Yonkers, NY — When Wayne Givens entered his star pacer Sicily in the Sam McKee Memorial on the Hambletonian Day undercard, he felt the horse had earned a chance to perform on the big stage. The Art Major son out of the Western Ideal mare Capri Hanover ran up a score of Open wins in Delaware in the year leading up to the $260,000 stakes on Aug. 4, 2018.
However, Sicily was unable to showcase his prowess when he lined up behind the gate at the Meadowlands. Sicily raced at the back of the pack throughout the 1 ¼-mile route and finished last of 12, beaten 49 lengths. Although Sicily was a 72-1 outsider, Givens knew the lack of effort was uncharacteristic of his hard-trying horse. The trainer quickly discovered the horse was suffering from a heart condition.
“He had AFib (Atrial Fibrillation), his heart got out of rhythm,” Givens said. “I’ve only had that ever happen to me two or three times. When their heart gets out of rhythm, they just can’t perform. Oh yes, it is (scary) because you don’t know whether they’re going to recover or not.”
After the initial fright, Sicily made a full recovery and Givens hopes he’ll soon be able to take on Grand Circuit competition again. This time, Givens has his sights set on the George Morton Levy Series at Yonkers Raceway.
Givens purchased Sicily out of the 2015 Harrisburg Mixed Sale for $39,000 for owners Legacy Racing and Reginald Hazzard II. The gelding showed promise, having competed in the Breeders Crown at two and Empire Breeders Classic at three, but had not yet become a winner at the Open level.
“Most of the time when I go to a sale and buy a horse, I pay a good healthy price and I just hope they stay that good and competitive,” Givens said. “But yeah, (Sicily) turned out to be a lot better. So far, anyway. The classes he was in, he looked competitive and I was just trying to buy a racehorse.”
Now 7 years old, Sicily has amassed 23 wins from 109 starts and earned $482,554. However, Givens has never raced Sicily at Yonkers and the gelding went 0-for-5 locally for his prior connections, Ron Burke and Nik Drennan. Before Givens nominates his standout to the track’s signature event for older pacers, he will test the waters in the weekly pacing feature, the $44,000 Open Pace.
“I want to see how he goes. I kind of want to put him in that series, the Levy. If he gets around that track, then we’ll plan on racing in that series,” Givens said.
Sicily drew post seven Saturday night (Jan. 12) in his first start at Yonkers since November 2015. He is the only horse that has raced recently, as he finished second in the Open at Dover Downs Jan. 3 while each of his seven rivals have been off at least four weeks. Jim Marohn, Jr. will take the place of regular Delaware driver Victor Kirby.
“He’s a good horse and I just want to make sure he can get around those turns at Yonkers,” Givens said. “He’s a nice horse to drive. He doesn’t have anything about him, you want to stick with the same driver all the time, but (Marohn) will do a good job with him I’m sure.”
Sicily’s rivals include 3-1 early favorite Christen Me N, who finished second or third in three straight Open Handicaps before Yonkers closed for the holidays. Matt Kakaley will drive the 11-year-old from post two. Air Strike graduated from the 3-and 4-Year-Old Open with the changing of the calendar and drew post five for his first try in the pacing feature. Run Oneover N is 9-2 from the pylons off a front-stepping score in a $30,000 overnight on Yonkers’ 2018 closing day. Aston Hill Dave, Bellow’s Binge, Quick Asa Trick N, and Bettor’s Fire N complete the lineup.
Although Sicily tends to show speed off the gate – he blasted to the front from post eight in :26.3 last time out – Givens will leave that decision to Marohn.
“He gets behind the gate, he can look across and see how much speed looks like is going to leave inside,” Givens said. “It’s something you can’t really plan on before the race. I probably don’t have to tell him because he can look at the program and see that he leaves good.”
Saturday night’s card also features a $44,000 Open Handicap Trot. First post time is 6:50 p.m.