Sunday, December 24, 2023

For someone who won only three races during 2021, things have certainly taken a remarkably meteoric rise for driver Johnathan Ahle.

The 26-year-old pilot, who still raced in amateur events as recently as 16 months ago, steered the winners of both co-featured $27,500 high-end conditioned events for pacers at The Meadowlands Saturday night, scoring with Queen Of Success in the fillies and mares dash before hitting victory lane with the red-hot Soaring Now in the event for males.

One week after taking down 1-9 favorite Talk Curdy To Me, round two of the matchup saw Queen Of Success bet down to 3-5 after scoring seven days ago at 9-1. The 4-year-old daughter of Captaintreacherous-Cashaway lived up to the public’s confidence, displaying two big moves to record her 13th lifetime win from 42 starts.

Leaving alertly from post six in the six-horse field (there was one scratch), Ahle had Queen Of Success on the point out of the first turn but was forced to yield to Hot Mess Express, who reached the opening quarter in :27.1. Ahle then moved back to the top before the half with a burst of speed and had little in the way of trouble from there, scoring in 1:50.3 by 1½ lengths over a fast-closing Tony’s Mom. Talk Curdy To Me challenged the eventual winner at the three-quarter mark, but weakened from there, finishing fifth.

Queen Of Success, a Tony Alagna trainee, lifted her lifetime earnings to just over $430,000. She returned $3.20 to win.

“Queen is just an all-around professional,” said Ahle. “Handy and a true pleasure to drive. You feel like you never run out of horse with her.”

Soaring Now is the hottest horse at The Big M – and quite possibly, the sport – right now after racking up his fourth straight win while continuing to climb the class ladder.

The 4-year-old son of Jk Endofanera-Sunflower used his high speed to grab the lead at the half in :54.2 and went on to a rather easy, never-in-doubt 1¼-length win over Jack’s Legend N in 1:50.4.

“He’s a nice horse that is plenty handy,” said Ahle, who won four times on The Big M card after scoring five times at Freehold during daylight. “You can do whatever you want with him. He felt like he had plenty left in the tank if I needed it.”

Soaring Now, who is trained by Noel Daley, returned $4.20 to his backers as the even-money public choice. He’s won 16-of-37 lifetime outings, good for earnings just shy of $500,000.

So, which of the two did you think was more solid heading into the night?

“I was more confident in Queen because of post position (six, as compared to Soaring Now’s eight),” said Ahle. “But I thought they could both get the job done.”

Ahle’s 2023 is one he probably didn’t think would go as well as it has. After recording 45 victories a year ago in his second year as a driver, he’s won 308 races this year and with his performance at The Big M Saturday, pushed his money earnings past the $3-million mark.

PICK-8 HIT: After eight consecutive race cards saw no winning tickets in the 20-cent Pick-8, the multi-leg puzzle was finally taken down.

A carryover of $84,673 led to over $66,000 in “new money” being pumped into the pot, for a grand total of $151,285. After a sequence that saw winner’s odds of 1-2, 6-5, 3-5, 5-2, 3-5, 9-2/8-1 dead heat and 1-1 hit paydirt in the first seven legs, Ahle guided 20-1 outsider Revolver N to close out the wager. Those with winning tickets collected a handsome $12,377.42.

The opportunity for bettors was of the outstanding variety, as the carryover set the wager up to return 212 percent to those who cashed, instead of the usual 85.

A LITTLE MORE: Ahle’s four-bagger led the driver colony. … Andy Miller guided three to victory lane. … Michael Meza and Daley led the trainers with a pair of winners apiece. … All-source wagering totaled $3,104,396, the 59th time during 2023 from 87 programs that betting busted the $3-million barrier. … Live racing resumes Friday at 6:20 p.m.

PHOTO: Queen Of Success and driver Johnathan Ahle take the fillies and mares co-feature at The Meadowlands Saturday night. (Credit: Lisa Photo)