Joe Burke wins Maine Amateur Final

July 25, 2021 – Story and photos by Chris Tully, for First Tracks Cumberland

CUMBERLAND, ME – Joe Burke made all the right moves with his own Stonebridge Grand to pick-up the victory and the bragging rights in the $7,500 Maine Amateur Driving Club (MADC) final at Cumberland on Saturday, July 24.

Scoring from post five, the 43-year-old construction manager got away from the starting gate into third position.  Favorite Led Schneppelin (post 4, Mike McGee) assumed command, posting a :27.1 first quarter.  Noticing opportunity following a slower pace over the back half, Burke pulled the 6-year-old son of Camluck three-wide down the backside heading to the three quarters and overtook the leaders.

Burke kept Stonebridge Grand moving down the stretch amid a flurry of late closers, maintaining a neck advantage at the wire, tripping the timer in 1:59.2.  Rose Run Slider brushed quickly down the lane to be second for driver Derek Howes.  Wagering favorite Led Schneppelin hung on for third.

Trained by Bob Marston, Stonebridge Grand paid $17.00 to win.

In the winner’s circle presentation Burke noted, “This has been a great season for amateur racing in Maine and we are grateful for the support and opportunities to race that First Tracks Cumberland has provided us.”

Founded in 2002 by Buddy Burke, the Maine Amateur Driving Club has competed around the Maine commercial tracks and pari-mutuel fair circuit for the last two decades, and is also coordinated by Buddy’s son Joe Burke.

During the post parade for the MADC final, regular outrider Sherry Cushing allowed her trusty steed Leo to be “catch ridden” by one of Cumberland’s leading drivers Drew Campbell.  As the guest parade marshal trotted in front of the stands, the crowd cheered and Drew exchanged barbs with many of his fans and followers.

Each year the club selects a number of groups and organizations to race for.  At the end of the meet, they donate funds from their accrued drivers’ fees.  All told, the drivers raised and will personally contribute over $4,000 to the various charities, with more funds to be distributed during the winter meet.

This year the MADC will donate to: the Family of Ashley Brown, Eddie Davis Jr., Pacing for a Cure, Travis Mills Foundation, Homeless Animal Rescue Team of Maine, Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals, and the Standardbred Retirement Foundation.

In the $4,000 MADC consolation, the race was eerily reminiscent of several marquee events this season, as the horse that crossed the finish line first was disqualified for interference, with the judges declaring the second place finisher the official winner.

Three Day Forecast, driven by Alex Richardson, interfered with Winning Chip (Chris Lefebvre) going into the first turn and was taken down.  As a result, driver Adam Gray, who was back just a head at the wire, was granted the victory with his own Bettoriffic.

Owned, trained and driven by Adam Gray, the classy 12-year-old son of Bettor’s Delight was a recent acquisition by the Gray’s, whose wife Stephanie is also the track photographer.

Bettoriffic paid a whopping $71.80 to win, and was credited with a winning time of 1:58.1.

River Runs Deep (Eric Bickmore) was placed second; Gold Star Spider (Valerie Grondin) assumed third.

Coming back to the winner’s circle after the inquiry was settled, Gray stated, “It’s great to win with your own horse, we are real happy with him.  He’s been a good earner and this was a fun day to get the win.”

All MADC winners received a ‘swag bucket’ trophy of stable supplies on behalf of the Windham and North Yarmouth Blue Seal Feed stores, presented by territory sales manager Aimee Nichols.  In addition, several special gifts were provided to the final winner, compliments of the Maine Harness Horsemen’s Association.

Live harness racing from Cumberland continues next Wednesday (July 28) and Saturday (July 31), regular post time is 2:30 pm, with two additional dates added Wed. & Thurs., Aug. 4 & 5 with 11 am posts.  For more information go to our website:

Follow us on Facebook at @FirstTracksCumberland.

Panajali N pulls upset in Legends mare final; Call Me Maverick stays on top

July 21, 2021 – by Chris Tully, for First Tracks Cumberland (Stephanie Gray photos)

CUMBERLAND, ME – Driver David Ingraham is no stranger to driving longshots.  Although respected by his peers, the 59-year-old reinsman is perhaps losing a few mounts to the up-and-coming young guns of Maine.

But that fact did not stop Ingraham from putting 6-1 fifth choice Patanjali N in perfect position to pounce on a tiring leader and win the $12,500 Donald Richards Maine Legends Pacing Series Final on Tuesday (July 20) at Cumberland.

Scoring from post two, Ingraham left alertly with Patajali N, forcing the favorite Media Queen N (post three, Bruce Ranger) to take command into a :27.4 first panel.  Tactician Ranger did his best to back off the pace to a :58.1 half, giving his mare a much-needed :31 second stanza breather.  But the damage may have already been done.  By the three quarter pole Ranger had pulled the plugs on Media Queen, and while witnessing firsthand the shortening strides Ingraham found room in the turn to pull the pocket and get up for a 2-length margin of victory in 1:56.4.

An 8-year-old mare by American Ideal, Patanjali N paid $14.20 to win for trainer Chris Lefebvre and owner Michelle Lefebvre.  Media Queen held on for second, who was noses apart from Mickey Blu (finished third, Drew Campbell) and Humor Me (finished fourth, Nick Graffam).

The Maine Legends pacing series trophies were sponsored by the Maine Harness Horseman’s Association and Blue Seal Feeds of North Yarmouth and Windham.

