August 6, 2021 – by Chris Tully, for First Tracks Cumberland (Stephanie Gray photos)
CUMBERLAND, ME – Following a twice-weekly schedule, the inaugural First Tracks Cumberland Spring/Summer 28-day extended pari-mutuel meeting which began on May 8 came to a triumphant conclusion on Thursday (Aug. 5) at the historic Cumberland Fairgrounds.
CEO Mike Cianchette stated to NBC Portland’s local news affiliate’s Don Carrigan, “The sport has centuries of history in Maine. We have hopefully built a bridge to the next century of harness racing.”
The track’s labors have been rewarded by full entry boxes and plenty of fans on the apron and bettors at the windows.
Cianchette added, “Our effort for the next several years is ensuring that the horsemen make money so that they can keep their sport alive and strong so when we build a new facility that it is ready to go and has some of the best harness racing in the world to showcase.”
Maine Harness Horsemen’s Association president Mike Cushing was “in awe at the strides that were made by all involved” and also noted on a social media post, “for the first time in several years, our future is brighter today than it was 10 years ago.”
In fact, what had started just a few months ago seemed to build an entirely new sense of hope and camaraderie among those participating at Cumberland. Several social media posts noted the warmth and good will toward the facility from those racing, and many expressed sadness of the closing, ‘even if only for a few months.’
Maine horsemen and women are a vigorous group of equine enthusiasts and now embark on a 12-week tour of the agriculture fairs in the state, most of which that offer pari-mutuel wagering as well.
Action during the finale was a bit soggy, but that didn’t stop the Maine Standardbred Breeders Stakes (MSBS) action. Two divisions of 2-year-old pacing colts and geldings opened the 11-race card, with the first event going to favorite Ugotaearnyrstripes. Driven by Dave Ingraham for trainer Stephen La Casse, the Deuce Seelster gelding finally earned his stripes and new mark of 2:01.4 over a muddy track. Bred and owned by Ed Blash, he paid $2.80 to win. Storm Artist (Andy Harrington/Mark Tardif) finished second; Use Yah Blinkah (Heath Campbell/Valerie Grondin) was third.
The second division saw Bandolito Blaze take the wire-to-wire route to a 4-1/2 length victory for driver Heath Campbell and co-owner/breeder/trainer Valerie Grondin. The Western Maverick colt now has two consecutive MSBS victories at Cumberland. He paid $3.80 to win and is also co-owned by Rhoda Underhill, who was also quoted on the NBC news segment, “It was a little scary. Scarborough stopped so we didn’t know where we were going to be.”
Driver Dan Deslandes hit a grand slam, steering the winners of the last four races on the finale card, which started with a front-end score with Bo Master in the featured $6,500 Winners Over Pace. Grabbing his seventh win of the season, the 7-year-old son of Sportsmaster slogged through the only sub-2:00 mile of the day, winning in 1:59 over the -4 track allowanced surface. Also trained by Deslandes, Bo Master paid $9.60 to win.
Adding to his late-card success, Deslandes steered Beer League to his first victory in over 40 attempts. The 14-year-old son of Broadway Hall finally rang the dinner bell in the twilight of his career. The trotter was put on the engine and scored in 2:08 for trainer Mark Harris. Beer League paid $3.40 to win.
Bruce Ranger finished the meet on top of the driver’s colony with 44 wins in 184 starts and a UDR of .362. Drew Campbell was a close second with 38 victories and Dan Deslandes, Heath Campbell and Nick Graffam rounded out the top five.
Benson Merrill was the leading conditioner with 23 wins in 89 starts. Valerie Grondin was second (15), Sarah Gibbs third (12), with Chris Lefebvre and Bob Marston completing the quintet.
Racing resumes at First Tracks Cumberland for our winter meeting, beginning November 3rd and racing through December 31, 2021.
For more information go to our website: firsttrackscumberland.com.
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