Big Super Stakes Saturday card at Pocono
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This Saturday evening, the $2,279,500 Super Stakes Saturday card at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono should go a long way towards the "pecking order" in the three major groups of three-year-olds featured in the main events: the Battle of the Brandywine for colt pacers, the Colonial for colt trotters, and the Valley Forge for filly pacers.
The format of these stakes calls for the top money-winners to gathered together in the "marquee event" for their divisions, with the group with the next-highest bankrolls to meet in a "Consolation I" event and, for the colts, then on down to a "Consolation II" event. The fillies did not have enough entrants to have a full field at a Consolation II level, so they will have two events, the $350,000 Valley Forge Pace as race 11 and the $150,000 Valley Forge Consolation I as race 7. Both gaits of colts will have three events: the $500,000 Colonial Trot as race 12, the $200,000 Consolation I in race 8 and the $100,000 Consolation II in race 4; working on the same purse structure as the Colonial events, the Battle of the Brandywine will be the 13th of 14 races at The Downs on Saturday, with its Consolation I as race 9 and its Consolation II as a race 5.
Here's a look at the competition in each of these top sophomore stakes, followed by a preview of the three $50,000 Invitationals interspersed throughout the blockbuster Saturday card.
BATTLE OF THE BRANDYWINE (3PC; stakes record 1:47.4, Sunshine Beach, 2013, Pocono)
A "Big Three" of horses generally thought at the head of this class has emerged over the last two months, and they will all be meeting at "The Battle" on Saturday, the first time they have gone head-to-head-to-head since the final of The North America Cup Final at Mohawk on June 18.
The winner that night in Ontario was Betting Line, a son of Bettor's Delight who is trained by Casey Coleman for the partnership of West Wins Stable, Christine Calhoun, and Mac Nichol. Since the NA Cup win, a 1:47.4 triumph which still stands as the fastest clocking of the year by a 3YO, Betting Line has tacked on four victories to bring his current skein to eight: three Ontario Sire Stakes Gold events, and then a first venturing across the U.S. border last week in the Milstein Memorial at Northfield, where the colt overcame an off track and the briefest of skips in stride near the ¾ to be a clear winner. Betting Line drew post one in the nine-horse Battle field on Saturday, with hot-driving Hall of Famer David Miller again scheduled to be in the colt's sulky.
Another member of the "Ohio Miller clan," Brett Miller, is set to drive Racing Hill, a son of Roll With Joe who is trained by Tony Alagna for owner Tom Hill. Racing Hill last competed on July 30 at The Meadows in the Adios Final, where he went a race that will be long-remembered, especially by Pennsylvanians: parked most of the way to the half over "sloppy" going in 52.1, believed to be the fastest half-mile clocking ever posted on a 5/8-mile track, Racing Hill showed his courage by drawing away from his opposition despite his strength-sapping opening half. Racing Hill was second in the North America Cup Final, beaten only a length despite having to make two moves, and took the Hempt Final right at Pocono, so he certainly figures to be highly-competitive Saturday.
The third member of "The Big Three" is Control The Moment, a son of Well Said trained by Brad Maxwell for the "hometown" (Philadelphia's only 100 miles away) Control The Moment Stable. This colt has had hard luck at post draws on several occasions -- he was third in the North America Cup Final from post nine and then a parked-the-mile fourth in the Hempt Final from post eight – but he then beat Racing Hill by a nose in the Meadowlands Pace Final, and his last race was a win in the Cane Pace at The Meadowlands. Unfortunately, his penchant for poor luck at post draw time returned for the "Battle," as he will start "behind the eight ball" for driver Brian Sears.
Last year's two-year-old champion Boston Red Rocks is in the Battle field, as is Check Six, the Pennsylvania Classic Final winner at Pocono, third in the Meadowlands Pace Final and second in the Adios Final after arguing viciously with Racing Hill early.
The entire field (post, horse, driver, trainer): 1, Betting Line, David Miller, Casie Coleman; 2, Boston Red Rocks, Tim Tetrick, Steve Elliott; 3, Racing Hill, Brett Miller, Tony Alagna; 4, Another Daily Copy, Corey Callahan, Nicholas Devita; 5, Check Six, Yannick Gingras, Ron Burke; 6, Western Fame, Mark MacDonald, Jimmy Takter; 7, JK Will Power, David Miller also listed, Ron Burke; 8, Control The Moment, Brian Sears, Brad Maxwell; 9, Big Top Hanover, Gingras also named, Ron Burke.
COLONIAL (3TC; stakes record 1:52.1, Googoo Gaagaa, 2012, Philly)
The two horses separated by a nose at the wire in the Hambletonian Final – Marion Marauder and Southwind Frank – will draw much of the attention, will several other top contenders appearing ready to step up if those two do not bring their "A" game.
Marion Marauder got the nod on Hambletonian Day for driver Scott Zeron, trainer Paula Wellwood, and owners Marion Wellwood and Devin Keeling, taking both his elimination and the final to run his current winning streak to five. The son of Muscle Hill, known for his devastating late kick, drew post two in Saturday's field of nine, but does have one unknown fact about him: he has never raced on a track size below the 7/8-milers on his home circuit of Mohawk/Woodbine.
