July 13 to July 19, 2019
The Weekly Awards returns after a bit of a hiatus to our coverage of the harness racing action at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. While we took a break from chronicling the overnight action to put a focus on some big stakes races at Pocono, there were many outstanding performances that might have made the cut. We’re back to it this week, with many horses deserving of the honors but only a precious few lucky enough to be awarded them.
PACER OF THE WEEK: SLIPIN SKIP
If you think that claimers are somehow inferior to condition pacers and trotters, you need to watch the action a little bit more closely. It’s not uncommon at Pocono for claimers to put up times that would actually be comparable with Open competition. Such was the effort put together on Saturday night by Slipin Skip, a five-year-old gelding new to the Hunter Oakes barn following a claim from his previous start.
Since arriving at Pocono on June 23, Slipin Skip had won two of his three races with identical winning times of 1:50:4. His lone loss in that span came when he moved up into the $30,000 to $40,000 claiming handicap pacing group, a hard-luck second by a neck. He moved back up into that class on Saturday night and went off as a 2-5 favorite from post position #4 in a field of nine. Driver Dave Palone was aggressive with the favorite, sending him after the lead in a spirited three-way battle on the first turn.
Slipin Skip was able to win that duel. The fractions that he set from that point were not for the faint of heart. Yet he wasn’t able to shale Rock The Town, who came into the race having won three of his las four in the same class. It came down to Slipin Skip and Rock The Town, with Slipin Skip holding up well in the lane to win it by a length. The winning time of 1:48:4 was not just a career-best, but it was also the fastest time by anyone at the track over the past racing week, yet another impressive notch in the belt of Slipin Skip on his own and of Pocono claimers as a whole.
Other top pacers this week included: Duel In The Sun (George Napolitano Jr., Hunter Oakes), who rolled to his third straight claiming victory on Sunday night, getting it done in 1:51:3; Always At My Place (Jim Morrill Jr., Ron Burke), the decorated veteran making his way back up the condition ladder after scoring his second straight win on Saturday night, this one in 1:50; and Blue Ivy (Tyler Buter, Chris Oakes), a three-year-old filly who captured her second straight condition pace on Sunday night, winning in 1:50:4.
TROTTER OF THE WEEK: NOBLE PRIZE
The nature of the victory that Noble Prize managed in his previous race on July 8 didn’t engender much confidence from the bettors at Pocono. In that race, he made a first-over move just as the pacesetter pretty much stopped on the back stretch. Noble Prize built a big lead, which he held onto for the win at 20-1 in 1:55. Maybe that’s why he was let go at 8-1 odds on Monday, despite the fact that he was facing a field very similar to the one he just beat in a $15,000 to $20,000 claiming handicap.
Leaving from post position #6 in a field of nine with George Napolitano Jr. in the bike, Noble Prize, a five-year-old gelding trained by Lou Pena, sat back early while the 4-5 favorite High Blue set the pace. Once again Napolitano decided on a first-over trip for his horse, only this time the leader did not falter. Instead, High Blue stood his ground on the back stretch as Noble Prize battled with him. To win this one, Noble Prize would have to earn it without any help from a faltering horse.
And, as it turns out, that’s just what he did. High Blue finally relented in ths stretch, while Noble Prize handily held off any pursuit from the closers to pick up the victory by a 1 ¼ over Keystone Sergeant. His winning time of 1:54:4 was a career-best, making the triumph even more special. Those who have believed in Noble Prize the last few weeks are likely counting their winnings right now. My guess is he’ll have a lot more folks on his bandwagon next time around.
Honorable mention on the trotting side this week goes to: Such An Angel (Matt Kakaley, Hunter Oakes), who scored a win in Sunday night’s featured condition trot in 1:51:3, a new career-best which matched the fastest trotting time posted at Pocono this season; Very Very Fast (Tim Tetrick, Jennifer Bongiorno), who lived up to his name with a condition won on Sunday night in a career-best 1:52:2; and Let’a Be Honest (Simon Allard, Lou Pena), who followed up a win at Harrah’s with a claiming handicap victory on Tuesday afternoon at Pocono in 1:56:1.
LONG SHOT OF THE WEEK: ARCH CREDIT
Nobody saw this gelding coming in a condition trot on Monday’s card, but, with Kyle Di Benedetto in the bike, he upset the field at 46-1 to pay off $95.80 on a $2 wager.
DRIVER OF THE WEEK: JIM MORRILL JR.
Jim made the most out of his one-off appearance on Saturday night at Pocono, leading all drivers with five victories out of 14 on the program.
TRAINER OF THE WEEK: RON BURKE
Burke flexed his training muscle during Pennsylvania All-Stars action this week, as his trainees won five of the eight total divisions held for two-year-old pacers on the weekend.
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.