Pocono Downs hosts stellar Saturday card

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Ted Black

August 20th, 2015

Two weeks after the Meadowlands offered the $1 million Hambletonian Stakes for three-year-old colt trotters on the same day it presented the $400,000 Cane Pace for three-year-old colt pacers, Pocono Downs in Pennsylvania will celebrate its 50th anniversary by presenting the Super Stakes Saturday card with lucrative events for trotters and pacers.

A trio of stakes toward the end of the card will certainly take center stage and deserve top billing this weekend. Saturday's 10th race at Pocono Downs is the $350,000 Valley Forge for three-year-old filly pacers, followed by the $500,000 Colonial Stakes for three-year-old colt trotters and then the $500,000 Battle of the Brandywine for three-year-old colt pacers.

One of the more intriguing races on the card is the $350,000 Valley Forge for three-year-old pacing fillies. During a season in which reigning horse of the year, JK She'salady, has not returned to the head of the class, the division appears very wide open and this race reflects the parity in the group. Literally, all nine sophomore pacing ladies have a chance. In fact, the field is so deep and competitive that the best wagering strategy may be to pass on the race entirely.

Momas Got A Gun (Jim Morrill, Jr) arrives off a sharp score in a Pennsylvania Sire Stakes event over the strip and draws the rail. Totally Rusty (Corey Callahan) is among the best three-year-old fillies from the Delaware-bred program, but has been overshadowed a little by Purrfect Bags, who beat older rivals last week at Northfield Park. Safe From Terror has won nearly one-half of her starts this year for trainer Ron Burke, including a PASS split at the Meadows. Bettor Be Steppin won the James Lynch Memorial here in July and was second in the Shady Daisy at the Meadowlands on Hambo Day two weeks ago. The Show Returns (John Campbell) won a NJSS final at a big price and won a Lynch elim before finishing eighth in the final. Moonlit Dance (David Miller) won the Mistletoe Shalee final at the Meadowlands last month. Sassa Hanover (Yannick Gingras) chased JK She'salady in vain last year, but she, too, has been a disappointment this year. Stacia Hanover (Scott Zeron) posted a 10-1 upset in the Shady Daisy after failing as the favorite in the Mistletoe Shalee and Lynch finals. Imagine Dragon won a PASS split here last weekend, but gets post nine and loses Zeron.

Then one race later in the $500,000 Colonial for three-year-old colt trotters, Pinkman (Gingras) arrives off a game score in the $1 million Hambletonian and will have plenty of company from the same barn. Trainer Jimmy Takter has five of the nine horses in the field, including Uncle Lasse (David Miller) and The Bank (Takter) who finished third and fourth, respectively, in the Hambo final. Canepa Hanover (Campbell), who broke in his Hambo elim, will leave from post eight while French Laundry (Brett Miller), who was eighth in the Hambo final after finishing third in his elim behind Mission Brief, draws post nine.

While Pinkman will be the odds-on choice in this event and will be associated with a strong supporting cast from the Takter barn, a trio of other sophomore trotters could play the spoiler role.

Crazy Wow (Tim Tetrick) rebounded from two subpar efforts to win a New York Sires Stakes split at Yonkers Raceway by five lengths in 1:56 two days after skipping the Hambo. He has won four of eight starts this year for Burke, including an emphatic score in the $255,000 Empire Breeders Classic final at Vernon Downs in June. He has not fared well against the Takter trainees in subsequent starts, but Crazy Wow can certainly be right there on his best night.

Wicker Hanover (Callahan) won an elim for the Earl Beal over the track in June before settling for sixth in the final behind Pinkman. But he has since rebounded to win a PASS split at the Meadows and then was a sharp second against older, conditioned rivals at Harrah's Philadelphia last out. Wicker Hanover has a solid 6-5-4 slate from 20 career outings for Noel Daley and he also has plenty of versatility.

Jacksons Minion (Tom Jackson) arrived at the Hambo riding a three-race win streak, but few thought he would make the final. Not only did Jacksons Minion earn a berth in the final by finishing fifth in his elim won by Pinkman, he rallied late to finish fifth in the final and was past two Takter trainees no more than 25 yards after passing the wire. He may still be light on class, but Jacksons Minion continues to improve with every start and he merit respect in this spot against the division's best.

Then one race later on the card the spotlight will be on the three-year-old colt pacers who will go postward in the $500,000 Battle of the Brandywine. The field includes the two best sophomores in the land this season and also boasts last year's two-year-old champion, as well as several others who are improving with each start this summer.

