Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs Week In Review

Monday, July 21st, 2014

July 11-17, 2014

We are coming out of a particularly busy stretch of stakes races at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, and, as those races dominated the conversation, it necessitated the Weekly Awards taking a bit of a hiatus for the past three weeks. The good news is that the Awards are back, and there is a pile of worthy candidates lining up to make their cases. Let’s see who gets the nods.


The barn of trainer Chris Oakes is so full of top performers that it’s easy for an individual horse to get a little bit lost in the shuffle if it isn’t churning out wins with regularity. Such was the case with Scott Rocks, a big earner as a 3-year-old who won just one of his first eight starts in 2014 at age four. The turnaround began with a win in a condition pace on June 3 in 1:50.

After a fourth-place finish in his following start, the hot streak really began. On June 28, Scott Rocks took down the non-winners of $12,500 in the last five starts group in 1:49. The next week, it was the non-winners of $17,500 in the last five starts that felt his wrath, as he rolled home in 1:50:2. On Saturday night, he stepped up into the highest condition group at Pocono, the non-winners of $25,000 in the last five starts, and he made it look easy.

Once again with George Napolitano Jr. in the bike, Scott Rocks made a huge first-over move on the back stretch to pounce on a hot early pace. From there, he poured it on for a three-length victory over the field in a career-best 1:48:3, which was also the fastest pacing time posted at Pocono this past week. With performances like that, Scott Rocks need not be concerned about being overshadowed.

Other top pacers this week include: Quincy (Simon Allard, Marty Fine), who rolled to his third straight victory in the rugged $27,500 claiming pacing group on Saturday night, this time in 1:50:1; Mickey Hanover (Simon Allard, Rene Allard), who rumbled to his second straight condition win on Saturday night, scoring in 1:49:4; and Wakizashi Hanover (Corey Callahan, Jim King Jr.), whose Pennsylvania Sire Stakes win on Wednesday night in 1:51 set a new track record for 2-year-old geldings on the pace.


Baseball fans will recognize that name as being the same as the longtime slugger Raul Ibanez. His trotting namesake has been a pretty powerful slugger at the track the past few weeks. He joined the Rene Allard barn following a claim in June, then found his stride and his confidence with a solid condition victory on July 8 in 1:53:4.

On Tuesday night, Ibanez heading back into Pocono’s toughest claiming group for the trotters, the $20,000 to $25,000 claiming handicappers, and, to make matters worse, was hamstrung with the outside post in a field of seven. As a fast pace materialized on the front end, driver Corey Callahan patiently kept the 5-year-old gelding near the back of the pack.

Around the final turn, while the leaders started to feel the burden of the pace, Ibanez was just gearing up. Callahan spun him out wide and he went charging by in the final strides for the win in a new career-best time of 1:53:4. You could even say that it was the harness-racing equivalent of a game-winning, pinch-hit home run in the bottom of the ninth, so that name is pretty fitting after all.

Honorable mention on the trotting side goes to: Swiss Lightning (Brett Miller-Bill Mullin), whose victory over the $7,500 claimers on Friday night in 1:55, a new career mark, was his second straight win; Harbor Point (Tyler Buter-Mark Ford), who handled a condition field on Saturday night in 1:52:4, which was not only a career-best but also the fastest trotting time at MSPD this week; and Commander K (Matt Kakaley-Douglas Berkeley), who picked up his second straight claiming victory on Wednesday night in 1:54.


Even with a Sire Stakes race in his last start at the Meadows, this 2-year-old pacer shad 25-1 odds for his come-from-behind win in a Sire Stakes at Pocono on Wednesday to pay off $52.20 on a $2 win ticket.


Kakaley has been one of Pocono’s leading lights for several seasons now, so it was only fitting that he picked up his milestone 3,000th victory at the track on Wednesday night.


With one of the best percentages at the track in terms of training winners, Fine continued his excellent season with three more victories, including a double on Saturday night.

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

Matt Kakaley Wins 3,000th at Pocono

Monday, July 21st, 2014

July 16, 2014

Matt Kakaley earned his 3,000th career driving victory aboard trotter Commander K on Wednesday night at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs.

Kakaley achieves the mark at age 26. He moved to 2,999 with a win aboard 25-1 shot McArdles Lightning in Pennsylvania Sire Stakes action earlier in the night, and then sealed the deal with Commander K, a fitting horse to do it considering Matt’s surname. Kakaley has been one of Pocono’s leading drivers for several seasons and is a past seasonal driving champ at the track.

Wakizashi Hanover Sets Track Record in Sire Stakes Win at Pocono

Monday, July 21st, 2014

July 16, 2014

Wakizashi Hanover picked up a Pennsylvania Sire Stakes victory in track-record fashion on Wednesday night at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. There were four Sire Stakes divisions held for 2-year-old colts and geldings on the pace, with purses ranging from $59,566 to $59,966.

Wakizashi Hanover (Dragon Again-Western Gesture), made a late first-over move with Corey Callahan in the bike for trainer Jim King Jr. and scored in 1:51. That winning time broke the Pocono track record for 2-year-old geldings on the pace of 1:51:3, which was set by Dovuto Hanover in 2012.

