Santa and Series finals highlight closing day at Cumberland

December 24, 2023 – by Chris Tully, for First Tracks Cumberland

CUMBERLAND, ME – The final day of the Cumberland’s Winter Festival extended pari-mutuel meet included an appearance by Santa Claus in the first race, along with a thrilling dead heat in the $10,000 Holly Late Closer Final on Christmas Eve Sunday (Dec. 24).

In the $7,000 Gingerbread consolation opener the judges approved a late ‘driver change’ on the five horse He Can Rock to Jolly ol’ Saint Nick himself, as the spirit of Christmas hustled his charge to the lead following a feisty :28.2 opening panel.

After clearing before the half in :59, Kris Kringle held on through the third panel of 1:28.2 but was enveloped by fresh horses down the lane with a blanket finish going to Quick Fun N at 20-1.

Driven by Steve Wilson, he paid $42.00 to win in 1:59.2.

Four individual $10,000 late closing finals highlighted the closing card, the first going to Namesmuscle in the Jack Frost Trot in 2:00.4.  Driven by Nick Graffam for trainer Aaron Hall and owner Bill ‘Yarmouth Lumber’ Phipps, he paid $9.80 to win.

The $10,000 Gingerbread final went to Lucan Hanover and owner-trainer-driver Aaron Hall by a neck from post seven.  Scoring in 2:00, they paid $11.20 to win.

In the $10,000 Rudolph Late Closer the unstoppable Art Of Endurance took his fifth win in a row, scoring in 1:57.4.  Driven by Kevin Switzer Jr., the 5-year-old son of Artspeak is trained by Benson Merrill and owned by John and Thelma Kiernan and Tom Bemont.  He paid $2.80 to win.

The holiday crowd was treated to an exciting dead heat in the $10,000 Holly final between Pretty Gorgeous (Kevin Switzer Jr.) and Whatchagonnadoboo (Walter Case Jr.).  The latter was bred and is owned and trained by Eric Bickmore, where the former, Pretty Gorgeous, is trained by Benson Merrill and also owned by Thelma and John Kiernan.

The Kiernan’s own a farm in Augusta, Maine, but are originally from Montgomery, New York and now call Gardiner, NY home.  They were also hand for yesterday’s Au Revoir Showcase.

“It’s been a long time coming,” noted John Kiernan when asked about his two victories in the late closing finals.  “The Standardbred industry has been very good to me over the years, so I am happy to give back.”

An educator for 35 years in the Pine Bush (NY) School System, Kiernan was also a trainer-driver at Monticello Raceway. 

“We consider ourselves Mainers now, and look forward to racing the horses we bred in the Maine Sire Stakes in the future.”

Dakota Jackson won the $8,000 winter Maine Amateur Driving Club (MADC) final with Kasey John A in 1:58.4.  As always, the MADC events are sponsored by the Blue Seal Feed Stores of North Yarmouth and Windham.

Kevin Switzer Jr. had three wins on the program, making him the leading Cumberland’s dash winning driver of the 2023 racing season with 81 victories.  Bruce Ranger was second with 76.  Jeff Deslandes (33) and Benson Merrill (32) were the leading conditioners.

First Track Cumberland enjoyed a $557,000 gross handle over the final weekend, with the percentage of winning favorites at 35% and currently the lowest in North America of all harness tracks.

Racing resumes at Cumberland in April 2024 for another extended pari-mutuel racing season, with over 50 dates already approved the Maine State Harness Racing Commission.

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