Posts Tagged ‘Chris Oakes’

The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono Season Preview

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

Welcome back, everyone, to live harness racing at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. The 2017 season is upon us, although it took a little bit longer for it to get here than we originally expected.

The campaign was supposed to open on Saturday, March 18, but Stella, the winter storm of the century in the Northeastern Pennsylvania area, had other ideas. Even though the snow fell a full five days before the scheduled opening night, the pure amount of precipitation meant that there was just no way for even our crack track maintenance staff to have the racing surface ready for the Standardbreds.

The best-laid plans, as they say. And so we begin instead on Tuesday night, March 21, embarking on another outstanding season or racing. Let’s hope the warmer weather arrives sooner rather than later, but fans of Pocono know that the racing action always heats things up even if the temperature stays stubbornly on the low side.

So what can you expect from the new meet? If it’s anything like our recent seasons, some of the finest racing action in North American is certain to occur. The recipe: Take one of the fastest, best-kept racing surfaces anywhere, add in top-notch purses to draw in the best horsemen and horses in the world, and then sit back and watch the excitement.

You can also expect stakes races that bring in the sport’s superstars, a Pennsylvania Sire Stakes schedule that allows the Pocono faithful to see harness racing’s best rising talent, and overnight races that lead to great rivalries from week to week. Each racing night, pacers and trotters take to the 5/8-mile oval at Pocono in search of glory, and the fans are the ultimate beneficiaries of all of this talented horse flesh coming together in intense competition.

The horses are fantastic, but they’re also guided by the one of finest collection of drivers and trainers in the country. There are many questions to be answered among the Pocono horsemen this year. Will George Napolitano Jr. continue his amazing run of dominance on the driving side? Can young drivers like Anthony Napolitano, Matt Kakaley, Jim Marohn Jr., Andrew McCarthy, Marcus Miller and others continue to make inroads in the drivers’ standings? Is there a new face we haven’t yet seen ready to make a mark at Pocono?

On the training side, will the three-way battle for honors between Rene Allard, Chris Oakes and Ron Burke continue to rage until the closing nights of the season as it did a year ago? Or will there be some progress made by some of the trainers who were in the middle of the pack and are looking to move up the standings?

All will be answered in time. The racing schedule, with the exception of a few weeks at the start and end of the season, will be as follows until September: Saturday, Monday and Tuesday nights at 6:30 PM ET, Sunday at 7:30. In September, our Monday cards begin in the afternoon at 4:30 PM ET. I, for one, can’t wait to get it started and see what happens.

I’ll be writing these articles all season long, talking about the exploits of our horses and horsemen, handing out weekly awards to the top performers. I’m looking forward to once again seeing our regular fans, who make The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono such a special place. Every year, when I come back to work in March, it’s like getting together with old friends once again.

And, as always, the sincere hope of everyone at Pocono is that we get a chance to make the acquaintances of some new friends as well. Those of you who might be checking this article out in the program may be new to harness racing. If you are, I encourage you to settle in and get ready an evening of fun and excitement.

Hopefully, you’ll be back again, and you’ll follow along with us through the 2017 season. It has the makings of another great campaign, and I’m extremely lucky to once again have the best view in the announcer’s booth. I hope you stop up to say hello. Good luck on your wagers. Here’s to the season ahead.

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 – 2016 Season Recap

Wednesday, November 16th, 2016

2016 Season Review

Well, it’s about time to wrap up the 2016 season at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. At press time, there are still a few more nights of racing until we officially wrap things up on November 26, but, for all intents and purposes, this campaign is essentially in the rear-view mirror.

If it seems like the time passes quickly within a single season, imagine my surprise when I was alerted that this month marked the tenth anniversary since Mohegan Sun came aboard to revitalize the racing product at Pocono. In the past decade, we have transformed from just another run-of-the-mill track into one of the finest harness racing establishments in the entire world. Without Mohegan Sun’s commitment to racing, none of that would have been possible.

