03/17/2017 8:52AM

Yonkers: Jim King Jr. brings quality to town for Levy, Matchmaker

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Heather Vitale
Nike Franco N could be the best pacing mare in the country according to trainer Jim King Jr.

Imports have had a major impact on the Blue Chip Matchmaker and Levy Series in its recent history. Last year Bit Of A Legend N swept the Levy and Sell A Bit N and Al Raza A finished second and third respectively in the Blue Chip Matchmaker final. This year’s edition of both major Free For All contests is once again loaded with Down Under talent as no fewer than nine of the 24 mares entered on Friday have roots in the Southern Hemisphere. Leading the contingent has to be Nike Franco N (post 6) in the third $40,000 Blue Chip Matchmaker division.

“She was a horse that my owner (Richard Poillucci) was very interested in. He has a few Open horses down here that he’s actually getting rid of,” said trainer Jim King Jr. “He wants the best horses that can compete at the highest levels.”

King appears to have no objections to bringing in quality and he’s taken a long range approach to the daughter of McArdle. “When we got her over here there really wasn’t much to race for, so we have been bringing her along slowly and getting her ready for 2017,” King said. “She can race for more than $2 million this year and I don’t think there’s a girl that can beat her.”

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Nike Franco N won four straight races for King in Delaware in the fall, including a victory over male competition at Dover Downs in December. After a brief rest, Nike Franco N returned on March 2 with an explosive second-place finish missing a nose, once again to male rivals at Dover. “She was really good. I think the leader got away from us a little, but when she kicked in she nearly went by him. She thought she won,” King said, well aware of the type of drive his mare has shown in her short time in North America.

On Friday Tim Tetrick will be in the bike in the sixth race and third division of the Blue Chip Matchmaker. According to King, it was Tetrick that driving the 2015-16 Harness Racing Victoria Aged Pacing Mare winner in Australia that had an impact. “Tim drove her and really liked her. That was a big factor in our decision to make the purchase,” King said.

As for racing over the half-mile track at Yonkers, King didn’t seem that worried. “A lot of the Down Under horses go in and out on the straightaways but they work it out. She raced big at Harrington, but that wasn’t against much competition,” King said.

Wakizashi Hanover, the 2015 North America Cup winner, makes his Levy series debut in the fourth $50,000 division on Saturday night at Yonkers, race eight on the program. It’s been a long road for the now 5-year-old son of Dragon Again, but King feels he fits well in the series.

“He had two throat operations last year and we brought him back in the fall and he was competitive against some good horses, many of them are in this series. Last week (his first start at Yonkers) was only the second time he was ever on a half-mile track. The first was at Northfield where he drew the outside and Wiggle It Jiggleit had the rail,” King said. “I thought he would finish it off last week but he hung in there all right.”

Wakizashi Hanover finished third in his Levy prep, but it was only his second start of the year and he should improve with time. The $1.3 million lifetime earner does have solid company in his first Levy leg, with defending champion Bit Of A Legend N (post 2) to his inside and 2014 champion P H Supercam (post 8) to his outside.

A total of 31 horses were named to the opening leg of the Levy with four
$50,000 divisions carded. The first division, race five, includes the streaking Missile J (post 2) along with the last two Open Handicap winners at Yonkers in Guantanamo Bay (post 5) and Caviart Luca (post 6). Making his U.S. debut in this division is Our Sky Major N (post 7), a 7-year-old by Art Major with $650K in career earnings before arriving in North America. He made a serious North American debut winning in 1:50 2/5 at Woodbine on February 18.

The Blue Chip Matchmaker will have five preliminary legs on consecutive Fridays and the Levy will have five legs as well on Saturdays, culminating in the final for both on April 22.