Posts Tagged ‘Breeders Crown’

The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono 2017 Season Review

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

Well, here we are at the end of another campaign of racing at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. The meet officially ends on Saturday, November 25, at which point we in racing all begin our hibernation periods. It’s hard to believe that it is the end of the racing season, perhaps because we were blessed in Northeastern Pennsylvania with such benign weather for most of September and October. When the weather really started to bite in November, we were already on the home stretch.

Reflecting back on the season that was, I, as I always tend to do at this point of the year, realize how difficult it is to sum everything up in just one article. Harness racing is comprised of mini-trends and spurts, but it’s very rare that you can point to something that has really taken hold for the duration of the season. But there are a few thoughts that do stand out and will likely separate 2017 from other seasons in my mind.

The first thing was a wager, which is ironic for me, because I don’t do any betting myself even though I essentially go through the process of handicapping the races as the morning line maker. But I must say that the Rainbow Pick 5, which we added about halfway through the 2017 campaign as a wager at Pocono, really took an already exciting sport up a few more notches. The strategy in the wager as well as the little bit of luck that went along with it really super-charged the last several races of each night’s card. I know that I thoroughly enjoyed it, and, by the response of the fans, I wasn’t the only one.

One other occurrence, or I guess it would be accurate to say that it was the lack of an occurrence, was the fact that there were no track records set at Pocono in 2017. Now that in no way is a commentary on the caliber of racing; I actually the think that this might have been our most rugged year of competition ever. On the contrary, I think it was a more a reflection of times in general becoming more moderate around the harness racing world. Some wetter summer weather also had a hand in it as well. What I think you’ll see is a huge reversal of that trend next year, especially with the Breeders Crown coming to town. More on that later.

As for the driving and training communities, George Napolitano Jr. and Rene Allard continued to dominate, which shouldn’t be taken for granted. There is as deep a colony of quality drivers and trainers at Pocono as anywhere in the country, so the way that George and Rene have kind of planted themselves at the top daring everyone else to knock them off is truly impressive.

As usual, many of the top names in the sport passed through Pocono in 2017. Superstars like Keystone Velocity, Manchego, Ariana G and many others made appearances and wowed the faithful. On a nightly basis, the overnight races provided excellent proving grounds for a wide variety of claimers and condition horses, many of whom put together impressive winning streaks and eye-opening times. Again, there were far too many to possibly note them all in a short article like this one, but all of their exploits definitely deserve honor and appreciation.

The 2017 season basically stands as a continuation of the excellence that the racing product has displayed for about the past decade at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. It may not have been a round number anniversary year like the 50th a year ago and it may not culminate in the Breeders Crown like 2018 will, but it was a season of racing featuring outstanding performances, constant surprises, and excitement pretty much from the opening race on Opening night all the way through these waning moments of the season. And that’s nothing to sneeze at.

In the meantime, we’re all looking forward to the return of The Breeders Crown a year from now. It will be the third time we’ve hosted the event at Pocono, and there’s nothing quite like having all of those champions of every age, gait, and gender on the same track. It will be bittersweet calling the races without Sam McKee, who was with me for the previous two Crowns at Pocono, but I’m certain he’ll be with us in spirit.

Until next season, just let me say thanks to all of my co-workers at the track who do such an amazing job putting on our racing product night in and night out. And thanks as well to the Pocono faithful, the best fans in the racing business without a doubt. I hope everyone has a wonderful winter, and I look forward to seeing you all again and communicating with you via this column again next season.

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

Sun Stakes Saturday Eliminations Night showcases the best of the best

Monday, June 19th, 2017

The very best trotters and pacers in North American harness racing will be converging on The Downs at Mohegan Sin Pocono the next two Saturdays, with elimination races being held this Saturday in order to qualify horses to participate in the Sun Stakes Saturday supercard on Saturday, July 1.

The $500,000 Franklin Pace for free-for-allers, the $500,000 Hempt Pace for three-year-old colts and geldings, the $500,000 Beal Trot for three-year-olds, and the $300,000 Lynch Pace for three-year-old fillies all drawn sufficient entrants that there will be three eliminations for each event this Saturday night, with the top three finishers in each elim advancing to their rich Championship event on July 1.