That commitment, combined with the outstanding work of those folks who take care of our racing surface, is responsible for the fact that we have one of the fastest tracks in the entire country. The Pocono faithful were lucky to witness a lot of that speed in 2016. Five world records were either set or matched at MSPD in 2016. And some of the record-setters turned out to be among the biggest superstars in the sport, including Betting Line, Freaky Feet Pete, and Always B Miki.

Then there were the horses who made Pocono more of a home rather than just an occasional destination. The best of those have been honored with horses of the year awards. Our Pacer of the Year, Keystone Velocity, overcame the fact that he sat out all of last season to put up more sub-1:50 victories than anyone else on the grounds. Our trotter of the year, Wilberforce, managed to move up the ladder from condition trots against mostly younger horses to facing off against the featured trotters on the grounds, winning all the way. And our claimer of the year, McCedes, demonstrated that age is nothing but a number, gliding through the claiming ranks as an 11-year-old to distinguish himself time again in the 2016 meet. Their exploits, along with the performances of so many other Pocono regulars, will not soon be forgotten.

Of course, the horses need some guidance to perform their amazing feats, and this year two horsemen stood above all. Although at press time there was still a slight chance that they could get caught in the percentage categories, it appears that driver George Napolitano Jr. and trainer Chris Oakes will sweep the year-end honors for wins and percentage. Both have been Pocono mainstays for quite some time, but never before have they combined talents to dominate the racing at the track as they did in this past meet. Several other drivers and trainers were serious forces on the Pocono scene this season, but the dynamic duo of Napolitano and Oakes were a notch above the rest.

It’s impossible to sum up all of the exploits of the horses and people who made the 2016 meet so special at Pocono. I write this column week in and week out, and even on that micro level I found myself unable to detail all of the fantastic performances, thrilling upsets, and heart-pounding excitement that I was lucky enough to witness from my perfect view in the announcer’s booth. It was a special season, for sure. Still, with the momentum we’ve built at MSPD, I have a feeling we’ll be able to operate at the same level and maybe even higher for the foreseeable future. I can’t wait to see what 2017 has in store.

Before I sign off for the season, I’d like to thank all of the horses, horsemen and horsewomen for their wonderful efforts this year. I’d also like to thank my co-workers, who do so much to bring you such an excellent product night after night. As always, the fans make Pocono what it is now and what is always has been; thanks so much to you all for reading these columns and, of course, for coming out and supporting racing.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t send out a special thanks to Terri Phalen. Terri is responsible for putting these articles in the programs, as well as about a million other tasks in her capacity as Program Director/Clerk of Course. Terri is stepping away from full-time work at Pocono to pursue other exploits. To say she will be missed by the entire Pocono community is obvious to anyone who knows her work ethic; to say that she’ll be missed by yours truly for her patience, geniality, and friendship in the years that I’ve worked as track announcer is the understatement of the year.

That’s going to do it for these articles for 2016. I hope you all have a wonderful winter, and I look forward to seeing you all again in the spring. We’ll see you at the track.

The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono Week In Review

Wednesday, October 5th, 2016

October 1-7, 2016

Although the calendar flipped to October, the racing at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono showed no signs of cooling off with the weather. Even sloppy racing conditions couldn’t slow down the action. As a result, there were plenty of performances worthy of consideration for this edition of the Weekly Awards. We present the best of the best from the week that was to you now.

PACER OF THE WEEK: MICHAEL’S VICTORY

This three-year-old gelding from the barn of Mark Silva showed his talent earlier this season when he ripped off a victory at The Meadowlands in a scorching 1:49:1. He entered his race against the non-winners of five on Sunday night on a high note as well, having beaten the same class in his previous race at Pocono in 1:52:3.

Despite all of that, Michael’s Victory went off as a 9-5 second choice. That’s because Tom Hill, a newcomer from the racing wars in Canada, went off as the 1-2 favorite based on some quick times up north. Yet it was Michael’s Victory who proved to be the aggressor, taking the lead away from Settlemoir with a quick brush on the front stretch and opening up a nice advantage on the rest of the field.

