Much like Charles Town, which once appeared on the verge of extinction until slots arrived nearly 25 years ago, Rosecroft Raceway, a harness racing oval in Prince George’s County, Maryland, had virtually been left for dead when one of its previous owners filed for bankruptcy. But, like Charles Town, the five-eighths mile oval has not only rebounded but now offers a race that typically attracts some of the best horses the sport has to offer.
Last Sunday evening, amid intermittent showers, Rosecroft offered the fifth edition of the $100,000 Potomac Pace Invitational for older pacers - harness racing horses are divided into two gaits, trotters and pacers - and several of the sport’s best free-for-all pacers, trainers and drivers arrived for this event. This is akin to seeing horses, trainers and jockeys with Breeders Cup aspirations arrive for the Grade II, $1 million Charles Town Classic each year. In fact, three of the nine starters had recently competed in the $500,000 Breeders Crown Open pace.
Among them, Bettor’s Wish (Dexter Dunn), the beaten favorite in the Breeders Crown, who was again made the solid choice at Rosecroft. Ron Burke trainees Backstreet Shadow (Tim Tetrick) and This Is The Plan (Yannick Gingras) had also exited the ‘Crown’, while Harambe Deo (Simon Allard), World Of Secrets (Aaron Merriman), Stars Align A (Corey Callahan) and Leonidas A (Austin Siegelman) arrived from New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Indiana, respectively, in fine form. Breeders Crown hero Century Farroh was a late scratch.
When the gate folded for the outset of the Potomac Pace - harness horses following a mobile starting gate to the outset before being turned loose at 40 miles per hour - Stars Align A (Corey Callahan) left alertly to gain command in a wicked 25.1 opener and rolled by the half in 52.4 with Backstreet Shadow (Tim Tetrick) launching a first over bid and 1-5 favorite Bettor’s Wish (Dexter Dunn) second over. Stars Align A led the way by three-quarters in 1:19.3 but the serious closers had him in their sights turning for home.
At the top of the lane, Bettor’s Wish swept to command and appeared certain for victory, but Leonidas A (Austin Siegelman) angled off that one’s cover and closed willingly late to nail the favorite for a neck score in 1:48 flat. Bettor’s Wish, who is headed to the $500,000 TVG Final at the Meadowlands this Saturday for the final start of his career, was clearly second best in a very good effort for trainer Chris Ryder.
A five-year-old Mach Three gelding trained by Sheena McElhiney, Leonidas A notched his 13th win from 24 starts this year and he now sports 24 victories from 50 career outings. Leonidas A spent the early part of his career racing in Australia, but he has already won the Open at Plain Ridge, the Open at Yonkers and now upset the top older pacer in training in Bettor’s Wish in the $100,000 Potomac Pace, the biggest triumph yet for his trainer and catch driver.
“He’s definitely the best horse that I’ve ever driven,” Siegelman said. “I was just driving for a check and then I got clear going into the far turn. As soon as I angled him outside turning for home I knew he was going by Bettor’s Wish. That’s the biggest win for me in my career.”
Charles Town, which has been idle for the previous two weeks amid a pair of COVID-19 positives involving one jockey and one valet, is scheduled to resume live racing tomorrow night. A pair of nine-furlong, state-bred stakes races that were temporary casualties of the pandemic, the A Huevo and the My Sister Pearl, will tentatively be offered on Dec. 5 and Dec. 12, respectively. The Eleanor Casey Memorial for West Virginia-bred two-year-old fillies is still on tap for next weekend, Nov. 28.
But even with Charles Town dark the past two weeks, local trainer Jeff Runco still found the winners circle. Last Friday the 13th proved to be lucky for Lewisfield, the Maryland-bred that Runco trains for owner-breeder Linda Zang when the favorite benefited from an ideal trip behind a pair of long shot leaders then swept to command at the head of the lane en route to a two-length score in a 5-1/2 furlong allowance at Laurel Park in 1:03.18.
Third recently in the Maryland Million Sprint, Lewisfield notched his first win in four starts this year and the six-year-old Great Notion gelding now sports a 9-5-7 slate and over $525,000 banked from 27 career outings. His previous win had been 11 months earlier when he captured the $100,000 Howard Bender Memorial at Laurel by outlasting the late bid of Grade II winner Still Having Fun in 1:09.95.
“Three-quarters is about all he wants, anyway,” Runco said. “Seven-eighths is a little bit much for him. So, I thought it was definitely worth a try. He ran liked I hoped. We finally got him back on track with the Maryland Million. I saw this spot coming back going 5 1/2-furlongs and I really liked the spot and the condition was right, so it was super getting him back here at Laurel.”