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Standardbreds to race under saddle at Yonkers
Thursday, October 06, 2011 - by Ellen Harvey, Harness Racing Communications

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Freehold, NJ --- Seven women with a need for speed will take to the track at Empire City at Yonkers Raceway in New York on Saturday evening (Oct. 8). They’ll be racing Standardbreds, as usual, but the finish line will be framed by the ears of their horses as the track cards an exhibition race at 6 p.m. for Standardbreds under saddle.

Vicki Wright photo
Nicole Mellberg will ride Kirty Dream in the under saddle race on Saturday.

Seven trotters will race for 9/16ths of a mile, from behind the mobile starting gate, exhibiting a type of Standardbred racing alive and well in Europe, but rarely seen in North America. It is the first time Yonkers will host a racing under saddle event.

Helene Gregory, whose husband Jeff is a leading driver at Yonkers, says under saddle races are fully integrated into racing in her native Sweden.

“One week they race under saddle, two weeks later, they race in a bike, two weeks later under saddle,” Gregory said. “They keep alternating to keep them happy. Some of these older racehorses, I think they like it, they like the change.”

For Gregory, who shows her Standardbred, Jambalayabar Man, successfully in all types of pleasure riding classes, the race will be a chance to cross off an item on her lifetime dream list.

“I have never done this before,” Gregory said. “It’s always been on my bucket list, so when the opportunity came I said, ‘I’m in.’

“I’ve been riding Standardbreds my whole life; in Sweden we train them under saddle. It’s not as hard as it will look. I trained my horse (Where’s Harry) yesterday a mile and a half. I was surprised I wasn’t more tired. We are standing up in the irons (stirrups), but we’re using longer irons, because we’re not as fit as a jockey would be.

“I talked to a friend in Sweden who rides in these races and she says it’s easier to use longer stirrups and keep the weight back because a lot of the trotters might break if they feel the weight on top of their shoulders.”

One competitor, Dr. Jennifer Lowrey, the track veterinarian at Yonkers, has been eying the chance to ride a horse at Yonkers for a long time.

Denelle DeKryger photo
Dr. Jennifer Lowrey trains Lemon Pepper at Goshen Historic Track.

“I have been riding since before I could walk,” she said. “Mostly hunters and jumpers, but I also enjoy driving horses. From the first time I saw Yonkers Raceway, I wanted to ride on the track. It is a place quite literally made to cut a horse loose and see how fast he’ll go.”

Lowrey’s mount on Saturday, Lemon Pepper, was originally acquired by her to pull an antique sleigh, but there won’t be any “over the river and through the woods” for him just yet.

“We trained on the track at Goshen today and Pepper is feeling good,” Lowrey said. “As for our chances on Saturday, I have no doubt that he will give me everything he has.”

Saturday’s race is expected to go to post at 6 p.m., before the regular card, which includes the $400,000 Fall Harvest Series. It can be seen on the track’s live streaming video here.

Here is the field in post position order, with rider and career highlights:

1 – You Go Girl (Sara Waddon): 6-year-old mare; a 20-time winner who took a life-mark of 1:57.2 in August at Pocono Downs.

2 – Winbak Red (Noelle Duspiva): 8-year-old gelding; a 32-time winner (13 wins in 2011) competing most recently at Yonkers in $30,000 claimers; has earned $332,166 lifetime.

3 – Where’s Harry (Helene Gregory): 8-year-old gelding; 18-time winner, including his last “sulky start” last weekend at Freehold.

4 – Lemon Pepper (Jennifer Lowrey): 12-year-old gelding; retired from harness racing in 2010 after years as a fixture in New York and New Jersey; 40 wins, 40 seconds and 32 thirds in 247 starts, with career earnings just shy of $600,000.

5 – Kirty Dream (Nicole Mellberg): 4-year-old gelding; enjoyed a spectacular season at 3, earning $159,716 as a standout on the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes circuit; owns a career-best 1:54.2 effort, taken at The Meadows.

6 – S F Aceinthehole (Lindsey Greene): 6-year-old gelding; 21 career wins and $266,978 in earnings; a six-figure earner in 2010.

7 – Adonis B (Jennifer Connor): 8-year-old gelding; 28 career wins and earnings of $340,833; his life-mark of 1:54.4 was taken as a 3-year-old at The Red Mile.

The Fall Harvest Series goes as races 2 through 9 on the 13-race card. It is comprised of eight $50,000 events for New York-bred 2- and 3-year-olds of both sexes and gaits who -- either by points or by condition -- were not eligible to compete in last weekend’s New York Night of Champions.

As a reminder, Yonkers’ annual Fall Harvest Festival, featuring a track apron full of fun and family activities, is set for the Saturday night of Oct. 22, from 5:30-9:30 p.m. The festival showcases the thriving relationship between horse racing and agriculture all across New York State.

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