Racing

Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

2014 Season Review

Turkeys wearing camouflage. Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel 24 hours a day. My light cool sweatpants replaced by my warm heavy sweatpants.

All these signs, including the bitingly cold weather, make it clear the winter is just about upon us. And that means that another racing season at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs is just about to wrap up. Luckily for all those who follow Pocono racing, it has been a marvelous season, one that witnessed is share of superstar performances, incredible finishes, and shocking long shots. About the only constants from night to night were the uniformly competitive and exciting races.

In 2014, we were graced, as usual, by the presence of some of the finest drivers and trainers in the country. Some familiar faces to Pocono fans took home the highest honors for the season. On the training side, Rene Allard and Chris Oakes repeated as the leaders in training wins and training percentage, respectively. And George Napolitano Jr. continued his incredible run atop the leaderboard among the drivers, sweeping the titles for driving wins and percentage with plenty of room to spare in both categories.

Yet those three men were really only just a part of the story in terms of the driving and training community. Four other drivers (Simon Allard, Matt Kakaley, Andrew McCarthy, and Anthony Napolitano) besides George Nap managed 100 wins in the Pocono meet, while a dozen picked up at least fifty. On the training side, five men (Allard, Oakes, Ron Burke, Lou Pena, Gilberto Garcia-Herrera) churned out at least 50 victories. Balance was the name of the game with the trainers and drivers, as more and more of the top horsemen in North America made Pocono a regular part of their racing schedule.

Of course, what really makes Pocono racing such a special entity is the quality of the horses who come to race. Last week in this space we honored our horses of the year, but there were so many wonderful equine performers who made their way to MSPD that it was impossible to honor them all, even with over thirty sets of Weekly Award and honorable mentions given out by yours truly in 2014.

One easy way to check the impact of a particular season is to look at the track records page in the beginning of the program. You’ll notice that a big portion of the dates on that page indicate that those records were set here this year. In all, there were twelve records either set or matched at Pocono this season, with the vast majority of those going for world records on a 5/8-mile oval. And who can forget that in 2014, Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs hosted the fastest pace ever on a 5/8-mile oval (a scorching 1:47 by Sweet Lou) and the fastest trot at any track size anywhere (an incredible 1:49 by Sebastian K.)

As I said above, there are really too many memorable moments to squeeze into this humble little retrospective. One of the neat things about harness racing is that every single night, it seems like something happens that you’ve never seen before. And you never know when that unpredictable bolt out of the blue will happen. It might happen in the feature race with the finest horses on the grounds, but it can also happen with maiden trotters. As the caliber of racing has continued its steady uphill climb at Pocono, these special moments seem to take place more and more often.

We’ve spent this time looking back, but before we call it a season, we should think about what’s to come in 2015. It will be an extremely special campaign at Pocono, as it marks the 50th season of racing at the track. In addition to the usual schedule of thrilling stakes races and competitive overnight races, 2015 is going to feel like one big celebration.

For the fans who have been with us for many of those 50 years, next season will probably feel pretty special, a milestone at the track. As someone who has worked at Pocono for 17 years, I feel really honored to be playing a small part of it. Even as we put another incredible season to bed, it’s hard to feel anything but anticipation for what’s to come.

As always, I’d like to thank everyone who checked out my articles this past year or tuned in to my race calls, and thanks to all of my wonderful co-workers in the racing department who do such amazing work night in and night out.

I hope everyone has a wonderful winter and Happy Holidays. We’ll see you at the track in 2015.

If you have any questions or concerns over the break, feel free to e-mail me at jbeviglia@mohegansunpocono.com.

  

Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs Week in Review

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

November 7-13, 2014    

Choosing the horses of the year at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs used to be a much simpler job. When the racing wasn’t as competitive as it is now, there were usually only a few candidates who would rise above the rest by winning in the same classes week after week, making the choices for the top honors relativeLY easy.

Not anymore. Since Pocono is a destination for the top horses and horsemen in the country, it is extremely difficult for any one horse to dominate a single division. As a result, there are dozens of horses who can make legitimate cases at different times in the year that they are the best of the best at MSPD.

I had a little input into these choices, but most of the research and hard work behind these choices was done by my esteemed colleagues Terri Phalen and Jennifer Starr. It wasn’t easy, but the three winners, in my opinion, are extremely deserving. So, without further ado, here is a look at the 2014 Pocono Horses of the Year.

PACER OF THE YEAR: DANCIN YANKEE

When this six-year-old stallion arrived at Pocono in May, he had already distinguished himself with a big winning streak at Dover and a respectable performance in the Levy series at Yonkers. Trained by Josh Green, he made his presence felt immediately at MSPD with back-to-back wins, including a dominant performance in the $50,000 Van Rose Invitational.

