Yonkers, NY — When HP Sissy’s name appeared in the entries for the $40,000 Filly and Mare Open Handicap Pace at Yonkers Raceway Friday night (Feb. 14), trainer Mike Ohol’s colleagues on the Western New York circuit voiced their skepticism.
“A couple guys up there were telling me, ‘what are you going down there for,’” Ohol said, but the trainer remained steadfast. “You don’t know until you try it.”
Ohol campaigned HP Sissy to a 13-win season in 2019. The Up The Credit mare hit the board another 14 times and earned $116,493 while making the majority of her 37 starts at Buffalo and Batavia raceways. All but two of her starts last year came at the Open level.
Ohol acquired HP Sissy as a project in January 2019. Although the mare won the $50,050 Coupe des Eleveurs at Hippodrome 3R as a 3-year-old in 2016 and competed on the Grand Circuit in the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series as a 5-year-old, HP Sissy went just 2-for-27 in 2018 racing for Rene Allard and Benoit Baillargeon.
“She was racing up in Canada and we thought she would be a good buy because she was down in class and she showed a lot of back class,” Ohol said. “If we could get her and turn her around, we thought she could be a heck of a horse.”
Despite his high aspirations, Ohol’s first impression of HP Sissy could only be described in expletives. She was high-strung, difficult to handle, and hard to control on the track. However, over time, Ohol and HP Sissy formed a bond.
“The more I started working with her and watching her — I pay attention to everything they do in the barn. I feel a horse out like they feel you out — we just seemed to click and once I turned her one time, I said, ‘my God, this horse is pretty fast.’ She just goes.”
Ohol’s formula for success with HP Sissy is patience and care. His strategy is focused on managing HP Sissy’s natural speed and not over-training her.
“I don’t let anybody else jog her, I do it all myself. I don’t want anybody else roughing her up. When she gets in an attitude, she just wants to take off on you. I can keep her a little more relaxed and when she gets too hot, I just take her off the track and walk her around a little bit and take her in the barn. She’s got a routine,” Ohol said. “She’ll get to going in the barn. You have to try to keep her relaxed. Don’t bring too many horses around her, she’s always the first one to eat, otherwise she starts kicking the walls down. She wants to be the queen.”
With HP Sissy’s record, she may have earned that right.
HP Sissy captured the Filly and Mare Open seven times at Buffalo Raceway from February through July before moving on to Batavia, where she took another four features. Ohol ranks her performance Sept. 18 among her best.
Starting from post five in a six-horse field, HP Sissy left around rival Lady London and made the lead entering the backstretch the first time. She led at every call for Drew Monti, then kicked away from the field in the final quarter to post a three length win in 1:53.3. HP Sissy repeated the effort one week later with a 1:53.4 score.
“She went to Batavia, she had two wins in a row,” Ohol said. “She won in 1:53.3 and Drew Monti was driving her and he never let her go. He said, ‘Mike, I don’t know how fast she would have gone if I would have let her go. I was hanging onto her the whole mile and she just pulled away from the field. They couldn’t touch her.’”
HP Sissy’s biggest win in 2019 came Oct. 4, when she shipped to Yonkers to take a $22,000 overnight in gate-to-wire fashion in 1:54 with Dan Dube in the sulky.
HP Sissy raced through the end of November and re-emerged in a qualifier at Buffalo Raceway Jan. 24, posting a 2:02.3 win over a sloppy track with a three-second variant.
“I gave her a couple weeks off in November, but she’s a hard horse to even turn out because she’s just hard on herself,” Ohol said. “I feel she’s better off jogging a little bit. She seems more happy if she’s out on the track doing things instead of out in the field. If you turn her out, she runs up and down the fence. She just seems happy when she’s on the track and doing her thing.”
In HP Sissy’s first start of 2020, the 7-year-old posted a 1:57 win in the Buffalo distaff feature Feb. 5. In that effort, HP Sissy dueled with Protect Blue Chip, parking that rival through fractions of :28, :57, and 1:27. While the plugs were pulled on Protect Blue Chip before the half, driver Denny Bucceri didn’t get to work on HP Sissy until passing the three-quarters, kicking out the plugs.
Turning for home, HP Sissy still dealt with Protect Blue Chip while Carly Girl angled three-wide and Lady London looked to the passing lane. Despite the onslaught, HP Sissy held off her challengers by a half-length. With her victory, HP Sissy punched her ticket to the Hilltop.
“I was extremely happy with her because a horse left against her and she parked that horse who had just won the week before,” Ohol said. “That’s why I thought, if I’m going to go to Yonkers, this is the time to take her because I feel she’s sharp right now.”
HP Sissy will be reunited with Dan Dube and the pair will start from an assigned post one in the Valentine’s Day feature. The pair are 7-1 on the morning line.
HP Sissy’s rivals include Robyn Camden, who rides a four-race win streak for Rene Allard and will start from post five as the 5-2 morning line choice. Imprincessgemma A posted a win and two seconds in this class to cap her 2019 season last fall. She returns of a qualifying win at Freehold Feb. 8 in which she utilized a :27 final quarter to stop the clock in 1:55.4. She and Joe Bongiorno are 4-1 on the morning line.
Sandy Win finished second in this race last week for trainer Chuck Connor Jr. Eric Goodell will drive from post three as a 4-1 morning line. Cay’s Blessing won a local Preferred in December and started her 2020 campaign with consecutive runner-up finishes in the Filly and Mare Open Handicap for Jason Bartlett and Rich Banca. Wishy Washy Girl and Betterb Chevron N complete the lineup.
“I’m hoping I do good with (HP Sissy); I don’t want to brag, but I think she’s up to the task to give a good race,” Ohol said. “I trained her a little different this week. I hope I didn’t over-train her. I trained her a couple trips instead of just one. I knew I was going down there and was going to be in kind of tough, so I gave her a little extra this week. I don’t think I overdid it, I just trained her within herself. You don’t have to force her to go, she goes.”
Ohol expects Dan Dube to utilize HP Sissy’s early speed from her inside post.
“Let me tell you, when that gate opens up, look out. She just goes. She went a quarter in :27 at Saratoga, and that’s a half-mile track. If you do sit in a hole with her and pull her out, you better be ready because as soon as you pull on that right line, she’s in high gear; she wants out,” Ohol said. “The gate opens up and she’s on top by the first turn, usually by a length or two. Dube told me last year when I came down there, he said he loved driving her because when that gate opens, she’s gone. You can get to the front, set the pace, and then they have to catch her.
“We’ll see what happens. We’ll see if she’s up to the task. You’re up against the best horses there, but she’s raced against them before and done well.”
Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. First post time is 7:05 p.m. For entries to the Friday races, click here.