10/21/2014 3:12PM

Woodbine Harness: Watch out for Gingras in Fall Final Four

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After guiding Lyons Again to his first career win in his Governor’s Cup elimination at Woodbine last weekend, driver Yannick Gingras believes it is just the start for the 2-year-old male pacer.

Gingras arrived at Woodbine last Friday and Saturday with plenty of firepower for the Fall Four Stakes for 2-year-old pacers and trotters, and it all fired. He drove horses in all eight Fall Four eliminations, posting five wins, two second-place finishes and one fourth.

In addition to winning with Lyons Again, Gingras picked up victories in both eliminations for the Goldsmith Maid, with female trotters Mission Brief and Gatka Hanover, a win in the Three Diamonds with female pacer JK She’salady, and a triumph in the Valley Victory with male trotter Habitat.

He finished second with Three Diamonds contender Band Of Angels and runner-up with Governor’s Cup hopeful Blood Brother. His fourth-place finish was with Pinkman in the Valley Victory elims.

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The Fall Four Stakes finals, worth a total of nearly C$2 million, are Saturday at Woodbine.

Lyons Again was the longest shot driven by Gingras, at 14-1, but his Governor’s Cup elimination win from post nine by three-quarters of a length over Traceur Hanover in 1:52 4/5 was not a complete surprise.

“He was a longshot for everybody (else) but I’ve really, really liked this colt,” Gingras said. “He’s really been a bridesmaid, always finishing second or third, but he ran into a really sharp horse in Artspeak early in the year. There’s no shame in finishing second to him, as sharp as he was.”

A son of Dragon Again-A Filly To Fear owned by Geoffrey Lyons Mound, Lyons Again has one win, four seconds and two thirds in eight starts. Three times he hit the board in races won by Artspeak, with two runner-up finishes, and once he finished second to Yankee Bounty. Artspeak and Yankee Bounty are harness racing’s two richest 2-year-old male pacers and have combined to win 15 of 18 races.

Lyons Again, who finished third in the Metro Pace and has earned $161,687 this year, was not eligible to the Grand Circuit races at The Red Mile in Lexington, so the colt enjoyed a six-week layoff following his second-place finish in a division of the Champlain Stakes on Sept. 6 at Mohawk.

“It’s not very often that you’ll have a horse at that level getting a six-week break in the middle of the summer when they’re healthy,” Gingras said. “I think it’s going to help him. I think this week he should be even tighter; it will be his second start off the layoff.”

Lyons Again, trained by Ron Burke, will start the C$565,000 Governor’s Cup from post three. Pierce Hanover, who won the other elimination, leaves from post two with Jody Jamieson at the lines for trainer Ken Sucee. Artspeak, who finished third after going off stride in his elim, won by Pierce Hanover, is in post six for driver Scott Zeron and trainer Tony Alagna.

“After this we move onto the Breeders Crown,” Gingras said. “I think (Lyons Again) could have a big fall. He’s a big, strong horse and I think he’s going to keep getting better.”

In addition to speaking about Lyons Again, Gingras provided some insights regarding the seven remaining horses he drove in the Fall Four Stakes elims.

Blood Brother: Trained by Jimmy Takter, he finished one length behind Pierce Hanover last weekend. He will start the Governor’s Cup final from post nine with Sylvain Filion listed to drive.

“He’s a nice little horse,” Gingras said. “He always fusses with his head. The day he decides that he’s going to pay attention to racing and forget about all the other stuff he’ll be an even better horse. He’s got a lot of ability, but his mind is not always on racing.

“Last week he raced really good. I used him a little bit early and then had to come out around the last turn because the horse in front of me didn’t carry me as far as I’d have liked. He gave (Pierce Hanover) a good run in the stretch; it was a horserace. He’d been off for a few weeks, so I think he’ll be even better. But he didn’t draw very good, so that’s going to be a little harder for him.”

Mission Brief: Trained by Ron Burke, she won her Goldsmith Maid elimination by 1-1/4 lengths over Danielle Hall in 1:54 4/5. She starts the C$464,000 final from post four. She is the fastest 2-year-old trotter in harness racing history, with a mark of 1:50 3/5, and winner of seven of 10 races for $324,440. She went off stride in all three losses.

“She was really good last week,” Gingras said. “She might have been the most relaxed she’s ever been. She was two fingers to drive, maybe a little bit on the lazy side if anything. I think she’s getting to understand what we’re trying to do with her. Obviously, she had plenty left. I came the last quarter in 28 and change and the earplugs were still in her and I never asked her. She was wrapped up.

