Posts Tagged ‘Chris Oakes’

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.

The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono Week In Review

Thursday, July 28th, 2016

July 23-29, 2016

It was hot this week in Northeastern Pennsylvania, but that’s no real news flash, because it was hot just about everywhere in the country as well. I only mention it because the heat didn’t seem to cause any lethargy in the horses competing this past week at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. If anything, we witnessed some of the fastest races at the track in several weeks, with horses routinely putting up career-bests and even coming within shouting distance of world records. Here are some of the best performers this week, via the Weekly Awards.

PACER OF THE WEEK: VAGUE TRACES

You never know when you’re going to see a special performance at the track. Vague Traces gave just such a performance on Saturday night. It wasn’t entirely unexpected that this 4-year-old gelding would be good, considering that he went off as the favorite in a field of $14,000 condition pacers. But the extent to which he excelled was what left mouths agape after he cashed in on his promise and scored the victory.

Trained by Ross Croghan, Vague Traces was making his first start at Pocono in 2016. He came in with wins in just two of his 14 races on the year, but they were back-to-back wins at The Meadowlands in June. Coming off a pair of distant finishes against tough company at Yonkers, the gelding didn’t show much in the first half of his first mile at Pocono, sitting an unassuming fourth early. Then driver Andrew McCarthy sent him first-over on the outside, and everything changed.

In a flash Vague Traces blew by everyone in front of him and took the lead prior to the three-quarter pole. But he didn’t stop there, continuing an elongated speed burst that didn’t relent until he crossed the line 7 ¾ lengths ahead of the dumbfounded field. Even more impressively, he tripped the line in 1:48:1, not just a career-best but the fastest at Pocono this week and one of the fastest at the oval this season. Just like that Vague Traces made an impression on the Pocono faithful; let’s see how he handles the tougher competition that’s bound to come.

Other top pacers this week include: Bushwacker (George Napolitano Jr., Chris Ryder), who scored a victory in Saturday night’s $18,000 featured pace in 1:50; Soto (Andrew McCarthy, Eric Ell), a newcomer to the racing wars at Pocono who immediately left his mark with a condition victory on Saturday in a career-best 1:48:4; and Life Is A Beach (Anthony Napolitano, Randy Bendis), who handled Tuesday night’s featured condition pacing mares in 1:52, which matched a career best.

TROTTER OF THE WEEK: ARMOR HANOVER

There were several excellent candidates for this honor this week, but this seven-year-old gelding gets the call not just for his last two outstanding performances, but also for how far he’s come in that time. Trained by Douglas Berkeley, Armor Hanover hit rock bottom on July 2 when he went off-stride for a second consecutive race. That meant he’d have to qualify before he could race again. He did just that, winning a qualifier at Monticello on July 6, apparently earning some serious confidence in the process.

In his first race back on July 16, he headed out against a $14,000 condition trotting field as a 17-1 long shot. But driver Tom Jackson drove him aggressively and Armor Hanover responded, holding off Auspicious Hanover by a nose in a thrilling stretch battle to upset in 1:54:3, which was a career-best time.

On Saturday night, he faced off against a $15,500 condition grouping and this time went off at 6-1 with Anthony Napolitano in the bike. With a tremendous back-stretch brush, Armor Hanover left behind the 2-5 favorite Cufflink Hanover. The rest of the field was no match for him either, as he came home six lengths in front. His winning time of 1:52 shattered the career mark he had only just laid down. Armor Hanover has indeed come a long way in a short time, and it will be exciting to see now just where he goes from here.

Honorable mention on the trotting side goes to: Tac’s Delight (Jim Marohn Jr., Rene Allard), who handled a $15,000 claiming handicap field in 1:54:1 on Sunday night for his third straight victory; Homicide Hunter (Eric Goodell, Chris Oakes), who captured Sunday night’s $25,000 featured condition pace in 1:51:1, a new career-best, the fastest trotting time of the week at Pocono, and only a fifth of a second short of a world record for 4-year-old trotting geldings; and Crazy About Pat (Jim Marohn Jr., Paul Kelley), who shipped in from Yonkers to pick up a condition win on Sunday night in a career-best 1:53:1.

LONG SHOT OF THE WEEK: LARSON HANOVER

This two-year-old trotter’s maiden win on Tuesday night was quite memorable, as he came home a winner at 75-1 to pay out $154.20 on a $2 win ticket.

DRIVER OF THE WEEK: ANTHONY NAPOLITANO

Returning from an injury that kept him out nearly two months, Napolitano wasted no time getting in the swing of things by ripping off five wins on his first night back Saturday.

TRAINER OF THE WEEK: JENNY MELANDER

Melander put together an interesting streak this week at Pocono, as she followed up training wins in both halves of the Late Daily Double Monday night with another victory in the opening race on Tuesday.

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.