Posts Tagged ‘Aaron Merriman’

Saturday features and George Napolitano Jr.’s win streak

Monday, November 9th, 2015

In the $24,000 co-featured events at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono Saturday night, November 7th,  both winners used “pocket rocket” tactics to emerge with victories — Extracurricular on the trot and Arthur Blue Chip on the pace.

Extracurricular, a veteran Revenue S gelding owned by Darren Mahoney, had a tougher time making his rally effective — as befits a 10-1 shot trying to catch a 1-5 pacesetting favorite, Somebody As. But Extracurricular dug in for the stretch battle with gameness and edged his frontstepping rival while taking a new mark of 1:52 at age nine for the brother team of driver Simon and trainer Rene Allard.

Arthur Blue Chip was the 11-10 favorite in his event and collared pacesetting Somethinginthewind with a bit more ease, but then the son of Shadow Play had to stay in high gear to withstand the persistent first-over Ontario Success, whose bid for victory came up a half-length shy. Dr. Ian Moore conditions the winner, who was third in his Breeders Crown elimination last month, for the Shadow One Stable.

George Napolitano Jr., the winningest driver in North American harness racing this season, visited Victory Lane five times on the Saturday card at Pocono

to raise his margin over second-place Aaron Merriman to 22, with the score now Napolitano 743, Merriman 721.

“George Nap” will get a chance to add to his margin Sunday afternoon at Harrah’s Philadelphia, but then Merriman will compete on four cards — Northfield Sunday night, The Meadows Monday afternoon and Northfield Monday night, and The Meadows Tuesday afternoon  – before Napolitano resumes sulky action here Tuesday night, concurrent with Merriman racing at Northfield.

There are two more weeks of racing in the 2015 season here at The Downs, with the trotters and pacers going on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday evenings this week and next, with the final night November 21.

Ghosts and more on Halloween night!

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

Somebody As and Hyway Marcus each took a $20,000 division of the trotting feature at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono Saturday night, October 31st,  while in the $20,000 pacing headliner, Preparty emerged as the narrowest of winners.

Between the trots, Somebody As had by far the faster time, 1:52.2, a new lifetime mark, leading at every pole and winning by seven lengths. George Napolitano Jr., who continued to hold a 15-win lead over Aaron Merriman in the 2015 North American sulky title chase, guided the altered son of Striking Sahbra for trainer Anette Lorentzon and his owners, breeder ACL Stuteri and Kjell Johansson.

Hyway Marcus won for the third time in his last six starts while taking the other trot division, also setting a personal best of 1:54.1. Driver/trainer/owner Francisco Del Cid used come-from-behind tactics with the gelded son of Gut Instinct, coming from seventh at the half and fifth at the 3/4s to defeat Stitch In Time by a neck.

Preparty, a former high-level pacer who had dropped all the way to the very bottom rung of the Pocono class ladder on September 16, continued his comeback by taking his fourth win in his last five starts, here in 1:52. The gelded son of Somebeachsomewhere rallied from the pocket to edge out the game parked-every-call Rockin Rumble by a nose for driver Simon Allard, trainer/brother Rene, and the ownership of Allard Racing Inc. and Earl Hill Jr.

And of course it wouldn’t be Halloween without Pocono staging The Grey Ghost and Poltergeist Pace, for grey or roan horses. The $10,000 race was taken by the Admirals Galley gelding Gotta Love Him, who made the lead after the quarter for driver Matt Kakaley and went on to post his first victory of the year in 1:53 for trainer Cindy Weitoish and owners Stan and Amie Weitosh.

George Napolitano Jr. breaks his own record

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

The red-hot George Napolitano Jr. broke his own record for most driving victories in one season at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono when he guided Monopoly Blue Chip to victory in the 13th race of the Tuesday night program, his seventh win of the night and more importantly his 348th of the racing season at The Downs, eclipsing his old standard set in 2004.

Napolitano started the night with 341 Pocono wins, and dashed home first in the fourth race, then as good as put his head down and said, “Let’s get this over with” and proceeded to win the 7th, 8th, 9th, 11th, and 12th races before setting the record in race 13. And would there be a better-named horse, given his domination of the winners circle earlier, to break the record than Monopoly Blue Chip?

Napolitano will soon be able to post a “magic number” on how many wins he needs to mathematically lock up the title for the Pocono meet, which has 14 cards to go, as at press time he has a 348-210 victory edge over second-place Simon Allard (who got the winner in race 10, between GNap’s consecutive triples). The win crown will be “George Nap”‘s fourth straught at Pocono and ninth all-time, the latter number giving him the all-time outright lead in driving win titles locally, as he and Bill Lambertus both won eight dashwinning crowns prior to this season.

Having posted a possibly-unprecedented 366 wins since July 1, Napolitano has thrust himself in contention for the North American win crown, a title he took in 2010. Aaron Merriman and two-time dash defending champion Ron Wrenn Jr., both based at Northfield presently, had been running 1-2 throughout the season before George came into contention, and a check of the Northfield results for Tuesday at press time had these seasonal totals: Merriman 680, Napolitano 675, Wrenn 654.

