Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs Week in Review Oct. 14-20, 2011

2011-10-20

Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs Week in Review
October 14-20, 2011
A few weeks back in this column, I celebrated the immense variety of driving talent on display this season at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. On Saturday night, it was sort of a one-stop shopping event for patrons to witness that talent, as the best of Pocono‘s drivers faced off against the top helmsmen from The Meadows in the East Meets West Pennsylvania Driving Challenge.
The way it worked was this:  Over a series of nine races on Saturday night’s program that were specially selected for the event, each of the nine drivers in the Challenge got one race in which he was allowed to choose the horse he wished to pilot. The other horses and drivers would be matched up in a blind draw. For each finish, points were awarded, such as 50 for 1st place, 25 for 2nd, and so on.
And what were they playing for, Johnny? Well these nine talented gentlemen were competing for the biggest share of a $50,000 bonus offered for the event. They also showed their character by agreeing to donate a portion of their winnings on the night to a pair of worthy charitable causes, The Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure and Marley’s Mission.
The combatants:  Representing the Meadows were Dave Palone, Brett Miller, Eric Ledford and Tony Hall. And for the home team, it was George Napolitano Jr., Matt Kakaley, Mike Simons, Joe Pavia Jr., and Tyler Buter. Any fan of racing can tell from that lineup what kind of talent was at the track. And, despite the guys’ reminders that it was all in fun, it didn’t take too long for the competitive spirit to kick in.
It was Miller who struck first with a victory aboard condition trotter Kristal Dream in frontrunning fashion. Pocono drivers struck back in the next two races with Tyler Buter and Mike Simons churning out victories, but Miller, thanks to a second-place finish in the race won by Simons and Four Starz Twins, was able to maintain his points lead.
Dave Palone took over the middle portion of the action with wins in two of the next three races. What made the wins extra impressive were that they came aboard a pair of pacers, I’m An Eyre NZ and The Maniac, who came into the night without a victory in the 2011. Sandwiched in between those two wins was another victory for Miller, this time with Thee Town Here, which kept Palone’s rush for the lead at bay.
Wins by George Napolitano Jr. and Joe Pavia Jr. in the next two races moved them up in the standings but also ensured that no one but Miller, who still held the lead, or Palone, a close second, would have a chance for overall honors on the night. It came down to a $7,500 claiming pace which served as The Challenge’s grand finale.
Palone, needing a win, tried a valiant first-over move aboard Art Glass. Though the gelding gave a great effort, all he could do was wear down the pacesetter, Life Of Ease. Meanwhile, lurking just behind the speed duel was a gelding named Satire, driven by, you guessed it, Brett Miller. Miller guided him home for the win and clinched the Challenge in style.
In the nine races in the Challenge, Miller drover three winners, two second-place finishers, and a third-place horse. Palone held on for second in the final tally, while Mike Simons led the Pocono contingent, finishing third overall.
Does the Challenge ultimately prove anything about the merits of these drivers? Not really. In the sample size of one night, there are so many variables that can have as much of an effect as the drivers, such as the post position, the quality of the horses, and just plain old stupid luck. As a good example, Tony Hall finished last on this night, but, facing many of same drivers in a similar event four years ago, came out on top. If we had the challenge 100 times, all nine of these guys would come up with their fair share of wins.
About the only sure thing on this night is that Brett Miller was a little better than the rest. That had to be a good feeling for him, considering that he suffered a nasty on-track accident at MSPD just a few months ago that left him out of action for a while. Based on Saturday night, I guess you can say there are no lingering effects.
And while there was a lot of good-natured ribbing among the drivers concerning the rivalry between the tracks (and, for the record, The Meadows drivers outperformed the Pocono drivers on this night), the true winners were the fans and the charities involved. Here’s hoping that we can make this Challenge a yearly thing and watch these outstanding drivers duke it out each and every season.
That’s it for this week, but we’ll see you at the track. Feel free to e-mail me at jbeviglia@mohegansunpocono.com.