When he returned at the end of June, he was working for the Amber Buter barn. What an auspicious Pocono debut he made for the new connections, winning a $100,000 invitational race with Tyler Buter in the bike in 1:47:2, a winning time which would have broken every record in the book if Sweet Lou hadn’t won the Franklin in 1:47 that same night. Dancin Yankee followed that up with three more no-doubt wins in a row in a Preferred company. Only a monster mile by Bigtown Hero in September kept him from sheer perfection at Pocono for the year, as he finished third to finish with six wins in seven against the very best on the grounds. His success at Pocono was just one part of a brilliant season overall for Dancin Yankee, but it was good enough to capature perhaps the most glamorous year-end award.

TROTTER OF THE YEAR: WIND OF THE NORTH

Wind Of The North, a four-year-old gelding trained by Clifton Green, didn’t waste any time at Pocono in 2014. He picked up a condition win in the season’s first week on his way to wins in four of his five races of the season as he moved up the condition ladder in the spring. That was just his warm-up act, however. On June 28, with David Miller in the bike, he burned his way to a victory in 1:51, setting a new world record for his age group and gender on a 5/8-mile oval in the process.

One thing that Wind Of The North had failed to accomplish in the first half of the season was a win against the Preferred trotters. That all changed when he handled that very group for a victory on September 27. His final tally: ten starts at Pocono in 2014, six wins, two seconds, and a third. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s a Trotter of the Year resume for sure.

CLAIMER OF THE YEAR: B J’S RAMEAU

Do you want to know what was impressive about B J’s Rameau’s season at Pocono? Everything, that’s what. The sheer numbers of it are good enough on their own to warrant Claimer of the Year consideration. In 28 races at Pocono this season, the 5-year-old gelding hit the board 17 times and won 11, including a career-best 1:49:1 mile.

Then consider that all of those victories were against the top rung of the claiming ladder at Pocono. Consider that, as a hot claiming commodity, he won his 11 races for eight different trainers. And finally consider that many of those races were claiming handicaps and BJ’s Rameau, because of his high sale price, was often saddled with the outside post, making his record even more impressive. We’ve had a lot of outstanding claimers this year, but they were all toiling in the wake of this gelding.

Next week in this space we’ll be wrapping up the 2014 season for good as we approach closing night on November 22. We’ll be taking a look back at some of the best moments of the year and we’ll also tell you who won the honors among drivers and trainers in terms of wins and percentage. It’s hard to believe it’s almost over, but the three horses we’ve spotlighted here have given us a whole lot to remember come the offseason.

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.

 

Mach It So Shatters World Record in Open Handicap Pace at Pocono

Monday, November 10th, 2014

November 8, 2014

Mach It So rallied from the pocket to win Saturday night’s featured $35,000 Open Handicap pace at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs and did so in world-record time.

Leaving from post position #4 in a field of six as a 7-1 shot, Mach it So (Mach Three-Beach Dancer), a 4-year-old gelding from the PJ Fraley barn, left well for driver Andrew McCarthy and then sat the pocket as Bigtown Hero cut out blistering fractions of :25:2, :52:2, and 1:19:1. Those numbers proved unsustainable for the 4-5 favorite, and Mach It So rallied in the stretch through the inside passing lane to hold off State Treasurer by a half-length. Wake Up Peter finished 3rd.

The winning time of 1:48 broke the world record for four-year-old pacing geldings on a 5/8-mile oval of 1:48:1, which was set in July of 2013 at Pocono by Live On and matched later in the year at the track by Dynamic Youth.

Owned by Bamond Racing, Mach It So won for the eighth time in 21 races in 2014. It was his 18th career victory and pushed his lifetime earnings to $601,039.

Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs Week in Review

Monday, November 10th, 2014

October 31-November 6, 2014

Well, folks, we have almost reached that point in the racing season at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs when it’s time to sum up all that we’ve seen. Next week we’ll take a look in this space at the top horses of the year and then we’ll follow that up the week after with a wrap-up of the entire 2014 season. For now, let’s take the time to hand out our last set of Weekly Awards for this racing campaign.

PACER OF THE WEEK: MCBOOGIE

This five-year-old gelding has been on a tear lately, turning what was looking like a lost season into the best year of his career. McBoogie had just one win in eight wins when he lined up for a $10,000 claimer on September 17, but he rolled that night to a victory in 1:52:1. After a sluggish 5th-place effort in his follow-up race, he took off with wins in his next three in a row, one of which came in a career-best time of 1:50:4.

