New York Champ Ready to Take on the Best
By JAY BERGMAN
Just how tough was the New York Sire Stakes program this year? As Frank said, “If you can make it there you can make it anywhere.” Well, on Friday night we’ll find out if anywhere is Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs and if that somebody is two-year-old trotting colt Dejarmbro.
It’s hard not to be fascinated by a beautiful dark brown two-year-old trotting colt that was virtually unbeaten racing on the half-mile tracks in New York. Virtually, we say because on two occasions he was disturbed by breakers and lost his stride. But let’s just say when Dejarmbro didn’t run into road trouble he treated his rivals like was the model of excellence.
The Purple Haze Stables LLC (Wanda Polisseni)-owned colt was plucked from last year’s Harrisburg sale for $65,000 by the husband and wife-training team of Howard and Jessica Okusko. “He was a big handsome colt,” recalled Jessica. “Ed Gold told us to look at the Fair Winds Farm consignment. We loved the colt when we saw him and were very lucky to get him.”
For the Okuskos who maintain a training base at Vernon Downs, Dejarmbro did everything right from the start. He had the usual sickness that young horses get in the spring but by the time the racing season came around he was ready. “We put the hobbles on him before we were ready to qualify,” noted Jessica. “There are some difficult half mile tracks in New York and you just don’t want them to make a mistake.”
Driver Jeff Gregory picked up the driving assignment behind the Credit Winner-sired colt in his second start at Tioga Downs on August 1. The pair came from off the pace with an effortless 2:00 trip winning by open lengths.
The colt got involved in an early speed duel at Batavia two weeks later but was resilient in an incredible 1:58.4 mile. Gregory who appears rather low key when it comes to this horse, gave him high marks nonetheless. “You can pretty much do anything you want with him. He’s got a great mouth and can grind all day.”
At his home track on September 2 Dejarmbro showed his ability to sprint at both ends of the mile leaving in a :27.4 clip and coming home in :28 flat to score in a career best 1:55.3 mile.
Post seven and eight are usually killers for juvenile trotters going around half-mile tracks but Dejarmbro easily overcame those obstacles with consecutive NYSS preliminary scores at Yonkers and Monticello in early September.
As difficult as the NYSS circuit can be with so many legs and multiple wins needed to qualify for the final, Dejarmbro came into the $200,000 final last week poised for the challenge. The colt from an outstanding maternal family which includes former Breeders Crown champion Armbro Flori, was pushed to the limit having to race overland. In the end the long journey proved fruitful with Dejarmbro overtake pacesetter Surface Tension and holding off Whitewater Rapids in an unreal 1:57 mile. That mark broke the track standard by 2 full seconds.
“I don’t think he was at his best in the final,” said Gregory. “I think he will be better on the big track.”
Both Gregory and Okusko see that nothing fazes this colt. “It’s like a game to him,” said Jessica, “he goes out and plays and has fun.”
Owner Polisseni has fun too says Okusko. “She’s the greatest owner. She comes to the barn regularly to see her horses and enjoys it tremendously. She brings 50 pounds of carrots and loves to treat her horses well.”
Driver Gregory has proven over the years to be a solid force in the sulky and has been among the top drivers wherever he races. Currently a regular at Yonkers, he did much of his racing in earlier years upstate New York and has been friends with the Okuskos for more than 20 years. He’s even-keeled, which is a great quality to have when steering young trotters in big races.
“I don’t know how he’ll be racing against this caliber of horse after racing in New York,” said the driver, “But I don’t think he’ll embarrass himself.”
In addition to drawing post eight in one of three $25,000 Breeders Crown elimination fields for juvenile colt trotters this Friday, Dejarmbro faces a solid group that includes two speedy colts from the Jimmy Takter stable. Both Leader of the Gang and Johnny B Kemp sport sub-1:56 marks this season.
The luck of the draw went to lucky Chuck Sylvester who will send out Live Jazz, an Andover Hall-sired colt that has been kept away from the big races thus far but steps into the limelight off back-to-back 1:56.4 miles first at Chester Downs and then last week in a division of the Standardbred at Delaware.
For team Okusko a big effort by Dejarmbro in the Breeders Crown will be the icing on the cake of a dream season. The pair managed to capture two NYSS Championships last week when Dejarmbro’s stablemate three-year-old Blacktuxwhitesox, also by Credit Winner, won his division for the second straight year.