by James Witherite, Vernon Downs racing media
J A T O rises to Open ranks, prevails
Vernon, N.Y. -- After reeling off five wins in as many tries at Vernon Downs, New York State Fair Circuit standout J A T O ($4.70) handled the jump to the Open II ranks with aplomb, making easy work of more seasoned rivals in Friday (October 30) evening's $8,000 featured trot at Vernon Downs.
Chris Lems floated forward with the 3-year-old Big Apple Deli colt at race's outset, ducking into the third spot to track Lucid Thoughts (John MacDonald) and Photo Mass (Claude Huckabone, Jr.) through a tepid :29 initial quarter mile. Upon reaching the backstretch, Lems angled J A T O off the pegs, and the pair had to work to clear Lucid Thoughts, who strung them out before yielding to the pocket well after a :57.2 half mile.
Having cleared with just over three furlongs to go, J A T O--already softened a bit--braced for the first-over challenge from Waiting On a Woman, who charged past each of his six rivals through the middle half save for one. That one--J A T O--dug in stoutly to keep Waiting On a Woman at bay through a :28 third quarter, subsequently kicking clear off the corner and opening up to a 5-1/4 length win over Lucid Thoughts. Waiting On a Woman faded to third, while McKenzie's Star (Fern Paquet, Jr.) made mild late gains to take fourth.
William Okusko trains 25-time winner J A T O for owners Margaret and Amy Butler. The 1:54.1 mile time for J A T O improved his lifetime mark by a fifth of a second over two previous wins at the Miracle Mile.
Vernon Downs leading driver John MacDonald registered a treble on the evening's 10-race program, teaming up with Tarport Andy ($3.10, 1:55.1), Twice TOo Nice ($10.40, 1:56.1), and Fox Valley Cadet ($13.40, 1:54.1).
Live racing continues at Vernon Downs on Saturday (October 31), with an 11-race card kicking off at 6:00 p.m. Eastern time. In addition to the annual Four One One grey race and the Turn Back the Clock Rewind races, a pair of Kindergarten Classic finals for 2-year-old trotters feature over $300,000 in purses.