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Night of Champions

September 15, 2019 - 10:58am

Photo of Hypnotic Am with driver Brian Sears.

By Tim Bojarski, for Batavia Downs

The weather was perfect, the track was lightning fast and 3,500 excited fans filled the property to watch eight divisions of the $1.8 million New York Sire Stake finals during the Night of Champions at Batavia Downs on Saturday night (Sept. 14). 

Two stake and three track records were rewritten during the night led by 2-year-old trotting filly Hypnotic Am (Chapter Seven-Daydream Am S) who remained undefeated in 2019 and now sporting a seven-race winning streak.

Hypnotic Am (Brian Sears) tucked in second for just a moment before coming back out and taking the lead by the quarter in a soft :29. She was just cruising on the lead past the half and to three-quarters while Sevntimesalady (Ake Svanstedt) moved into position behind her and tried to keep up around the turn for a stretch run.

In the lane Hypnotic Am was trotting up a storm and had no intentions of letting anyone get near her. Sears sat chilly with the whip on his shoulder while Hypnotic Am pulled away to an easy three-length victory in 1:57.1. 

The time was a new stake record (formerly 1:57.2 set by Barn Bella in 2016) and a new track record (formerly 1:59 set by Plunge Blue Chip in 2017).

“She is a very nice filly and does anything that you want her to,” Sears said. “Marcus (Melander) does a wonderful job getting his horses ready to compete.”

Hypnotic Am ($2.10) was bred by her owner Courant Inc. and is trained by Marcus Melander. 

(Photo of Third Shift with reinsman Ake Svanstedt.)

The next history-making race was won by 2-year-old trotting colt Third Shift (Chapter Seven-Overnight Command) who upset after the favorite Barn Holden made an untimely break. 

Third Shift (Ake Svanstedt) was all business right from the start as he took the front in :28.2 and led by two-lengths. They trotted past the half and on to the second circuit when Third Shift opened up a three-length lead and looked very much like a winner.

Heading into the last turn, Barn Holden (Andy Miller) who had been stalking from second, had a shot at the leader but made a break halfway through the bend. Chaptima (Trond Smedshammer) who was drafting third continued to gain ground and Svanstedt started to feel the pressure. But he got after Third Shift and worked him down the lane and outlasted Chaptima to win by a length in 1:56.

The time was a new stake record (formerly 1:56.3 set by Gimpanzee) and a new track record (formerly 1:57.1 set by Barn Holden) 

Third Shift ($10) is owned by Melby Gard Inc. and Ake Svanstedt, who also trains the winner. Third Shift was bred by Winbak Farm,

The third record beaker was 2-year-old pacing colt Cigars And Port (So Surreal-Sweet On Art) who turned in a lifetime best effort for the win. 

(Cigars And Port with Jason Bartlett in the sulky.)

Cigars And Port (Jason Bartlett) and Groovy Joe (Matt Kakaley) both left and seated one-two in the turn. They remained that way past the quarter and to a half that Bartlett backed down with a :30.2 split. The race moved up the backstretch still in single file, but Groovy Joe was in the two-path waiting to make his move. 

Kakaley pulled the trigger halfway into the turn, came aggressively and drew even with the leader. At the top of the stretch, Groovy Joe took a short lead from Cigars And Port and looked to have the advantage. But Cigars And Port swelled up and came back to open up a length lead at the wire where he won in 1:54. 

“Training over the winter I knew this was the horse that would be real good in the sire stakes,” Bartlett said. “He was a little bit of a handful scoring down but he was perfect in the race.”

The time was a new track record (formerly 1:54.1 set by Melodies Major in 2018)

Cigars And Port ($4.80) is owned by Ray Schnittker, Nolamaura Racing, Ted Gewertz and Steve Arnold and trained by Ray Schnittker. Steve Jones bred the colt. 

The night also produced a record handle as a result of the excellent card. Monies wagers beat the all-time handle by 93 percent since Western Regional Off Track Betting reopened the track in 2002. 

“These finals were all we had hoped for and more and we would like to thank the trustees for selecting Batavia Downs as the 2019 site,” said Todd Haight, director/general manager of Racing at Batavia Downs.

“This event had a substantial impact on the local economy with all neighboring hotels sold out and other businesses in the area getting additional business over this past week. It was good for racing, but it was also good for the entire economy of the Genesee County region.”

Here is a recap of the rest of the stakes: 

3-year-old pacing fillies

Zero Tolerance (Heston Blue Chip-Feelinglikeastar)

Driver -- Jim Morrill Jr.

Owner -- Val D’Or Farms and Ted Gewertz

Trainer -- Joe Holloway

Breeder -- Winbak Farms

Time -- 1:54.4

Mutuel -- $2.30

Zero Tolerance (Jim Morrill Jr.) got away third while So Awesome (Tyler Buter) cut pedestrian fractions of :28.2 and :58.1 to the half. Morrill then pulled Zero Tolerance first-up past the half and drew even with So Awesome at the three-quarters. After pacing side by side for about an eighth of a mile, Zero Tolerance just pulled away with a two-length lead and hit the wire a wrapped-up winner over Brooklyn Lilacs (Joe Bongiorno) by 1-¾ lengths in 1:54.4.

“She followed some good early fractions and came home real well,” said her trainer Joe Holloway. “She’ll be going to Lexington next and then to the Breeders Crown.”

3-year-old trotting fillies

Quincy Blue Chip (Chapter Seven-Sirenuse)

Driver -- Jim Morrill Jr.

Owner -- Barabara Boese, James Boese and Richard Banca

Trainer -- Richard Banca

Breeder -- Blue Chip Bloodstock

Time -- 1:56.4

Mutuel -- $4.50

Quincy Blue Chip (Jim Morrill Jr.) took no prisoners and went right to the front. With Blue Ribbon Gal (Brian Sears) and Sweet Chapter (Matt Kakaley) making breaks in the first turn, Sensibility (Scott Zeron) who also left, easily grabbed a two-hole trip behind the favorite. Morrill backed the half down to 1:00 and forced Stella Jane (Corey Callahan) and Winndevie (Jason Bartlett) to come in the outer flow to chase. 

