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Morrill in money seven times

Driving superstar Jim Morrill Jr. -- the king of Western New York harness racing for the past year and a half -- got his 2007 season off to an excellent start Friday night.

Morrill, the top percentage driver in North America last year, scored with four winners, two seconds and a third in 10 drives before about 500 fans at Buffalo Raceway's season opener.

"Our bank accounts sure appreciate it," Morrill said when asked if the horsemen were glad to be back in action after being idle since Batavia Downs closed Dec. 2. He might also have been speaking for himself.

Morrill struck early, winning with his first drive as Atoka Jack ($11.80) got up in the final strides to win a five-horse photo in the third of 13 races in 2:03 4/5 . The 5-year-old horse is trained by John Leggio, the Raceway's leader with 77 wins last year.

"I've won one in a row," joked Morrill when reminded that he was off to a perfect start.

"I'm far from perfect," he said. "If I can do as good as I did last year, I'll be tickled to death."

Last year was extraordinary for the 42-year-old from the Boston (N.Y.) hills. He won 379 of 1,011 races (37.5 percent) and -- with 199 seconds and 112 thirds -- was in the money in 690 times (68.2 percent). Horses driven by Morrill won $2,186,367 in prize money. At Buffalo Raceway, he won 214 races and $844,098 in purses.

On Friday, Morrill climbed back atop the driver standings in the fourth race. He took 3-5 favorite Panther Hall ($3.30) straight to the top from the No. 8 post and piloted the 10-year-old trotter to an easy win for trainer Paul Messina.

Morrill's perfecto halted in the fifth race. He opened a five-length lead with Lynda's BGN but the 1-9 favorite ran out of gas and finished seventh to Hurrican Kelsey ($11.10) with Keith Kash Jr., last year's runner-up driver (108 wins), at the reins.

The champ got back on form when Eddy Kash ($4.10), even-money favorite in the featured $10,000 trot, came from far back to run down the Ken Holliday-driven Gamesmanship in 2:01 4/5 , fastest mile of the night.

His fourth win came behind Wasabi Hanover ($3.40) in the 12th race.

Earlier, Kami's Call ($5.20), the Raceway's fastest trotter ever (he won in a record 1:58 last July), posted an easy win for Kash in a far-from-record 2:05 2/5 .

"I think the time off [since Dec. 1] did him some good. He's very tough," Kash said. "I think he can beat it [his track record] once the weather gets warmer."

For hunch players, Friday Night Gal ($4.20) got the season off to a profitable start. The 7-year-old mare paced on top most to the way and won the first race by about a length for driver Kevin Cummings.

It was Friday Night Gal's third straight victory against $7,500 claiming horses since she was claimed for $5,000 on Nov. 17 by owner-trainer John Cummings Sr., the driver's father.

Ken Holliday cashed the biggest long shot of the night when he took Mrs. Robinson ($24.20) wire-to-wire from the No. 8 post and held off Morrill's late charge with favorite Blego.

Racing continues on Friday and Saturday nights through July 28. Wednesday nights will be added starting Feb. 14. Sunday afternoon racing will be held the first four weeks of July.


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