CURTAIN CLOSES ON CUMBERLAND SPRING/SUMMER MEET

August 6, 2021 – by Chris Tully, for First Tracks Cumberland (Stephanie Gray photos)

CUMBERLAND, ME – Following a twice-weekly schedule, the inaugural First Tracks Cumberland Spring/Summer 28-day extended pari-mutuel meeting which began on May 8 came to a triumphant conclusion on Thursday (Aug. 5) at the historic Cumberland Fairgrounds.

CEO Mike Cianchette stated to NBC Portland’s local news affiliate’s Don Carrigan, “The sport has centuries of history in Maine.  We have hopefully built a bridge to the next century of harness racing.”

The track’s labors have been rewarded by full entry boxes and plenty of fans on the apron and bettors at the windows.

Cianchette added, “Our effort for the next several years is ensuring that the horsemen make money so that they can keep their sport alive and strong so when we build a new facility that it is ready to go and has some of the best harness racing in the world to showcase.”

Opening Day Crowd (Chris Tully photo)

Maine Harness Horsemen’s Association president Mike Cushing was “in awe at the strides that were made by all involved” and also noted on a social media post, “for the first time in several years, our future is brighter today than it was 10 years ago.”

In fact, what had started just a few months ago seemed to build an entirely new sense of hope and camaraderie among those participating at Cumberland.  Several social media posts noted the warmth and good will toward the facility from those racing, and many expressed sadness of the closing, ‘even if only for a few months.’

Maine horsemen and women are a vigorous group of equine enthusiasts and now embark on a 12-week tour of the agriculture fairs in the state, most of which that offer pari-mutuel wagering as well.

Action during the finale was a bit soggy, but that didn’t stop the Maine Standardbred Breeders Stakes (MSBS) action.  Two divisions of 2-year-old pacing colts and geldings opened the 11-race card, with the first event going to favorite Ugotaearnyrstripes.  Driven by Dave Ingraham for trainer Stephen La Casse, the Deuce Seelster gelding finally earned his stripes and new mark of 2:01.4 over a muddy track.  Bred and owned by Ed Blash, he paid $2.80 to win.  Storm Artist (Andy Harrington/Mark Tardif) finished second; Use Yah Blinkah (Heath Campbell/Valerie Grondin) was third.

The second division saw Bandolito Blaze take the wire-to-wire route to a 4-1/2 length victory for driver Heath Campbell and co-owner/breeder/trainer Valerie Grondin.  The Western Maverick colt now has two consecutive MSBS victories at Cumberland.  He paid $3.80 to win and is also co-owned by Rhoda Underhill, who was also quoted on the NBC news segment, “It was a little scary.  Scarborough stopped so we didn’t know where we were going to be.”

To view the news segment, to go: https://www.newscentermaine.com/article/life/portland-area-businessman-reviving-harness-racing-in-southern-maine/97-1f1672c2-4af6-456f-9b5c-c76c6642fc89

Driver Dan Deslandes hit a grand slam, steering the winners of the last four races on the finale card, which started with a front-end score with Bo Master in the featured $6,500 Winners Over Pace.  Grabbing his seventh win of the season, the 7-year-old son of Sportsmaster slogged through the only sub-2:00 mile of the day, winning in 1:59 over the -4 track allowanced surface.  Also trained by Deslandes, Bo Master paid $9.60 to win.

Adding to his late-card success, Deslandes steered Beer League to his first victory in over 40 attempts.  The 14-year-old son of Broadway Hall finally rang the dinner bell in the twilight of his career.  The trotter was put on the engine and scored in 2:08 for trainer Mark Harris.  Beer League paid $3.40 to win.

Bruce Ranger finished the meet on top of the driver’s colony with 44 wins in 184 starts and a UDR of .362.  Drew Campbell was a close second with 38 victories and Dan Deslandes, Heath Campbell and Nick Graffam rounded out the top five.

Benson Merrill was the leading conditioner with 23 wins in 89 starts.  Valerie Grondin was second (15), Sarah Gibbs third (12), with Chris Lefebvre and Bob Marston completing the quintet.

Racing resumes at First Tracks Cumberland for our winter meeting, beginning November 3rd and racing through December 31, 2021.

For more information go to our website: firsttrackscumberland.com. 

Follow us on Facebook at @FirstTracksCumberland.

MISTER MUSCLE TAKES JAKE PHIPPS MEMORIAL TROT

August 1, 2021 – by Chris Tully, for First Tracks Cumberland (Stephanie Gray photos)

CUMBERLAND, ME – 1-5 favorite Mister Muscle made quick work of Saturday’s (July 31) Jake Phipps Memorial Trot at Cumberland, equaling his track record-tying performance of 1:57.3 for a second time in as many weeks.

Driven by leading reinsman Bruce Ranger for trainer Ryan Nelson, the 7-year-old son of Muscle Mass left alertly from his assigned, outside post six and charged to the front in a :27.2 opening panel.  Clearing to the lead by the 3/8 pole, Mister Muscle set the remaining fractions and powered to victory by 3 ¼ lengths for the 28th triumph of his career.

