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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Cal Expo Saturday Advance

Sparky Clarke returns for California winter
By Mark Ratzky, publicity – Cal Expo Harness

Sparky Clarke is back at Cal Expo for the first time since 2010, conditioning a stable of nine and getting off to a fast start.

From his first 32 starters at the meet, Clarke has made eight trips to the winner’s circle, with an additional seven seconds and seven thirds for good measure.

Sparky was a mainstay on the West Coast for many years, but for the last several seasons has plied his trade in New York during the summer, with his summers being spent in Florida.

“I’m basically here because of (CHHA President) David Neumeister, and I’m happy to be back,” Clarke related from his shedrow earlier this week. “Right now it looks like we’ll be here through the end of the meet.”

Clarke has sent out some of the best trotters and pacers we’ve seen in California over the last several decades, and with the likes of No Monkeys Allowed, Barbarian and Zoraze, he’s making an impression in the Open ranks at this session.

Sparky does much of his summer racing at Tioga Downs and at warm Pompano Park in the winter, with both being five-eighths ovals. He was asked what size track he prefers for his charges.

“It all depends on the individual,” Clarke replied. “I tried to bring horses out here that would have a preference for a mile track and it would work to their advantage.” So far, so good.

Strings gets top billing in Distaff Open

Strings, fresh from a coast-to-coast score in the filly and mare Open Pace, looks to do a curtain call in Saturday night’s $6,600 main event.

A 13-race card is on tap under the Watch and Wager LLC banner with the feature going as the fifth event on the evening.

A 7-year-old daughter of Hi Ho Silverheel’s out of the No Nukes mare Sharps N Flats, Strings races for Little Bapa LLC with Gene Vallandingham the conditioner and Luke Plano once again doing the honors.

After a couple of tough beats at this Open level, the dark-hued performer got the job done on December 30 as the 4-5 favorite, making every pole a winning one that evening and prevailing by three-quarters of a length with Plano.

For Saturday’s assignment, she will do her work from the No. 8 post in the field of nine, with Poorlittlerichgirl moving from the rail to the outside slot for this go-around.

The latter is a 9-year-old daughter of Little Steven who campaigns for Maria Alvarez, is trained by Sal Wenceslao and will again be guided by William Hernandez. She posted a 15-1 upset at this level on December 10 with a flying finish and was runner-up in the most recent clash at this top rung.

Shark Festival also has an Open victory to her credit on December 16 and helps make things interesting. Medinah Racing and Scott Ehrlich own, Kathleen Plestad trains and Steve Wiseman will be in the sulky from the No. 6 post.