August 6, 2023, by Chris Tully, for First Tracks Cumberland (Stephanie Gray photos)
CUMBERLAND, ME – Plainridge invader Skyway Victor was a confident 1:54.2 winner in Cumberland’s featured closing day event, the $25,000 Pine Tree Invitational Pace. One of the swiftest miles of the 33-day meet, driver Kevin Switzer Jr. was parked out most of the mile to score by 1-3/4 lengths over anxious pacesetter The Bird Dance N.
When the wings folded the restless, front-running The Bird Dance N (Nick Graffam) assumed his usual spot on point, setting a sharp 27.1 opening panel. Not content to sit in the three-hole, Switzer Jr. pulled his charge Skyway Victor out going to the quarter mile marker and was thwarted for the front around the three-eighths pole and through the second turn.
As the field straightened out to go by the stands the second time, Switzer Jr. ducked his horse to the pylons as the top pacers hit the half in 56.1. Skyway Victor was half-in, half-out going around the five-eighths paddock turn and then committed to the outside before the 1:25.1 third panel, where he was again toe-to-toe with the The Bird Dance N, eventually poking a nose in front.
By the head of the stretch Swizter Jr. had established a short lead but then started to gain some additional separation as the field rushed down the stretch to the wire. Skyway Victor, as the even money favorite, prevailed while equaling the track record for aged pacing geldings.
Trained and co-owned by Mark Eaton with Robert Griffin, the 5-year-old son of Tellitlikeitis picked up his 20th career victory. He paid $4.20 to win.
The Wild Card (Bruce Ranger) finished second; Cigars And Port (Wally Watson) was third.
The $10,000 Charles Malia Distinguished Service Invitational Trot was captured by heavy favorite Nows The Moment by driver Mike Stevenson for trainer Mr. Allison MacDonald.
Scoring in 1:57.1, the time was just a tick off the track record for older trotting geldings. Owned by Sonya MacDonald, it was the 39th victory of his illustrious career, putting the 8-year-old Credit Winner gelding’s lifetime earnings at $643,222. He paid $2.20 to win. Luvcrunchess (Kevin Switzer Jr.) finished second; Pembroke Regal (Heath Campbell) was third.
The race recognized the dedication to Maine harness racing that presiding judge Charles Malia faithfully provided during his decades of officiating at area racetracks. With Mr. Malia on hand to receive the recognition, the winners circle was packed with the owners’ connections and well-wishers of the retired PJ.
The $10,000 Maine Amateur Driving Club final was won by Todd Whitney driving Airspinder to a 1:56.3 score, winning by a quarter-length over Benson Merrill and Art Of Endurance. Airspinder paid $7.80 to win. Chumlee A (Ryan Hall) was third. The race was sponsored by the Blue Seal Feed stores of Windham and North Yarmouth.
The undercard also had several $10,000 Pop-Up series finals and make-up races, as well as four divisions of the Maine Sire Stakes, making the day one of the richest overnight cards in the track’s history, boasting over $175,000 in purses.
Bruce Ranger maintained his position atop the drivers’ standings through the Spring-Summer meet, finishing with 54 wins. Kevin Switzer Jr. was second with 48; Nick Graffam (37), Drew Campbell (36) and Aaron Hall (35) rounded out the top five. The leading trainers were Jeff Deslandes (22) and Chris Lefebvre (21); with Eric Bickmore, Sara Harrington and Benson Merrill each with 15.
Racing resumes for the Cumberland Fair on September 24 for a seven-day meet. First Tracks Cumberland’s extended winter pari-mutuel meeting starts November 5 and runs through Dec. 24.
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