EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Meadowlands kicked off the weekend by honoring the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 18 with a race that featured only African-American drivers.
Mike Cruse’s name was one of the more recognizable to Meadowlands' regulars in the race and one of the driving forces behind the event. During his career, he’s won 282 races, the most recent coming at the Big M in May of last year when he and Mr Heaven hit the wire six lengths to the good in 1:51.
“Dr. King was always adamant about a better quality of life for black Americans,” said Cruse of Dr. King, who was born on Jan. 15, 1929, “and not only black Americans, but better quality of life for all Americans. He was a powerful guy. We have a lot of admiration for him.”
When the question of the lack of black participants in harness racing was raised, Cruse explained that they are there, just not in the high-visibility jobs.
“I just think it’s the way we position ourselves in the business, there are a lot of black farriers, grooms and caretakers,” he said, “A lot of the black drivers don’t have the opportunity to drive in the limelight of the Meadowlands. Everyone wants to race at the mecca of the sport.”
Jim “King” Solomon guided Waltzacrossthewire (1:54 as the 7-5 favorite) to victory in the Martin Luther King Remembrance Race. Just a nose back in second was David The Saint with Chad Washington. Cruse finished out of the money with Tijuana Party.
In other racing action, Trolley got the better of arch-rival Muscle Diamond for a second straight week in the feature.
Trolley was at the top of his game once again, and while seven days prior he had luck on his side in the form of clearance in the stretch after a rail trip, this time around he determinedly earned his way to a third win in the $21,000 Preferred Handicap for trotters in his last four tries.
Trolley displayed early speed this time around — a completely different tactic than the week before — before yielding the point grudgingly to even-money favorite Muscle Diamond at the three-eighths.
The twosome sped clear of the field at the half in :55.2 as 5-2 third choice Melady’s Monet was activated from fifth, but this would be a two-horse battle to the finish.
Marcus Miller popped Trolley out of the pocket around the far turn, briefly providing cover for Melady’s Monet, and had 1¼ lengths to make up in the final three sixteenths.
He chipped away at Muscle Diamond’s advantage through the lane before wearing down that foe in deep stretch on the way to a 1¼-length win in 1:53.1. Melady’s Monet finished third.
As the 9-5 second choice, Trolley returned $5.60 to his backers for trainer Erv Miller and owners Michael Anderson, Leland Mathias, Greg Gillis and Louis Willinger. The 6-year-old son of Donato Hanover-Lakeside Bride has now won 13-of-27 career starts and earned $313,459.
Corey Callahan had a driving triple on the card while Marcus Miller and Anthony Napolitano had two apiece. Jenn Bongiorno had a training double.
The Late 20-Cent Jackpot Super High-Five was hit. The lone player holding a ticket with the combination 7-2-6-4-9 in the 14th race walked away with $43,014.58.
All-source wagering on the 14-race program totaled $2,741,370.
On Jan. 19, Geez Joe got back into the win column after consecutive failures as the favorite, scoring by the smallest of margins over rival K Ryan Bluechip in the Saturday night feature, the $21,000 Preferred Handicap for pacers.
The betting public made their opinion clear, as Geez Joe was sent to the gate as the 2-5 favorite, the fourth consecutive time the Erv Miller trainee was the public choice in the Big M’s weekly marquee pacing event.
Geez Joe and driver Marcus Miller left the gate alertly from post six in the six-horse field but had to settle for the four hole in the early going as 30-1 shot New Talent hit the quarter in :26.1. Geez Joe vacated his spot just before the half and started to cut into New Talent’s lead while racing uncovered, and at the head of the stretch, the duo were on even terms.
Geez Joe wore down the longshot mid-lane but bursting on the scene late was K Ryan Bluechip, the 4-1 second choice who was last in a third-over flow at three-quarters, flying on the far outside as Geez Joe was straining to hold on. The pair hit the wire together, and after the judges took several minutes to examine the photo, they put up Geez Joe’s number. New Talent held on for third. The time for the mile was 1:50.2.
The winner, a 5-year-old son of Roll With Joe-Beach Bretta, returned $2.80 to win for owner Bay Pond Racing Stable. Geez Joe has now won 17-of-55 lifetime starts and earned $228,978.
It was a huge weekend for the father-son team of Erv and Marcus Miller. They combined to win both weekly features, scoring Friday with Trolley in the Preferred Handicap for trotters before Geez Joe’s score Saturday. Over the course of the two-card race week, Marcus drove five winners while Erv trained three.
Due to the inclement weather, the 14-race card saw a total of 21 scratches. Despite that, all-source wagering was still strong, at $2,309,847.
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