03/29/2012 8:23AM

Yonkers: Flipper J looking sharp for George Morton Levy on Saturday

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It’s not every day when an owner pays $155,000 for a horse at public auction and his exuberance is not matched by his trainer’s.

Trainer Kevin McDermott said he tried to talk Francis Azur out of buying Flipper J, an entrant in Saturday’s second leg of the George Morton Levy Series at Yonkers Raceway.

Flipper J was purchased for $155,000 at the Tattersalls winter mixed sale at the Meadowlands in January.  McDermott recalled the early days of training the horse, saying, “I was not very happy with the horse the first two weeks, but since then I’ve been absolutely loving him."

McDermott said that the first four starts under his wing were nothing more than learning experiences for a horse who had spent most of his 2- and 3-year-old seasons either on the lead or chasing the leaders. At first, many thought that Flipper J had sold for an inflated price, and the overall belief that Flipper J was heartless.

“I asked some people from [former trainer] Linda Toscano’s barn and they thought the same way,” said McDermott.

With the experience of his early season races at the Meadowlands, Flipper J finally found the winner’s circle when McDermott sent him to Saratoga where he set a season’s record 1:53 1/5 mile. He followed that up a week later, moving to Chester Downs, a five-eighth-mile oval, to score in another season’s best clocking of 1:51 4/5.

“I think it was important to build up his confidence,” said McDermott, who has made a habit of capitalizing on owner Azur’s astute public purchases.

In last week’s first leg of the Levy, Flipper J was reserved in the early action but then made a move generally reserved for a horse with courage. Driver Brian Sears went on the offensive against heavy favorite and pacesetting Atochia. The two battled through a wicked third quarter and into the stretch with Flipper J holding his ground tenaciously despite the 1:52 1/5 clocking.
Pat Lachance approached McDermott after the race. Lachance had campaigned heavily against Flipper J over the last two years and was somewhat surprised by the Levy performance.

“He told me that was the best he’s ever seen Flipper J,” said McDermott.

The trainer and owner have made the best of some great purchases over the years. Hypnotic Blue Chip, Blueridge Western and Noble Falcon all excelled following their purchase and movement into McDermott’s care. Whether Flipper J will move into that category remains to be seen. What has the trainer impressed thus far is the horse’s command of the small tracks.

“I think this horse could pace around a quarter-mile track,” he said with a chuckle. “Our plan with him is to race him primarily against horses over the half and five-eighths-mile tracks.”

As a 4-year-old racing primarily against older horses, Flipper J is at a disadvantage. He drew post 3 against a veteran field in one of six $50,000 divisions of the Levy (race 6).

Brian Sears has had a hot hand thus far in the Levy and hopes to capitalize again with Flipper J, but he’ll meet strong resistance from millionaires Silent Swing and One More Laugh along with Code Word.

First leg winners Real Nice and Reibercrombie meet in the first division (race 3) with the former likely to be an odds-on choice from the pole position.

Atochia and Art Z both scored in last week’s opening leg and will face each other in second round action. Atochia, with Yannick Gingras in the bike, is the likely favorite from the rail, with Art Z landing post 3 in the evening’s fourth race.

Foiled Again, the Levy champion of 2009-2010, finished a solid second in the opening leg and looks to get into the winner’s column in the final Levy edition of the night (race 9). The $3.4 million winner landed post 2 in a field of seven, which shouldn’t pose much of a problem for his regular pilot Gingras. The 8-year-old son of Dragon Again is coming off a career year where he earned the Dan Patch award as Pacer of the Year.

The Levy Series has five preliminary legs leading up to a $450,000 estimated final on April 28.

Post time for Saturday’s 12-race card is 7 p.m.