For more than a decade, the trotters and pacers produced at Winbak Farm in Chesapeake City have been among the very best in harness racing. While the entire group in general may have a difficult time duplicating its exploits of a year ago, at least a quartet of Winbak products has already started the current campaign in stellar fashion.
Last Saturday night at Yonkers Raceway in New York, Handsoffmycookie (Tim Tetrick) used her inside post position and good early speed to gain command, then drew clear to capture the $176,000 Lismore Stakes by three lengths in 1 minute, 53.1 seconds. One week after she had been upended by JK Fine Art in a New York Sire Stakes event at Vernon Downs, Handsoffmycookie quickly avenged that setback. The Maryland-bred daughter of Art Major, out of the Cambest mare Observe Me, took control in a modest 28-second opener, strolled by the half in 57.3 and rolled by three-quarters in 1:25.3 before sprinting clear late courtesy of a 27.3 final quarter.
"She's just an extremely talented filly," said Tetrick, who eclipsed the 7,000-win plateau earlier that week at Harrah's Philadelphia. "She can go from just pacing to really going. Last year, she did most of her racing from off the pace, but when I saw the (post position) draw, I thought her chances were better getting away from there. Once she made the lead, there wasn't much to do after that."
Handsoffmycookie owns one victory in her last two starts, earning over $96,000, and now sports 10 wins and four second-place finishes from 14 starts with career earnings of over $670,000 for trainer Scott DiDomenico. The Art Major filly will likely find a spot in the sport's major races for 3-year-old pacing fillies this spring and summer and be among the serious contenders for divisional honors.
That same evening at Mohawk Raceway in Toronto, Betterthancheddar continued the strong start to his 4-year-old campaign when he brushed to command down the backside and sprinted clear late to capture the $50,000 Open by two lengths in 1:49.4.
Betterthancheddar claimed the $600,000 Breeders Crown final for 3-year-old colt pacers last year, and fellow Winbak product, Roll With Joe, earned runner-up honors in that event. Roll With Joe would eventually have the last laugh, however, when he was named champion 3-year-old colt pacer for 2011 thanks to previous victories in the Meadowlands Pace, Battle of the Brandywine and Messenger Stakes. Roll With Joe has since been retired to stud duties.
A 4-year-old son of fellow Winbak product Bettor's Delight, Betterthancheddar (Scott Zeron) lived up to his role as the 1-9 favorite in last week's Open at Mohawk when he brushed to command before the half and sprinted home in 27 seconds flat to complete his third straight sub-1:50 mile to start the season. Unraced at age 2, Betterthancheddar has now won 13-of-21 lifetime starts, earned over $830,000 for trainer Casie Coleman and looks to be a major player in the older horse category this summer.
Last year, Roll With Joe claimed the honor of Maryland-bred Harness Horse of the Year in voting conducted by members of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the United States Harness Writers Association, while Betterthancheddar and Handsoffmycookie finished second and third, respectively, in that voting. Betterthancheddar, Handsoffmycookie and Googoo Gaagaa, a homebred trotter owned and trained by Richard Hans, will likely be among the contenders for that title this year.
Although she is not among the elite horses competing on the Grand Circuit, Stargazer Lily has truly developed into a local Cinderella story. Owned and trained by Frank Miller, Jr., of Still Pond in neighboring Kent County, Stargazer Lily posted a solid 3-2-2 slate and $5,700 bankroll from eight starts this year, and the Winbak-bred mare was recently named the top trotter at the Rosecroft Raceway spring meet which ended on June 2.
Unraced at age 2, Stargazer Lily emerged on the scene in the fall of her sophomore campaign and finished second in the Maryland Sire Stakes final for 3-year-old trotting fillies in only the second start of her career, While Stargazer Lily has not gone on to stardom, she has enjoyed a solid career for Miller, who previously had primarily raced homebreds that carried the 'Still Pond' designation in their names.
Stargazer Lily, however, has been very good this year, and her acknowledgment as the top trotter at Rosecroft was well-deserved. Three times she used her speed and determination to capture the "Winners Over" class at Rosecroft, including a sharp, three-length score in her last start there on May 22. She would have been the 3-5 favorite in that class on May 29, but a series of heavy thunderstorms cancelled the last two races on the card.
"It's been a lot of fun," Miller said last Saturday after Stargazer Lily took home the ceremonial blanket for being Rosecroft's top trotter in the spring. "She's tickled me. She's got pretty good speed, and Justin (Vincent) has done a good job with her. I was a little disappointed she couldn't race the other night, but at least she didn't get beat."
Two nights later at Harrington Raceway in Delaware, Flying Instructor (Corey Callahan) led throughout and drew off late to capture the opening leg of the Delaware Standardbred Breeders Fund for 3-year-old colt pacers by five lengths in 1:53.2. Trained by Wayne Givens for Legacy Racing, Flying Instructor posted the fastest clocking of the three opening-round preliminary events and will be among the favorites for the $100,000 DSBF final at Harrington on Governor's Day, July 26.
On July 1, another Winbak product will be formally inducted into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame. Rainbow Blue, who won 20-of-21 starts en route to being named Harness Racing Horse of the Year in 2004 under the guidance of trainer George Teague, Jr., will take her place among racing's immortals when she is inducted in the Harness Racing Hall of Fame in Goshen, N.Y., this summer. Rainbow Blue won 30-of-32 starts in her career and was the second of three Winbak products (No Pan Intended in 2003 and Muscle Hill in 2009) to claim horse of the year the previous decade.