Pocono Downs hosts bevy of eliminations

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Ted Black

June 23rd, 2016

This Saturday evening Pocono Downs in Pennsylvania will host a bevy of eliminations for trotters and pacers as many of the best standardbreds of both gaits will look to earn a berth in next weekend's quartet of lucrative finals that will undoubtedly provide some early fireworks on the track in the midst of July 4 weekend.

Saturday's third race is the first of two eliminations of the Max Hempt Memorial for three-year-old pacing colts. The Hempt, which was formerly known as the Williams E. Miller Memorial when it was contested at Rosecroft Raceway in Maryland, has become a genuine fixture for the top sophomores in the land over the past decade and this year's group - despite the absence of North America Cup winner Betting Line - is superb.

In fact, two of the top contenders in the first Ma Hempt elim competed in the North America Cup final last weekend at Mohawk Raceway in Canada. Boston Red Rocks settled for fourth in the final after winning his elim the week before, while Control The Moment finished third, beaten five lengths, but was used hard early in the mile and still lasted for a generous portion. JK Will Power, a recent Pennsylvania Sire Stakes winner at Harrah's Philadelphia, will make his presence known.

Then two races later in the second Max Hempt elim, both Racing Hill and Big Top Hanover exit the North America Cup. Racing Hill, who made a belated break in the NA Cup elim, finished a solid second to Betting Line in the final and looms a serious contender in this spot. Big Top Hanover was one of the sport's top juveniles last fall. Although this Ron Burke trainee has yet to duplicate that form, he has ample back class and should find a spot in the final. Western Fame has lots of ability and should be able to get involved despite any outside draw.

Then one race later in the first James Lynch Memorial elimination for three-year-old pacing fillies, Shezarealdeal (John Campbell) will make her second start of the year for trainer Ross Croghan and should be poised to make a trip to the final, while I Said Diamonds and Newborn Sassy also loom serious contenders in this split. Newborn Sassy exited the Fan Hanover where she raced well for trainer Joann Looney-King.

Then two races later in the second Lynch elim, much of the focus will be on Pure Country, last year's champion two-year-old pacing filly champ and heroine of last week's Fan Hanover final at Mohawk for trainer Jimmy Takter. Pure Country typically saves her best work for the finals, but she should work out a trip that gets her through the elim. Darlinonthebeach, who handed Pure Country the first defeat of her career last month, was second in the Fan Hanover and should earn a spot in the Lynch final.

Saturday's ninth race at Pocono is the second of two elims for the Earl Beal, Jr., Memorial for three-year-old colt trotters and the race has a genuine standout. Southwind Frank, the future book favorite for the Grade I, $1 million Hambletonian at the Meadowlands in August, looms as the odds-on favorite despite his outside draw. Both Love Matters and Bar Hopping have plenty of ability, but Southwind Frank is clearly the horse to beat in this spot and in next week's final as well.

Saturday's 10th, 11th and 12th races are the three eliminations for the Ben Franklin for older pacers and sparks will be flying throughout that hour of competition, which will set the stage for a sensational final.

The first of the three Ben Franklin elims features reigning horse of the year, Wiggle It Jiggleit (Montrell Teague) who has won seven of 10 starts this year, including victories in the Graduate at Tioga Downs in 1:48.1 and the Battle of Lake Erie at Northfield Park in 1:49.4. Wiggle It Jiggleit is currently the top horse in the Hambletonian Society Top 10 poll and he will be difficult to topple in this elim and then again in next week's final.

One race later in the second Ben Franklin elim, Always B Miki - who got three first-place votes in the latest poll - will top a stellar field that includes Mel Mara, Mach It So, All Bets Off and Rockin Ron. Always B Miki won the Mohawk Gold Cup last weekend in 1:47.1, but Mel Mara beat him two starts back at the Meadowlands. Mach It So is no stranger to competing in these events and boasts a win in last year's Bobby Quillen Memorial at Harrington Raceway. Burke trainees All Bets Off and Rockin Ron have shown plenty of ability all season.

Then in the third Ben Franklin elim, Freaky Feet Pete, a winner four times in five starts this year and 28 of 32 overall, will look to rejoin the upper echelon of this division when he heads a group that includes Limelight Beach, Buhwacker, Sunfire Blue Chip and In The Arsenal. Only three horses from each elim will advance to the final, so even those pacers capable of eclipsing the 1:49 barrier at this oval may be watching the action from their respective barns next weekend.