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Thursday, March 14th, 2013 - Mark Ratzky, publicity – Cal Expo Harness

The $12,150 final of the Jim Dennis Pacing Series, with the classy veteran Jovial Joker and Phantom Dan in the leading roles; a $10,000 California Sire Stakes for the 3-year-old pacing colts and a $6,000 Open Pace get the marquee treatment Saturday night at the Watch and Wager LLC meeting at Cal Expo.
The Dennis finale is set as the fourth event on a 15-race card, while the Sire Stakes will be decided as the second on the evening and the Open Pace occupies the third-race slot.
Jovial Joker looms the one to beat in the Dennis for owner Britney Dillon, trainer Gretchen Smith and regular driver Luke Plano. The 13-year-old son of Life Sign comes into this contest with some very impressive credentials, with $425,000 in his account and a 1:49 2/5 career standard that was established eight years ago.

The dark-hued pacer comes into this weekend having posed for pictures following four of his seven trips to the post. Sent off the even-money choice in the first leg of the series two weeks ago, he raced second-over to the lane and ignited when it counted to prevail by a length. He passed last week’s second leg to await this assignment.

With Jovial Joker sitting out last week’s gathering, Phantom Dan was sent off the 8-5 choice and did not disappoint for owner/trainer/driver James Kennedy. The son of Little Steven took command at the half, opened a clear advantage on the final bend and went on to a three and half-length romp. The 1:54 1/5 clocking shaved a full two seconds off his previous mark.
Rounding out the field are Bookie Farout with Scott Cisco; Mister T-Rex, Bruce Clarke; Yuma, to be handled by Tim Maier; Herzon with Mike Eaton in the sulky; and Red Star Popeye, who does his work from the outside slot with Steve Wiseman at the controls.

Hi Ho Disguise will be gunning for back-to-back trophies in the Sire Stakes for owner/breeders James Macola, Dan Tullio and Matias Ruiz with Ruiz the conditioner and Luke Plano guiding. He will be challenged by Lebo Jones, Me Tarzan, Kablooie, Daring Do, Bit Player and Winonefordoug.

Last Saturday night saw huge payoffs in both the Pick 5 and Super High 5 wagers, which along with the $1 Pick 4 feature a reduced 16 percent takeout rate. The Pick 4 also sports a $20,000-guaranteed pool on Fridays and a $25,000 guarantee on Saturdays. The winning 50-cent ticket Pick 5 was worth $8,380, while the 10-cent Super High 5 returned a cool $10,255.

To put things into perspective, using the regular takeout rate, the Pick 5 payoff would drop from $8,380 to $7,482, while that Super High 5 would have returned $9,156 instead of the $10,255 payday


Saturday evening Cal Expo is proud to honor the late Harness Hall of Fame driver/trainer Jim Dennis, who had an outstanding career with many of his highlights coming in California. Dennis piloted 2,677 winners while earning nearly $13 million and passed away in 2004 at the age of 79.

USTA president Phil Langley was good friends with Jim Dennis for over 50 years. “Jim was honest and a true gentleman, and the type of person of whom you would never hear a bad word. He was the best combined driver/trainer that I ever watched and had some of the best horses I ever saw, including Adios Vic, Sir Dalrae, Mr. Dalrae and Try Scotch.
Adios Vic is remembered for handing the mighty Bret Hanover four of his only six lifetime defeats. “He was an extremely fast horse who couldn’t handle the turns,” Langley recalled. “Jim also did a tremendous job with Sir Dalrae, who was converted from the trot, and his half-brother Mr. Dalrae.”

Phil and Jim, along with their wives, spent lots of time together on and off the racetrack and Langley looks back fondly at being there for his friend when Dennis was induced into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 2001.
“One of my proudest moments is when I spoke at his induction, which is normally reserved for family members,” Langley related. It was six years later that Phil was himself inducted into the Hall of Fame.