Robert Gordon Pace headlines Saturday action

Rockinscience, fresh from a sparkling victory for driver/trainer Luke Plano, takes on a solid cast in Saturday night’s featured $9,700 Robert Gordon Pace.

Watch and Wager LLC will present 13 races with first post set for 4:55 p.m. and the main event will go as the eighth contest on the evening.

There are several major contenders in the Gordon line-up, with Rockinscience likely to have his share of backers as he goes for the hat trick this weekend. The 4-year-old son of Rockin Image carries the banner of Nikki Hudson and Dave Haness.

After taking the measure of a softer group here on January 10, the bay performer came back last week and streaked home in :27 1/5 to make it two in a row while stopping the timer in 1:52 2/5, shaving two full seconds off his lifetime mark.

Bobs Time will be gunning for his third snapshot from his last five trips to the post and is another major player. Rick Bertrand owns and trains the 4-year-old with Jake Cutting in his usual spot in the sulky.

Bobs Time proved a punctual even-money favorite last week as he sat the pocket early, brushed to command on the final bend and went on to a length and a quarter score over Cut A Rug, who will again be among his rivals in the Gordon with Doug Chappell at the controls.

Rounding out the field are Paddy Murphy, to be handled by Cordarius Stewart; Its Pointless, Tony Kerwood; Villa For Rent with Mooney Svendsen; and Artspire, who will leave from the outside slot with Nick Roland guiding.

Silverhill Volo puts streak on line in Sunday’s Open Trot

A $7,400 Open Trot that finds Silverhill Volo aiming for his fifth straight victory and a $7,200 Filly and Mare Open Pace with Bertha Vanation eyeing the hat trick are the marquee events on Sunday’s Cal Expo card.

There will be 12 races under the Watch and Wager LLC banner and things get underway at 4:55 p.m.The Open Trot is scheduled as the third race, while the Distaff Open will occupy the sixth-race slot on the evening.

Silverhill Volo, perfect in his four outings at this meet, looks to keep the streak going in the Open Trot while leaving from the assigned outside post in the field of nine.

A 10-year-old son of Muscle Hill, Silverhill Volo is owned, trained and driven by Chip Lackey. He is eyeing his 29th victory from 140 trips to the post, has $168,000 in his bank account and sports a 1:55 1/5 mark.

Silverhill Volo has raced up close and personal in all his wins here, including a coast-to-coast decision in the Joe Lighthill two back. He was hard used while first over in his most recent tally three weeks ago, pulling away by two and a half lengths while making 3-5 look like a gift.

Mandeville could prove to be the main rival for owner/driver/trainer Gerry Longo. The 9-year-old sidewheeler had a second, a third and a fifth-place finish behind Silverhill Volo before returning to his winning ways two weeks ago in a conditioned affair.

Leaving from the outside post in the field of seven, he left into a pocket journey, then had the needed response when asked in the lane and drew off by a length and a quarter. It was the 31st snapshot in 142 trips to the post for Mandeville, who pushed his earnings close to the $270,000 mark. He lands two slots inside his main rival in the No.7 post for this go-around.

In the co-featured Distaff Open, Bertha Vanation has posted back-to-back surprise scores at the top rung for owners Bill and Cathy Dessert and driver/trainer Nick Roland, working out sweet trips on both occasions. This time around she will be asked to depart from the assigned outside slot in the field of seven.

Bertha Vanation longshot players delight

Those who have backed Bertha Vanation in her last two starts at the head of the distaff pacing ranks have been nicely rewarded, as the mare clicked at 25-1 weeks ago and came back to get the job done at 7-1 last Saturday evening.

The 6-year-old daughter of Voracious Hanover is owned by Cathy and Bill Dessert and is trained and driven by Nick Roland, who has been able to work out perfect two-hole trips with Bertha Vanation for those two upsets.

“I’ve been with Cathy and Bill for five or six years now and we bought this horse from her breeder John Hendricks three years ago,” Nick related. “She got sick on us this summer and kind of went off form, but the minute she got here she perked right up and showed how much she likes this track.”

Bertha Vanation won her first start at the meet, had to settle for minor awards in her next two tries, then missed a couple of weeks before suiting up for the January 2 Filly and Mare Open where she dismissed at 25-1 from the No. 2 slot.

“Because she’d missed some time, she needed every bit of that two-hole trip and the moderate fractions to get there by a nose,” Roland noted.