Quincy Blue Chip hit the gas on the second circuit, smoking a :28.1 third quarter that thwarted the outside attackers short-lived challenge. Morrill then let his filly have her head around the last turn and into the lane and she trotted home without issue ahead of a fast-closing Winndevie (Jason Bartlett) in 1:56.4.

“I got to the half in a real soft fraction and then let her trot home all by herself,” Morrill said. “She does it all by herself; she’s a real nice filly.”

2-year-old pacing fillies

The Fun Marshall (So Surreal-Hallmark Hanover)

Driver -- Scott Zeron

Owner -- Richard Silverman, Mary Kinsey Arnold, Edward Mcenery and Michael Gluckman

Trainer -- Richard Silverman

Breeder -- Steve Jones

Time -- 1:54.2

Mutuel -- $7.50

The Fun Marshall (Scott Zeron) was automatically in front off the pylons as no one else left in the race. She got to the quarter in :27.4 and the half in :58.1. There, Cash Roll (Andy Miller) started to pursue from the outside with Merga Hanover (Matt Kakaley) on her back. 

The group sped up the backside in :28 flat when Kakaley made a bold move and tipped Merga Hanover three-deep going into the last turn. With the pace still stiff around the final bend, Merga Hanover’s bid failed and The Fun Marshall began to extend her lead as they came to the wire where she won by five in a new lifetime mark of 1:54.2.

“We took our time with her all year and she really developed, and the rail helped tonight,” Zeron said. “I’ve never had her on the front before and when that horse tipped three-deep she just opened up. She paced as fast as she could down the lane.” 

3-year-old trotting colts and geldings

Gimpanzee (Chapter Seven-Steamy Windows)

Driver -- Brian Sears

Owner -- Courant Inc. and S R F Stable

Trainer -- Marcus Melander

Breeder -- Order By Stable

Time -- 1:56.2 

Mutuel -- $2.10

Gimpanzee (Brian Sears) was all business and left nothing to chance from the start. He went right to the front and did things at his own discretion. With no one making any moves behind him, Sears cut very soft fractions of :29 and :59.1 before speeding it up a bit to 1:28.1 in the third panel. 

Winnerup (Trond Smedshammer) who had moved from the back of the pack, made his way to second and got as close as Sears wheel. But the party was over from there as Gimpanzee stretched out and flew home in :28.1 to win by two-lengths in 1:56.2. 

3-year-old pacing colts and geldings

Hickfromfrenchlick (So Surreal-My Girl’s A Star)

Driver -- Matt Kakaley

Owner -- Ray Schnittker, Nolamaura Racing and Thomas Spatorico

Trainer -- Ray Schnittker

Breeder -- Steve Jones

Time -- 1:54

Mutuel -- $2.10

Hickfromfrenchlick (Matt Kakaley) had post one but let Artie’s Ideal (Marcus Miller) take the lead off the gate. That courtesy was short-lived as Kakaley pulled Hickfromfrenchlick back out and retook the front at the quarter in :28. They got to the half when Buddy Hill (Tyler Buter) came calling from fourth and challenged the leader.

Hickfromfrenchlick and Buddy Hill battled side by side up the backstretch to the three-quarters and around the last turn. But as game as Buddy Hill was, Hickfromfrenchlick was just better. He pulled away in the lane and won by 1-1/4 lengths in 1:54.

“He’s a real good colt," said trainer Ray Schnittker. "He was sore last year and came back good this year. He was real good tonight.”

In Batavia Downs signature event, the $50,000 Robert J. Kane Invitational pace, Dorsoduro Hanover (Matt Kakaley) got away fifth while Our Max Factor N (Jason Bartlett) took the field to the half in :57. Southwind Amazon (Jim Morrill Jr.) came first-up and drew even with Our Max Factor N and it became a match race for a while from there.

The pair paced furiously in a quick :27.3 third panel and continued the battle into the final turn. When it looked like one of them would win, Kakaley shook Dorsoduro Hanover loose at the head of the stretch, tipped three-deep entering the lane and made up three lengths in the final eighth to win by a head in 1:52.2. 

“He went a real game mile and closed well off the slow fractions up front,” Kakaley said. 

The millionaire son of Somebeachsomewhere-Deer Valley Miss scored his 15th lifetime win and added to his earnings total that now sits at $1,449,151. Dorsoduro Hanover ($4.30) is owned by Burke Racing, J & T Silva, Purnel & Libby and Weaver Bruscemi. Ron Burke trains the winner.

(Photos courtesy of Melissa Simser.)

September 14, 2019 - 1:02pm

By Tim Bojarski, for Batavia Downs

Seven industry publicists and handicappers give their selections for the $1.8 million New York Sire Stake Night of Champions finals and the $50,000 Robert J. Kane Memorial Invitational pace tonight at Batavia Downs.

Dave Brower-Meadowlands broadcaster, handicapper and oddsmaker

Race 2

7-2-1

Zero Tolerance has been virtually unbeatable in NY so far this year, but could get a nice test from the outer draw. So Awesome has picked up her game of late and might be able to sit a "garden trip" with a big kick at the end.

Race 3

3-7-8

Let's take a shot here with Quincy Blue Chip, who benefited from the post draw over Winndevie! She has beaten that foe a couple of times and I think her inside edge will make the difference, AS long as she trots!

Race 4

7-4-1

Merga Hanover should have no trouble crossing over in here and has been the dominant force on the NYSS circuit so far. I'm not even worried about the outside post. She's simply the best of these.

Race 5

2-3-4

Hypnotic AM hasn't lost yet this year and it's not going to happen tonight, after the very "friendly" draw of post two. This is just a killer in the making, and I hope we get to see her go Grand Circuit in Lexington (Ky.) after this.

Race 6

4-1-5

Dorsoduro Hanover got a nice break after "keeping up" in the McKee on Hambo Day and had the perfect prep for this at Scioto. This is a race he will be "aimed" for and I think he just outclasses these for the Burke Brigade and Matty K.

Race 7

8-1-4

Just to make things interesting, Groovy Joe got stuck behind the eight-ball, but it might not matter. He's beaten pretty much every horse in the field already and he's also proven he can overcome a bad post. Easily best with no American Rebel around.

