Posts Tagged ‘George Napolitano Jr.’

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.

The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono Week In Review

Wednesday, October 25th, 2017

October 21-27, 2017

We are only about a month away from concluding the 2017 racing season at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. As a result, there will only be a few more editions of the Weekly Awards before we use the space in this column to wrap up the meet. The racing was quite spicy the past week, as the action shows no sign of letting up as we get nearer to Closing Night. Let’s see who takes the honors for the week that was at Pocono.

PACER OF THE WEEK: JJ FLYNN

Moving up the condition ladder is never an easy task. In the case of this four-year-old gelding trained by Josh Green, it seemed like it would be a monumental undertaking on Saturday night. Not only was JJ Flynn stepping up to face a $16,500 condition group after winning a notch below that in his previous race on October 14 in a career-best 1:50:1, he was also entering a field especially full of classy pacers, with Luck Be Withyou and his over $1.4 million in career earnings looming particularly large.

JJ Flynn left from post position #6 in a field of nine as the 9-2 second choice on the board. He sat mid-pack early on, while Luck Be Withyou, the 1-2 favorite, unsurprisingly set the pace. Had the favorite been able to get away with an uncontested journey, JJ Flynn might have been doomed. But a first-over challenge by Nimble And Quick kept Luck Be Withyou honest. JJ Flynn followed the cover of Nimble And Quick to get into striking position.

On the home stretch, JJ Flynn stepped wide of Nimble And Quick and zipped past him, but still had to get past Luck Be Withyou. Just a few yards before the finish line, it still seemed like the favorite would get home. But that’s when JJ Flynn, with Anthony Napolitano in the bike, surged and sped past to win it by a neck. His second straight victory was made even more memorable by the fact that he did it in 1:50, resetting his career mark.

Other top pacers this week include: Motor City Marco (John Kakaley, Travis Alexander) who once again won in the condition claiming ranks on Sunday, this time in 1:54:4 to give him four in a row; Montana Pablo A (George Napolitano Jr., Mark Kesmodel), who picked up his second straight claiming handicap win on Saturday night in 1:51:2; and Big N Bad (Jim Marohn Jr., Rob Harmon), whose victory on Monday night in a condition came in 1:49:2, the fastest time of both his career and the week at Pocono.

TROTTER OF THE WEEK: CLASSICALITY

In order to beat the enemy, you have to properly identify it first. Classicality, a seven-year-old gelding trained by Lisa Dunn, has been making a lot of enemies himself lately. His last three starts: a win at The Meadows in 1:53:4 on September 7; a win at Pocono on September 24 in 1:53:2; and another win at The Meadows in 1:53:1 on October 11. And he wasn’t facing chopped liver either, going for $20,000 purses in each race, which is also the purse for which he competed on Sunday.

Classicality was the 5-2 second choice, however, as Centurion ATM, a stallion who had faced stakes competition for his past several starts, was made the favorite at even money. Centurion ATM also benefitted from a much better post position in the #3 hole, while Classicality was on the outside in the field of eight. Simeon set the pace, but Centurion ATM came stalking on the outside on the back stretch. Classicality, with Marcus Miller in the bike, knew whom he had to follow and quickly latched on to the favorite second-over.

Having identified his main enemy, Classicality was set to take him on. Centurion ATM took over the lead from Simeon, but it was short-lived. Classicality possessed more trot in the stretch and came up a winner by a neck in 1:53:2. That makes it four in a row for the gelding, which, considering the caliber of the competition he’s been facing, is quite an impressive streak.

Honorable mention on the trotting side this week goes to: Catch A Mission (Marcus Miller, Erv Miller), a mare who stayed perfect on the year with her third straight win, the last two of which have come at Pocono after a condition victory on Sunday night in 1:54:4; Silvermass Volo (Simon Allard, Michael Holcman), who churned his way to his second straight condition win on Sunday night and did so in a new career-best time of 1:54; and CR Blazin Beauty (Anthony Napolitano, Al Annunziata), a filly who has followed up an extended winning streak at smaller tracks in the Midwest with back-to-back victories at Pocono, the latest coming on Monday night in a condition trot in a career-best 1:55.

LONG SHOT OF THE WEEK: WILD BILL M

In Saturday night’s final race, this condition pacer with Simon Allard in the bike overcame an outside post to pull off an upset at 60-1, paying off $131.40 on a $2 win ticket.

DRIVER OF THE WEEK: TOM JACKSON

The steady veteran driver had an effective week at Pocono, putting up a driving double on Sunday and then scoring on Monday with 55-1 shot Sinspirational.

TRAINER OF THE WEEK: DOUG HAMILTON

Hamilton enjoyed a race in honor of his retirement on Tuesday night, but first he made sure he put up one more win in the ledger when Pilgrims Tide scored a win on Sunday.

