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Westerfield shines on stakes return

By a nose: Action from the New Year's Day Stakes at Vesey Street. (Photo by Nicola Muirhead)

Andrea Westerfield made a triumphant return to stakes racing at the Bermuda Equestrian Centre yesterday.

The female harness driver won the Aged Stakes final with Roque Stable’s 13-year-old stallion, GV Crystal Ball, by the skin of her teeth to start the new year off with a bang.

Mother of one Westerfield pipped Random Stable’s gelding, Cherokee’s Ironman, by one fifth of a second on average time to win overall honours and pocket nearly $2,000 in prize earnings. Inwood Stable’s mare, Abbey’s Dream, rounded off the podium a further three fifths of a second off the lead pace.

With so much riding on the line, Westerfield’s strategy to approach the final like any other race ultimately paid dividends when it mattered most.

“My strategy was to stay calm and race like it was any other regular race day,” said Westerfield, the first female driver to win the coveted Champion of Champions. “Don’t change any strategies, just drive it like you stole it.”

Westerfield, who celebrated her 40th birthday on Boxing Day, won the first final heat from the rail in 1:04 flat to equal the season’s fastest time which she has already achieved multiple times this season.

“I just went for broke to try and get a very good time in that first race because I had the four hold in the second race,” she said.

Despite posting a slower 1:05/4 in the remaining final heat, Westerfield’s average time was good enough to secure the overall title, the female driver crossing the line in third behind winner Cherokee’s Ironman (1:05) and second placed Brona’s Mike (1:05/2) after starting from the four hold.

“Second race I just knew I had to get a good time to average it out, which I was able to do,” Westerfield said.

“The position didn’t matter too much, I just had to get a good time.

“This achievement ranks pretty high on my all-time list and this horse truly deserves it. This is actually my first stakes racing in a very long time, and it feels good to be back.”

Cherokee’s Ironman, with visiting driver Dale Miller in the bike, produced the day’s biggest upset after claiming line honours in the second final heat starting from the second hold.

Inwood Stable’s gelding, Brona’s Mike, started on the rail but galloped behind the pace car and was overtaken by rival gelding, Cherokee’s Ironman, who protected his lead the rest of the way.

Brona’s Mike’s owners protested the outcome. But after lengthy deliberations the race committee allowed the original result to stand.

Also basking in the limelight was Tanglewood Stable after Pocket De Gold won the 3-Year-Old stakes final at the first attempt.

The four-year-old mare won overall honours by a two-second margin over Inwood Stable’s mare, Inwood’s Generation, on average time and pocketed over $1,400 in prize earnings.

With visiting driver Bill Miller in the sulky, Pocket De Gold won the opening final heat from the rail in a time of 1:05/1 and then secured overall honours after crossing the line in 1:06/4 in the remaining heat behind winner, Touch of Red, of Random Stable.

“I was very pleased with the outcome, everything went well,” Colin Mello, Pocket De Gold’s trainer, said. “We had good racing, competitive fun and it was a pretty good turnout today. All in all, it was a very successful day.”

Pocket De Gold, jointly owned by Mello’s wife Heather and overseas driver Dale Miller, presently holds the two-year-old record of 1:03/3 on a 5/16th track in her native Indiana,

Mello, whose retired stud Big Red Machine holds the existing track record at Bermuda Equestrian Centre which stands at 1:01/4, reckons that the best is yet to come from Pocket De Gold.

“She’s a big mare and is still developing,” he said. “Hopefully there’s a lot more to come from her, which I think there is.”

Random Stable’s gelding, Touch of Red, rounded off the podium in the 3-Year -Old stakes final and also advanced to the 1:06/1- 1:07/1 time bar after posting a 1:06/3 in the second final heat with overseas driver Jeremy Miller at the helm.