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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Top-level pacers, young drivers headline Big M Friday

by James Witherite, Meadowlands racing media

East Rutherford, N.J. – A top-level conditioned pace headlines Friday (December 23) evening’s 13-race card at The Meadowlands, and players will note a couple youthful additions to the Big M driver colony.

The night’s sixth race takes top billing, as nine upper-level pacers square off for a $15,500 purse in the closing leg of the early Pick 4. Betty Tauber’s Elrama N seeks a third consecutive win after circling off cover to a 1:50.3 score over fourth-level rivals on a chilly December 16 evening. As Corey Callahan will be absent for the Friday card, trainer Michael Russo secured Brett Miller—a winner of eight races last Friday—to handle the driving duties of the 22-time winner. Elrama N, one of two horses in the field to be entered for the optional $50,000 claiming price, has been installed as the 3-1 morning line favorite from post 3.

Among the eight with whom Elrama N will contend are Ron Burke trainee Rufo, who has been first or second in four of his last five races in Pennsylvania, and Alberto Contador N, who arrives from Yonkers following a pair of strong closing bids. Rufo, a pillar-to-post winner at Pocono two back, figures well to be the pacesetter in this group after likewise nearly controlling the terms in a similar event at Harrah’s Philadelphia more recently. Joe Bongiorno drives the 7-2 second choice from post 4. Alberto Contador N could well be a factor from off the pace, noting his near miss at Yonkers in his last effort. Jim Marohn, Jr. drives the Darran Cassar trainee from post 6.

In terms of new additions to the driver colony, Tyler Smith will look to build momentum after his driving double last Thursday. The top-five Hoosier Park driver will drive in 12 of the night’s 13 races, including five starters at 6-1 or lower in the morning line. Smith will have company this week as Drew Monti arrives after capturing the Batavia Downs driving title. The 22-year-old Canisius College alumnus is slated to drive in seven races on the Friday program.

As usual, $105,000 in guaranteed Pick 4 and Pick 5 pools await players on- and off-track alike throughout the Friday card. Post time is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. Eastern.