June 27-July 3, 2014
When we looked forward to Sun Stakes Saturday at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in the early months of the season, we expected most of the fireworks to come from the four major stakes races being contested on the card. Yet for all of the unforgettable, world-record performances that characterized those giant-purse races, it was an 8-year-old Swedish horse with just three starts in the United States under his belt who stole the show from the undercard.
In addition to the $300,000 James M. Lynch Memorial pace for 3-year-old fillies, the $500,000 Max C. Hempt Memorial pace for 3-year-olds, the $500,000 Ben Franklin free-for-all pace, and the $500,000 Earl Beal Memorial trot for 3-year-olds, two $100,000 invitationals were added. On the trotting side, Sebastian K, who had swept three starts at the Meadowlands, all in under 1:51, since arriving from Sweden, decided to make the Sun Invitational trot his personal playground.
Trained and driven by Ake Svanstedt, Sebastian K, a $2 million earner in his native country before ever setting foot in the U.S., took off from the outside post and just kept firing. In the stretch, his closest competitor went off stride in a vain attempt to keep up with his pace. At that point, Svanstedt decided to see just what his horse had inside of him.
When he crossed the line in 1:49, it took me a moment up in the announcer’s booth to register what had just happened. While I had anticipated before the race he would give our Pocono track record and the world record for 5/8-mile ovals a run for their money, I did not foresee 1:49, the fastest trot ever. All tracks sizes, all ages, all genders. Nobody ever trotted one mile faster than Sebastian K did on Saturday night.
Considering that none of the aforementioned huge stakes had even been held by that point, the rest of the night easily could have been all anticlimactic. Luckily those other races lived up to their billing, producing three world record performances out of the four and uniformly pulse-pounding excitement.
In the Lynch, Uffizi Hanover was made the betting favorite based on her excellent record and the fact that her post position improved compared to her loss in the eliminations. Yet Fancy Desire, trained by Kevin Carr, proved her love of the Pocono track once again, powering home on the front end in 1:49:2. Pocono’s leading driver George Napolitano Jr. did the driving for his first ever Lynch win.
Next up was the Hempt, which started the world records falling once again. The perpetrator this time was McWicked, a powerhouse colt from the Casie Coleman barn who showed no fatigue after a monster effort in last week’s eliminations. With David Miller in the bike, McWicked took over the race on the front stretch and stymied the field with incredible speed throughout the second half of the race, coming home a winner in 1:47:3, a new world record for 3-year-old colts on a 5/8-mile oval.
No horse has made more of a turnaround in his career of late than Sweet Lou, who seemed to have peaked a few years back but has suddenly caught fire with a vengeance in 2014. Since driver Ron Pierce took over the driving chores, the 5-year-old stallion trained by Ron Burke has been unstoppable with five straight wins, the last of those coming in Saturday night’s Ben Franklin final. Ironically, it wasn’t 2013’s leading lights Captaintreacherous and Folied Again who gave him the biggest problem; it was stablemate Bettor’s Edge, who challenged him in a great stretch duel, with Sweet Lou prevailing in 1:47; fastest ever pacing time achieved on a 5/8-mile oval.
If there has been once tiny complaint about the impeccable record of Father Patrick, the colt who came into Saturday night’s Beal final with wins in 14 of 15 lifetime races, it’s that he lacked one of those jaw-dropping wins that some of the other A-list horses have rifled off in the past. Cross that off the checklist now, because Yannick Gingras cut the colt loose on Saturday night, and the pride of the Jimmy Takter barn responded with, you guessed it, a world record performance for 3-year-old colts on the trot on a 5/8-mile oval.
Overall, there were five world records on the night; in addition to the ones we’ve already mentioned, Wind Of The North picked up the mark for 4-year-old geldings earlier in the night in a condition victory in 1:51. While there is no doubt that we’ll miss having the Breeders Crown this season at Pocono, those year-end races will have to be special to live up to the drama and excitement of Sun Stakes Saturday 2014. And I’m pretty sure that no night of racing will be able to match Saturday’s undercard thanks to Sebastian K.
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.