The stars of harness racing continue to resurface in qualifying sessions across the continent, with the Saturday (April 16) session at The Meadowlands featuring a number of notable pacers and trotters in seasonal debuts.
Trotting mare Next Level Stuff strutted her stuff against a group of older rivals in her first appearance of 2022. The daughter of Sebastian K - Nantab made every call a winning one for driver Tim Tetrick, well-rated through opening fractions of :28.2, :57.1 and 1:25.4 before sprinting home in :26.4 to trip the timer in a sharp 1:52.3. Its Academic (Yannick Gingras) was spotted on her helmet throughout the mile and finished a length and a quarter in arrears.
A homebred of N.J.'s Runthetable Stables, Next Level Stuff sports a 15-5-1 summary from 36 starts with a mark of 1:51.3 and nearly $750,000 in career earnings. Jim Campbell trains the stakes winner.
Later in the session, a pair of returning four-year-old pacing mares that will add a serious degree of depth to the older pacing mares ranks were on the track for the first time this season. Grace Hill and driver Todd McCarthy sat the pocket behind Captains Maid (Joe Bongiorno) through panels of :29.1, :57.1 and 1:25.4 and then angled to the outside for stretch drive. Pacing home in :26, Grace Hill was three-quarters of a length better than a hard-closing Chase Lounge (Tim Tetrick) in a 1:52 mile. Always B Laughin and Blue Diamond Eyes finished third and fourth, respectively.
Richard 'Nifty' Norman trains Grace Hill (Always B Miki - Western Silk) for owner Tom Hill. A seven-time winner as a sophomore in 2021, Grace Hill comes into 2022 with a mark of 1:49f and more than $740,000 in earnings. In 18 starts at three, the talented filly earned cheques in 16 of her appearances.
The next qualifier featured a pair of hard-hitting stakes winners from the Burke Brigade — millionaire Southwind Gendry and Little Brown Jug winner Lous Pearlman. But J M Mandamin had no intention of letting either of those speedsters take the Saturday morning spotlight. Driver Joe Bongiorno allowed the six-year-old Mach Three gelding to motor through splits of :29.2, :58.3 and 1:26.1 before a scorching :25.0 closing quarter in which he opened up by nearly four lengths at the end of a 1:51.1 mile. Lous Pearlman (Gingras) paced home in :25.3 to finish second, while Southwind Gendry (D. Miller) was fourth, individually timed in 1:52.4.
The 1:51.1 mile time was the co-fastest of the morning, equalled in the finale by sophomore pacer Groovy Man. Making his second appearance of the season, Groovy Man and driver Dexter Dunn just got up to pick off pacesetter River Ness (D. Miller) in the final strides to win by a neck. Groovy Man (Huntsville - Lets Groove Tonite) is a half-brother to speedy sophomore Captain Groovy p,3,1:48, trained by Nancy Takter for her Nancy Takter And JAF Racing, Elmer Fannin, Brent Fannin and Joe Sbrocco.