East Rutherford, NJ — On a Saturday evening (Dec. 12) that looked more like a scene out of the Stephen King novel “The Mist” than a night at the races, Ana Afreet N came blazing out of the pocket to gun down American History in the $28,000 Preferred Handicap for pacers at The Meadowlands.
The weather was anything but cooperative for what was supposed to be a 13-race card, as after the first race where the horses were visible for only the first and final sixteenths of the mile, races two and three were canceled and race four did not go until 90 minutes after the first hit the finish. When racing resumed, it was much of the same as far as seeing – or not seeing – the races. Until the ninth race, that is.
The feature had not only Ana Afreet N (George Napolitano Jr.) and American History (Andrew McCarthy), but also fan-favorite Highalator (Rick Still), who was seeking his sixth Big M win of the year from only eight starts. It was too good to miss.
And the weather gods agreed.
The fog lifted to reveal the first race of the night that could be viewed from start to finish, and after the three headliners all left the gate alertly, Ana Afreet N had a slight advantage out of the first turn before Highalator hustled up to take the top at the quarter.
Napolitano Jr. used Ana Afreet N once again, immediately moving back to the point, and as he did, even-money choice American History – seeking his fourth straight score – followed that foe and cleared the top at the half in :54.3.
American History led the field to the head of the stretch and looked strong on the point, but with a little more than a sixteenth of a mile to go, Ana Afreet N came calling one last time from out of the pocket and wore down the leader nearing the wire to record a 1-length score in 1:49.3. Highalator held on for third.
“This horse amazes me,” said Napolitano. “When I started driving him, he really wasn’t that good. I was told he was really lazy but he had plenty of late pace in a race when I first started driving him and thought he had some talent. So I had a little talk with him, and then the next week we started rattling off wins because I started feeding him racetrack.
“I knew he was a special horse, but I didn’t know how special until tonight. He beat good horses and he did it the right way. I have a lot of confidence in this horse. He felt so good around the far turn. [Trainer] Jeff [Cullipher] actually texted me and said, ‘Wow, what a fun race to watch.’ I love driving for that guy.”
Ana Afreet N, a 5-year-old son of Bettor’s Delight-Anna Livia who is owned by Pollack Racing and Cullipher, returned $6.60 to win as the 2-1 second choice in the wagering. He’s won four of his last six at The Big M, with a nose separating him from victory in the two defeats. Lifetime, he’s won 22-of-43 starts, good for earnings of $164,220.
The fog made things difficult on the judges, horsemen and fans alike, and track Chief Operating Officer and General Manager Jason Settlemoir voiced his appreciation: “I have never quite seen fog like I saw tonight in East Rutherford, New Jersey. After the first race, I never thought we would get any more races in. Due to the timing issues with Lasix we canceled races two and three and set a post time of 9 p.m. for the fourth race and we were able to get the balance of the race card in. I want to extend my extreme gratitude and appreciation to the New Jersey Racing Commission judges, the horsemen and women, along with our employees for tonight’s herculean effort to work together and get the races in.”
A LITTLE MORE: Trainer Nifty Norman’s Let It Ride N made it three wins in as many starts since arriving from Australia. The 7-year-old gelded son of Rock N Roll Heaven-Love A Gamble crushed a solid high-end field of conditioned pacers in a night’s-fastest – and lifetime best – 1:48.4 as the 1-5 favorite with Dexter Dunn doing the driving. … All-source handle totaled $1,282,387 on the fog-marred shortened program. … Racing resumes Friday at 7:15 p.m.