June 24-30, 2017
The preliminaries are out of the way. This Saturday, July 1, the faithful at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono will get to witness the main event. Or events, as the case may be, as Sun Stakes Saturday will feature four races with huge stakes attached to them, pushing the night’s purses well over $2 million total.
This past Saturday, the eliminations were held, and it was an interesting set of races. Drivers on the top horses had to decide how much effort they asked from their charges. On the one hand, a tired horse in the final is no good to anyone. On the other, a horse that’s held back and then doesn’t make the final is a disappointment.
Here is how the eliminations played out, followed by a primer on what to expect on Saturday night. The outcomes may be unknowable until the races are run, but we can say for sure that it will be an exceptional night of racing.
BEN FRANKLIN PACE for aged pacers
The only favorite to win out of the three eliminations was Mel Mara, who paced the fastest time of the night on the front end in 1:48:4. There were surprises in the other two divisions. While Freaky Feet Pete faded from the lead in his first start of the year and race favorite McWicked was boxed in, Keystone Velocity, trained by Rene Allard and driven by Simon Allard, both Pocono regulars, rallied for the victory. Dealt A Winner was a convincing winner in the remaining elimination, beating heavy favorite Boston Red Rocks by 3 ½ lengths. At least Boston Red Rocks is headed to the final; big names like Freaky Feet Pete, Luck Be Withyou, and McWicked all failed to qualify.
EARL BEAL JR. MEMORIAL TROT for three-year-old trotters
The big news here is that Ariana G, the only filly competing against the male trotters, easily won her split as a 1-9 favorite. Meadowlands invader Long Tom also won as the favorite in his split, meaning that he and Ariana G will compete in the final as 2017 unbeatens, both three-for-three this year. Although Driver Yannick Gingras will likely stick with Ariana G in the final, he also pulled off a surprise in the remaining division with Perfect Spirit, who staged a furious rally on the inside to upend favorite Devious Man at 23-1.
MAX C. HEMPT MEMORIAL PACE for three-year-old pacers
Fear The Dragon received all the betting attention in his elimination, which was understandable considering he hadn’t lost in six races this year and was coming off a win in the North American Cup at Mohawk. But Miso Fast, with Matt Kakaley in the bike for Ron Burke, had other ideas and blitzed Fear The Dragon with a first-over move to win at 11-1. Although Fear The Dragon reaches the final, he goes in knowing that his archrival Downbytheseaside put in perhaps the most impressive performance of the evening. Despite being parked around two turns, the colt trained by Brian Brown battled his way to a victory in a sizzling 1:49:2 with Brain Sears in the bike. The remaining division belonged to the longshots, with 21-1 Santafe’s Coach, driven by Pocono regular Anthony Napolitano, picking up a late-kicking win over 29-1 Ozone Blue Chip in second.
JAMES M. LYNCH MEMORIAL PACE for three-year-old pacing fillies
This was the one set of races where form held, as favorites won all three splits, all on the front end. Tequila Monday, trained by Chris Oakes, bounced back from a disappointing loss in the Fan Hanover Stakes at Mohawk by delivering on the front end in 1:50:4, the fastest of the three winning times from the Lynch eliminations. Meanwhile Bettor’s Up, who had pulled off the upset win in the Fan Hanover, settled for second on Saturday night behind Agent Q, the filly she nosed out for the win in Canada. Brazuca, driven by Corey Callahan for trainer Tom Cancelliere, stayed unbeaten in three starts this year with a rock-solid win in her split.
What to look for in the finals:
BEN FRANKLIN: Mel Mara might be the one to beat but will need a good post for his front-pacing style. He’ll have some powerful competition, especially from Keystone Velocity, who is once again showing the form that made him the Levy champion at Yonkers this year.
EARL BEAL: Ariana G is far and away the best trotting filly in the land, so she’s seeking out the boys for a true challenge. She’ll get just that from Long Tom.
MAX HEMPT: Will Downbytheseaside be in less than top form after his huge effort on Saturday? Can Fear The Dragon shake off his first loss? Is Miso Fast for real and at the same level as the other two?
JAMES LYNCH: Tequila Monday was favored in the Fan Hanover and will have the chance to exact revenge on Bettor’s Up and Agent Q, the two fillies who beat her in that race. Meanwhile Brazuca looks for her fourth consecutive win against the toughest competition she’s yet faced.
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 24-30, 2017