Wiggle It Jiggleit (Montrell Teague) has been the dominant force in the three-year-old division this spring and summer and arrives with 15 wins in 17 starts and earnings of nearly $1.2 million for owner-trainer George Teague, Jr. of Rainbow Blue fame. Wiggle It Jiggleit rebounded from a fourth-place finish in the $320,000 Cane Pace on Hambo day to capture the $400,000 Milstein Memorial at Northfield Park last weekend. The Meadowlands Pace and Max Hempt Memorial hero also drew the rail for this event and has ample early speed to secure position and then take command.

Wakizashi Hanover (Tetrick) has also enjoyed a stellar campaign for trainer Joann Looney-King, including a victory over 'Wiggle' in the $1 million North America Cup at Mohawk. He has since settled for minor spoils against his main rival, finishing fourth in the Hempt, third in the Meadowlands Pace and third in the Milstein. Last weekend at Northfield Park, Wakizashi Hanover started from post eight and raced first over into a wicked back half carved out by 'Wiggle' and settled for third in a good effort that was much better than it looks on paper.

Dude's The Man (Callahan) emerged on the scene last month by finishing second in the Meadowlands Pace final at 38-1 and then validated his talents by capturing the $400,000 Adios final at the Meadows as the 3-2 favorite. He made an uncharacteristic break and still finished third in the Cane Pace. He drew post two alongside 'Wiggle' for this event and will look to stay within striking distance of the favorite.

Split The House (Campbell) was unraced at age two, but he has won seven of nine starts this year and followed his handy scores in the Summertime series at Mohawk by taking the $200,000 New Jersey Classic at the Meadowlands in his first start outside of Canada. His only setbacks were a pair of fourth-place finishes in the North America Cup elims and consolation, but Split The House looks like an emerging star among this division.

Artspeak (Zeron) was last year's champion two-year-old colt pacer when he won eight of 10 starts and earned over $740,000. But he has been among the sport's list of disappointments this year along with Jk She'salady and Father Patrick. Artspeak rallied from well off a hot pace to finish second in the Cane Pace at the Big M on Hambo Day, but he will have to prove that he can deliver two such efforts consecutively before anyone should back him with any confidence in these spots.

Dealt A Winner (David Miller) posted one of the day's biggest upsets on Hambo Day when he rallied second over to capture the Cane Pace in 1:47.3. It was the first win in eight starts this year for the Mark Silva trainee, following a fifth-place finish in the New Jersey Classic as the 9-5 second choice and a fourth place finish in the Meadowlands Pace. Yankee Bounty was among the best freshman pacers last year, but he is still in quest of his first win this season. He has finished second five times in 12 defeats, most notably a runner-up effort behind Dude's The Man in the Adios.

Both the Colonial and the Battle of the Brandywine will go a long way toward determining division honors and potentially horse of the year, with Pinkman and Wiggle It Jiggleit at the head of their respective classes right now. But a third horse who is competing earlier on the card is already becoming part of the discussion.

Nearing the midway point of the card the track will host the $100,000 Sebastian K Invitational for trotters, named in honor of the older trotter who took North America by storm last summer with world record efforts at several tracks, topped by a 1:49 score over this oval. But Sebastian K was retired after one start this year and the horse that beat him that night is among the Cinderella stories of the sport this season.

JL Cruze (Campbell) had won only five of 17 starts and earned just over $30,000 heading into this year, but the four-year-old Crazed gelding has rapidly made up for his two prior campaigns. In 18 starts this year for trainer Eric Ell and owners Kenny Wood, Bill Dittmar and Steve Iaquinta, JL Cruze has recorded 16 wins and been second in each of his two defeats and banked over $600,000 along the way. He also sent Sebastian K and Father Patrick to early retirements courtesy of wins in the Graduate Series and Hambo Maturity.

JL Cruze has also displayed the ability to win in various ways and at different distances, taking the one-mile and one-eighth Hambo Maturity in his most recent outing. He has since won two qualifiers - spaced only two days apart - and coasted to a 1:54.1 score over the oval nine days ago in a morning jog. He also gets reunited with Campbell, who missed the Hambo Day card while recovering from a broken wrist. Campbell has been flawless with JL Cruze thus far and the "Denton Destroyer" will look to stake his claim to various postseason honors with another victory on Saturday.

Those looking to topple the "Denton Destroyer" actually have plenty of live options. Wind Of The North (Dave Palone) raced well earlier in the meet at the Meadowlands and traveled to Europe to contest the Elitlopp. Natural Herbie (Verlin Yoder) was among the best older trotters in the land last season and is looking to regain that form. Resolve (Ake Svandstest) has chased JL Cruze to no avail and won the Vincennes on Hambo Day and his trainer-driver was also the conditioner and pilot of Sebastian K, who this event is named for, so an upset score would prove doubly rewarding.