Rocksapatriot renews rivalry in Top Pace

June 16, 2021 – by Chris Tully for First Tracks Cumberland (Stephanie Gray photos)

CUMBERLAND, ME – The rivalry between Winners Over victor Rocksapatriot and nemesis Airspinder continued at Cumberland on Tuesday (June 15).  Currently, after four rounds of heavyweight action, the score cards are tied at ‘two all.’

The $6,000 Winners Over $10,000 lifetime is the featured overnight in the state of Maine.  The first time these two horses met in the top pace at Cumberland on May 18, Airspinder won with Rocksapatriot just getting beat by a quarter-length for second.  Airspinder took the next week off.

On June 1, these two met again, with this scribe forecasting that Airspinder was “looking for two-in-a-row.”

Perhaps camera shy, adverse to publicity, or simply bad racing luck may have prevented the former from realizing the predicted outcome, providing Rocksapatriot an opportunity to even the score and win decisively by almost three lengths.

Shipping North to Bangor on June 9, outside of the realm of this reporter, Airspinder reclaims his title, with Rocksapatriot finishing third.  Now the tally is two-to-one, for those keeping score at home.

Unintentionally, but yet once again, previous to Tuesday’s bout this prognosticator calls the trainer of Airspinder, Chris Lefebvre, and finds out that now the ownership of the horse have become somewhat ‘publicity adverse.’  This is due in no small part to prophecies made on or about June 1.  But, that didn’t stop this beat writer from advancing the cause, and predicting Airspinder ‘King of the Airspace’ on June 15.

But, Rocksapatriot and driver Dave Ingraham had other ideas.  Collectively, they were not concerned with air traffic control, rush hour congestion or any other form of transportation bottlenecking.  Ingraham pulled the six-year-old son of Rockincam first over into an evenly rated half by pacesetter Jet Aviation (Bruce Ranger).  Airspinder (Drew Campbell) picked up the live cover second over, following Rocksapatriot into a 1:28 (28.3) third-quarter.

As the field rounded the final turn Rocksapatriot stuck a head in front and started to gain some separation from his adversary Airspinder, sprinting home in :28.2 to win by 1 ½ lengths in 1:56.3.  Airspinder continued to chase valiantly, but to no avail, and despite his :28.1 last quarter, the five-year-old son of No Spin Zone had to settle for second best.  Jet Aviation finished third, with betting favorite The Bus A grabbing fourth.

Driver Dave Ingraham noted, “I was looking for Cushing [The Bus A] to give me cover, but I had to move myself.  You have to be careful driving him.  He sees things and sometimes spooks.  He wears a turn-up shadow roll, a murphy blind on the outside, and a cheek piece on the inside.  But once he gets rolling, he’s pretty sharp.”

Not unaware of the inclinations of handicappers to pick against him, Ingraham adds with a laugh, “You just keep writing about Airspinder!”

Trained by Kelly Case for owner/breeder Stephen J Farrell, Rocksapatriot paid $9.60 to win.

Race three witnessed a full-field of eight battling for the $4,800 purse in the NW4000 pace.  Southwind Terror (Nick Graffam) asserted his dominance to make it three-in-a-row at the iconic Southern Maine oval. 

Sent off as the mild 2-1 favorite, the Christopher Hitchcock-trained 11-year-old son of Camluck got away seventh.  Nonetheless regular driver Nick Graffam had the 46-lifetime winner out and rolling at the half, and was forced three-wide going down the backside to engage in a battle with pacesetter January (Matt Athearn) and Rocnrolwilneverdie (Drew Campbell).

As the field turned for home, track announcer Scott Ehrlich exclaimed, “they are coming from everywhere” and Southwind Terror took the lead and fought off any would-be spoilers to win in 1:57.1 by three-quarters of a length.  Miss U Big Mike (Bruce Ranger) jumped up to be second, and Haydenssmoothmove  (Heath Campbell) finished third.

Southwind Terror paid $6.20 to win.

Dave Ingraham, Bruce Ranger and Drew Campbell all had driving doubles on the Tuesday (June 15) card, and in each case they victories were in back-to-back races.  Trainer Elisha Lafreniere had two successive wins as well.

Seasonally, Bruce Ranger still leads all drivers with 23 victories, followed in second by Dan Deslandes (17), with Drew Campbell and Kevin Switzer Jr. tied for third with 12 trips each to the Cumberland winners circle.

Racing returns this Saturday (June 19) with the popular Maine Amateur Driving Club, sponsored by Blue Seal Feeds, and three-year-old filly pacers take center stage in the Maine Standardbred Breeders Stakes.

Live harness racing from Cumberland is presented each Tuesday and Saturday through early August, post time is 2:30 pm.  For more information go to our website:

Follow us on Facebook at @FirstTracksCumberland.

Top Pacers set to Fly in Winners Over at Cumberland

June 15, 2021 – by Chris Tully for First Tracks Cumberland (Stephanie Gray photo)

CUMBERLAND, ME – Today’s (June 15) ten-race card at Cumberland features a $6,000 Winners Over Pace, carded as race six.  Chris Lefevre’s Airspinder looks for his second win in a row in the top class, scoring from post six with regular pilot Drew Campbell. 