Race 8

6-7-2

In the night's most wide-open contest, I think Berkery J might have a little speed edge on the outside-drawers. Sears was listed on two in and I hope he took this one. That will put the Ducharme colt over the top!

Race 9

7-2-4

If you want to bet against Gimpanzee, I suggest you go buy a hot dog instead! Post seven won't matter for this super-talented Melander-trained colt and it's on to the Grand Circuit against his stablemates after this.

Race 10

1-4-6

I've really enjoyed watching Hickfromfrenchlick mature this season for the duo of Schnittker and Kakaley. This is a real nice colt, and he's getting better and more mature. The draw puts the race in Matty's capable hands, and I think they will be very tough to catch!

Michael Carter - Social Media and Publicity Directo - USTA

Race 2

2-3-7-1

This race becomes a little more wide open with Zero Tolerance drawing toward the outside. She hasn’t raced from the outside on a half in a while and that is obviously a little concerning. So Awesome has been a consistent filly who has the speed to ration out the fractions.

Race 3

6-3-7-2

Pilgrims Lass added Hopples and seems to be over whatever breaking issues she may have been having. She is one to watch late as she will be coming from off the pace.

Race 4

7-1-4-3

Merga Hanover is going to be a tough beat from out here, the start three back from post six at Batavia is really hard to ignore. I’m not sure that you beat her here.

Race 5

2-3-8-4

This is going to be an interesting race, because the top three horses have only faced each other once a piece and so far its been all about Hypnotic AM. She is a tough filly, who already has proven her Grand Circuit potential.

Race 6

2-7-4-3

My hometown hero, Southwind Amazon, gets a try against Grand Circuit caliber again tonight. He has been able to hold his own against some of the top level horses, look for him to be sneaky good tonight.

Race 7

8-1-5-3

While post eight will be tough to overcome, Groovy Joe has raced from out here before with little to no problems. Not sure you’ll get much of a price on him, but I like his chances.

Race 8

3-5-2-7

This is one of the more competitive Sire Stakes finals of the night and that makes it a fantastic betting race. Hobbs gets some much needed post help, and if he fires like he did two back after a perfect trip, he wins.

Race 9

2-7-5-8

This becomes a whole new race with Gimpanzee drawing the outside, even though he is the obvious class of the race. Lucky Weekend gets Morrill back in the bike and if anyone can win from this spot and take down the champ it’s him.

Race 10

4-1-8-3

Shake That House entered even though he is eligible to the Jug on Thursday, he looks to rebound following a tough effort in the Empire Breeders Championship. He is as versatile as they come. This is a whole new race with American Mercury skipping.

Bob 'Hollywood' Heyden - Handicapper

Race 2

3-7-6

Excellent and one of the more wide open NYSS events, Sulky Queen reunites with Sears and gets the jump on the outside leavers.

Race 3

8-7-3

Get those Pick-4 tickets going and don't be shy about hitting #8 a few times. Remember that sire Credit Winner won the first SIX NYSS finals he was ever in back in 2004-2005!

Race 4

8-7-3

NO-this is not a mirror image-the SAME numbers two races in a row. A very consistent sort Galleria Gal can take advantage of a lot of uncertainty (XTRA Lead changes) and roll by late.

Race 5

2-3-8

Melander and a perfect freshman Hypnotic AM -- I think we've seen this movie before. Division championship will be hers with a win tonight and a Breeders Crown.

Race 6

4-5-6

2018 Jug Runnerup but then the divisional champion Dorsodoro Hanover finds himself in a good spot to get the latter half of his season rolling. This should be a barn burner.

Race 7

8-7-5

Groovy Joe has never been worse than second-including three back when he started from the same post. Lukewarm call for him in a race where you might want to hit the all-button if you've caught something early.

Race 8

7-5-1

Chaptiama has gotten hot at just the right time for Trond Smedshammer. Bred by Winbak Farms, remember they more than doubled any other breeder in the NYSS program in 2018 with better than $1.8 Million and are on the doorstep of their 10,000th winner!

Race 9

7-5-2

Gimpanzee The King should have no issue dispensing these en route to his 15th career win. His stirring Yonkers Trot win was everything it looked like and more.

Race 10

3-1-8

Arties Deal is my upset special for the night. The rail is sure to get way overbet, and the leavers figure to be many. His 2 and 3 YO season look amazingly alike 2/11 at 2 125G; 2/11 at 3 134 G. Good spot to get his REAL season into gear.

Ken Warkentin - Track Announcer - The Meadowlands

Race 2

7-6-3

Zero Tolerance draws a challenging post, yet the undefeated top points-getter in her NYSS division is tough to deny fresh off an easy win @ Batavia.

Race 3

2-8-7

Stella Jane just missed to Sensibility with a perfect trip @ Yonkers, that may have signaled a return to top form & she has the inside advantage on the major players in here.

Race 4

1-7-6

The Fun Marshall was a solid runner up to Merga Hanover last out @ Vernon Downs, a rousing winner @ Saratoga before that & now has rail control to trip out.

Race 5

2-3-8

Hypnotic AM has simply been flawless for the red-hot Team Melander, Grand Circuit caliber filly draws inside where Brian Sears can control her destiny.

Race 6

6-4-7

Hayden Hanover, a 1:47.3 Meadowlands performer this season, regained form in his last two, just missed to Iamarocknrollegend N last out @ Yonkers.

Race 7

3-8-5

Save Me A Dance was a hard-charging second in the Sheppard Final, tuned up with a solid third @ Tioga Downs & draws inside the standout Groovy Joe.

Race 8

4-7-9

Note the 1:54.4 tally @ Vernon Downs on 7-25, rebounded with a close second last out, plenty of potential here & Ake Svanstedt will have him primed for the big money.

Race 9

7-8-4

2018 undefeated Dan Patch Award winner Gimpanzee was a very good third in the Hambletonian Final & crushed in the Yonkers Trot, world-class colt.

Race 10

4-1-3

Shake That House was a decisive upsetter in the Hempt, got torched in the EBC, regrouped & draws well for the rematch with Hickfromfrenchlick.

