September 19-25, 2014
Racing at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs has geared down somewhat in terms of quantity, as the schedule now features three live nights per week. But the quality hasn’t let down a bit, as evidenced by a Saturday night card that included no pacing miles slower than 1:50:2 and no trotting miles slower than 1:54. We even had a world-record performance, which, of course, stands out among this edition of the Weekly Awards.
PACER OF THE WEEK: BIGTOWN HERO
This 6-year-old gelding was struggling with the upper reaches of the pacing ranks when he was last here in June, but he’s been performing well since then at other tracks, winning three of his last five races. The last four of those races came after he switched barns to be trained by Rene Allard, Pocono’s leading trainer, including a come-from-behind win in an Open Handicap in his last race at Yonkers as a 7-1 shot.
His confidence sufficiently boosted, he returned to Pocono to compete on Saturday night in a Preferred Handicap pace for a purse of $25,000. It was a stacked field, including star veteran Golden Receiver and Dancin Yankee, who had owned the oval at Pocono in his previous appearances in 2014. But driver Ron Pierce drove Bigtown Hero as if there were no other horses on the track, sending him to the front for a huge lead as each fraction ticked off proved more impressive than the one before.
In the stretch, Bigtown Hero began to slow ever so slightly. It was a good thing the lead he built up was so substantial, because Dancin Yankee and Aslan came closing at him fast. Pierce urged him home for a half-length victory in a stunning time of 1:47:3. That broke the world record for aged gelding pacers on a 5/8-mile oval, which was set last June at Pocono by Foiled Again and then matched by Abelard Hanover.
Other top pacers this week include: Ring Warrior (Matt Kakaley, Brewer Adams), a colt who followed up four consecutive wins at Ocean Downs with a victory at Pocono in a condition pace on Tuesday night in a career-best 1:54; Cherokee Hunter (Simon Allard, Rene Allard) whose condition win on Tuesday night was his second straight and came in a career-best time of 1:52:1; and Wake Up Peter (Tyler Buter, Larry Remmen), who scorched a condition pacing group on Saturday night in 1:49:2.
TROTTER OF THE WEEK: SEVRUGA
Not all slumps are created equal. To wit, consider the struggles Sevruga had been having in the summer months. Last year he earned nearly $500,000 facing the best trotters around, and the highlight of his season was a world-record performance at Pocono with a win in 1:50:3. But he had come up empty for three months straight in terms of wins heading into Saturday night’s $25,000 Preferred trot.
In his last three races at Pocono, all against the most rugged trotters on the grounds, Sevruga, a 6-year-old gelding trained by Kevin Carr, had hit the board every time and had lost by just a neck in the last two. On Saturday night, he enjoyed his first quality post position in more than a month and took advantage of it, breezing to the front early with George Napolitano Jr. in the bike.
Things were by no means easy from that point, as Wind Of The North put up a sustained first-over challenge to the lead. But Sevruga had been rated well enough early in the race that he was able to dig deep in the final strides and win by a nose in a rapid 1:52:1. Maybe it wasn’t fair to say that Sevruga was in a slump considering the quality of his competition and the multiple near-misses, but it is fair to say that his losing streak is history and a lengthy winning streak might just be in the offing.
Honorable mention on the trotting side goes to: Tui (Anthony Napolitan, Don Wiest), a Pocono fan-favorite mare who scored her first win of the season on Saturday night in a tough condition group in 1:53:1; A Cool Million (George Napolitano Jr., Gilberto Garcia-Herrera), a mare who moved up her claiming price and won her second straight race on Tuesday night, doing so in a career-best 1:54; and Fortunista (George Napolitano Jr., Gilberto Garcia-Herrera), a mare who beat the boys in a tough condition group on Saturday night in a career-best 1:53:1.
LONG SHOT OF THE WEEK: TRANSCENDING
An outside post and long odds didn’t bother this veteran pacer as he came from out of the clouds late to shock a condition field on Saturday night at 49-1, paying off an even $100 on a $2 win ticket.
DRIVER OF THE WEEK: RON PIERCE
Pierce had it grooving on Saturday night, winning four consecutive races on the card, all in gate-to-wire fashion, a streak that culminated with the world-record win by Bigtown Hero.
TRAINER OF THE WEEK: JOE PAVIA JR.
Joe still does such a great job as a catch driver that his training abilities can sometimes be taken for granted, but a training double on Wednesday night put them front and center.
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.
September 19-25, 2014