Racing

The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono Week In Review

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

May 20-26, 2017

While every race has its own special charms, the races with the biggest purses always tend to carry something a little extra special with them at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. The early part of the season consists mostly of overnight races, but now is the about the time of year when some major money is up for grabs on the Pocono oval.

This past week saw a significant influx of high-stakes races on the racing schedule at Pocono. It was the first time we’ve hosted the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes in the meet, in particular the glamour division of three-year-old pacing colts and geldings, with three divisions on Sunday night each carrying a purse just shy of $50,000. Sire Stakes are always followed by Stallion Series races, and we had six of those on Monday night to the tune of $20,000 a pop. Sprinkle in three condition paces with $25,000 on the line for each, and you’ve got a lot of cabbage up for grabs.

With that in mind, I thought I’d give the Weekly Awards a rest and talk solely about how those big races went down during this past racing week at Pocono. We’ll start on Saturday night with a $25,000 featured condition pace for winners of over $25,000 lifetime. That race featured Boston Red Rocks, who starred as a 3-year-old a year ago, and Barimah A, who was coming off a surprising win in the Van Rose Memorial at Pocono. One of the ones that Barimah A beat that night was Rockin Ron, who suffered through a miserable trip on the outside on a sloppy track. But Saturday night was an entirely different story, as driver Matt Kakaley settled the five-year-old gelding in the pocket early and then coaxed some potent closing kick out of Rockin Ron for the win in 1:50:3 by a neck over Major Uptrend, who had set the pace.

On Sunday night, the distaff pacers had their turn at the spotlight, as a winners of over $25,000 lifetime mares grouping took to the track. Nike Franco, a seven-year-old mare trained by Jo Ann Looney-King, was made the 3-5 favorite off an impressive victory at Yonkers. Facing a field that included a pair of rising four-year-old stars in Call Me Queen Bee and Blue Moon Stride, the veteran was in complete control from the start. Driver Tim Tetrick guided Nike Franco to fractions that were quick but not out of control, and she led all the way home to the tune of a 1:50:1 time, a new career-mark for the mare.

Next up on Sunday came the winners of over $25,000 lifetime trotters, with a field of nine competing for a $25,000 purse. Post positions were assigned in this race and Melady’s Monet and Charmed Life, a pair of trotters with over a million bucks in career earnings, took those outside slots. Melady’s Monet set the pace and got away with reasonable fractions on the front end. But he wasn’t counting on the stiff first-over challenge from Rubber Duck, the 2-1 co-favorite who arrived from the Meadowlands having faced extremely tough company his last few starts. The two battled tooth-and-nail until Rubber Duck, driven by Joe Bongiorno for trainer Richard Johnson, came out on top by three parts of a length in 1:53.

That led to the three Sire Stakes divisions, and it was no surprise that trainer Jimmy Takter was a heavy player in the action. Ocean Colony was a Takter trainee who was expected to win on Sunday night and he did, pouncing from the pocket in his split in 1:50:2 with Yannick Gingras doing the honors. But Blood Line was a surprise for the Takter barn, taking his Sire Stakes division gate to wire for a victory in 1:50:2 with Mark MacDonald in the bike and paying off at 12-1.

The Sire Stakes race that stood out though was the second split of the night, one that was expected to be a showcase for Huntsville, a Breeders Crown champion as a 2-year-old in 2016 and winner in his 2017 debut in a Sire Stakes at The Meadows by ten lengths. But while Huntsville drew the pre-race attention, it was Fear The Dragon, trained by Brian Brown and driven by David Miller, who stole the show. Fear The Dragon made an electric first-over brush on the back stretch that stunned the heavy favorite Huntsville and resulted in an impressive victory at 5-1 in 1:49:1.

Last up in this stretch of high-stakes contests were the six Stallion Series races on Monday night for the three-year-old male pacers. Most of those splits were won by horses handling matters on the front end, and the most impressive of those miles was turned in by Donttellmeagain. With Tim Tetrick in the bike, this sophomore gelding trained by Jo Ann Looney-King powered to a winning time in his division of 1:50:2, which was a tick faster than two of the three Sire Stakes winners managed the night before.

So it was a week filled with exciting, high-stakes races at Pocono. With summer fast approaching, those kind of weeks will be the norm and not the exception very soon.

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.

The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono Week In Review

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

May 13-19, 2017

The good news is that the weather finally seems to be taking a turn for the warmer in Northeastern Pennsylvania. The bad news is that it took a while to get here, meaning that the racing cards on Saturday and Sunday were contested in chilly, rainy, sloppy conditions. But it wasn’t all bad news, at least for the long shots and mid-priced horses who took advantage of the weather situation to upend favorites at a high rate on those two nights. Let’s take a look back at it all by handing out the Weekly Awards.