“It was great to win this race that was named after a young man that was loved by all and was so passionate about harness racing,” stated Ranger following the race.

Mister Muscle is owned by Mark Beckwith and paid $2.40 to win.  Bruizn finished second and Cherry Crown Jewel finished third, who is owned by Jake’s Phipps’ father Bill, and was on hand for the presentation, along with many members of the Phipps and Yarmouth Lumber extended family.

“Our entire family is grateful to First Tracks Cumberland for recognizing Jake today,” noted Bill Phipps.  “He is still dearly missed, but this race helps us keep his memory alive.”

A huge upset shocked the $6,500 Winners Over Pace where 40-1 longshot Terror Hall sat quietly in the three hole for the entire mile for driver/co-owner Wally Watson and sprung out in the stretch to win by a head over the Dan Deslandes trained and driven Bo Master in 1:56.1.

Trained and co-owned by Lisa Watson, the 8-year-old son of Western Terror picked up the 20th win of his career, paying a whopping $82.40 on a two-dollar ticket.  The Bus A finished third.

Two $12,498 divisions of the Maine Standardbred Breeders Stakes (MSBS) for two-year-old pacing fillies witnessed a slight reshuffling of the divisional sire stakes standings for leg two. 

Newcomer Wolverina driven by Nick Graffam for owner/breeder/trainer Mike Graffam emerged from third position in the stretch to overtake the pacesetters and capture her first lifetime pari-mutuel victory in 2:04.3.  The 2YO daughter of Cheyenne Hollywood paid $8.60 to win.  Mach Royal (Ron Cushing/Scott Pooler) finished second, Wicked Kissa (Mike Stevenson/Bob Marston) was third.

The second division of the MSBS was much more predictable as Pembroke Legacy extended her inheritance and returned to the winners circle for the second time in her fledgling season, in a much swifter 2:02.3.

Driven by Heath Campbell for trainer Valerie Grondin and owner/breeder Bill Varney, the 2YO daughter of Baron Biltmore paid $3.00 to win.  Sweet Baby G (John Beckwith/Fred Ward Jr.) finished second, Sheza Rebel (Kevin Switzer Jr./Marc Tardiff) was third.

A large crowd for the final Saturday card showed robust action at the betting windows, with the day’s handle just shy of $100,000 over the 12-race card.  In addition, a $10,000 guaranteed pick five carry-over is in play for our next card on Wednesday (Aug. 4).

The Spring/Summer meet at Cumberland continues and concludes on Wed. & Thurs., Aug. 4 & 5 with 11 am posts.  Racing resumes at First Tracks Cumberland for our winter meeting, beginning November 3rd and racing through December 31, 2021.

For more information go to our website: firsttrackscumberland.com

Follow us on Facebook at @FirstTracksCumberland.

Jake Phipps Memorial honors Maine Harness Racing Fan

Wednesday, July 28, 2021 — by Chris Tully, for First Tracks Cumberland

CUMBERLAND, ME – If you mention Jake Phipps to anyone around the state of Maine’s many pari-mutuel fairs and race tracks, you are likely to get a similar response, “That kid really loved harness horses.”

A third-generation horseman, Jason “Jake” Orrin Phipps was passionate about Standardbreds, and would be the first to grab Hoof Beats magazine from the family’s Yarmouth, Maine mailbox when it arrived.

“Whenever I expected to receive the latest issue, it could usually be found in Jake’s room, where he had scoured it from cover-to-cover,” exclaimed his dad Bill Phipps.  “This was usually several days before I got my hands on it, and by that time Jake had memorized much of the content and news.”

As a young adult, Jake worked as a shop assistant at the family’s trucking company, known as Yarmouth Lumber, Inc.  Founded by Jake’s grandfather, Orrin Phipps in 1951, it was originally a saw mill. Then the company transitioned to hauling lumber, and eventually adapted with the ebb and flow of business trends to 53’ dry vans that run up and down the northeast corridor.

Currently, the company has terminals in Gray, Maine and Morristown, New Jersey and primarily hauls Poland Spring bottled water products.  Orrin Phipps was also a horseman who trained and drove around Maine from the mid-1970s through 2011, and helped introduce Jake to the lure of racing harness horses.

Growing up in Yarmouth, Maine and graduating from Greely High School, at an early age Jake was exposed to the many fairs and commercial tracks that dot the Pine Tree State landscape.

“Jake loved horses almost immediately,” his dad Bill noted.  “By age five he started asking to go with my father and me whenever we went to Scarborough, Cumberland, Windsor, Union, Skowhegan, Fryeburg, Presque Isle, Bangor…any track in New England.  He insisted upon traveling with us.”

As Jake grew, so did his love for horses.  He started working in the stables with his grandfather Orrin Phipps, as well as in the barn with Maine legend Donnie Richards.

