10/16/2014 9:56AM

Yonkers: Equipment change for Trot hopeful Flyhawk El Durado

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Mayra Escamilla
Flyhawk El Durado hops to overcome post six to qualify for the $500,000 Yonkers Trot.

Rarely in the modern era does a trotter go from wearing hopples to taking them off. Yet, that’s exactly what trainer Mark Ford is doing with Flyhawk El Durado, a contender in one of two $40,000 eliminations Saturday night for the Yonkers Trot.

According to Ford, the decision would have been made sooner if only New York rules allowed.

“In order to go from wearing hopples to taking them off, a horse has to qualify. Because of his Sire Stakes schedule there was no way to have him do that until after the NYSS final,” said Ford.

The trainer has been an ardent fan of Flyhawk El Durado since owner Martin Scharf purchased him early in his two-year-old season of 2013. “He came to us with hopples and we’ve spent a lot of time trying to get the hopples to work properly,” said Ford. “Unfortunately he’s had problems with the hopples three times over the last two years, with the worst being what happened in the NYSS final.”

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Flyhawk El Durado appeared to be on his way to an upset victory over Gural Hanover, a horse he’ll meet again in Saturday’s fifth of 13 races at Yonkers Raceway. “I was watching from the paddock and Mark (MacDonald) looked to have a good hold and hadn’t pulled the earplugs yet,” said Ford. “I don’t know if he was going to beat Gural Hanover that night but I liked his chances on the final turn.”

It’s been a good yet frustrating year for Ford and his horse. Entering Saturday’s contest he’s won six of 14 starts racing primarily in the Empire State.

“We took the hopples off and he was perfect qualifying at Pocono,” said Ford.

Following the break in stride in the $225,000 NYSS Final on September 13 at Yonkers, Flyhawk El Durado won qualifiers by open lengths on September 25 and October 2.

Ford feels he’s got a superb half-mile track horse in Flyhawk El Durado that hopefully will improve racing without hopples. “I’m not so sure he picks up on a big track at all, but I’m looking forward to racing him on the half for a long time,” said Ford.

On Saturday the main objective of the 16 horses entered in the Yonkers Trot is to be among the eight finalists for the $500,000 final on October 25. The path for Flyhawk El Durado may be compromised some by his drawing post six. On the other hand, his half-mile track ability is unquestioned and he does have plenty of experience on the Yonkers track, including a victory in the NYSS final for two-year-olds in 2013.

While not in the same division as Kentucky Futurity champion Nuncio, Flyhawk El Durado will meet $30,000 supplemental entry Gural Hanover (post 1), a winner nine times in 2014 in just 13 starts. The son of Crazed has been in complete control of the action in New York this season and regular pilot Jim Morrill Jr. will once again steer him as the likely post time favorite.

The Charlie Norris-trained and driven Datsyuk is one of a select few horses to have defeated top 3-year-old Father Patrick, having captured the Tompkins-Geers at Tioga Downs in August. The altered son of Explosive Matter went through September without a victory and will need some racing luck from post seven in this division.

The lightly-raced but very advanced E L Titan landed post eight in this division after a solid second in the American-National at Balmoral Park last Saturday. Riina Rekila trains the well-bred son of Muscle Hill.

Nuncio landed post five and will be favored in the $40,000 first Yonkers Trot elimination, race four on the program. The sparkling son of Andover Hall showed true determination in turning back Father Patrick in the $435,000 Kentucky Futurity at the Red Mile on October 5. Never worse than second in 23 lifetime starts, the colt makes his first half-mile track appearance in a pari-mutuel race, though he did win a qualifier at Freehold as a two-year-old.

John Campbell will be looking for his third Yonkers Trot title with Nuncio, having captured the Triple Crown event first in 1987 with Mack Lobell and then again in 1998 with Muscles Yankee. Chuck Sylvester trained both champions.

Local trainer John Grasso sends out his prized sophomore Expressive Action (post 1) in this division with Jason Bartlett in the sulky. The Empire Breeders Classic winner has been struggling to reach the winner’s circle lately. He did qualify back well on two occasions at Yonkers though his last mile included a break in stride.

Don Dorado (post 4) is another horse that could contend in this field. Blessed with high speed, the Robert Baggitt Jr.-trained gelding earned nearly a quarter-million dollars in 2013, but has found the winner’s circle just once this year in a dozen tries. Don Dorado seemed to handle the Yonkers surface well in a qualifier last week, finishing third individually timed in 1:56.

Only the top four finishers from each elimination race will advance to the final.

The Saturday card also features a single elimination for the $500,000 Messenger Pace for three-year-olds. McWicked leads a field of nine vying for eight spots in the October 25 final.