(Photo courtesy of RUS NY.)
Press release from RUS NY:
The race that so many have been working all summer for is finally here. Tonight (Sept. 7) at Batavia Downs, horses and riders will be competing to capture the title of champion of the New York Racing Under Saddle Fair Series.
Racing under saddle (RUS), also known as Monte racing in Europe, is where trotters are raced with riders on their back rather than with a sulky behind them like you normally see at Batavia Downs.
The RUS event is a non-wagering event that will be raced after race eight at about 8:50 p.m. This is the first time in the 70 history of Batavia Downs that racing under saddle will be conducted there.
This marks the third year of the series, which included 12 races at nine fairs across the state and a race at Saratoga Raceway. Horses earned points during the series to determine final entries.
In order to be eligible for the final, horses needed to compete and finish in any two races. Fifteen horses participated in the series with nine qualifying to race in the final. This year’s field will consist of five horses:
Jeanie Marie: This is the first year Jeanie Marie has been used under saddle. The mare leads the group with 176 points. She has raced in five races, winning three. She was a close second to Funny Photo in Palmyra. Jeanie Marie’s worst finish was Tuesday in Saratoga where she placed eighth with a new rider. Jeanie Marie will be starting in post position four. She has mostly been ridden by Heather Reese and the two of them are a strong team.
Funny Photo: Funny Photo Is second in points with 145, but could be considered a favorite because he and rider Sophie Engerran have shown good speed on the big and small tracks. Funny Photo won a race at Vernon Downs in a time of 1:59.1. The duo has captured three wins on fair tracks, only losing one when they were placed down for not losing ground when making a break. Engerran started racing under saddle in France in 2004. She raced there for 10 years.
Funny Photo and Engerran were introduced last year when the horse was being trained by Andy Gardner at Vernon Downs. Engerran broke the dark chestnut to ride and had success on the track and decided to purchase him last November. According to Engerran, it was not planned to race at the fairs this year because Funny Photo is more comfortable on big tracks, but she said they gave it a try and the horse seems to enjoy it.
Admirable Hanover: Is not far behind in points (138), but shows to be more of a threat on the fair tracks. Batavia may pose as a challenge for the 9-year-old gelding and his rider Vanessa Karlewicz. The duo, who will be starting on the rail, has shown improvement as the season has moved forward so don’t totally count them out. They captured victories in both Morris and Bath and finished mid-pack on the bigger Saratoga track. This marks Karlewicz’s second season with Admirable Hanover and her first year participating in RUS on a regular basis. The rider said she mostly used Admirable Hanover in the amateur driving series last year.
“He's a pretty handy horse on the fair tracks and I've been happy to have three wins with him this year,” she said.
My Friend Charlie: Will be defending his title. This 5-year-old gelding and his rider, Andrea Pratt, were named the winners of last year’s fair final in Monticello. This duo has raced on three fair tracks this year, earning two seconds and a fourth. In July, Pratt rode My Friend Charlie to a second-place finish at Vernon Downs in a time of 2:02.1. The pair has a total of 59 points and placed sixth in the final race of the series in Saratoga. My Friend Charlie seems to like the bigger tracks better so having the final at a larger track may give this team an added edge. They will be starting in post position two.
Kash Now: Is the longest shot on the board, so to speak, as there is no betting on RUS. This is the only horse that no longer races in harness. She was ridden by Michelle Miller in the first fair series where the two of them learned to race under saddle together. The duo didn’t make a comeback until mid-season in Morris as Miller was using another horse. The 12-year-old mare had not raced in almost two years, but was used to ride and keep Miller in shape. Kash Now has always struggled to finish strong, but has been getting stronger each outing. This duo will be starting in post position three and really have their work cut out for them. Kash Now and Miller have earned 50 points in four races.
All participants will earn $800 for earning their way into the championship race. Batavia Downs is contributing $1,000 toward the final purse and the rest of the money comes from RUS NY sponsors and fundraising. The New York Sire Stakes is the series’ flagship sponsor and generously donates $5,000 as initial purse money.
The winner will also receive a championship saddle pad donated by Everett Hopper of Advantage Edge Equine-Pro and a halter and lead line gifted by Divine Equine Custom Equipment.
A High Point Rider Award will once again be presented at the final to the rider who has earned the most points, regardless of horse(s) ridden throughout the series. To be eligible for the award riders must participate in at least three races.
Post time for the complete card of harness racing is 6:15 p.m.