The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono Week In Review

August 26-September 1, 2017

This is usually the space where we hand out Weekly Awards, but I thought I’d take a break from that this week to address a recent phenomenon at the track. That phenomenon is Rainbow Pick 5 Fever!

For those who might have missed it, here’s the gist of it. The Rainbow Pick 5 is a wager that requires a bettor to pick the winners of five consecutive races. But that’s not all. If there are multiple winning tickets on a given night, the winners share in a small percentage of the pool. The remainder of the pool carries over to the next night, and that can continue indefinitely until there is a single winning ticket.

Well, it looked like the wager might carry on infinitely instead of indefinitely at Pocono over the past few months, as night after racing night the Pick 5 was hit by multiple tickets instead of just one. The jackpot skyrocketed to $230,534.56 in the meantime, so it was decided to freeze it for a few weeks and give everyone a shot for a piece of that overflowing pie. On Sunday night, September 3, there will be a mandatory payout of that jackpot, meaning that even multiple winning tickets will get to share in the entirety of that huge sum of money instead of just a portion of it.

Think about it: Say the pool rises to $250,000 (after the 15 percent track takeout) or so on Sunday night with all of the betting action and, at the end of the night, there are ten winning tickets. That would mean those ten would pocket $25,000 apiece. Considering that they would have received a fraction of that without the mandatory payout, it’s easy to understand why this event Sunday night is such a big deal.

You might say, “That’s all good and fine, but picking the winner of one race is hard enough. Picking five in a row is like hitting the lottery.” But the Rainbow Pick 5 allows you to make picks for just twenty cents apiece. That means for a two-dollar wager, you can play ten different combinations of winners for the five races.

And that’s where the strategy that makes this wager so fascinating comes into play. If you come with the idea in your head that you’re going to spend a little money to give yourself the best possible chance to win, you still have to decide how to spread that money around. For example, you might find a race within the Pick 5 where you think a horse in the field is a can’t-miss winner. In that case, you might make him your only pick from that race, which would allow you to pick maybe six, seven or even all the horses from another race.

On the other hand, you might prefer to hedge your bets in each of the Pick 5 races, playing multiple horses in each race. Just remember that each horse you include in your ticket drives up the price of your wager a little bit. But what if the horse that you leave out at the last minute is the one who comes in as a long shot and would have separated your ticket from all the other bettors out there?

Again, that’s the kind of “what if” that makes the Rainbow Pick 5 so addictive. I don’t wager on the races at Pocono. I’m not forbidden to do so by any rules, but I made the choice that I wouldn’t while calling the races so that I would remain objective at all times. But I have been filling out a hypothetical Pick 5 ticket each night just to see how I would do. And what I’ve learned is that it takes a pretty good-sized wager, maybe a minimum of $40, to give yourself a chance that’s more than just a dart throw. Otherwise you have to be absolutely dead-on with your handicapping and hope that no long shots spoil the party, which, over the span of five races, is a distinct possibility.

Doing it that way, I’ve been able to hit the Rainbow Pick 5 with my pretend tickets about one out of every four racing nights. It’s not the best percentage, but, considering the amount of money on the line, I’d take those odds in a heartbeat.

Maybe you have your own strategy for the Pick 5. Or maybe you’ll just pick your favorite numbers or names and let Lady Luck work her magic. Again, what makes this wager such a cool deal is that there’s no one way to approach it.

We’re expecting Sunday night September 3rd to be a big night at the track, as bettors of all stripes will be lining up to take a portion of that lucrative payout home with them. However it turns out, there’s no doubt that the Rainbow Pick 5 has spiced up what has already been a thrilling racing meet at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono.

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

August 12-18, 2017

This past week at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono featured either Pennsylvania Sire Stakes or Stallion Series competition every racing night. It’s always a lot of fun to see these two and three-year-olds going at it for big purses as they try to establish themselves among the stars of their age groups. It’s also a reminder that Labor Day brings the two-year-old Pennsylvania Sire Stakes championships to Pocono. In the meantime, here are the finest performances of the past week via the Weekly Awards.

