Highlights galore as Pocono closes 2019 season
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n the closing night of the 2019 season at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, there were many highlights, with champions both human and equine honored.
But stealing the show was 23-year-old provisional driver Sofia Zingale, who picked a dramatic circumstance in which to record her first-ever sulky victory – in the final $15,000 Billings Amateur Driving Series Eastern Championship.
Zingale looked like a seasoned pro behind the veteran Muscles Yankee gelding Inukchuck Chuck, racing him second-over behind Jacks To Open after Wygant Prince went past early leader and favorite Fiji and put up fractions of :27.4 and :58 in 27-degree temperatures. The pacesetter and first-over went at it past the 1:28 three-quarters and through the turn, with Fiji waiting for the Pocono Pike.
But Zingale tipped Inukchuck Chuck three-wide and got the trotter to rally strongly to win by 2¼ lengths over Fiji, sending Zingale to Victory Lane for the first time in a sulky (she has a 1-for-3 record in Racing Under Saddle events). Inukchuck Chuck is trained by Nick Surick for owner Clifford Grundy.
Even veteran Billings promoter John Manzi was unsure if the "lightly-raced" Zingale had a "Billings nickname" yet. Since this victory propels her to eligibility for the $25,000 Billings Eastern Gold Cup next Saturday at Yonkers, maybe Sofia "What A Time For A First Win!" Zingale may be appropriate.
Another trotter in the limelight at Pocono Saturday was the four-year-old Explosive Matter gelding Rich And Miserable, who formed a four-race win streak here that propelled him on to being a force in the continental free-for-all trotting ranks. Named the Trotter of the Year at Pocono, Rich And Miserable posted a 6-5-1-0-$113,750 scorecard locally, highlighted by his victory over 2017 Horse of the Year Hannelore Hanover in the $100,000 Great Northeast Open Series Championship. Rich And Miserable is owned by Buter Farms Inc., Lynette Buter, and William and Carol Fuhs, trained by Todd Buter and driven in all of his Pocono starts by Tyler Buter.
The $17,500 closing night featured pace was, fittingly enough, to the Pocono Pacer of the Year and Claimer of the Year Atta Boy Dan, who overcame first-over to catch favored pacesetter American Prime Time by a neck in 1:51. Driven by Simon Allard for trainer Pete Pellegrino for owner Stephen Larkin, the ten-year-old Western Terror gelding won for the 19th time this year, one off the top figure in North America, and pushed his 2019 earnings to $203,090; the lifetime parallel numbers are 71 victories and $946,692.
Four claims on closing night brought the seasonal total for the 134 cards to 483 horses changing hands, for a total value of $9,465,025. (Atta Boy Dan accounted for 17 claims and $670,000 himself.)
Finally, George Napolitano Jr. was honored as he continued his unprecedented dominance of the driving ranks in the 54-season history of the Downs. His seasonal sulky statistics were 1437-337-205-188-.357, which earned him his eighth straight win title and 13th overall, and his sixth consecutive UDR crown and 11th overall, which George adds to the five Pocono training titles he has won.