50th anniversary of racing

The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono Week in Review

Friday, November 6th, 2015

October 31-November 6, 2015

This will be our last article this year that features our Weekly Awards. With only two weeks left in the 2015 racing season at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, we’ll close it out the next few weeks by looking back on the season gone past. But, before we do, let’s make these count and hand out the awards to the best of the best in the week that was at Pocono.

PACER OF THE WEEK: PREPARTY

It makes sense that our last Pacer of the Week award goes to a horse from the barn of trainer Rene Allard, since his horses have dominated this column space for most of the season. Yet this particular Allard trainee would have seemed an unlikely choice for these honors a few months back. Preparty, a 4-year-old gelding, had a stretch of three races in August and September at Pocono in which he finished no better than seventh.

On September 18, he returned from a third-place finish at Saratoga to face our $8,500 condition pacers. That’s the lowest level of condition action at the track, so Preparty needed to step up with these or run the risk of an even more prolonged slump. A gate-to-wire win seemed that night reinvigorated him, and he came into Saturday night’s featured $20,000 condition pace having won three out of four, all while moving significantly up the condition ladder from that earlier nadir.

On Saturday night as the even-money favorite, the gelding found a perfect pocket spot as a speed duel raged in front of him. In the stretch, driver Simon Allard guided Preparty into the inside passing lane. From there he overtook Rockin Rumble, a game long shot who battled all the way on the outside only to come up short by a nose. With the victory in 1:52, Preparty now has won two straight and four out of five, and those down times seem like a distant memory.

Other top pacers this week include: Mickey Hanover (Simon Allard, Rene Allard), who is now two-for-two at Pocono since returning from New York after a condition win on Saturday night in 1:51; Mr Massimo (George Napolitano Jr., Kevin Reynolds), who continued his late-season torrid streak by moving up in class to win his fourth straight claimer on Saturday night, this one in 1:50:4; and Scandalicious (Marcus Miller, Scott DiDomenico), who captured Wednesday night’s featured distaff condition pace in 1:52:2.

TROTTER OF THE WEEK: SOMEBODY AS

If you’ve watched any harness racing at all at Pocono over the last two months, you’ve probably noticed that symbol AS showing up at the end of the names of a lot of winning trotters. It’s an abbreviation for an ownership group based in Kentucky who generally uses trainer Anette Lorentzon to condition their horses, usually with outstanding results.

Somebody AS, a 6-year-old gelding, has climbed the highest of these trotters in the Pocono condition ranks. After spending a lot of time this year in Ohio, he shipped in for a $20,000 condition trot on October 3 and pulled off an upset win in the slop in 1:54:4 as a 10-1 shot. He then moved up in class to face the $24,000 condition pacers, acquitting himself well with back-to-back thirds.

On Saturday night, he dropped back down to the $20,000 level. Driver George Napolitano Jr. sent Somebody AS to the front and set nasty fractions, losing the pursuit behind him in the process. Somebody AS ended up seven lengths in front of the rest at the line, trotting the mile in a career-best 1:52:2, the fastest trotting time of the week at Pocono by a wide margin and a very impressive number considering the chilly temperatures. Bottom line: when you see that AS name, don’t sleep on the horse’s chances in that particular race.

Honorable mention on the trotting side goes to: Code Bon (Simon Allard, Ake Svanstedt), a 3-year-old colt who followed up a win at Lexington with a condition victory on Tuesday night at Pocono in 1:53:2; Musical Rhythm (Marcus Miller, Tony Alagna), a 3-year-old colt who rallied from far back early to score in Tuesday night’s featured condition trot in a career-best 1:56; and Vimy Ridge (Howard Parker, Bill Mullin), who dominated a claiming handicap group on Wednesday night in a career-best 1:53, picking up his second straight victory in the process.

LONG SHOT OF THE WEEK: HOPE FOR BADLANDS

In a condition pace on Tuesday night, this gelding with Andrew McCarthy blew by his competitors late as a 38-1 long shot to pay off a hefty $79.80 on a $2 win ticket.

In lieu of driver and trainer of the week awards this week, I’d like to take a moment to salute our entire community of drivers and trainers. The balance among the drivers and trainers community has been incredible all year long. Tuesday night was typical: 10 different drivers won at least one race and the 16 victories on the care were divvied up among 15 different trainers. It’s never been as competitive at Pocono, and the ladies and gentlemen doing the driving and training are a big reason why. Nice job, folks.

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.

Ghosts and more on Halloween night!