“Jake loved horses and could read a program.  Jake knew every horse in the barn and what every horse wore for equipment,” noted Richards’ long-time stable manager Donna Fenderson.  “He spent many summers with us, traveling around to all the fairs, helping us in the barn and working with our horses.”

Jake was rarely seen without his sunglasses and a golf cart, and had always kept himself on a strict regimen.  Having a daily routine is a common trait among individuals that have developmental disabilities or have been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. 

Because of his omnipresence, the Cumberland Fair provided Jake with a golf cart to take people to the winners circle.

“Jake knew everyone around the fairgrounds, and they all loved him.  He was quick to smile and help in any way he could,” noted long-time Cumberland Farmer’s Club president Mike Timmons.

The consistency of the racing schedule complimented Jake’s need for routine, and also gave him something to look forward to each race day.  His father Bill also had to accept the unwavering nature of Jake’s lifestyle.

“At our Yarmouth terminal, Jake made sure that the garbage cans all got emptied at 9:15 am, every day.  No matter what,” Phipps noted.  A prominent horse owner in the state of Maine, he also recalled that, “we always had to be home by 9:00 pm, because that is Jake’s shower time.  He never misses it, and he is never late.”

Jake’s schedule was very important to him, as was his work.  However, his office at the trucking depot had an indication as to the gravity that harness racing meant to his life.  A big sign on the door read, “Regular hours are 8 am to 5 pm.  Hours subject to change during the racing season!”

“He had a photographic memory,” Bill Phipps remembered.  “Any driver in our yard that wanted to know where a truck was or where it was going, Jake knew, right off the top of his head.”

Because of their affinity for harness racing, and their trucking business, each and every one the Phipps family’s Yarmouth Lumber semi-tractor trailers is adorned with a large magnetic sign that reads, “Maine Harness Racing – Fun to the Finish!” It also has a silhouette of a harness horse and driver.

The trucking company and harness racing stables were very much a family affair for the three generations of the Phipps clan.  Monday nights are family supper night, because they are usually racing on Sunday.

“They made me feel right at home,” stated Ben Kenney, the on-site manager for First Tracks Cumberland.  “When I arrived in April to start preparing for our meet, Bill invited me for dinner and I instantly became part of their extended family.”

Having traveled from across the country to facilitate the track’s renaissance, Kenney found the Phipps family suppers’ sort of a home away from home.

“If I am not at the door by 5:30 pm on any given Monday, Bill starts calling me, asking if I am going to make it,” Kenney continued.  “He is a great guy and has become a good friend.  We are honored to name this race after Jake who was such a big part of the local racing community.”

Jake Phipps passed away suddenly in 2012, and was laid to rest with one additional item by his side–the November 2012 issue of Hoof Beats.  He was a vibrant 36 years old, who kept hundreds of copies of the magazine in the eaves by his bedroom.

The Jake Phipps Memorial will be held at Cumberland on Saturday, July 31.  First post time is 2:30 pm, with the special event being carded as race nine on the full, twelve race program.

Joe Burke wins Maine Amateur Final

July 25, 2021 – Story and photos by Chris Tully, for First Tracks Cumberland

CUMBERLAND, ME – Joe Burke made all the right moves with his own Stonebridge Grand to pick-up the victory and the bragging rights in the $7,500 Maine Amateur Driving Club (MADC) final at Cumberland on Saturday, July 24.

Scoring from post five, the 43-year-old construction manager got away from the starting gate into third position.  Favorite Led Schneppelin (post 4, Mike McGee) assumed command, posting a :27.1 first quarter.  Noticing opportunity following a slower pace over the back half, Burke pulled the 6-year-old son of Camluck three-wide down the backside heading to the three quarters and overtook the leaders.

Burke kept Stonebridge Grand moving down the stretch amid a flurry of late closers, maintaining a neck advantage at the wire, tripping the timer in 1:59.2.  Rose Run Slider brushed quickly down the lane to be second for driver Derek Howes.  Wagering favorite Led Schneppelin hung on for third.

Trained by Bob Marston, Stonebridge Grand paid $17.00 to win.

In the winner’s circle presentation Burke noted, “This has been a great season for amateur racing in Maine and we are grateful for the support and opportunities to race that First Tracks Cumberland has provided us.”

Founded in 2002 by Buddy Burke, the Maine Amateur Driving Club has competed around the Maine commercial tracks and pari-mutuel fair circuit for the last two decades, and is also coordinated by Buddy’s son Joe Burke.

During the post parade for the MADC final, regular outrider Sherry Cushing allowed her trusty steed Leo to be “catch ridden” by one of Cumberland’s leading drivers Drew Campbell.  As the guest parade marshal trotted in front of the stands, the crowd cheered and Drew exchanged barbs with many of his fans and followers.

