by Evan Pattak
It was only three weeks ago that bettors dismissed Catch The Fire at 63-1 in his Meadowlands Pace elimination. Today, he’s the 3-1 morning line favorite to win Saturday’s $375,000 final of the Delvin Miller Adios Pace for the Orchids at The Meadows.

The Adios goes as race 15 with an approximate post time of 4:02 PM, and it will offer a Super Hi-5 wager with a 20-cent minimum and a $50,000 guarantee. Moreover, while the Super Hi-5 jackpot typically is paid only if there is a unique winning ticket, the payout for the Adios Super Hi-5 jackpot is mandatory, meaning that all winning ticketholders will share the bounty. The card gets underway at the special post time of 11:25 AM, with advance wagering available Friday.

The reversal of Catch The Fire’s public perception seems somehow fitting in this topsy-turvy, COVID-19-distorted year, but it’s attributable to two solid reasons. First is the horse’s outstanding performance in his Adios elimination, which he won with a game 1:49.3 front-end performance for Mike Wilder, trainer John Ackley and owner Charlie Taylor’s CT Stables.

The second, of course, is the loss of presumptive Adios favorite Papi Rob Hanover, an early divisional leader, who’s out for at least the balance of this year with a fractured coffin bone.

But even as a yearling, the son of Captaintreacherous out of the Bettor’s Delight mare Dream Outloud garnered little respect, bringing a modest $15,000 at Lexington.

“We had just bought one for $40,000, and I thought Catch The Fire would bring $75,000 to $100,000, which we couldn’t afford,” Ackley recalls. “So I went for a sandwich. When I came back, Charlie told me he bought him for $15,000. I couldn’t believe it. I went back to look at him again to see if I’d missed something.  He is a tad on the small side, but you couldn’t find a knock on his conformation.”

At 2, Catch The Fire more than justified the investment, winning the Kentucky Sires Stake championship and banking $258,547.

Ackley, who’s based at Ohio’s Fayette County Fairgrounds, made harness racing his second career after putting in 20 years as a forklift operator. He’s enjoyed success with Ohio-breds, although perhaps his best colt, a Pennsylvania-bred named Lex Vegas, was injured in a highway accident and didn’t come back the same. Catch The Fire, who is eligible for most of the season’s major stakes, clearly is Ackley’s best shot at national impact.

“I’ve known he was special since about the fifth day I had the harness on him,” Ackley says. “We’re proud to have one that can race at this level and be competitive.”

The horse also gives Wilder perhaps his best shot at Adios orchids. Wilder has been a top driver at The Meadows for years and has amassed more than 8,300 career victories, but his best Adios final finishes have been a trio of fourths with Basil Hanover, Tarpaulin Hanover and last year with Wild Wild Western.

“It’s always a thrill to get in the final,” Wilder says. “This is our premier race at The Meadows and one of the premier races in our sport. It’s a great thing to be part of it.

“This horse shows up every time I race him. His strengths? Everything. He doesn’t have to have the lead. He can come from the back. I can get caught in a bad spot, and he still can perform well. His versatility makes my job very easy.”

In addition to the Super Hi-5, the program offers two total-pool carryovers: $2,441.84 in the Early Pick 4 (race 3), $1,908.78 in the Early Pick 5 (race 2). The powerhouse card also features the $107,320 Quinton Patterson Adioo Volo for 3-year-old filly pacers, a $59,088 Arden Downs stake for freshman colt and gelding pacers, and a $35,690 Arden Downs event for 2-year-old filly pacers. Other highlights include a pair of stakes for 3-year-old filly trotters: a $187,182 Pennsylvania Sires Stake and an $80,000 PA Stallion Series event.

Here’s the field with post positions, trainers, drivers and morning line odds:

$375,000 Delvin Miller Adios Pace for the Orchids

1. Later Dudes          Brian Brown              David Miller                       8-1

2. Capt Midnight       Tony Alagna                Andrew McCarthy      4-1

3. Catch The Fire      John Ackley            Mike Wilder                           3-1

4. The Greek Freak    Ron Burke                Matt Kakaley                     5-1

5. No Lou Zing            Nancy Takter        Josert Fonseca                     7-1

6. Sweet Truth           Ron Burke            Yannick Gingras                    12-1

7. Chief Mate               Tony Alagna         Scott Zeron                             20-1

8. Captain Barbossa   Tony Alagna         Brian Sears                           6-1

9. Elver Hanover         Ron Burke            Chris Page                              10-1