PACER OF THE WEEK: PRINCE PALANI

Sometimes it’s just a matter of a horse finding the right spot before it can succeed. Prince Palani had success early this season with five victories in the first three months of the year. But the Pennsylvania circuit proved rough for him in the month of April, as he raced four times in claimers at Pocono and Harrah’s at Philadelphia without finishing any better than fourth.

Trainer Ty Pena dropped him into a $15,000 claiming group on May 6 and everything changed. With Marcus Miller in the bike that night, he dominated to the tune of a 3 ½ length victory as the favorite in 1:53:2. Since that win was in the slop and since he was once again facing the $15,000 claimers on Saturday night, the six-year-old gelding understandably was bet down to a 6-5 favorite.

Saturday night’s sloppy track was, for the most part, extremely harsh on horses who tried to grab the engine. But Miller went after it with Prince Palani, securing the early lead and daring everyone to play catch-up. Nobody even got close. Prince Palani rolled to another comfortable victory, winning by 2 ¾ lengths over Just Bettor in 1:53. He was claimed from that race and could be moving back up in class next time around, but his confidence will be brimming if he does.

Other top pacers include: All Bets Off (Matt Kakaley, Ron Burke), the standout veteran who handled the featured condition pacers on Saturday night in 1:51:1 in the slop; Anwar Hanover (Jim Marohn Jr., Frank Kamine), who handled a rugged condition group on Saturday night in 1:54 in the sloppy going; and Melanie’s Sharkette (George Napolitano Jr., Gilberto Garcia-Herrera), a mare who won Tuesday night’s featured distaff condition pace at 12-1 in a career-best 1:51:2.

TROTTER OF THE WEEK: ABBIE’S CELTICLASS

The big test for this mare on Sunday night was to prove that her last victory was no fluke. That previous win for the four-year-old trained by Kenneth Hess Jr. came in the $30,000 finals of the Bobby Weiss series on May 2 as a 47-1 long shot. Driven by Matt Kakaley for the first time that evening, Abbie’s Celticlass came from the clouds to win it in a stunner in a career-best 1:55:2.

On Sunday, she was back at it facing the non-winners of five fillies and mares, and this time around she was made the 8-5 favorite. Once again Kakaley let the mile unfold in front of him with Abbie’s Celticlass, settling fifth in the early going as One Too Many set the pace. Kakaley set her in motion on the front stretch to advance toward the front, but, unlike in the Weiss, she was unable to find any cover to help her out on her journey.

The sloppy track on Sunday night helped her out though, as it was beneficial to those on an outside trip. Abbie’s Celticlass eventually corralled One Too Many with the first over trip at the top of the stretch. She then had to deal with the closers who had much better trips than her, but the mare held off Connie Jean in the final strides to score in 1:57 in the slop. That means the Weiss was no fluke, and it means that this mare has a winning streak going that might be difficult for her foes to break.

Honorable mention on the trotting side goes to: Rose Run Parker (Matt Kakaley, Ron Burke), who shipped in from The Meadowlands to capture Sunday evening’s featured condition trot in 1:53:2 in the slop; Spicedbourbongirl (Jeff Gregory trainer and driver), a mare who overcame an outside post and a sloppy track to win a non-winners of seven condition on Sunday night in 1:54:4; and Can I Say (Matt Kakaley, Douglas Berkeley), who followed up a victory at Monticello with a condition win in the slop on Saturday night at Pocono in 1:55:2.

LONG SHOT OF THE WEEK: EPIC RANGER

This trotter sent the faithful home shaking their heads on Tuesday night, winning a condition race at 47-1 with Eric Goodell in the bike to pay off $97.20 on a $2 win ticket.

DRIVER OF THE WEEK: MATT KAKALEY

The rain certainly didn’t bother Kakaley at all, as he led the driving community on both Saturday and Sunday nights with four wins each evening.

TRAINER OF THE WEEK: RON BURKE

If Matt Kakaley is racking up driving wins, it usually means that Burke is doing the same on the training side, and sure enough he led all conditioners this week with five victories.

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.

The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono Week In Review

Wednesday, May 10th, 2017

May 6-12, 2017

It was a particularly busy week of racing at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. Due to the doubleheader on Kentucky Derby day, we enjoyed five racing cards in a four-day stretch. That means that we have even more candidates for the Weekly Awards than usual. As it turns out, though, picking the top two horses of the week was an easy matter, as it came down to the winners of the week’s two biggest purses. Here now are the Weekly Awards.

