There was bad news and good news Tuesday for Armbro Plato, the speedy Western New York-owned gelding who has been pointing for trotting's biggest prize, the $1 million Hambletonian at The Meadowlands on Aug. 9.
The bad news was that Armbro Plato, driven, trained and part-owned by North Tonawanda native Ray Schnittker, drew the far outside in his seven-horse elimination race on Saturday afternoon.
The good news is that he drew into what may be the softest of the three $66,666 elims.
With lifetime earnings of $390,800 (from 10 wins in 21 starts) Armbro Plato is the richest trotter in his division and second only to overall favorite Malabar Man. He is a winner of 18 of 20 races and $784,624, but has drawn into another elim.
Armbro Plato, whose owners also include Earl Scheelar of Hamburg and brothers Ron and Bill Kelkenberg of Niagara County, enters the race off a one-length win in 1:57 2/5 at Woodbine last week.
His main rival Saturday appears to be Yankee Glide, a winner of $352,145 who prepped with a lifetime best 1:55 1/5 mile at the Meadowlands last week.
The three Hambo eliminations plus a trio of Breeders' Crown races for older horses will be shown Saturday from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. on ESPN 2.
Trotting's most prestigious race traditionally had been presented in multiple heats on the same afternoon. The Hambletonian this year will stage its eliminations a week before the final, and the 10 qualifiers will race once on Aug. 9 to win the 72nd edition of the middle jewel in trotting's Triple Crown.
Malabar Man, who is unbeaten in five starts this year, was made the 1-5 morning-line favorite and will break from post three in the second of three elimination races Saturday. Malabar Man won the $416,000 Beacon Course Trot at the Meadowlands two weeks ago, his 18th win in 20 career starts. The son of Supergill has earned $784,624.
Chavez, Maple named
New York jockeys Jorge Chavez and Eddie Maple have been named aboard horses in both the $100,000 New York Derby and the $60,000 New York Oaks at Finger Lakes Race Track on Saturday.
Chavez will be up on Mr. Groush, the probable favorite in the Derby after his third-place finish in the Ohio Derby, and Dewars Rocks, who should be well-regarded in the Oaks.
They form an entry trained by H. James Bond, a Finger Lakes alumnus who now is based on the New York circuit.
Maple will ride Bond's Goodbye Bill in the Derby and the Erik Jensen-trained Biogio's Rose in the Oaks. The races are for New York-bred, 3-year-old males and females respectively.
Hall of Fame rider Sandy Hawley is scheduled to come down from Toronto to pilot George Bankuti's Brite Prospector in the Oaks.
Held For Ransom fastest
Held For Ransom's 1:56 1/5 mile, posted for trainer-driver Jim Compton in his victory in the Upstate New York Invitational Pace on May 24, was the quickest mile of the season at the just-completed Buffalo Raceway meet.
The rest of the meet's five fastest pacers were: Carmel Blue Chip (1:56 2/5 , driven and trained by Norm Fluet); Stick A Dynamite (1:56 3/5 and 1:56 4/5 for driver Tom Mays and trainer Chris McClory) and Jate's Touch (1:56 4/5 , Dave Koslowsky and Mark Capone.)
Lord Stormont's 1:58 4/5 mile, a track record for 3-year-old trotters on June 13, was the fastest trot of the meet. He was driven by Wally Hennessey for trainer Norm Jones.
Other top trots were: Preassembled (1:59 4/5 , Jeff Gregory and John Bullis); Overstep (2:00 4/5 , Mike Caprio and Sid Lindell Jr.); Sal The Barber (2:00 4/5 and 2:01, Jamie Dunlap and Steve Pratt) and Megarama (2:01, Mike and Mark Pokornowski).
Giliforte shines at Fort
Hottest trainer at Fort Erie last week was Buffalo native Layne Giliforte. The son of long-time Fort trainer Joe Giliforte hit the winner's circle with three of seven starters and also finished third twice.
His winners were Ojibwa Princess ($3.60) on Friday, Captain L ($30.70) on Sunday and Strike Me Gently ($14.90) on Monday.
The former groom of Canadian Triple Crown winner Izvestia now sports a 10-6-4 record from 30 starts. A $2 win bet on all his runners would have yielded a profit of $69.80 on a $60 investment.
Rochetto sees 'ghost'
Don't discount Rocchetto's chances next time the gray 3-year-old shows up in a maiden race at Fort Erie or Woodbine. The colt had some tough luck Saturday when Dr. Andre, a riderless horse who had tossed his jockey at the start, loomed up on Rocchetto's inside and dueled him through a first quarter in 22 4/5 seconds and most of a 46 2/5 half.
The empty-saddled rival "sure didn't help things," said jockey Doug Gibbons, who also had to take Rocchetto back on the turn so Dr. Andre could get to the outside and head for the barn area.
Rocchetto, the 7-2 second choice, finished seventh in the 6-furlong dash.
Color Mack happy
Earle I. Mack, co-owner of Prince of Wales Stakes winner Cryptocloser, wondered out loud Sunday if he's the first owner to win Fort Erie's biggest race three times. His colors -- a yellow sunrise on a burgundy background -- also were carried by Peteski in 1993 and Bruce's Mill in 1994).
Mack still has a way to go to match the late E.P. Taylor's Windfields Farm, which won the event five times with New Providence (1959), Song of Even (1961), Canebora (1963), Battling (1967) and Presidial (1972).
Around the tracks
Batavia Downs plans to race Wednesday and Thursday afternoons to take advantage of large OTB audiences who get bored during the 30 minutes between thoroughbred races at Saratoga. Batavia will race at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and, through Labor Day, on Mondays.
The Syracuse Mile's seven-day, three-weekend "Season in the Sun" starts Saturday. There will be 1 p.m. harness cards Aug. 2-3, 9-10 and 15, 16, 17. High point is the $250,000 Zweig Memorial for 3-year-old trotters on closing day. Admission to the track at the State Fair Grounds is $2, seniors 60 and older are free.