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Yonkers: Imported pacers providing boost to Stalbaum/Asher Stable
When the husband and wife duo of Larry Stalbaum and Kimberly Asher decided to shift their stable’s focus back to Yonkers Raceway this year, they knew they would need a fresh barn of top-class horses to compete. Instead of looking to domestic sales or claimers, Stalbaum went back to a move that he’s had success with in the past, importing horses from Australia and New Zealand.

“I like buying them from down there. If I’m going to race at Yonkers, they all get around a half good down there because that’s basically what they race on,” Stalbaum said. “I just do a lot better buying them from down there. I wanted to buy some good ones, so I went back to where I’ve done good.”

Stalbaum wanted a mare who could compete in the Matchmaker Series and a gelding who could race in the Levy. He ended up with a pair for each series: Gina Grace N and Miss Irish Rose A for the Matchmaker and Chumlee A and Simply Susational N for the Levy. This fresh quartet of pacers has been responsible for six of Asher’s seven training wins posted so far this season at Yonkers.

“It’s been very, very good. All the new horses I’ve bought have been racing really good. A couple old standbys that I’ve had are racing ok, but the new horses have really done what I’ve asked them to do.”

All four of Stalbaum’s series eligibles are racing this weekend at the Hilltop, none at a higher level than Gina Grace N, who takes her second shot at the $40,000 Filly and Mare Open Handicap Friday night. A 6-year-old by Bettor's Delight out of the In The Pocket Mare Linda Grace, Gina Grace N was a four-time Group 3 stakes placed mare in Australia before arriving in the U.S. a few months ago. She made an immediate impression on Stalbaum.

“I liked her. She’s got a lot of attitude. She’s kind of high-strung and has a very willing attitude,” he said. “She likes her space, she eats good, she’s real tough. She’s not like a big baby, she’s not a lover. She likes to go outside, she likes to eat, and she likes to do her job. She’s kind of the perfect racehorse. She’s always happy, she’s always good, but she’s a little ornery to be around.”

Gina Grace N made her first stateside appearance in a qualifier at Monticello Jan. 10. She won by 7-1/4 lengths, giving Stalbaum the confidence to ship her to Buffalo Raceway for her first pari-mutuel start in the Filly and Mare Open Jan. 24. However, after being parked out the first half-mile, Gina Grace N faded and finished a distant seventh. Looking back, Stalbaum concedes the trek to Buffalo and the harsh winter weather contributed to Gina Grace N’s lackluster debut.

“She didn’t take the ship (to Buffalo) very well. It was a little too far of a ship and plus, it’s summer down there and it's winter up here. It happened to be really winter up there, it was brutal for those couple weeks,” Stalbaum said. “It was a bad decision on my part, I shouldn’t have taken her up there, but I was looking for an easy race for her, something I didn’t really have to race her very hard and she ended up having a little issue.”

Stalbaum qualified Gina Grace N back at Buffalo Feb. 3 and entered her in a $20,000 overnight at Yonkers six days later. She won by a length in 1:54.2 and came back the next week to post another length win when up in class in 1:55. Her victories impressed Stalbaum, who was in the driver’s seat for both races.

“She was very good, well in hand. She’s very nice to drive, she can do anything you want her to do, she’s not overly aggressive but she likes her job and she’s very willing to do whatever you want her to do,” he said. “She’s very versatile. As of right now, that’s what she seems like to me. She can take air, she can come from the back, she can leave. She can do anything.”

In her first try in the local Filly and Mare Open one week ago, Gina Grace N started from post six and finished fifth, beaten 2-1/4 lengths to Sell A Bit N. Although Stalbaum wanted to see more from her, he’s still optimistic about her chances going forward as the Matchmaker Series approaches.

“She drew bad and we were kind of far out of it. I would have liked to see her finish a little better, but it was her first time she’s been against those horses,” he said. “I was happy with it. She drew bad, got way too far back, picked up a little money. Hopefully she’ll start drawing a little better.”

Gina Grace N will start from post six again this week and is a 9-2 chance on the morning line with Stalbaum in the bike. Itty Bitty is the 3-1 morning line choice off a sharp qualifier for Andrew Harris while millionaire L A Delight is a 6-1 chance in her debut for trainer Nancy Johansson from post seven. Lispatty, Clear Idea, All About Madi, Delightful Dragon, and Carobbean Pacetry complete the lineup.

The Filly and Mare Open is slated as race six on Friday’s 12-race program, which begins at 6:50 p.m.

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