The O’Connor GMC Pine Tree Pacing Series reaches its conclusion Saturday at Scarborough Downs when a field of eight horses will chase a $50,000 payday in the series finale.
“It’s the largest [purse] in New England and third largest in the history of the state of Maine,” Rick Simonds, executive director of the Maine Harness Racing Promotion Board, said.
The clear favorite going into Saturday’s race is Landmark Honor, winner of five of the six legs in the series and $28,500.
Landmark Honor, driven by Irv Mauran, set a track record last Sunday at the Windsor Fair leg of the series, turning the mile in 1 minute, 54.2 seconds. The 5-year-old gelding has earned more than $123,000 in his career.
Although his owners reside in New York, Landmark Honor has been stabled at Scarborough Downs where he had the fastest time in the state last year when he toured the mile in 1:53.2.
Landmark Honor will start from the sixth position in the final that is scheduled to go off between 6:15 and 6:30 p.m.
The remainder of the field is made up of Casino Winner, driven by Val Grondin, On The Bay (John Davidson), Southwind Mountain (David Ingraham), McGetty (Ian Moore), Kef Hanover (Heath Campbell), Mr. Prez (Walter Case Jr.) and Armbro Roadrunner driven by Chris Long.
The series was Simonds’ brainchild. He says he took a simplistic approach.
“We wanted to make it a free-for-all. It’s an open series. Any horse in the country that was available could enter. This series has no conditions,” Simonds said.
The series began with 27 horses entered at $500 each. The six legs had purses of $12,000 each with the top eight earners qualifying for the final.
“People want to see the stars,” Simonds said. “That was absolutely my intent, to bring some new stars into the state and keep the best horses in the state.”
Simonds also believes the series has been a boon to fair racing. He says that the handle for last Sunday at the Windsor Fair, the series’ sixth day, was $169,000.
“I think it can be attributed in large part to the racing series. That has been the case down the line, such as Skowhegan last week,” he added.
Simonds said the series came about when he received Gov. Angus King’s approval for the concept. Money for the series was set aside from the surplus of the racing commission’s budget. O’Connor GMC of Augusta was brought on board as a corporate sponsor. Simonds said the entire program will cost $150,000-$160,000.
“I did a lot of research for this. The days we’ve had the biggest betting handles were the days that we had something special,” Simonds said. “If you’re a diehard fan you don’t care if they’re racing for a ham-and-cheese sandwich. But if you’re new to it you want to be caught up in a spectacle.”
DOWN THE STRETCH: Bill Green will tape the race for his television program “Bill Green’s Maine” airing on WCSH-TV Portland and WLBZ-TV Bangor, Saturday, at 7 p.m. … Don Richards picked up his 4,000th career victory last Monday at the Windsor Fair. Richards was driving True Laughter when he became the 71st driver in the country to reach the mark. … The leading driver at the Windsor Fair was Heath Campbell with 18 wins. Val Grondin was the leading trainer with seven wins. Both received $300 and a trophy. … The finals of the Maine Breeders’ Stakes for 2-year-olds will take place Sunday, 2 p.m., at Scarborough Downs. … Non-betting trotting exhibitions will be held Saturday at noon at the Cornish Fairgrounds.
Don Perryman’s harness racing column is published each Saturday during the season. He may be reached at 990-8045 or email@example.com