Posts Tagged ‘Ken Rucker’

Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs Week in Review

Friday, October 19th, 2012

October 12-18, 2012

It’s getting to the point of the season where we here at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs start to think about handing out year-end awards to the horsemen and horses who have performed the best over the course of the 2012 season. I can’t seem to remember a time when it’s been so competitive in all the major categories. This past racing week, a few more competitors stepped up to stake their claims, and several of these can be found in this edition of the Weekly Awards.


 There are a lot of things that handicappers like to key on when looking at a race. Among these, two of the most important are class and post position. If you’ve got a horse who is moving to a better inside post and is dropping down in class, chances are it’s getting a lot of attention at the windows.

By contrast, consider the situation facing Diamond Stick Pin at Pocono on Saturday night. He was moving up in class following career-best mile of 1:50:3 in a win on October 5. He was also moving to the far outside #9 post after having a spot on the inner half in his previous start. Basically, he was moving in the opposite direction from what the handicappers like, but nobody bothered to tell the 6-year-old stallion the odds were against him.

He did have the combination of George Napolitano Jr. and Chris Oakes, Pocono’s leading driver and trainer respectively, in his corner, so that was a big boost. Diamond Stick Pin did the rest, making a huge first-over move on the back stretch to zip by his competition. He romped from there, beating the rest by 4 ¼ lengths and resetting his career mark with a 1:50:2 mile. When a horse is that sharp, class, post position, and the rest don’t really matter too much.

Other top pacers this week include: Hurrikane Kingcole (Daniel Dube, Kevin McDermott), the superstar sophomore pacer who returned to Pocono with a thrilling condition win on Saturday night in 1:49, the fastest pacing time of the week; Sonic Raider (George Napolitano Jr., Ken Rucker), who reeled off his second straight win over the $12,500 claimers on Saturday night, matching a career-best in the process in 1:52:2; and Billmar Scooter (Tyler Buter, Amber Buter), who beat the toughest mares on the grounds for the second straight week on Tuesday night, this time in 1:51:3.


It’s not a rule that’s set in stone, but, in the sport of harness racing, claimers don’t usually advance out of the claiming ranks into condition and Open races with much success. At best, they might be able to hang around with the lower condition groups, but owners and trainers hoping for anything much more than that are often brought back to reality.

Just Like Lloyd seemed to be one of this trotters who was bound to be at his best against the claimers, at least at Pocono. The 4-year-old gelding did have a win in Open II company at Tioga, but his victories at MSPD had been limited to the claiming ranks. That didn’t stop him from moving up into our toughest condition group on Saturday night, the winners of over $25,000 lifetime.

Just Like Lloyd, with George Napolitano Jr. in the bike for trainer Rene Allard, put together a great mile as he gunned to an early lead, yielded the lead on the front stretch, then made a second move in the deep stretch to get up for a hard-fought victory in 1:53:2. That makes wins in four of his last seven races, and this last one proves that he can beat even the highest levels of competition with which most claimers couldn’t hope to compete.

Honorable mention on the trotting side goes to: All About Justice (Mike Simons, Gail Wrubel), who found his old form and handled a tough condition class on Saturday night on the front end in 1:54:1; Lindy McDreamy (Tyler Buter, Scott Di Domenico), whose condition win on Wednesday night was his third win in his last four races, with this one matching a career-best in 1:55:2; and Ice Machine (George Napolitano Jr., Walter Carroll), who romped in a condition trot on Wednesday night in 1:53, a new career-best and the fastest trotting time of the week at Pocono.


Long shots were running wild this week, and the biggest bomber of them all was this claiming pacer driven by Matt Kakaley who scored on Saturday night at 47-1 for a $96 win payout on a $2 ticket.


The meet’s leading driver dominated again this week, as exemplified by a seven-win explosion on Saturday night that included wins in both the featured pace and the featured trot.


