Bib Roberts loves those Yankees -- not the baseball type, but the harness racing kind.
Roberts has trained and driven standardbreds in Maryland for more than 20 years. For 15 years he has handled horses for Yankeeland Farms of Frederick, Md. That arrangement is expected to continue despite the recent death of Charles Keller, the former New York Yankees outfielder who headed the 10th-leading breeding outfit in harness racing last year.
The relationship has benefited both parties as Roberts has cultivated such top pacers for Yankeeland as Rowdy Yankee and Mrs. Yankee, both with lifetime mile marks of 1:54 4/5, and Naughty Yankee (1:55 3/5).
Roberts's current star from Yankeeland is Choice Yankee, whose next start will be in the $200,000 Turtle Dove Stakes for 3-year-old pacing fillies at Rosecroft Raceway on Saturday.
"She's something special," said Roberts. "She's just such a good filly."
Choice Yankee's 1:54 4/5 victory in a Maryland Standardbred Fund race in May made her the fastest filly in the 18-year history of Fund events. But it was her victory as a 2-year-old over Bruce's Lady, the richest 2-year-old filly of 1989, in the $429,500 Three Diamonds at Garden State Park that brought her recognition.
In the Three Diamonds, Choice Yankee was driven by another Maryland regular, Jim Morrill Jr., although Roberts, a winner of nearly 1,200 races lifetime, normally handles his own horses. The switch occurred last year when Morrill drove Choice Yankee at Freestate Raceway while Roberts was unavailable.
"He drove her and won with her and he's done well with her," said Roberts, who feels that replacing himself on a filly with lifetime earnings of $305,846 is all part of the game.
Choice Yankee's start in the Turtle Dove will be her first in more than a month, according to Roberts, who said, "She had a quarter crack. She had a split in her foot. We had a hard time getting it right. We could have raced her but we would have been taking a big chance."
Roberts qualified Choice Yankee at Rosecroft last Saturday morning and reported that the filly is ready for the Turtle Dove.
Delmarva Downs set a single night handle record of $299,083 on Saturday night. The previous mark was $297,357, set on Aug. 30, 1986. The record was set primarily because of intertrack wagering from Rosecroft, whose fans wagered $100,354 on Delmarva's 13-race card.