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Monday, March 28, 2016

Down Under Brigade flexing Muscles in Levy and Matchmaker

Through the first two rounds of the Levy/Matchmaker series at Yonkers Raceway we’ve seen horses that have never competed in this harbinger of spring before step up, and several of them are from Down Under.

This is the second year under the “Burke Rule,” which restricts trainers to one horse per division. Prior to that, Ron Burke, and others, would routinely have an entry racing in each division. They could only race two in the final, but the numerous $50,000 splits in the five preliminary rounds of the Levy were fertile ground for a powerful stable: In 2014 Burke won nine of the first eleven divisions, with seven of those winners being odds-on favorites.

Aside from the rule changes, another factor that has opened up the Levy to new blood is the passage of time. Foiled Again, the 12-year-old dean of the series, is competing in his eighth edition. He has won 20 legs and two lucrative finals, good for well over a million dollars. But last year he was pulled from the series after three unsuccessful starts and he is still looking for a win this year.

Three-time Dan Patch winner, Anndrovette, is contesting her sixth edition of the Matchmaker, but while she has triumphed in seven legs since 2013, she has never won the final. Iron-tough Krispy Apple is back for the sixth time, but a couple of preliminary legs back in 2013 is all she has to show for it in the win column of late. Many of the horses that have dominated the two series over the past few years are either past their prime or retired.

Back in 2014 the Christian Cullen mare, Royal Cee Cee N, was the only import in the Matchmaker. She failed to win any legs and finished fifth in the consolation. Five horses from Down Under competed in the Levy that year and none of them won any preliminary legs. The Bettor’s Delight gelding, Texican N, who has two seconds in the current edition, did make the final on points, where he finished sixth.

Last year, in a smaller than usual group of nominees, the Jereme’s Jet mare For The Ladies N, who has fared poorly in the current series, was the only import in the distaff series. She didn’t win any legs, but she did take the $75,000 consolation. The Pacific Fella pacer Polak A won two legs of the Levy, each by a neck, in his first two starts in North America. He was sixth in the final. And the In The Pocket gelding, Heez Orl Black N, also won a leg.

On Friday five mares from Down Under competed in the Matchmaker, while seven imports started in the Levy. Eight newcomers to these series have won over the first two weeks and five of them are from the Southern Hemisphere.

The mighty Bit Of A Legend N, who is racing for trainer Peter Tritton, came first up at the half and crushed the field in 1:53 as the 2/5 favorite in the third division. Driver Jordan Stratton, who has gone to the gate in 23,000 races, labeled him the best horse he has ever driven. Bit Of A Legend is now two for two in the series.

Stratton also won for the second time with the Gotta Go Cullect mare, Al Raza N, in Friday’s second leg of the Matchmaker. And Sell A Bit N, also from the Tritton barn, won the first split for Stratton. The Julius Caesar mare dominated the filly and mare open division at Yonkers last year, winning ten of her 21 starts. Sell A Bit, who was 8/5 co-favorite with Venus Delight, won in 1:52.1, the fastest time thus far in the mares’series.

The 8-year-old Western Terror gelding, Texas Terror N, racing for Jose Godinez and Blindswitch Racing, was a 49/1 upset winner in the first leg of the Levy. He finished third this week behind Melmerby Beach and Foiled Again.

Polak A, a winner of almost $90,000 for Tony O’Sullivan and the Bellino family in 2015, finished a disappointing last in the first leg and was not entered this week. However, newcomer Te Kawau N (Bettor’s Delight) joined the fray and, making his first North American start, finished a well measured third behind double winner Lucan Hanover and Texican N.

Dream Out Loud N (Bettor’s Delight) and Western Terror N (Western Terror) were both third in their respective divisions.

Bit Of A Legend N is tied with Lucan Hanover and Take It Back Terry for the top spot in the Levy with 150 points. If the series ended today, Texas Terror N would also qualify for the final and Bettor Rock On N and Texican N would both be part of a four-way tie for the eighth spot in the final, which carried a $529,000 purse last year. Al Raza N tops the Matchmaker point list, while Sell A Bit N would also make the final, which went for $261,000 last year, if the series ended today.

But there are three more preliminary legs left in both the Levy and Matchmaker, and 2015 Horse of the Year Wiggle It Jiggleit, who cruised to victory in tonight’s seasonal debut at Dover Downs, should be in the mix on Saturday.

Joe FitzGerald

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