Lexington, KY — Travis Alexander won the 2020 MGM Springfield Stakes final for 2-year-old male pacers with American Courage, who set a stakes record with his 1:53.3 effort, and the trainer is back for this year’s $150,000 renewal on Friday night (July 16) at Yonkers Raceway with Pleaseletmeknow, who captured his elimination one week earlier in 1:54.1, the fastest of the trio of elims contested.
Trainer Jenn Bongiorno finished second to American Courage in last year’s MGM Springfield with Town Gossip, and she will give it another go in Friday night’s final with Letmecallyouback, who won his elimination in 1:55.3.
The third elimination was won by Gone Before Dawn, who was victorious in 1:56 for trainer Andrew Harris, who did not have a starter in last year’s MGM Springfield but finished second in the 2019 renewal (when the race was known as the Lawrence B. Sheppard) with Save Me A Dance.
With an open draw for the rich final (race eight), the three elim winners all drew posts on the right side of the gate, with Letmecallyouback, who will be driven by Joe Bongiorno, faring best with post five. Pleaseletmeknow, who will be driven by Matt Kakaley, and Gone Before Dawn, who will directed by Jason Bartlett, will leave from posts seven and eight, respectively. They will be joined in the final by the three elim runners-up as well as two of the three third-place finishers.
While Pleaseletmeknow and Letmecallyouback each had a pari-mutuel start under their belt coming into the MGM Springfield elims, Gone Before Dawn was making his pari-mutuel debut. A son of Huntsville-One Last Kiss, Gone Before Dawn’s large stature (he’s already nearly 17 hands tall) had both trainer Harris and driver Bartlett concerned that his size could be a detriment on the half-mile oval at Yonkers.
“You always have a concern when you go from a big track to a small track, but I did train him a lot on the half-mile track at Gaitway so it’s not like he didn’t have half-mile track experience,” said Harris. “I had a couple others that did struggle but this horse didn’t. I still think I’ll make a few changes on him but I’ll have him ready for the race.
“Huntsville was a big boy too and he got around a half, and the Huntsvilles are such good-gaited animals.”
Gone Before Dawn finished fourth in his qualifying race debut at Gaitway Farm on June 14 and then with Bartlett in the sulky for the first time in a June 26 qualifier at The Meadowlands, the colt finished second by a length, race-timed in 1:53.4.
“He was pretty good in the qualifier and the horse that beat him (JK Victory) is one of Nancy’s (Takter) better colts,” said Bartlett. “I thought he’d be pretty good but I didn’t know how it would translate to the half-mile track.
“For a big horse he got around Yonkers pretty well and I was pretty happy with the way he went. He’s big gaited too so I didn’t know how he’d handle the half. But I scored him down and it seemed like he’d handle the turns pretty good, so we took our shot.”
In the MGM Springfield elim, Barlett left from post three with Gone Before Dawn and settled in third, but then made a quarter-pole move to the lead and never looked back to score by a neck over Thebizness Bluechip.
“I settled him in the first turn and then the front end slowed up so I just moved him,” said Bartlett. “He has a really good brush so it was pretty easy to get to the front. He got a little steppy in the last turn but with a few changes he’ll be good for that.”
Gone Before Dawn was purchased privately from breeder Steve Jones by Harris’s A Harris Racing and Doug Overhiser’s Bowie Racing. He is out of the Artsplace mare One Last Kiss, who sprung a 20-1 upset in capturing the $200,000 New Jersey Sires Stakes final for 2-year-old filly pacers in 2009, with his second dam being world champion Juliet’s Fate, who won the 1998 Breeders Crown final for 2-year-old filly pacers.
“We bought two privately before the sales from Steve Jones,” remembered Harris. “We were targeting Gone Before Dawn because we had the sister (Kiss The Captain) and knew the sister was nice. Unfortunately she suffered a little bit of a breathing issue…but we were really high on her and knew what kind of speed she had.
“Gone Before Dawn was a colt I had my eye on and I hoped he’d be that type of a horse. I’ve been high on him all along. He’s a little bit green on the front but he’s 10 times the horse when he has a little bit of a helmet. If he is sitting close on a helmet he’s got a wicked motor on him.”
