Posts Tagged ‘JL Cruze’

2015 – The 50th Anniversary Season in Review

Friday, November 20th, 2015

2015 Season Review

Here we are at the conclusion of the 2015 racing season at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. It’s been an extremely special season on a lot of levels, one that I’ve been thrilled to witness. I must admit that it feels a bit odd to be looking back, because, when you’re in the thick of an action-packed campaign like this one, it feels like it whooshes by before you know it.

The fact that this was the 50th racing season at Pocono lent everything an extra bit of specialness all year long. Each night of racing, the lights above the track lent their illumination, but they had a little help from the intangible glow cast upon the participants by the anniversary proceedings.

It even seemed like the weather cooperated for us this year more than I can ever remember. In one stretch, we went more than a month without seeing an off-track, and we even had unseasonably pleasant weather well into the month of November. As a result, it seemed like the crowds out on the patio and the apron were bigger than they’ve been in years.

What those patrons saw in 2015 was yet another season in which the racing product at Pocono was as fast and fantastic as anywhere else in the country. One peek at the track records page will show you just how dynamic the action was this past campaign. Five Pocono records were either set or matched in 2015, and four of those five also constituted world records.

Then again, electric talent tends to beget outstanding performances, so the assault on the record book was somewhat predictable in light of the caliber of horses that performed here throughout the season. We honored our horses of the year in this space last week, focusing mostly on those who were regulars or semi-regulars at Pocono this season. When you also consider some of the superstars of the sport who performed at Pocono in stakes races in 2015, horses like Wiggle It Jiggleit, Pinkman, and JL Cruze to name but a few, you get a true sense of the breadth of equine talent on display this past season.

Of course, those horses wouldn’t have been quite as special without the guidance and expertise of our drivers and trainers. We’ve talked in this column about the outstanding balance in the driving and training community this season, but a few men rose to the top of their respective fields.

On the driving side, it was a monster season for George Napolitano Jr., who easily won both the driving wins and driving percentage titles. George Nap broke his own single-season record for wins at Pocono and, at press time, was threatening the 400-win barrier on the season. Add to that the fact that he’s also leading the continent in wins for the season. What a year it’s been for Pocono’s most lauded driver.

Rene Allard once again dominated the training wins race, picking up his third straight title in that category. Allard had nearly twice as many victories as his nearest competitor, and at press time was on pace to put up the third most training wins in a season in Pocono history. Meanwhile Chris Oakes repeated as the top gun in the training percentage category, which means that nobody is more efficient at producing winners and in-the-money finishes than the Oakes barn.

I really don’t have enough space to list all of the drivers and trainers who gave outstanding efforts at the Pocono oval this past season. Nor can I recap all of the thrilling races and sizzling times and crazy long shots that characterized this past meet. (Although in that latter category, I do want to mention the performance this past Tuesday night of Lady Of The Lake, a mare who picked up her maiden victory for driver/trainer Joe Antonelli and paid off a stunning $398.60 on a $2 win ticket. That makes her Long Shot of the Year.)

And so it’s time to bid farewell to this racing season, one that fulfilled every one of the lofty expectations we placed on it based on it being such a momentous anniversary. I wrote extensively about the ramifications of the 50th anniversary throughout the season, but I’d like to mention once again how honored I am to have been a small part of it.

I feel like this was a special year for the Pocono patrons as well, many of whom followed us when the purses were miniscule compared to today and a mile under two minutes was a rare occurrence. This 50th year really belonged to you folks, so I hope you cherished it.

Before you know it we’ll be doing it all again though. So I’d like to wish everyone a great offseason and Happy Holidays. Stay warm. And then, come springtime, we’ll rev it up for season 51 at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono.

That will do it for this season, but we’ll see you at the track in 2016. Feel free to e-mail me at jbeviglia@mohegansunpocono.com.

Top horses in North America battle on Super Stakes Saturday

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015

The two top-rated horses in 2015 North American harness racing, the three-year-old geldings Pinkman and Wiggle It Jiggleit, will continue their battle for #1 status in the sport this Saturday night during the $2,435,000 Super Stakes Saturday card at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, going in consecutive races – first Pinkman in the $500,000 Colonial Trot, and then Wiggle It Jiggleit in the $500,000 Battle of the Brandywine Pace.

The three three-year-old races, which include the $350,000 Valley Forge Pace for fillies, are filled according to 2015 moneywinnings –the nine having the highest seasonal bankrolls are gathered in the “main event” races, with the next nine in order in Consolation I, and the nine after that in Consolation II.