Here’s a look at the elimination events for the four big races, starting with the one where a top filly is going to try “the boys”:

EARL BEAL TROT: $500,000 Championship; $25,000 eliminations in races 2, 9, and 14

This may be the case of “saving the best for last,” as super filly Ariana G will test male opposition in the Beal, contributing factors being a lack of top-money events in her division right now and the still-awaited return of top colt Walner, and she will be the next-to-last horse to post parade on Saturday, starting from post six in a field of seven in the 14th and final race.

Ariana G is a daughter of Muscle Hill trained by Jimmy Takter for owners/breeders Marvin Katz and Al Libfield. She was named divisional champion as a two-year-old off the strength of 9 wins in 11 starts, earnings of over $700,000, and a win in the Breeders Crown. This year Ariana G has been perfect in two starts, winning her last race, a New Jersey Sire Stakes final for fillies, in a career-best 1:51.1.

Two state champion colts will square off in the second race elimination, which has eight entrants. Giveitgasandgo, a Yankee Glide ridgling, won the 2016 Pennsylvania Sire Stakes Championship and comes off a PaSS victory in his last start; he’ll begin in post four for driver Corey Callahan and trainer John Butenschoen. Two starting slots to his right will be Long Tom, recent New Jersey Sire Stakes final winner, with the son of Muscle Hill backed by the team of driver Tim Tetrick and trainer Marcus Melander. Rubio (post three, Yannick Gingras for Jimmy Takter) will also get respect off a sharp PaSS win in his 2017 bow.

The state of New York weighs in in the ninth race Beal elimination, as the Credit Winner colt Devious Man comes to the mountain oval off a win Sunday in the Empire Breeders Classic final. Devious Man will be behind slot six in the eight-horse grouping for Team Orange Crush – driver Andy Miller and trainer/wife Julie.

BEAL RACE 2 ELIMINATION (PP, horse, listed driver, trainer): 1, Common Parlance, Jim Marohn Jr., Joseph Skowyra; 2, Snowstorm Hanover, Matt Kakaley, Ron Burke; 3, Rubio, Yannick Gingras, Jimmy Takter; 4, Giveitgasandgo, Corey Callahan, John Butenschoen; 5, Lucky Matter, David Miller, Christopher Beaver; 6, Long Tom, Tim Tetrick, Marcus Melander; 7, Sortie, Andrew McCarthy, Noel Daley; 8, President Lindy, Andy Miller, Julie Miller.

BEAL RACE 9 ELIMINATION: 1, Southwind Woody, Matt Kakaley, Ron Burke; 2, Dover Dan, Corey Callahan, John Butenschoen; 3, Don Dream, Brian Sears, Chris Oakes; 4, Andy M, David Miller, Christopher Beaver; 5, Meteoric, Joe Bongiorno, Richard Johnson; 6, Devious Man, Andy Miller, Julie Miller; 7, Perfect Spirit, Yannick Gingras, Åke Svanstedt; 8, King On The Hill, Jim Marohn Jr., Jimmy Takter.

BEAL RACE 14 ELIMINATION: 1, What The Hill, David Miller, Ron Burke; 2. Ei Ei O, Corey Callahan, Richard Hans; 3, Backstage Pass, Mike Simons, Mike Simons; 4, Bill’s Man, Corey Callahan also listed, John Butenschoen; 5, Muscles Jared, Brian Sears, George Ducharme; 6, Ariana G (*filly), Yannick Gingras, Jimmy Takter; 7, Moonshiner Hanover, Scott Zeron, Christopher Beaver.

BEN FRANKLIN PACE: $500,000 Championship; $35,000 eliminations in races 5, 7, and 11

The two horses likely to attract much attention in the 11th race elimination will be starting at opposite ends of the gate in the seven-horse field. Getting the innermost draw is Mel Mara, a son of Lis Mara scheduled to be handled by Corey Callahan for trainer Dylan Davis and owners Robert Cooper Stables LLC and J&T Silva Stables LLC. Mel Mara has a mark of 1:47, was fourth in the Franklin Final last year, and comes off of a 1:48 victory at The Meadowlands in which he paced his last quarter in 26.

