Racing

The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono Week In Review – 2016 Season Recap

Wednesday, November 16th, 2016

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.

The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono Week In Review

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

October 29-November 4, 2016

We are approaching the end of the racing season at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. Horses around the country are also nearing the end of their respective campaigns, especially in the East where many horsemen choose to let their horses sit out the winter months and wait for the warm weather to return.

It’s why the Breeders Crown championships are held in October, since that’s as good a time as any to culminate the harness racing season. We at Pocono have been lucky enough to hold this prestigious event twice, and it was an enduring thrill to be a part of it. This year’s Breeders Crown was hosted by our good friends at The Meadowlands, and what these races proved once again is that the road to a championship often goes through Pocono.

Of the twelve horses who captured titles last Friday and Saturday night at The Big M, seven raced at least once at Pocono this season. Many captured big stakes victories on our oval; others hadn’t quite peaked while they were at MSPD but saved the best for last in their racing seasons. I thought it would be fun, as we start to wrap up our own season, to look back at the exploits of the Breeders Crown champs who made their way to Pocono this past meet.

Some of the names are obvious. Few will forget Always B Miki’s first face-off with Wiggle It Jiggleit and Freaky Feet Pete in the Ben Franklin pace in July at Pocono. The standout aged pacer came home a winner that night, with those other two superstars chasing him home, in a world-record matching time of 1:47. On Friday night at The Meadowlands, he put an explanation point on his season by defeating Wiggle It Jiggleit again (Freaky Feet Pete sat out due to injury) for the Breeders Crown title.

Racing Hill, who captured the 3-year-old pacing crown on Saturday night at The Big M, made a couple of big-stakes appearances at Pocono this season. In the Max Hempt pace in July, he handled the field in 1:49. He then came up short behind his rival Betting Line (who also sat out the BC) in the Battle Of The Brandywine in August. Broadway Donna, who also dominated her division (three-year-old trotting fillies) on her way to a Breeders Crown title as a heavy favorite, actually began her year at Pocono in June, winning a Pennsylvania Sire Stakes in 1:54:1.

The Breeders Crown two-year-old trotting male pacing champion Huntsville actually made his first two career starts at Pocono. He lost his debut in a Pennsylvania All Stars race to Filibuster Hanover in June, only to bounce back a week later with a Pennsylvania Sire Stakes victory in 1:51:4. That would spur him on to the state championship and, eventually, the BC title as well.

A couple Breeders Crown winners actually didn’t have much luck at MSPD. Bar Hopping, who rolled to the three-year-old male trotting championship on Saturday night, lost both of his big stakes races at Pocono to Southwind Frank; his BC title over Southwind Frank must have been sweet revenge. Meanwhile Call Me Queen Be raced here six times throughout the meet, winning only once in a consolation for the James Lynch in July. The three-year-old pacing filly was repeatedly stymied at Pocono by Pure Country and Darlinonthebeach, but she beat them both on Saturday night when it counted most as a 12-1 long shot with semi-regular Pocono driver Scott Zeron in the bike.

And, speaking of Pocono drivers, Marcus Miller, a regular here the past few seasons who is enjoying his finest meet in 2016, made his own Breeders Crown history with a win aboard Someomensomewhere in the two-year-old distaff pacing division at 17-1. Someomensomehwere, trained by Erv Miller, had a win and a place in a couple starts at Pocono to begin her career early in the summer. The win Saturday night, the first for Marcus Miller as a driver, came at the expense of several horses who had bested her throughout the season in the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes circuit.

Many other horses that made appearance at Pocono throughout not just this season, but also in recent years, were factors in their respective races on Friday and Saturday night as well. It’s been a remarkable season at Pocono, and that’s evident by the impact the track’s equine and human denizens made on harness racing’s biggest event.

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, October 5th, 2016

October 1-7, 2016

Although the calendar flipped to October, the racing at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono showed no signs of cooling off with the weather. Even sloppy racing conditions couldn’t slow down the action. As a result, there were plenty of performances worthy of consideration for this edition of the Weekly Awards. We present the best of the best from the week that was to you now.

PACER OF THE WEEK: MICHAEL’S VICTORY

This three-year-old gelding from the barn of Mark Silva showed his talent earlier this season when he ripped off a victory at The Meadowlands in a scorching 1:49:1. He entered his race against the non-winners of five on Sunday night on a high note as well, having beaten the same class in his previous race at Pocono in 1:52:3.