PACER OF THE WEEK: HOLD IT HANOVER

In general, Stallion Series races are reserved for two and three-year-olds that are a notch below Sire Stakes level; that’s reflected in the lower, but still substantial, purses for the Stallion Series races. But, in some cases, the Stallion Series serves as a great location for horses that may have started a bit later in their career than others but are suddenly demonstrating immense talent. That certainly seems to be the case for Hold It Hanover.

This filly didn’t race at age two, and made her debut in Canada this season as a sophomore, picking up one win in eight starts. But things started to transform when she arrived in Pennsylvania in July and joined the barn of trainer Michael Hall. After finishing fourth in her first start at Harrah’s at Philadelphia, Hold It Hanover promptly ripped off three straight victories against non-winners of three fillies and mares. She then came to Pocono on August 8 and beat that same class from an outside post in a career-best 1:51:2.

On Sunday night, she took on the Stallion Series for three-year-old pacing fillies for the first time and the domination continued. As the 2-5 favorite from an outside post in a field of seven, she overwhelmed the field on the front end by 5 ¾ lengths with George Napolitano Jr. in the bike. The winning time of 1:51 was easily the fastest Stallion series time of the night and was comparable to the times of Saturday night’s Sire Stakes winners in the same division. With five wins in a row under her belt, the best way to classify Hold It Hanover is as tough to beat.

Other top pacers this week include: Maxdaddy Blue Chip (Simon Allard, Rene Allard), who moved up in class and grinded out a first-over mile for his second straight condition victory on Saturday night, this one coming in 1:50:1; Scotty Lauxmont (George Napolitano Jr., Gilberto Garcia-Herrera), who scored his second consecutive condition win on Sunday night, moving up in class to win in a career-best 1:52:3; and First Class Horse (George Napolitano Jr. Tracy Brainard), whose condition win on Saturday night in 1:50 marked a career-best and the fastest pacing time of the week at Pocono.

TROTTER OF THE WEEK: RIDGEWAY SPRINGS

One can never tell when the light is going to come on for a struggling horse. In the case of Ridgeway Springs, it looked like he might dwell in darkness all year long. When he arrived at Pocono from The Meadowlands for a non-winners of $6,000 in the last five event on August 6, he was winless this season in 19 races. But the change of scenery must have helped, as the four-year-old gelding, who had just joined the Owen Eiler Jr. barn, made a three-wide back stretch move on his way to a win in a career-best 1:55:2 at 11-1.

On Sunday night, Ridgeway Springs took on a different challenge, battling the non-winners of five for a purse of $16,000. Those are much bigger stakes than what he’s used to seeking, so it was somewhat understandable that he was let go at 13-1 despite the win in his last start. Driver Anthony Napolitano had the gelding ready to roll, however, pushing him to the front early and then settling into the pocket after race favorite Rosesareexplosive grabbed the lead on the front stretch.

Some first-over pressure from Centurion Hanover softened up Rosesareexplosive, all while Ridgeway Springs relaxed in the pocket. In the stretch, Ridgeway Springs uncorked his best move and slid past Rosesareexplosive to win by three-parts of a length. In doing so, he matched his career-best 1:55:2 time from the previous week. After two straight victories at double-digit odds, hope springs anew for this suddenly red-hot trotter.

Honorable mention on the trotting side goes to: Up Front Billy (Anthony Napolitano, Mark Ford), who scored a condition win on Saturday night in a brisk 1:53:1; Windsongmusclelady (George Napolitano Jr., Hunter Oakes), a mare who followed up a win at Harrah’s with a victory in Monday night’s featured claiming handicap trot in 1:52:3, a new career-best and the fastest trotting time of the week at Pocono; and Frac (Anthony Napolitano, Jim Ray), who stepped up the condition ladder to win his second straight on Tuesday night in 1:55.

LONG SHOT OF THE WEEK: CAN I SAY

With Anthony Morgan in the bike, this trotting mare beat a field of boys to win a condition event at 29-1 on Saturday night, paying off $60 on a $2 win ticket.

DRIVER OF THE WEEK: GEORGE NAPOLITANO JR.

On Sunday night’s card, which featured some top drivers shipping in for the Stallion Series races, Pocono’s top driver asserted his dominance by winning eight of the 14 races on the program.

TRAINER OF THE WEEK: NIFTY NORMAN

Among Norman’s four training victories at Pocono this week were back-to-back Stallion Series wins on Sunday night with sophomore filly pacers Bridge To Tomorrow and Perplexed.