The Western Ideal stallion Luck Be Withyou had no luck at the pill shake with the outside draw, but the outer fringes of the starting gate are nothing new to him: he won his 2015 Franklin elim from post eight and then the 2015 Championship from post nine! Also a winner of the 2016 Franklin Consolation and his Breeders Crown event here as a two-year-old, Luck Be Withyou is truly a “horse for the course,” with 15 wins in only 22 starts at Pocono, and over $700G of his $1.3M lifetime bankroll earned locally. George Napolitano Jr. will have sulky duties for trainer Chris Oakes.

The charismatic Freaky Feet Pete, second to Always B Miki in the Franklin Championship last year, will be making his seasonal debut in the seven-horse seventh race elimination, starting from post two for driver Trace Tetrick and trainer Marty Rheinheimer. His prime opposition could come from McWicked, the 2014 Hempt champion, and the razor-sharp Rockeyed Optimist, second to Mel Mara last week.

The fifth race looks the most wide-open of the three Franklin eliminations; if anyone has an advantage, it may be the “home cookin’” of Napolitano and Oakes behind Split The House, who starts in the middle of the field of seven, and who won his last race here at Pocono in 1:48.2 – 27.2.

FRANKLIN RACE 5 ELIMINATION: 1. Dealt A Winner, David Miller, Mark Silva; 2. Check Six, Yannick Gingras, Ron Burke; 3. Boston Red Rocks, Tim Tetrick, Steve Elliott; 4. Split The House, George Napolitano Jr., Chris Oakes; 5. Soto, Art Stafford Jr., Eric Ell; 6. Dude’s The Man, driver TBA, Jessica Okusko; 7. Shamballa, Scott Zeron, Rick Zeron.

FRANKLIN RACE 7 ELIMINATION: 1. McWicked, David Miller, Casie Coleman; 2. Freaky Feet Pete, Trace Tetrick, Marty Rheinheimer; 3. All Bets Off, Matt Kakaley, Ron Burke; 4. Mach It So, Tim Tetrick, Jeff Bamond Jr.; 5. Keystone Velocity, Simon Allard, Rene Allard; 6. Lyons Snyder, Yannick Gingras, Jimmy Takter; 7. Rockeyed Optimist, Andy Miller, Steve Elliott.

FRANKLIN RACE 11 ELIMINATION: 1. Mel Mara, Corey Callahan, Dylan Davis; 2. Wakizashi Hanover, Tim Tetrick, Jo Ann Looney-King; 3. Anwar Hanover, Jim Marohn Jr., Frank Kamine; 4. Rockin Ron, Yannick Gingras, Ron Burke; 5. Rock N’ Roll World, Brian Sears, Jeff Cullipher; 6. Sunfire Blue Chip, Mark MacDonald, Jimmy Takter; 7. Luck Be Withyou, George Napolitano Jr., Chris Oakes.

MAX C. HEMPT PACE: $500,000 Championship; $25,000 eliminations in races 3, 10, and 12

“Fear The Dragon” is not just the name of a three-year-old colt – it’s the watchword of everybody campaigning a high-class sophomore pacer right now. The son of Dragon Again, trained by Brian Brown for the Emerald Highlands Farm, won the “big showdown” this past Saturday in the $730,000 (U.S.) North America Cup, closing strongly to notch a 1:48.4 victory for driver David Miller, and establishing himself as the leader in the sport’s glamour division. In going five-for-five this year, the Dragon has shown he can overcome obstacles in his road: tough posts (he does have PP2 in a field of six here), first-over trips, and even an errant head number thrown to the track that caused him to skip in the stretch of his N.A. Cup elim, but he quickly righted and even won that contest.

Fear The Dragon’s stablemate in the Brian Brown Stable, Downbytheseaside, suffered his first seasonal defeat in finishing third in the North America Cup, but in his defense he was pushed to brutal middle fractions of 52.1 and 1:19.3, the latter the fastest clocking at the ¾ on the continent in 2017. The Somebeachsomewhere colt will look to regain his winning ways as he starts from post five in the seven-horse twelfth race elimination, with Brian Sears driving.

Trainer Dylan Davis, who has Mel Mara in the Franklin elims, saw his Every Way Out sweep two eliminations and then the final of the New Jersey Sire Stakes series at The Meadowlands, and he will turn the lines over to Tim Tetrick in hopes of remaining undefeated in 2017 as they begin from post four in the seven-horse elim.

