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Justin Merton enjoying his California expedition
Friday, December 26th, 2014 - Mark Ratzky, publicity – Cal Expo Harness 

One of the new horsemen on the scene at this meeting is Justin Merton, who has come in from Plainridge Racecourse in Massachusetts with a half-dozen performers.
A 32-year-old native of New Hampshire, Merton was exposed to the trotters and pacers at an early age thanks to his father Roger and his uncle George, who were both involved in the sport.
“I guess you could say this is what I knew I wanted to do from about the time I was in high school,” Justin related. “I used to spend my summers working with my uncle at Saratoga and those were some great memories.”
Justin went out on his own when he was in his early 20’s, first at Plainridge and then going back to Saratoga for a few years. When asked about his favorite performer, he didn’t have to think very hard to come up with the trotting filly Kiffra Hanover.
“We bought her from the Amish as a 3-year-old in 2007, had her for about a year and a half and she earned $380,000. She won the Open at five different tracks, and I was driving her the night she set a track record at Plainridge.”
Merton related that he is enjoying his stay in Sacramento. “I came out for the weather and for something different,” he said. “Everybody has been great. It would have been a better start if some of the horses hadn’t got sick, but there’s nothing you can do about that.”
Justin plans to stay through the end of the meet in April and expects to lose a few of his horses through the claim box, while at the same time adding some new performers to the shedrow. “We’re just playing it by ear,” he related.
El Azteca, Its Not Over in spotlight
El Azteca and Its Not Over, who have been dominating things at the head of the division at this meeting, get another chance to settle the score in Saturday night’s featured $5,500 Open Trot.
A 12-race card is on tap with first post of 6:10 p.m. and a reminder that racing is now being conducted under the Watch and Wager LLC banner on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings.
El Azteca is a 5-year-old son of Panama Hanover out of the Jonathan Lobell mare Jonathan’s Girl who is owned, trained and was bred by Marco Rios with James Kennedy once again doing the honors. The hard-hitting performer comes into his assignment with nine wins from his 17 trips to the post this season, pushing his lifetime bank account to $128,000. He set his career standard of 1:54 3/5 this summer at Hoosier Park.
El Azteca has made six appearances at this stand and has come away with three victories and a like number of seconds. He captured the first two Opens of the stand in October, was runner-up behind Its Not Over in the next trio, then returned to his winning ways in last weekend’s top dance for the trotting set.
Leaving from the No. 9 post that night with his main rival drawn to his outside in the 10 slot, El Azteca was parked to the lead at the half before being covered up by Its Not Over going into the last bend. Steered out by Kennedy for the drive, the Rios trainee rallied smartly to win going away by a length and three-quarters.
Its Not Over is another son of Panama Hanover who carries the banner of Richard Dryden and Debra Budahn, takes his lessons from Bob Johnson and will as usual have Chip Lackey at the controls. He has won seven of 13 starts on the year and established his mark of 1:55 3/5 at Hoosier Park.
Its Not Over had a sensational November, rattling off three straight victories at the Open level. Two of those scores came from a stalking position and the other was accomplished in coast-to-coast fashion. He was third in last week’s gathering while doing his work from the demanding 10 post.