April 4-10, 2015
Even though we’re still in just our first month of racing at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono and the weather conditions have been far less than ideal, the season feels like it’s starting to take shape. This week’s addition of Sundays, making it a four-night racing week, should speed up that process. In the meantime, here is a look at the best horses and horsemen from the past three racing nights as we hand out the Weekly Awards.
PACER OF THE WEEK: IDEAL MATTERS
One of the characteristics of this whole season-taking-shape thing we talked out about in the intro paragraph is that certain horses begin to assert themselves as horses from whom we’ll be hearing all year long. And while it may be a bit presumptive to make a judgment based on the small sample size of a couple starts, it sure looks like Ideal Matters is in for a big 2015 at Pocono by the way he’s raced the last few weeks.
On March 21, the 8-year-old gelding from the barn of trainer Gilberto Garcia-Herrera scored his first win of the meet by handling a field of condition pacers in 1:51. On Saturday night, he faced off with essentially the same condition grouping of non-winners $16,500 in the last five races for a purse of $18,000. Leaving from post position #2 in a field of nine, Ideal Matters was quickly sent to the lead by driver George Napolitano Jr., who then watched as Mustang Art hustled by to take over around the first turn.
That’s when Napolitano decided that Ideal Matters was better off leading than in the pocket. The gelding retook the lead quickly on the front stretch, and then powered his way to a big lead. Gearing down in the final strides of the mile, he coasted to a two-length win in 1:50:1, the fastest time of the young season at Pocono. Two straight wins should have Ideal Matters moving up in class, but he’s already established himself as one of the horses to watch in 2015.
Other top pacers this week include: Always Wanna (Jim Morrill Jr., Matias Ruiz), who picked up his second straight win over the $12,500 claimers on Saturday night, this one coming in 1:52:4; Victory At Last (Matt Kakaley, Ron Burke), who won his third straight Bobby Weiss series race against the three and four-year-old colts, stallions and geldings on Saturday night in a career-best 1:52:1; and Show Runner (George Napolitano Jr., Lou Pena), a mare who now has four straight wins to start the season, the last two at Pocono, following her condition victory on Wednesday night in 1:52:2.
TROTTER OF THE WEEK: ZOOMING
We’ve talked in this column before how sometimes a horse simply needs a change of scenery to ignite a hot streak. In the case of Zooming, a talented veteran trotter, maybe it was a return to his old haunts that got him going this past week. Before coming to Pocono for Saturday night’s condition trot for non-winners of $17,500 in the last five races, the 7-year-old gelding from the barn of trainer Amber Buter was coming off back-to-back races where he went off-stride.
It was an unusual stretch for a horse pushing $600,000 in career earnings. A lot of those earnings were notched on the Pocono 5/8-mile oval, which is probably why the fans made him a 6-5 favorite in the race despite the recent struggles. As it turned out, he had to earn it in this one, forced as he was to make a tough first-over journey to get to the lead.
The trip didn’t matter, however, as driver George Napolitano Jr. urged Zooming on past the tiring leaders in the home stretch. With a winning time of 1:53:4 in the chilly temperatures, the gelding proved he was back on top of his game. The Pocono surroundings might have spurred the return to form, but Zooming deserves the credit for having that great form in the first place.
Honorable mention on the trotting side goes to: GJ Photo Victory (Jim Morrill Jr., Marcus Marashian), who followed back-to-back wins at The Meadows with a claiming win at Pocono on Wednesday in 1:57:1; JL Cruze (John Campbell, Eric Ell), a gelding with eight wins in ten races at the Meadowlands this season who came to Pocono to coast to victory in a Bobby Weiss race on Tuesday night in 1:54:1; and Dress For Success (Matt Kakaley, Christopher Freck), the mare who rolled to her third straight win in the Bobby Weiss series against the distaff trotters, matching her career-best of 1:55:1 in the process.
LONG SHOT OF THE WEEK: INCOGNITO
Incognito made a last to first rally in Saturday night’s final race with Ronnie Wrenn Jr. in the bike to win a condition pace at 18-1., paying off $39.40 on a $2 win ticket.
DRIVER OF THE WEEK: GEORGE NAPOLITANO JR.
George Nap has already carved out space at the top of the driving standings, and he solidified that standing with a five-win night on Tuesday, the first Pocono driver to reach that plateau in 2015.
TRAINER OF THE WEEK: RON BURKE
The leader in training wins to this point at Pocono, Burke has been cleaning up in the Bobby Weiss series, scoring three of his four winners this week in those late closer races.
That will do it for this week, but we’ll see you at the track. Feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.