In the middle of that streak he moved up from the $10,000 claimers to the $15,000 claimers. He also switched barns, joining trainer Dean Eckley’s stable in the middle of October. On Saturday night he looked to keep his outstanding stretch of races going by taking on the $15,000 claimers as the 2-5 favorite. When he briefly lost the lead around the first turn, driver George Napolitano Jr. sent him right back to the front end with a quick brush.

From there, he held strong, although he eventually faced a stiff challenge from Woodmere Ultimate in the home stretch. McBoogie showed the fortitude that’s been a hallmark of his recent stretch of racing, digging in to hold on by a neck in 1:51:3. That makes four wins in a row and five out of six. This gelding is turning it on when most horses are shutting it down.

Other top pacers include: Ahead Ofthe Curve (Anthony Napolitano, Paul Holzman), who churned his way to his second straight claiming handicap victory, this one in 1:52, on Saturday night; Yagonnakissmeornot (Ron Pierce, Rene Allard), who overcame an outside post to storm her way to victory in Saturday night’s featured Open Handicap for mares in 1:50:1; and Fie Fy Fo (Anthony Napolitano, Chris Oakes), a 2-year-old filly who burned her way to her second straight condition victory on Tuesday night, this one coming in 1:54:1.

TROTTER OF THE WEEK: OPENING NIGHT

There were some tough customers in Saturday night’s $35,000 Open Handicap trot. Not Afraid won in Preferred company the last time he was at Pocono, Tirade Hanover had ripped off wins in his last five races, and Backstreet Hanover won her last start against the same class at Harrah’s at Philadelphia. Opening Night, a 6-year-old stallion from the Jim Campbell barn, certainly had raced at the highest  level throughout his career, but he was working his way back into top form heading into Saturday.

Still, a win in condition company two starts previous at Harrah’s was a confidence builder, as was a second behind former Hambletonian winner Market Share in his last race. On Saturday night, he had to overcome the outside #8 post, which, coupled with the fact that he was moving back up in class, is probably why he was an 11-1 shot. Driver Ron Pierce was able to coax some early speed out of him so that he could find a pocket spot early.

In the stretch, Opening Night kicked into high gear once again to win a hard-fought battle to the line, holding off Tirade Hanover for the victory. His winning time of 1:53 was the fastest among all trotters this past week at Pocono. Against a top field and from a demanding post, this stallion showed that class and guts can overcome the toughest of obstacles.

Honorable mention on the trotting side goes to Upfront Billy (Tyler Buter, Mark Ford), who, with the help of a disqualification, won his second straight condition trot on Tuesday night; Four Starz Speed (Ron Pierce, Rene Allard), who rolled to his third straight victory and fourth in his last five with an easy claiming handicap win on Wednesday night in 1:56; and Proud Moment (Ron Pierce, Rene Allard), who once again conquered Wednesday night’s featured claiming handicap trot, winning his second straight in 1:53:3.

LONG SHOT OF THE WEEK: RESCUE PLAN

This condition pacer with Tyler Buter in the bike was the longest shot on the board at 55-1 in Tuesday’s feature, but he rallied for the win and paid off $113.20 on a $2 win ticket.

DRIVER OF THE WEEK: RON PIERCE

Pierce had one of his best single nights at Pocono on Saturday when he ripped off five victories, which included wins in both of the night’s $35,000 featured handicaps.

TRAINER OF THE WEEK: DEAN ECKLEY

In the second half of the season, Eckley, a relatively new name to the Pocono faithful, has been winning at a high rate, adding two more victories to the ledger on Saturday.

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.

 

World Record Pacer Sweet Lou honored Saturday

Monday, November 10th, 2014

Sweet Lou was honored at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs on Saturday night,  a few weeks before his official retirement.  The son of Yankee Cruiser was a fan-favorite at Pocono, and set a World Record on Sun Stakes Saturday in June of 1:47, the fastest time ever on a 5/8 mile track.  He won 10 of 17 starts this year, with those 10 coming consecutively, and all in sub-1:49 fashion.

 

Fans wearing the Sweet Lou souvenir hat, given away earlier in the evening, surrounded the Winner’s Circle, as he jogged the Pocono track for the last time of his illustrious career.  The Winner’s Circle was filled with his connections, including members of the “Burke Brigade”; co-owner Phil Collura; members of Pocono management, and drivers Ron Pierce and Matt Kakaley. 

 

A few tears were shed as Sweet Lou left the Pocono Winner’s Circle for the last time, and the fans broke out in applause and cheers to send him off with a chorus of “Good Luck” for his next few races and his next career.