The Maine Standardbred Breeders Stakes (MSBS) for 3-year-old pacing colts and geldings witnessed 4-5 favorite Call Me Maverick (post six, Mike Stevenson) confirming his dominance, scoring in a seasonal best 1:57.2 over a rain-soaked track in the post time delayed third race.

A son of Western Maverick, Call Me Maverick drew post six in the second division with eight horses vying for the $10,402 purse, with just seven betting interests.  A Sweet Bidda Luck (post five, Ron Cushing) blasted away from the car to assume control and remained on the lead until the half-mile marker.  Stevenson pulled Call Me Maverick from third position and moved up swiftly to take command and continued to extend his lead with every stride, drawing off to win by nine lengths.

Owned and bred by Upland Farm, Call Me Maverick paid $3.60 to win for trainer Gordon Corey.  A Sweet Bidda Luck finished second, Whatawinwillie (post 1, Kevin Switzer Jr.) was third.

During the first MSBS, rain began to fall as the field went to the gate, changing the dynamic of the race.

Lord Dynamic (post 4, Matt Athearn) moved swiftly to the front when the wings folded and never looked back, winning his second Maine-sired event of the year, in a new lifetime mark of 1:59.1.  The sophomore son of Baron Biltmore is trained by Gretchen Athearn for owner and breeder Jason Vafiades.

Lord Magnetic paid $10.00 to win.  Paxton (post 5, Heath Campbell) finished second; Hollywood Skeeter (post seven, Nick Graffam) was third.

Matt Athearn, Dan Deslandes and Bruce Ranger all had driving doubles on the day’s card.  Leading conditioner Benson Merrill also won two.

The next card at Cumberland features the $7,500 Maine Amateur Driving Club Final on Saturday, July 24.

Live harness racing continues at Cumberland on Wednesday, July 28 and Saturday through July 31, post time is 2:30 pm, with two additional dates added Wed. & Thurs., Aug. 4 & 5 with 11 am posts.  For more information go to our website:

Follow us on Facebook at @FirstTracksCumberland.

Merrill sweeps final Maine Amateur legs

July 18, 2021 – by Chris Tully, for First Tracks Cumberland (Stephanie Gray photos)

CUMBERLAND, ME – Leading Cumberland conditioner Benson Merrill showed that he is quite handy in the drivers seat as the 31-year-old reinsman swept both of the final legs in the Maine Amateur Driving Club (MADC) series on Saturday (July 17).

Sponsored by Blue Seal Feeds, ten drivers took a shot at the MADC title, and for Merrill it took him to his eleventh and twelfth attempts of the season to find the winners circle as a driver.  Certainly worth the wait as Merrill won the $3,800 sixth race ‘B’ group with his own Worth Watching in 1:58.1. 

Jumping out quickly from post two, Merrill sent the 11-year-old son of Western Terror out to take command of the field, setting smooth fractions and holding off a late-closing Baywood Shadow (Dalton Lee) to prevail by a two-length margin.  I Saw Red (Eric Bickmore) finished third.

Owned by Michael Wilson, Worth Watching paid $10.20 to win the 45th victory of his lifetime.

But Benson Merrill was not finished yet. In the $4,800 tenth race, MADC group ‘A’ Merrill piloted Velocity Sub Z like a seasoned veteran.

Leaving from post two, Merrill pushed hard to get the lead, only to be challenged on the outside by Plus One (Joe Burke) in a brutal :27.2 first quarter.  Heading to the 3/8 pole, Merrill smartly surrendered the lead to the parked favorite Plus One and series point leader Joe Burke.  But perhaps the damage was already done.  By the third panel, Merrill sensed a tiring leader and pulled the pocket.  Velocity Sub Z looked Plus One right in the eye and went right on by to grab the lead at the head of the stretch and win in 1:58.2.

Three Day Forecast (Alex Richardson) finished second; Led Schneppelin (Mike McGee) was third.

Owned and trained by Judson Merrill, Velocity Sub Z paid $13.60 to win.  Driver Benson Merrill was surrounded by four generations of family members in the winners circle as the connections accepted the ‘swag bucket’ trophy of stable supplies, presented by Melanie Locke on behalf of the Windham and North Yarmouth Blue Seal Feed stores.

With the victories, Merrill jumped from fourth to first place in the MADC standings.  On Saturday, July 24 the Maine Amateur Driving Club will compete for a $7,500 final, as well as make donations to a variety of local and national benefit organizations from funds accrued from driver’s fees of past MADC series.

The $6,500 Winners Over Trot, went to Bruizn (post four, Andy Harrington) who redeemed himself following an uncharacteristic break from post seven in his previous start.  The towering seven-year-old son of Musclini is owned by Dennis and Deborah Foss and was trained by Kim Ireland.

Bruizn paid $16.80 to win by a nose over Northern Skyway (post 6, Drew Campbell).

In Maine Standardbred Breeders Stakes action trainer Valerie Grondin had a one-two punch in her stable entry, that took the win and place pools with Pembroke Legacy (HN 1, Heath Campbell) and Pembroke Maddi (HD 1A, Drew Campbell) to grab the lion’s share of the $10,147 purse.  Both of the 2-year-old filly pacers are owned by Bill Varney, as they made their first of what will be a lengthy season of half-mile track racing around the Maine fairs.

Live harness racing from Cumberland is presented each Tuesday and Saturday through July 31, regular post time is 2:30 pm, with two additional dates added Wed. & Thurs., Aug. 4 & 5 with 11 am posts.  For more information go to our website:

Follow us on Facebook at @FirstTracksCumberland.