Southwind Frank, last year's two-year-old champion and the winner of the Beal Final at Pocono earlier this year, will begin from post six for driver Yannick Gingras, trainer Ron Burke, and Southwind Frank Partners. Another son of Muscle Hill, Southwind Frank won 11 of 12 races at two, and this year he has five wins and three seconds in 8 starts – with the margins of defeat a nose, a neck, and a half-length. This consistency, along with his arsenal of available tactics, should again make him a difficult customer in the Colonial.
But by no means do the major players stop there. There's Bar Hopping, who won his Hambo elim and actually was the favorite in the final, where he was beaten less than two lengths; Dayson, like Southwind Frank a Ron Burke trainee, a 14-time winner over two years who has never lost when he stayed flat; and Sutton, who posted the fastest time in this division in 2016, 1:51.2, in a qualifier, and who was third, just a neck off, in the Hambo Final.
The entire field (post, horse, driver, trainer): 1, Dayson, David Miller, Ron Burke; 2, Marion Marauder, Scott Zeron, Paula Wellwood; 3, Milligan's School, David Miller also listed, Julie Miller (she and husband Andy are from the Illinois Millers, not the Ohio Millers); 4, Hititoutofthepark, Corey Callahan, John Butenschoen; 5, Love Matters, Yannick Gingras listed, Jimmy Takter; 6, Southwind Frank, Gingras also listed and likely to drive, Ron Burke; 7, Sutton, Andy Miller, Julie Miller; 8, Bar Hopping, Tim Tetrick, Jimmy Takter; 9, Waitlifter K, Matt Kakaley, Andrew Harris.
(An interesting sidelight to the Colonial: in the "big race" and consolations, there are a total of nine entrants, including Hititoutofthepark and Love Matters, who are scheduled to compete Tuesday afternoon in a Pennsylvania Sire Stake at The Meadows.)
VALLEY FORGE (3PF; stakes record 1:48.4, I Luv The Nitelife, 2013, Pocono)
After a slowish start to her 2016 season – anything would seem "slowish" after you go ten for ten as a two-year-old and are voted national champion – the Somebeachsomewhere filly Pure Country roared back to top form with five straight wins, including the Fan Hanover Final and Lynch Final, against her division's best. Trainer Jimmy Takter then tried her twice against "the boys," and she did quite nicely: a fourth in the Cane Pace, nosed out of third, and then a second to Betting Hill in the Milstein.
Welcome back to the filly ranks, Pure Country! But here's the catch – you drew the extreme outside in the nine-horse field. However, the Diamond Creek Racing-owned filly has faced – and overcome – adversity many times in the past, and Brett Miller will be in charge of finding a way to get her to the winners circle on Saturday.
Trying their best to stand in her way will be the likes of Blue Moon Stride and I Said Diamonds, second to Pure Country in the Lynch Final and Miss Pennsylvania Final, respectively, at Pocono; Darlinonthebeach, a two-time winner against Pure Country (the only horses who can make that statement); and the "new kid on the block," Kiss Me Onthebeach, who had never been better than third in a stake during 17 career starts prior to racing in a PA Sire Stakes at Pocono last Saturday – where she proceeded to win in 1:48.3, a divisional world record, knocking a tick off the mark set by I Luv The Nitelife in winning this race in 2013.
The entire field (post, horse, driver, trainer): 1, Call Me Queen Be, Scott Zeron, Ross Croghan; 2, Lindwood Beachgirl, Yannick Gingras, Mark Steacy; 3, Kiss Me Onthebeach, John Campbell, Chris Ryder; 4, JK Fannie, Corey Callahan, Nancy Johansson; 5, Shezarealdeal, Marcus Miller (an Illinois Miller), Ross Croghan; 6, Darlinonthebeach, David Miller, Nancy Johansson; 7, Blue Moon Stride, Andrew McCarthy, Mark Harder; 8, I Said Diamonds, George Napolitano Jr., Matias Ruiz; 9, Pure Country, Brett Miller, Jimmy Takter.
The $50,000 Hanover Shoe Farms Mares Invitational Pace is first up in race 3, with Divine Caroline, last year's 3PF champion, squaring off against Anndrovette, four-time divisional champion, and Katie Said, who came from eleventh at the stretch call to finish third in the Lady Liberty at The Meadowlands in her last start. One could make a logical case for many of the starters in this field, which collectively has won over $8 million.
The $50,000 Sebastian K Invitational Trot, named of course after the great horse who went the fastest trotting mile ever, 1:49, right here at Pocono, has attracted a talented group who also hs earned in excess of $8 million collectively, and has a sub-1:50 trot in JL Cruze, who was divisional champion last year. Shake It Cerry, the mare who was 2014's Trotter of the Year, is in sharpening form, but the one to beat in race 6 may be Obrigado, not off the board in 10 starts this year against the division's best, with four wins and $435,430 to his name in 2016.
The $50,000 Pennsylvania Harness Horsemen's Association Invitational Pace, slotted just before the "big three races" in race 10, features the likes of Luck Be Withyou, 2013 Breeders Crown Final winner and 2015 Franklin Final winner over the track; Always At My Place, who went a world record 1:47.2 mile in this very race one year ago; and Mel Mara, fastest of all of this field this year when winning in 1:47, just a tick off the all-time race record.
First post for Saturday's superstar card at The Downs is set for 6:30 p.m. A release with driver changes and morning lines will be distributed tomorrow (Tuesday) afternoon. (Pocono/PHHA)