Pocono card lived up to billing

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Ted Black

July 4th, 2016

It may have only marked the midway point of the harness racing season, but Saturday nights card at Pocono Downs  will likely have a lasting impact regarding division honors.

Highlighting the card were four lucrative finals worth nearly $2 million and a trio of consolations worth $75,000 each. The consolations served as the opening act, while the finals provided onlookers with numerous memorable performances. Throughout the course of the night, however, a strong inside bias developed and horses racing overland journeys had no chances of rallying in the lane regardless of the fractions.

In the first of the four finals, Pure Country (Brett Miller) lived up to her role as the tepid 7-5 favorite in the $300,000 James Lynch Memorial final for three-year-old filly pacers when she outlasted a late surge from Blue Moon Stride to score in 1:49.2. A sophomore daughter of Somebeachsomewhere, Pure Country has now won four of seven starts this year and banked over $500,000 and last year's champion two-year-old filly pacer is well on her well to another division crown and now boasts 14 wins in 17 career outings and nearly $1.2 million banked along the way.

One race later on the card, Racing Hill (Brett Miller) lived up to his role as the 3-5 favorite in the $500,000 Max Hempt Memorial for three-year-old colt pacers and solidified his status as the second-best sophomore in the land behind Betting Line, who beat him in the North America Up. Racing Hill gained command soon after the opener and set the tempo from there and rebuffed the first over bid of Control The Moment and then held safe longshot JK Will Power (Yannick Gingras) to score in 1:49.

A three-year-old Roll With Joe colt trained by Tony Alagna for owner-breeder Tim Hill of England, Racing Hill now owns a 2-3-1 slate and $450,000 bankroll from six starts this year and boasts a solid 7-3-3 slate and $580,000 banked from 16 lifetime tries. He will likely get a chance at avenging his earlier setback to Betting Line in the upcoming Meadowlands Pace.

Then one race later in the $500,000 Ben Franklin final for older pacers, arguably the most anticipated race of the year, Always B Miki (David Miller) brushed to command passing the grandstands the first time, shook off a stout first over bid from reigning horse of the year and eventual 4-5 favorite, Wiggle It Jiggleit (Montrell Teague) through torrid fractions and then held safe Freaky Feet Pete (Trace Tetrick) for a length victory in 1:47.

Always B Miki had won his elim one week earlier in the exact same clocking, the fastest mile ever recorded on a five-eighths mile oval and the second-fastest race mile on any track in the sport's history. Wiggle It Jiggleit had won his elim in 1:48.1, while Freaky Feet Pete had prevailed handily in 1:47.1. Saturday night's Ben Franklin marked the first time the 'big three' had ever gone postward in the same event. Wiggle It Jiggleit and Freaky Feet Pete had faced each other on four other occasions and split them.

When the gate folded in the Ben Franklin final, Wiggle It Jiggleit displayed the best early speed and led the way into the far turn the first time, but Freak Feet Pete bypassed a two-hole tuck and brushed to command. Always B Miki had been reluctant to start quickly in recent weeks, but driver David Miller understood the bias that had developed on this night and sent the five-year-old stallion on an extended brush bid to gain command before the finish line the first time.

When Always B Miki cleared to the top, Wiggle It Jiggleit had little choice but to abdicate the three-hole and make a brush bid before the half. But Always B Miki was not about to let the reigning horse of the year regain the advantage and those two dueled for command down the backside and by three-quarters in 1:19.2, with Freaky Feet Pete tucked comfortably in the pocket and Mel Mara eager to leave the four hole. The other portion of the outer flow had nothing to offer.

At the top of the lane, Always B Miki shook loose gradually from Wiggle It Jiggleit and then held safe Freaky Feet Pete for a length victory in 1:47. The five-year-old Always A Virgin stallion trained by Takter has won five of seven starts this year and banked over $340,000 along the way and he will likely supplant Wiggle It Jiggleit atop the Hambletonian Society Top 10 Poll when the results of the balloting are revealed on Tuesday afternoon.

Freaky Feet Pete raced well in defeat, only his second loss in five starts this year. This four-year-old Rockin Image stallion trained by Larry Rheinheimer has won 29 of 34 career outings and banked roughly $1.35 million and should remain in the top five in the poll. Wiggle It Jiggleit was game in defeat while settling for third and probably should not drop too far in the polls while suffering his fourth setback in 12 outings this year and only his eighth in 39 career tries.

Then one race later in the $500,000 Earl Beal, Jr. Memorial for three-year-old colt trotters, Southwind Frank (Gingras) regained his winning ways when he brushed to command past the finish line the first time and simply cruised home three lengths clear in 1:52.4. A three-year-old Muscle Hill colt trained by Ron Burke, Southwind Frank has won three of four starts this year and 14 of 16 career outings and looms as the solid future book favorite to capture the Grade I, $1 million Hambletonian in August.

In a trio of consolation events earlier on the card, Call Me Queen Be (Scott Zeron) regained her winning ways with a sharp 1:50.3 score in the $50,000 James Lynch consolation. This Ross Croghan trainee has now won three of six starts this year and banked nearly $100,000 and she sports  solid 7-4-2 slate and $380,000 banked from 16 lifetime tries. Milligan's School (Andy Miller) forged a 9-1 upset in the $75,000 Earl Beal, Jr. Memorial consolation by getting the mile in 1:53.2, while Luck Be Withyou uncorked a wicked 1:47.4 score to take the Ben Franklin consolation.

That same evening at Yonkers Raceway, Mach It So ended a brief three-race skid when he quarter moved to command and cruised to a handy 1:51 score as the 2-5 favorite in the $45,000 Open Handicap. Last year's Bobby Quillen Memorial hero at Harrington Raceway in Delaware, Mach It So now owns five wins and $143,000 banked from 12 starts this year and sports 30 wins and over $1.4 million banked from 77 career tries.

That same evening at Northfield Park near Cleveland, Obrigado (Mark MacDonald) lived up to his role as the 3-5 favorite in the Cleveland Trotting Classic when he romped home seven lengths clear in 1:53.2. One race earlier on the card, Scott Rocks drew clear from the ageless Foiled Again to capture the $20,000 Open in 1:50.4.