Airspinder, a five-year-old gelding by No Spin Zone has won half of his races this season, sporting an impressive seven victories in 14 seasonal starts.  That is a big improvement over last year when he had just one win in 24 tries.

“It’s all because of my blacksmith,” noted Chris Lefebvre, the horse’s trainer.  “Without him he wouldn’t even be a horse!”

Plagued with hoof trouble, owners Michelle Lefebvre and Brian Aaskov acquired the horse in early April.

Conditioner Chris Lefebvre went to work on his feet, “pretty much every day.  He has very little hoof.  We have rebuilt his front feet with fiberglass patches.”

Clearly the efforts have paid off, as the horse has not been off the board since.  But the extra attention has not been without sacrifice.

“My owner wanted me to block your calls!” Lefebvre said with laugh.  “The last time you did a story on this horse he got beat.”

But that’s horse racing and that’s what scribes must do…follow a good lead.

A horse that looks to invade Airspinder’s airspace is Jet Aviation, trained by Benson Merrill and driven by top gun Bruce Ranger, he departs from gate three.  Comfortable on the front end, the 6-year-old Badlands Hanover gelding comes off an afterburner win in 1:55.3 at Bangor.

Both aircraft are sure to meet some rush-hour traffic in the form of The Bus A who moves into this express lane route from previous pick-ups in Bangor and Plainridge.  Trainer Heidi Gibbs sends the 7-year-old Art Major stud to Cumberland in the capable hands of driver/co-owner Ron Cushing from post two.

Race three enjoys a full field of eight vying for the $4,800 purse in the NW4000 pace.  Both Southwind Terror (post six, Nick Graffam) and Rocknrolwilneverdie (post seven, Drew Campbell) are coming off of wins in similar company.  Red Dirt Boomer (post 5, Dan Delandes) drops down a notch in class to make this heat well worth a savvy punters attention.  Adding to the fray is Miss U Big Mike (assigned post eight, Bruce Ranger) who paced in 1:52.4 in his last start at Plainridge, and won his previous start at Bangor in 1:55.3 for the current connections.

Live harness racing from Cumberland is presented each Tuesday and Saturday through early August, post time is 2:30 pm.  For more information go to our website:

Follow us on Facebook at @FirstTracksCumberland.

Maine purses on the Rise

June 14, 2021 – by Chris Tully for Cumberland & Bangor

CUMBERLAND, ME – First Tracks Cumberland and Hollywood Casino Hotel & Raceway at Bangor have jointly announced a ten percent purse increase for overnight races. 

The significant raise in racing rewards will take effect immediately with the Wednesday draw for Saturday’s (June 19) card at Cumberland, and with the Thursday draw for Sunday’s (June 20) racing at Bangor.

The top Winners Over class at Cumberland will now race for a purse of $6,500, with other classes enjoying an approximate 10% bump in total winnings from their previous purse levels.

Live harness racing from Cumberland is presented each Tuesday and Saturday through early August, post time is 2:30 pm.  For more information go to their website:

Standardbreds continue to compete at Hollywood Casino Hotel & Raceway at Bangor every Wednesday (Post Time 3:00 pm) and Sunday (12:15 pm first post) through August 1, with a special July 4th card at 6:30 pm.  For more information go to their website:

Valerie Grondin grabs first drive back

June 12, 2021 – by Chris Tully for First Tracks Cumberland

CUMBERLAND, ME – With nearly 500 driving wins to her credit, it’s perhaps a stretch to refer to Valerie Grondin as an amateur.  But she has not driven third-party horses professionally, and recorded her last win in 2013 in a Maine Amateur Driving Club (MADC) event. 

Fast forward to Saturday (June 12) at Cumberland, and Grondin expertly handled Gold Star Spider in another $4,200 MADC sprint by putting the pacer right on the engine and never looking back.

Brushing quickly to the front from post three, Grondin dictated fractions of :29.3, 1:01.1, 1:30 and stepped on the accelerator in the final stretch drive to draw off and win by three and a half lengths in 1:59, last quarter in :29.

“It felt great to be in the bike again,” exclaimed Cumberland’s third leading trainer.  Grondin continued, “Winning makes all the long days worth it.  Spider is perfect to drive, he has been with us for four years.”

Gold Star Spider is a seven-year-old stallion by Rock On, trained by Grondin and is owned by Heath Campbell and Gino Martucci.  He paid $7.20 to win.  Wagering favorite Plus One (Joe Burke) finished second.  Kreacher (Benson Merrill) was third.

Grondin and her partner Heath Campbell, together train about 26 horses that are split between the overnight horses at Grondin’s farm in Corinna, and the Maine Stakes horses stabled at Bangor.

Approaching another milestone, Valerie Grondin is just 4 wins shy of 2,000 training wins.  Having earned over $8 million in trainers’ earnings in the last four decades, the Bangor-born conditioner enjoys the racing and camaraderie at the new Cumberland facility.

