for a Metro elim upset

Nikki Sherman
Charlie Norris was all smiles after pulling off an upset with Datsyuk over Father Patrick.

The Metro, the richest race for two-year-old pacers in the sport, will be split into two eliminations on Saturday night at Mohawk with the top ten horses qualifying for the August 30 final. On paper many may have already conceded the finale to the undefeated and talented Artspeak. Trainer Charlie Norris knows first hand that an upset is possible. Just this past Sunday, Norris guided Datsyuk to victory over Father Patrick in the Geers stakes at Tioga Downs. His longshot on Saturday is Rollin Ring Afire, a two-year-old by the late Rocknroll Hanover that landed post eight in the same division with Artspeak. The $40,000 event goes as race 11 on the 13-race program.

While Artspeak is undefeated, Rollin Ring Afire has yet to win in three career starts, but Norris remains extremely optimistic. “He has always shown a lot of talent,” said Norris. “Last week he closed sharply from an impossible spot.”

Rollin Ring Afire came from the back of the pack to finish third in an $89,924 division of the Nassagaweya at Mohawk last Saturday.

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“He was a good horse from the start at Spring Garden,” said Norris of the colt that is a half-sister to the $355,000-winning Forever Ivy.

Forever Ivy was an open class mare in Pennsylvania from 2009-11 by the Ohio stallion Stand Forever.

“We convinced the owners to give Rocknroll Hanover a try,” said Norris of the switch in pedigree, and the resulting colt he sends out in Saturday’s Metro.

For Norris, whose stable is predominantly made up of trotters, there hasn’t been a pacing colt of this caliber in his barn for some 20 years. “We’ve got him staked pretty well and I think you’ll hear a lot from this colt later in the season,” said Norris.

To date there have been some bumps in the road and a lot of changes to Rollin Ring Afire’s equipment. Norris admits that he’s still working on the equipment to get the colt racing perfectly. “We’re going to try different aluminum shoes on him,” said Norris. “Hopefully he’ll step up again like he did last week.”

Matt Kakaley picks up the driving assignment this week.

Rollin Ring Afire needs to finish in the top five to qualify for the final and that may be a tall order given the talent in this Metro division.

The aforementioned Artspeak landed post five and figures to be an odds-on favorite off some eye-catching performances. Scott Zeron guides the colt for trainer Tony Alagna.

Nassagaweya division winner Traceur Hanover (post seven) has won three of four starts this year and Lyons Again (post six) has finished second to arguably the best two pacing colts this season—Artspeak and Yankee Bounty—in his last two races.

Just seven go in the first Metro elimination, race six on the program, with Battle of Waterloo winner Go Daddy Go among the favorites from post three for trainer Bob McIntosh and driver John Campbell. The homebred by Ponder has hit the board in all six starts.

Sports Bettor, from the extremely strong first crop of Sportswriter, could have made horseplayers rich last week when he scored at 69-1 in a Nassagaweya division. The colt looks for his second straight stakes score from post seven for trainer Mark Austin.

Fresh off a 1:52 4/5 score in a NYSS division at Tioga on August 10, Lone Survivor (post four) makes the move to the Metro for trainer Sam DePinto. The son of Art Major has shown improvement with every start.

Trainer Norris confirmed that Datsyuk will make his next start on Tuesday in the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes at the Meadows.

“He came out of the race fine,” said Norris of Datsyuk.

“He’s been knocking at the door. I came at him hard (Father Patrick) and we just went by,” said Norris, who didn’t seem to care for Father Patrick’s post-race diagnosis very much.

“With these horses you can scope them every three days to stay on top of them,” said Norris.

As for Datsyuk, the trainer-driver reflected briefly on the Hambletonian. “He was absolutely perfect going in. He dropped his head and tried to get into gear too quickly,” said Norris of the break in stride.

“People forget he only had seven career starts going into the Hambo and he’s still learning,” Norris said.

The trainer is looking forward to the rest of the season with an eye on the October 25 Yonkers Trot among a complete stakes engagement. First he’ll tackle the best in Pennsylvania and then the half-miler at Delaware, Ohio for the Old Oaken Bucket.

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