It was a good week for one of Pocono’s most consistent trainers for the past several years, as Gail scored a double on Saturday and then won with 19-1 shot Thomas John N on Tuesday.

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

Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs Week in Review

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

September 7-13, 2012

Even with only three nights of racing at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in the past week, we still had more than enough candidates to fill out the Weekly Awards. Give credit to the impressive group of pacers and trotters we have on the grounds that have made not just this week at Pocono, but all of 2012, a destination for some of the finest racing in the country.


In Saturday night’s $50,000 Open pace, the seven horses in the field came into the race with earnings of around $12,000,000. Leading that pack of big earners was Foiled Again, an 8-year-old gelding who came into the race with $4.3 million in the bank. Even with that fact, and even considering he won a huge stakes at Mohawk in his last race, the pride of the Ron Burke barn was still the 2-1 third choice behind favorite We Will See and second choice Bettor Sweet, both superstars in their own right.

Leaving from the outside post in the field, driver Matt Kakaley decided to play it conservative with Folied Again, settling him toward the back of the pack as nasty fractions were set on the sloppy track. It wasn’t until the back stretch when horse and driver made their move, and they got a little racing truck when Rockincam stepped out in front of them to give them a bit of cover.

In the stretch, Kakaley had Folied Again out on the wide side with a clear path and only Bettor Sweet standing in his way. The two standouts battled through the lane, but when the dust cleared, Foiled Again was the one who came out in front, just like he had 63 times before in other career victories. His winning time of 1:49:1 was the fastest of the week despite it being achieved in the slop.

Other top pacers this week include: Mr Govianni Fra (Brandon Simpson, Ken Rucker), whose condition win on Friday night in 1:53:1 was his third straight, which is even more notable considering that winning streak immediately followed up 35 straight losses to start his career; Woodmere Ultimate (George Napolitano Jr., PJ Fraley), who rolled to his second straight $25,000 claiming win on Saturday night, this one coming in 1:51:2; and Feeling You (Tyler Buter, Amber Buter), a newcomer to Pocono who captured Tuesday night’s Open pace foe mares in a career-best 1:49:3, just missing a track record in the process.


The winners of over $25,000 lifetime condition is the very best condition grouping at Pocono and often serves as the featured trot for the week, as it did on Saturday night. That means that any horse that conquers that group must not only be pretty talented but it also must be at the top of its game.

Rose Run Hooligan is a 9-year-old stallion who has been at the top of his game for an impressively long amount of time, hence his career earnings which are sneaking up toward the $1 million mark. On Saturday night, the veteran was overlooked at the window at 6-1 despite the fact that we was coming off a win in Canada.

Driver David Miller drove Rose Run Hooligan like he was a prohibitive favorite, however, and the stallion responded. He took the lead early on and was still there at the end to win by 1 ¾ lengths in a slop-defying time of 1:53:1, the fastest trotting time at Pocono this week. At an age when most horses are slowing down or packing it in, this star from the Rene Allard barn seems to be peaking.

Honorable mention on the trotting side this week goes to: Spit N Shine (Joe Pavia Jr., Chris Oakes), who romped to his third straight claiming win on Tuesday night, this one coming in 1:56:2; Grace N Charlie (Anthony Napolitano, James Siegelman), a mare who scored her  second straight claiming victory on Tuesday night in 1:57:2; and Speculation (Tom Jackson, Robert Bath), who followed up a win at Harrah’s with an upset victory in a rugged condition group on Saturday night in 1:54:1.


With a swooping late move, this mare driven by David Ingraham upended a group of younger distaff pacers on Friday night at 35-1, paying off $72 on a $2 win ticket.


Miller always makes an impact when he comes around, as he did on Saturday night, topping all drivers on the card with four victories on the evening.


Fraley has been a major player at Pocono all season long at Pocono, and this week was no different thanks to a training double on Saturday night.