“She’s her own worst enemy. If she’s going to get beat, it’s because she’s going to go back to her bad habits. But knock on wood, she was solid last week and should be good again this week.”

Gatka Hanover: Trained by Burke, she won her Goldsmith Maid elim by 4-1/2 lengths over Jolene Jolene in 1:55 4/5. She starts the final from post three.

“She proved game last week,” Gingras said. “She was a little bit too grabby; I went to the half fairly quickly (:56.4) and it was more her than me that was making that happen. But then when Jolene Jolene came at her, she still was strong.

“I think she’s second best in this race. Mission Brief is going to have to beat her to win, but I don’t think they’re quite in the same league.”

Habitat: Trained by Burke, he won his Valley Victory elimination by 2-3/4 lengths over Jetpedia in 1:55 4/5 and starts the C$521,000 final from post four. Habitat made breaks in his first two starts, but has won six of seven races since then, including the William Wellwood Memorial. He has earned $323,078.

“Early in the year he had a couple little glitches behind the gate, but ever since he got over that stuff, he’s been absolutely perfect,” Gingras said. “He does everything you ask of him, and more. He’s got perfect manners and is beautiful to drive. He makes my job really easy.

“He’s been racing on the front quite a bit, but he really doesn’t need to. When he baby raced, he did it from the back and just stormed home, going by a lot of horses. He’s very handy; you can do whatever you want with him. He showed that he’s got a lot of speed and he’s game, so he’s got all the qualities that you’re really looking for in a racehorse. He’s very complete.”

Pinkman: Trained by Takter, he finished fourth in his Valley Victory elimination, which was won by Frank Antonacci’s Whataworkout, snapping a three-race win streak. Pinkman, named after a character from the television series “Breaking Bad,” starts the final from post one, with Filion listed to drive.

“He’s a very nice horse too,” Gingras said. “He got locked in last week, otherwise I think he would have won too. I never had daylight. I tried to go up the inside, but there was no room there.

“He’s done nothing wrong. He’s a little bit of a late-bloomer, but I’ve raced him his last four starts and he’s won three of them, and he beat good horses doing it. He’s a little bit on the lazy side, but once you get him to go, he can go a long way and he doesn’t seem to get tired. He’ll give you a hundred percent.

“No doubt, he’s one of the horses to beat. This race, there are five or six horses that can win. Whoever can trip out the best will be the winner.”

JK She’salady: Trained by Nancy Johansson, she won her Three Diamonds elimination by one length over Solar Sister in 1:53.3. She will start the C$424,000 final from post three.

Undefeated in nine starts and ranked No. 3 in the current Hambletonian Society/Breeders Crown Top 10 poll, behind trotters Sebastian K and Father Patrick, JK She’salady has earned $432,150 for owner 3 Brothers Stables. She is a homebred daughter of Art Major-Presidential Lady and her mark of 1:50.1 is tied for the fastest in history by a 2-year-old female pacer.

“She hasn’t done anything wrong,” Gingras said. “She’s got a crazy brush in her. I don’t think she necessarily has to race (from off the pace) but why change something that’s working? We’ll see how this week plays out. Maybe we’ll put her in play a little bit earlier than we have been. In an ideal world, they’ll mix it up a little bit up front and I get to race her again first or second over and I think she’ll get the job done from there.”

Band Of Angels: Trained by Burke, she finished second by a neck to The Show Returns in her Three Diamonds elimination. She starts the final from post eight.

“I think she might have been a little bit short last week,” Gingras said. “She felt really good turning for home and got outpaced in the last little bit. Not by much, but a little bit. She hadn’t raced in a few weeks; I think she needed the start. I think she’ll be even better this week, so there’s no doubt in my mind that if I’m going to win (with JK She’salady) she’s one of the major contenders I’m going to have to beat.”

Gingras is North America’s leading driver in purses, with $13.42 million, and No. 1 in the Grand Circuit standings. He has won 29 races worth at least $100,000, with 14 coming with horses trained by Burke and 13 by Takter.

Burke leads all trainers with a record $22.88 million in purses this year while Takter is second with a career-best $10.19 million.

“It’s been a great year, no doubt, but I’m only as good as the trainers I’m driving for,” Gingras said. “Ronnie and Jimmy getting along and letting me do my thing and pick the best horse definitely helps tremendously. They really have been understanding.

“It’s definitely the hardest part of my job to tell one of them that I’m not driving their horse. But I’ve been honest with both of them. If I say to one of them I’m going with theirs, I’m going with theirs. I think they’re both appreciative of that, that I’m up front. All three of us, nobody is playing games. They respect each other, and I think that makes it a lot easier. Hopefully there’s more success to come for all of us.”

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