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

July 8-14, 2017

Coming on the heels of Sun Stakes Saturday, The Pennsylvania All-Stars races have continued the trend of high stakes and thrilling action at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. Two weeks ago, the best two-year-olds took center stage, getting their first taste of intense competition in the process. It was an excellent chance for the Pocono faithful to check out some of the future stars of the sport.

This past week it was the three-year-olds who competed in All-Stars action. Even though these horses are a bit more established than their freshman counterparts, the competitiveness of the fields meant that there were plenty of surprises along the way. Next week we’ll get back to the Weekly Awards, but, for now, let’s take a look back at which three-year-olds undoubtedly earned the moniker of All-Star.

THREE-YEAR-OLD COLTS AND GELDINGS ON THE PACE (Sunday)

The so-called glamour division offered three winners who had been seasoned by competing in rugged Max Hempt action the previous two weeks at Pocono. After struggling to eighth in the Hempt final, Eddard Hanover (Matt Kakaley, Ron Burke) won a thrilling duel with Last Gunfighter in his split in a career-best 1:50:4. Donttellmeagain (Tim Tetrick, Jo Ann Looney-King), who finished third in the Hempt, picked up an All-Stars win as a 1-9 favorite in 1:51:2. Highalator (George Naplitano Jr., Jenny Bier), who won the Weiss series for his age group at Pocono earlier this season but finished out of the money in his two Hempt tries, bounced back with a gutty victory over Photobombr Hanover in the night’s fastest split of 1:50:3. The big surprise in the division came when Jo Pa’s Somebeach (Brett Miller, Jim Campbell), knocked off heavy favorite Summer Side at 16-1 in 1:51:2.

THREE-YEAR-OLD COLTS AND GELDINGS ON THE TROT (Sunday)

Fans of trainer Jim Campbell had a good night on Sunday. As mentioned, he had a 16-1 winner with Jo Pa’s Somebeach on the pacing side. But that was nothing compared to his trotter Thisguyisonfire, who, with David Miller in the bike, rallied from the clouds to win an All-Stars division in 1:54 at stunning odds of 80-1. The combination of driver Corey Calllahan and trainer John Butenschoen took care of business on Sunday night with a pair of favorites. Dover Dan won his split in 1:53:3, the night’s fastest trotting time among the All-Stars, and then Giveitgasandgo followed that up with a victory in 1:54:1. The remaining division for the sophomore male trotters was captured by Two AM (Tyler Buter, Todd Buter) in mild upset fashion at 9-2, as he rallied late for a victory in 1:54.

THREE-YEAR-OLD FILLIES ON THE PACE (Monday)

It wasn’t a great night for the chalk in the sophomore distaff pacing division. Only one favorite came home a winner out of four divisions; that was Freakonomics (George Napolitano Jr., Ross Croghan), who captured a victory in 1:51:2, fastest time of the group. Driver Brett Miller and trainer Nifty Norman was responsible for two of the surprises. First Perplexed, at 11-1, used a ground-saving trip to rally for a win in 1:52. Then the duo hooked up again with Bridge To Tomorrow, who made the last move in a race where the lead changed hands several times to score in 1:51:4 at 6-1. Meanwhile 9-2 shot Pitttstop Danika (Matt Kakaley, Ron Burke) flew up the pylons late to knock off 3-5 favorite Inverse Hanover in 1:52 in another division.

THREE-YEAR-OLD FILLIES ON THE TROT (Tuesday)

As is usually the case with stakes nights, driver David Miller played a big factor. He won the first two splits of the sophomore distaff trotting division, first aboard favorite Vodka N Lindy for trainer George Ducharme in 1:54:2, then with second choice Broadway Idole for trainer Jim Campbell in 1:54:3, with both wins coming on the front end. Crann Tara (Marcus Miller, Linda Toscano), was a first-over, grinding winner in her split at even money in 1:54, while Fine Tuned Lady (Corey Callahan, John Butenschoen) continued the chalky night by winning at 2-5 in 1:54:2. In the night’s final split, Treviso, trained and driven by Charlie Norris, continued her perfect 2017 campaign by coasting to a win in 1:55 to go five-for-five on the season.