Gordon Waterstone - Associate Editor - The Horseman And Fair World

Race 2

2-3-7

Zero Tolerance is obviously the one to beat and will be the betting favorite, but So Awesome has a post advantage so let’s take an early stab that she’ll use that to turn the tables and pull the upset.

Race 3

3-8-7

Quincy Blue Chip has only beaten herself this year so as long as she tends to business she will be tough to collar. Winndevie and Sensibility should be moving forward off the gate and if the choice makes a mistake, they’ll be the ones taking advantage.

Race 4

1-7-3

Merga Hanover has been nearly flawless but again the post advantage here goes to The Fun Marshall and that gives her the edge to finally reverse the order.

Race 5

2-3-8

Hypnotic Am comes into the race unbeaten and she will come out of the race unbeaten as she looks head and shoulder above the rest. Seventimesalady is the horse to key underneath for exotics.

Race 6

4-2-3

Dorsoduro Hanover finally gets away from Lather Up and outside posts, and that combination should make the difference and lead to victory. Toss Southwind Amazon’s last start as well as Hitman Hill’s, and you have the rest of the ticket filled.

Race 7

5-8-1

If Groovy Joe had drawn anywhere inside he would have been hard to beat, but post 8 negates his advantage so the edge goes to Cigars And Port, who should get a great trip in here. But don’t overlook Sandy’s Bolt, who has post 1 and comes in off a layoff and heavy backing in his previous attempts.

Race 8

6-8-7

The early speed is all on the outside here and it seems likely Berkery J and Bourbon Express will be the last ones to the front. It will be a battle from there, but don’t overlook Barn Holden or even Chaptiama, who has won two straight.

Race 9

7-5-4

It’s not a question if Gimpanzee wins here, but a question of “by how many lengths?” He’s in his own league here, and among the other starters give Livinonthedash the nod.

Race 10

1-4-3

Hard to imagine a scenario from post 1 that Hickfromfrenchlick won’t have the lead at the first-quarter call, whether he forces the issue or there is some quick give-and-take. Shake That House could be auditioning for a Little Brown Jug appearance here so a big effort is expected.

September 13, 2019 - 3:08pm

By Jason Politi / New York Sire Stakes:

Drivers and trainers will be hoping for their chance to chat with Heather Wilder at Saturday’s New York Sire Stakes (NYSS) Night of Champions at Batavia Downs.

A familiar name to many through her work with the Meadows Standardbred Owners Association (MSOA) and United States Harness Writers Association’s (USHWA), Wilder will be cohosting the broadcast of the Night of Champions with Peter Kleinhans.

Kleinhans will provide analysis and handicapping insight while Wilder will conduct winner’s circle and trackside interviews for their eight NYSS finals and the Robert J. Kane Memorial Pace (Race 6).  

While assisting with managing her family’s stable, Altmeyer Wilder Racing, which also involves her parents, Ruth and Dan Altmeyer, and her husband, Mike Wilder, she has taken on a role as special events broadcaster, which she says is a perfect fit for her.

“My earliest memories are in the barn. I love to give back to the sport in any way that I can,” Wilder said. “The Night of Champions will be a very special place to be, with top-notch names on the Grand Circuit in one place at the same time. I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am.”

The Night of Champions will also be a night of firsts for Wilder: her first time working with Kleinhans, and her first time at Batavia Downs.

“I love seeing new tracks and how they run," Wilder said. "I’ve heard nothing but good reviews for Batavia Downs, so I’m really looking forward to getting there and working with Peter on the broadcast.”

Todd Haight, director/general manager of live racing at Batavia Downs, echoed the anticipation of having the team on site for the Finals.

“We are very excited to add such accomplished and professional talents to our production of the Night of Champions,” Haight said. “The Night of Champions is special for Batavia Downs and we couldn’t be more pleased to have both onboard.

"Heather and Peter have performed at the highest levels of the sport both on and off the track and will bring a unique perspective to the show for our fans.”

The Night of Champions is New York’s richest night in harness racing, with $1.8 million in total purse money on the line. Post time is 6 p.m. Entries for the event are available here.

“It is a magnificent card with some of the best horses, horsemen and horsewomen all assembled as part of one event,” Wilder said. "New York’s racing program is just first class and everything is in place for this to be a great night with huge stars. I am thrilled to be a part of it.”

September 13, 2019 - 12:47pm

By Tim Bojarski, for Batavia Downs

When 64 of the best New York-bred trotters and pacers enter the paddock at Batavia Downs for the $1.8 million New York Sire Stakes (NYSS) Night of Champions on Saturday (Sept. 14), there will be three horsemen that will have a homecoming of sorts as their careers all got started in Batavia at the oldest lighted harness track in America.

Ray Schnittker from Tonawanda, Steve Pratt from Corfu (inset photo, right), and Chris Oakes from Akron, all mastered the trade they have excelled in so well over the years at Batavia Downs.

Schnittker got his start in 1977 racing horses owned by his father. By the late 1980’s he moved his colors to New York City and found success driving on that major circuit. His rise to prominence in the sport eventually led to his greatest career success of a Hambletonian victory with his Hall of Fame trotter, Deweycheatumnhowe (Muscles Yankee-Trolley Square) 1:50.4 ($3,155,178). 

With his base of operations in Goshen, New York now for many years now, Schnittker has been a regular on the NYSS circuit racing many great 2- and 3-year-olds over that time.

Schnittker’s lifetime stats as a driver show 2,795 wins and $42,809,617 earned and as a trainer 1,266 wins with $39,755,029 in purses. 

This year Schnittker has three starters in the finals. 3-year-old pacing colt Hickfromfrenchlick (So Surreal-My Girl’s A Star) 1:48.4 ($414,427) and 2-year-old pacing colts Splash Brother (So Surreal-Sugarcoated) 1:54.2 ($48,961) and Cigars And Port (So Surreal-Sweet On Art) 1:55.3 ($79,851).

Hickfromfrenchlick has developed into one of the best sophomore pacing colts around. He currently has the sixth fastest win time of the year (1:48.4) for a 3-year-old and is the ninth richest ($275,866) second-year pacing male in North America. He has four NYSS wins this year, but he also won the $238,200 Empire Breeders Classic at Tioga in a lifetime best effort. He comes into the finals on a four-race winning streak and looks extremely tough to beat on Saturday. 

