Pocono Downs hosts lucrative Saturday night card

Profile Picture: Ted Black

Ted Black

August 17th, 2016

While many thoroughbred racing enthusiasts are eagerly looking forward to Saturday evening's Grade I, $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar where defending champion Beholder will take on the boys including California Chrome and Dortmund, many standardbred fans are anticipating the stellar card at Pocono Downs that night.

Among the races on the card are the $500,000 Battle Of The Brandywine for three-year-old pacing colts, the $500,000 Colonial for three-year-old colt trotters and the $350,000 Valley Forge for three-year-old filly pacers. All three races also have supporting events dubbed consolations and worth considerably less, but they will offer those owners and trainers a chance to earn a portion of the spotlight on the undercard.

The penultimate race on the Saturday night card at Pocono Downs is the $500,000 Battle Of The Brandywine, one of the sport's premier events for three-year-old colt pacers. Typically the 'Battle' needs little introduction, but this year the race has attracted the three best sophomore pacers in the land - Betting Line, Racing Hill and Control The Moment. This will be the first time all three have appeared in the same event since they finished one-two-three in that order in the $780,000 North America Cup final at Mohawk Raceway.

Betting Line (David Miller) brings an eight-race win streak into the Battle Of The Brandywine , including a victory in last week's $300,000 Milstein Memorial at Northfield Park near Cleveland on a night when he made a break while first over and appeared to impede trailing horses. But Betting Line drew clear in the lane after getting back on stride and he survived a brief inquiry to be tabbed as the official winner. He has won eight of nine starts this year and over $720,000 for trainer Casie Coleman and owners West Wins Stable and Christina Calhoun.

Two spots to his outside is Racing Hill (Brett Miller), who has won four of five starts since finishing second to Betting Line in the North America Cup, including a sharp, three-length score in 1:48.4 in the $400,000 Adios at the Meadows and a 1:49 tally in the $500,000 Max Hempt Memorial final over this oval in early July. His lone setback since the North America Cup was a narrow nose defeat to Control The Moment in the $730,000 Meadowlands Pace and he arrives with a solid 4-4-1 slate and $840,000 bankroll from just nine starts this year for trainer Tony Alagna.

Speaking of Control The Moment (Brian Sears) the Meadowlands Pace and Cane Pace winner appears to be in peak form after a slow start to the campaign. This sophomore son of Well Said trained by Bradley Maxwell has won his last three starts since Sears took over the reigns for Randy Waples, who guided Control The Moment to an unenviable parked-the-mile trip in the Hempt final in which he faded to fourth. His last three wins have come in handy fashion at the Meadowlands, so we shall see how well he adjusts back to the five-eighths mile oval at Pocono.

Betting Line, Racing Hill and Control The Moment certainly comprise 'the big three' among sophomore pacing colts this year, but six others, including three trained by Ron Burke, are looking to play the spoiler role. Of course, if either Betting Line, Racing Hill or Control The Moment prevails - something most onlookers predict is the expected result - then that colt will certainly claim the top spot in the division leading up to the Little Brown Jug, Messenger Stakes and Breeders Crown. The champion won't be crowned until after those races are contested.

Joining the 'big three' in this event are two talented colts looking to regain their freshman form. Boston Red Rocks (Tim Tetrick) emerged last fall by winning a pair of major stakes and four of nine outings overall to bank $580,000 and garner the title of champion two-year-old colt pacer. But this year the sophomore son of Rocknroll Hanover trained by Steve Elliott has won only twice in 10 starts this year and failed three times at 1-5 or less. He arrives on a six-race skid and scratched sick out of the Milstein last weekend.

Starting from post nine on the far outside is Big Top Hanover (Yannick Gingras), one of the Burke trainees who has been among the bigger disappointments this spring and summer. Last year Big Top Hanover posted a solid 4-3-3 slate and banked over $450,000 as one of the best freshman pacing colts in the land, but this weekend he will head into the 'Battle' winless in 13 starts with earnings of less one-third of what he made last season. He has earned a berth in finals for the Adios, Hempt and North America Cup but failed to earn a check in either of them.

Another Burke trainee, Check Six, has been the dominant force in the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes events and he has performed well in various open stakes finals for Burke. He sports a 6-3-1 slate and $625,000 bankroll from 13 starts this year and finished second in the Adios final and third in the Meadowlands Pace final. Check Six would have to improve somewhat to crack the triple, but he drew post five and has enough gate speed to make his presence known early.

