June 29-July 5, 2012
When I first heard that we at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs were going to be hosting not one, not two, but three major stakes races in a single day, I immediately thought back to the last time we had that kind of star-packed card, the 2010 Breeders Crown. While 3 stakes races can’t quite match up to the 12 we had that October night two years ago, the excitement and star power at the track was comparable.
It also helped that the conditions for Sun Stakes Saturday on June 30 were ideal for racing. There was even a track record matched before we got to all the six-figure races, as 5-year-old claimer Hrubys N Luck, trained by Cad Gregory and driven by George Napolitano Jr., paced to a victory in 1:48:2, matching the mark set by Pilgrims Toner for aged pacing geldings back in 2010.
With that sizzling mile as the appetizer, the three-part main course began in Race 8 with the James M. Lynch Memorial, a $250,000 stakes race for 3-year-old pacing fillies. The star attraction in that race was a filly named American Jewel, who came into the race with wins in 11 of her 13 lifetime races. One of those wins came in the Lynch elimination in a world-record matching time of 1:49:2, so it wasn’t too surprising that the gem of the Jimmy Takter barn was made the heaviest kind of favorite at 1-9.
Her foes were out to derail what the bettors thought was inevitable, and, as a result, American Jewel was forced to make a first-over move from the middle of the back on the back stretch. Such moves are treacherous, but this filly is special for a reason. Despite a good fight from pacesetter Economy Terror and a late challenge from Darena Hanover, driver Tim Tetrick was able to coax home American Ideal in 1:49:2, matching her world record time for 3-year-old pacing fillies on a 5/8 oval. I’ve been lucky enough to see some great fillies come through Pocono, including Southwind Tempo and See You At Peelers; American Ideal can go toe to toe with them all.
Remember how I said that a first-over journey can be perilous? 3-5 favorite Hurrikane Kingcole found that out the hard way in the $300,000 Max C. Hempt memorial for 3-year-old pacers. After matching a world record in winning his Hempt elimination the previous week, Hurrikane Kingcole tried to sweep by pacesetter Bolt The Duer on the back stretch in the final, but the leader wasn’t having any of it.
Meanwhile, sitting patiently about two lengths off the lead on the inside was A Rocknroll Dance. After a spectacular 2-year-old season which saw him earn a big chunk of change, this colt from the Jim Mullinix barn struggled early in 2012, winning just one of his first five races. As a result, he was somewhat overlooked at the betting windows and got away at 17-1.
On the final turn, driver Yannick Gingras saw a crack of daylight and wheeled A Rocknroll Dance to the outside. After saving ground the whole mile, he was full of pace and zipped by the tiring leaders to score a thrilling victory in 1:48:3. Some of the racing luck that had frowned on this colt in his earlier starts smiled on him on Saturday, but give him credit for being good enough to take advantage of it.
All that was left after that was the $500,000 Ben Franklin Pace, one of the nation’s premier showcases for older pacing talent being held for the first time ever at Pocono. Talk about a loaded field: Out of nine horses in the field, five had already earned at least a million dollars in their career.
Yet the 6-5 favorite was the youngest of them all, 4-year-old stallion Betterthancheddar. Pocono fans remember him from his win in the Cane Pace last year. His 2012 season heading into the Franklin final was just as impressive, as he had posted wins in four of five against superb competition for trainer Casie Coleman.
Driver George Brennan rolled the dice with Betterthancheddar, sending him on a first-over journey on the front stretch in an attempt to get the lead. We Will See was reluctant to give up his lead, and, as a result, the favorite was used hard before clearing for the lead. In the stretch, We Will See came back at him in the passing lane, but Betterthancheddar showed his mettle by holding off his rival by three-quarters of a length.
When the dust settled and the timer stopped, all in attendance saw what a special mile this was. Betterthancheddar paced the mile in an incredible time of 1:48, which matched the fastest time ever paced on a 5/8-mile oval in the history of the sport.
Such a command performance was truly extraordinary, and yet it was the only fitting way to close out such a memorable night of racing. Maybe it wasn’t 12 stakes races, but Sun Stakes Saturday was pretty spectacular in its own right, and, hopefully, a tradition in the making.
That will do it for this week, but we’ll see you at the track. Feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
June 29-July 5, 2012