Pratt started in the business in 1970 and had much success racing overnights, and mostly trotters, at Batavia Downs. Although he competed his own stable part-time, he eventually got into racing young horses at the fairs and made the move to the NYSS in the 1990’s. 

Over the last eight years he has been a constant in this series with a string of highly competitive trotters that all had “Barn” in their names that also went on to be accomplished overnight performers as aged horses.  

A very high percentage trainer, Pratt’s career numbers show 236 wins out of only 823 starts and $2,785,646 in earnings; the bulk of which came in the last eight years competing in the NYSS. 

Pratt’s starter in the finals this year is 2-year-old trotting colt Barn Holden (Conway Hall-Barn Babe) 1:55.3 ($126,168) and he’s as solid a performer as any Pratt’s had to date.

Barn Holden is the points (224) and earnings ($126,168) leader in his division and comes into the final with three wins, two seconds and two thirds out of eight starts. His only lifetime start at Batavia was on August 7 when went wire to wire by 8-3/4 lengths in 1:57.1 to set a new track record for 2-year-old trotting colts. 

It’s a short ship from Corfu (where Pratt still lives) to Batavia and Barn Holden will return to the scene of that record Saturday to try and repeat his performance. 

Oakes got his trainer’s license in 1984 and campaigned horses for his father in western New York for several years. He made the move to Pennsylvania and (then) Pocono Downs in 1992 and it was there his career took off. A very winning and high percentage trainer, Oakes has won multiple training titles at his home track the Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono and his horses have won a plethora of major stakes across North America. 

In his career Oakes has sent 1,875 winners to post and has earned $28,853,311 in purses. 

Oakes has two starters in the NYSS finals this year and both are in the same division. They are 3-year-old pacing colts Shake That House (American Ideal-Shake That Junk) 1:47.4 ($452,804) and Buddy Hill (Roll With Joe-Lessofit Hanover) 1:52 ($141,313). 

Shake That House won two out of three NYSS starts this year but went on a real tear in between. He won his elimination and then the final of the Max C. Hempt Memorial at the Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono in back to back miles of 1:49 and 1:49.2. Then two weeks after that he scored his lifetime mark of 1:47.4 in his second NYSS win taken at Vernon Downs. That time annihilated the track record for 3-year-old pacing colts and was just one-fifth of a second off the all-time pacing track record there. 

After a two-week rest, Shake That House had a qualifying tightener that he won in 1:53.1 in preparation for this start and comes in fresh for the race. 

The $1.8 million New York Sire Stakes Night of Champions that are comprised of eight $225,000 races will be held at Batavia Downs on Saturday night (Sept. 14) with a first race post time of 6 o'clock.

Peter Kleinhans will be the tracks guest host and handicapper for the in-house and simulcast broadcast and Heather Wilder will be in the Purple Haze Winner’s Circle interviewing the winners and all their connections after each stake race.

There will be two $7,500 guaranteed pools in both the early and late Pick-4 wagers that night and both will be all-stake Pick-4’s (races 3-6 and races 7-10). The pools are part of the United States Trotting Association’s (USTA) Strategic Wagering Program and free program pages will be available on the USTA’s website and through links on the Batavia Downs Facebook page when they become available. 

Free full card programs are now available for download from the Daily Racing Form Harness. 

There will be a T-shirt giveaway courtesy of the NYSS on Saturday night as well. Fans attending the races live only need to swipe their Player’s Club card at guest services starting at 4:30 p.m. to receive a ticket to get their shirt after the seventh race.

(Photo courtesy of Mark Hall.)

September 13, 2019 - 12:30pm

By Tim Bojarski, for Batavia Downs

Drivers competing in the $1.8 million New York Sire Stakes Night of Champions at Batavia Downs on Saturday night (Sept. 14) will be available trackside for a meet and greet autograph session before the races get underway from 5-5:30 p.m.

They will be set up next to the Purple Haze Winner’s Circle for this event. 

Drivers who will be signing include Hall of Famer Brian Sears, Jason Bartlett, Tyler Buter, Corey Callahan, Matt Kakaley, Jim Morrill Jr. and Scott Zeron. 

"These guys have driven here multiple times this year and have developed quite a following from our fans," said Todd Haight, director/general manager of Racing. 

"We hope they take the opportunity to come down and talk face to face with some of the best drivers currently competing in North America before they hit the track for the biggest night of racing in the history of Western New York."

September 12, 2019 - 4:57pm

Press release:

New York’s richest night of racing will be contested at Batavia Downs this Saturday, Sept. 14, with the $1.8 million New York Sire Stakes “Night of Champions,” celebrating its 30th year.

Eight finals races featuring the best state-bred 2- and 3-year-olds will be contested for $225,000 purses each. Post time is 6 p.m. A full list of entries can be found here.

Batavia Downs was selected as the site of this year’s “Night of Champions” through a competitive proposal process among tracks which host NYSS events. Tracks were considered on various criteria, including the offering of a 24-hour detention barn, and the ability to promote the event and offer an exciting fan experience.

“We are thrilled to be at Batavia Downs this year, which has done an amazing job of generating excitement in the ‘Night of Champions’ being held in Western New York,” said M. Kelly Young, executive director, Agriculture and New York State Horse Breeding Development Fund. “On the track, our horses proved once again that New York State is a major player in Standardbred breeding and racing and we are excited to showcase their talents.”

“The management of Batavia Downs Gaming and Hotel was proud and excited to be named the site of the 2019 Night of Champions," said Todd Haight, director/general manager of Racing. "Western New York has been a hotbed of harness racing since pari-mutuel betting was legalized in 1940 and remains that way today.

"Western Regional OTB has put numerous improvements into this facility over the years to draw better horses and in turn, maintain a strong customer base. We look forward to hosting all the connections of these championship-caliber New York-bred horses on Saturday and putting on the best show possible for everyone."