Other Sire Stakes winners on the night: McArdles Lightning (McArdle-Winning Venture), who rallied at 25-1 with Matt Kakaley in the bike for trainer Steve Elliott to win in 1:51; Yankee Bounty (Yankee Cruiser-Bootleg Yankee), who made it three for-three to start his career with a victory in 1:51:3 with Corey Callahan aboard for trainer Kevin Lare; and Dragon Eddy (Dragon Again-Jeska Hanover), also three-for-three in his young career as Mike Simons guided him for trainer John Butenschoen to a victory in 1:51:1.

Hall Of Terror Fastest Freshman in Stallion Series at Pocono

Monday, July 21st, 2014

July 15, 2014

Hall Of Terror posted the fastest winning time among six $20,000 divisions of the Stallion Series on Tuesday night at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. The races were for 2-year-old colts and geldings on the pace.

Hall Of Terror (Western Terror-Maytime Hall), driven by Mark MacDonald and trained by Erv Miller, won in 1:53:1, his second straight Stallion Series victory. Other Stallion Series winners on the night: R N Nate (Nuclear Breeze-R N Artist), driven by Tim Tetrick and trained by Roger Hammer, in 1:54; Royaltyhasarrived (Western Terror-Her Mattjesty), driven by Dan Rawlings and trained by Steve Schoeffel, in 1:55:2; Final Gesture (Shark Gesture-Real Girl), driven by Tim Tetrick and trained by Linda Toscano, in 1:54; My Hero Ron (Well Said-Erma La Em), driven by Mark MacDonald and trained by Erv Miller, in 1:54:4; and Letsmakeawish (Western Terror-Dynamite Donna), driven by Matt Kakaley and trained by Ron Burke, in 1:53:4.

Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs Week in Review

Monday, July 7th, 2014

July 4-10, 2014

Now that we’ve reached a point in the season that’s near the halfway mark of the 2014 campaign and have finished a stretch of stakes races at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, it’s a good time to take a step back and take a look at some of the trends that we’ve seen developing at the track. These are trends that don’t concern specific horses so much as it does general phenomena pertaining to the races that might help out handicappers as they go to make their wagers.

What I’ve noticed throughout the first four months of the season or so is that some of the maxims that used to be old stand-bys for bettors are no longer as airtight as they once were. More and more the things that you could count on in this sport are falling by the wayside. Still, there are advantages to be had for astute handicappers who are willing to admit that everything seems to be changing.

For example, it used to be that bettors were reluctant to bet on a horse coming off a significant layoff. The theory was that the horse would need a start of two to get its legs underneath it before it could expect to be in top form. Yet time and time again this year, I’ve seen horses coming off layoffs of many months or more perform at a top level and even win against excellent fields.

While there is some merit still in being cautions with horses off layoffs, bettors should really pay attention to those qualifiers. In particular, especially in the lower classes, a horse with a very fast closing time compared to the rest of the field is a good one to watch, even if the qualifying result wasn’t that impressive on the whole. Trainers often just want to see one burst of speed from their horses in the morning qualifiers, so if that burst is there, chances are it will be there on race night as well.

Another famous handicappers’ strategy is to stay away from horses who are moving up in class, especially if they are doing so and jumping several rungs on either the claiming or condition ladder. But such a bounding leap hasn’t stopped a lot of horses from winning this season, often paying off at decent odds due to bettors who refuse to believe they can move up in style.

The bottom line is that there is such speed permeating practically every class and grouping at Pocono this season that the distinctions are blurring, allowing horses to move up and do well practically every racing night. If a horse has posted a recent winning time that’s comparable to the winning times posted in a certain class in previous weeks, chances are it can compete in that class regardless of how large a step up it might be.

So far I’ve told you about certain strategies which have been partially disproved by the racing at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs this season. So how about something new that bettors can look for when they’re making picks that might not have been as much of a factor in the past? I’ve got just the thing for you: Look for horses that have been claimed.

Now let me qualify that by saying that is not a catch-all statement, especially considering that there are often claiming races in which several horses in the field are joining new barns. What handicappers should be looking for are a select few trainers who have the knack for turning around underperforming horses or getting horses who may be just a few ticks away from winning over the hump.

In many cases, seeing certain trainers’ names in the program next to a horse can trump even recent past performances when it comes to projecting how well it will perform in the near future. I wouldn’t say to disregard completely what a horse has done in the past or forget it all if it makes the switch to a hot barn. But I would recommend checking out the training standings at Pocono or the UDRS numbers for each of the trainers in the race (all info that can be found in the program) before making your wager in a claiming race. If you see a trainer who has an excellent record and a horse is joining his barn, maybe give that horse a little extra consideration when you make the selection.

Obviously, none of these rules is ironclad and there are a million different factors that affect a race. But if there is a lesson to be learned by bettors from the racing season so far at Pocono, it’s that it’s important to adapt to the times rather than letting them pass you by. Come to think of it, that advice applies to just about everything. Harness racing as a metaphor for life? Who knew?

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