Another high-profile event Saturday is the $100,000 Sebastian K S Invitational Trot, a race which will double as a retirement ceremony for the trans-Atlantic champion who will be honored in special on-track ceremonies before he heads to stallion duties. Ironically, the likely favorite is the Sebastian K S is JL Cruze – the #3-ranked horse in North America, and the one who defeated “Sebastian” by a nose in his only 2015 outing before his retirement.

Here are profiles of the Big Three three-year-old events, followed by a look at the Sebastian K S Trot and other powerful races on the Saturday card:

COLONIAL TROT — $500,000 main event race 11; $200,000 Consolation I race 7; $100,000 Consolation II race 3. Stakes record: 1:52.1, Googoo Gaagaa.

Pinkman, fresh off his two-heat, world recordsetting victory in The Hambletonian, was aided by the draw with post two in the field of nine. Yannick Gingras is listed to drive Pinkman, a son of Explosive Matter who has eight wins and one second in nine seasonal starts, with his mark the 1:51 world record for 3TG in the second heat of the Hambletonian, and his $1,170,965 in 2015 earnings raising his career total to $1,737,625. (By the way, his chief foe in the Hambletonian, the filly Mission Brief, will be racing in Pennsylvania some 27 hours earlier, heading the $174,000 Moni Maker Trot at The Meadows Friday night.)

Pinkman will be find some familiar faces on the track beside him Saturday, as five of the nine Colonial entrants are, like he, part of the trotting superstable of Jimmy Takter. The “other” quartet – Uncle Lasse (PP3, driver David Miller), The Bank (PP6, Takter listing himself), Canepa Hanover (PP8, John Campbell back in the sulky), and French Laundry (PP9, Brett Miller) – are not just “makeweight” entrants either, with combined seasonal earnings of $900,000 among them.

Crazy Wow (PP1, trainer Ron Burke, driver Tim Tetrick) and Wicker Hanover (post five, Noel Daley, Corey Callahan) seem to have the best chance to upset the Takter applecart. Crazy Wow was third in the Beal Final here in June, behind Pinkman and Uncle Lasse, while Wicker Hanover handed Pinkman his only defeat of the year, in the Beal eliminations.

BATTLE OF THE BRANDYWINE — $500,000 main event race 12; $200,000 Consolation I race 8; $100,000 Consolation II race 4. Stakes record: 1:47.4, Sunshine Beach.

Wiggle It Jiggleit, an altered son of Mr Wiggins, has achieved slightly-higher earnings than Pinkman so far – $1,189,144, while winning 15 of 17 starts and showing speed, maneuverability, and courage. The winner of the Hempt Final here at Pocono early this season, Wiggle It Jiggleit will have driver Montrell Teague alert early, as he will be starting from the rail, and Teague’s job will be to get him to the front at some point without a terrific usage of resources, the fate which befell him in the recent Cane Pace, where he was involved in fractions of 25.4, 52,1, and 1:20.4 before tiring to fourth in the stretch.

The four horses who have finished ahead of Wiggle It Jiggleit in his lifetime (he raced only once at two, winning here) are all in the big Battle. Wazikashi Hanover (PP7, trainer Joanne Looney-King, driver Tim Tetrick, #7 in the North American polls) caught “Wiggle” in the stretch drive of the North America Cup at Mohawk, while the 1-2-3 Cane finishers are also here – in order of that race’s finish, Dealt A Winner (PP9, Mark Silva, David Miller), Artspeak (PP8, Tony Alagna, Scott Zeron), and Dude’s The Man (PP2, Jessica Okusko, Corey Callahan). The “Dude” also won the last big-money race for this division in Pennsylvania, the Adios at The Meadows on August 1.

VALLEY FORGE PACE — $350,000 main event race 10; $150,000 Consolation I race 7; $75.000

Consolation II race 3. Stakes record: 1:48.4, I Luv The Nitelife.

A division desperately looking for a leader after a series of different winners in most of this year’s major events to date may find one emerge from the Valley Forge Pace.

The biggest 2015 bankroll in the collection of nine misses belongs to Bettor Be Steppin, a daughter of Bettor’s Delight who will begin from post four for trainer Joe Holloway and driver Corey Callahan. Over half of the seasonal winnings of Bettor Be Steppin came right at Pocono, when she won a multi-horse close finish to capture the $300,000 Lynch Final, taking her mark of 1:50.4.

