50th anniversary of racing

2015 – The 50th Anniversary Season in Review

Friday, November 20th, 2015

2015 Season Review

Here we are at the conclusion of the 2015 racing season at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. It’s been an extremely special season on a lot of levels, one that I’ve been thrilled to witness. I must admit that it feels a bit odd to be looking back, because, when you’re in the thick of an action-packed campaign like this one, it feels like it whooshes by before you know it.

The fact that this was the 50th racing season at Pocono lent everything an extra bit of specialness all year long. Each night of racing, the lights above the track lent their illumination, but they had a little help from the intangible glow cast upon the participants by the anniversary proceedings.

It even seemed like the weather cooperated for us this year more than I can ever remember. In one stretch, we went more than a month without seeing an off-track, and we even had unseasonably pleasant weather well into the month of November. As a result, it seemed like the crowds out on the patio and the apron were bigger than they’ve been in years.

What those patrons saw in 2015 was yet another season in which the racing product at Pocono was as fast and fantastic as anywhere else in the country. One peek at the track records page will show you just how dynamic the action was this past campaign. Five Pocono records were either set or matched in 2015, and four of those five also constituted world records.

Then again, electric talent tends to beget outstanding performances, so the assault on the record book was somewhat predictable in light of the caliber of horses that performed here throughout the season. We honored our horses of the year in this space last week, focusing mostly on those who were regulars or semi-regulars at Pocono this season. When you also consider some of the superstars of the sport who performed at Pocono in stakes races in 2015, horses like Wiggle It Jiggleit, Pinkman, and JL Cruze to name but a few, you get a true sense of the breadth of equine talent on display this past season.

Of course, those horses wouldn’t have been quite as special without the guidance and expertise of our drivers and trainers. We’ve talked in this column about the outstanding balance in the driving and training community this season, but a few men rose to the top of their respective fields.

On the driving side, it was a monster season for George Napolitano Jr., who easily won both the driving wins and driving percentage titles. George Nap broke his own single-season record for wins at Pocono and, at press time, was threatening the 400-win barrier on the season. Add to that the fact that he’s also leading the continent in wins for the season. What a year it’s been for Pocono’s most lauded driver.

Rene Allard once again dominated the training wins race, picking up his third straight title in that category. Allard had nearly twice as many victories as his nearest competitor, and at press time was on pace to put up the third most training wins in a season in Pocono history. Meanwhile Chris Oakes repeated as the top gun in the training percentage category, which means that nobody is more efficient at producing winners and in-the-money finishes than the Oakes barn.

I really don’t have enough space to list all of the drivers and trainers who gave outstanding efforts at the Pocono oval this past season. Nor can I recap all of the thrilling races and sizzling times and crazy long shots that characterized this past meet. (Although in that latter category, I do want to mention the performance this past Tuesday night of Lady Of The Lake, a mare who picked up her maiden victory for driver/trainer Joe Antonelli and paid off a stunning $398.60 on a $2 win ticket. That makes her Long Shot of the Year.)

And so it’s time to bid farewell to this racing season, one that fulfilled every one of the lofty expectations we placed on it based on it being such a momentous anniversary. I wrote extensively about the ramifications of the 50th anniversary throughout the season, but I’d like to mention once again how honored I am to have been a small part of it.

I feel like this was a special year for the Pocono patrons as well, many of whom followed us when the purses were miniscule compared to today and a mile under two minutes was a rare occurrence. This 50th year really belonged to you folks, so I hope you cherished it.

Before you know it we’ll be doing it all again though. So I’d like to wish everyone a great offseason and Happy Holidays. Stay warm. And then, come springtime, we’ll rev it up for season 51 at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono.

That will do it for this season, but we’ll see you at the track in 2016. Feel free to e-mail me at jbeviglia@mohegansunpocono.com.

End of Season Awards continue at the Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono

Friday, November 20th, 2015

Only one night remains in the 50th Anniversary season for the Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, and the track in Northeast PA continues their awards for the standouts of the 2015 season closing night, Saturday, November 21st. The  Leading Driver; Leading Trainer – Wins; Claimer of the Year; and Three-Year-Old of the Year will accept their awards.