HEMPT RACE 3 ELIMINATION: 1. Blood Line, Yannick Gingras, Jimmy Takter; 2. Santafe’s Coach, Anthony Napolitano, Leo Iordan; 3. Boogie Shuffle, Scott Zeron, Mark Harder; 4. Every Way Out, Tim Tetrick, Dylan Davis; 5. Air Strike, Corey Callahan, Joe Holloway; 6. Ozone Blue Chip, Brett Miller, Ron Coyne Jr.; 7. Western Joe, Matt Kakaley, Chris Choate.

HEMPT RACE 10 ELIMINATION: 1. Summer Side, Tim Tetrick, Ray Schnittker; 2. Fear The Dragon, David Miller, Brian Brown; 3. Ponderingjacksfame, Brett Miller, Les Givens; 4. Miso Fast, Matt Kakaley, Ron Burke; 5. Pointomygranson, Brett Miller also listed, Chris Ryder; 6. Funknwaffles, Brian Sears, John Butenschoen.

HEMPT RACE 12 ELIMINATION: 1. Eddard Hanover, Matt Kakaley, Ron Burke; 2. Heaven’s Gait, David Miller, Nicholas Devita; 3. Donttellmeagain, Tim Tetrick, Jo Ann Looney-King; 4. Photobombr Hanover, Brett Miller, Tom Fanning; 5. Downbytheseaside, Brian Sears, Brian Brown; 6. Highalator, George Napolitano Jr., Jenny Bier; 7. Talent Soup, Scott Zeron, Bruce Saunders.

JAMES LYNCH PACE: $300,000 Championship; $20,000 eliminations in races 1, 4, and 13

Bettor’s Up defeated Agent Q by a nose in last Saturday’s Fan Hanover final at Mohawk, and the two figure to be slugging it out again as they are matched up in the six-horse race 13 Lynch elimination. Bettor’s Up, who starts from post three for driver Doug McNair and trainer Scott McEneny, has been victorious in half of her 16 career starts, while Agent Q, the 2016 Pennsylvania Sire Stakes champion who will begin from the rail for driver David Miller and trainer Aaron Lambert, has been first or second in all but one of her 15 career trips behind the gate.

In the first race elimination, a seven-horse field, Tequila Monday and Idyllic Beach look to rebound: they were the favorite and second choice in the Fan Hanover, respectively, but respectively finished third and fourth. They have the advantage of inside starting positions on Saturday: Tequila Monday starts off from the rail for driver Brian Sears and trainer Chris Oakes, while Idyllic Beach, the 2016 North American champion for this division, begins just to her right for driver Yannick Gingras and trainer Jimmy Takter.

Misqued eked out a nose victory in her New Jersey Sire Stakes final on June 2, and perhaps that race will be a better sign for her as she begins from post two in a grouping of six for driver Steve Smith and trainer John Balzer. This Lynch elim appears to be the most wide-open of the event’s trio of races.

LYNCH RACE 1 ELIMINATION: 1. Tequila Monday, Brian Sears, Chris Oakes; 2. Idyllic Beach, Yannick Gingras, Jimmy Takter; 3. Inverse Hanover, David Miller, Nifty Norman; 4. Kate Is Well Said, Tim Tetrick, Jim Campbell; 5. YS Tallia, Simon Allard, Rene Allard; 6. Pittstop Danika, Matt Kakaley, Ron Burke; 7. V String, Andrew McCarthy, Noel Daley.

LYNCH RACE 4 ELIMINATION: 1. Brazuca, Corey Callahan, Thomas Cancelliere; 2. Misqued, Steve Smith, John Balzer; 3, Big City Betty, Jim Marohn Jr., Steve Salerno; 4. Gallic Sea, Brian Sears, Jim Campbell; 5. Roaring To Go, Brett Miller, Kevin Lare; 6. Risky Romance, Andrew McCarthy, Noel Daley.

LYNCH RACE 13 ELIMINATION: 1. Agent Q, David Miller, Aaron Lambert; 2. Hail Damage Blues, Mike Simons, Tom Fanning; 3. Bettor’s Up, Doug McNair, Scott McEneny; 4. Caviart Ally, Andrew McCarthy, Noel Daley; 5. Concerto, Andrew McCarthy also listed, Kelvin Harrison; 6. Miss Jones, Corey Callahan, Joe Holloway.