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

Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs Week in Review

Friday, August 31st, 2012

August 24-30, 2012

As the summer months come to a close, it means we’re also drawing close to the end of stakes season at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. It will end with a flourish with the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes championships, featuring some of the best young horses around. Before that, however, some outstanding overnight races took center stage this past week, giving us a bevy of great candidates for the Weekly Awards.


It’s hard to say why fortunes change for the better for some horses at certain times in their careers. Take the interesting case of McSocks, a 4-year-old pacer who came into the season with a modest record of four wins in 30 races. His 2012 campaign was even less impressive for a while, as he entered the month of August with just one victory in 20 starts.

On August 4, he raced against the $25,000 claiming pacing 4-year-olds, a group against which he had finished 5th and 7th in his previous two races. That’s when the proverbial light came on and he went gate-to-wire for a victory in a career-best 1:51. He promptly followed that up with two more wins in front-running fashion against the very same class.

On Saturday night, he joined the Peter Pellegrino barn in his quest for four straight wins against the class. With Tyler Buter in the bike, McSocks once again gunned to the front end and dared everyone to play catch-up. As his foes neared him in the stretch, he found another gear and kicked away to win easily by 2 ¼ lengths, re-setting his career mark in the process with a mile of 1:50:2. He was claimed again, and the new owners just have to hope that the light doesn’t go off as August ends.

Other top pacers this week include: Fall Toy (Joe Pavia Jr., Paul Holzman), who moved up into a new class and joined a new barn but still scored his second straight win on Saturday by beating the $20,000 claimers in a new career-mark of 1:50:2; Rockincam (Brandon Simpson, Nifty Norman), who won the week’s featured pace on Saturday night with a late move in 1:49, the fastest pace at Pocono this week; and Mr Govianni Fra (Matt Kakaley, Ken Rucker), who took 35 races to get his first career win but now has two in a row after his victory on Sunday in 1:54:3.


One of the ways that trots differentiate from paces is that it’s much more common for female horses to compete in the same races with male horses on the trotting side. It’s not a matter of trying to beat the boys so much as it is the best opportunity for mares to make solid money once they move out of the period where they can race for big stakes.

As such, it’s not unusual to see mares like Definitely Mamie take a shot in tough condition trots like the non-winners of $13,000 in the last five grouping that she faced on Sunday night. The five-year-old mare from the Brewer Adams barn has been a very consistent trotter no matter whom she has faced over the past several seasons at Pocono, so she was up for Sunday night’s challenge even though she was considered a  relatively long shot at 9-1.

Driver Joe Pavia Jr. did a nice job of getting a pocket trip for the mare behind the pacesetter. As others faltered, Definitely Mamie revved up for the stretch drive and zipped by to win by a head in 1:53:2, a new career-best. In what has been an excellent career, the victory marked a high point for the mare. She is a force no matter what gender her opponents might be.

Honorable mention on the trotting side goes to: Imperial Count (Howard Parker, Nifty Norman), who topped the field in the week’s featured condition trot in 1:53:2, a new career mark for the 4-year-old gelding; Talladega Hanover (George Napolitano Jr., Dan Walski), who arrived from The Meadows to capture a tough condition trot on Sunday night in 1:54:1, fastest time of his career; and Ginger Tree Jimmy (George Napolitano Jr., Steve Salerno), who switched from the conditions to the claimers for a Saturday night in 1:54:1.


With Greg Merton in the bike, this gelding surprised a group of claiming pacers on Sunday night at 43-1, paying off $88.40 on a $2 win ticket.


Bartlett only makes occasional stops at Pocono, but he often makes his presence felt, as he did on Sunday night by winning the final four races on the card.


Brown had a monster night on Tuesday night in Stallion Series action, as his horses won four of the eight divisions held for 2-year-old colts and geldings on the pace.