PACER OF THE WEEK: BARIMAH A

In Saturday night’s Van Rose Memorial pace, which carried a purse of $50,000, Barimah A, a seven-year-old gelding from the Scott DiDomenico barn, went off at 14-1. This was despite the fact that he won the previous week’s featured pace at Pocono in a career-best 1:50 and despite his drawing the inside post. The betting attention, understandably, went to some of the millionaires in the field, horses like Sunfire Blue Chip, Somewhere in L A and McWicked who were coming in from the rugged early-season races at Yonkers.

The sloppy track did not dissuade the superstars in the field from going for the engine with reckless abandon. Three different horses led in the first three-eighths of a mile, and the fractions created by the speed duel were ruthless: 25:4; 53:1, and 1:20:4. At the top of the stretch Somewhere in L A was on top, Mach It So was hounding him first-over, and favorite Sunfire Blue Chip overcame some tiring cover on the back stretch to rally again in the passing lane.

All of those horses were very close to the blistering pace for much of the mile. The difference for Barimah A was that driver Pat Berry kept him back early, only asking for some kick on the back stretch. As they rounded the final turn, Barimah A was firing on all cylinders, and he eventually outpaced Sunfire Blue Chip in the final strides to get up for the victory by a head. His winning time of 1:50 matched the career-mark he set in the win the previous week, although it was even more impressive this time around because of the sloppy conditions.

Other top pacers this week include: Brickman (Simon Allard, Rene Allard), who switched barns and still scored his third straight victory over $25,000 claimers on Saturday night, winning in the slop in 1:53:1; Inspiration View (Jim Marohn Jr., Ron Burke), who moved up the ladder to win a second consecutive condition race on Saturday night, this one coming in 1:52:1 in the slop; and Tempus Seelster (Jim Marohn Jr., Tony Dinges), a mare who picked up her third straight victory, two of which have come at Pocono, with a condition victory on Tuesday night in a career-best 1:50:1.

TROTTER OF THE WEEK: OOH RAH

On Tuesday night, the last of the Bobby Weiss late closer series finals was held. In this case, it was the three and four-year-old trotting colts, stallions and geldings going at it for the $30,000 purse. The preliminary legs had seen several horses step up with solid performances, but Ooh Rah, a four-year-old gelding trained by Kathleen La Montagne, stamped himself as the favorite by winning three of his four starts in the series.

In the final, Ooh Rah left from post position #3 in a field of nine as the 3-5 betting favorite. After sitting third early, driver George Napolitano Jr. decided he wanted to be in charge with the favorite. Ooh Rah swooped past Hilarious Hero on the front stretch to take over the lead. Although Uncle Leroy made a first-over brush, the leader never seemed to feel the pressure and was able to cut out the mile at a relatively leisurely pace.

That came into play late, when Hilarious Hero popped out of the pocket in the stretch ready for a fight. Ooh Rah had energy to spare, powering home to hold off Hilarious Hero by a length. The winning time of 1:55 was faster than any horse had been able to post in any of the previous Weiss legs in this group, and it also marked a career-best for Ooh Rah, a deserving and dominant champ of the division.

Honorable mention on the trotting side goes to: Tuonoblu Rex (Andy Miller, Julie Miller) who followed up a win at The Meadowlands in his U.S. debut with an easy victory in the slop on Sunday at Pocono over a tough condition field in 1:53:1, easily the fastest trotting time of the week; Andy Ray (Marcus Miller, Jim Campbell), who rallied on Saturday night for a condition win in the slop in 1:57, giving him victories in the last three starts he’s made at Pocono; and Meme Hanover (Charlie Norris trainer and driver), a colt who followed up his maiden victory with a condition win on Monday night in 1:56:1, matching his career-best time.

LONG SHOT OF THE WEEK: OOH DEAR SAM

With Anthony Morgan in the bike, this veteran pacer surprised a field of claimers on Saturday night to the tune of 26-1, paying out $54.80 on a $2 win ticket.

DRIVER OF THE WEEK: JIM MAROHN JR.

Marohn seemed to enjoy the daylight hours on Saturday, winning four out of ten races on the matinee card before returning for another victory on Saturday night.

TRAINER OF THE WEEK: TONY DINGES

The Dinges barn was all about efficiency on Tuesday night, sending out three starters and earning victories in every one of those races.

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.

Live music; a QB; and the second jewel of the Triple Crown!

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017

All eyes are on Churchill Downs this week, and the Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono’s party for Kentucky Derby 143 will be the biggest and the best, but plans are already taking shape for the second jewel of the prestigious Triple Crown.  Preakness weekend will be full of excitement!