THE UNDERCARD: A $25,000 winners-over pace in race 8, with a field of eight with combined earnings of $3.8M and an average lifetime mark of 1:49, and a $22,500 “nw22500L5” pace where the field of nine has amassed over $2.4M in earnings and an average speed badge of 1:50. (Six horses in each race took their marks at Pocono.)

First post for this first-rate Sun Stakes Saturday elimination night card, with action literally from beginning to end, is listed for 6:30 p.m.

-30-

The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono Week In Review

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

May 20-26, 2017

While every race has its own special charms, the races with the biggest purses always tend to carry something a little extra special with them at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. The early part of the season consists mostly of overnight races, but now is the about the time of year when some major money is up for grabs on the Pocono oval.

This past week saw a significant influx of high-stakes races on the racing schedule at Pocono. It was the first time we’ve hosted the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes in the meet, in particular the glamour division of three-year-old pacing colts and geldings, with three divisions on Sunday night each carrying a purse just shy of $50,000. Sire Stakes are always followed by Stallion Series races, and we had six of those on Monday night to the tune of $20,000 a pop. Sprinkle in three condition paces with $25,000 on the line for each, and you’ve got a lot of cabbage up for grabs.

With that in mind, I thought I’d give the Weekly Awards a rest and talk solely about how those big races went down during this past racing week at Pocono. We’ll start on Saturday night with a $25,000 featured condition pace for winners of over $25,000 lifetime. That race featured Boston Red Rocks, who starred as a 3-year-old a year ago, and Barimah A, who was coming off a surprising win in the Van Rose Memorial at Pocono. One of the ones that Barimah A beat that night was Rockin Ron, who suffered through a miserable trip on the outside on a sloppy track. But Saturday night was an entirely different story, as driver Matt Kakaley settled the five-year-old gelding in the pocket early and then coaxed some potent closing kick out of Rockin Ron for the win in 1:50:3 by a neck over Major Uptrend, who had set the pace.

On Sunday night, the distaff pacers had their turn at the spotlight, as a winners of over $25,000 lifetime mares grouping took to the track. Nike Franco, a seven-year-old mare trained by Jo Ann Looney-King, was made the 3-5 favorite off an impressive victory at Yonkers. Facing a field that included a pair of rising four-year-old stars in Call Me Queen Bee and Blue Moon Stride, the veteran was in complete control from the start. Driver Tim Tetrick guided Nike Franco to fractions that were quick but not out of control, and she led all the way home to the tune of a 1:50:1 time, a new career-mark for the mare.

Next up on Sunday came the winners of over $25,000 lifetime trotters, with a field of nine competing for a $25,000 purse. Post positions were assigned in this race and Melady’s Monet and Charmed Life, a pair of trotters with over a million bucks in career earnings, took those outside slots. Melady’s Monet set the pace and got away with reasonable fractions on the front end. But he wasn’t counting on the stiff first-over challenge from Rubber Duck, the 2-1 co-favorite who arrived from the Meadowlands having faced extremely tough company his last few starts. The two battled tooth-and-nail until Rubber Duck, driven by Joe Bongiorno for trainer Richard Johnson, came out on top by three parts of a length in 1:53.

That led to the three Sire Stakes divisions, and it was no surprise that trainer Jimmy Takter was a heavy player in the action. Ocean Colony was a Takter trainee who was expected to win on Sunday night and he did, pouncing from the pocket in his split in 1:50:2 with Yannick Gingras doing the honors. But Blood Line was a surprise for the Takter barn, taking his Sire Stakes division gate to wire for a victory in 1:50:2 with Mark MacDonald in the bike and paying off at 12-1.

The Sire Stakes race that stood out though was the second split of the night, one that was expected to be a showcase for Huntsville, a Breeders Crown champion as a 2-year-old in 2016 and winner in his 2017 debut in a Sire Stakes at The Meadows by ten lengths. But while Huntsville drew the pre-race attention, it was Fear The Dragon, trained by Brian Brown and driven by David Miller, who stole the show. Fear The Dragon made an electric first-over brush on the back stretch that stunned the heavy favorite Huntsville and resulted in an impressive victory at 5-1 in 1:49:1.

