One of the best evenings of the North American harness racing season will take place this Saturday night at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, as a constellation of stars will be after big money on the $2,271,000 Sun Stakes Saturday card.
Three of the races carry purses of $500,000: the Ben Franklin Pace for free-for-allers; the Earl Beal Trot for 3-year-old males; and the Max C. Hempt Pace, also for 3-year-old males. The night will also feature the $300,000 James Lynch Pace for 3-year-old fillies. The horses racing in these four championship events earned their spots by their high finishes in elimination races this past Saturday, on the fastest card in harness racing history, with an average winning time of 1:49.2.
In addition, there will be two $100,000 Invitationals, one on each gait, and consolation races for the 3-year-old pacers who did not earn spots in Saturday's Championships.
Here's a short look at the four "main events,” plus the two Invitationals:
Last week's Franklin eliminations produced two miles in 1:48 or better: 29-1 shot Domethatagain upset defending Pacer of the Year Captaintreacherous in 1:48 in one cut, while Sweet Lou, the FFAer with the hottest current form, won the other event a tick faster.
And that group does not even mention Foiled Again, the richest harness horse of all-time at $6.25 million, who was fourth after the death-like "tuck-then-first-over” trip. Foiled Again got the most-inward draw of all the horses mentioned here, starting from post three for Yannick Gingras. Sweet Lou starts to his immediate right for Ron Pierce, while Domethatagain (driver Simon Allard) moves from post one, which was key to his shocker last week, to post five – which is merely the most winning post at Pocono.
Captaintreacherous is behind the eight ball in the Franklin field, starting one from the outside in the field of nine for driver Tim Tetrick – but remember that "The Captain” overcame post nine last year in heroically winning the Hempt final.
The Franklin final is race 11 on the 16-race card Saturday; the event after that matches the Hambletonian hopefuls together. And if anyone asks you who you might like in here, you can take the easy way out and say "Jimmy Takter,” as the Hall of Fame trainer sent out both Beal elim winners, Nuncio (1:52.2) and Father Patrick (1:52.4), both notching their fourth victories in an unbeaten 2014.
Something will have to give there on Saturday (barring a dead heat), and on post position Nuncio would seem to have a decided edge, starting one from the inside in post two for driver John Campbell, while his stablemate Father Patrick drew one from the outside in the field of nine, post eight, for driver Yannick Gingras.
But Takter has said right along that he thinks Father Patrick could be "one of the greatest trotters of this era,” and with 14 wins in 15 starts, it's hard to disagree with him. (The one horse to beat him, though? Nuncio!)
Race 10 gathers together the 3-year-old male pacers in the Hempt. This division is often called the "glamour division” of the sport (Captaintreacherous used it as a springboard to be the only North American harness horse to earn $2 million during 2013), but throughout much of last year and all of this so far, it has been a division looking for a leader to emerge – something that might happen in the Hempt.
Most impressive in most eyes in the Hempt elims last week was McWicked, who will be starting from post three for driver David Miller. McWicked was used hard during his elim, yet still paced home in hand in 1:48, and a repeat performance might vault him to the top of this group. Sure to be in the argument for supremacy are the other two Hempt elim victors, At Press Time (1:48.2 last week, post five in this field of nine for driver Yannick Gingras) and All Bets Off (1:48.3, post eight, Matt Kakaley).
This group, taking to the track in race 9, is another still searching for its 2014 standardbearer. Up until last week, the obvious choice seemed to be Uffizi Hanover (post one, driver David Miller), who won her Breeders Crown championship last year and recently swept the Fan Hanover Stake in Ontario. But as the favorite last week, Uffizi Hanover was caught late by Cinamony (post six, Corey Callahan), and in the slowest of the three elims to boot – 1:50.3.
The other two eliminations were clocked in 1:49, only a fifth of a second off the divisional world record set by I Luv The Nitelife at Pocono, and both Fancy Desire (post four, George Napolitano Jr.) and Weeper (post eight, Dave Palone) are sure to put in their bids for the section's current crown in the Lynch.
SUN INVITATIONAL TROT
The story here in race eight is Sebastian K S, undefeated in three starts in this country as his formerly Swedish-based trainer Ake Svanstedt transferred his stable to North America over the winter. With wins in 1:50.1, 1:50.2, and 1:50.3 and being one of the most physically-imposing trotters of recent years in the eyes of many followers, Sebastian K S will be the horse to beat, even though he will start from the outside in the field of seven for Svanstedt, also his driver.
Not to go down without a fight is Market Share, the leader of his class the last two years, and the holder of the 1:50.2 record for fastest mile ever trotted on a five-eighths mile track, which he accomplished at Harrah's Philadelphia a month ago. With his main rival outside, and drawing post three for driver Tim Tetrick, Market Share may be ready to take on the current King.
USTA INVITATIONAL PACE
When the Franklin drew only 14 entrants and nine were to go through to the final, a consolation event was not to be in the cards, so Pocono, led by director of racing Rick Kane, scheduled this $100,000 contest for horses who did not make the Franklin final or were not entered last week.
The entire field gathered for Saturday's race 7 has had its moments of glory, but the one of the latest and perhaps greatest one came from Dancin Yankee (post eight, driver Tyler Buter), who at Pocono on May 17 won in 1:47.2 – which put his name next to that of Pet Rock as the authors of the fastest miles ever on a five-eighth mile track. Considering that the average lifetime mark of this field of nine is 1:48.2, Dancin Yankee will have to work hard from his outer draw if he is to revisit Pocono's winners circle.
Post time for the $2.2-plus million Sun Stakes Saturday 16-race card at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs will be 6:30 p.m. (PHHA/Pocono)