Game of Claims Finals Recap
We have slowly worked our way into the 2020 season at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, racing just two nights a week throughout the month of February, a much earlier start to the season than normal. But the action hit the ground running, in large part due to the Game of Claims series, a fun late closer affair making its debut at Pocono this year.
Each weekend in February at Pocono, four different groups of claimers met in preliminary legs with the intent of making the high-stakes finals. They were eligible to be claimed in those preliminaries, with the claiming price rising each week to make it more expensive for owners who wanted to jump in late on a hot horse. The finals took place this past Saturday and Sunday. Let’s see who came out on top.
CLAIMING PRICE $15,000 to $20,000 (Final Purse $30,000)
Royal Heart went off as the 9-5 betting favorite after winning his previous leg. He grabbed a pocket seat early behind second choice Horsing Around, who came in with wins in both of his previous Game of Claims races with front-end speed. But Horsing Around couldn’t get away with an easy lead in the Saturday night final, as he was hounded by a first-over effort from Pop’s Romeo.
Even though Horsing Around fended off that effort, it left him vulnerable in the stretch drive. That’s when driver Simon Allard tipped Royal Heart to the outside and he came up strong to win it by a half-length in 1:53:3 over Horsing Around. American Music finished third. Royal Heart moved to two-for-two since joining the Rene Allard barn.
CLAIMING PRICE $25,000 to $30,000 (Final Purse $50,000)
After winning the first two legs of the series, Trente Deo took last week off after being claimed and joining the barn of trainer William Adamczyk. He went off as the 2-1 second choice in Saturday night’s final, with Polak A getting the favorite’s attention at 9-5. Driver Jim Morrill Jr. had Trente Deo in motion first-over pretty early in the mile, but that proved to be the right move when he picked up cover from Classy Hill on the back stretch.
When the rounded the final turn, Trente Deo shrugged off the cover and came charging up at Polak A, who was setting the pace. Trente Deo blew right past Polak A and then held off late kick from What’s Goin On to finish second, with Beach Pro nabbing the show. Trente Deo won by 1 ½ lengths in 1:52:3 to finish a perfect three-for-three in the series.
CLAIMING PRICE $7,500 to $11,000 (Purse: $15,000)
In his back-to-back wins in preliminary legs, Always B Magic benefitted from inside post positions and pocket trips. For the final on Sunday night, he had to leave from post position #5 in a field of nine, still a good spot but a decidedly different look. Tough Mudder set the pace, while driver George Napolitano Jr. decided on a first-over path for Always B Magic, the even-money favorite, when he couldn’t get the pocket.
It was by no means an easy journey for Always B Magic, considering he was parked out for two of the three turns. He eventually wore down Tough Mudder, but Naked City came up strong late after the favorite provided his cover. Always B Magic managed to gut it out to win it by a nose for new trainer Susan Marshall, staying perfect in the series with a winning time of 1:55. Naked City just missed in second while Mystery Island picked up the show.
CLAIMING PRICE $10,000 to $15,000 (Purse: $20,000)
In the preliminary legs of this group, Charger Blue Chip was arguably the top performer, going win, show, win in the three races. Yet he found himself at 9-1 on the odds board in Sunday’s final, primarily because he was saddled with the outside #9 post. Driver Jim Marohn Jr. drove him aggressively, sending him early and retaking the lead from Carmens Best on the front stretch.
A lot of times a speed duel like that would leave a horse vulnerable to closers. And, indeed, Grandpa Don, the 7-5 favorite, came up with a first-over threat. But Marohn kept summoning up reserves of energy from Charger Blue Chip, leaving Grandpa Don and the rest of the field struggling in his wake. Charger Blue Chip, trained by Marc Mosher, came home a 2 ¼-length winner in 1:54:1, with Grandpa Don second and Carmens Best third.
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.