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Lackey, China King get some sweet revenge
Saturday, January 24th, 2015 - Mark Ratzky, publicty – Cal Expo Harness
 
Out of 31 races last week, a grand total of three were won in coast-to-coast fashion, and one of those was turned in by China King and pilot Chip Lackey while capturing the Open Pace at juicy 19-1 odds.
 
The East Coast invader, who races for Gary and Jennifer Sabot and trainer Gene Vallandingham, had suffered brutal beats at the hands of the streaking St Lads Lotto in his previous two efforts, but was able to turn the tables last weekend with his 1:52 1/5 tour.
 
“To be honest, I didn’t go into that race with the same confidence I had the previous two starts when he was just nipped,” Lackey explained. “He’d missed a couple of starts, it looked like there was plenty of other speed in there and after a night and a half of racing to that point, there hadn’t been a horse win on the front end.
 
“On top of that, I’d been having some pretty bad luck with my drives. That said, I always try to be optimistic when I go out there and I will say that Jen (Sabot) and Gene were pretty confident about China King’s chances and did a terrific job to have him ready.”
 
Lackey was able to buzz the pacer right to the front and cut out fractions of :27 2/5, :54 4/5 and 1:22 3/5 en route to the three-quarters of a length upset over the 1-2 St Lads Lotto, who had his seven-race win streak snapped in the process.
 
“This is a very nice one,” Chip noted. “There are a lot of horses who like to roll away from there and then you have to wrestle with them, but he’ll pretty much do anything you want and is very ratable.
 
“Everything considered, I thought they might want me to take back with him last week, but they said to let him fire out and that’s what we did. It was a tremendous effort when you remember he hadn’t raced in three weeks, and it also did a lot to raise my spirits after some tough luck.”
 
High Bet Hanover eyes another snapshot
 
Sunday’s distaff pacing feature goes in two divisions, with High Bet Hanover and J’s Littlerockstar heading their respective races. A 10-race card is set with first post at 4:50 p.m.
 
High Bet Hanover comes into her contest having posed for pictures following four of her last five starts, with her only setback coming two weeks ago when she took on some very tough male rivals.
 
The Bettor’s Delight mare, who races for Kc C Carvalho, is conditioned by Tim Brown and will have Luke Plano guiding, rattled off three straight victories here between December 22 and January 2, then had her work cut out versus the likes of A Real Miracle at next asking.
 
Returning to face fillies and mares last week, High Bet Hanover was hammered down to 1-2 and did not disappoint her many supporters. Plano left into a tracking trip with his charge, took aim on the leaders in the stretch and swept by when it counted for a length and a half score.
 
J’s Littlerockstar has been a gem of consistency and will be well backed in the co-feature. James Kennedy owns, trains, drives and bred the Little Steven mare, who has multiple Sire Stakes trophies on her mantle.
 
The bay miss has accounted for the last two stakes engagements for her division, getting the January 4 score after the disqualification of arch-rival Brewski, then hung a head decision on that foe in last week’s Sire Stakes clash in another big mile.
 
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Next week will find the trotters and pacers in action under the Watch and Wager LLC banner on Friday and Saturday nights, with no racing on Super Bowl Sunday, February 1.

Kenny Fowler is getting things started at Cal Expo
Thursday, January 22nd, 2015 - Mark Ratzky, publicity – Cal Expo Harness
 
Kenny Fowler doesn’t mind if you call him a backseat driver. In fact, he’s downright proud of the fact.
 
Fowler is plying the trade of harness starter for the first time in his career at this meeting, making sure the trotters and pacers get off to a clean and fair start to their one-mile journey.
 
Even though Kenny was born in Sacramento some 53 years ago, it wasn’t until he was in college that he truly got exposed to harness racing and realized it’s what he wanted to do with his life.
 
“I was going to Sierra College and I went to work during the summer for my brother Donnie, who owned the Winner’s Circle cafeteria at the track,” Kenny related. “I found I really liked the horses, and eventually I left college and started learning about the sport from the ground up.”
 
Originally it was Al Sleva and Dick DeSantis who took a young Fowler to Lodi and gave him the chance to get hands-on experience with the standardbreds. He eventually went to work for Chip Lackey and had the chance to go to Canada and win some races under that stable’s banner.
 
From there, Kenny went to work for the late Bob Gordon and had the chance to be around some very nice performers. He even had some thoughts about becoming a driver, but then fate intervened and he found himself on a different path.
 
“It turned out they needed someone to drive the starting car, and the qualifications were you had to speak English and have a driver’s license,” Fowler recalled. “Bobby heard about it and told me I should try it.”
 
Kenny got the job, and recalls in only his second night on the job he was guiding around the car for a stakes race at Los Alamitos. He drove for Larry Jones, John Wilson and Todd Nixon before Bill Vallandingham became the starter in 1994 and held that position for 20 years before health issues forced him to take his leave this fall.
 
Vallandingham recently underwent successful lung transplant surgery and is doing very well, and with Fowler moving to the starter’s position, Larry Dana is filling in his old s[pt as the drive.
  
As part of his job and continuing a proud California harness tradition, Fowler was the fellow in the tuxedo leading the winner into the charmed enclosure for a picture following each race.
 