Tom Hill took a shot at the leader on the back stretch, but Michael’s Victory was having none of it. He kept up the heat until Tom Hill, struggling to get closer, made a speed break. And Michael’s Victory just kept pouring it on from there. When it was all over, the three-year-old, driven by Simon Allard, was a winner by an impressive 7 ¼ lengths in a zippy time of 1:51. He’ll be graduating from the non-winners of five off this win, and it should be fun to see how he performs at his next step up the racing ladder.

Other top pacers this week include: Keystone Velocity (Simon Allard, Barry Probber), who rolled over an outstanding field in Saturday night’s featured $25,000 handicap pace, matching a career-best of 1:48:2 despite sloppy conditions; Rockin Rambaran (George Napolitano Jr., Chris Oakes), who followed up a claiming handicap at Chester with another at Pocono on Saturday night, this one coming in 1:49:4 in the slop; and Yes You Can (Jim Marohn Jr., Tony Dinges), who arrived from Vernon Downs to capture Tuesday night’s feature pace for mares in a career-best 1:50:4.

TROTTER OF THE WEEK: WESTSIDE LINDY

One of the things that seems to be true about harness racing perhaps more than other sports is that it often takes just a single victory to ignite a hot streak. In the case of Westside Lindy, a nine-year-old gelding, that victory came at Chester on August 25, which was his first of the season in twelve tries. He quickly followed that up with another win at Chester, whereupon he was claimed for $15,000 and joined the Chris Oakes barn when he shipped to Pocono.

After a second at a claiming price of $20,000 on September 12, he ripped off a victory against the same class two weeks later. On Sunday night he was once again facing off against the $20,000 claimers. As the even-money favorite, he swooped to the front around the first turn under the guidance of driver George Napolitano Jr. From there he held on to the lead without seeming to exert much effort, even as the fractions he posted were swift.

In the stretch, he widened his lead over the rest of the field until he could finally gear down a bit at the end. The veteran gelding still came home 2 ¾ lengths ahead of his closest competitor in a hasty 1:53:2. That winning time not only set a new career mark by almost a second, but it was also the fastest trotting time of the week at Pocono. That one victory at Chester really fired up Westside Lindy, to the point where he’s racing better than he ever has before in his solid racing career.

Honorable mention on the trotting side goes to: Tweet Me (Mike Simons, Nicholas Devita) a mare who captured Sunday night’s featured $20,000 condition trot in 1:54:2; Star Photo (Simon Allard, Rene Allard), whose victory in a claiming trot on Monday night in 1:55:3 gave him three consecutive wins; and Eyes Cool (Anthony Napolitano, Ake Svanstedt), a two-year-old gelding who picked up his second straight condition victory on Tuesday and did so in a career-best 1:57:1.

LONG SHOT OF THE WEEK: WINDUP WEST

Windup West, a filly pacer driven by Mike Simons, will never forget her maiden win on Sunday night, and neither will her backers since she went off at 50-1 and paid off $108 on a $2 win ticket.

DRIVER OF THE WEEK: GEORGE NAPOLITANO JR.

The meet’s leading driver may have picked up his milestone 8,000th career win at Chester last Friday, but George Nap quickly added to that total at Pocono by ripping off five wins on Saturday night.

TRAINER OF THE WEEK: JOE PAVIA JR.

Now focused on training after an amazing driving career, Pavia oversees a talented barn, as evidenced by wins on Saturday with Pointsman and Monday with Divination, each of whom went off at 7-1.

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, September 28th, 2016

September 24-30, 2016

After a couple weeks of abbreviated schedules, The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono returned to our regular slate of four nights of racing this past week. The full schedule featured a bunch of great finishes, several outstanding performances, and some stunning upsets. In other words, it was just another week at one of the top tracks in the world. Here are some of the highlights as we hand out the Weekly Awards.

PACER OF THE WEEK: DREAMS BEACHBOY

This four-year-old gelding from the Chris Oakes barn came into 2016 with somewhat modest earnings, even though he showed flashes of brilliance as a four-year-old. Dreams Beachboy has turned that promise into results this season. He’s been especially fine at Pocono; in just the last two months, he beat the non-winners of nine, won a condition in a career-mark of 1:49:1, and, in his last race coming into Saturday night, handled a $15,500 condition class.