The Claimer of the Year for 2015 is the inimitable R Gauwitz Hanover.  Even before he arrived at Pocono in May, he was already a big winner in 2015, racking up six wins in New York.  But it was here that the 6-year-old gelding achieved his greatest success, winning nine of his 14 races at the Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, all while moving up in class from the $10,000 claimers to the $25,000 claiming handicaps.  He won several races from outside posts, had victories for seven different trainers at Pocono; and notched a career-best mile of 1:49 as part of his unforgettable 2015 campaign at Pocono.  The track will honor this great gelding with his record number of claims by displaying, in the paddock, his custom-designed blanket with rainbow letters to signify all the different stables.

The 3-Year-old of the Year honor has been bestowed upon K Ryan Bluechip.  The gelding from the Joe Pavia Jr. barn finished fourth on April 8th in a maiden race at Pocono in what was his first start of the 2015 season.  After that, the only view other horses had of him at Pocono for the remainder of the season was his back end.  K Ryan Bluechip raced five more times at Pocono and won them all in impressive fashion, none slower than 1:51.1, and his career-best win of 1:50.2 came in September.

Rene Allard dominated the training wins, picking up his third straight title in that category.  Allard had nearly twice as many victories as his nearest competitor, and he has set the record for the most training wins in a season in Pocono history.

On the driving side, it was a monster season for George Napolitano Jr., who easily won both the driving wins and driving percentage titles.  George Nap broke his own single-season record for wins at Pocono, and he also notched over 400 wins this season.

Saturday is also a special thank you to the loyal fans with Fan Appreciation Night.  Souvenirs of the 50th Anniversary season will be given out to fans with a coupon from the live racing program starting at 7:00pm.

Racing returns March, 2016, and Simulcast is open year-round.

The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono honors the standouts of the season

Friday, November 20th, 2015

As the  50th Anniversary season for the Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono winds down, the track in Northeast PA is honoring the standouts of the 2015 season on Wednesday. November 18th, and closing night, Saturday, November 21st.

Wednesday night, the award for the Pacer of the Year was presented to four-year-old Luck Be Withyou.  The stallion from the Chris Oakes barn topped some of the world’s best pacers on July 4th, winning the Ben Franklin Pace in 1:49, going gate-to-wire from an outside post.  He also had a spectacular fall, returning from Canada to chalk up three straight condition wins in September and October.

Trotter of the Year honors went to Proud Moment, who is enjoying his best season ever at age nine, not typical for a trotter. But this is not just any typical trotter!  Six of the wins for the veteran warrior were at Pocono, and when he didn’t visit the Winner’s Circle, he often hit the board in impressive fashion.  He beat claimers and conditioners; did it from the outside and the inside; and won his six races for five different trainers.  The high point of his outstanding year was a three-race winning streak in July and August that included his career-best mile of 1:52.2.

The mare, Kiddie McCardle, was presented with the Mare of the Year honors on Wednesday, as well.  She has performed for several different barns at Pocono this season, picking up eight wins, including a 1:51.1 mile which set a career-mark for her at age seven. She is extremely tough, despite the fact that she’s often faced with brutal post positions in claiming handicaps; she’s been extremely competitive of late since moving over to face condition pacing mares.

The award for Leading Trainer/UTR, was bestowed upon Chris Oakes for the fourth time.  Accompanied by his family and friends, Oakes accepted his award on Wednesday night, and was in the Winner’s Circle as  Luck Be Withyou and Proud Moment were honored.

Closing night, Saturday, November 21st, the Leading Driver; Leading Trainer – Wins; Claimer of the Year; and Three-Year-Old of the Year accept their awards.  It is also a special thank you to the loyal fans with Fan Appreciation Night.  Souvenirs of the 50th Anniversary season will be given out with a coupon from the live racing program starting at 7:00pm.

The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono Week In Review

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

November 7-13, 2015

As we approach the close of another racing season at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, it’s time to look back and assess the season that was. All year long in this space we’ve been handing out awards to the top performers of each racing week. Now it’s time to crown season-long achievement by handing out awards to Pocono’s Horses of the Year.

Selecting these horses is never an easy task and it gets harder each year as the racing gets more and more competitive. I collaborated with my buddies Terri Phalen and Jennifer Starr to make the choices, and, although we probably left out horses worthy of acclaim, I think the horses we ultimately selected certainly represent well for this special 50th anniversary season.