One final note: regular Pocono announcer Jim Beviglia, who has called the vast majority of George Nap’s victories here this year, was not available on Tuesday and thus did not call the record win, but he may take some consolation from the person who did: Mike Bozich, announcer at Harrah’s Philadelphia and mikeman for the vast majority of Napolitano’s 301 wins there this season.

Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs Week in Review

Monday, October 15th, 2012

October 5-11, 2012

Most of the verbiage spent in this column relates to the fine four-legged performers at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, the horses whose incredible exploits leave us slack-jawed in disbelief night after night. Yet racing fans know that these performances wouldn’t be possible without the skills of the drivers who take the lines each night and attempt to guide their charges to victory.

That’s why we’re giving the Weekly Awards the week off to devote the article to the exploits of these drivers, particularly those that took place in Saturday night’s The Battle of Pennsylvania Driving Challenge. It’s one of our favorite events of the season at Pocono because it really does shine the spotlight on the drivers, allowing them to compete against each other for bragging rights.

The event also is the source of a friendly inter-track rivalry, as the Challenge incorporates not just Pocono drivers, but also drivers from fellow Pennsylvania track The Meadows. Nine drivers were chosen to compete this year. From Pocono: George Napolitano Jr., Matt Kakaley, Tom Jackson, Tyler Buter, and Joe Pavia Jr. From The Meadows: Mike Wilder, Tony Hall, Aaron Merriman, and Brett Miller, who won the event a year ago.

Here’s how it worked: Each of the nine drivers were randomly assigned to a horse in each of the nine selected races, with the exception of one race each where a driver got to pick whatever horse he wanted out of the nine-horse field to drive. This set-up allowed some strategy to come into play as well as a little luck in terms of drivers perhaps getting favorable post positions or stuck with several long shots or the like, although that luck tends to even itself out over the course of a competition such as this.

What was interesting was that only three of the nine races were won by drivers who had the selection in the race, meaning that the strategy often went out the window. Of course, at a track as competitive as Pocono, it’s typical for just about every horse in a given race to have a shot and for favorites to be cannon fodder, so it really was anybody’s ballgame.

Yet one man seems to have a knack for this whole deal, and that’s Brett Miller. To be successful in the Challenge, you have to not only win races, but you have to be consistently near the top in the order of finish. Since 50 points were awarded for first place, 25 were second, and so on down until just a single point was awarded for last place, it placed a premium on having not just wins, but also plenty of seconds and thirds.

Miller set the tone in the very first race aboard trotter Boiler Bob The QB, winning easily to quickly stake himself to first place in the Challenge. From there, he finished third, second, first, third, and second in the Challenge’s next five races, the consistently solid finishes giving him a huge lead that would be tough for any of the other helmsmen to surmount.

That’s not to say there weren’t other drivers who made things happen. George Napolitano Jr. and Aaron Merriman joined Miller as the only two drivers to pick up a pair of wins in the Challenge. Napolitano also had the longest shot to win in the event, picking up a victory aboard 9-1 shot Sonic Raider in a claiming trot. Tyler Buter, Mike Wilder, and Matt Kakaley also scored wins in the Challenge.

In the last race, Miller still had a pretty significant lead, yet Napolitano and Wilder still had mathematical chances to pull the rug out from under him. They each needed a win, but Kakaley won aboard Oyster Bay instead. That meant that it’s two titles in a row for Miller, which, even when you consider some of the luck that comes into play, is still a pretty impressive achievement.

The Challenge doesn’t prove anything about whether or not certain drivers are better than others. On another night, with different horses and draws, the results might have been quite different. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s a great chance to honor these drivers with their own night. By the way, they also deserve applause for donating a portion of their winnings for the event to Marley’s Mission.

These guys are out there each race making split-second decisions which are often second-guessed, even as their ability to prevent potentially awful accidents with horses trotting and pacing in such close proximity to each other is always taken for granted. Not just the nine drivers in the Challenge, but every guy or gal around the country who sits in the bike behind a standardbred deserves the utmost appreciation of both their skills and their courage.

Such appreciation is what The Battle of Pennsylvania Driving Challenge truly fosters, and it’s why we here at Pocono are really proud to have it as part of our racing season.

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

Miller Defends Pennsylvania Driving Challenge Title

Saturday, October 6th, 2012

October 6, 2012

Brett Miller won the night’s very first race and never looked back on his way to winning his second straight Battle of PA Driving Challenge on Saturday night at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. The event featured drivers from Pocono and The Meadows.

The nine drivers were awarded points based on the performances of their horses in nine select races on the card. Drivers were randomly assigned horses throughout the Challenge while being allowed one race each in which they could choose a single horse.

One of four drivers representing The Meadows, Miller won the opening race in the Challenge aboard Boiler Bob The QB to take the lead. He then solidified his advantage by finishing no worse than 3rd in the first six races in the challenge, adding another victory aboard April Sunshine. He finished with 184 points. Pocono’s George Napolitano Jr. finished 2nd with 145 points and two wins, while Mike Wilder from The Meadows was 3rd with 135 points and one victory.

The other drivers who participated: For Pocono, Tyler Buter (132 points, one win), Matt Kakaley (92 points, one win), Joe Pavia Jr. (66 points), and Tom Jackson (44 points); for The Meadows, Aaron Merriman (129 points, two wins) and Tony Hall (63 points.)