That will do it for this week, but feel free to e-mail me at

Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs Week in Review

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

June 15-21, 2012

It’s been an incredible week of racing action at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, one that saw superstar colt Googoo Gaagaa break the world record for 3-year-old trotting colts in the eliminations for the Earl Beal Jr. Memorial on Friday night. We’ll be talking about the finals of that great stakes race in next week’s column. Luckily, there are plenty of other worthy candidates for the Weekly Awards from which to choose.


The life of a talented claimer is a transitory one, since a horse that does well in the claiming ranks usually is highly sought after by other horsemen. When a horse switches barns often, it sometimes takes a toll on its performance. By contrast, Ahead Ofthe Curve appears to be getting better every time he has to pack up and move.

He started his travels and his winning streak with a victory in a $12,500 claiming class on May 12 in 1:52. The 6-year-old gelding was promptly claimed and won in the same class two weeks later in 1:51:1, only to be claimed again. On June 2, he moved up to the $15,000 claimers and set a new career mark in 1:50:4 on his way to his third straight victory.

After yet another claim, he joined the Ken Rucker barn and faced his toughest test yet on Sunday night, a $25,000-$30,000 claiming handicap. Driver Eric Carlson has been the one constant for Ahead Ofthe Curve during his travels, and he was there to guide him on Sunday to his fourth straight victory in 1:51:1. Needless to say, he was claimed once more; considering he’s already at the top of the claiming ladder, maybe the gelding can try his luck against the condition pacers, meaning he might even get to unpack.

Honorable mention on the pacing side goes to: Great Soul (Brandon Simpson trainer and driver), who used a late rally on Sunday for his second straight claiming win in 1:52:3; Twin B Passion (Jason Bartlett, Andrew Adamczyk), a mare who used a late rally to beat the $10,000 claimers on Wednesday night in 1:52:4, her fourth straight win; and Billmar Scooter (Tyler Buter, Amber Buter), who beat the top mares on the grounds for the second straight week on Tuesday, this time in 1:50:2.


Some horses have the ability to be versatile, showing that they can come from off the pace, sit close to the lead, or gun to the front and still be capable of performing well in all of those circumstances. To be frank, Windsun Galaxie has not been one of those horses since arriving at Pocono from Canada in April. The 5-year-old stallion from the Tyler Raymer barn has hustled to the front in every start and let the chips fall where they may.

Such an aggressive style means that it is incumbent on the driver to rate the pace well. Mark MacDonald, a Canadian import himself, has been masterful at just that skill since taking over the reins for Windsun Galaxie two weeks ago. On June 10, he went gate to wire to beat the non-winners of $25,000 in the last five starts condition trotters, a really rugged group, in a career-best 1:52:4.

On Sunday night he was once again up against the best trotters on the grounds, and he was once again sent right to the front by MacDonald. It was another nice rate job, allowing Windsun Galaxie to fight back when challenged in the stretch by pocket horse Flex The Muscle. The result was a thrilling win by a nose in a photo finish, giving him two straight victories and a spot on top of the mountain for all overnight trotters campaigning at Pocono.

Other top trotter this week include: The Lindy Reserve (Matt Kakaley, Frank Antonacci), who followed up a win at Harrah’s by scoring in a condition trot on Friday at Pocono in 1:54, a new career-best; Fox Valley Smarty (George Napolitano Jr., Thomas Stamper), who came from way back to win a claiming handicap trot in 1:54:3 on Tuesday night, his second straight win and third in his last four; and Keenan (Brian Sears, Larry Remmen), who moved up in class Wednesday night and scored his second straight easy win, this time coming in a career-best 1:53:2.


With one big move on the last turn, this mare piloted by Andrew McCarthy got by a field of claiming handicap pacers on Wednesday night at 13-1, paying off $28.60 to win.


Kakaley was on a nice hot streak the past four racing nights. He had double figure victories for the week, highlighted by a four-bagger on Tuesday night.


Rucker has been a consistently effective trainer at Pocono the last few seasons, and he was at it again this week with three wins, including a double on Sunday.

