by Ken Weingartner
In an already long race – at the nontraditional distance of 1-1/4 miles – Natural Herbie went even longer to win Saturday’s $250,000 International Trot Preview Invitational at Yonkers Raceway.
Racing on the outside much of the way, Natural Herbie battled through a field of international stars to win in 2:24.4 at odds of 9-1. European standout Commander Crowe finished second, three-quarters of a length behind, and Bee A Magician, the lone female in the eight-horse field, was third. Obrigado was fourth and Arch Madness fifth.
Sebastian K, the fastest trotter in harness racing history, went off stride while racing three wide for the lead on the first turn and was not a factor.
Natural Herbie, a multiple Indiana Sire Stakes champion, and driver/trainer/owner Verlin Yoder were in fifth place when Yoder made a first-over move just prior to the half-mile point. From there, the 4-year-old Here Comes Herbie-Ljanearl gelding remained first over into the stretch, when he rallied from third place to get the victory.
“It was a little earlier than I wanted to, but I had to move,” Yoder said. “He stood up to it. I’ve put him in bad spots before and he always comes through. But he had his work cut out tonight.”
Natural Herbie started from post seven and was midpack as Arch Madness led the field to the first quarter in :27.4, half in :57.1, three-quarters in 1:26.2 and mile in 1:55.1. Commander Crowe was second, followed by Bee A Magician and Not Afraid.
“I was hoping I could make it down the backside before I pulled the blinds,” Yoder said. “When you pull the blinds, he puts in another effort. He waits on it. I made it to just the turn before I had to pull them and he stepped up to the plate and did what he was supposed to.
“I knew he was trotting good and trying hard. Whenever he’s trying that hard, he’s usually going forward.”
Natural Herbie, purchased by Yoder just prior to the start of his racing career as a 2-year-old, has won 12 of 23 races this year and 24 of 46 lifetime, with earnings of $749,841.
“It’s an honor,” Yoder said about the win against a world-class field. “It keeps me speechless. I don’t know what to say. He’s done way above what I ever expected him to do. He’s just got a lot of talent. He’s a very smart horse and he knows how to win races.”
A former factory worker who used to build RVs, Yoder has been involved in harness racing since 2004. It started as a hobby, but turned into a fulltime pursuit. He enjoyed his best year in 2013, when he conditioned not only Natural Herbie but Indiana Sire Stakes 3-year-old female trotting champion Lady Blitz.
“He’s taken me to places I’ve never been to before,” Yoder said about Natural Herbie. “Just being a trainer-driver, it just does not happen nowadays, especially when you own them yourself. It’s very special. He took us places that we never expected to go.
“Yonkers treated me very nice. Nice hospitality. I was up here (Friday) night and got the grand tour. It was very nice. I’ve got nothing but the best to say about it.”