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Jason Bartlett discusses Matchmaker, Levy drives
Friday, March 30, 2018 - by Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

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Yonkers, NY --- As the leading driver at Yonkers Raceway in each of the past four seasons, including last year when horses he drove earned $10.4 million, driver Jason Bartlett finds himself in an unusual position three months into the 2018 season -- in second place.

Although his 104 victories at the meet are 36 more than George Brennan’s 68 wins, Bartlett trails Jordan Stratton by nine wins with a quarter of the season in the books. Although he calls it a slow start by his standards, Bartlett’s competitive mindset looks forward, not back.

 
Mike Lizzi photo
Jason Bartlett discusses his Matchmaker, Levy drives this weekend.

“I had a real slow winter meet, but everything is picking up now,” Bartlett said. “My main barns weren’t racing a lot of horses. It happens, I guess. There’s some things you can’t control and that’s one of them. I guess it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”

One of the main trainers Bartlett drives for, Rich Banca, went 6-for-61 in January. The stable heated up as the Matchmaker and Levy series approached, going 25 for its next 135 through March 28. Bartlett will drive in all eight of this weekend’s Blue Chip Matchmaker and George Morton Levy series divisions and he drives for Banca in six of them.

As the Blue Chip Matchmaker and George Morton Levy Series continues into their third legs this weekend, Bartlett continues to be impressed by the competitiveness of each series. Six different horses have won the first seven division of the Matchmaker while seven unique horses captured the first nine Levy splits.

“The great thing about it this year is you have your top-level horses in there, but some of the horses who are maybe not as talented can beat the better horses because of the post positions, the bad draws, bad spots,” he explained. “I think both the Matchmaker and the Levy are great this year because right now it’s been post position draws that have won the races. It’s going to be interesting. Now more so than most years, because there’s so many different horses winning, the wins really matter. Coming down to the wire, it’s going to be very interesting.”

Bartlett gave his thoughts on each horse he will drive in the series.

Friday March 30: Blue Chip Matchmaker Series Third Leg - Race 6 – Division One
#5 Mach It A Par 7-2 (Tr. Rich Banca)

A 39-time winner and earner of $783,847, Mach It A Par is a two-time finalist of the Matchmaker Series. She was unplaced in her first three starts of the year, but strung together consecutive wins in a $25,000 overnight and a $30,000 Filly and Mare Preferred entering the series. After finishing fourth from post seven in leg one, Mach It A Par finished second to L A Delight in leg two. She will get a rematch with that rival Friday night.

“She’s been good. All year she’s been pretty consistent. In the right spots, she’s done her job. She’s the best she’s been in a long time. I was very happy the way she finished up last week. We’re in kind of a tough spot on the outside of the gate, so if we can work out a trip with her, second- or third-over, she could be pretty good. Last week was very good seeing her like that again.”

Race 7 – Division Two
#1 Lady Shadow 5-2 (Tr. Rich Banca)

Champion mare Lady Shadow joined the Banca ranks last fall and made her seasonal debut a winning one when she captured leg one of the Matchmaker wire-to-wire in 1:53.4. Although the $1.9 million earner finished fourth as the odds-on favorite last week, Bartlett believes the trip got the better of her after he brushed her to the lead in a :55.4 half. Lady Shadow will face Shartin N this week, who is 2-for-2 in the Matchmaker.

“Last week I used her a little bit too hard. We were going a pretty quick clip and then it slowed down real fast and I heard a little commotion behind me, so I had to move there or come first-over a little bit later. I decided just to move her to the front and she got a little tired there. If they would have gone a little bit faster to the half, I would have never moved her. They forced my hand. They went :26.1 and we were going really slow into the paddock turn and I didn’t want to shut her off, so I had to move her. We got the rail this week and it doesn’t look like we’re going to have to go :26, that’s for sure.”

Race 8 – Division Three
#6 Wishy Washy Girl 3-1 (Tr. Rich Banca)

The 5-year-old daughter of Roll With Joe returned with a lackluster sixth March 9, just a week before the series began. She skipped leg one of the series in favor of a $20,000 overnight March 16 and won by 6-3/4 lengths in 1:54.2. Last week, Bartlett drove her to a wire-to-wire score in the Matchmaker second leg, where she beat first leg winner Twinkle.

“If you’re going into that series, you’re going to want to be kind of sharp. It was a step up for her anyways. For her to jump right in there not off a great race the week before, that would be asking a lot of her. We threw her in an overnight to see if she was going to be able to go with them and she proved that she could. Last week, she drew the rail and the good thing about her is she can leave the car really fast and then she’s really handy afterwards. Last week, we had the horse to beat on our back and was able to not let them out. That’s what she can do; she’s able to put better horses in bad spots because she’s so handy. Do I think I would have been able to beat that horse if I hadn’t been in front of her? Probably not. She’s just handy on the half-mile track, she can do anything you want her to do. It looks like a tough spot this week. We have some horses inside that can leave. I’m just going to read the gate and go from there.”

