04/05/2016 3:43PM

Yonkers: Al Raza N leads Matchmaker for Abbatiello

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Mike Lizzi
Al Raza N has accumulated the most points in the Blue Chip Matchmaker series at Yonkers Raceway.

A happy Al Raza has owner Augie Abbatiello feeling pretty cheerful himself.

Al Raza, a New Zealand-bred female pacer, is the lone undefeated horse through three weeks of the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series at Yonkers Raceway and the 6-year-old mare will look to make it 4-for-4 when she faces six rivals in Friday’s penultimate preliminary round at The Hilltop.

“She is a real nice mare,” said Abbatiello, who also trains Al Raza. “Most of the horses from New Zealand get very hot, but she has nice manners. She gets turned out every morning and she likes company, with the other ones out in the paddock. That is important. She is very relaxed and very nice.

“You want to keep her happy. The longer you keep her happy she will give you everything you want. I like her very much.”

Al Raza, who leads the Matchmaker series standings with 225 points, will start from post seven in Friday’s third of three $40,000 divisions. David Miller will drive Al Raza, who had Jordan Stratton in the sulky in her three wins in the series. Stratton, though, is committed to driving regularly for trainer Peter Tritton, who also has a horse (New Zealand-bred For The Ladies) in the third division.

Horses receive 25 points for entering the Matchmaker each week, then 50 points for a win, 25 for second place, 12 for third, 8 for fourth and 5 for fifth. The top eight horses in the standings qualify for the $125,000-added final on April 23.

Sell A Bit, another New Zealand-bred import in Tritton’s stable, has two wins in the series and starts Friday in the second division. Mach It A Par, who is third in points behind Al Raza and Sell A Bit, is in the first division.

Rounding out the top eight in points are Yagonnakissmeornot (in Friday’s second division), Venus Delight (first division), For The Ladies (third division), Krispy Apple (third division), and Skippin By (second division).

Al Raza, a daughter of stallion Gotta Go Cullect and the Mach Three mare Al Zahra, was an award-winning 4-year-old in New Zealand and made her debut for Abbatiello in September 2015. In addition to training horses, Abbatiello is the owner of the Pine Bush Training Facility in upstate New York. Tritton is stabled at the farm and Abbatiello used Tritton’s Down Under contact, agent Peter Larkin, to get Al Raza.

“I watched a lot of her races and I liked the way she comes at the end, she has that extra gear and flies off,” Abbatiello said. “That’s why I bought her. I gave her a couple months off, I took my time with her, and she has been very good.”

The 64-year-old Abbatiello, who is distantly related to the family of harness racing legend Carmine Abbatiello, was born in Italy and moved to the U.S. in 1969. Abbatiello’s ownership stable name, Durazzano, is a reference to his hometown in the province of Benevento in Italy.

Abbatiello, who is active in real estate development, automotive repair, and restaurant businesses, bought his first horse in the mid-1980s.

“I do a little bit of everything,” said Abbatiello, who is currently training a dozen horses. “This is my hobby. I just liked the game and my family likes the horses. We used to have horses in Italy too. We just kept going.”

In 2007, Abbatiello bought an abandoned horse farm and turned it into the Pine Bush Training Facility, located approximately 20 miles north of Goshen and 80 miles from Manhattan. The 130-acre property includes a half-mile track, indoor pool, and 18 five-acre paddocks.

“This place came up for sale and I looked at it and fell in love with it,” Abbatiello said. “I figured it would be a good place to train the horses. The place is beautiful. I do a lot of the work myself too. When I finished, I looked and thought, wow, I accomplished something. I’m the kind of person who likes to do things right or not do them at all.

“We really enjoy this. It keeps me occupied. I love being out there doing the racetrack and taking care of the horses.”

Among other successful horses for Abbatiello is 10-year-old male pacer Life Up Front, who has earned $554,279 since joining his stable in 2011. On Saturday, Life Up Front gave Abbatiello his 150th win as a trainer.

Al Raza will try to add to that total on Friday. Since she arrived in the U.S., the mare has won seven of 17 races and earned $169,450. The plan is to race Al Raza in the Matchmaker this week, then skip the final preliminary round to rest for the championship.

“She’s very healthy and I just have to hope it works out for the final,” Abbatiello said. “After that, we’ll give her a little time off and then race in the Open. We take it as we go. I think she can make money as long as she stays healthy.”

And happy.

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