Eliminations for the important two year old trotting stakes, the Merrie Annabelle and Peter Haughton Memorial, were contested at the Meadowlands on Friday night and the meet's leading driver and defending champ Yannick Gingras swept all three races.
With a dozen fillies entered in the Merrie Annabelle, byes were offered to and accepted by top money winners Cee Bee Yes and Shake It Cerry. That left ten fillies to pare down to eight and Lifetime Pursuit continued to impress and remain unbeaten with a comfortable 1:55.2 score, matching her record. Yannick moved her to the front by the three eighths and the race, for all intents and purposes, ended there. Cooler Schooner held the place and Heaven's Door raced well to be third after an early miscue.
By winning the elimination, Lifetime Pursuit gains the advantage of having her connections select her post position for the $321,700 final on Hambletonian Day. She is trained by Hall of Famer Jimmy Takter, who holds a very strong hand for the final. The Cantab Hall - Queen Of Grace filly is a homebred, owned by Hall of Famer George Segal's Brittany Farms.
The Peter Haughton Memorial drew fourteen entrants, so two fields of seven went postward with ten advancing. Southwind Spirit, one of the more visible representatives of Muscle Hill's successful first crop, rebounded from a narrow defeat in the NJSS final to win the first division. Gingras set him out in the passing lane up the backstretch and ground up uncovered, moving away to a clear 1:57.3 win. Derby rallied in the stretch but could cut into the margin, while Quikwit held for third.
Ronnie Burke trains the colt, who is owned by Burke Racing Stable, Weaver-Bruscemi, LLC and Stable 45.
The second elimination shaped up as a rematch between two very good colts and Father Patrick avenged his only career loss by nipping Nuncio in the shadow of the wire, trotting the fastest mile in the history of the stake, 1:53.4, albeit in an elimination. The Cantab Hall colt from Gala Dream will also have the opportunity to settle an old score for his brother, Pastor Stephen, who won the Haughton final in 2010 but was disqualified.
Father Patrick, also a Brittany bred, is owned a group that is identified by the colt's name. He is trained by Takter and was driven by Gingras. Yannick will have a pair of choices going into the $280,500 Haughton final, deciding between winning colts for his mount and then the starting point for his selection.
Betting handlewas solid once again, total handle topped $2.4 million, an increase of 46-percent. In addition, live handle was up 25-percent on pleasant evening in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
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