The betting windows will open bright and early at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, May 20th with Post Time for Pimlico at 10:30 a.m.    Pacer’s Clubhouse will open at 4:00 p.m., by reservation only, 1-888-WIN-IN-PA.

Outside on the apron, the Black-Eyed Susans and other beverages will be flowing, and fans can enjoy a free concert featuring Encorz and The Fellas with a Tribute to Soultown. The concert is from 4:00PM to 6:00PM. 

Fans can watch the Preakness on the jumbo screen or in simulcast, and live harness racing action starts at 7:30PM.

Sunday, May 21st will be exciting for football fans!  Former San Francisco 49ers and Notre Dame QB Joe Montana stops by for a meet and greet in the racing lobby from 5:00PM to 6:30PM.  This is a wristband-only event, and they will be distributed at 1:00PM, while they last.  Only authorized photos will be signed and will be distributed at the event, as well.  A professional photographer will be on hand and photos will be posted on the Facebook page of Mohegan Sun Pocono.

For all racing events, follow us on Twitter @DownsATMSP.

Racing continues Sunday with a Post Time of 7:30PM; and Monday, Tuesday, and Saturday with Post Time 6:30PM.

The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono Week In Review

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017

April 29-May 5, 2017

For the past month, some excellent young horses have been battling it out at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono in the Bobby Weiss late closer series. The series, named after the longtime Pocono track superintendent responsible for overseeing a track surface considered one of the fastest and safest around, pits horses of the same genders and gaits against one another in preliminary legs to determine which will make it to the finals.

Those finals began this past week, with three of the four divisions being decided. (One more is still to come: The male trotters, which we will detail in this space next week.) With $30,000 on the line in each of the final races, the competition was as rugged as you might expect. Let’s take a look at how those final races went down.

THREE AND FOUR-YEAR-OLD PACING COLTS, STALLIONS AND GELDINGS

One of the things that often happens during the Weiss is a horse dominates the preliminary legs when facing small fields but then struggles in the final with a full nine-horse field. Highalator, the even-money favorite in this Monday night final, certainly could have fallen victim to that. The three-year-old colt, trained by Jenny Bier, left from post position #4 with an eight-race winning streak on the line. When he briefly lost the lead on the front stretch, driver Victor Kirby decided that was unacceptable and sent Highalator right back out for the retake at the half-mile marker.

From there, he had to endure a stiff first-over challenge from Dakota Jack. At the top of the stretch, Dakota Jack, three-wide Rough Odds, and pocket horse Dash Of Danger all came up strong. Highalator responded pushing away from the pursuit. Rough Odds provided the staunchest test, closing to within a neck at the finish line but coming up short. Highaltor’s championship victory, and ninth win in a row, came in a new career mark of 1:51:1. It was a clutch performance by a horse who just refuses to lose these days.

THREE AND FOUR-YEAR-OLD PACING FILLIES AND MARES

Going into the Weiss distaff final on Sunday night, a four-year-old mare named Cousin Mary had clearly distinguished herself as the one to beat. Trained by Andrew Harris, she swept three preliminary legs, each time as an odds-on favorite. That was on the heels of winning the Petticoat series at Yonkers. She came into the final having won ten of twelve races on the season, and unsurprisingly was installed as the 1-5 favorite.

Nor was it surprising when driver Anthony Napolitano hustled Cousin Mary to the front end early. What was a bit of a shock was how A-Nap and the mare were able to get to the half-mile marker at the leisurely pace of 57:4. That meant that the mare could really burn it up in the second half of the mile and, despite a good effort from I Deal In Kisses, she was never really seriously threatened. Cousin Mary rolled home in front by 2 ¾ lengths, and her winning time of 1:51:4, a new career-best, included an incredible 54-second mark for the second half of the mile.

THREE AND FOUR-YEAR-OLD TROTTING FILLIES AND MARES

After Highalator and Cousin Mary delivered as favorites in their respective Weiss divisions, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Checkmate Time would do the same in the distaff trotting group. After all, he had won his lone Weiss preliminary appearance in a time a full two seconds faster than anyone else in the group. But the 1-9 shot made a break as he attempted a second-over move on the front stretch, throwing Monday night’s final into disarray.

Connie Jean set the pace but was hounded first-over by Sunrise Avenue. Whambamthankumaam entered the picture with a three-wide move around the final turn. But it was Abbie’s Celticlass, a 47-1 shot who had been last at the half-mile marker, who found the best stride late. Moving four-wide around the last turn with Matt Kakaley in the bike for trainer Ken Hess Jr., she chased down Whambamthankumaam to pull off a stunner by a half-length in a career-best 1:55:2. It was Kakaley’s first time driving the four-year-old mare, who stepped up when it counted the most for a memorable victory.

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.