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>When Chris Ryder pulled up his entries Monday evening and saw that Bettors Wish had drawn Post 6 for the $300,000 final of the Art Rooney Pace, the trainer was dismayed. However, the isolated snippet of Bettors Wish’s post position didn’t tell the whole story. After Ryder saw the full field, he was intrigued.

“When I saw I had the six hole on my USTA entry line, the full field wasn’t there, it just showed my horse having the six hole, I thought, ‘here we go again with a bad draw in the final, as usual,’” Ryder said. “But then when the full field came out and I saw the good ones were outside of me, I thought, ‘well, maybe it’s not so bad.’ When you have the six hole at Yonkers, the good thing about that is it’s not the seven and it’s not the eight. I think it’s very interesting. It’s definitely opened up the race.”

Bettors Wish drew inside fellow Rooney elimination winner Air Force Hanover, who will start from Post 8 in the open-draw stakes. Blood Money, the runner-up to Bettors Wish last week, will start from Post 7.

“I’m sure there’s going to be action in this race,” Ryder said. “It’s going to be a very interesting race. I think it’s a driver’s race.”

Although Bettors Wish figures to be at the forefront of the action, the colt initially wasn’t eligible to the race. A $20,000 buy from the 2017 Lexington Selected Yearling Sale, Bettors Wish didn’t stand out as a yearling or a two-year-old and had limited stakes engagements, primarily in Canada.

“We bought him off of Brittany Farm,” Ryder remembered. “I liked his video before I went to the sale, I liked his pedigree page. When I saw him, he was a bit small, but that didn’t really put me off.

“He didn’t particularly stand out,” Ryder continued. “He’s always trained well, but did he really stand out? Not completely. But he qualified well straight away at Chester (Harrah’s Philadelphia). Even now, you wouldn’t know he’s in the barn. He’s really quiet, he’s not a flashy colt. He just does everything pretty well.”

After starting his career with a pair of qualifiers at Harrah’s Philadelphia last June, Ryder sent Bettors Wish to Chantal Mitchell in Ontario. The colt won on debut in a Woodbine Mohawk Park overnight on July 5 and was then second-placed-first in an Ontario Sires Stakes Gold race two weeks later. Bettors Wish won an elimination of the Battle of Waterloo at Grand River Raceway and was second in the final before notching another OSS Gold victory on August 15.

After a pair of placings in Kentucky Sire Stakes and a fourth in the final, Bettors Wish shipped back to Ontario and won another OSS Gold race before finishing second in his OSS Gold Final to cap his freshman season.

Ryder gave Bettors Wish a break before he returned to the barn to train down for his three-year-old season. The colt had started to grow up and he made a good impression.

“He’s grown up a little bit, he’s physically filled out. He’s still not a big horse, but he’s big enough,” Ryder said. “We gave him six weeks out in the field, left him alone completely. We trained him down normally. We were happy with him training back. He just trained really well.”

Ryder was so pleased with Bettors Wish that when the February 15 deadline came to supplement the colt to the Art Rooney, he pulled the trigger and paid the $6,000 fee, favouring the Hilltop stakes over an OSS leg.

“When I was doing the staking, I noticed there was a supplement to the Rooney,” Ryder said. “I saw it was available and I thought, ‘you know what, we might as well take a shot.’ It’s $300,000 instead of $80,000 or $90,000 Canadian on the same day. So, we opted to cough up the extra $6,000 to make him eligible.”

After a qualifying win in 1:53.3 on April 16 at Harrah’s Philadelphia, Ryder brought Bettors Wish to Yonkers to test the waters in a $20,000 overnight on April 29. Sent off as the 6-5 favourite, Bettors Wish raced in the pocket, but driver Dexter Dunn edged him to the outside with five-sixteenths to pace. He advanced alongside leader Twin B Tuffenuff while passing the three-quarters, extended through the stretch, and ultimately won by one and three-quarter lengths in 1:52.

“Obviously, I brought him to Yonkers to race him in that overnight race specifically because we were going to the Rooney,” Ryder commented. “He’s been on a half in Canada in the Battle of Waterloo and he handled it, so that made it easier to supplement.”

Seeing that Bettors Wish was ready for the Rooney eliminations May 18, Ryder opted to qualify the three-year-old at the Meadowlands on May 11 rather than race again. Bettors Wish then cruised in his elimination, as he scored a gate-to-wire win in 1:53.2 with a :27.1 final quarter.

“We just went to the Meadowlands to qualify because I really didn’t think he needed a race,” Ryder said. “He was ready, just qualified him wanting to keep him fresh. That’s all he needed, particularly when you have an elimination and a final.

“I was really happy with his elimination,” Ryder continued. “I was happy with the way he got away from the gate and happy with the way he finished. It wasn’t a particularly tough race, which I was pleased about. You’d rather have an easier race than a tougher race with the final coming up. The driver was happy and I think the horse is happy.”

Entering the final Saturday night (May 25), Bettors Wish is 7-for-14 for Bella Racing Ltd., Fair Island Farm, and Ken Solomon, who own in partnership with Ryder. Dexter Dunn, who has driven Bettors Wish in each start so far this year, will take the lines again. Ryder is happy to be paired with the New Zealand transplant.

“He’s been dedicated to driving since he was a little fellow, and he’s always been good at it. I’m not surprised to see him doing as well as he is. And I’m very happy to have Dexter on the horse,” Ryder said. “His father was a good friend of mine growing up. I kind of encouraged him to come over here. It’s not an easy decision for the guy who’s the leading driver in New Zealand to come somewhere where you might struggle for a few years. He’s done extremely well.”

The full field for the $300,000 Art Rooney Final appears below.

(Post – Horse – Driver – Trainer – Morning Line Odds)
1 – Captain Malicious – Mark MacDonald – Ray Schnittker – 8-1
2 – Rollwithpapajoe – Joe Bongiorno – Jenn Bongiorno – 7-1
3 – Branquinho – Tyler Buter – Ray Schnittker – 7-1
4 – Buddy Hill – Brian Sears – Marcus Melander – 6-1
5 – Price Hanover – Dan Dube – Tom Cancelliere – 12-1
6 – Bettors Wish – Dexter Dunn – Chris Ryder – 7-2
7 – Blood Money – Scott Zeron – Nancy Johansson – 5-2
8 – Air Force Hanover – David Miller – Brian Brown – 5-1

Saturday night’s card will also feature the $109,234 final of the Lismore Pace, along with the regular $44,000 pacing and trotting co-features.

Yonkers will see its first race roll behind the starter at 6:50 p.m. on Saturday.