On Saturday night, he stepped up into the $20,000 feature class, but even with the move up, bettors still installed him as the favorite. In the early going, Dreams Beachboy didn’t show much, sitting in the middle of the pack in fifth as others did the work up front. On the back stretch driver George Napolitano Jr. guided the gelding to the outside. In a flash, he wheeled from fifth to first, taking over the lead shy of the three-quarter pole.

From there no one was able to even remotely threaten his lead. Dreams Beachboy coasted home a winner in 1:50:2 with a 2 ¼ quarter-length advantage over second-place Mister Bling A. Now with seven victories in 19 races this year and earnings in 2016 which are about double his bankroll from the first two years of his career, Dreams Beachboy keeps getting better and seems like he has a way to go before he reaches his peak.

Other top pacers this week include: Goldin Parachute (Dave Palone, Rodney Baker), who moved up in class to win a claiming handicap on Saturday night in 1:52:2, giving him two straight victories; The Rock (Anthony Napolitano, Andrew Harris), who scored a condition win on Sunday night in 1:50:2, which was a new career-best and matched Dreams Beachboy for fastest time of the week at Pocono; and Gweneeee J (Jim Marohn Jr., Linda Toscano), who arrived from The Meadowlands to capture Tuesday night’s featured condition pace for mares in 1:51:3.

TROTTER OF THE WEEK: SPLITSVILLE

Who knows why horses sometimes take well to a track? When it happens, the results can be eye-opening. Splitsiville, a seven-year-old gelding, didn’t even hit the board in his first five races of the year before finally winning at Northfield in Ohio in a race for a purse of just $3,300. As soon as he arrived at Pocono and joined the barn of trainer Kris Rickert, his fortunes drastically changed. He immediately won two of three, climbing up the ladder to beat condition fields with purses of $8,500 and $11,000, with the latter win coming in a career-best 1:54:4.

After a fifth-place finish at Chester, the gelding returned to Pocono to face his toughest test yet on Saturday night in a $15,500 condition trot. The move up in class scared away the bettors, as Splitsville went off at 23-1. He sat fourth early on while the favorite Summers Windsong set the pace. Driver Eric Carlson set Splitsville in motion on the back stretch and quickly the gelding was looking the favored mare eye-to-eye.

The two continued their battle around the final turn, but, surprisingly, it was Summers Windsong who eventually relented. Or maybe it’s not so surprising considering Splitsville’s love of the Pocono oval. He trotted away and hid in the final strides, winning the race by a comfortable 3 ½ lengths and matching his career-best of 1:54 in the process.

Honorable mention on the trotting side goes to: Ashlake (Anthony Napolitano, Rene Allard), a mare whose victory in a claiming handicap on Monday night came in 1:53:3, a new career-best and the fastest trotting time of the week at Pocono; Somebody As (George Napolitano Jr., Anette Lorentzon), who shipped in from Yonkers to capture Sunday night’s $20,000 featured trot in 1:54:1; and Star Photo (Simon Allard, Rene Allard), who scored his second straight claiming handicap victory on Monday night, this one coming in 1:56:2.

LONG SHOT OF THE WEEK: REGGIANO

Despite a #9 post position and a move up in class, this pacer driven by Eric Carlson stunned a condition group on Saturday night at 50-1, paying off $103 on a $2 win ticket.

DRIVER OF THE WEEK: ERIC CARLSON

He picked up just two wins on Saturday night but was awful lucrative for his backers, as his wins came aboard 23-1 Splitsville and 50-1 Reggiano.

TRAINER OF THE YEAR: STEVE SALERNO

Few trainers have frequented the Pocono training leaderboard for as many years as Salerno, and nights like Monday night, when he scored a training double, will probably get him there this year as well.

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

Thursday, September 8th, 2016

September 3-9, 2016

As we roll into the month of September, the racing action at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono is showing no signs of slowing down. This week in particular we got a look at some outstanding performances, many thrilling finishes, and more than a few stunning long shots, all under picture-perfect racing conditions. How can we sum it all up? Well, we can hand out some Weekly Awards to try and sort it all out.