So, without further ado, here are the 2015 Pocono Horses of the Year:

3-YEAR-OLD OF THE YEAR: K RYAN BLUE CHIP

This gelding from the Joe Pavia Jr. barn finished fourth on April 8 in a maiden race at MSPD in what was his first start of the 2015 season. As it turns out, it would be the only time he’d have a view of horses crossing the finish line in front of him at Pocono all season. K Ryan Blue Chip raced five more times at Pocono this season and won them all. None of his winning times were slower than 1:51:1, topping out with a career-best 1:50:2 in a September victory.

CLAIMER OF THE YEAR: R GAUWITZ HANOVER

Even before he arrived at Pocono in May, this 6-year-old gelding was already a big winner in 2015, racking up six victories in New York. But it was here that he achieved his greatest success, winning nine of his 14 races at MSPD, all while moving up in class from the $10,000 claimers to the $25,000 claiming handicaps. He won several races from outside posts, had victories for seven different trainers here, and managed a career-best mile of 1:49 as part of his unforgettable 2015 campaign at Pocono.

MARE OF THE YEAR: KIDDIE MCCARDLE

This mare has performed for several different barns at Pocono this season but always finds a way to be a factor. She picked up eight wins this season here, including a 1:51:1 mile which set a career-mark for her at age seven. What’s also been impressive is how, like R Gauwitz Hanover, she’s been such a tough customer despite the fact that she’s often faced with brutal post positions in claiming handicaps. And she’s been competitive of late since moving over to face condition pacing mares.

PACER OF THE YEAR: LUCK BE WITHYOU

This four-year-old stallion had the win of the year at Pocono when he topped some of the world’s best pacers to win the $500,000 Ben Franklin pace on July 4 in 1:49, going gate-to-wire from an outside post to do so. But that win wasn’t a shot in the dark. He also scored in the Franklin elimination the week prior to the main event and then returned from a stint in Canada to rip off three straight condition wins for trainer Chris Oakes in September and October.

TROTTER OF THE YEAR: PROUD MOMENT

It’s not typical for a trotter to have the best year of his career at age nine, but that’s exactly what this veteran warrior did in 2015. All six of his wins came at Pocono, and when he wasn’t winning, he was often hitting the board. He beat claimers and conditioners, did it from the outside and the inside, and won his six races for five different trainers. The high point of his outstanding year was a three-race winning streak in July and August that included his career-best mile of 1:52:2.

As I said earlier, there were many horses this season deserving of consideration. It’s a testament to just how intense the racing wars at Pocono are that these selections are such a close call, and I have a feeling that the awards races will only get tighter in the years to come.

Next week in this space, we’ll wrap up the 2015 racing season. We’ll take a look at the top drivers and trainers of the year. And we’ll also take a broad look back at what’s been a special anniversary season at Pocono.

That will do it for this week, but we’ll see you at the track. Feel free to e-mail me at jbeviglia@mohegansunpocono.com.

Saturday features and George Napolitano Jr.’s win streak

Monday, November 9th, 2015

In the $24,000 co-featured events at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono Saturday night, November 7th,  both winners used “pocket rocket” tactics to emerge with victories — Extracurricular on the trot and Arthur Blue Chip on the pace.

Extracurricular, a veteran Revenue S gelding owned by Darren Mahoney, had a tougher time making his rally effective — as befits a 10-1 shot trying to catch a 1-5 pacesetting favorite, Somebody As. But Extracurricular dug in for the stretch battle with gameness and edged his frontstepping rival while taking a new mark of 1:52 at age nine for the brother team of driver Simon and trainer Rene Allard.

Arthur Blue Chip was the 11-10 favorite in his event and collared pacesetting Somethinginthewind with a bit more ease, but then the son of Shadow Play had to stay in high gear to withstand the persistent first-over Ontario Success, whose bid for victory came up a half-length shy. Dr. Ian Moore conditions the winner, who was third in his Breeders Crown elimination last month, for the Shadow One Stable.

George Napolitano Jr., the winningest driver in North American harness racing this season, visited Victory Lane five times on the Saturday card at Pocono

to raise his margin over second-place Aaron Merriman to 22, with the score now Napolitano 743, Merriman 721.

“George Nap” will get a chance to add to his margin Sunday afternoon at Harrah’s Philadelphia, but then Merriman will compete on four cards — Northfield Sunday night, The Meadows Monday afternoon and Northfield Monday night, and The Meadows Tuesday afternoon  – before Napolitano resumes sulky action here Tuesday night, concurrent with Merriman racing at Northfield.

There are two more weeks of racing in the 2015 season here at The Downs, with the trotters and pacers going on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday evenings this week and next, with the final night November 21.