Despite all of that, Michael’s Victory went off as a 9-5 second choice. That’s because Tom Hill, a newcomer from the racing wars in Canada, went off as the 1-2 favorite based on some quick times up north. Yet it was Michael’s Victory who proved to be the aggressor, taking the lead away from Settlemoir with a quick brush on the front stretch and opening up a nice advantage on the rest of the field.

Tom Hill took a shot at the leader on the back stretch, but Michael’s Victory was having none of it. He kept up the heat until Tom Hill, struggling to get closer, made a speed break. And Michael’s Victory just kept pouring it on from there. When it was all over, the three-year-old, driven by Simon Allard, was a winner by an impressive 7 ¼ lengths in a zippy time of 1:51. He’ll be graduating from the non-winners of five off this win, and it should be fun to see how he performs at his next step up the racing ladder.

Other top pacers this week include: Keystone Velocity (Simon Allard, Barry Probber), who rolled over an outstanding field in Saturday night’s featured $25,000 handicap pace, matching a career-best of 1:48:2 despite sloppy conditions; Rockin Rambaran (George Napolitano Jr., Chris Oakes), who followed up a claiming handicap at Chester with another at Pocono on Saturday night, this one coming in 1:49:4 in the slop; and Yes You Can (Jim Marohn Jr., Tony Dinges), who arrived from Vernon Downs to capture Tuesday night’s feature pace for mares in a career-best 1:50:4.

TROTTER OF THE WEEK: WESTSIDE LINDY

One of the things that seems to be true about harness racing perhaps more than other sports is that it often takes just a single victory to ignite a hot streak. In the case of Westside Lindy, a nine-year-old gelding, that victory came at Chester on August 25, which was his first of the season in twelve tries. He quickly followed that up with another win at Chester, whereupon he was claimed for $15,000 and joined the Chris Oakes barn when he shipped to Pocono.

After a second at a claiming price of $20,000 on September 12, he ripped off a victory against the same class two weeks later. On Sunday night he was once again facing off against the $20,000 claimers. As the even-money favorite, he swooped to the front around the first turn under the guidance of driver George Napolitano Jr. From there he held on to the lead without seeming to exert much effort, even as the fractions he posted were swift.

In the stretch, he widened his lead over the rest of the field until he could finally gear down a bit at the end. The veteran gelding still came home 2 ¾ lengths ahead of his closest competitor in a hasty 1:53:2. That winning time not only set a new career mark by almost a second, but it was also the fastest trotting time of the week at Pocono. That one victory at Chester really fired up Westside Lindy, to the point where he’s racing better than he ever has before in his solid racing career.

Honorable mention on the trotting side goes to: Tweet Me (Mike Simons, Nicholas Devita) a mare who captured Sunday night’s featured $20,000 condition trot in 1:54:2; Star Photo (Simon Allard, Rene Allard), whose victory in a claiming trot on Monday night in 1:55:3 gave him three consecutive wins; and Eyes Cool (Anthony Napolitano, Ake Svanstedt), a two-year-old gelding who picked up his second straight condition victory on Tuesday and did so in a career-best 1:57:1.

LONG SHOT OF THE WEEK: WINDUP WEST

Windup West, a filly pacer driven by Mike Simons, will never forget her maiden win on Sunday night, and neither will her backers since she went off at 50-1 and paid off $108 on a $2 win ticket.

DRIVER OF THE WEEK: GEORGE NAPOLITANO JR.

The meet’s leading driver may have picked up his milestone 8,000th career win at Chester last Friday, but George Nap quickly added to that total at Pocono by ripping off five wins on Saturday night.

TRAINER OF THE WEEK: JOE PAVIA JR.

Now focused on training after an amazing driving career, Pavia oversees a talented barn, as evidenced by wins on Saturday with Pointsman and Monday with Divination, each of whom went off at 7-1.

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, September 28th, 2016

September 24-30, 2016

After a couple weeks of abbreviated schedules, The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono returned to our regular slate of four nights of racing this past week. The full schedule featured a bunch of great finishes, several outstanding performances, and some stunning upsets. In other words, it was just another week at one of the top tracks in the world. Here are some of the highlights as we hand out the Weekly Awards.