Another Burke trainee, JK Will Power, has also fared well in PASS and garnered minor spoils in various open events, but he appears a notch below the top trio. Another Daily Copy (Corey Callahan) and Western Fame (Mark Macdonald) will both be longshots at post time in this event.

One race earlier on the card the sport's top three-year-old colt trotters will go postward in the $500,000 Colonial, an event that would have easily earned top billing on any other occasion.The Colonial includes the top six finishers from the Grade I, $1 million Hambletonian final at the Meadowlands two weeks ago.

Following a humbling campaign at age two when he won just once in 13 starts but banked over $280,000, Marion Marauder (Scott Zeron) has emerged as one of the top two three-year-old colt trotters in the land. Trained by Paula Wellwood for her mother, Marion Wellwood, Marion Marauder has won six of seven starts this year and banked $730,000, topped by a gritty, first over victory in the Hambo. The Muscle Hill colt stands at the head of the class right now, but his hold on the top spot is tenuous at best.

After a dominant freshman campaign, Southwind Frank (Gingras) appeared well on his way to the sophomore title after winning the $500,000 Earl Beal, Jr. final at Pocono Downs then the Stanley Dancer Memorial and the Reynolds Memorial at the Meadowlands. The Ron Burke trainee appeared on target for the Hambo crown, but he was edged in both the elim and the final by Marion Marauder, racing much better in the final than he did in the elim.

Southwind Frank sports a 5-3-0 slate and $660,000 bankroll from eight starts this year and he owns 16 wins and $1.4 million banked from 20 lifetime outings. This Burke trainee already owns a sharp score over the oval and his early speed will give him a tactical advantage over Marion Marauder in this spot. But the Colonial is anything but a match race.

Bar Hopping (Tetrick) appeared to be the 'now horse' when he won his Hambo elim by five lengths in 1:51.4 for trainer Jimmy Takter and was made the even-money choice for the final despite the presence of Southwind Frank and Marion Marauder. Bar Hopping brushed to command down the backside and led the field to the top of the stretch before wilting under the first over pressure provided by Marion Marauder and then faded to fifth at the line. He rallied to get third in the Beal final from post nine, but he gets post eight for this spot and may have to leave from there.

Sutton (Andy Miller) rallied from midpack to finish third in the Hambo final at 48-1 after finishing fourth in his elim. The Julie Miller trainee only sports two wins on the season, but one of them was in the Zweig at Vernon Downs. Waitlifter K (Matt Kakaley) rallied strongly second over to finish fourth in the Hambo final for trainer Andrew Harris and his lone win this season came in a Zweig split at Vernon Downs.

Dayson (David Miller) draws the rail for Burke and arrives riding a three-race win streak that includes the Townsend Ackerman from post 10 at the Meadowlands and a pair of New York Sire Stakes at Yonkers Raceway and Saratoga Raceway. Milligan's School finished sixth in the Hambo final after a second-place effort behind Bar Hopping in the elim and previously overcame an inside bias to capture the Beal consolation here in July.

One race earlier in the $350,000 Valley Forge for three-year-old filly pacers, much of the attention will be focused on Pure Country (Brett Miller), the clear division leader and freshman pacing filly champion who returns to the site of one of her biggest scores and will be back in against fillies after testing the boys in both the Cane Pace and the Milstein Memorial.

Pure Country sports a solid 6-2-2 slate and $685,000 bankroll from 11 starts this year and boasts 16 wins in 21 career tries for Takter, including the $300,000 James Lynch final here. She rallied from far back to finish second behind Betting Line in the Milstein last weekend at Northfield and was previously fourth behind Control The Moment after starting from the second tier in the Cane Pace. The daughter of Somebeachsomewhere rarely tastes defeat against fellow fillies and looms the odds-on choice despite starting from post nine this weekend.

But eight rivals drew inside of Pure Country for the Valley Forge and several of them have serious upset possibilities. Darlinonthebeach (David Miller) already owns a victory over the champion and arrives having won her last two outings for trainer Nancy Johansson. Darlinonthebeach scorched this oval last weekend in 1:48.4 to capture a PASS split and a duplicate performance would make it difficult for anyone to beat her this weekend.

Blue Moon Stride (Andrew McCarthy) has been a model of consistency this season for trainer Mark Harder, sporting a 5-2-1 slate and $290,000 bankroll from nine starts this year. She was second to Pure Country in both the Lynch elim and final then won both the Mistletoe Shalee and D'Altrui Memorial before finishing third as the 3-5 choice in the Shady Daisy at the Meadowlands on Hambo Day. She has every right to make amends here at a big price.