In finding other ways to measure this evenly-matched group, the biggest career bankroll belongs to Sassa Hanover ($634,440, PP7, trainer Ron Burke, driver Yannick Gingras), while the fastest speed mark is held by Moonlit Dance (1:49 winning the recent Mistletoe Shalee Final, PP6, trainer Tony OSullivan, driver David Miller). Both of those fillies show solid credentials in their achievements and their connections, and are likely to contribute to this fairly-wide-open affair.

OTHER BIG RACES SATURDAY

The $100,000 Sebastian K S Trot (race 5) marks the return to the races after a five-week break of the Cinderella story JL Cruze, who started to build a following while winning the Weiss Series here in the spring, and has gone on to win 16 of 18 starts and over $600,000 for trainer Eric Ell, with John Campbell returning from a recent minor injury to guide “JL” from the middle of the nine-horse field. Along the way, JL Cruze has become the third-fastest trotter of all-time, behind only Sebastian K S and Enough Talk (1:49.3 at Colonial) when he won the Graduate Series Final in 1:49.4.

The card kicks off with a bang, as national stars Cinamony, Krispy Apple, Ooh Bad Shark, and Yagonnakissmeornot collide in the $50,000 Hanover Shoe Farms Pace for mares.

The $50,000 U.S. Trotting Association Pace for free-for-allers may turn out to be the national coming-out party for the unheralded Always At My Place (PP2, trainer Ron Burke, driver Matt Kalaley), who goes for his sixth win in a row after missing the world record for 4PG by a tick here last Saturday, stopping the timer in 1:48.1 while pacing his own back half uncovered in 53.1 and winning under a hold.

Post Time for this stellar card is 5:30pm.

The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono Week in Review

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

April 4-10, 2015

Even though we’re still in just our first month of racing at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono and the weather conditions have been far less than ideal, the season feels like it’s starting to take shape. This week’s addition of Sundays, making it a four-night racing week, should speed up that process. In the meantime, here is a look at the best horses and horsemen from the past three racing nights as we hand out the Weekly Awards.

PACER OF THE WEEK: IDEAL MATTERS

One of the characteristics of this whole season-taking-shape thing we talked out about in the intro paragraph is that certain horses begin to assert themselves as horses from whom we’ll be hearing all year long. And while it may be a bit presumptive to make a judgment based on the small sample size of a couple starts, it sure looks like Ideal Matters is in for a big 2015 at Pocono by the way he’s raced the last few weeks.

On March 21, the 8-year-old gelding from the barn of trainer Gilberto Garcia-Herrera scored his first win of the meet by handling a field of condition pacers in 1:51. On Saturday night, he faced off with essentially the same condition grouping of non-winners $16,500 in the last five races for a purse of $18,000. Leaving from post position #2 in a field of nine, Ideal Matters was quickly sent to the lead by driver George Napolitano Jr., who then watched as Mustang Art hustled by to take over around the first turn.

That’s when Napolitano decided that Ideal Matters was better off leading than in the pocket. The gelding retook the lead quickly on the front stretch, and then powered his way to a big lead. Gearing down in the final strides of the mile, he coasted to a two-length win in 1:50:1, the fastest time of the young season at Pocono. Two straight wins should have Ideal Matters moving up in class, but he’s already established himself as one of the horses to watch in 2015.

Other top pacers this week include: Always Wanna (Jim Morrill Jr., Matias Ruiz), who picked up his second straight win over the $12,500 claimers on Saturday night, this one coming in 1:52:4; Victory At Last (Matt Kakaley, Ron Burke), who won his third straight Bobby Weiss series race against the three and four-year-old colts, stallions and geldings on Saturday night in a career-best 1:52:1; and Show Runner (George Napolitano Jr., Lou Pena), a mare who now has four straight wins to start the season, the last two at Pocono, following her condition victory on Wednesday night in 1:52:2.

TROTTER OF THE WEEK: ZOOMING

We’ve talked in this column before how sometimes a horse simply needs a change of scenery to ignite a hot streak. In the case of Zooming, a talented veteran trotter, maybe it was a return to his old haunts that got him going this past week. Before coming to Pocono for Saturday night’s condition trot for non-winners of $17,500 in the last five races, the 7-year-old gelding from the barn of trainer Amber Buter was coming off back-to-back races where he went off-stride.

It was an unusual stretch for a horse pushing $600,000 in career earnings. A lot of those earnings were notched on the Pocono 5/8-mile oval, which is probably why the fans made him a 6-5 favorite in the race despite the recent struggles. As it turned out, he had to earn it in this one, forced as he was to make a tough first-over journey to get to the lead.

