The annual fortnight of Grand Circuit racing begins on Thursday, September 25 with the $336,000 Bluegrass Stakes for freshman trotting fillies, traditionally the kick-off to the meet. This stake has been known for a number as years as the Norman S. Woolworth Memorial remembering one of harness racing's most beloved personalities. Twenty seven fashionably bred debutantes were entered and split into quad-features on the twelve race card.
|Wild Honey (USTA//Mark Hall Photo)|
Wild Honey leads the first division of six in the third race. The gifted Cantab Hall filly is but a head away from an unbeaten season, having won six of seven with the $260,000 PASS final chief among those wins. Wild Honey shattered CR Kay Suzie's 20 year old half-mile track World Record by more than a second in a dazzling 1:55.2 performance last week at Delaware. She'll be a short price in this one for the Jimmy Takter barn and driver Yannick Gingras. Christina Takter, Fielding, Liverman & Fielding are the proud owners of the $35,000 bargain from last fall's Lexington Selected Yearling Sale.
Jolene Jolene is the most accomplished of the seven fillies in the second division of the Woolworth (race 5). This Muscle Hill filly was second in the Merrie Annabelle and the winner of the Champlain stakes on her way to over $165,000 in earnings. She blew a shot at big money with an early break in the Peaceful Way final at Mohawk last week when division leader Mission Brief took herself out by going off-stride as well. A chance for redemption looms for Jolene, her owner Bill Donovan, trainer Jonas Czernyson and driver Dave Miller on Thursday.
A pair of solid fillies who have had their efforts focused on regional programs move onto the Grand Circuit stage in division three (race 8). Concentration has been working her way around the Empire State via the NYSS program with just over $100,000 in earnings to show for those efforts. She was the betting favorite in last week's rich final but jumped it off early and lost all chance for owner Ray Campbell, Jr. Trainer George Ducharme and Driver Brian Sears who teamed to win the 2013 Hambletonian with Royalty For Life, a horse in which Mr. Campbell had an interest, will look to rekindle that spark.
Local hopeful Armatrading (named for recording artist Joan Armatrading) should provide ample competition for Concentration. The Groton Hall lass won the $175,000 Kentucky Sires Stakes final over this very track in August and closed nicely to be third in a Kindergarten leg last week for Atlantic Trot, trainer Kenneth Oscarsson and driver Randy Jerrell.
The fourth division (10th race) appears the most contentious based on current form.
Bee The Queen has really found her best stride here at The Red Mile with back to back Kindergarten scores for George Ducharme and owner Alfred Ross with equally effortless 1:56 wins. Allerage Star has pretty much made the winners circle her alternate residence, winning four of seven including her most recent, an unlikely recovery from an early break in the Kindergarten last Thursday. She flashed unusual determination and grit in that one for the ownership group of Jeff Gural (via his nom de course Little E, LLC) Jason Settlemoir, Dave Stolz and Art Geiger and trainer Jessica Okusko.
Captain Corey Callahan has the enviable yet difficult choice of either, having been named to drive both fillies.