June 2, 2024, by Chris Tully, for First Tracks Cumberland (Joe Shaw photos)

CUMBERLAND, ME – Keystone Phoenix and Walter Case Jr. paced away from the field en route to a benchmark lowering 1:54.1 romp in the $6,000 feature at Cumberland Raceway on Saturday (June 1).

Scoring from the track’s ‘sweet spot’ post 4, Case put his charge right on the lead and played ‘catch me if you can’ with the rest of top pacers.  Despite a mild brush into the 28.0 opening panel to get past the pylon-protecting Miss U Big Mike (Dan Deslandes), the pacesetting duo then rolled through the half unfettered in 57.0.

Gaining ground with every stride, bystanders and horsemen alike knew something special was about to happen with the pair were comfortably on top by four at the three-quarters and the timer flashed an exciting 1:25.0, which is a rarity at the iconic Southern Maine oval.

With the battle for second the only lingering concern, Case rolled the 6-5 favorite through the final turn with just two remaining variables: how fast, and by how many?

The margin of victory was an open 5-1/2 lengths and when the timer read 1:54.1 it indicated a new track record for an aged gelding, which was just two ticks off the all-age track record of 1:53.4.

Trained by Ryan Hall and owned by P T Stable, the 10-year-old son of Well Said paid $4.60.  Keystone Phoenix, a foal of 2014, hails from the famed Hempt Farms Pennsylvania nursery, which was founded by Harness Racing Hall of Famer Max C. Hempt in 1942.

Rocksapatriot (Dave Ingraham) finished second; Instant Replay (Mike Stevenson) was third.

It was the third victory of the day for the connections of trainer Ryan Hall and owner P T Stable (Patrick Tortofello), who had two earlier scores with Kevin Swizter Jr. driving: Thorn Road (1:56.0; $3.80) and The Downtown Bus (1:57.0; $3.00).

Walter Case Jr. also enjoyed three wins on the card.  The first occurred in the opener with Marc Tardif’s Pickmepickme (1:57.3; $4.80), and the second a tote-board busting $28.80 with Benson Merrill’s Ten Beaches Later (1:57.3).

The Maine Amateur Driving Club (MADC) is relishing a resurgence of activity with the past few weeks witnessing two $5,000 divisions in each program, with some familiar faces basking in the beam of the photo finish light.

Despite being assigned post 7, Hunter Lofthus grabbed his second win in a row with his own Forrest Blu, taking the first division by a scant neck in 2:00.0 and paying $8.40 to his backers. 

Hunter ‘Hot Lead’ Lofthus is now well atop the drivers standings in the MADC, which is quite impressive given the fact that he got his first lifetime win just 6 months ago.  An electrical lineman and tree expert by trade, Lofthus has 54 points, which puts him ahead of Benson Merrill (46) and Todd Whitney (36) in the top three. 

Relative newcomer Jonathan Bresnahan picked up his first win of the season, after just three starts in the MADC series.  Bresnahan scored with a catch drive aboard Hula’s Boy in 2:01.0, who is trained by Logan Lanpher.  They paid $7.60 to win. The MADC is sponsored by the Blue Seal Feed Stores of North Yarmouth and Windham, Maine.

The leading driver at Cumberland through eight weeks of racing is Kevin Switzer Jr., who has a commanding 35 wins, ahead of Dan Deslandes (22), Bruce Ranger (17), Walter Case Jr. (16) and Drew Campbell (15.)

The leading Cumberland conditioner is Jeff Deslandes with 21 wins, followed by trainers Lester Dancer (11), Sara Harrington (10) and Bob Marston (10).

Racing resumes Friday (June 7) where the track will offer its regular slate of wagering options on the live harness racing card, with the addition of a $5,000 Pick-5 guarantee.  Early betting on the Belmont Stakes will also be available.  

In addition, First Tracks Cumberland is proud to offer simulcasting from Saratoga Race Course on Saturday (June 8) for the 156th renewal of the Test of the Champion, the $2,000,000 Belmont Stakes, with doors opening at 12 noon.

The First Tracks Cumberland meet continues throughout upcoming Summer months with regular racing on Friday and Saturday each weekend during the extended pari-mutuel meeting, which runs through August 3.  Post time is always 3:15 pm.

For additional information, visit our website at firsttrackscumberland.com, or find us on social media at https://www.facebook.com/FirstTracksCumberland/