As for Pleaseletmeknow, the gelded son of American Ideal-I Said Please had a fifth and first in his pair of qualifying races at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, and he then finished second in his pari-mutuel debut in a New York Sires Stakes split on June 30 at Buffalo Raceway. That led into his MGM Springfield win where he parlayed a two-hole trip from Kakaley into the victory, downing runner-up Silverstone by 1-1/2 lengths.
“He’s getting better and better. He’s come a long way,” said Alexander, who trains Pleaseletmeknow for Mark Wasserman’s Fiddler’s Creek Stables. “He has surprised me quite a bit because he was never one you would talk about all winter.
“He was way too studdy. He’s not a very big horse but he thought he was King Kong. He was going to hurt somebody,” Alexander added about gelding the colt. “It took time for him to get over his castration so it set him behind. (Mark) Wasserman never saw him train because I always hid him from him. The first time Mark actually saw him go was at Buffalo.”
Alexander believes Pleaseletmeknow will only get better as he continues racing.
“He’s a game horse and likes to race,” said Alexander. “He only does what he’s asked but he likes to win though, I will say that. Now that he’s figured it out, he does like to win.”
Jenn Bongiorno said Letmecallyouback captured her eye early on.
“He’s always been one of my favorites of the babies we had,” said Bongiorno, who trains the son of Huntsville-Ravishnmasterpiece for owners Joseph Di Scala Jr., Pit Bull Stable and Patrick O’Brien. “In his first qualifier (fourth at Gaitway) he was good but we made some changes and definitely happier with the second qualifier (third at Gaitway).”
In Letmecallyouback’s pari-mutuel debut in a June 30 overnight at Harrah’s Philadelphia, Joe Bongiorno moved his charge from fifth to first in the :27.4 third quarter and then settled for a third-place finish.
In his MGM Springfield elim, Letmecallyouback moved first-over from fourth at the half to clear the lead at the top of the stretch before holding on by a neck over Wolftrax. While his counterparts each won their elims at odds of 2-1, Letmecallyouback rewarded his backers at odds of 7-1.
“The line doesn’t look that good in his first start,” admitted Jenn Bongiorno. “He got to the front and was a little lost and confused. I was really happy to see last week and that he learned from that. I just think he’s a gelding that is going to keep getting better. He’s learning more and more every start and every time he trains. He’s a horse that is majorly on the improve every week.”
As seems to be the norm, Yonkers’ half-mile track gave trainer Bongiorno cause for concern, and Letmecallyouback displayed some greenness when he went a bit wide in the final turn while on fast forward for the lead.
“Once he got to the front and cleared he was good,” said Bongiorno. “He held off horses so I’m not afraid for him to be on the front, and I’m certainly not afraid for him to come from off the pace because he has that really big move.
“To be honest, getting around a half was a question mark for us,” she added. “When Joe warmed him up I was very happy to see he was handling it. He wasn’t 100 percent perfect but we’re happy that he can handle the half. Being a New York horse he’s going to have to get around half-mile tracks. He handled it as well as possible. He has a really nice solid big move to him. I think that will hopefully be to our advantage.”
The MGM Springfield Stakes final will go as race eight on Friday night’s 12-race program, which gets underway at 7:15 p.m. The full field with listed drivers and trainers is as follows:
1-American Artist K (Jason Bartlett/Aaron Lambert)
2-Te Amo Blue Chip (Jim Marohn Jr./John Berger)
3-Thebiznes Bluechip (Jordan Stratton/Jeff Gillis)
4-Wolftrax (Scott Zeron/Paula Wellwood)
5-Letmecallyouback (Joe Bongiorno/Jennifer Bongiorno)
6-Silverstone (George Brennan/Ron Burke)
7-Pleaseletmeknow (Matt Kakaley/Travis Alexander)
8-Gone Before Dawn (Jason Bartlett/Andrew Harris)
AE-Hurrikane Chuck (Tyler Buter/John McDermott)