Habitat to Take Home the Million?

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Ted Black

June 26th, 2015

One week after Mohawk Raceway in Canada offered a stellar card that featured the $1 million North America Cup for three-year-old pacing colts, many of those same sophomores will be on hand at Pocono Downs on Saturday night as that five-eighths mile oval in Pennsylvania presents eliminations for the Max Hempt, the Earl Beal and the James Lynch with those finals all slated for July 4.

Getting things started among the stakes elims in the third race on the card, the first elimination of the Earl Beal, Jr. Memorial for three-year-old colt trotters. While trotting trainers Jimmy Takter, Jonas Czernyson and Ake Svanstedt each have one horse in the opening elim, trainer Ron Burke will likely send out the favorite in Habitat. Second to Crazy Wow two weeks ago in the Empire Breeders Classic Final at Vernon Downs in New York, Habitat has won three of five starts this year and sports 10 wins in 18 career outings.

Habitat is among the short list of logical contenders for the $1 million Hambletonian at The Meadowlands in August, but regular pilot Yannick Gingras has already opted off of him to focus on another Burke trainee, Mission Brief, the talented sophomore filly who is scheduled to tackle the boys in the Hambo. Jim Morrill, Jr. has taken over the reigns for Habitat and the Pocono Downs regular will likely put the sophomore son of Conway Hall on the front early.

But he is hardly a cinch to coast home in this event. Aldebaran Eagle (Corey Callahan) won his last start easily for Czernyson and draws the rail. Walter White (Brett Miller) is Takter's lone representative in this field, but has yet to display the talents expected of him. Cruzado Dela Noche (David Miller) owns a 4-1-5 slate and $200,000 bankroll from 15 career outings and will make his presence known late for trainer Nancy Johansson.

One race later in the first elimination of the James Lynch Memorial for three-year-old pacing fillies, Bettor Be Steppin (Callahan), Wicked Little Minx (Brett Miller), Stacia Hanover (Scott Zeron) and Better Said (Tim Tetrick) are the logical contenders for the three available spots for the final. Bettor Be Steppin scratched sick out of the $480,000 Fan Hanover final last weekend, but gets the rail for this elim and will be right there if healthy. Wicked Little Minx has raced well in all five of her starts this year for Johannson, as has Stacia Hanover for trainer Steve Elliott.

Then one race later in the second elim for the Earl Beal, Jr. Memorial, Takter trainees Whom Shall I Fear (David Miller) and Pinkman (Gingras) will certainly garner much of the support from posts four and five, respectively, and this entry figures to be 2-5 at post time. Pinkman, like Habitat in the first elim, is already on the short list of serious Hambo contenders and the Explosive Matter gelding has won all three of his starts this season easily as the 1-9 choice each time.

Guess Whos Back (Brian Sears), who has won twice in three starts this year for trainer Nikolas Drennan, failed as the 4-5 favorite in a New Jersey Sire Stakes final at the Meadowlands last month, but won a qualifier there last week and could rebound in a big way this weekend. Wicker Hanover (Andrew McCarthy) has won twice in five starts this year and owns a solid 4-4-4 slate from 16 lifetime outings for trainer Noel Daley, while Centurion ATM (Svandstedt) was last year's Peter Haughton Memorial winner on Hambo Day and among the top Maryland-breds of his gait in several years.

Then one race later in the first of three eliminations for the Max Hempt for three-year-old colt pacers, certainly much of the attention will be focused on In The Arsenal (Sears) and Artspeak (Zeron), who were fourth and fifth, respectively, in last week's North America Cup final. Both will likely earn a spot in next week's Hempt final with a top three finish here, but upstarts Pierce Hanover (Brett Miller), K-Rock (Gingras) and Paparazzi Hanover (Callahan) also have plans to returning for the lucrative final.

Then one race later in the seventh, the first of two eliminations for the Ben Franklin for older pacers, much of the focus will again be on Foiled Again (Gingras), the sport's all-time winningest pacer with over $7 million banked. This 11-year-old Dragon Again gelding trained by Burke still has plenty of youthful vigor in his aging Hall of Fame legs, reinvigorated by a determined, first over victory in the $175,000 Battle of Lake Erie at Northfield Park last out. He sports an exceptional 84-57-33 slate and $7 million bankroll from 229 lifetime starts.