“It took a little while to get used to the tuxedo, but then I got to like it,” Kenny said.
 
“I owe everything to Billy,” he continued. “I miss him being here so much. He’s been a like a father to me, helping me through my personal problems and all the time teaching me about the starting car and everything that’s involved.
 
“Billy and I have been pretty much joined at the hip for the last 20 years. It was about three years ago that I started working with schoolers and then last summer I passed the USTA starter’s test, meaning I could be the starter at any track in the country.”
 
A Real Miracle heads main event
 
A Real Miracle, who has spent the majority of the meeting in the shadow of St Lads Lotto and China King, gets the top billing in Saturday evening’s $5,000 featured Pace.
 
The headliner goes as the third event on a 10-race program that will get underway at 6:40 p.m. A reminder that through January, the guarantee on the 16% takeout Pick 4 has been raised to $30,000. The Pick 5, Jackpot 6 and Hi-5 are also come with that reduced 16% takeout.
 
Racing is being conducted this week under the Watch and Wager LLC banner on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Next week will find Friday and Saturday action, with no racing on Super Bowl Sunday, February 1.
 
Looking at Saturday’s feature, A Real Miracle should have more than his share of backers. The 5-year-old son of Real Desire races for Junior Wilkinson, Billie Schwartz and Ivan Axelrod with Wilkinson training and Luke Plano once again at the controls.
 
While A Real Miracle has had to settle for most minor awards while squaring off against a couple of very tough customers in St Lads Lotto and China King in the Open Pace, but gets away from those foes for the second time in the last three weeks.
 
On January 10 in a conditioned affair, the Wilkinson trainee proved a punctual 1-2 favorite as he made every pole a winning one and prevailed by a neck in a 1:53 tour.
He came back last weekend to finish fifth in the Open Pace behind the top performers on the grounds after being well back in the early stages.
 
Taking him on Saturday are Announcement and Bubs Desire, who are both hail from the Ray Burt shedrow; Enee Weene And Me for Tim Brown and the James Kennedy reined-and-trained Allamerican Solo.

Vari Forgetful shows she still has the stuff
Wednesday, January 21st, 2015 - Mark Ratzky, publicity – Cal Expo Harness
 
Those who remembered that Vari Forgetful was once a very good trotting mare have been rewarded to the tune of 58-1 and 14-1, respectively, in her last two trips to the post for driver/trainer Bruce Clarke.
 
The 6-year-old homebred daughter of Armbro Variable carries the banner of Jack Coffey and has over $105,000 in her bank account with a 1:56 4/5 mark that was established at Pompano Park two years ago.
 
That said, she did come into her January 11 assignment off a series of less-than-stellar efforts and had the 9 post to boot that night. No problem, as Vari Forgetful left into a stalking position and motored by everyone for the $119 shocker. Last week from the cozy rail, she did a curtain call at nearly 15-1 under Clarke’s direction, again winning easily.
 
“She’s always been a very nice mare, but just like last year, it took her awhile to come around at this meet,” her mentor noted. “It was actually my fault the first couple of starts here because I should have changed her shoeing, then the race before her first win she had the second tier and got run into and lost any chance.
 
“Even though she had the 9 hole for that race two back, she had been training very well and were able to leave into a good spot. She finished strongly, and no question it helped that was in pretty cheap.”
 
While the 58-1 odds that evening didn’t seem out of line, Bruce did say he was surprised she was such a big number in last week’s outing, especially considering she was moving from the 9 slot to the rail.
 
“I told the owner I thought she couldn’t get beat in there because she was definitely back to her old self,” Clarke said. “With the inside, the plan was to float out of there and sit in the two or the three hole, and that’s exactly how it worked out.”
 
El Azteca, Its Not Over head marquee
 
El Azteca and Its Not Over, who have divided up the eight clashes at the head of their class at this meeting, are spotlighted in Friday’s Open Trot.
 
A 10-race card is on tap with first post at 6:40 p.m. and racing will be conducted this week under the Watch and Wager LLC banner on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.
 
A reminder that through the month of January, the guarantee on the low-takeout Pick 4 has been raised to $30,000. The Pick 4 is one of four wagers offered each night with the reduced 16% takeout rate, the others being the Pick 5, the Jackpot 6 and the Hi 5.
 
El Azteca has prevailed in the last two Open Trots for his owner/trainer/breeder Marco Rios and pilot James Kennedy. He comes into this assignment with $134,000 with a 1:54 3/5 career standard that was established last year at Hoosier Park in Indiana.
 
In the most recent clash, El Azteca left into a stalking position for Kennedy, brushed to the lead turning for home and proved clearly best by two and a half lengths that evening. He has been assigned the outside slot in the field of five.
 
Its Not Over is 5-year-old son of Panama Hanover who carries the banner of Richard Dryden and Debra Budahn with Bob Johnson the conditioner and Chip Lackey in his usual position in the sulky.
 
Its Not Over made his most recent trip to the winner’s circle following the December 27 Open Trot, lost his best chance with an early break in the next appearance and then checked in second behind his arch-rival at most recent asking. Winsom Kelly, A Crown For Lindy and Franks Best complete the field.