Each year the club selects a number of groups and organizations to race for.  At the end of the meet, they donate funds from their accrued drivers’ fees.  All told, the drivers raised and will personally contribute over $4,000 to the various charities, with more funds to be distributed during the winter meet.

This year the MADC will donate to: the Family of Ashley Brown, Eddie Davis Jr., Pacing for a Cure, Travis Mills Foundation, Homeless Animal Rescue Team of Maine, Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals, and the Standardbred Retirement Foundation.

In the $4,000 MADC consolation, the race was eerily reminiscent of several marquee events this season, as the horse that crossed the finish line first was disqualified for interference, with the judges declaring the second place finisher the official winner.

Three Day Forecast, driven by Alex Richardson, interfered with Winning Chip (Chris Lefebvre) going into the first turn and was taken down.  As a result, driver Adam Gray, who was back just a head at the wire, was granted the victory with his own Bettoriffic.

Owned, trained and driven by Adam Gray, the classy 12-year-old son of Bettor’s Delight was a recent acquisition by the Gray’s, whose wife Stephanie is also the track photographer.

Bettoriffic paid a whopping $71.80 to win, and was credited with a winning time of 1:58.1.

River Runs Deep (Eric Bickmore) was placed second; Gold Star Spider (Valerie Grondin) assumed third.

Coming back to the winner’s circle after the inquiry was settled, Gray stated, “It’s great to win with your own horse, we are real happy with him.  He’s been a good earner and this was a fun day to get the win.”

All MADC winners received a ‘swag bucket’ trophy of stable supplies on behalf of the Windham and North Yarmouth Blue Seal Feed stores, presented by territory sales manager Aimee Nichols.  In addition, several special gifts were provided to the final winner, compliments of the Maine Harness Horsemen’s Association.

Live harness racing from Cumberland continues next Wednesday (July 28) and Saturday (July 31), regular post time is 2:30 pm, with two additional dates added Wed. & Thurs., Aug. 4 & 5 with 11 am posts.  For more information go to our website: firsttrackscumberland.com

Follow us on Facebook at @FirstTracksCumberland.

Panajali N pulls upset in Legends mare final; Call Me Maverick stays on top

July 21, 2021 – by Chris Tully, for First Tracks Cumberland (Stephanie Gray photos)

CUMBERLAND, ME – Driver David Ingraham is no stranger to driving longshots.  Although respected by his peers, the 59-year-old reinsman is perhaps losing a few mounts to the up-and-coming young guns of Maine.

But that fact did not stop Ingraham from putting 6-1 fifth choice Patanjali N in perfect position to pounce on a tiring leader and win the $12,500 Donald Richards Maine Legends Pacing Series Final on Tuesday (July 20) at Cumberland.

Scoring from post two, Ingraham left alertly with Patajali N, forcing the favorite Media Queen N (post three, Bruce Ranger) to take command into a :27.4 first panel.  Tactician Ranger did his best to back off the pace to a :58.1 half, giving his mare a much-needed :31 second stanza breather.  But the damage may have already been done.  By the three quarter pole Ranger had pulled the plugs on Media Queen, and while witnessing firsthand the shortening strides Ingraham found room in the turn to pull the pocket and get up for a 2-length margin of victory in 1:56.4.

An 8-year-old mare by American Ideal, Patanjali N paid $14.20 to win for trainer Chris Lefebvre and owner Michelle Lefebvre.  Media Queen held on for second, who was noses apart from Mickey Blu (finished third, Drew Campbell) and Humor Me (finished fourth, Nick Graffam).

The Maine Legends pacing series trophies were sponsored by the Maine Harness Horseman’s Association and Blue Seal Feeds of North Yarmouth and Windham.

The Maine Standardbred Breeders Stakes (MSBS) for 3-year-old pacing colts and geldings witnessed 4-5 favorite Call Me Maverick (post six, Mike Stevenson) confirming his dominance, scoring in a seasonal best 1:57.2 over a rain-soaked track in the post time delayed third race.

A son of Western Maverick, Call Me Maverick drew post six in the second division with eight horses vying for the $10,402 purse, with just seven betting interests.  A Sweet Bidda Luck (post five, Ron Cushing) blasted away from the car to assume control and remained on the lead until the half-mile marker.  Stevenson pulled Call Me Maverick from third position and moved up swiftly to take command and continued to extend his lead with every stride, drawing off to win by nine lengths.

Owned and bred by Upland Farm, Call Me Maverick paid $3.60 to win for trainer Gordon Corey.  A Sweet Bidda Luck finished second, Whatawinwillie (post 1, Kevin Switzer Jr.) was third.

During the first MSBS, rain began to fall as the field went to the gate, changing the dynamic of the race.

Lord Dynamic (post 4, Matt Athearn) moved swiftly to the front when the wings folded and never looked back, winning his second Maine-sired event of the year, in a new lifetime mark of 1:59.1.  The sophomore son of Baron Biltmore is trained by Gretchen Athearn for owner and breeder Jason Vafiades.