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, October 19th, 2017

October 14-20, 2017

The weather finally got a little bit chilly in the middle of this past racing week at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, but not so much that it had a profound effect on the racing conditions. It was still a fast and frenzied four nights of racing at Pocono. As is so often the case, there were many excellent candidates for the Weekly Awards, so read on and see who gets the honors.

PACER OF THE WEEK: DOREL

When a horse steps up its game and pulls off a performance that is much better than any other that it had previously managed, it’s easy to assume that said performance was a fluke. Dorel probably had some people thinking that about him as he prepared to take on a non-winners of five pacing group on Sunday night. In his previous race, the three-year-old gelding trained by Chris Ryder tore up a condition claiming group from a #8 post at 10-1, going gate-to-wire for a career-best win in 1:50:4.

The field was tougher on Sunday night, including an impressive sophomore shipper named Daiymir. That colt was the even-money favorite and assumed control of the early lead, but needed a blistering 25:4 opening quarter to get there. Dorel, who went off as a 9-2 third choice from post position #4 in a field of eight, settled for the pocket spot, which turned out to be the right place to be.

On the back stretch, Daiymir started to labor and driver Anthony Napolitano quickly guided Dorel around him and into the lead. For the last quarter mile, the gelding dug deep and had to endure a late-closing threat from Crossfirehurricane. He held tight to win by three parts of a length in 1:52:4. One great win could be a fluke, but two excellent performances in a row is starting to look like a trend for this rising star.

Other top pacers this week include: Regalanthropist (Matt Kakaley, Bruce Clarke), who switched barns and moved up in class but still managed a victory in a claiming handicap on Saturday night in 1:51:4; About The Benjamins (Matt Kakaley, Daniel Renaud), who captured his third consecutive win against the $7,500 claimers on Monday night, with this one coming in 1:55; and When Sharks Fly (Jim Marshall III, Donna Marshall), a mare who moved up the condition ladder on Tuesday night and scored her second straight win, this time in the distaff feature in 1:51:4.

TROTTER OF THE WEEK: SOUTHWIND WARSAW

Anytime a horse reaches double figures in the win totals in a calendar year, it’s an impressive accomplishment. Southwind Warsaw, an eight-year-old gelding trained by Lou Pena, stood on the precipice of that achievement when he faced off against a $10,000 to $12,500 claiming handicap field to start off the racing action on Monday afternoon.

In an eight-horse field, Southwind Warsaw left from post position #6 as a 1-9 favorite. The heavy betting attention was understandable, as the gelding was coming off a 3 ½ length win the previous week in the same class in front-trotting fashion. Once again driver Anthony Napolitano was aggressive with the favorite, sending him to the front end early in the mile. From that point it was just a matter of keeping the fractions under control while not allowing any pressure to rankle his horse.

Napolitano handled that task expertly, and Southwind Warsaw did the rest, lengthening the lead steadily until no one else was in the picture. He coasted home effortlessly 6 ½ lengths in front in 1:54:1. Not only was that his second straight victory, but it was put him at the ten-win marker for the season with a couple months to spare. Who knows? If he stays in this kind of groove and keeps after it into the winter months, he might threaten 15 wins for the year.

Honorable mention on the trotting side goes to: Skates N Plates (Anthony Napolitano, Andrew Harris), whose condition victory on Saturday night came in 1:53, the fastest trotting time posted this past week at Pocono; Checkmate Time (Donald Dupont, Marie Dupont), who followed up a win at Harrah’s win with a victory on Sunday night at Pocono in 1:56; and Up Front Billy (George Napolitano Jr., Mark Ford), who returned from Harrah’s for a condition victory on Saturday night in 1:54:2.

LONG SHOT OF THE WEEK: DECISION DAY

This 2-year-old pacer’s maiden win on Sunday night is not one either he or his backers will forget, as he rallied with Eric Carlson in the bike to win at 60-1, paying off $124.40 to win on a $2 ticket.

DRIVER OF THE WEEK: MATT KAKALEY

Kakaley amassed double figures in the win column this past week and, on both Monday and Tuesday, ripped off three wins in a row at one point on the program.

TRAINER OF THE WEEK: ROB HARMON

Harmon wasted no time making an impact at Pocono on Sunday night, as he scored training victories in two of the evening’s first three races.

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, August 17th, 2017

August 12-18, 2017

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

PACER OF THE WEEK: HOLD IT HANOVER

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

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

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

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

TROTTER OF THE WEEK: RIDGEWAY SPRINGS

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

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

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

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

LONG SHOT OF THE WEEK: CAN I SAY

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

DRIVER OF THE WEEK: GEORGE NAPOLITANO JR.

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

TRAINER OF THE WEEK: NIFTY NORMAN

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

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

The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono Week In Review

Thursday, July 13th, 2017

July 8-14, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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