Quick to share the credit of her success, Grondin points out that all the work gets done “with an excellent crew and involved partners.”  Inspired by her good friend and fellow Maine-based trainer Kelly Case, they bought a horse together for $300 in 1984 and named it I Would, a mare by Frisky Thomas. 

“She went out and won her first five races in a row for Kelly,” Grondin fondly recalls. 

It’s clear that the horse ‘I Would’ turned Valerie Grondin into an ‘I can’ …and so out she went, traveling boldly into the world of Maine harness racing, never looking back.

While Grondin was pleased with the new seasonal mark of 1:59 for Gold Star Spider, she is not ready to rest on her laurels.  “I am just getting back started.  I have put this off too long.  My goal is to get to win number 500!”

Currently sitting on 494 driving victories, Grondin just needs six more to hit 500.  Stay tuned.

The other MADC split was captured by Three Day Forecast and active amateur driver Todd Whitney in 2:00.3.

Following a photo finish, favorite Three Day Forecast held off a late charge by Stonebridge Grand (Joe Burke) to win the $4,200 event by a head.  Flooded with fans for the Blue Seal Feeds winners circle presentation, trainer Ryan Berry held the 10-year-old son of Three Olives for the 36th win of his career.

Berry and Whitney share ownership of Three Day Forecast, who paid $5.40 to win.

Continuing her dedication to the MADC and Cumberland, and returning to make the presentations to the winning amateur connections was Aimee Nichols, Blue Seal and Kent feeds territory sales manager for Maine and the Canadian Maritimes.  Nichols provided ‘swag bucket’ trophies of stable supplies on behalf of the Windham and North Yarmouth Blue Seal Feed stores to both amateur race winning connections.

After three weeks and four divisions, Todd Whitney leads the point standings in the Maine Amateur Driving Club, followed closely by Benson Merrill in second, Charles “Butch” Eaton in third and Joe Burke hits the board in fourth.

In overnight racing news, Andrew Harrington and Dan Delandes both enjoyed driving doubles on the Saturday afternoon card.  In the $6,000 Winners Over Trot, Bruizin (Harrington) returned to Cumberland to capture the event for a second time this season, winning by a half-length over Cherry Crown Jewel (Matt Athearn) in 1:59.3.  Caulfield (Mike Stevenson) finished third.

The strapping seven-year-old son of Musclini is trained by Kim Ireland and owned by Dennis and Deb Foss.  He paid a whopping $32.20 to win.

Live harness racing from Cumberland is presented each Tuesday and Saturday through early August, post time is 2:30 pm.  For more information go to our website:

Corey’s Call Me Maverick cops Maine Sires at Cumberland

June 12, 2021 – by Chris Tully for First Tracks Cumberland

CUMBERLAND, ME – The popular Saturday afternoon card at Cumberland carried the seasonal debut of the Maine Standardbred Breeders Stakes (MSDS) hosting three divisions of 3-year-old colt and gelding pacers.

Sent off as the 1-5 favorite in the third and final division, the Gordon Corey-trained Call Me Maverick wasted little time taking command of the field.  Leaving swiftly from post five, driver Mike Stevenson sent the sophomore son of Western Maverick right to the top going into the tight first turn at the fairgrounds.

On top the entire mile, it wasn’t until the final stretch drive that Call Me Maverick had any anxious moments.  Following a :28.4 third quarter, Driver Kevin Switzer Jr moved American Maverick off the pylons to challenge the leader, getting to within a head of the ultimate 1:59.3 victor in the final strides. 

“He did his job.  Like all owners and trainers, perhaps we would have liked to see a more formidable performance, perhaps a little more impressive,” stated Gordon Corey, the colt’s conditioner.  “But, ultimately we took home the Lion’s share of the porridge for the day.  So we are thankful for the blessings that we do have.”

Owned and bred by Upland Farm, last season Call Me Maverick had things pretty much his own way, winning 8 of 10 starts and earning $61,774 at age two.  In fact, it seems that in Maine Sired events, if you want to beat a Western Maverick, you will need a Western Maverick.

His dominance in the program is evident as half of the 3-year-old starters are offspring of the World Champion son of Western Hanover.  In fact, in Saturday’s second and third divisions, Western Maverick colts and geldings earned first, second and third money. 

When asked about locking bridles with some of the other foes in the division, Corey opined, “There are a few boys in there that should be reckoned with.  It won’t, by any stretch, be an easy season.  You know, sometimes the individual fights and the year-long battles will result in more than one wounded soldier.”

Call Me Western paid $2.40 to win, with no show wagering allowed.  In other MSDS action, Edelman won the first division, also in 1:59.3, for driver, breeder and co-owner Ron Cushing (with Kevin Sywyk) and trainer Heidi Gibbs.  The second division was captured by Whatawinwillie, also a son of Western Maverick, in 1:59.4.  He was owned, trained and bred by Marc Tardif and driven by Kevin Switzer Jr.  The ‘glamour boys’ division meets again in eleven days at Bangor on Wed., June 23.