A pair of $13,000 Open I Handicaps — one on the pace and one on the trot — topped a solid and bettable card at Batavia Downs on Monday afternoon (Jan. 16) and those races produced another stout handle as a result.
The pacing feature came first with JM’s Delight putting in another solid effort to remain unbeaten at the Downs in 2023.
Kevin Cummings stayed back fifth off the gate while longshots lunged for the lead. The 21-1 Walk It Talk It (Jim McNeight Jr.) parked the 20-1 Tap Tap Tap (Christian Meyers) while Daylight Rush (Dave McNeight III) got caught in the breeze second over. After hitting the quarter in :27.3 and neither looking to relent, Jim Morrill Jr. tipped Decoy three-deep at the top of the stretch and was followed by JM’s Delight from fifth. However not to be outdone, Larry Stalbaum flashed Rocknroll Runa A four-wide to grab the front past the half and took the group into the second circuit.
Moving by the five-eighths, JM’s Delight was forced to go three-deep around Decoy before drawing alongside Rocknroll Runa A halfway up the backside. With Cummings and Stalbaum both rocking hard in their bikes, JM’s Delight cleared at three-quarters before heading into the turn and opening up a 3-1/2 length advantage at the top of the stretch. From there, JM’s Delight ran away with the race by 5-1/2 lengths at the line where he stopped the clock in 1:54.4.
Peerless at the meet to this point, JM’s Delight ($3.10) is now two for two for owner Greg Merton and trainer Shawn McDonough.
Cummings and McDonough also teamed up earlier in the card to win with I’m Thinking (2:01.1, $10.60), giving each a double for the day.
The top trot came next and Stalbaum got redemption after receiving a wholesale effort from Big Box Hanover who claimed a narrow victory at the wire.
Big Box Hanover led the field past the eighth pole where Credit List (Jim Morrill Jr.) and Dewey Arnold (Kevin Cummings) blasted two and three deep by the swift :27.4 quarter before they both dropped in around the turn. With Dewey Arnold now commander of fractions, the field hit the half in :57.2 while staying in single file until the five-eighths. That’s where Big Box Hanover came off the pegs from third and started his advance.
It took most of the backstretch, but Big Box Hanover finally caught Dewey Arnold at three-quarters and the two trotters then matched strides around the last turn. As they headed into the stretch, Credit List joined the fray in the passing lane and they battled three across the track to the wire. It took the entire lane but Big Box Hanover toughed it out and was able to get the advantage and win by a quarter length over Credit List in 1:56.4.
It was the first win of the year for Big Box Hanover ($5.40) who is both owned and trained by his driver.
Stalbaum had another stellar outing at Batavia, posting both a training and driving hat trick.
Despite not winning either feature, Morrill still was the leading driver of the day after notching a natural hat trick in races five, six and seven with Comeonover Hanover (2:00, $3.00), Mississippi Rabbit (1:58.2, $3.30) and Sportskeeper (1:56.2, $4.30) and then grabbing win number four with It’s Just Too Much (1:56.1, $5.40) in race nine.
Betting was brisk at Batavia once again on Monday as the 13-race card produced a hefty $234,671 handle, which came in just under the $257,510 realized on opening day.
There is a carryover of $618 in the Jackpot Super Hi-5 pentafecta which will be available in the 13th race on Thursday (Jan. 19) when live racing resumes at Batavia Downs at 3 p.m. Free full card past performance forms can be downloaded at the Batavia Downs website and all the racing action can be viewed free as it happens at the Batavia Downs Live Facebook page.
Photo by McKenna Dziemian