Lord Magnetic paid $10.00 to win.  Paxton (post 5, Heath Campbell) finished second; Hollywood Skeeter (post seven, Nick Graffam) was third.

Matt Athearn, Dan Deslandes and Bruce Ranger all had driving doubles on the day’s card.  Leading conditioner Benson Merrill also won two.

The next card at Cumberland features the $7,500 Maine Amateur Driving Club Final on Saturday, July 24.

Live harness racing continues at Cumberland on Wednesday, July 28 and Saturday through July 31, post time is 2:30 pm, with two additional dates added Wed. & Thurs., Aug. 4 & 5 with 11 am posts.  For more information go to our website: firsttrackscumberland.com

Follow us on Facebook at @FirstTracksCumberland.

Merrill sweeps final Maine Amateur legs

July 18, 2021 – by Chris Tully, for First Tracks Cumberland (Stephanie Gray photos)

CUMBERLAND, ME – Leading Cumberland conditioner Benson Merrill showed that he is quite handy in the drivers seat as the 31-year-old reinsman swept both of the final legs in the Maine Amateur Driving Club (MADC) series on Saturday (July 17).

Sponsored by Blue Seal Feeds, ten drivers took a shot at the MADC title, and for Merrill it took him to his eleventh and twelfth attempts of the season to find the winners circle as a driver.  Certainly worth the wait as Merrill won the $3,800 sixth race ‘B’ group with his own Worth Watching in 1:58.1. 

Jumping out quickly from post two, Merrill sent the 11-year-old son of Western Terror out to take command of the field, setting smooth fractions and holding off a late-closing Baywood Shadow (Dalton Lee) to prevail by a two-length margin.  I Saw Red (Eric Bickmore) finished third.

Owned by Michael Wilson, Worth Watching paid $10.20 to win the 45th victory of his lifetime.

But Benson Merrill was not finished yet. In the $4,800 tenth race, MADC group ‘A’ Merrill piloted Velocity Sub Z like a seasoned veteran.

Leaving from post two, Merrill pushed hard to get the lead, only to be challenged on the outside by Plus One (Joe Burke) in a brutal :27.2 first quarter.  Heading to the 3/8 pole, Merrill smartly surrendered the lead to the parked favorite Plus One and series point leader Joe Burke.  But perhaps the damage was already done.  By the third panel, Merrill sensed a tiring leader and pulled the pocket.  Velocity Sub Z looked Plus One right in the eye and went right on by to grab the lead at the head of the stretch and win in 1:58.2.

Three Day Forecast (Alex Richardson) finished second; Led Schneppelin (Mike McGee) was third.

Owned and trained by Judson Merrill, Velocity Sub Z paid $13.60 to win.  Driver Benson Merrill was surrounded by four generations of family members in the winners circle as the connections accepted the ‘swag bucket’ trophy of stable supplies, presented by Melanie Locke on behalf of the Windham and North Yarmouth Blue Seal Feed stores.

With the victories, Merrill jumped from fourth to first place in the MADC standings.  On Saturday, July 24 the Maine Amateur Driving Club will compete for a $7,500 final, as well as make donations to a variety of local and national benefit organizations from funds accrued from driver’s fees of past MADC series.

The $6,500 Winners Over Trot, went to Bruizn (post four, Andy Harrington) who redeemed himself following an uncharacteristic break from post seven in his previous start.  The towering seven-year-old son of Musclini is owned by Dennis and Deborah Foss and was trained by Kim Ireland.

Bruizn paid $16.80 to win by a nose over Northern Skyway (post 6, Drew Campbell).

In Maine Standardbred Breeders Stakes action trainer Valerie Grondin had a one-two punch in her stable entry, that took the win and place pools with Pembroke Legacy (HN 1, Heath Campbell) and Pembroke Maddi (HD 1A, Drew Campbell) to grab the lion’s share of the $10,147 purse.  Both of the 2-year-old filly pacers are owned by Bill Varney, as they made their first of what will be a lengthy season of half-mile track racing around the Maine fairs.

Live harness racing from Cumberland is presented each Tuesday and Saturday through July 31, regular post time is 2:30 pm, with two additional dates added Wed. & Thurs., Aug. 4 & 5 with 11 am posts.  For more information go to our website: firsttrackscumberland.com

Follow us on Facebook at @FirstTracksCumberland.

Daliocity upsets in Legends at Cumberland

July 14, 2021 – by Chris Tully, for First Tracks Cumberland (Stephanie Gray photos)

CUMBERLAND, ME –  McGwire Sowers blasted Daliocity down the Cumberland homestretch to catch the tiring leaders and capture the second leg of the Freeman Parker Maine Legends Series on Tuesday (July 13) at Cumberland.

Following a vicious front-end speed duel between heavy favorite Southwind Terror (post 2, Nick Graffam) and longshot Safety Second (post 6, Dan Deslandes), Sowers had Daliocity (post 4) out and rolling in the final turn and was able to track down pacesetting Southwind Terror and the pocket sitting Gold Star Spider (post 3, Heath Campbell) to win the lion’s share of the $4,000 purse.

