August 31-September 6, 2012
We’re going to put the Weekly Awards on hiatus this week, because I’d like to devote all of the space I have in this column to the thrilling action that took place last Saturday on Pennsylvania Championship night. With four Pennsylvania Sire Stakes races, each with a purse of $200,000 up for grabs, you can bet the action was frenzied, furious, and fast. Very, very fast.
For those of you who might be unaware of how it works, two and three-year-old horses compete all summer long in tracks across the state, amassing points based on their performances in the Sire Stakes preliminary legs. Those horses with the highest point totals them move on the big-money finals, where they get a chance to take home the winner’s share of the huge purse and claim bragging rights as best in the state.
On Saturday night, we at Pocono were honored to host the three-year-old finals, and each one of the four races was memorable in its way, either for a standout performance or a thrilling conclusion.
The action started out with the trotting fillies, where one of the sport’s true superstars had a chance to strut her stuff. Check Me Out, trained by Ray Schnittker, headed into Saturday night’s final with a gaudy record of 22 wins in 26 career races and over $1.63 million dollars in her bank account. Schnittker did the driving as well and had one mission: Send his filly to the front and let her roll.
The result was one of the most mesmerizing performances in Pocono history. Check Me Out powered to the front on the first turn and stayed there all the way home to win by 1 ¼ lengths in 1:51:3. Not only did that race set a track record, it set a world record for a 3-year-old trotting filly on any size track. Considering Pocono is a three turn track and other longer-distance tracks require only two turns, that is an accomplishment that is almost beyond comprehension.
If Check Me Out warmed things up, Economy Terror set the track ablaze in the pacing fillies class. Then again, it shouldn’t have surprised us that this powerhouse from the Chris Oakes barn would be ready to perform on Pennsylvania Championship night. Last year at this time, she came home a winner in the 2-year-old pacing fillies class in world record fashion shortly before she won the Breeders Crown in her division.
With that kind of history, driver Dave Palone knew that he needed just to get the filly to the lead and then let her do the rest. After setting scorching fractions to the top of the stretch, Economy Terror kicked away from her foes to a romping five-length victory over some of the best fillies in the country. The winning time of 1:49 was, you guessed it, a new world record for any 3-year-old filly on a 5/8-mile oval. Now that’s how you defend a title.
The male half of the championship races didn’t produce any world records, but they did produce great finishes and deserving winners. In the 3-year-old trotting colts and geldings division, My MVP was the even-money favorite, and driver Mike LaChance drove him like one by sending him to the front. Yet it wasn’t an easy lead, as he had to work hard to clear and then faced a first-over challenge from Solvato.
Watching it all from the pocket was Magic Tonight, a colt from the Noel Daley barn. The patience of driver Eric Goodell paid off, as Magic Tonight got his chance in the stretch and snuck past the tiring favorite for the victory by a half-length in 1:54.
All that was left was the 3-year-old pacing colts and geldings, and Sweet Lou had the racing history that suggested that he would defend his title much like Economy Terror did earlier in the night. Dapper Dude had some other ideas. The colt from the Bob McIntosh barn had been performing pretty well himself in the 2012 season, and he raced unafraid against the heavy favorite.
Give credit to driver Jim Morrill Jr., who did some nifty weaving in and out of traffic to get Dapper Dude perched right behind Sweet Lou at the top of the stretch. From there, it was no contest, as Dapper Dude blew by to win going away by 3 ½ lengths in 1:49.
It was a fitting end to a great night of harness racing at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, and yet another example of why nothing tops the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes in terms of racing excitement.
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.
August 31-September 6, 2012