April 9, 2022, by Chris Tully for First Tracks Cumberland

CUMBERLAND, ME – The first harness races in the state of Maine for 2022 started off with a bang as open trotter Northern Skyway won the opener on Friday (April 8) as the First Tracks Cumberland Spring/Summer meet got underway.

Driver Nick Graffam settled Northern Skyway into third position from post four as Swan Fine Lady (Ron Cushing) and Sortie Hanover (Kevin Switzer Jr.) tussled for control of the tempo in the first race, a $6,500 Open Trot I at the iconic Cumberland Fairgrounds.

Northern Skyway (Nick Graffam) took the opener on Cumberland’s season opener Friday.
(PHOTO CREDIT: Stephanie Gray)

Mild favorite Swan Fine Lady continued to show the way through fractions of 28.4 and 1:00.2.  When the field moved down the backside for the final time, Graffam tipped Northern Skyway and continued wearing down the leaders into a 1:30 third-quarter and prevailed by three-quarters of a length at the wire in 2:00.2, for a 29.4 last quarter.

Trained by Jim Dunn for owners Tony Loika and Brad Veileux, the 7-year-old son of Guccio earned his 33rd career victory in the triumph, a third of which he picked up last season.  Northern Skyway paid $8.60 to win.

Conditioner Jim Dunn picked up a total of two wins on the program.

Swan Fine Lady finished second, with Vesuvio Bi (Bruce Ranger) getting up for the show dough.

A mild upset marked the $6,000 Open Trot II on the card, as Kevin Switzer Jr. boldly steered Little Macabee to victory in race 5, paying $21.60 to win.

Nick Graffam and Thruway left hard against the contention of Andy Harrington and Tough Mac and ultimately gained control after a stinging 28.4 first quarter.  The race positions were relatively unchanged through 1:00.4 and 1:30.4 second and third stanzas when Swizter Jr. was forced to take Little Macabee three wide around the final turn.  With more trot left in the tank than the tiring leaders, the 8-year-old son of Chapter Seven showed his back class and prevailed by 1 ¼ lengths.

Trained by Eric Bickmore for owner Maryann Tompkins, it was Little Macabee’s 27th career victory, and third win in his last four outings at Cumberland.  Eric Bickmore enjoyed two trips to the Blue Seal Feeds Winners Circle on Friday’s card.

Wagering favorite Storm Bridger (Aaron Hall) finished a valiant second after he was also forced to come from off the pace to catch the fatiguing frontrunners.  Thruway hung on to be third.

Bruce Ranger, Wally Watson and Dan Deslandes all enjoyed driving doubles on the inaugural program.  Trainer Chris Lefebvre hit the board with all four of his entries, winning three.

In an amazing display of horsemanship, veteran driver John Beckwith was unseated when French Moni went off-stride in the first turn and made contact with a light pole.  Beckwith was unseated, however, miraculously maintained control of the lines and was able to gather up the 8-year-old son of Love You and move him to the outside before the field made it to the 3/8’s pole.  Unhurt and unfazed, neither the horse nor the driver were any worse for the wear, and will return to race another day.

First Tracks Cumberland’s opening weekend marks the first Standardbred racing dates of the year in the state of Maine, which continues on Saturday (April 9) with another 12-race card.

Post time for the Spring/Summer meet is set for 3 p.m. on both Fridays and Saturdays, with the extended pari-mutuel meeting racing each weekend through July 23.

Next week features the first legs of our ‘Kick-Off’ Late Closing Series for pacers, with the top class going for a $12,000 final the following week.  See the condition sheet on the USTA online entry system, or our website, for more details.

More information can be found on our website: https://firsttrackscumberland.com and on our Facebook page: First Tracks Cumberland.