Race 9 – Division Four
#2 All About Madi 9-2 (Tr. Brittany Robertson)

This daughter of Brandon’s Cowboy was unplaced in the first two legs of the series after putting together a string of on the board finishes in open company earlier this season. Bartlett will drive her for the first time since Jan. 19 when she faded to finish fourth as the even-money favorite in a $25,000 overnight.

“I think she’s been pretty good. I haven’t driven her since the beginning of the year, went off favored, put her on the front, she was no good. That’s really not her gig, racing her on the front probably wasn’t the best idea. She’s got a good spot. I’ve seen her a couple times, she’s been coming up the rail near the wire, she’s had a lot of pace. She’s one of those horses that you need a helmet and she’ll give you a good kick home, so that’s probably what I’ll try to do is get her on the right helmet and go from there.”

Saturday March 31: George Morton Levy Series Third Leg - Race 7 – Division One
#5 Blood Brother 6-1 (Tr. Rich Banca)

The 6-year-old son of Somebeachsomewhere is a 23-time winner, a $739,380 earner, and made the final of the series last year. Bartlett drove him to consecutive wins at the $20,000 level in the weeks leading up to the series, one in wire-to-wire fashion in 1:53.1 and one from off the pace in 1:54.2. Blood Brother finished a disappointing seventh, beaten 11 lengths, in the first leg of the series and skipped last week. Series standouts Mach It So and Missile J drew to his inside.

“He’s just been OK this year so far. He was sick last week, so we gave him the week off. I really don’t know what to expect from him. He’s a nice little horse, he’s handy. I’ll just have to trip him out. It’s a pretty tough field of horses, it’s a pretty tough group.”

Race 8 – Division Two
#1 Another Daily Copy 4-1 (Tr. Rich Banca)

Dismissed at odds of 25-1 last week, the 5-year-old son of Somebeachsomewhere rallied up the inside to finish third to Evenin Of Pleasure by 2-1/4 lengths in 1:53.3. He draws favorably this week and Bartlett looks to get an ideal trip behind Dr J Hanover, who won the first two legs of the series after setting slow half-mile fractions of :58.1 and :57.3, respectively.

“Finished really well last week. I never left the rail with him, he kind of battled on. He came up the inside and actually had a lot of pace at the wire. Looks like hopefully we’ll get a decent trip again this week and he can be right there. He’s another horse that can beat some nice horses with a decent trip. I’ll probably push the rail and try and sit behind ‘Dr J.’ Dr J Hanover is a great horse obviously, but he hasn’t had to work for anything yet. We’ll see what happens when he has to work a little bit. The horse can leave with the car, sometimes the car can’t get out of the way fast enough, so that’s part of his game, leaving fast, shutting it down, and sprinting home. Looks like a good horse to follow.”

Race 10 – Division Three
#5 Killer Martini 6-1 (Tr. Ricky Bucci)

Teamed with Bartlett to score two upset victories in the Open Handicap Pace in February before posting a string of four straight losses, including in leg one of the series March 17. The 6-year-old son of Camluck was scratched sick in leg two. He draws outside Western Fame, a winner in the series last week; Keystone Velocity, the series’ defending champion; and Rockin Ron, who is 2-for-2 to start the series.

“We got a couple good races there in the Open two weeks in a row. We got fast halves, great trips, so that was good. He’s a nice little Yonkers horse, makes a lot of money. No gate speed, so we’re just going to be dependent on how the race develops and take it from there.”

Race 11 – Division Four
#5 Somewhere In L A 3-1 (Tr. Rich Banca)

Finished second, beaten a head by Keystone Velocity, in the $529,000 final of the Levy Series last year. Somewhere In L A is a $1.4 million earning son of Somebeachsomewhere. Although his form tailed off at the end of 2017, Somewhere In L A returned a wire-to-wire winner in a $20,000 overnight March 3 and posted another pace-setting win the following week in a sharp 1:52.4. He finished second to Dr J Hanover in week one of the series and second to Western Fame last week. Bartlett was happy with the former effort, but blames himself for the most recent loss.

“He qualified great, he raced great. The first race with ‘Dr J,’ I just didn’t want to get into a speed duel with that horse, so I elected to come first-over. I knew it was going to be a slow half, but he still grinded out a second, which is great. Last week, I think I lost the race. I shouldn’t have raced the horse on the backside as much as I did. I felt I had him beat. I think it was my fault, but he raced really well. He is a tough horse and he just doesn’t quit. He might not be the most talented, but he has a big heart and he’s pretty versatile. He’s just a nice horse all around. I think he might have caught one of the cheaper groups this week. All Bets Off had the outside the first week and we beat him. I’m not sure, he can go both ways, but he likes to be placed forward, so we’ll see.”


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