Sunday, May 28, 2023

Displaying his usual brilliance in a third straight start to begin his season, the marvelous Voukefalas toyed with seven overmatched foes during a 5-length romp Saturday night at The Meadowlands while taking the $240,000 New Jersey Sire Stakes final for 3-year-old colts and geldings on the pace.

“I was very nervous the whole way,” said winning trainer Mike Russo with a laugh. “I was nervous all week but I was pretty confident coming in. He does all the work. He makes me look good.”

Make that very good.

The son of Lazarus N-Inittowinafortune was, predictably, on the go early from post six and made the top while parked at the quarter in :27.1. Handlelikeaporsche, the 6-1 second choice, grabbed the top at the three-eighths, but driver Jordan Stratton wasn’t settling for any two-hole trips on this night, going right back to the point with Voukefalas before hitting the half in :55.4.

“[Huge speed] was the big thing with his mother,” said Russo. “You know, she had such tremendous early speed.”

Voukefalas rolled up the score to three-quarters, upping his lead to 2¼ lengths in 1:23.2, before sprinting home in :26.2 to complete a lifetime-best 1:49.4 mile as Stratton sat as still as a stone in the sulky through the stretch. Vici was second with Lifes A Puzzle third.

As the 1-9 favorite, Voukefalas returned $2.20 to win and has now won six-of-10 lifetime outings, good for earnings of $391,088 for owner Michael Pagonas.

Races like the (June 17) North America Cup and (July 15) Meadowlands Pace won’t necessarily be won on the front end, so can Voukefalas do it from off a helmet?

“He’s proven in some qualifiers and some other races that he’s fine off the pace,” said Russo. “I prefer to race horses up front. I mean, that’s where the money is at, but that’s on Jordan and the horse.”

‘UCANDOIT’ DOES IT: Scott Zeron gave Uncandoit Blue Chip a perfect steer and the daughter of Keystone Velocity-Molly Can Do It did the rest, scoring from the pocket while taking an inside route to the winner’s circle in the $240,000 NJSS final for 3-year-old pacing fillies.

Trainer Linda Toscano had a hunch as to why her horse wasn’t racing quite as well of late, after finishing third in leg two of the NJSS 14 days ago following a leg one score.

“I had a suspicion and the vets confirmed [that she was bleeding some],” said Toscano. “So, she was certified and used Lasix [for the first time].”

Ucandoit Blue Chip burst away from the gate from post five in the 10-horse field to lead at the quarter in :26.3. Two Pistol Annie, the 7-5 second choice who defeated ‘Ucandoit’ when they met in leg two, rushed up to take the top at the half in :55.1, leaving the eventual winner in an ideal spot.

“That was a perfect trip,” said Toscano. “That’s just what we hoped for because she loves a helmet, and she knows what to do coming off a helmet.”

Two Pistol Annie reached three-quarters in 1:23.4, but the trip proved too taxing for her after working hard to make the top at three-eighths and then taking pressure on the far turn from longshot Devilish Dreams.

In midstretch, Two Pistol Annie was shot, and began a steady veer to the outside as her weary legs could not maintain a straight line. That left the inside wide open for Ucandoit Blue Chip, who sprinted up the pylons to a 1¼-length win in 1:51.3. Get Answers rallied inside for second while Two Pistol Annie held off an airborne Lisa Lane to grab the show dough.

“That’s her game,” said Toscano of her prized pupil. “Follow cover and finish. The plan was to do that tonight and it worked out real well.”

As the even-money public choice, Ucandoit Blue Chip returned $4.20. She’s now won six-of-10 lifetime starts and banked $324,993 for owner Bill Elliott.

A LITTLE MORE: Confederate, currently No. 6 in the Big M’s weekly “Road to The Meadowlands Pace” Top 10 poll, displayed explosive late pace in winning his seasonal debut in 1:50.1. The son of Sweet Lou-Geothermal rallied three-wide at three-quarters before charging home in :25.4 to win by a neck as the 1-5 favorite for driver Tim Tetrick and trainer Brett Pelling. … Tetrick led the driver colony with four winners while Ron Burke was the top trainer with three winner’s circle visits. … All-source handle totaled $2,885,902 on the 13-race card. … Racing resumes Friday at 6:20 p.m.

PHOTO: Voukefalas and driver Jordan Stratton take the New Jersey Sire Stakes final for 3-year-old colts and geldings on the pace with ease Saturday night at The Meadowlands. (Credit: Lisa Photo)