PACER OF THE WEEK: DREAMS BEACHBOY

This four-year-old gelding from the Chris Oakes barn came into 2016 with somewhat modest earnings, even though he showed flashes of brilliance as a four-year-old. Dreams Beachboy has turned that promise into results this season. He’s been especially fine at Pocono; in just the last two months, he beat the non-winners of nine, won a condition in a career-mark of 1:49:1, and, in his last race coming into Saturday night, handled a $15,500 condition class.

On Saturday night, he stepped up into the $20,000 feature class, but even with the move up, bettors still installed him as the favorite. In the early going, Dreams Beachboy didn’t show much, sitting in the middle of the pack in fifth as others did the work up front. On the back stretch driver George Napolitano Jr. guided the gelding to the outside. In a flash, he wheeled from fifth to first, taking over the lead shy of the three-quarter pole.

From there no one was able to even remotely threaten his lead. Dreams Beachboy coasted home a winner in 1:50:2 with a 2 ¼ quarter-length advantage over second-place Mister Bling A. Now with seven victories in 19 races this year and earnings in 2016 which are about double his bankroll from the first two years of his career, Dreams Beachboy keeps getting better and seems like he has a way to go before he reaches his peak.

Other top pacers this week include: Goldin Parachute (Dave Palone, Rodney Baker), who moved up in class to win a claiming handicap on Saturday night in 1:52:2, giving him two straight victories; The Rock (Anthony Napolitano, Andrew Harris), who scored a condition win on Sunday night in 1:50:2, which was a new career-best and matched Dreams Beachboy for fastest time of the week at Pocono; and Gweneeee J (Jim Marohn Jr., Linda Toscano), who arrived from The Meadowlands to capture Tuesday night’s featured condition pace for mares in 1:51:3.

TROTTER OF THE WEEK: SPLITSVILLE

Who knows why horses sometimes take well to a track? When it happens, the results can be eye-opening. Splitsiville, a seven-year-old gelding, didn’t even hit the board in his first five races of the year before finally winning at Northfield in Ohio in a race for a purse of just $3,300. As soon as he arrived at Pocono and joined the barn of trainer Kris Rickert, his fortunes drastically changed. He immediately won two of three, climbing up the ladder to beat condition fields with purses of $8,500 and $11,000, with the latter win coming in a career-best 1:54:4.

After a fifth-place finish at Chester, the gelding returned to Pocono to face his toughest test yet on Saturday night in a $15,500 condition trot. The move up in class scared away the bettors, as Splitsville went off at 23-1. He sat fourth early on while the favorite Summers Windsong set the pace. Driver Eric Carlson set Splitsville in motion on the back stretch and quickly the gelding was looking the favored mare eye-to-eye.

The two continued their battle around the final turn, but, surprisingly, it was Summers Windsong who eventually relented. Or maybe it’s not so surprising considering Splitsville’s love of the Pocono oval. He trotted away and hid in the final strides, winning the race by a comfortable 3 ½ lengths and matching his career-best of 1:54 in the process.

Honorable mention on the trotting side goes to: Ashlake (Anthony Napolitano, Rene Allard), a mare whose victory in a claiming handicap on Monday night came in 1:53:3, a new career-best and the fastest trotting time of the week at Pocono; Somebody As (George Napolitano Jr., Anette Lorentzon), who shipped in from Yonkers to capture Sunday night’s $20,000 featured trot in 1:54:1; and Star Photo (Simon Allard, Rene Allard), who scored his second straight claiming handicap victory on Monday night, this one coming in 1:56:2.

LONG SHOT OF THE WEEK: REGGIANO

Despite a #9 post position and a move up in class, this pacer driven by Eric Carlson stunned a condition group on Saturday night at 50-1, paying off $103 on a $2 win ticket.

DRIVER OF THE WEEK: ERIC CARLSON

He picked up just two wins on Saturday night but was awful lucrative for his backers, as his wins came aboard 23-1 Splitsville and 50-1 Reggiano.

TRAINER OF THE YEAR: STEVE SALERNO

Few trainers have frequented the Pocono training leaderboard for as many years as Salerno, and nights like Monday night, when he scored a training double, will probably get him there this year as well.