Race sponsors for the event include New York-based breeders and institutions:

Race 2: Cameo Hills Farm Final for 3-Year-Old Pacing Fillies
Race 3: Allerage Farm Final for 3-Year-Old Trotting Fillies
Race 4: Winbak Farm Final for 2-Year-Old Pacing Fillies
Race 5: Crawford Farms Final for 2-Year-Old Trotting Fillies
Race 7: Genesee Valley Farm Final for 2-Year-Old Pacing Colts
Race 8: Agriculture and New York State Horse Breeding Development Fund Final for 2-Year-Old Trotting Colts
Race 9: SUNY Morrisville Equine Institute Final for 3-Year-Old Trotting Colts
Race 10: Blue Chip Farms Final for 3-Year-Old Pacing Colts

A cocktail reception for the connections of the horses in the finals, cosponsored by Purple Haze Standardbred Adoption Program, will take place prior to the event.

The NYSS Consolation Finals will be held at Vernon Downs on Sunday, Sept. 15. The finals for the NYSS Excelsior A Series are scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 21 at Saratoga Casino Hotel.

The New York Sire Stakes program promotes the breeding, buying, and racing of Standardbred horses in New York State, and is administered by the Agriculture and New York State Horse Breeding Development Fund. It was the first program of is kind, featuring 2- and 3-year-old colts and fillies, and has become the model for state-bred racing programs in North America.

About the Agriculture and New York State Horse Breeding Development Fund

The Fund is a public benefit corporation established in 1965 by the Laverne Law (Laws of New York, Chapter 567 of the Laws of 1965). The mission of the Fund is to promote agriculture through the breeding of Standardbred horses and the conduct of equine research within the State.

To carry out its legislative mission, the Fund administers the New York Sire Stakes races, Excelsior/State Fair Series races, and County Fair Races. Additionally, the Fund provides assistance to county agriculture societies and contributes to the statewide 4-H program and to the Harry M. Zweig Fund for Equine Research.

September 11, 2019 - 4:06pm

sweepsteaksdbpositiondraw-2.jpg

Press release:

Many dignitaries were on hand Wednesday afternoon (Sept. 11) at Batavia Downs to draw post positions for the eight divisions of the $1.8 million New York Sire Stakes (NYSS) that will be held during the Night of Champions on Saturday night (Sept. 14).

Kelly Young, who is the executive director of the Agriculture and New York State Horse Breeding and Development Fund, joined the Director/General Manager of Live Racing at Batavia Downs, Todd Haight in welcoming New York State Assemblyman Stephen Hawley to the Downs to serve his constituents in a little different fashion.

Hawley was the Honorary Drawmaster for this event and pulled pills alongside the President of the Western New York Horseman’s Association, Bruce Tubin.

Eight full fields of eight will pit 64 of the best horses bred in New York that were decided as a result of their competition throughout the state all summer.

Notable participants as expected are: 3-year-old trotting colt Gimpanzee (Chapter Seven-Steamy Windows) 1:52.4 ($1,145,996); 3-year-old pacing filly Zero Tolerance (Heston Blue Chip-Feelinglikeastar) 1:50.2 ($868,236); 3-year-old trotting filly Quincy Blue Chip (Chapter Seven-Sirenuse) 1:53.2 ($562,930); 3-year-old trotting filly Winndevie (Credit Winner-Vida De Vie) 1:54 ($467,932); 3-year-old pacing colt Shakethathouse (American Ideal-Shake That Junk) 1:47.4 ($452,804); 3-year-old pacing colt Hickfromfrenchlick (So Surreal-My Girl’s A Star) 1:48.4 ($414,427); 2-year-old trotting filly Hypnotic Am (Chapter Seven-Daydream Am S) 1:53 ($273,957); and 2-year-old pacing colt Groovy Joe (Roll With Joe-Chotat Milk) 1:52 ($174,595).

Here are the fields:

3-year-old pacing fillies

  • 1 Hurrikane Norakane
  • 2 So Awesome
  • 3 Sulky Queen
  • 4 Brooklyn Lilacs
  • 5 Crazy Cute
  • 6 JK American Beauty
  • 7 Zero Tolerance
  • 8 Dd Delicious

3-year-old trotting fillies

  • 1 Blue Ribbon Gal
  • 2 Stella Jane
  • 3 Quincy Blue Chip
  • 4 With Out A Doubt
  • 5 Sweet Chapter
  • 6 Pilgrims Lass
  • 7 Sensibility
  • 8 Winndevie

2-year-old pacing fillies

  • 1 The Fun Marshall
  • 2 Movie Town
  • 3 Cash Roll
  • 4 So Rude
  • 5 Racine Bell
  • 6 Hidden Cove
  • 7 Merga Hanover
  • 8 Galleria Gal

2-year-old trotting fillies

  • 1 Hushabye
  • 2 Hypnotic Am
  • 3 Seventimesalady
  • 4 Without A Warning
  • 5 Really Blue Chip
  • 6 Soprese
  • 7 Illdoitmyself
  • 8 Love A Good Story

2-year-old pacing colts and geldings

  • 1 Sandy’s Bolt
  • 2 Freedom Warrior
  • 3 Save Me A Dance
  • 4 Splash Brother
  • 5 Cigars And Port
  • 6 Hurrikanekingjames
  • 7 Level up
  • 8 Groovy Joe

2-year-old trotting colts and geldings

  • 1 Beerthirty K
  • 2 Sky Castles
  • 3 Hobbs
  • 4 Third Shift
  • 5 Barn Holden
  • 6 Berkery J
  • 7 Chaptima
  • 8 Bourbon Express

3-year-old trotting colts and geldings

  • 1 Cavill Hanover
  • 2 Lucky Weekend
  • 3 Powerscourt
  • 4 Captain Krupnik
  • 5 Livinonthedash
  • 6 Travel Winner
  • 7 Gimpanzee
  • 8 Winnerup

3-year-old pacing colts and geldings

  • 1 Hickfromfrenchlick
  • 2 Major Blake
  • 3 Artie’s Ideal
  • 4 Shake That house
  • 5 Buddy Hill
  • 6 Major March
  • 7 Reining Deo
  • 8 Rollwithpapajoe

Photos by Howard Owens.

