Jim Morrill, Jr. knows it is not usually prudent to enter races brimming with excessive confidence, but as he looks forward to Saturday’s $250,340 James M. Lynch Memorial at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, the hockey player-turned-harness racing driver might feel like he is rushing the net on a breakaway.
Morrill, who leads all drivers in wins at Pocono Downs this year, won two of the three Lynch Memorial eliminations on May 30, guiding Yellow Diamond and Shacked Up to triumphs. Both three-year-old pacing fillies are trained by Tracy Brainard and owned by Bulletproof Enterprises, which supplemented both horses to the race for $15,000 apiece.
Yellow Diamond won her elimination by four and a quarter lengths over Shanghai Lil in 1:51. Shacked Up won her elim by a length over Kiss Me Kate in 1:52.
“They’re both really nice fillies,” Morrill said. “But Yellow Diamond is really special, I think. I can’t go out on a limb and say she’s the best filly I’ve ever driven because I’ve only driven her once, but she’s pretty scary. She won as easy as a horse could possibly win. She could have gone in (1):49, no problem.
“That’s one start, so you can’t get too crazy, but she’s got some serious ability, I think. If she stays healthy and like she is now, she’s going to make a lot of money.”
The world record for a three-year-old filly pacer on a five-eighths-mile track is 1:49.3, set by Southwind Tempo in winning the Lynch in 2007. Morrill plans to drive Yellow Diamond in Saturday’s final. The draw is Wednesday.
“I’ve never been as confident with a horse as this one here,” Morrill said. “If she’s like she was the other day, I don’t care what (starting spot) she gets. It doesn’t matter. I’m not usually like that; I’m not an overconfident person. But with this filly, she was so good, I just don’t think anyone can touch her. I know what I had left.”
Morrill, who did not compete from early November 2008 through mid-March 2009, has won 147 races this year. Of drivers with 500 or more starts, he is the best in driver rating, with a .433 mark. Morrill also led in the category, which measures top-three finishes and is approximately the equivalent of a baseball player’s batting average, in 2008 and in 2006. He finished second to Gilles Barrieau in 2007.
This season, the majority of Morrill’s wins -- 104 -- have come at Pocono Downs. The track raced during the daytime last year, but switched to a predominately evening schedule this year.
Morrill saw an opportunity at Pocono Downs because he realized the new start time would prevent drivers such as Tim Tetrick and Tony Morgan, who finished first and third, respectively, in the Pocono Downs standings last season, from competing at the track as frequently. Tetrick races primarily at the Meadowlands and Harrah’s Chester while Morgan is based in Delaware.
In 2008, Morrill raced only 185 times at Pocono Downs; this year, he has nearly 400 starts. Tetrick and Morgan, conversely, have nearly 100 fewer starts this season compared to last year.
“Last year, I got (to Pocono Downs) late and I was going on Fridays and Saturdays,” Morrill said. “When they went to night racing, I saw more of a window. I wanted to get there from the start and give this place a full chance. I had a feeling it was going to be good.”
During the winter, Morrill, who lives in Hamburg, New York, not far from Buffalo, pursued another passion -- hockey. Morrill, who is 44, played junior hockey in Massachusetts, where he grew up, and tried out for a few junior teams in Canada.
“I play hockey three or four days a week,” said Morrill, who plays right wing. “I get a good workout. That’s my passion. As long as my body holds up, I’ll play as much as I can.
“Just don’t stick me on defense,” he added with a laugh. “I’m not a very good defensive player.”
Morrill plans to continue racing at Pocono Downs and at racetracks in New York, particularly on the sire stakes circuit.
“I’m well rested and ready to rock and roll for a long season,” he said.
(Harness Racing Communications)