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

July 1-7, 2017

It’s always nice when the hype is justified. We’ve been talking about Sun Stakes Saturday for a while now, and that conversation really ramped after some fascinating eliminations. What dominated those discussions was the fact that, unlike in past years, there were no horses that simply dwarfed the fields they were scheduled to face. The four stakes races featured on Saturday figured to be extremely competitive.

And that’s just how it turned out to be. Although the track was listed in fast condition, rain earlier in the afternoon made it a somewhat heavy surface, preventing the times from being too explosive. But the finishes were, for the most part, tight and a little surprising, with only one favorite out of four winning. Let’s take a look at how the action unfolded.

JAMES M. LYNCH MEMORIAL PACE for three-year-old fillies

The betting favorite was Tequila Monday, who had the fastest elimination victory and drew an inside post. But that filly simply never factored into the action, finishing a disappointing eighth. Idyllic Beach was the surprising pace setter from an outside post, but she, and everybody else in the field, had little chance to respond once Agent Q started rolling first-over. After finishing second in a pair of big-money stakes races earlier this season, the filly trained by Aaron Lambert was not going to be denied in this one. With David Miller in the bike, she zipped by the leaders and coasted home by three lengths in front of 99-1 shot Caviart Ally, tripping the line in 1:51, easily the most convincing winner in the four big stakes races on the night.

MAX C. HEMPT MEMORIAL PACE for three-year-old pacers

The Brian Brown barn is blessed with two special three-year-olds. One of them, Downbytheseaside, was the star of the Hempt eliminations with a stupendous effort for a win. Meanwhile the other, Fear The Dragon, suffered his first loss of the season in his previous start, casting some doubts about his supremacy in the division. In the Hempt final, Downbytheseaside went after the lead from a #8 post, and the early fractions he set to get the engine were cumbersome. Fear The Dragon, on the other hand, saved ground early, found cover on the back stretch, and was in full gear out wide as the field rounded the final turn. With David Miller in the bike, Fear The Dragon took over the late lead and held off a game charge by Funknwaffles to win by three quarters of a length in 1:49:3, reasserting his dominance in the process.

BEN FRNAKLIN PACE for free-for-all pacers

This was the night’s emotional high point. Although the field was stacked with eight superb aged pacers, the two on the inside garnered the attention. Keystone Velocity, trained by Pocono’s leading trainer Rene Allard and driven by Pocono regular Simon Allard, had the inside post and watched as the 3-5 favorite Mel Mara set the pace. Although the fractions were zippy, they weren’t the kind that would cause a horse like Mel Mara to falter. But Keystone Velocity remained locked in at the pocket, eventually utilizing the passing lane in the stretch. The stretch provided a classic battle. Mel Mara wasn’t giving an inch, but Keystone Velocity was full of firepower on his inside. When the dust cleared, Keystone Velocity added to the incredible season he’s been putting together by heading out Mel Mara in 1:48:4. The emotion came from Simon Allard returning the horse to the Winner’s Circle while standing in the sulky, aping a classic moment from the career of the late, great Herve Filion.

EARL BEAL JR. MEMORIAL for three-year-old trotters

All eyes were on the Ariana G, the first filly to ever compete against the boys in the Beal. She went off as the favorite and had to deal with a tough #8 post position. Unable to make the lead early, she took on pacesetting Long Tom, who, like Ariana G, hadn’t lost in his first three starts this season, with a first-over charge. It looked for all the world like the top two choices would decide it in a stretch duel. But Devious Man had other ideas. The three-year-old colt trained by Julie Miller suffered his first loss of the season in the eliminations in upset fashion, but he wasn’t scared off by the competition in the Beal final, having won a stakes race earlier this season at Vernon that carried a $252,000 purse. Driver Andy Miller settled Devious Man in behind the speed duel between Long Tom and Ariana G. When the field reached the top of the lane, Devious Man had the passing lane all to himself, and he scooted by to beat Long Tom by 1 ¼ lengths in 1:52:4 as a 15-1 bomber.

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

Sun Stakes Saturday Eliminations a preview of the July 1st stellar card

June 24-30, 2017

The preliminaries are out of the way. This Saturday, July 1, the faithful at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono will get to witness the main event. Or events, as the case may be, as Sun Stakes Saturday will feature four races with huge stakes attached to them, pushing the night’s purses well over $2 million total.