That’s it for this week, but we’ll see you at the track. Feel free to e-mail me at

Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs Week in Review

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

June 1-7, 2012

Even though the summer weather didn’t quite arrive with it, the month of June brought hot racing action to Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. In fact, it was the first week of our new five-night-a-week summer schedule. All of those races mean that the battle for the Weekly Awards was extremely competitive. Let’s see who gets the nod.


This 7-year-old gelding has a name that suggests a slow and steady kind of pacer. Yet he has been anything but that at Pocono the past few weeks. He won back-to-back condition paces on May 16 and May 25, the latter coming in a career-best 1:50:1. Trainer and driver Matt Romano decided to change the scenery for Ol’ Man River and try him out against our toughest claimers for an $18,000 purse on Saturday night.

What has been impressive in the winning streak for Ol’ Man River has been his ability to win in different ways. His versatility has allowed him to win on the front end and from the pocket, and on Saturday night he was forced to sit back off the pace due to blistering early fractions. Romano found some cover for him on the outside, allowing him a clear shot in the stretch.

Ol’ Man River wasn’t about to blow that opportunity. He zipped by his cover to pick up the win in another sizzling mile of 1:50:3. That makes three in a row, meaning that Ol’ Man River is certainly rolling along, albeit in much faster fashion than his name might imply.

Other top pacers this week include: Cinderella Guy (Eric Carlson, Ken Rucker), whose condition win on Saturday night was his third victory in his last four and came in the week’s fastest pacing time of 1:49:3; Ahead Ofthe Curve (Eric Carlson, Paul Holzman), who moved up in class to beat a group of $15,000 claimers on Saturday night, which was his third straight win and came in a career-best time of 1:50:4; and Kel’s Return (George Napolitano Jr., Pierre Paradis), who churned out his third straight claiming win on Sunday night, a victory over $7,500 claimers in 1:51:4.


Each week the best trotters on the Pocono grounds go toe-to-toe in a condition for winners of over $25,000 lifetime. It’s always quite a battle, and the horses pegged to be the favorites often find the target on their backs to be a bit daunting. In this week’s contest, held on Sunday night, the favorite’s mantle was hung on shipper Big Rigs.

The 4-year-old stallion from the barn of trainer Kelly O’Donnell was a top competitor in Open competition at Harrah’s earlier this year and recently finished 4th against a knockout field at the Meadowlands in the $210,000 Cutler Stakes. As a 1-5 favorite on Sunday night, Big Rigs found himself having to come from off the pace and go out wide in the stretch.

Even with those concerns, the stallion was ready to roll once the field straightened out in the stretch. Showing some serious late kick, Big Rigs rolled on by the leaders, winning by a half-length in 1:52:4, easily the fastest trotting time of the week. The win was his 11th career victory, which might not seem like much until you see that his lifetime earnings now stand at $634,436.

Honorable mention on the trotting side goes to: Decolletage (Tom Jackson, Fred Grant), a mare who knocked off the boys in a Friday condition trot and overcame an off-track to post a career-best time of 1:55:1; Four Starz Conway (Brandon Simpson, Peter Pellegrino), who followed up a win at Monticello with a victory at Pocono against the $7,500 claimers in 1:58:4; and Mama Made Me Blue (Brandon Simpson trainer and driver), who moved up in class and matched his career best of 1:54:4 in his second straight condition trotting win on Wednesday night.


This shipper from Yonkers was overlooked in a condition pace on Saturday night to the tune of 23-1, but, with Howard Parker in the bike, he rallied late for the upset, paying off $48.40 on a $2 win ticket.


Jackson has been a factor at Pocono for the better part of a decade, and he’s heating up in 2012, picking up 7 wins this week, including doubles on Friday, Sunday, and Tuesday.


Holzman is a relatively new face on the Pocono scene, but that hasn’t stopped him from racking up the wins, including three more this week with a training double on Saturday night.

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