Yonkers, NY — The lucrative weekly features return to Yonkers Raceway Tuesday (June 23) as the Filly and Mare Open headlines the program. Major Occasion A is the 9-5 morning line favorite in the $33,000 pacing feature after drawing post four off an impressive mile last time out at The Meadowlands.
Major Occasion A made her first post-coronavirus shutdown start in the Filly and Mare Preferred at The Meadowlands on June 5. While Grand Circuit performer Kissin In The Sand played catch me if you can and won, Major Occasion A made it close. Major Occasion A raced on the inside in fifth, five lengths behind Kissin In The Sand throughout before closing in the stretch with a :25.3 final quarter. Kissin In The Sand had an open-length lead at the sixteenth pole, but Major Occasion A lunged under Dexter Dunn’s urging, closing within three-quarters of a length at the finish.
The effort surprised both the bettors, who dismissed Major Occasion A at 17-1 and trainer Nifty Norman, who thought Major Occasion would need a start having just one qualifier on May 30 since her last race March 4.
“She was very good. I was pleased,” Norman said. “It was like having a win there racing against that caliber of horse and she was good and strong through the wire, too. I was really happy with the way she finished up. She’s a really nice mare.
“I thought she was probably going to be a run short and she went even better than I expected. She’s been a real pleasant surprise since she came over. She’s been good every start really, so I’ve been really happy with her.”
Although Major Occasion A was individually clocked in a blistering 1:48 in her runner-up effort, Norman tried to avoid obsessing over the timer.
“We’re seeing a lot of it now. The Meadowlands, the miles they go there are crazy. It doesn’t even pay to look at the clock anymore because it’s just crazy what they’re doing,” he said. “Now (1:)48 is just acceptable, no one even talks about it; it’s commonplace to go (1:)48, which is just amazing.”
Major Occasion A is a 6-year-old Art Major daughter out of the Fake Left mare Fake Occasion. The Australian-bred was a stakes performer before being exported to the United States last October, having won the Group 2 Sibelia Stakes at Menangle Feb. 16, 2019 before finishing second in the Group 1 Ladyship Mile a fortnight later. Major Occasion A also finished second in the Group 1 Empire Vicbred 2-year-old filly stakes at Melton in 2017.
“I had some owners that wanted to buy the mare and she really wasn’t for sale,” Norman recalled. “I got talking to the owners and we just hit it off really good, ended up having several conversations with them. The trainer (Chris Frisby) and the owner (Peter Ward) are just really top guys. They decided to send her over to me and it’s working out great for me and for them.”
Norman heard from many Down Under horsemen that Major Occasion A was a good mare and when she arrived stateside, Norman could see why.
“When she arrived, she was such a specimen,” he said. “She’s an absolutely beautiful, big, strong, good-looking thing, fantastic nature and when you sit behind her, it’s like sitting behind a bus. There’s nothing bad about her. She’s nice to look at, she’s nice to drive, she’s nice to be around. She’s just a perfect horse.
“She’s a big mare, but she’s well put together. She’s got good conformation; she’s an Art Major, so Art Major’s are pretty good-looking. She carries a lot of weight, wears a big hopple, just impressive to look at.”
Major Occasion A made seven starts for Norman and his Enzed Racing Stable before the shutdown, earning three wins and a lifetime mark of 1:49.4. She came within a neck of Shartin N in a $50,000 Filly and Mare Invitational at Dover Downs March 4.
Major Occasion A, an 18-time winner and earner of $241,105, was then entered into the first leg of the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series March 13, which was indefinitely postponed as the coronavirus ceased harness racing in North America.
“It was very tricky to manage. The hard part was, there were rumors that we would get going, so you’d go train your horses up a little bit thinking maybe we’re going to race in two weeks,” Norman said. “It dragged on and on. I kind of wished I had turned the horses out since owners were paying bills while nothing was happening and they had no money coming in.
“It was a difficult period, but I basically backed off, didn’t do a whole lot with them, just tried to keep them fit. You could tell the horses were getting sour like us. They were ready to get back to work, too. They were sick of just training, and training, and training. It was a strange time. I don’t think anyone really knew what the right thing was to do.”
Major Occasion A will make her second start post-shutdown in Tuesday’s feature and regular driver Dexter Dunn will be in the sulky. With the fate of Yonkers’ winter series still uncertain and with no distaff feature carded at the Meadowlands since June 5, Norman chose to test Major Occasion A over the smaller track at Yonkers.
“I elected to go to Yonkers and find out whether she can get around there. Obviously, she’s great at The Meadowlands, but going 1:48 every week isn’t the greatest plan either,” Norman said. “I thought I would try to avoid those big miles, try her on a shorter track and see how she handles it. I trained her on a half-mile track and she got around it good. She runs in a little bit, but most horses do. I don’t have any concerns, I think she’ll be fine.”
Major Occasion A will face seven rivals in the Tuesday feature, including three who exit the same race: Snobbytown, Imprincessgemma A, and Gold Orchid N.
Snobbytown finished ninth last out, but earned $150,635 last year for trainer Ron Burke and won the local distaff feature Feb. 28. She is the 3-1 second choice on the morning line and will employ the driving services of George Brennan.
Imprincessgemma A won the local Filly and Mare Open Handicap impressively by 2-3/4 lengths Feb. 14 and was second in the feature the following week. She is 9-2 for driver Joe Bongiorno and trainer Jennifer Bongiorno.
Gold Orchid N earned $120,170 last year for trainer Mark Harder, won the local Filly and Mare Preferred March 6, and will make her third start of the season. She and driver Brian Sears are 6-1 on the morning line.
The field also includes Diamondtoothgertie, Sandy Win, Crystal Sparkles N, and Dibaba N.
“I think, like a lot of foreign horses, (Major Occasion A) is better with a target,” Norman said. “She could come first-up or she’s got good speed on the end, too. It wouldn’t matter if she came from off the pace. I’d imagine Dexter, since he’s coming over to drive her, is going to be reasonably aggressive. I’ll leave it up to him.”
The amended Yonkers Raceway calendar will see live harness racing conducted Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights until July 2. Beginning the week of July 6, the schedule will add Friday nights. Saturday night racing will resume the week of July 20 as the track returns to its normal five night per week schedule through Dec. 19. First post time is 7:05 p.m. The complete revised racing calendar is available online here.