June 30-July 6, 2018
Harness racing is a fascinating sport, in large part because of its unpredictability. Coming into Sun Stakes Saturday at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, we previewed the races and focused on the horses that seemed likely to dominate the action. By the time the dust cleared on Saturday night, only one of the four races went even remotely how all of those previews expected it go. And we weren’t alone: The races also flummoxed the betting public, as just one of the four huge stakes races on the card went to a favorite.
More than that though, the biggest names on the program, for the most part, struggled, while some new, unsung heroes stepped up in their wake. As we take a look back at the four finals from Saturday while keeping a watchful eye on the horizon and the Breeders Crown at Pocono in October, it all comes back down to a powerful lesson: In this sport, nobody knows anything.
$300,000 JAMES M LYNCH MEMORIAL PACE (Three-year-old fillies)
The favorite in this race was Sidewalk Dancer, who was coming off a hard-luck loss in the eliminations but stood to enjoy a much better post position in the final. Kissin In The Sand, who had beaten Sidewalk Dancer the week before, was saddled with an outside post this time around. Meanwhile Youaremycandygirl, the defending division champion, seemed ready for a big mile on the front end following her own elimination win. Kissin In The Sand did indeed get the worst of it, parked the entire mile outside of pacesetting Youaremycandygirl. But driver Scott Zeron made the best of it, keeping Kissin In The Sand afloat somehow until she surged past Youaremycandygirl to win it by a neck for trainer Nancy Johansson in a career-best 1:49.3
$500,000 MAX C. HEMPT MEMORIAL PACE (Three-year-olds)
Lather Up came into the final looking absolutely unbeatable. Winner of his first seven starts on the year, including a triumph in the lucrative North America Cup and a waltz in the previous week’s eliminations, he was bet down to odds-on. For whatever reason, he just never fired, starting in the middle of the pack, stalling out on a first-over attempt, and even eventually going off stride. That didn’t stop the others in the field for going after the huge purse with everything they had. Dorsoduro Hanover set a nasty pace, leading to the closers coming into the picture. The best of those closers was Springsteen, overlooked at 15-1 despite an impressive record and despite coming from the Rene Allard barn. With Simon Allard in the bike, he glided around the tiring leaders late to win in a career-best 1:48.3. Glory days, indeed.
$500,000 BEN FRANKLIN PACE (Free-For-All)
McWicked was attempting to become the first horse in history to win both the Hempt and the Franklin, all the more impressive because of the four years elapsed between his Hempt win as a three-year-old. The pride of the Casie Coleman barn has been stellar this year, even when in defeat, and he conjured up a second-over trip in the final as the 3-5 choice. The one thing that didn’t go according to plan for the seven-year-old stallion was a pace that was rather tepid. Under normal circumstances, that would make it difficult for a horse coming from off the pace. But McWicked is good enough to overcome such circumstances. When driver Brian Sears called on him for more, he blitzed the leaders and hustled home for the victory in 1:49.3, securing the Hempt-Franklin Daily Double in the process.
$500,000 EARL BEAL JR MEMORIAL TROT (Three-year-olds)
This race was billed as one where something had to give. Mission Accepted came in from Ohio to win an elimination and stood four-for-four this year. Six Pack, a New York invader, trumped that with seven straight wins dating to last season. And then there was Manchego, the superstar filly unbeaten after 15 career races and trying to beat the boys. It turned out that they all gave. The late-trotting style of Mission Accepted didn’t suit a race where there were soft fractions. Meanwhile Six Pack, who grabbed the early lead, and Manchego, who came first-over, weakened each other. Manchego’s winning streak went up in flames when she went off-stride, Six Pack wearied, and Crystal Fashion, driven by Tim Tetrick and trained by Jim Campbell, showed them all how it was done by rallying from the pocket to win in 1:51.4
It was another thrilling Sun Stakes Saturday, even if it didn’t turn out as quite expected. The surprising results only make the divisions involved more interesting as we head towards the many more stakes races ahead, both at Pocono and elsewhere.
That will do it for this week at Pocono, but we’ll see you at the track. Feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.