Top photo: Bruce Tubin, president of the WNY Harness Horseman Association, and Assemblyman Steve Hawley draw the first number for race positions.

sweepsteaksdbpositiondraw-3.jpg

Placing the name of the first horse drawn on the racing card is Sarah Quinn, director of communications for Capitol Hill Management Services in Albany.

sweepsteaksdbpositiondraw.jpg

From left, Todd Haight, director of racing for Batavia Downs, Associate Judge Andy Ferris, Race Secretary Joe Zambito, Associate Judge Noel Cropper, President of the Western New York Horseman’s Association, Bruce Tubin and Assemblyman Steve Hawley.

September 10, 2019 - 12:10pm

By Tim Bojarski, for Batavia Downs

Marcus Melander (inset photo, left) has come a very long way in harness racing in a very short amount of time. After making the move to North America from his home in Sweden at the age of 21 to work for Hall of Fame trainer Jimmy Takter, Melander went off on his own and hasn’t looked back. 

Over the last five years, Melander’s stable has won in excess of $7.8 million in purses, had five trotters reach the Hambletonian final and was awarded two year-end Dan Patch Awards for divisional winning horses.  

Melander himself received the 2018 Dan Patch Rising Star Award this past February in Orlando, Florida in recognition of his exceptional early career accomplishments. 

This year two of the best horses in his stable just happen to be New York-bred and both are undefeated in their New York Sire Stake (NYSS) starts this year.

They are 3-year-old trotting colt Gimpanzee and 2-year-old trotting filly Hypnotic Am and they both will be competing in the $1.8 million NYSS Night of Champions at Batavia Downs on Saturday (Sept. 14).

(Photo of Gimpanzee.)

By Tim Bojarski, for Batavia Downs​

In his freshman season, Gimpanzee was undefeated going nine for nine. He swept the NYSS to become the 2-year-old champion, won the $600,000 Breeders Crown final and amassed a total of $591,358 for the year. That earned him the 2018 Dan Patch Award for 2-year-old trotting colts.

This year Gimpanzee started out by running up his lifetime undefeated streak to 13 before joining Melander stablemates Greenshoe and Green Manalishi S in the Hambletonian final.

Gimpanzee got parked out from post seven in his elimination and finished fourth. He then drew post seven again in the final, went a similar trip and finished third. He closed very well in both starts (:26.4 and :26.2) and was only beaten a length in each race. Melander reflected on those starts as he was preparing him for the New York finals this weekend. 

“He went tremendous in both races and finished strong in both despite having the seven hole. If he had a little better post in the final I think he could win the race because he was flying home. But he raced real good that day and we could not be more happy. He showed everyone that he is fast enough,” said Melander.  

Despite the task of racing two heats in one day, Gimpanzee came out unfazed and continued his winning ways at Batavia on Saturday (Aug. 24). 

“He came out of those heats better than I thought but that doesn’t surprise me. He’s very laid back and easy on himself. It was good that there were no eliminations for the Yonkers Trot so we could bring him up to Batavia that week and get some more points and get some experience around that track. It was a great surface to race over at Batavia and he got around it very well,” said Melander.  

After the New York final, Gimpanzee will be going down to the Red Mile for the Bluegrass Series and the Kentucky Futurity with his sights strongly focused on a second Breeders Crown championship. 

(Photo of Hypnotic Am.)

Stablemate Hypnotic Am hasn’t visited Batavia yet this year because she was busy winning the $310,000 James Doherty Memorial at the Meadowlands the week her division competed there.  

Hypnotic Am was bred by her owner Courant and was such an impressive yearling that they sent her to Melander to train, rather than the sale last fall. And clearly that has worked out well for all involved. 

“She trained down good and every start she seems to get better and better. She has no problem doing the work herself; she has speed, she has stamina, she has everything a good horse should have,” said Melander. “She went a big mile in the Doherty (1:53), a track record at Yonkers (1:56.1) and was a was very strong as a wrapped-up winner at Saratoga in 1:54.4 over an off track. She’s a very nice filly.”  

Her performances this year speak volumes. She is currently the fastest 2-year-old trotter overall in North America, richest 2-year-old trotting filly and the second richest overall behind Real Cool Sam, who has raced two more starts to this point and is coincidentally also undefeated at 8-8.

After the NYSS final, Melander said she may head down to Lexington for the Grand Circuit races as well, but that will be a decision he makes later. But one thing is for sure, she will compete in the Breeders Crown. 

“We may go to Kentucky, depending on how she races and comes out of the race this week. I like to be careful with the 2-year-olds because they can get sick and that can happen very easily when they travel.” 

Both Gimpanzee and Hypnotic Am are by Chapter Seven out of a granddaughter of Muscles Yankee. It's a cross Melander likes and his trotting star of two years ago Fourth Dimension, who was a four-time NYSS winner and the 2017 Dan Patch Award 2-year-old trotting colt of the year, had the same.

Melander looks to continue his success in New York in the coming years, stating the program helps develop young talent.   

“I think it’s a very good series and although there are a lot of half mile tracks, most of them have good surfaces. Many are very soft for the horses and that helps a young horse a lot. And as long as the tracks are good, that’s good for the horse’s futures then it works great to have them in this program,” said Melander. “I will be shopping for New York horses at the sales this fall and if I can find something I like I will definitely try to buy them. I like the New York circuit. It’s good money and a good program for us.” 

The $1.8 million New York Sire Stakes Night of Champions that are comprised of eight $225,000 races will be held at Batavia Downs on Saturday night (Sept. 14) with a first race post time of 6 p.m. 

The draw for that card is on Wednesday (Sept. 11) at noon and will be live streamed on the NYSS website as well as both the NYSS and Batavia Downs Facebook pages. Batavia native and New York State Assemblyman Stephen M. Hawley will serve as the honorary drawmaster. 

Peter Kleinhans will be the track’s guest host and handicapper for the in-house and simulcast broadcast and Heather Wilder will be in the Purple Haze Winner’s Circle interviewing the winners and all their connections after each stake race.

There will be two $7,500 guaranteed pools in both the early and late Pick-4 wagers that night and both will be all-stake Pick-4’s (races 3-6 and races 7-10). The pools are part of the United States Trotting Association’s (USTA) Strategic Wagering Program and free program pages will be available on the USTA’s website and through links on the Batavia Downs Facebook page when they become available. 

