04/12/2012 8:09AM

Yonkers: Strand Hanover needs fourth-leg win to boost chances in George Morton Levy Series

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With the $455,000 final of the George Morton Levy series just two weeks from Saturday night, this week’s fourth leg figures to be a key toward determining the final eight spots. Strand Hanover, a first-round winner in the series, has suffered some poor racing luck in the last two legs and looks to rebound and assure a spot in the final by capturing one of five $50,000 divisions at Yonkers Raceway this Saturday night.

New in the bike for the Ontario-bred son of Modern Art will be former Yonkers driving champion Luc Ouellette. Now a top pilot on the Woodbine-Mohawk circuit, Ouellette will make a rare appearance south of the border.

“Luc told us if he had the opportunity to drive the horse he would,” said trainer Tony Alagna, who indicated that Luc is close friends with the owners of Strand Hanover.

For Strand Hanover, Luc and luck could play a major part in this week’s contest. “He’s a versatile horse that has made the most when he’s had the chance,” said Alagna.

Last week starting from post seven Strand Hanover left for position and then was forced to rough it without cover against three-leg winner Atochia. “I think he showed a lot of heart, even in finishing fifth,” said the trainer.

Strand Hanover is the lone leg winner in Saturday’s fourth race and drew post four. He is sitting in 11th after three legs, and a victory (worth 75 points) could catapult Strand into the final and give his connections a chance to take the fifth leg off to rest.

“This series is tough on the horses," Alagna said. "Last year I wanted to give Foreign Officer the week off but he needed a win in one of the legs and finished second." Foreign Officer would finish fifth in the 2011 final.

Foreign Officer has been a victim this year of some tough trip,s with Alagna understanding that the five-year-old needs the trip to work out in order to have a chance. His charge drew the rail in the ninth race and fifth division on Saturday night. That’s the good news. The bad is that Foreign Officer will have to meet up with Art Z, Foiled Again and Sea Venture. Each has captured two legs of the series.

“I’m not sure if he’s in the caliber of Foiled Again but he has the speed and should get the trip he races best from,” said Alagna.

Perhaps all of the trainers are thinking much like Alagna in regard to this fourth leg. Three-time winner Real Nice looks for his fourth straight from post four in the eighth-race division. Jason Bartlett has guided last year’s champion down the road in all three contests and the son of Real Artist has been most impressive. The four-year-old Rock To Glory could give Real Nice an early challenge. He landed the rail after drawing outside in each of his first three legs of the series.

George Brennan guides Blatantly Good from the rail in the seventh race division, and though winless in the series the veteran from the PJ Fraley barn appears on the verge of a breakout mile. Blatantly Good has had to face Foiled Again in all three legs of the series finishing second to him in the last two starts and third behind Real Nice and Foiled Again in the first Levy leg.

Fitz’s Z Tam, an upset winner last week in a Levy leg, will have his work cut out from post seven in the sixth race division.

Southern Allie (post 2), River Shark (post 3) and Nob Hill High (post 4) will all need quality performances if they want to earn a spot in the final. Southern Allie, hails from the Burke stable and is unlikely to outpoint either stablemate Atochia or Foiled Again to gain the final (no barn is permitted to have more than two horses in the final). River Shark, has two seconds in three legs of the series but may find this division better suited for his racing style. Nob Hill High has been razor sharp throughout the series finishing first, second and third in the legs for trainer Bruce Saunders.

The only notable absentee in leg four is three-leg winner Atochia.

Heading into Saturday’s fourth leg the top eight in the Levy standings are: Atochia (225), Real Nice (225), Art Z (200), Foiled Again (200), Nob Hill High (162), Reibercrombie (150), Sea Venture (150) and Flipper J (149).