Nick admits he didn’t see another pocket journey in Bertha Vanation’s future when she left from the No. 4 post in a compact cast last week, but the racing gods were once again in her favor and she prevailed once more at the head of the class.

“I didn’t see it happening on paper, but for whatever reason Brighten Your Life didn’t go and I left hard for the top. I didn’t mind it at all when Delightfully Wild retook the lead and we were able to work out another good trip.”

Upsets are often made of such things.

Low takeout wagers offer great value

There are three wagers offered here each night that come with a reduced 16 percent takeout rate – the 20-cent early and late Pick 5 and the 20-cent Pick 4, the latter featuring a $25,000-guaranteed gross pool.

To give you some idea of the value that comes as a result of the lower takeout, take a look at last Sunday night’s 20-cent Pick 5 that covered the first five races on the card.

There was an even-money winner, three horses clicking at 3-1 and one scoring at 5-1, with the 20-cent investment coming back a nifty $353.68, which equates to a much higher return than the parlay and a nice increase on what the regular takeout payoff.

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This weekend’s Robert Gordon Pace is named for the noted driver/trainer and track executive who passed away at age 65 in 2006.

Bob Gordon started his 40-year-career in Ohio and learned his lessons under the outstanding horseman Bob Farrington. He eventually settled in California and was a mainstay at the top of the standings from the late 70s through the early 90s, conditioning such starts as Stand By N, Theora Hanover and Pack Leader.

Gordon was a past president of the Western Harness Standardbred Association and the California Harness Horse Breeders Association, while in the early 90s he served as a director of the United States Trotting Association.

He was president of Premier Harness Racing, which raced at Los Alamitos, and was instrumental in keeping the sport alive in the mid 90s at a time when harness racing was definitely on the ropes.

Bob Gordon was also director of backstretch operations for the Sacramento Harness Association and helped in starting the not-for-profit corporation, which was operating at Cal Expo at the time of his death.

Mandeville, Longo joining forces for success

Mandeville put his class on display last weekend when he got away from arch-rival Silverhill Volo and proved a punctual 4-5 favorite in a conditioned event.

The 9-year-old trotter by Majestic Son is owned, trained and was driven by Gerry Longo, who is still going strong at 75 years young, and they make a great team.

“I bought the horse in the fall of 2019 when I saw him racing in Kentucky,” Longo related. “What impressed me was that he could be tough on the front end or from behind and he was coming home in :27 and change.”

Mandeville recorded eight victories from his 21 starts last season for Longo, including a l:54 lifetime mark over the five-eighths Running Aces oval during the summer. His win her last week was No. 31 from 142 starts and he currently has $270,000 in his bank account.

“I’ve loved this horse ever since I got him,” his mentor said. “He was still a little short when he first raced at this meet, but I’ve been training him harder lately and that last start showed what can do.”

Gerry was asked if the veteran sidewheeler has a preference when it comes to the size of the track, having raced over so many in his career. “He doesn’t care if it’s a half-mile, five-eighths or a mile like Cal Expo, he’s versatile enough to adjust to the track and any way the race comes up.”

A pocket rocket is powerful

Shakespeare wrote, “The play’s the thing”, but if he was a harness driver instead of the greatest author of all time, he would have changed that to, “The trip’s the thing.”

That was certainly the case with Bertha Vanation in last week’s Filly and Mare Open, as Nick Roland worked out a perfect two-hole journey from an inside post with the pacing distaffer and she was up by a nose over Brighten Your Life for the $52 surprise.

Taking nothing away from the winner, it was Brighten Your Life and Tony Succarotte who did all the heavy lifting in that mile and suffered the toughest of beats.

Brighten Your Life is an 8-year-old daughter of Shark Gesture who is owned by Tyler Gunderson and Jenna Cornelison and is conditioned by Cornelison. She has $163,000 in the bank and her 1:53 1/5 mark was established here last season.

Cornelison is a Sacramento native who got her original education in the sport while working with Gene Vallandingham. “Gene had a pacer named Run Baby Run who I got as a riding horse and in 2005 I ended up going to work with him here at Cal Expo,” Jenna related. “In 2007 I went back East with Pete Foley and spent four years at Pocono.”

Cornelison was out of the game for a brief period, but returned in 2012 and eventually came back to California to once again work at the Vallandingham barn.

“I just love coming out here each morning and having those heads sticking out and waiting for me. The real satisfaction comes after putting in all that work, sometimes in the cold and rain, and then watching them go out there and give everything they have in a race. It’s very rewarding.”