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

Somebody As and Hyway Marcus each took a $20,000 division of the trotting feature at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono Saturday night, October 31st,  while in the $20,000 pacing headliner, Preparty emerged as the narrowest of winners.

Between the trots, Somebody As had by far the faster time, 1:52.2, a new lifetime mark, leading at every pole and winning by seven lengths. George Napolitano Jr., who continued to hold a 15-win lead over Aaron Merriman in the 2015 North American sulky title chase, guided the altered son of Striking Sahbra for trainer Anette Lorentzon and his owners, breeder ACL Stuteri and Kjell Johansson.

Hyway Marcus won for the third time in his last six starts while taking the other trot division, also setting a personal best of 1:54.1. Driver/trainer/owner Francisco Del Cid used come-from-behind tactics with the gelded son of Gut Instinct, coming from seventh at the half and fifth at the 3/4s to defeat Stitch In Time by a neck.

Preparty, a former high-level pacer who had dropped all the way to the very bottom rung of the Pocono class ladder on September 16, continued his comeback by taking his fourth win in his last five starts, here in 1:52. The gelded son of Somebeachsomewhere rallied from the pocket to edge out the game parked-every-call Rockin Rumble by a nose for driver Simon Allard, trainer/brother Rene, and the ownership of Allard Racing Inc. and Earl Hill Jr.

And of course it wouldn’t be Halloween without Pocono staging The Grey Ghost and Poltergeist Pace, for grey or roan horses. The $10,000 race was taken by the Admirals Galley gelding Gotta Love Him, who made the lead after the quarter for driver Matt Kakaley and went on to post his first victory of the year in 1:53 for trainer Cindy Weitoish and owners Stan and Amie Weitosh.

The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono Week In Review

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

October 24-30, 2015

As we head into the final month of the 2015 racing season at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, it’s fun to look back and contemplate what an assemblage of equine talent we were lucky to see this year. As Pocono has ascended in the past decade to become one of the finest tracks in the country, the world’s top standardbreds often make the track an important part of their racing itineraries.

This past Saturday at Woodbine in Canada, the Breeders Crown races, which Pocono has hosted twice before and which serve as the unofficial yearend championships for harness racing’s various divisions, were held. And several of the big winners also spent a little time at MSPD this year, with varying levels of success.

Four of the twelve Breeders Crown champions from Saturday night raced at Pocono at some point this past year. (Two others, Open pacing champ Always B Miki and 2-year-old pacing colt Boston Red Rocks qualified here but never raced under the lights.) So let’s turn our focus to that quartet of big winners, particularly in the context of their 2015 performances at Pocono.

We start with Pure Country, who added an exclamation point to a wondrous debut racing season with her two-year-old pacing win at the Breeders Crown. The Jimmy Takter trainee has won every one of her ten career starts, so she’s been impossible to beat no matter what tracks she frequents. Still there’s a sentimental connection to Pocono, because it was here that she made her racing debut on June 30 in a Pennsylvania All Stars race.

Needless to say, she won that race. She returned in August to pick up another victory, this time against Pennsylvania Sire Stakes competition. This unbelievable unbeaten streak seems likely to continue into her three-year-old campaign next year, at which point we can only hope she returns to the scene of her introduction to the racing public.

Another Jimmy Takter trainee who made his mark at Pocono before busting onto the larger scene is The Bank. For much of the season, this 3-year-old colt came up short behind his more highly-touted stablemate Pinkman. This included his first Pocono appearance on August 22, when he finished 2nd in the $500,000 Colonial behind a typically brilliant Pinkman performance.

But two weeks later it was The Bank’s turn to take the spotlight in the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes. With Pinkman not in the field, The Bank went from understudy to star that night, scoring a decisive win in 1:53:1. And maybe that was all the confidence he needed, because he outtrotted his old buddy Pinkman to pull off the upset victory on Saturday.

Wild Honey has had some of the finest moments of her racing career at Pocono oval. The 3-year-old filly won the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes championship at the track as a 2-year-old in 2014, then defended her title this year with a rallying win. That more than made up for a loss as a 1-9 favorite to Smokin Mambo in a preliminary leg of the Sire Stakes at Pocono in June.

But then again, Wild Honey knows a thing or two about atoning for losses. Last year she was the dominant 2-year-old filly in the division but she broke stride in the Breeders Crown, an unfortunate blemish on an otherwise brilliant season. Her three-year-old year has been brilliant as well, but she was the second choice behind Mission Brief in the Breeders Crown finals on Saturday. This time it was Mission Brief going off stride, leaving Wild Honey to pick up the title that eluded her a year ago.

