Down Under Invaders Thriving for Harmon Stable

For the last several years, there has been an influx of pacers that have made the trek from New Zealand and Australia to the United States. A pipeline was established several years back where several American trainers contact their connections from “Down Under” and negotiate deals for the purchase and subsequent shipment of horses from overseas. This tactic of sale and acquisition is becoming more and more the norm in the last few years. In fact, if you were to look at the results from Yonkers or the Meadowlands on a given evening, you are likely to see a good percentage of the winners from that evening with an ‘N’ or ‘A’ at the end of their name. Why when there are so many horses bred in this country would people go to such lengths to acquire new members for their stables? The answer is fairly simple I suppose. Harness racing is big in New Zealand and Australia and there have been thousands of horses to come over to the States that have enjoyed success. While the number of pacers with that designation is rising on a consistent basis, there is a particular group of trainers that seem to assemble the majority of their stables via the overseas acquisitions.

In the last few years, we have seen trainers Paul Zabielski and Jose Godinez acquire a host of different horses via the New Zealand-Australia pipeline and enjoy massive success. Zabielski has had a group of Saturday stars emerge this season and they all seem to have the ‘N’ or the ‘A’ at the end of their names indicating they were bred in New Zealand or Australia. Last weekend, Aussie Lifeonthebeach A lengthened his win streak for Zabielski as he teamed up with driver Jimmy Devaux for their fourth consecutive victory and seventh in ten starts since making the flight from Australia this summer. Zabielski won the Gary Kamal Memorial Pacing Series in 2018 with New Zealand import Kiwi Tintin N and won the Consolation of the same series contested last month with The Great Buzz N.

Jose Godinez races at several tracks throughout the northeast and often brings a host of invaders to Saratoga. When he does, the majority of those horses are from Australia or New Zealand. Most recently, a lady pacer named Lady Dela Renta A rattled off back-to-back wins in the Fillies and Mares Open for Godinez as the speedy pacer displayed a blend of talent and versatility in scoring her two victories in the $18,000 Thursday feature at the Spa. In fact, though he didn’t have a win in the ladies distaff from May to October, Godinez has won six installments of the Fillies and Mares Open and five of them have come with mares from Down Under.

Patti and Rob Harmon run their barn together and, like Godinez, navigate throughout numerous different tracks while often landing at the Spa with members of their stable. And also like Godinez and Zabielski, the upper echelon of their barn is comprised of horses acquired via the Down Under pipeline. This spring, the Harmon stable brought a pair of ladies to town to compete against the Spa’s top distaffers. They saw two of their trainees win the Fillies and Mares Open and both were acquired via that oh so popular path that is being traveled more and more these days. January A and Coveredndiamonds N each came from off the pace to record Open wins and were just the latest pair to emerge as top-flight pacers from the Harmon stable.

The trend of Aussie and New Zealanders establishing themselves as stars in the States with many of those imports winning Opens has been prevalent and heading into last Thursday afternoon’s edition of the $18,000 Open for distaffers exactly half had been won by ladies with an ‘A’ or ‘N’ at the end of their name. Sixteen of the thirty-two Fillies and Mares Opens had winners from Down Under and when after Harmon stable unveiled The Charging Moa N for the first time locally, the tie was broken in favor of the overseas ladies.

For a handicapper, it can be a bit tricky to figure out what to do with these invaders from Australia and New Zealand since all you really have to go on is the mandatory qualifier the horse shows that is contested in the U.S. once he or she gets here. The charted lines from abroad aren’t exactly detailed enough to make an analysis from. One thing that more often than not happens when the new horses come to the U.S., though, is that they are heavily bet in their first start or starts and that is because of all the good horses that have been produced through the pipeline.

Going for a purse of $18,000 in her local debut on Thursday, The Charging Moa N drew post position six in the six-horse feature for the ladies. The Harmon-trained mare was victorious in her first three U.S. starts after coming over from Australia (though she is New Zealand bred) early in the fall. Following an unsuccessful try from post eight at Yonkers, The Charging Moa N put in an effort at the Spa that was simply breathtaking. It is impressive enough for any horse to make a last-to-first move but it’s even more eye-catching when this occurs in an Open since the horses that are getting circled are top-caliber competitors. Behind a final half in which she closed in 55 seconds, The Charging Moa N overcame a deficit that saw her go from sixth and last at the three-quarter pole to an open length leader by the time they reached the top of the stretch. The Charging Moa N stopped the timer in 1:53.4 in what was as impressive of a mile that we’ve seen from a lady pacer at the Spa all year long. In the win, she became the third Harmon trainee to score in the local Fillies and Mares Open in 2019 and broke the tie in favor of the Down Under invaders as far as Open wins on the season for the overseas ladies over their American counterparts.

The Harmons added another Open win to their tally on Saturday night when Bettor Notbitter A recorded his first victory in a Spa feature. The Australian invader has competed solely at Saratoga since his ship to the U.S. just about two months ago. Following a third and a win in the $14,000 Winners Over, Bettor Notbitter A finished second in his first try in the Open in October. While in his start leading up to Saturday’s try the seven year old had to settle for fifth, the Harmons’ new stable star finished in a final half of 54.3. So when he drew post two in last weekend’s installment of the $18,000 Open, it only made sense that the public would back Bettor Notbitter A to the tune of odds of 3-5. The Aussie didn’t disappoint and paced away from his rivals to record a 1:52.2 victory to set a new lifetime mark and register another Open victory for Patti and Rob Harmon. Jay Randall piloted Bettor Notbitter A to the wire-to-wire Open score. Similar to the trend in the mares’ Open, the boys’ feature has now seen a Down Under invader score in nine of the last eleven installments of the Open Pace as the Harmon stable is just the newest and hottest to be featuring stars coming from abroad to thrive at the Spa.

Live racing takes place on Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday afternoon starting at 12:00 and on Saturday evening beginning at 6:45pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!

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