PACER OF THE WEEK: STAR COVER

Winning streaks are difficult enough to pull off under any circumstances, but they are extremely hard to come by for horses who are consistently going off as long shots in the betting. This is because the betting public is generally on top of things, so when they don’t think too much of a horse, chances are that the horse in question doesn’t have the goods to get it done in that particular class. Star Cover, a 4-year-old gelding from the Brewer Adams barn, apparently never got the memo.

On August 6, he rallied from out of the clouds late to shock a condition field at Pocono at 16-1 in 1:52:1. After struggling in a race at Yonkers, he returned to Pocono on August 27 and chalked up another condition win, this one at 24-1, in 1:50:2. On Saturday night he stepped up in class to face a $20,000 condition group, and, predictably, went off at 10-1.

Driver Andrew McCarthy settled Star Cover in third early, which is where he sat behind pacesetting Clear Vision until the final turn. That’s when the gelding took advantage of some room on the outside, popped off the pylons, and came at Clear Vision with everything he had. The result was a third consecutive victory on the Pocono oval, this time by a neck in 1:50. Based on the odds, Star Cover hasn’t had a lot of backers lately, but the ones in his corner have been celebrating all the way to the bank.

Other top pacers this week include: Luckbewithyou (George Napolitano Jr., Chris Oakes), who won a showdown with Mel Mara in Saturday night’s featured $25,000 handicap pace in 1:49, the fastest pacing time of the week at Pocono; Want Me (George Napolitano Jr., Chris Oakes), whose claiming win on Saturday night in 1:52:1 was his second straight victory and third in his last four; and Prairie Sweetheart (Anthony Napolitano, Michael Deters), a three-year-old filly who moved her career record to ten victories in ten starts with her third straight win at Pocono on Tuesday night in a career-best 1:50:2.

TROTTER OF THE WEEK: UNCLE HANOVER

This four-year-old gelding trained by Doug Ackerman has displayed some impressive versatility in his recent hot streak. On August 14, he beat older horses in an $11,000 condition by flying up late with a three-wide move to win in 1:55:2. He followed that up by facing horses his own age and younger in a non-winners of seven group on August 21; in that one he took charge early and scored the victory with a front-end ride in 1:56:2.

Both of those wins by Uncle Hanover came on off-tracks, but he faced pristine racing conditions and a tough field of non-winners of seven on Sunday night. In this start, the gelding showed another trick u0 his sleeve, as he raced third on the inside behind leader Glidinthruparadise. Neither on the lead or way off it, Uncle Hanover started a first-over move as he hit the half-mile marker.

For a moment around the final turn, Uncle Hanover lost some ground to the pacesetter. But driver Jim Marohn Jr. was able to coax another charge out of him, and he sped by Glidinthruparadise to win by a length in 1:54. The winning time matched the career-best for Uncle Hanover, who now has three straight victories at Pocono with three different styles of racing. Not bad at all, especially considering he wasn’t favored in any of those three wins.

Honorable mention on the trotting side goes to: Rose Run Parker (Matt Kakaley, Ron Burke), who won a $25,000 handicap trot on Sunday night in 1:53:1 for his second victory in his last three races; Mandabra (Eric Goodell, Chris Oakes), who rallied to beat a $10,000 claiming group on Monday in 1:56:2, making it three consecutive wins and four in his last five races; and Walter White (Eric Carlson, James Eaton), who scored a victory on Saturday night against a tough condition group in 1:54:4.

LONG SHOT OF THE WEEK: NATHAN FEELSGOOD

This gelding with Andrew McCarthy in the bike made his bettors feel great on Saturday night when he captured a claiming pace at 46-1 for a $95.80 win payout on a $2 win ticket.

DRIVER OF THE WEEK: ANDREW MCCARTHY

Nobody does it better with the long shots than McCarthy, as he proved on Saturday night when he three winners came at odds of 10-1, 46-1, and 16-1.

TRAINER OF THE WEEK: ROB HARMON

Harmon made the most of minimal appearances at Pocono this weekend, winning with his lone starter on both Saturday (Dabunka) and Sunday (Party On The River).

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.