Speaking of big prices, I Said Diamonds (George Napolitano, Jr.) could be an overlay in this spot after being overtaken in the lane by 25-1 shot Kiss Me Onthebeach (John Campbell) in a PASS split here last weekend in 1:48.3. I Said Diamonds, who settled for fourth in the Lynch final here in July, carved out wicked fractions of 25.3,  52.3 and 1:20.3 for the first three calls as the 2-5 choice in that split before being nailed late by Kiss Me Onthebeach, a genuine feast or fathom sort who owns four wins and four third-place finishes from 18 career tries.

Call Me Queen Be (Zeron) was second to Darlinonthebeach in both their PASS split encounter last weekend and the Shady Daisy the week before the at the Meadowlands for trainer Ross Croghan. Lindwood Beachgirl has won her last two against conditioned foes at Mohawk Raceway for trainer Mark Steacy, while the Croghan-trained Shezarealdeal (Marcus Miller) looks for her first win in eight starts this year.

One race earlier on the card a full field of nine talented older pacers will battle in the $50,000 P.H.H.A. Invitational, which would have been worthy of a pot five times that size.

Mach It So (Tetrick) draws the rail and is seeking to regain his 2015 form when he won the William Haughton Memorial at the Meadowlands and the Bobby Quillen Memorial at Harrington. Mel Mara (Callahan) owns a 4-3-2 slate and $133,000 bankroll from 16 starts this year, including a 1:47 score at the Meadowlands in which he defeated Always B Miki. Bit Of A Legend N (Jordan Stratton) won the $600,000 George Morton Levy Memorial series final at Yonkers Raceway after sweeping that series, but only sports one win since then. Luck Be With You (Napolitano) prevailed in 1:47.4 in the Ben Franklin consolation here early last month. Always At My Place (Kakaley) appears to be rounding into form after a slow start to the season for Burke, while Rockeyed Optimist (Brett Miller) has won 11 of 17 starts this year for trainer Steve Elliott.

One race earlier the $200,000 Battle of the Brandywine consolation I came up very light. Not one of the nine starters has earned over $70,000 this year and the field has combined earnings of roughly $425,000, a sum hardly conducive to competing for a six-figure purse this late in the season. Dr J Hanover (Zeron) has won five straight for Alagna and looms the favorite, while Western Dynasty (Tetrick) has won his last two and three of his last four for trainer Chris Ryder. JL Flynn (Brett Miller) and Bank Shot Hanover (Anthony Napolitano) each won their most recent outing.

Then one race earlier in the $200,000 Colonial consolation I, another race that came up light considering the pot, Iron Mine Bucky (George Dennis) and Lagerfeld (Gingras) both exit the Hambo final, while Hollywood Highway (Campbell), Dominion Beach (Marcus Johansson) and Brooklyn Hill (Callahan) contested the Hambo elims but failed to earn a berth in the final. Lagerfeld finished seventh in the Hambo from post 10, while Iron Mine Bucky was eighth from post eight.

Two races earlier the $50,000 Sebastian K Invitational came up very tough. Obrigado (Macdonald) sports a 4-3-4 slate and $435,000 bankroll from 10 starts for trainer Paul Kelley, including sharp scores in the Cleveland Classic at Northfield and the Hill Memorial at Scioto Downs. JL Cruze (Campbell) was last year's champion aged trotter, but the "Denton Destroyer" has been overshadowed by most of his peers this season while notching five wins and banking nearly $130,000 from 11 starts this year for trainer Eric Ell.

Several races earlier in the $50,000 Hanover Shoe Farms Mares Invitational, Anndrovette (Tetrick) arrives sporting the loftiest bankroll with $3.5 million earned on 45 wins from 140 career outings, but she has won only once in 12 tries this season. Devil Child (David Miller) arrives off a sharp score in the Open at Northfield and the reigning Maryland-bred horse of the year ports four wins in 12 starts this year after a stellar 7-8-1 slate and $350,000 banked last season.

Sell A Bit N (Stratton), Medusa (Gingras) and Mach It A Par (Sears) have all thrived over the Yonkers Raceway half-mile oval this season and have combined earnings of almost $625,000 this season, while Katie Said (Brett Miller) arrives off a third-place finish in the Lady Liberty Stakes at the Meadowlands on Hambo Day. Sassa Hanover, Anndrovette, Divine Caroline and Devil Child were also in that event and perhaps all of them are pleased that winner Lady Shadow is elsewhere this weekend.