Yonkers, NY – When Delightfulmemphis wheeled first-over on heavy favorite Bettor Joy in the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series first leg March 15, trainer Nifty Norman didn’t have high hopes.
As rain poured down and the track quickly changed from fast to sloppy, Bettor Joy brushed to the front and cruised untested through a half in :56.1. With Jason Bartlett at the helm, Delightfulmemphis worked to within 1-½ lengths passing the three-quarters, but appeared to stall around the final turn as Tim Tetrick confidently handled the leader.
“I was quite happy to be second, I thought that would be just fine; come first-over and finish second, that would be great,” Norman said. “I knew that other mare was a very nice mare and I didn’t expect to beat her.”
Luckily for Norman, Bartlett didn’t concede that easily. Turning for home, the track’s leading driver kicked out the plugs and Delightfulmemphis straightened out, bore down, and inched closer and closer. The mares crossed the wire together and Delightfulmemphis got her nose in front in time to win the $40,000 series split.
“I thought it was fantastic. I thought turning for home, she had no shot, but she’s one of those horses who can just hang around and stay close,” Norman said. “Once she’s in the straights, she gets wound up a little bit and right at the wire, she just lunged at that other mare. Jason said on the turns, she struggles a little bit, loses a little ground, but if you can just keep within half-a-length of another horse, she tries like hell.”
Despite her first-leg series win, which boosted her seasonal record to 5-for-8 with $92,250 earned, the most of any horse so far this season, the Matchmaker wasn’t Delighfulmemphis’ target all along.
Since she began her stateside career for Norman last July, the Australian Group 3 winner and Group 1- and 2-placed mare racked up wins in the conditioned ranks and Harrah’s Philadelphia and the Meadowlands. However, the Bettor’s Delight daughter was 0-for-6 at Yonkers, including two tries in the distaff open.
“To be honest, I thought she was probably a big track horse,” Norman said. “I thought she was a closer and I thought you’d have to race her at the Meadowlands or Mohawk. I raced her at Yonkers a couple times and she got around it pretty good. I still don’t really think it’s her forte because she likes to get home good. She’s not a great front-runner, which was sort of against her at Yonkers; she’s a little bit lazy in front. But Jason has done a good job driving her. Because of Jason’s help, she’s worked it out and if you don’t use her too hard early, she can really come a good back three-quarters.
“I didn’t think she was a Matchmaker horse, really, but she’s gotten better and better,” Norman added.
The turning point came Feb. 1 when Delightfulmemphis scored her first local victory in a $29,000 overnight. The uncharacteristic front-stepping win prompted Norman to nominate her to the series, which closed Feb. 15. Delightfulmemphis won her first local feature that evening and finished second in the Filly and Mare Open Handicap March 8.
“I only sent the check in right before they were due,” Norman remembered. “She won a non-winners of $30,000 the week before and I said, ‘you know what, why not?’ You might as well be in it and she had just won, so that helped pay for the starting fee, so that’s when I decided.”
Although she established herself as one to watch with her first-leg win, Delightfulmemphis will still have her work cut out for her in week two. She drew post two in the fourth and final division Friday night (March 22), which features fellow first-leg victors Shartin and Seaswift Joy, who drew posts eight and seven, respectively. Feelin Red Hot finished second to Seaswift Joy last week and drew post four while Obvious Blue Chip, compromised by post seven last out, will start along the pylons. Dudesalady, Angel’s Pride, and Sell A Bit complete the lineup.
“It’s a good race. Obviously Shartin is probably the best mare in the country, so she’s tough to beat any time. I think we’re in a good spot there with post two to not do too much work early and just hope we can get a good run at the end and pick up a good check,” Norman said.
“Apart from Shartin, I think she’s probably competitive with most of the others. It’s a tough series. I’d actually like to get another top-two finish so you could maybe give her a week off somewhere along the way. Having a good draw helps, so we’ll just see how it works out.”
Friday night’s card features four divisions of the Matchmaker Series Second Leg while the George Morton Levy Series goes with six splits Saturday (March 23). Monday night’s (March 25) card features the $58,000 Petticoat Series Final and the $60,200 Sagamore Hill finale goes Tuesday night (March 26).
Live harness racing is featured at Yonkers Raceway every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. First post time is 6:50 p.m. For entries to the races, click here.