They say there are few moments in sports that can rival the photo finish and the $489,400 Valley Victory final certainly was representative of that statement. In the end, the win photograph couldn’t decide a winner, because the noses of Dog Gone Lucky and Make Or Miss hit the wire together, a dead heat in the richest race of the night.
For Dog Gone Lucky, the win belonged to Chuck Sylvester, and for Make Or Miss, the story was his young pilot Joe Bongiorno. The irony, Sylvester was winning Hambletonians before Bongiorno was born and now they both set their eyes on harness racing’s greatest prize in 2016.
Dog Gone Lucky made an aggressive move to the lead, after Mavens Way made a break after a quarter in 27 seconds. In the meantime, Make Or Miss had nearly 10 lengths to make up, trotting in eighth position down the backstretch. Then, the outer flow began to develop as Taco Tuesday committed first over past the half in just 57 seconds, a 30-second second quarter. Marion Marauder picked up that cover and Make Or Miss tracked the pair on the far turn while Dog Gone Lucky reached three-quarters in 1:26. Dog Gone Lucky opened up a clear lead in the stretch after a 59-second middle half, but just as he did, Make Or Miss found his best stride and put that electric turn of foot on display as he began to reel in the favourite. However, the wire was also coming quickly and it came just as both noses hit the wire, a dead heat in 1:54.
Bongiorno was nearly speechless in the winner’s circle. “This is beyond amazing, I can’t believe it,” said Bongiorno. “I just want to thank all the connections for giving me the opportunity, this is the best moment in my life.”
Not to be out-done, trainer Chuck Sylvester reminded that he isn’t done yet. “I’m not retired yet,” Sylvester joked. “These horses will get a well deserved break and hopefully we’ll back [for the Hambletonian] next year."
The win was the first major stakes win for Bongiorno and the fifth win in the Valley Victory for Sylvester. It was the second victory for Make Or Miss, the son of Donato Hanover who now has earnings of over $223,000 while Dog Gone Lucky won for the seventh time and his fifth in a row, with his earnings now beyond a half-million dollars.
Make Or Miss is trained by Ron Burke for Burke Racing Stable, Our Horse Cents Stables, Weaver Bruscemi and Jerry and Theresa Silva. Dog Gone Lucky was driven by Corey Callahan for Sylvester and owners Amy Lynn Stoltzfus and Charles Stansley.