Nick Graffam moved veteran pacer Southwind Terror to the lead on the pylons right from the start, with Dan Deslandes moving Safety Second up swiftly to take a shot at the lead.  Gold Star Spider and Heath Campbell stuck closely to Graffam’s helmet, with the rest of the field some eight lengths behind the front-end fracas at the half.  Deslandes long-term plan turned out to be untenable as Graffam would not yield to the longshot and by the three-quarters Safety Second retreated back to his safe space. 

Past the third stanza, Heath Campbell pulled Gold Star Spider out of the pocket and edged past Southwind Terror going around the final turn and down the homestretch.   Sowers stuck like glue to the pacesetters through the turn and hit the accelerator to get up by a nose to grab the win at 6-1 and take a new seasonal mark of 1:56.

Trained and co-owned by Sara Gibbs with driver McGwire Sowers, the 7-year-old son of Dali now has 17 wins lifetime and $149,455 in earnings.  Daliocity paid $14.20 to win.  Gold Star Spider finished second, Southwind Terror was third.

Making the presentation to the winning Legends connections was Don Lambert, the assistant store manager for the North Yarmouth Blue Seal Feed with the popular ‘swag bucket’ trophy of stable supplies.

The top money earners in the two legs advance to the $12,500 final, which will be held Wednesday (July 21) at Bangor.

Two early, non-betting events featuring two-year-old trotters in the Maine Standardbred Breeders Stakes went smoothly for the freshmen products of the Pine Tree State. The colts raced first, competing for a prize of $9,192, which was the first purse start for all of these youngsters.  Winning the colt division was Katahdin Mark, a brown colt by Noble Venture, trained and driven to a wire-to-wire victory by Gary Hall in 2:07.2. Katahdin Mark was bred and is owned by James and Betsey Kelly. Chamorro (by Pembroke Slugger) finished second for driver Heath Cambbell and trainer Valerie Grondin.

Four trotting fillies chased $9,208 in the second non-betting event for Maine-bred babies.  Local trainer Valerie Grondin sent out the victorious Pembroke Cocktails (by Noble Venture) who was driven to a 2:08.2 clocking by Drew Campbell for owner Bill Varney.  Valerie Grondin-trained pupils also finished second (Pembroke Stormy), and fourth (Pembroke Faye).

Nick Graffam and Bruce Ranger each picked up driving triples on the Tuesday (July 13) card, along with Benson Merrill who enjoyed a training three-peat, and is now the leading trainer at the iconic Southern Maine oval. 

Looking back, we were remiss in reporting that driver Drew Campbell had five wins on the Saturday (July 10) card, which was the most ever dash wins by a driver in a single card at First Tracks Cumberland.  Drew Campbell is the second leading dash winner at the current Spring/Summer meet, behind leader Bruce Ranger by just six wins.  However, Campbell leads Ranger in Cumberland purse earnings $101,335 to $98,848.

Live harness racing from Cumberland is presented each Tuesday and Saturday through July 31, regular post time is 2:30 pm, with two additional dates added Wed. & Thurs., Aug. 4 & 5 with 11 am posts.  For more information go to our website: firsttrackscumberland.com

Follow us on Facebook at @FirstTracksCumberland.

Call Me Maverick gets the call at Cumberland

July 11, 2021 – by Chris Tully, for First Tracks Cumberland (Stephanie Gray photos)

CUMBERLAND, ME – Three divisions of the Maine Standardbred Breeders Stakes (MSBS) went postward on Saturday (July 10) at Cumberland, with series leader Call Me Maverick maintaining his dominance in front of a big, summer weekend crowd.

Winning his $9,918 division, Call Me Maverick got every call as driver Mike Stevenson led the successful son of Western Maverick through comfortable fractions which allowed the 3-year-old pacing gelding to scoot down the homestretch in :28.3 to win in 1:59.1 by two and one quarter lengths. 

Never beaten at his home track, the heavy favorite paid $2.60 to win, and now has three wins in four MSBS legs this season.  Owned and bred by Upland Farm, Call Me Maverick is another proud alumnus of the Gordon Corey Institute of Equine Erudition, with campuses in Pinehurst and Cumberland.

American Maverick (Kevin Switzer Jr./Marc Tardif) finished second, Brady To Gronk (Ron Cushing/Heidi Gibbs) was third.

Another favorite that won his $9,918 MSBS division was A Sweet Bidda Luck, also in 1:59.1, also from post one, also wire-to-wire.  Ron Cushing drove the son of Western Maverick for trainer Heidi Gibbs and owner Scott McKenzie, which is the gelding’s second win of the MSBS season.  Bred by Lynn-Marie Plouffe, A Sweet Bidda Luck paid $3.20 to win. 

