“The calendar fades almost all barricades to a pale compromise,” Elvis Costello once sang. I’m not sure if he had the harness racing season in mind when he penned that line, but it’s applicable here. After all, the calendar is slowly closing the door on our 2018 campaign at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, which will come to its completion on Saturday night, November 17.
I know I say this every year, but it is hard to believe that we are at the finish of another meet at Pocono. At the start of the season, when it’s March and the weather is just starting to improve, it can seem like the season is going to go on until infinity. Then you look up, there’s ice on the windshield again, and it’s time to shut her down.
Still, it’s impossible to feel too melancholy about the racing season in the rear view at Pocono. After all, it was one for the books, highlighted by the incredible stakes races throughout the year, yet foundationed (yeah, Dylan used that word, so I can too) by the steady excellence of the overnight races. Each and every racing night had at least one memorable, I’ve-never-seen-that-before kind of moment.
For example, I’m thinking about how an overnight horse named Hurricane Beach stunned us all one night with fractions faster than any of the champions who have raced on the Pocono oval have ever been able to manage. Or the occasional 99-1 and beyond shot that would come out of nowhere to score a win and have us scrambling to do the math.
That’s not to say there weren’t performers who were brilliant just about every time they came out on the Pocono track. For instance:
PACER OF THE YEAR: DORSODURO HANOVER
I remember, when this horse came up just short in the Max Hempt Memorial pace due to a speed duel that sapped his closing kick, thinking that he was due for better things. Boy, was he ever. It seemed like he was winning a stakes race every other week at Pocono in 2018. The two big highlights for the Ron Burke trainee driven by Matt Kakaley: A convincing win in the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes championships for three-year-old colts and then a command performance in the Breeders Crown.
TROTTER OF THE YEAR: HOMICIDE HUNTER
It seems like every year that this Chris Oakes’ trainee comes back, he gets a little better. And he was spectacular to begin with. In a year that saw him break a record that many thought was unbreakable (Sebastian K’s fastest trotting time ever), Old Double H made Pocono his personal stomping grounds. He dominated in the Great Northeastern Open Series throughout the summer, winning the final in a romp. That was just the appetizer for his rallying win in the Breeders Crown, with, fittingly, George Napolitano Jr. in the bike.
CLAIMER OF THE YEAR: IDEAL KISS
There were plenty of horses this year who ran off big winning streaks in the claiming ranks at Pocono, pacers and trotters alike. I chose Ideal Kiss because he managed his success, for the most part, at the absolute top rungs of the claiming ladder. Not to mention the fact that he often succeeded from outside post positions in claiming handicaps and while switching barns practically every week. His consistency in the face of all this was simply stunning.
MARE OF THE YEAR: ECLIPSE ME
Again, a lot of great candidates here, as the distaff divisions were crowded with standout performers. Yet this Rene Allard trainee gets the call for her ability to rise to the occasion time and again against extremely difficult competition. She usually managed her victories coming from off the pace, which certainly adds to the degree of difficulty. It seems like each and every year a Simon Allard/Rene Allard horse wins one of these things, so it’s no surprise to see it happen in 2018.
The driving and training categories are still technically in the wind as we head through the closing nights, but for the most part, it’s in the bag for George Napolitano Jr. (yet again) in terms of driving wins and UDRS and Rene Allard (also yet again in training wins.) Special congratulations go to Hunter Oakes, who appears on his way to a UDRS training title in his first full season as a conditioner. In a community of trainers and drivers as balanced and competitive as the one Pocono possesses, these performers certainly deserve special recognition for coming out on top.
And that should just about do it from here. As always, it has been a privilege to compile these articles for you each week and, of course, to call the races at Pocono. It is a gig that I cherish more with each passing year, and I am eternally grateful for my co-workers who do all the tough stuff so I can sit in my booth and let the action unfold in front of me.
Finally, one more time for 2018, I want to thank the Pocono faithful, the best fans in the sport of harness racing. I hope your off-season is a happy and healthy one, and I’m looking forward to seeing you all again in 2019.
That will do it for this year at Pocono, but we’ll see you at the track. Feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.