2016 Season Review
Well, it’s about time to wrap up the 2016 season at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. At press time, there are still a few more nights of racing until we officially wrap things up on November 26, but, for all intents and purposes, this campaign is essentially in the rear-view mirror.
If it seems like the time passes quickly within a single season, imagine my surprise when I was alerted that this month marked the tenth anniversary since Mohegan Sun came aboard to revitalize the racing product at Pocono. In the past decade, we have transformed from just another run-of-the-mill track into one of the finest harness racing establishments in the entire world. Without Mohegan Sun’s commitment to racing, none of that would have been possible.
That commitment, combined with the outstanding work of those folks who take care of our racing surface, is responsible for the fact that we have one of the fastest tracks in the entire country. The Pocono faithful were lucky to witness a lot of that speed in 2016. Five world records were either set or matched at MSPD in 2016. And some of the record-setters turned out to be among the biggest superstars in the sport, including Betting Line, Freaky Feet Pete, and Always B Miki.
Then there were the horses who made Pocono more of a home rather than just an occasional destination. The best of those have been honored with horses of the year awards. Our Pacer of the Year, Keystone Velocity, overcame the fact that he sat out all of last season to put up more sub-1:50 victories than anyone else on the grounds. Our trotter of the year, Wilberforce, managed to move up the ladder from condition trots against mostly younger horses to facing off against the featured trotters on the grounds, winning all the way. And our claimer of the year, McCedes, demonstrated that age is nothing but a number, gliding through the claiming ranks as an 11-year-old to distinguish himself time again in the 2016 meet. Their exploits, along with the performances of so many other Pocono regulars, will not soon be forgotten.
Of course, the horses need some guidance to perform their amazing feats, and this year two horsemen stood above all. Although at press time there was still a slight chance that they could get caught in the percentage categories, it appears that driver George Napolitano Jr. and trainer Chris Oakes will sweep the year-end honors for wins and percentage. Both have been Pocono mainstays for quite some time, but never before have they combined talents to dominate the racing at the track as they did in this past meet. Several other drivers and trainers were serious forces on the Pocono scene this season, but the dynamic duo of Napolitano and Oakes were a notch above the rest.
It’s impossible to sum up all of the exploits of the horses and people who made the 2016 meet so special at Pocono. I write this column week in and week out, and even on that micro level I found myself unable to detail all of the fantastic performances, thrilling upsets, and heart-pounding excitement that I was lucky enough to witness from my perfect view in the announcer’s booth. It was a special season, for sure. Still, with the momentum we’ve built at MSPD, I have a feeling we’ll be able to operate at the same level and maybe even higher for the foreseeable future. I can’t wait to see what 2017 has in store.
Before I sign off for the season, I’d like to thank all of the horses, horsemen and horsewomen for their wonderful efforts this year. I’d also like to thank my co-workers, who do so much to bring you such an excellent product night after night. As always, the fans make Pocono what it is now and what is always has been; thanks so much to you all for reading these columns and, of course, for coming out and supporting racing.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t send out a special thanks to Terri Phalen. Terri is responsible for putting these articles in the programs, as well as about a million other tasks in her capacity as Program Director/Clerk of Course. Terri is stepping away from full-time work at Pocono to pursue other exploits. To say she will be missed by the entire Pocono community is obvious to anyone who knows her work ethic; to say that she’ll be missed by yours truly for her patience, geniality, and friendship in the years that I’ve worked as track announcer is the understatement of the year.
That’s going to do it for these articles for 2016. I hope you all have a wonderful winter, and I look forward to seeing you all again in the spring. We’ll see you at the track.