The trip didn’t matter, however, as driver George Napolitano Jr. urged Zooming on past the tiring leaders in the home stretch. With a winning time of 1:53:4 in the chilly temperatures, the gelding proved he was back on top of his game. The Pocono surroundings might have spurred the return to form, but Zooming deserves the credit for having that great form in the first place.

Honorable mention on the trotting side goes to: GJ Photo Victory (Jim Morrill Jr., Marcus Marashian), who followed back-to-back wins at The Meadows with a claiming win at Pocono on Wednesday in 1:57:1; JL Cruze (John Campbell, Eric Ell), a gelding with eight wins in ten races at the Meadowlands this season who came to Pocono to coast to victory in a Bobby Weiss race on Tuesday night in 1:54:1; and Dress For Success (Matt Kakaley, Christopher Freck), the mare who rolled to her third straight win in the Bobby Weiss series against the distaff trotters, matching her career-best of 1:55:1 in the process.

LONG SHOT OF THE WEEK: INCOGNITO

Incognito made a last to first rally in Saturday night’s final race with Ronnie Wrenn Jr. in the bike to win a condition pace at 18-1., paying off $39.40 on a $2 win ticket.

DRIVER OF THE WEEK: GEORGE NAPOLITANO JR.

George Nap has already carved out space at the top of the driving standings, and he solidified that standing with a five-win night on Tuesday, the first Pocono driver to reach that plateau in 2015.

TRAINER OF THE WEEK: RON BURKE

The leader in training wins to this point at Pocono, Burke has been cleaning up in the Bobby Weiss series, scoring three of his four winners this week in those late closer 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.

Favorites prevail as Weiss Series action headlines Tuesday Pocono card

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

Four of the first five winners at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono on Tuesday night, April 7th, paid the 5 cents to a dollar legal minimum profit in winning, including three visitors to Victory Lane during $15,000 third round series action of the Bobby Weiss Series – with the quartet tallying by a combined 21 lengths.

The trotting males were up first, and two Meadowlands invader took all the money, both pari-mutuel and purse. First up was the Crazed gelding JL Cruze, who has already bankrolled $133,000+ this year winning three series at the Jersey oval and racking up an effortless 12¼-length score in his mountain debut for trainer Eric Ell and driver John Campbell. The winner tripped the timer in 1:54.1 over a sloppy surface after making every pole a winning one for owners Ken Wood, William Dittmar Jr., and Stephen Iaquinta.

Opulent Yankee, who has caused the “2” in JL Cruze’s 11-9-2-0 season’s record, was next up, and he was 3½ lengths to the good at the end of his 1:54.2 triumph. Team Orange Crush, driver Andy and trainer Julie Miller, guide the fortunes of the Muscles Yankee gelding for Little E LLC, Arthur Geiger, Jason Settlemoir, and David Stolz.

In the first of two pacing mare divisions, the Burke / Weaver Bruscemi entry took all the money and finished 1-2, as Donttellruss got her first Weiss win in two starts, turning back Allthatjazz De Vie, who was successful in her initial series outing, in 1:53.3. Burke Racing and Weaver Bruscemi share ownership of the Andrew McCarthy-driven  winning daughter of Panspacificflight with Lawrence Karr and Frank Baldachino.

In the second distaff sidewheelers cut, a Burke entry was also favored, but they had to settle for second and third behind the only two-time Weiss winner in this section, the Somewheresomebeach mare The Beach NextDoor, taking a new mark of 1:53 under the guidance of Jim Morrill Jr. The winner’s dam is named On The Choo Choo, and those are the tactics Morrill successfully employed for trainer Brewer Adams and the partnership of Adams Racing LLC and Brian Clark.

The fourth 1-20* horse, in the card’s opener, was the well-regarded altered son of The Panderosa, Heavenly Knox, who made short work of his assignment in a personal best of 1:51.3. Triumphant in the Walter Russell Series Final at The Meadows in his last start, Heavenly Knox is now 8 for 9 lifetime, with driver David Miller and trainer Mark Ford entrusted with the care of the winner by new owners George and Rose Bonomo.

The four “sureshots” attracted plenty of money “underneath” as well, as $60,000 to show among all but JL Cruze; his race had no show betting, so over $20,000 went into the place pool on him.

(But all is not chalk in the Pocono pari-mutuels: Hall of Famer John Campbell paid $25.60 to win in a race on the card, and he finished third, beaten a length, at 75-1 in another.)