Barely a whisker could separate Lord Magnetic (Matt Athearn/Gretchen Athearn), who finished second by half a length, from the dead heat for third between Hollywood Skeeter (Aaron Hall/Mike Graffam) and Whatawinwillie (Kevin Switzer Jr./Mark Tardiff).

In the third division, Paxxton locked bridles with Edelman heading to the three-quarters and proceeded to battle for the final three-eighths of a mile with the former besting his rival by half a length in 1:59.2.

Paxxton, driven by Heath Campbell for trainer Valerie Grondin, left alertly from post five and grabbed the lead into a swift :28.1 opening panel.  When the field hit the half in :59.3, Ron Cushing driving Edelman sensed the slow :31.2 second stanza and pulled the son of Western Maverick from the three hole.  Heading through the third turn those two locked eyes and never gave one another an inch until the wire where Paxxton prevailed by a short half length.  Whiskey Maverick (Aaron Hall/Michael Graffam), locked in on the pylons sat third through the final half and finished in that position.

A three-year-old son of Western Maverick, he is owned by Valerie Grondin and Rhoda Underhill and was bred by Warren and Joan Harp.  Paxton paid $4.60 to win.

The Glamour Boys return to town Tuesday (July 20) when First Tracks Cumberland welcomes the fifth leg of the Maine Standardbred Breeders Stakes (MSBS) for 3-year-old pacing colts and geldings, which culminates with a $80,000a final on October 16 at Bangor.

During week seven of the Maine Amateur Driving Club (MADC) series, sponsored by Blue Seal Feeds, current point leader Joe Burke put some distance on the rest of the club drivers by winning his third MADC in a row.

During the first half of the race, Todd Whitney driving Major Plans was cutting the mile and having things pretty much his own way.  But “Big” Joe Burke had other plans as he pulled the pocket going down the backside into a 1:30.1 third panel and continued to gain ground to win in 2:01 with his own Meetmeatthedance by a length and a half.

Trained by Robert Marston, the five-year-old son of A Rocknroll Dance lit up the tote board, paying $27.80 to win.  Charles “Butch” Eaton closed swiftly with Hoboken Hanover to be second, who is also second in the point standings.  Trainer/driver David Crochere finished third with Todd Whitney (third in points) and Major Plans hanging on to be fourth.

Returning, once again, to Cumberland to make the presentations to the winning amateur connections is Melanie Locke, store manager for both the local Blue Seal feed stores and presenting the ‘swag bucket’ trophies of stable supplies on behalf of the Windham and North Yarmouth Blue Seal Feed stores.

There will be just one more week for drivers to earn additional points toward the $7,500 final on Saturday, July 24, with the top seven point earners advancing to the finale.

The Maine Harness Horsemen’s Association and First Tracks Cumberland, in collaboration with Love To Race author Amber Sawyer, gave out several dozen signed copies of the children’s book to kids under 12 that were in attendance on Saturday. 

Live harness racing from Cumberland is presented each Tuesday and Saturday through July 31, post time is 2:30 pm, with two additional dates added Wed. & Thurs., Aug. 4 & 5 with 11 am posts.  For more information go to our website: firsttrackscumberland.com

Follow us on Facebook at @FirstTracksCumberland.

Maine HHA Sponsors Kids Harness Book Giveaway

July 8, 2021 – by Chris Tully, for First Tracks Cumberland

CUMBERLAND, ME – The Maine Harness Horsemen’s Association (MHHA), in collaboration with Love To Race author Amber Sawyer, will give a signed copy of the children’s book to the first twenty kids under 12 that attend the live harness racing at Cumberland on Saturday, July 10. In addition, First Tracks Cumberland has matched the 20 book sponsorship to raise the total give away to forty books.

“The MHHA is excited to attract young people to the harness races, and as a bonus, provide kids with an opportunity to meet an accomplished harness horsewoman-turned-author,” stated MHHA president Mike Cushing.

“We love this book and were pleased when offered the opportunity to help distribute copies to youngsters.”

Amber Sawyer will visit Cumberland as part of a whirlwind book signing tour that brought the author from her home state of Wisconsin to Goshen Historic Track and the Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame in New York, to the Meadowlands Racetrack in New Jersey and then on to the great state of Maine.

The book recounts the story of harness racehorse, Derek Bromac N. After racing in New Zealand as a 2-, 3-, and 4-year-old, Derek was shipped to California to begin his racing career in the United States. He immediately began dominating his competition at remarkable race times. This classy bay gelding found success wherever his travels took him and was often a barn favorite. His crazy antics of always sticking his tongue out while being harnessed, and on the racetrack, made him a horse that wouldn’t easily be forgotten.

From California to New Jersey, and every racetrack in between, he was driven by some of the most elite and talented in the harness racing business. He was always known as the horse that always “gave his all.”

Follow Derek’s narration, written by his owner Amber Sawyer, and beautifully illustrated by Tami Joe DeLisle.