The example of Divine Caroline, a three-year-old pacing filly from the barn of trainer Joe Holloway, shows how fortunes can change, even within the relatively short span of a racing season. The filly raced at Pocono twice in June. In the James M Lynch Memorial elimination, she finished second. She followed that up the next week by finishing sixth in the final won by Bettor Be Steppin.

But the month of October has belonged to her, with four straight victories. The last of those victories came in the Breeders Crown final on Saturday, as she handled a field that included Bettor Be Steppin and a few others who competed in the Lynch way back when, a complete turnaround from the way it all worked out for her in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

So maybe Divine Caroline doesn’t have the fondest memories of the Pocono oval. By contrast, the Pocono faithful can look back happily at these four champions and know that the road to harness racing immortality went right through their backyard.

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.

A “haunting good night” at the Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

As “darkness falls across the land”*, the ghosts will come out at the Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono on Saturday, Halloween night.!

“Grey Ghosts”, that is, as all grey or roan horses come to Northeast PA for the annual “Grey Ghost and Poltergeist Pace” sponsored by the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame in Goshen, NY.

Eight ghostly greys are behind the gate for the 4th race, with an approximate Post Time of 7:24p.m., and will be led to Post Parade by “Headless Horseman”, otherwise known as Outrider Terry Scott.

The eight-year-old grey mare, Summer Snow, has been installed as the morning line favorite at odds of 5-2.  Trained by Jennifer Lappe, the spooky grey will be driven by Andrew McCarthy.

The winner of the 2013 race at Pocono, Gotta Love Him, is second choice at 3-1, and will once again have Matt Kakaley in the bike.  Cindy Weitoish trains the 7-year-old gelding, who has been in every edition of the “Grey Ghost” race at Pocono!

First-time Pocono starter Movie Sequel, 4-1, trained by Shaun Callahan, ships in from Delaware, and comes off a 3rd this past Tuesday at Rosecroft.  Tom Jackson picks up the drive.  Others in the field include the Jennifer Sansone-trained Corwhiny at 12-1; Annie McVicar, 10-1, trained by Kimberly Asher; JS McFlash, 6-1, trained by Wendy Shimmin; and Putnam’s Storm, with Pocono leading driver George Napolitano Jr. in the bike for trainer Brian Fisher, at odds of 9-2.

Fans can expect to see some surprises with these ghoulish greys!

The Harness Racing Museum will be in the lobby, selling the commemorative Greyhound wristbands, raising money for the exhibit honoring the great trotter.  Other items will be for sale.

***According to the U.S. Trotting Association, the governing body of harness racing, less than five percent of all harness horses are grey in color.  The most famous was the former world champion trotter and Hambletonian winner, Greyhound.

George Napolitano Jr. breaks his own record

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

The red-hot George Napolitano Jr. broke his own record for most driving victories in one season at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono when he guided Monopoly Blue Chip to victory in the 13th race of the Tuesday night program, his seventh win of the night and more importantly his 348th of the racing season at The Downs, eclipsing his old standard set in 2004.

Napolitano started the night with 341 Pocono wins, and dashed home first in the fourth race, then as good as put his head down and said, “Let’s get this over with” and proceeded to win the 7th, 8th, 9th, 11th, and 12th races before setting the record in race 13. And would there be a better-named horse, given his domination of the winners circle earlier, to break the record than Monopoly Blue Chip?

Napolitano will soon be able to post a “magic number” on how many wins he needs to mathematically lock up the title for the Pocono meet, which has 14 cards to go, as at press time he has a 348-210 victory edge over second-place Simon Allard (who got the winner in race 10, between GNap’s consecutive triples). The win crown will be “George Nap”‘s fourth straught at Pocono and ninth all-time, the latter number giving him the all-time outright lead in driving win titles locally, as he and Bill Lambertus both won eight dashwinning crowns prior to this season.

Having posted a possibly-unprecedented 366 wins since July 1, Napolitano has thrust himself in contention for the North American win crown, a title he took in 2010. Aaron Merriman and two-time dash defending champion Ron Wrenn Jr., both based at Northfield presently, had been running 1-2 throughout the season before George came into contention, and a check of the Northfield results for Tuesday at press time had these seasonal totals: Merriman 680, Napolitano 675, Wrenn 654.

One final note: regular Pocono announcer Jim Beviglia, who has called the vast majority of George Nap’s victories here this year, was not available on Tuesday and thus did not call the record win, but he may take some consolation from the person who did: Mike Bozich, announcer at Harrah’s Philadelphia and mikeman for the vast majority of Napolitano’s 301 wins there this season.