March 22-28, 2014
The 2014 season at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs began under sunny skies and comfortable temperatures last Saturday night, a nice break from the bitter cold that has enveloped the area for so long. Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday got downright frigid once again, but nothing dampened the enthusiasm for the start of the campaign. As we will all season long in this space, let’s take some time to honor the best performances by horses, drivers, and trainers in the past seven days by handing out the Weekly Awards.
PACER OF THE WEEK: EIGHTEEN
Although there weren’t any Open paces on the card this week at Pocono, there were several top-flight condition paces which produced seriously rapid times, especially on Saturday night when the weather cooperated. Still, times under 1:50 in the month of March are rare, especially for horses who go into a race at odds of 12-1.
That’s exactly what the 6-year-old stallion Eighteen was facing as he stared down a condition field of non-winners of $30,000 in the last four starts on Saturday night. Trained by Mark Ford, Eighteen had been testing himself against some of the tougher condition pacers at the half-mile oval at Yonkers prior to his arrival at Pocono. He was certainly ready to pounce from behind when the fractions got hot and heavy.
In the stretch, driver Mark MacDonald called on Eighteen for a rally, and he responded with some major late kick. When the dust cleared, the son of Cam’s Card Shark blew by all of the horses who got more attention at the windows with little problem, tripping the timer at a stunning 1:49:3. It was a new career mark for Eighteen, and an early, imposing standard for the rest of the pacers on the grounds to try and match.
Other top pacers this week include: Blatantly Good (Brett Miller, PJ Fraley), who controlled a condition field on Saturday night for a victory in 1:49:4; He’s A Beachboy (George Napolitano Jr., Gilbert Garcia-Herrera), who followed up back-to-back wins at Freehold with a win over a claiming handicap field on Saturday night in 1:52; and Shark Fantasy (Matt Kakaley, Ron Burke), whose win Saturday night in 1:52:3 against other three and four-year-old pacers in the Bobby Weiss series was his third straight overall.
TROTTER OF THE WEEK: MODERN FAMILY
While the pacing side had no invitation/open-style races on tap this week, we were fortunate enough to witness a $25,000 Preferred Handicap on the trotting side on Saturday night. As expected, it was a stellar field drawn to the big purse, led by Modern Family, the 5-year-old stallion who is the pride of the Daryl Bier barn.
Bier also drives Modern Family and has led his horse through a gauntlet early in the season, taking on the very best trotters at the Meadowlands and Dover Downs. Yet he hasn’t been the least bit intimidated; in six starts this year he had been in the money every time, including a pair of wins. With that kind of track record, it was no surprise he was made the 4-5 favorite on Saturday night in a rugged field of nine.
Bier worked out a pocket trip behind pacesetting Daylon Magician, setting it up for a stretch battle. That’s when Modern Family delivered the winning blow, wheeling on by for a one-length victory in a time of 1:52:1 that would have been worthy of praise in the middle of summer, let alone on March 22. It made for a great start to the trotting season, which, based on this early evidence, should be quite captivating in 2014.
Honorable mention on the trotting side goes to: First Aqua (George Napolitano Jr., Gilberto Garcia-Herrera), who dominated a field of claiming handicap trotters on Tuesday night to the tune of a career-best time of 1:53:3; Ray Hall (Tim Tetrick, Mark Harder), who won Sunday night in the first leg of the Bobby Weiss series for young trotting colts, stallions, and geldings in 1:55:3, the fastest time of the three divisions held that night; and Perfect Alliance (Andy Miller, Julie Miller), a mare whose romping win in the Weiss series on Wednesday night in 1:54 was her sixth in six tries this season.
LONG SHOT OF THE WEEK: APPLEY EVER AFTER
This pacer rallied late in Saturday night’s final race with Aaron Byron driving to send the fans home stunned, since he was a 25-1 long shot and paid off $52 on a $2 win ticket.
DRIVER OF THE WEEK: MATT KAKALEY
In an ever-growing driving community, one of our regulars stood out right off the bat. Kakaley became the first driver to chalk up a five-win night in the 2014 season, achieving the feat on Tuesday night.
TRAINER OF THE WEEK: GILBERTO GARCIA-HERRERA
Garcia-Herrera ended last year on a tear at Pocono, and he picked it up quickly, nabbing two wins on Saturday night on his way to four for the week.
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.
March 22-28, 2014