Sunday, June 9, 2024

New Jersey Maturity champion Voukefalas got a bit of class relief and returned to his winning ways after a three-race winless streak Saturday night at The Meadowlands, taking the featured $18,000 high-end conditioned pace.

“He’s a different horse this year as far as his temperament,” said winning trainer Michael Russo. “He has a great attitude but seems to know he’s a stud this year.”

Voukefalas certainly raced like a stud, as he went after Lyons Steel – who led at the quarter in :26.1 – while parked and did not see the rail until he made it to the top at the three-eighths before hitting the half in :54.1.

“I was mildly concerned with his qualifiers because it seemed as though something was holding him back,” said Russo. “I can’t really knock any of his races up to now, but I did think this race was important for him to win against a good field of quality older horses.”

The 4-year-old son of Lazarus N-Inittowinafortune kept strolling along on the point, opening up a 1¾-length edge at three-quarters in 1:22 as the pocket-sitting Lyons Steel was steadily losing ground. ‘Vouk’ opened up three on the field at the head of the stretch before reporting home a 1½-length winner in a lifetime-best 1:48.4. Joemikiyoursofine rallied for second while the rail-sitting Stonebridge Reef grabbed the show dough.

“He’s been really good,” said driver Jordan Stratton, who guided Voukefalas to his third win in six 2024 tries. “The 4-year-old year is tough because you face older horses. Tonight, he was down a little bit in class. He was pretty well in hand.”

Owned by Michael N Pagonas, Voukefalas paid $4.80 to win as the 7-5 favorite, and upped his lifetime stats to 10 wins from 25 starts, good for earnings of just over $600,000.

“I was thrilled with the race tonight,” said Russo. “Especially, with the Graduate looming next weekend.”

MONTEMURRO’S MONEY: Nick Montemurro took home $2,000 as the winner of The Big M’s handicapping contest that offered a prize pool of $5,000. All one had to do to enter was buy a $100 betting card, off which they could keep the profits if they won for the night.

Montemurro totaled $245.50, while second-place finisher K. Fossli totaled $228.00 to cash in for $1,250. Finishing third through fifth were J. Gioberti ($149.00, $1,000), Jim Bohnarczyk ($142.00, $500) and Bill Finnigan ($141.50, $250), respectively.

A LITTLE MORE: Stratton and Tyler Buter led the driver colony with two winners apiece. … A $21,360 carryover led to almost $66,000 in “new money” being poured into the 20-cent Pick-6 pool for a grand total of $87,176. Those with winning tickets after a sequence that saw winner’s odds of 1-9, 6-1, 3-5, 46-1, 5-2 and 2-1 cashed in for $3,865.14. … All-source handle on the 14-race program totaled $2,802,424. … Racing resumes Friday at 6:20 p.m.

PHOTO: Voukefalas and driver Jordan Stratton won the Saturday night feature at The Meadowlands. (Credit: Lisa Photo)