Last up in this stretch of high-stakes contests were the six Stallion Series races on Monday night for the three-year-old male pacers. Most of those splits were won by horses handling matters on the front end, and the most impressive of those miles was turned in by Donttellmeagain. With Tim Tetrick in the bike, this sophomore gelding trained by Jo Ann Looney-King powered to a winning time in his division of 1:50:2, which was a tick faster than two of the three Sire Stakes winners managed the night before.

So it was a week filled with exciting, high-stakes races at Pocono. With summer fast approaching, those kind of weeks will be the norm and not the exception very soon.

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

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

October 29-November 4, 2016

We are approaching the end of the racing season at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. Horses around the country are also nearing the end of their respective campaigns, especially in the East where many horsemen choose to let their horses sit out the winter months and wait for the warm weather to return.

It’s why the Breeders Crown championships are held in October, since that’s as good a time as any to culminate the harness racing season. We at Pocono have been lucky enough to hold this prestigious event twice, and it was an enduring thrill to be a part of it. This year’s Breeders Crown was hosted by our good friends at The Meadowlands, and what these races proved once again is that the road to a championship often goes through Pocono.

Of the twelve horses who captured titles last Friday and Saturday night at The Big M, seven raced at least once at Pocono this season. Many captured big stakes victories on our oval; others hadn’t quite peaked while they were at MSPD but saved the best for last in their racing seasons. I thought it would be fun, as we start to wrap up our own season, to look back at the exploits of the Breeders Crown champs who made their way to Pocono this past meet.

Some of the names are obvious. Few will forget Always B Miki’s first face-off with Wiggle It Jiggleit and Freaky Feet Pete in the Ben Franklin pace in July at Pocono. The standout aged pacer came home a winner that night, with those other two superstars chasing him home, in a world-record matching time of 1:47. On Friday night at The Meadowlands, he put an explanation point on his season by defeating Wiggle It Jiggleit again (Freaky Feet Pete sat out due to injury) for the Breeders Crown title.

Racing Hill, who captured the 3-year-old pacing crown on Saturday night at The Big M, made a couple of big-stakes appearances at Pocono this season. In the Max Hempt pace in July, he handled the field in 1:49. He then came up short behind his rival Betting Line (who also sat out the BC) in the Battle Of The Brandywine in August. Broadway Donna, who also dominated her division (three-year-old trotting fillies) on her way to a Breeders Crown title as a heavy favorite, actually began her year at Pocono in June, winning a Pennsylvania Sire Stakes in 1:54:1.

The Breeders Crown two-year-old trotting male pacing champion Huntsville actually made his first two career starts at Pocono. He lost his debut in a Pennsylvania All Stars race to Filibuster Hanover in June, only to bounce back a week later with a Pennsylvania Sire Stakes victory in 1:51:4. That would spur him on to the state championship and, eventually, the BC title as well.

A couple Breeders Crown winners actually didn’t have much luck at MSPD. Bar Hopping, who rolled to the three-year-old male trotting championship on Saturday night, lost both of his big stakes races at Pocono to Southwind Frank; his BC title over Southwind Frank must have been sweet revenge. Meanwhile Call Me Queen Be raced here six times throughout the meet, winning only once in a consolation for the James Lynch in July. The three-year-old pacing filly was repeatedly stymied at Pocono by Pure Country and Darlinonthebeach, but she beat them both on Saturday night when it counted most as a 12-1 long shot with semi-regular Pocono driver Scott Zeron in the bike.

And, speaking of Pocono drivers, Marcus Miller, a regular here the past few seasons who is enjoying his finest meet in 2016, made his own Breeders Crown history with a win aboard Someomensomewhere in the two-year-old distaff pacing division at 17-1. Someomensomehwere, trained by Erv Miller, had a win and a place in a couple starts at Pocono to begin her career early in the summer. The win Saturday night, the first for Marcus Miller as a driver, came at the expense of several horses who had bested her throughout the season in the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes circuit.

Many other horses that made appearance at Pocono throughout not just this season, but also in recent years, were factors in their respective races on Friday and Saturday night as well. It’s been a remarkable season at Pocono, and that’s evident by the impact the track’s equine and human denizens made on harness racing’s biggest event.

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 – Sun Stakes Saturday stars shine!

