Hunter Lofthus gets first lifetime win at Cumberland

December 11, 2023 – by Chris Tully, for First Tracks Cumberland (Joe Shaw photos)

CUMBERLAND, ME – A foggy winter morning made it impossible for fans and racing officials to see the backstretch, however, that didn’t slow down amateur reinsman Hunter Lofthus from getting his first pari-mutuel victory aboard Martaritaondarocks on Sunday (Dec. 10) at First Tracks Cumberland.

With the entire card’s results charts listing FOG at the quarter and three-quarter placements, the entire day was a challenge for the judges, announcer, television crew, race charter as well as invested and casual observers.  Nonetheless, all ten of the day’s races went off without a hitch, despite the lack of a clear field of vision.

When the wings folded and the field disappeared into the mist through the first turn, Lofthus had allowed all the early speed to leave and get position while he was content to sit back and let the race develop.  The opening panel was in :29.2, with no official running order published.

At the half Alex Richardson had Four Finger Floyd on the point and controlling the tempo, with Road Untraveled and Benson Merrill sitting in the two-hole.  Favored Patanjali N (Todd Whitney) was tracking closely in third with Hunter Lofthus and Martaritaondarocks moving first over from fifth position into the 1:00.3 half-mile marker.

According to Lofthus, he was able to flush the cover of Todd Whitney past the half.  It would have been anyone’s guess what happened next, so the winning driver provided his own account of the action as the race unfolded.

“I moved three-wide at the three-quarter pole, ahead of Todd Whitney” noted Lofthus.  “Coming around the last turn I was still three-wide and passed Benson Merrill and Alex Richardson.”

Track announcer Mike Cushing, who made lemonade out of lemons by filling in the gaps of invisibility stated, “emerging from the fog, it is Martaritaondarocks and Hunter Lofthus grabbing his first lifetime win!”

Lofthus recounts, “We cleared by the head of the stretch.  I never had to touch her.  I just spoke to her and she went faster and drew off until we won by five.”

Funny thing about fog is that it is a great equalizer…no one can see.  The horsemen on the backstretch were also hampered by the lack of visibility, so when Cushing announced that Hunter Lofthus had won, he heard “everyone in the paddock going crazy.”

Lofthus recalls the good-natured ribbing of his colleagues, “everyone was teasing me and giving directions to winners circle and asking if I cut through the infield to win.”

When Lofthus entered the winners circle, his girlfriend Emily Burgess was there to greet him.  In addition, several of the top drivers came to show their support, including Kevin Switzer Jr., Nick Graffam and Aaron Hall. 

Brandy MacKenzie the caretaker and wife of trainer Cain MacKenzie held the mare’s head following the mare’s third win in four starts.

“We are so thrilled for Hunter.  To be part of his first ever win has brought us so much joy and happiness, and we are so proud of him.  He has worked hard and improved a little with every race.  I can’t wait to keep watching him and see where he goes in the future,” said MacKenzie.

But this mare also holds a special place in Brandy MacKenzie’s heart.  “She has come into our barn and stole my heart and has proven her spot and that she belongs there.  She is a beast on the track and loves to win.  I think she is the best horse ever, but I might be a little biased.  She is the only female in the barn, and I am the only female at home, so us girls have to stick together!”

Aimee Nichols of Blue Seal Feeds was also on hand to provide the swag bucket trophy that has become synonymous with winning a Maine Amateur event.

One of the best sideshows in harness racing, these amateur events are wildly popular, well supported by the bettors, and are taking place weekly across multiple jurisdictions throughout the northeast and Midwest.  The Maine Amateur Driving Club (MADC ) is no exception, as this $4,400 leg enjoyed its sixth week of winter-time competition. 

MADC events are proudly sponsored by Blue Seal Feed Stores of North Yarmouth and Windham, Maine.

For Lofthus, it was his first victory in 22 attempts since 2022, with 17 starts this year.  The 35-year-old was born in Seattle, Washington, but now makes Monmouth, Maine his home and is a professional electrical lineman and tree expert.

Sunday’s card also included several legs of the Holly and Jack Frost late closing series, with purses increasing for next week’s divisions, and $10,000 finals slated for Dec. 24.

The two $5,000 Holly LC Pace legs were captured by Humor Me (1:58.4, $4.00, Aaron Hall) and (Whatchagonnadoboo (2:00.3, $3.80, Kevin Switzer Jr.).

Three $5,000 Jack Frost LC Trots went to: Knight Angel (2:01.2, $2.80, Aaron Hall); Inquiring Mind (2:02.1, $5.60, Steve Wilson); and Namesmuscle (2:02.3, $5.60, Aaron Hall).

Aaron Hall had three wins on the program, with Walter Case Jr. getting a driving double.

Racing resumes Friday (Dec. 15) as the Winter Festival continues at First Tracks Cumberland with our ‘December to Remember’ three-day weekends of racing.  The remainder of the holiday month enjoys a three-peat of Friday-Saturday-Sunday programs.  First post is 10:55 am each day, and runs through Christmas Eve, 2023. 

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