Matt Kakaley saw many of McWicked’s victories during the horse’s Dan Patch Award-winning campaign in 2014, but not from a favourable vantage point.
Kakaley drove horses that lost nine times to McWicked that season, which culminated with McWicked being named harness racing’s best three-year-old male pacer.
Last weekend McWicked won again, but this time Kakaley was much happier with the view. Kakaley began driving McWicked three weeks ago in the George Morton Levy Memorial Pacing Series and the two teamed to advance to Saturday’s $529,000 championship at Yonkers Raceway by getting last week’s crucial triumph following two second-place finishes.
“It’s cool how it’s worked out where I finally get to drive him,” Kakaley said. “I raced against him many, many times and he usually beat me every time I raced him. I think I got the better of him once or twice.
“This has worked out good. He’s getting sharp at the right time. He was super the other night.”
McWicked will start Saturday’s Levy final from post one and is the 3-1 second choice on the morning line behind favorite Somewhere In L A, who enters the race off back-to-back victories. Missile J, the only three-time winner in the event’s five preliminary rounds, is 4-1 while defending champion Bit Of A Legend N is 5-1.
“It’s going to be a good race,” Kakaley said. “It’s a good group of horses. Missile J is the one to beat, but Somewhere In L A has been racing good, Bit Of A Legend has been racing good. I don’t think any one horse lays over (the field). There are probably four or five that have a really big shot.”
McWicked, owned by Ed James and trained since last year by Steve Elliott, was stymied at ages four and five by throat issues that resulted in two surgeries. This year, the six-year-old son of McArdle - Western Sahara has won three of seven races and earned $71,000 to push his career purses to $1.83 million.
Kakaley and McWicked needed last Saturday’s win to secure a place in the Levy final. A week after losing by a nose to Clear Vision in a gate-to-wire attempt, McWicked rallied from four lengths back at the half to win by three-quarters of a length over Caviart Luca.
“He’s been getting better and better each start,” Kakaley said. “The (previous) start, when I had him on the front, he was just kind of waiting on a horse and Clear Vision got him. I asked Steve to make a little bridle change and he was sharp. He was super.
“He’s getting right at the right time for this series and the rail always helps at Yonkers. He’s just a pleasure to drive. He’ll do anything you want. He’s all professional.
"Steve has got him really good right now. Hopefully I can work out a good trip and give him a big chance to get the job done.”
Two races prior to the Levy championship, Kakaley will drive Medusa in the $310,600 Blue Chip Matchmaker Series final. Medusa, who had one win in the five preliminary rounds for trainer Andrew Federico Jr. and owners Randy Bendis and Tom Pollack, is 20-1 on the morning line from post six.
Mach It A Par, who shared the points lead in the prelims with Shesjustadelight N, is the 2-1 choice from post three. Regil Elektra, a three-time winner in the series, is 5-2 from post five and Shesjustadelight N is 4-1 from post two.
“I wasn’t too thrilled about the draw,” Kakaley said. “She drew outside a couple of the main contenders. But she’s been really good.
"She was really sharp when she won and she was really good last week, I just didn’t really have much room up the passing lane. But she finished with a good amount of steam.
“I was really looking forward to her being a live shot in there. Hopefully things will work out because she’s been good. I think she still has a shot; she just needs the race to set up for her.”