08/26/2016 9:56AM

Tioga: Penpal aims for a big win in EBC Final

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Nikki Sherman
Penpal is driven and trained by Pat Lachance.

Patrick Lachance is in a bind. The trainer, driver and co-owner of Penpal, a New York-sired 3-year-old pacing filly, has a horse that simply can’t get over a half-mile track. That handicap has kept the American Ideal-sired filly from competing in the lucrative New York Sire Stakes program and thereby denying her a chance at the final.

Fortunately for Lachance, the Empire Breeders Classic, an event open to New York-sired fillies, is contested at Tioga Downs, a five-eighths track more to her liking. Last week, Penpal scored in one of two eliminations for the race and this Sunday she’ll be one of the favorites to capture the $239,225 final.

“She can’t get around the half-miler,” said Lachance. “She’s a big filly and still a bit immature. I’m hoping that next year she’ll be able to.”

For now the talented sophomore is relegated to the bigger tracks. She has already shown Grand Circuit talent on the larger ovals, having finished second in the Mistletoe Shalee at The Meadowlands.

[TIOGA: Watch New York's best 3-year-old pacers in the Empire Breeders Classic + best older pacing mares in the Artiscape--Live on DRF Sunday!]

“She’s got plenty of ability,” said Lachance.

Indeed, last week over the sloppy going at Tioga, Penpal spotted her rivals position and was near the back after a very soft opening half. The $65,000 yearling purchase from 2014 didn’t get discouraged or lose interest in the sprint of the final half.

“She handled the final turn well,” said Lachance, who saw his filly grind down her rivals.

That same wasn’t true in her start prior at Vernon Downs, where Penpal made an assertive move to the front on the backstretch and then was tracked down in the late stages by No Clouds Bluechip, a filly she’ll need to beat on Sunday to earn the EBC title.

“I think the front end wasn’t the place for her and it showed at Vernon,” said Lachance. “She is better at chasing horses and I’m driving her accordingly.”

Penpal starts from post five having earned a better draw with the elimination victory. No Clouds Bluechip landed post three for trainer John Berger.

Penpal’s pedigree is of note in that she’s a daughter of Copywriter, a half-sister to the $1.2 million winner Image Of Dawn. Lachance purchased Image Of Dawn as a yearling and the son of Life Sign raced every year until his forced retirement at age 15.

“The family has been good to us,” said Lachance, while noting that the close relation of the two was not as big a factor in Penpal’s purchase as her overall appearance at the yearling sale.

Though No Clouds Bluechip won her elimination for the EBC in 1:53, more than a second slower than the 1:51 3/5 effort posted by Penpal, the daughter of Roll With Joe has shown to be a touch more versatile. She sprinted out early in her elimination heat and was able to coast to the half in a pedestrian 58 2/5 for driver Brett Miller. That left No Clouds Bluechip with clear sailing and an easy victory.

With much more money on the line Sunday, there’s a good chance there will be plenty of early action.  Soft Idea has been a multiple New York Sire Stakes winner this year for trainer Linda Toscano and the filly by American Ideal landed the pole position after an overland trip finishing third in her elimination heat. Toscano also drew outside with Right Stuff (post eight), a filly that has shown considerable improvement in her last few starts.

There are few trainers quite as hot as Chris Oakes has been over the last month. His Angels Rockn Pink, a daughter of Rock N Roll Heaven, has been razor sharp as well and last week was just a nose shy of Penpal on the wire in the 1:51 3/5 mile. Already a winner in NYSS action at Tioga, the filly landed post six.

Rounding out the field for Sunday’s Empire Breeders Classic for sophomore pacers, which is dominated by fillies sired by Blue Chip Farms stalllions, are Wine Snob (post 2), Wishy Washy Girl (post 4), Major Millie (post 7) and Dime A Dance (post 9).

Post time is 1:30 p.m. for Sunday’s 9-race program, with the EBC listed as race seven. Co-featured on the program are the $240,475 EBC for sophomore male pacers and the $200,000 Artiscape featuring older pacing mare divisional leader Lady Shadow.