03/22/2017 12:31PM

Yonkers: Soto taking on the best in Levy series

Email
Derick Giwner
Soto was a 40,000 purchase at the Standardbred Horse Sale Mixed Sale in 2015.

Ken Wood has seen Soto grow up. And now Wood is watching the 5-year-old pacer tangle with the big boys.

Last week, Soto won his first-round division of the George Morton Levy Memorial Pacing Series at Yonkers Raceway. Soto defeated a field that included defending Levy champion Bit Of A Legend N, 2014 Levy winner P H Supercam, open-stakes-winners Wakizashi Hanover and Somewhere In L A, plus world champion Always At My Place.

“It was a privilege to be in the same race with those horses,” said Wood, who owns Soto with Bill Dittmar Jr. and Stephen Iaquinta. “There are a lot of horses better than him, but it’s fun to have him be able to race with them. He’s not the best horse in the world, but he’s decent when he gets it his way a little bit.”

Wood and his partners bought Soto for $40,000 at the Standardbred Horse Sale Mixed Sale in 2015. Since the purchase, Soto has won 17 of 50 races and earned $234,045 in purses. For his career, the stallion has won 21 of 75 starts and banked $345,575.

Soto won only one of his first six races for his new owners, but eventually worked himself up to the Preferred/Open level of competition at Dover Downs and Yonkers prior to heading to the Levy.

“He didn’t start off with a boom, but he’s gotten a little better all the time,” Wood said about Soto, whose family includes Dan Patch Award-winners Sportswriter and Precocious Beauty. “He was a nice purchase for the money we gave for him.

“When you’re at the sale, you look at all of them. He showed some 26-second last quarters early as a 3-year-old, and if they’re doing that well early on, there’s speed in there. He had a few little problems, but nothing serious. You know they’re supposed to get better as a 4- and 5-year-old. That’s what I go by, anyway.

“I think somebody else helps me raise my hand once in a while,” he added. “We’re not geniuses, just lucky.”

Wood, who also co-owns 2015 Dan Patch Award-winning older male trotter JL Cruze with Dittmar and Iaquinta, uses the profits from his horses to fund his mission to dig wells for safe drinking water in Africa. Since starting his Lifetime Wells project in 2006, his group has put in a total of 1,700 wells in Ghana and Tanzania.

“It’s going good,” Wood said. “We’ve got one rig drilling every day with the locals. When I go four times a year I drill in Tanzania myself. I spend three months every year over there.”

It was upon returning from one of his trips that Wood realized Soto had done a lot of growing up following his season as a 3-year-old.

“I’ve never seen a horse grow from (age) 3 to 4, but he’s grown six inches taller,” Wood said. “He was a little bitty fella. I’d been in Africa for a while and when I came back he grew a lot. He’s grown much taller than he was. I’ve never had that experience before when they grow at that age, but he sure did.”

Soto returns to the Levy Series this Saturday, where he will compete in the second of four second-round divisions. Soto, trained by Eric Ell and driven by Matt Kakaley, will start from post two. The field also includes Bit Of A Legend N, Rockin Ron, Mach It So, McWicked, Guantanamo Bay, and Blood Brother.

The third division features two first-round winners --- Provocativeprincen and Missile J --- while the fourth division includes opening-round winner Long Live Rock. The series has five $50,000 preliminary rounds followed by a $200,000-added final, which is scheduled for April 22.

“Post position helps quite a bit at Yonkers, naturally,” Wood said, referring to high win percentages for horses with inside starting spots on the half-mile oval. “Luck went our way the first race anyway. We’re just hoping he gets checks because we know those other horses are better than he is.”

If Soto keeps enjoying success, though, Wood might no longer be able to say that.

“I hope I have that problem,” Wood said, laughing.

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