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

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono Week in Review

September 10-16, 2016

The Stallion Series finals dominated the action in this abbreviated week of racing at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. On Sunday night there were four $40,000 finals held for three-year-olds, followed by four more finals for two-year-olds on Monday, again at $40,000 a pop. As the culmination of a summer’s worth of series racing, these finals put some outstanding young racing talent on display. Here are the results.

THREE-YEAR-OLD PACING FILLIES

Glidinthruparadise, coming in with seven straight first or second-place finishes for trainer Lisa Dunn, had anything but a glide in the final. She was parked out for the entire mile, and needed a three-wide move just to corral the pacesetter South Side Hanover late. Once Glidinthruparadise took the lead, it seemed like she might be vulnerable to some closers, but she held tight to the advantage with Brian Zendt in the bike and came home a winner in 1:54:3, which matched her career-best.

THREE-YEAR-OLD TROTTING COLTS AND GELDINGS

Iholdon was the 6-5 betting favorite and worked out the pocket trip in the final behind pacesetting Marty De Vie, who rated the pace very well. Normally a slow pace makes it difficult for a horse making a first-over move to do damage. But that’s exactly the course that Skeezix, a gelding trained by Roland Mallar, took on Sunday night. Driver Mike Simons had him moving like a champion in the stretch, and Skeezix prevailed by 1 ¾ lengths over Iholdon in 1:54:3, which equaled his lifetime best.

THREE-YEAR-OLD PACING COLTS AND GELDINGS

Despite not having won a race in 15 races this season and having the lowest amount of earnings of anyone in the field, Nimble And Quick went off as the 2-1 betting favorite in this group. And, sure enough, the gelding trained by Rich Ringler found himself in a nice pocket seat behind pacesetter Safensound Hanover. In the stretch, driver Matt Kakaley found room for Nimble And Quick in the passing lane, and he outpaced a host of closers to win by a half-length in a career-best 1:52.

THREE-YEAR-OLD PACING FILLIES

The most dominant performance of Sunday night was turned in by Terror At Night, a filly trained by Les Givens who went off at the medium price of 7-2. Driver Brett Miller aggressively sent her to the front around the first turn. From there she was pressured by a first-over move from Addy Girl, but she rebuffed that move with disdain and started opening up on the rest of the field as they turned for home. Terror At Night rolled home in front by 4 ¼ lengths in a career-best 1:50:4.

TWO-YEAR-OLD TROTTING FILLIES

As a 6-1 shot, Trixie Dust, a filly trained by Rich Gillock, was somewhat of an afterthought in this Monday final. She got off to a slow start, but a hot pace set the race up nicely for someone coming from off the pace. With David Miller in the bike, Trixie Dust picked up some live cover in EZ Passer, who took over the lead at the three-quarter pole. Trixie Dust then blew by that one and trotted away from the field in the stretch, winning by a comfortable 3 ½ lengths in a career-best 1:56:2.

TWO-YEAR-OLD TROTTING COLTS AND GELDINGS

Off of four consecutive victories, Backstage Pass was the odds-on favorite in this one, and he made the lead with a front-stretch swoop. But as soon as he took over the lead, Two AM took it away. No slouch himself at 2-1 with wins in three of previous five races, Two AM kept after it on the front end until Backstage Pass, unaccustomed to coming from behind, fell way back. With Andrew McCarthy driving for trainer Todd Buter, Two AM coasted home 4 ½ lengths in front in 1:55:2, a new career-best time.

TWO-YEAR-OLD PACING COLTS AND GELDINGS

Western Hill, a colt trained by Tony Alagna, came into the final on Monday night with three consecutive wins under his belt. In each of those victories, he didn’t take over the lead until the stretch. But he moved earlier in the final, as a back stretch brush earned him the lead. Driver Brett Miller made sure that Western Hill, the 6-5 favorite, stretched out the lead so that the pursuit couldn’t get there, and he glided home a two-length winner in 1:53 for four in a row.

TWO-YEAR-OLD PACING FILLIES

The last Stallion Series race of the season featured a stacked group of distaff pacers. It came down to a showdown between Emily R Hanover and Brazuca, as the pair locked up in a struggle that began on the back stretch and wasn’t decided until the second half of the home stretch. That’s when Brazuca, with Dave Palone doing the driving for trainer Thomas Cancelliere, finally wore down Emily R Hanover and picked up the victory as the 2-1 favorite by 1 ¼ lengths in 1:53:4.

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