Wednesday, July 6th, 2016

July 2-8, 2016

I’ve had the opportunity to call two Breeders Crowns during my time as track announcer at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, and yet I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of a race as highly anticipated as the Ben Franklin pace that was contested last Saturday at Pocono as part of Sun Stakes Saturday. Three of the sport’s most talented horses at the absolute peak of their powers battled it out in a race that justified every bit of the hype. And although the result doesn’t technically prove anything but who was the best on that given night, the victory is a great feather in the cap of Always B Miki, who won the three-way dance. After all, the opportunity for he and Freaky Feet Pete and Wiggle It Jiggleit to converge on the same night at the same track in the same race might be a long time coming, if it ever happens again at all, so bragging rights might last a while.

Before we talk about exactly how the Franklin played out, there is the not-so-small matter of the three other huge stakes races that took place on Sun Stakes Saturday. In each of those races, the prohibitive favorite silenced any doubters that he or she might have faced coming into the race with a definitive performance. These performances may have removed some of the suspense from the proceedings, but they also solidified the greatness of the horses that delivered them.

In the $300,000 James M. Lynch Memorial pace for 3-year-old fillies, Pure Country came in looking to recapture the mantle of invincibility she possessed as a 2-year-old when she went unbeaten in ten races. She had won half of her six starts in 2016 coming into the Lynch, losing twice to Darlinonthebeach, who was in the Lynch field as well. But Pure Country, trained by Jimmy Takter, dusted that one by brushing by her in the front stretch, then held off a game Blue Moon Stride in the stretch by a half-length in a career-best 1:49:2.

Driver Brett Miller was aboard for Pure Country, and he continued his big night by piloting Racing Hill, who rolled to victory in the $500,000 Max C. Hempt Memorial pace for 3-year-olds. Racing Hill is the lone Sun Stakes champion who can’t really claim divisional supremacy, considering that Betting Line swept through him and several other Hempt competitors in the North American Cup in Canada and didn’t make his way to Pennsylvania for this race. But Racing Hill, trained by Tony Alagna, still earns credit for handling the Hempt field with such ease on the front end, winning by a comfortable 2 ½ lengths in a career-best time of 1:49.

The $500,000 Earl Beal Jr. Memorial Trot for 3-year-olds seemed to be a perfect place for Southwind Frank to continue his dominance of the sophomore trotting division, at least until he was upset at 1-9 in the elimination by Bar Hopping. A #7 post in the final seemed like an invitation to more problems. But Yannick Gingras never sweated the trip, guiding Southwind Frank to the lead on the front stretch, rating him expertly, and then coasting home for a two-length victory in 1:52:4. Suddenly the loss in the elimination seems like a blip, and the career record of 14 wins in 16 races looms large as Southwind Frank heads toward the Hambletonian hype.

Back to the Franklin, which carried a purse of $500,000. For those who might have forgotten, the three main competitors were Wiggle It JiggleIt, defending horse of the year and one of the most popular stars the sport has seen in years; Freaky Feet Pete, a four-year-old counterpart of Wiggle It JiggleIt with a record almost as gaudy despite coming from humble origins in the Midwest; and Always B Miki, whose world record-matching victory in the Franklin eliminations was the latest in a series of jaw-dropping victories for the 5-year-old stallion.

As if so often the case, these big races never go exactly according to plan. Most people expected several horses to be winging it toward the front end and a sturdy outer flow to develop. Certainly that’s what driver David Miller expected when he sent Always B Miki to the outside on the first turn. But instead he cruised to the front of the pack and past Freaky Feet Pete for the lead at the 3/8-mile marker.

It was by no means easy after that, as Wiggle it Jiggleit came hard at him first-over on the back stretch. Once that charge was repelled, Always B Miki, trained by Jimmy Takter, had to summon more energy to hold off Freaky Feet Pete in the pocket. But after a trip in the eliminations in which he was parked for two turns, Saturday night must have seemed like a breeze for Always B Miki. He fended off Freaky Feet Pete by a length, once again pacing the mile in 1:47 to match his world-record time from the previous week.

The enthusiasm and excitement generated by both the Franklin and all of the big races on Sun Stakes Saturday demonstrate just how much the fans of this sport care for it. They want to see greatness, and they had that chance on Saturday night. Let’s hope that fate provides even more opportunities for the harness racing stars to align in such a manner in the very near future.

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.