May 25 to May 31, 2019
What is it about Sunday nights? In a weird coincidence, the last four Sunday night programs at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono featured a good chunk of the races going off in sloppy conditions. And that means that we’ve seen a lot of very wet stakes races taking place. That hasn’t dampened the action in any way, however, as we’ve seen some outstanding performances, both in the stakes and the overnight races. Here is a look at the top performers from the week gone by as we hand out the Weekly Awards.
PACER OF THE WEEK: HITMAN HILL
Even though he comes from one of the most successful barns on the grounds and was a big earner as a three-year-old last season, this gelding has been a bit underestimated at Pocono this year. He won a pair of $17,500 condition paces earlier in the meet and wasn’t favored in either. On Saturday night he faced the $21,500 condition group in the feature and was let go at 7-1. In this case, the long odds were maybe more understandable, because the four-year-old gelding from the Chris Oakes barn finished 7th in the same class a week ago.
On Saturday night, Hitman Hill left from post position #3 in a field of six. The favorite was the decorated veteran pacer Rockin Ron, who went off as 6-5 in an effort to add his $1.6 million in career purse money. Rockin Ron grabbed the early lead, but driver Hunter Oakes positioned Hitman Hill in a good spot in the pocket right behind the leader. Meanwhile, Rockin Ron had to deal with a strong first-over charge from Lyons Steel on the back stretch.
That speed duel might have softened Rockin Ron up a bit, especially when he had to pace a :26:4 for the third quarter to keep the lead. It all played right into the hands of Hitman Hill, who shook free from the pocket in the home stretch once Lyons Steel faded out of it. Hitman Hill powered home and right past Rockin Ron to win it by a neck. Talk about consistency: All three of his wins in the meet so far at Pocono have come at the same time of 1:50:1 that he posted on Saturday night.
Other top pacers this week include: Gallery Opening (Simon Allard, Rene Alllard), who ticked off his second straight claiming handicap victory on Saturday night, getting it done this time in a career-best 1:51; Demi Hill (George Napolitano Jr., Chris Oakes), a three-year-old filly who moved up in class on Sunday night and won her second straight, this one in a time of 1:54:1 in the slop; and Reclamation (Matt Kakaley, Ron Burke), who picked up her second straight win against the feature distaff pacers at Pocono on Tuesday in a career-best 1:50, giving her five straight wins overall.
TROTTER OF THE WEEK: RICH AND MISERABLE
This four-year-old gelding trained by Todd Buter faced a $21,500 condition trotting class on Sunday night. Since it was the first race of the night and the heavy rain hadn’t yet begun, the race was contested on a track listed in a good condition. The betting attention went to Top Expectations, a mare who had won her first three races of the year at Yonkers. But Rich And Miserable had a three-race winning streak on the line himself, with two of the wins at Yonkers sandwiched around a victory at Pocono against non-winners of seven.
On Sunday night, Rich And Miserable left from the outside post in a field of six as a 7-1 shot. Top Expectations grabbed the early lead while Rich And Miserable stayed back in fifth. When he began to move up first-over, it looked like he might get some cover to help him on his move to the front. But that cover never came, forcing driver Tyler Buter to go after the leader. As they rounded the final turn, Top Expectations and Rich And Miserable were locked in an intense battle.
That continued through the lane, with neither horse giving way. It appeared that Top Expectations might shrug off her foe late, but Rich And Miserable simply refused to lose. In the final strides, he pulled out in front, wearing down the game Top Expectations to win it by a head. The winning time of 1:52:4 was a new career-best for the gelding and also marked the fastest trotting time of the week at Pocono, despite the fact that it occurred on an off-track.
Honorable mention on the trotting side goes to: Optimist Blue Chip (Anthony Napolitano, Antonia Storer), who moved up the condition ladder to score his second straight condition win on Saturday night, this one in 1:53:3; Asiago (George Napolitano Jr., Per Engblom), who managed the fastest winning time among three Pennsylvania Sire Stakes for three-year-olds on Sunday Night, scoring in 1:55:2 in the slop; and Keystone Abbey (George Napolitano Jr., Christopher Beaver), who stayed perfect in Stallion Series races this year by winning her third straight on Sunday night in the slop in 1:57:1.
LONG SHOT OF THE WEEK: CELEBRITY BIANCA
This trotting filly’s maiden victory came as a bit of a surprise to the betting public, as she handled a condition field on Monday afternoon at 41-1, paying off $84.40 on a $2-win ticket.
DRIVER OF THE WEEK: ERIC GOODELL
Goodell tends to step up when the competition is at its toughest, as evidenced by his five combined wins amidst all the top races on Saturday and Sunday night.
TRAINER OF THE WEEK: MIKE WATSON
Watson picked up a pair of training wins with pacers this week, scoring on Saturday night with Wagon Master fresh off a claim and then winning on Tuesday with mare Bye Bye Michelle.
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.