Retirees help pack Cumberland Late Closers

December 7, 2023 – by Chris Tully, for First Tracks Cumberland (Stephanie Gray photo)

CUMBERLAND, ME – Race secretary Rob Pennington hit a home run with his holiday-themed winter late closing series, resulting in the presentation of over a dozen legs of four individual series being contested over the upcoming three-day (Dec. 8 – 10) weekend at First Tracks Cumberland.  With a total of $68,800 in first leg purses alone, the series conditions were obviously a big hit with the Maine horsemen, as well as soon-to-be retirees.

Mike Cushing, president of the Maine Harness Horsemen’s Association agreed.  “These Late Closer Series offered by First Tracks Cumberland have offered our hearty Maine Horsemen and women the opportunity to race for decent money right through the closing weekend.”

Cushing, who also serves as track announcer during the winter months concluded, “The fact that trainers have entered 14 full fields of horses in these series shows their commitment to what was once considered off-season racing in the state of Maine.”

Friday’s card boasts six divisions of the first leg of the Gingerbred Late Closer for pacers that were non-winners of $20,000 this year as of Nov. 30, etc.  Each leg goes for $4,800 this week and will increase to $5,500 next week with a $10,000 final on Christmas Eve.  The series drew a total of 46 entrants for the preliminary round, with several horses that last raced at Plainridge enjoying a shorter commute this week.

The third race features veteran pacer Twin B Impressive being handled by veteran driver-owner Bruce Ranger.  The 8-5 morning line favorite scores from pylon position in the second division of the Gingerbred series.  The 14-year-old son of super sire Bettor’s Delight is also slated for our Au Revoir retirement ceremonies on Saturday (Dec. 23).  Although Cumberland will host a special race for 14-year-old retirees on that date, it is likely the Twin B Impressive will have to wait an extra day to close out his career in the Gingerbred final.

Another duel Gingerbred-Au Revoir participant is Ira Chief who will score from post four in race seven with Nick Graffam handling the lines.  Trained by Mike Graffam and owned by Chris Hamilton, the 14-year-old son of Chief Silverheels has 52 wins lifetime and amassed in $558,372 in career earnings.  He is listed as the 7-2 second choice in his division.

Rounding out the Gingerbred fields is Cee Pee Panic, the third horse in the twilight of his career that is also scheduled for retirement honors this season.  The 14-year-old son of Perfect Union is trained by Benson Merrill and is owned by Hudson Valley residents John and Thelma Kiernan and Tom Bemont.  At 9-2 on the morning line in the 11th race finale, Garrett Mosher gets the call on the seasoned veteran making his 398th career start.

Saturday’s (Dec. 9) card features three $5,000 divisions of the Rudolph Late Closer Pace, Leg 1, for NW $25,000 in 2023, etc., which bumps up to $6,000 next week and includes a $10,000 final.

In addition, fan favorite gray horse and soon-to-be retired Putnam’s Storm will race for his 85-year-old owner-trainer-driver Bob Nadeau.  Much has been written about the sport’s fastest Maritime-bred ghostly pacer, and shall suffice to say that many a tear will be shed when we bid Au Revoir to this proud sidestepper.

On the Sunday (Dec. 10) program the Holly Lane and Jack Frost late closers also enjoy two and three divisions respectively.

The $5,000 Holly Lane Pace for fillies and mares NW $25,000 in 2023, etc. is filled with veteran mares along with a few sophomore fillies looking to remain active now that their state programs have concluded.  That series jumps to $6,000 a division next week and goes for a $10,000 final on Dec. 24. 

The trotting counterpart Jack Frost Trot also enjoys $5,000 divisions this week, $6,000 next week with a $10,000 final.  In fact, all four of the above listed late closing series have the potential for $7,000 consolation races, if entries permit, making this one of the most lucrative programs ever offered at First Tracks Cumberland.

Another highly anticipated event is the $4,400 sixth leg of the Maine Amateur Driving Club (MADC) race and is slated for Sunday, which includes Au Revoir participant Supreme Mach N.  Owner-trainer-driver Dalton Lee guides the winner of 46 races lifetime in the opener from the outermost post 8.  As always, the MADC events are sponsored by the Blue Seal Feed Stores of North Yarmouth and Windham.

Neverdie rounds out the six 14-year-old Au Revoir horses that continue to put in the miles.  Co-owned by trainer Mike Cushing and driver Steve Wilson (with Mike Graham), the veteran son of Credit Winner boasts 52 lifetime victories, and as his name suggests, will never say die.

Sixteen horses in all have committed to the Au Revoir retirement ceremonies.  The above mentioned horses will also be joined by: Drunk And Dramatic, Fuzzylegsandall, J J S Jet, Mountain Rock, Natural Breeze, Northview Punter N, Nucular Enemy, Penney’s Spirit, Remix and Stardust Memories.

The Winter Festival continues at First Tracks Cumberland with our ‘December to Remember’ three-day weekends of racing.  The entire holiday month enjoys a three-peat of Friday-Saturday-Sunday programs.  A total of 32 races will be offered over the upcoming Dec. 8 – 10 span.  First post is a now few minutes earlier, slated for 10:55 am each day.

Racing at Cumberland continues three days each week through Christmas Eve, 2023. 

For more information go to our website: Follow us on Facebook at @FirstTracksCumberland