This past Saturday, the eliminations were held, and it was an interesting set of races. Drivers on the top horses had to decide how much effort they asked from their charges. On the one hand, a tired horse in the final is no good to anyone. On the other, a horse that’s held back and then doesn’t make the final is a disappointment.

Here is how the eliminations played out, followed by a primer on what to expect on Saturday night. The outcomes may be unknowable until the races are run, but we can say for sure that it will be an exceptional night of racing.

BEN FRANKLIN PACE for aged pacers

The only favorite to win out of the three eliminations was Mel Mara, who paced the fastest time of the night on the front end in 1:48:4. There were surprises in the other two divisions. While Freaky Feet Pete faded from the lead in his first start of the year and race favorite McWicked was boxed in, Keystone Velocity, trained by Rene Allard and driven by Simon Allard, both Pocono regulars, rallied for the victory. Dealt A Winner was a convincing winner in the remaining elimination, beating heavy favorite Boston Red Rocks by 3 ½ lengths. At least Boston Red Rocks is headed to the final; big names like Freaky Feet Pete, Luck Be Withyou, and McWicked all failed to qualify.

EARL BEAL JR. MEMORIAL TROT for three-year-old trotters

The big news here is that Ariana G, the only filly competing against the male trotters, easily won her split as a 1-9 favorite. Meadowlands invader Long Tom also won as the favorite in his split, meaning that he and Ariana G will compete in the final as 2017 unbeatens, both three-for-three this year. Although Driver Yannick Gingras will likely stick with Ariana G in the final, he also pulled off a surprise in the remaining division with Perfect Spirit, who staged a furious rally on the inside to upend favorite Devious Man at 23-1.

MAX C. HEMPT MEMORIAL PACE for three-year-old pacers

Fear The Dragon received all the betting attention in his elimination, which was understandable considering he hadn’t lost in six races this year and was coming off a win in the North American Cup at Mohawk. But Miso Fast, with Matt Kakaley in the bike for Ron Burke, had other ideas and blitzed Fear The Dragon with a first-over move to win at 11-1. Although Fear The Dragon reaches the final, he goes in knowing that his archrival Downbytheseaside put in perhaps the most impressive performance of the evening. Despite being parked around two turns, the colt trained by Brian Brown battled his way to a victory in a sizzling 1:49:2 with Brain Sears in the bike. The remaining division belonged to the longshots, with 21-1 Santafe’s Coach, driven by Pocono regular Anthony Napolitano, picking up a late-kicking win over 29-1 Ozone Blue Chip in second.

JAMES M. LYNCH MEMORIAL PACE for three-year-old pacing fillies

This was the one set of races where form held, as favorites won all three splits, all on the front end. Tequila Monday, trained by Chris Oakes, bounced back from a disappointing loss in the Fan Hanover Stakes at Mohawk by delivering on the front end in 1:50:4, the fastest of the three winning times from the Lynch eliminations. Meanwhile Bettor’s Up, who had pulled off the upset win in the Fan Hanover, settled for second on Saturday night behind Agent Q, the filly she nosed out for the win in Canada. Brazuca, driven by Corey Callahan for trainer Tom Cancelliere, stayed unbeaten in three starts this year with a rock-solid win in her split.

What to look for in the finals:

BEN FRANKLIN: Mel Mara might be the one to beat but will need a good post for his front-pacing style. He’ll have some powerful competition, especially from Keystone Velocity, who is once again showing the form that made him the Levy champion at Yonkers this year.

EARL BEAL: Ariana G is far and away the best trotting filly in the land, so she’s seeking out the boys for a true challenge. She’ll get just that from Long Tom.

MAX HEMPT: Will Downbytheseaside be in less than top form after his huge effort on Saturday? Can Fear The Dragon shake off his first loss? Is Miso Fast for real and at the same level as the other two?

JAMES LYNCH: Tequila Monday was favored in the Fan Hanover and will have the chance to exact revenge on Bettor’s Up and Agent Q, the two fillies who beat her in that race. Meanwhile Brazuca looks for her fourth consecutive win against the toughest competition she’s yet faced.

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.