September 14-20, 2012
We had only two nights of live racing this past week at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, so the Weekly Awards will have to take a little hiatus until next week. Instead, I thought we’d play a little game of “Where Are They Now?”
If you’re like me, you’re fascinated by all those shows which reveal the whereabouts of celebrities from yesteryear who haven’t stayed in the limelight. Only in our case, the celebrities are of the four-legged variety, particularly those horses who won the four major stakes races at Pocono this season.
What this little exercise should show is just how good those four horses are and that their moments in the spotlight at Pocono were indicative of the way that they’ve performed at other tracks around the country. It should also show that the MSPD stakes schedule, with its hefty purses attached, now attracts the best of the best in the harness racing world.
Our first major stakes race of the season, the Earl Beal Jr. Memorial Trot for 3-year-olds on June 23, was a coming out party for the amazing Googoo Gaagaa. Up to that point, he had been a regional phenomenon for trainer Richard Hans in his home state of Maryland, but his ridiculous win in 1:50:4 in the Beal seemed to serve notice that he was the best sophomore trotter in the nation.
His skeptics had plenty to crow about when he went off stride in his following starts at Yonkers and The Meadowlands. Hans sent him back to Maryland for a confidence-building win in Maryland, then returned him to the fray to face the best of the best, including Hambletonian champ Market Share, in the Colonial at Harrah’s on August 18. Googoo Gaagaa proved definitively that the Beal was no fluke that day, whipping his competition for a victory in 1:52:1.
On June 30, we witnessed one of the sport’s true superstars as 3-year-old filly pacer American Jewel rolled in the final of the James Lynch Memorial stakes. That put her career record at 12 wins in 14 tries, meaning the filly didn’t know much about defeat. She would find out in her next three starts, hitting the board in consecutive stakes races at The Meadowlands, Tioga, and Harrah’s, but failing to pick up a victory in any of those tough battles.
When you’re a filly with as much talent as American Jewel, the near-misses just aren’t going to cut it. That’s why trainer Jimmy Takter had to be pleased when she righted herself with a win in her last start in Canada in the Simcoe stakes. With that win in tow, she appears to be in prime shape for the upcoming Breeders Crown.
When A Rocknroll Dance headed into the Max Hempt Memorial for 3-year-old pacers at Pocono on June 30, he was in the midst of a slump. As a result, despite an outstanding 2-year-old campaign in 2011, the colt from the Jim Mulinix barn went off as a 17-1 shot. He found his stride that day, however, buzzing by the leaders late to pull off the upset.
Buoyed by his win in the Hempt, the colt has since moved into the upper echelon of 3-year-old pacers in the country. A win in the prestigious Meadowlands Pace solidified that standing, and his victory in the Battle of the Brandywine at Harrah’s in August was one of the signature performances of the racing season.
Has there been a better pacer in the country this year than the amazing Betterthancheddar? Trained by Casie Coleman, the 4-year-old put together a thrilling, front-pacing win in the Ben Franklin free-for-all pace at Pocono on June 30, matching the track’s fastest ever pacing time with a mile of 1:48. Coleman then took him back to Canada for three straight victories.
Betterthancheddar was upset by the great Foiled Again in the Canadian Derby at Mohawk, but he quickly bounced back to beat that horse and other top pacers in the Bobby Quiller Memorial at Harrington on September 17. He has legitimate Horse of the Year aspirations.
So, as you can see, the horses that have made their mark at Pocono have gone on to perform with excellence at their subsequent destinations. Maybe we shouldn’t be asking, “Where are they now?” after all. Maybe the proper question is, “What will they do next?”
That will do it for this week, but we’ll see you at the track. Feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com
September 14-20, 2012