Free full card programs will also be available for download from the Daily Racing Form starting Thursday. 

There will be a T-shirt giveaway courtesy of the NYSS on Saturday night as well. Fans attending the races live only need to swipe their Player’s Club card at guest services starting at 4:30 p.m. to receive a ticket to get their shirt after the seventh race.

(Melander photo courtesy of Mark Hall.)

(Gimpanzee photo courtesy of Paul White.)

(Hypnotic Am photo courtesy of Fred Brown.)

September 6, 2019 - 11:55am

Press release:

The New York Sire Stakes (NYSS) and Batavia Downs will be livestreaming the draw for the 2019 “Night of Champions,” via Facebook on Wednesday, Sept. 11. Assemblyman Stephen M. Hawley (Batavia) will serve as Honorary Drawmaster.

Wednesday's draw will begin at 12 p.m. and can be accessed through the NYSS website and Batavia Downs and NYSS Facebook pages.

The draw is open to the public and will take place in the End Zone Room, located just off 34-Rush Sports Bar. No RSVP is required.

The finals for New York State’s premier harness racing program for 2- and 3-year-olds are set to take place Saturday, Sept. 14. The eight race event will feature $1.8 million in purse money.

“We have made an effort this year to expand our livestreaming capabilities as we continue to increase access to fans and the harness racing community across the state,” said M. Kelly Young, executive director, Agriculture and New York State Horse Breeding Development Fund.

“I invite owners and horsemen to join us live or online as the excitement builds toward next Saturday’s finals at Batavia.”

Updated points standings for all divisions of the NYSS are available at: www.nysspoints.com.

About the Agriculture and New York State Horse Breeding Development Fund

The Agriculture and New York State Horse Breeding Development Fund is a public benefit corporation established in 1965 by the Laverne Law (Laws of New York, Chapter 567 of the Laws of 1965).

The mission of the fund is to promote agriculture through the breeding of Standardbred horses and the conduct of equine research within the state. To carry out its legislative mission, the Fund administers the New York Sire Stakes races, Excelsior/State Fair Series races, and County Fair Races.

Additionally, the Fund provides assistance to county agriculture societies and contributes to the statewide 4-H program and to the Harry M. Zweig Fund for Equine Research.

July 31, 2019 - 12:31pm

By Tim Bojarski, for Batavia Downs

Batavia Downs is pleased to announce they are partnering with the Daily Racing Form (DRF) to enhance and expand their coverage of the $1.8 million New York Sire Stakes (NYSS) Night of Champions (NOC) that will be held at Batavia Downs on Saturday, Sept. 14.

“We are very excited to be working with DRF on this biggest night of racing in the state,” said Todd Haight, director/general manager of Live Racing at Batavia Downs. “I think this is a great opportunity for our track to partner with a world-class name in horse racing and given the extent of their outreach and fan base, will be beneficial for Batavia Downs beyond the NOC.”

DRF will broadcast the entire night of racing live on their website, provide video analysis of races prior to the night and also provide content in their newsletters and on their website.

“I think it’s really important to provide the live video of the races for owners and breeders that can’t get out to Batavia that night to see their horses in person," said Derick Giwner of DRF. "Some might not have an ADW or subscribe to some kind of service and this will give them the chance to watch all the action live.”

“We will be producing a video analysis of some of the featured betting races or guaranteed pools, depending on what the card offers that night. The video will be available on the DRF Harness website starting the Thursday afternoon before the big night.”

DRF will also provide a Spotlight Newsletter that will be sent out to all their core subscribers, be promoting the NOC on their website, social media and in their newsletters, provide a dedicated landing page at DRF.com on both the Thoroughbred and Harness sites, free downloadable Past Performances for the night and will also be tweeting out comments and results live the entire night of the races.

“The idea is to get more eyes on these races," Giwner said. "The people in the industry know when the NYSS NOC is and that it’s at Batavia, but the general gambler out there, who might never play Batavia, may have no idea. We want to drive this traffic to Batavia that night.

"The New York Sire Stakes Night of Champions is the pinnacle of racing in New York each year and DRF is excited to work together with Batavia Downs to make it a success.”

Haight has similar views on the importance of a quality, information-filled program for that night, which has a post time of 6 p.m.

"We always have the desire to draw new customers to Batavia's racing product and everything DRF brings to the table in this partnership is going to help accomplish that," Haight said. "And the ability to get free past performances in the hands of the vast base of subscribers that DRF has could be potentially a big handle driver for us."

The New York Sire Stakes is the state's premier harness racing program designed to promote the breeding, buying and racing of standardbred horses in New York.

December 10, 2018 - 5:18pm

Press release:

The Agriculture and New York State Horse Breeding Development Fund has announced that the 2019 New York Sire Stakes Finals will be hosted on Saturday, Sept. 14 at Batavia Downs Gaming & Hotel.

The richest night of racing in New York, the “Night of Champions” will hand out $1.8 million in purse money to the top state-bred 2 and 3-year-old Standardbred horses.

The Fund’s Board of Trustees previously selected Batavia based on its impressive proposal to host the event and offer an exciting fan experience. This will be Batavia Downs’ first time hosting the event.

The New York Sire Stakes program promotes the breeding, buying, and racing of Standardbred horses in New York State, and is administered by the Fund. It was the first program of is kind, featuring 2 and 3-year old colts and fillies, and has become the model for state-bred racing programs in North America.

About the Agriculture and New York State Horse Breeding Development Fund

The Agriculture and New York State Horse Breeding Development Fund is a public benefit corporation established in 1965 by the Laverne Law (Laws of New York, Chapter 567 of the Laws of 1965).

The mission of the fund is to promote agriculture through the breeding of Standardbred horses and the conduct of equine research within the state. To carry out its legislative mission, the Fund administers the New York Sire Stakes races, Excelsior/State Fair Series races, and County Fair Races.

Additionally, the Fund provides assistance to county agriculture societies and contributes to the statewide 4-H program and to the Harry M. Zweig Fund for Equine Research.

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