Sawyer’s love for horses began at an early age, and as a little girl, she would ride on her father’s lap on the jog cart as he brought the horses back from the track to the barn.

A second-generation harness racer, Sawyer’s travels have led her to race horses in Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Dakota, and Minnesota.  

The well-traveled harness horsewoman said, “I have been fortunate enough to race, jog, or train hundreds of horses from first-time starters, to a former Hambletonian contender, a $400,000 winner, and even a former track record holder.”

Besides working full time and being a single mother, Sawyer is also a freelance writer for Hoof Beats, the largest Harness Racing magazine in the country, as well as writing for the Wisconsin Horseman’s News and the Wisconsin Harness Horseman’s Association.

Live harness racing from Cumberland is presented each Tuesday and Saturday through July 31, post time is 2:30 pm, with two additional dates added Wed. & Thurs., Aug. 4 & 5 with 11 am posts.  For more information go to our website: firsttrackscumberland.com

Follow us on Facebook at @FirstTracksCumberland.

Southwind Terror continues Cumberland dominance; Case wins

June 30, 2021 – by Chris Tully, for First Tracks Cumberland

CUMBERLAND, ME – Southwind Terror continued to do what he does best: win at Cumberland. 

Tuesday (June 29) the 11-year-old son of Camluck made his sixth visit to the iconic fairgrounds winners circle, winning the $5,200 top conditioned pace of the day in 1:55.1 with regular driver Nick Graffam at the controls.  In fact, Southwind Terror has never lost a race at First Tracks Cumberland and is currently enjoying a five-race winning streak, where is has consistently been the wagering favorite.

SOUTHWIND TERROR gets fifth win in a row! (Stephanie Gray photo)

How the horse ended up, and stayed in the barn of trainer Christopher Hitchcock is nothing short of a miracle as a search on the USTA’s Pathway indicates that Southwind Terror has had over 25 different individual owners in his lifetime.

“My brother Mike bought him for our owner Mike Pease from a trainer in Saratoga back in 2019, well before the pandemic,” explained Chris Hitchcock.

“At that time we had 30 horses in the barn, and we worked together.  Then, when everything shut down, my brother Mike moved most of the stable to Ohio.  I stayed in Maine with a few and got a full time job in the landscaping industry.”

Southwind Terror made the rounds in the Buckeye state, first racing at Scioto when they were the first track to reopen.  Then the horse got claimed.  Over the ensuing year, the horse went to Dayton, then Northfield, then Rosecroft.  Over a year later trainer Chris Hitchcock got him back.

“He’s not the easiest horse to be around.  He can be tough,” noted Hitchcock.  “But his caretaker Emma (Libby) does a great job with him.  She puts poultice on his feet the night before he races, walks him, grazes him, and feeds him carrots.  Grass—lots of grass.  When it’s not too hot he gets turned out after he races.  Emma really does a great job with him.”

Emma Libby with Southwind Terror (Chris Tully photo)

So what’s the key to all the success? 

Hitchock says matter-of-a-factly, that “Every horse has their lucky streak, he’s just sharp now.  With only four horses in the barn we can give them all the attention they deserve.”

Interestingly, a horse that also seems to be getting some attention nowadays is this horse’s “brother” Southwind Amazon.  Both are 11-year-old sons of Camluck, both were bred and raised in 2010 by Southwind Farms in New Jersey, and both are on a winning streak.

Southwind Amazon is from the Artsplace mare Artoonist and is the co-leading dash winner in North America with 11 seasonal victories and just set the 1:52 all-age track record at Northville in Michigan.  Southwind Terror is from the Abercrombie dam Tattoo Hanover, which gives these two star pacers an abundance of the same blood.  In addition, they were born just two weeks apart in the same foaling barn in Pennington, NJ.

Hitchcock does not seem to be too concerned about losing him for his $8,000 optional claiming tag.  “I just wish that I had four more just like him.  You have to treat them same if you have 5 or 35—I believe in them getting good care.”

In other racing action, it only took three tries for Walter Case Jr. to return to the winners circle, something the tenth all-time leading dash winning driver has done over 11,000 times.  Tuesday (June 29) ‘Casey’ sprung Trotting For Cash from the starting gate from the outside post six and never looked back.  Case steered the 4-year-old son of Cash Hall to a 2:01.3 victory for trainer James Dunn and owner Diane Dunn.  He paid $12.80 to win. 

Walter Case Jr gets his first win after a four-year absense (Stephanie Gray photo)

Following a four year absence, Case had two starts on Saturday (June 26) and came right back to win the opener on Tuesday, where he had three additional drives on the nine race card.  Drew Campbell and Nick Graffam both had driving doubles.

Live harness racing from Cumberland is presented each Tuesday and Saturday through July 31, post time is 2:30 pm, with two additional dates added Wed. & Thurs., Aug. 4 & 5 with 11 am posts.  For more information go to our website: firsttrackscumberland.com

Follow us on Facebook at @FirstTracksCumberland.