But eight rivals will hardly back away this weekend. Domethatagain (Tetrick) won the $500,000 George Morton Levy Memorial Series final at Yonkers Raceway in April. Vegan Vacation has finished second three times in four starts this year for trainer Casie Coleman, but has faced some serious customers in Canada. Dapper Dude (McCarthy) has been consistent despite losing 13 times in 14 starts this year, while Luck Be With You (George Napolitano, Jr.) was the beaten favorite in the Battle of Lake Erie.

Then one race later in the eighth, the second Max Hempt elim, much of the focus will be on Wiggle It Jiggleit (Montrell Teague) whose unblemished record suffered its first slight tarnish when second to Wakizashi Hanover in the North America Cup last weekend. Wiggle It Jiggleit has won 10 of 11 starts this year and 11 of 12 in his career for trainer George Teague, Jr. of Rainbow Blue fame and he should be able to dictate the tempo from the outset in this elim and earn a berth in next week's final.

Looking to upend 'Wiggle' is arguably the best winless horse of his generation - Betting Exchange. In six starts this year for trainer Tom Fanning, Betting Exchange (David Miller) has finished second twice and third twice and he was third in the North America Cup final and second in the Art Rooney final. He draws the rail for this event and should be one of the three finalists, while Rock N' Roll World (Sears) should best National Seelster for the last spot.

Then one race later in the second Ben Franklin elim, the Burke tandem of Clear Vision (Brett Miller) and Bettor's Edge (Matt Kakaley) will prove formidable from posts four and six, respectively, but Bigtown Hero (Simon Allard), Mach It So (Tetrick), Dancin Yankee (Jim Morrill, Jr.) and State Treasurer (David Miller) all pose upset possibilities and all five could earn a berth in next week's final.

Then one race later in the 10th, the third elimination for the Max Hempt, Wakizashi Hanover (Tetrick) will be looking to prove that his North America Cup score last week was no fluke when he leaves from post four. This talented Dragon Again gelding trained by Joann Looney-King has won five of six starts this year and 7 of 12 lifetime outings and is rated as the second-best sophomore in the land behind Wiggle It Jiggleit despite beating that one last week.

Likely upset prospects and possibles for the last two spots in the final include Yankee Bounty (Gingras), one of the best Maryland-bred pacers in recent years, Lyons Levi Lewis (Kakaley), Lost For Words (David Miller) and Allbeef N Nobull (Brett Miller). Lyons Levi Lewis was one of the top freshman pacing colts last year, but he has yet to regain that form this season and arrives winless in three starts for Burke.

Then one race later in the 11th, the second of three James Lynch eliminations for three-year-old fillies, much of the attention will be focused on JK She'salady (Tetrick), the reigning harness horse of the year who has hardly duplicated her stellar freshman form. After winning all 12 of her starts last year for Johansson, JK She'salady has only won once in three tries this year and she has been fourth and fifth, respectively, in her two setbacks. She draws the rail for this elim and should make the final, but the 'real' JK She'salady had not made her presence known yet this year and looms a risky proposition.

Sassa Hanover (Gingras), who handed JK She'salady the first defeat of her career two weeks ago in the Fan Hanover elim, wilted as the 2-1 second choice in the final last week and can hardly be backed with any confidence right now. This Burke trainee was clearly the second-best filly of her generation last year, but she has failed twice in a pair of rich finals. The Show Returns (John Campbell) was second as a 113-1 longshot in the Fan Hanover, but probably cannot be played at a much shorter price this weekend.

Then one race later in the 12th, the third elim for the Earl Beal, Jr. Memorial, the two best sophomore colt trotters in the field also drew favorably. Crazy Wow (Gingras), who was crazy good for Burke when taking the Empire Breeders Classic final at Vernon Downs in 1:51.1 last out, should rule as the 4-5 favorite here from post two, while Shoot The Thrill (Tetrick) leaves from the rail. Billy Flynn (Morrill) was very good last season, winning eight of 11 starts for trainer Staffan Lind and was a good second in his return outing over this track.

Then in the 13th race, the third elimination for the James Lynch Memorial, any trio of sophomore pacing fillies could prevail here and then loom a serious threat to JK She'salady and Sassa Hanover in the final. Happiness (Gingras) has won twice in five starts for Burke, but failed miserably in her last two. Southwind Roulette (Kakaley) has been second twice in three starts this year for Burke and has ample early speed, while Divine Caroline (David Miller) has won twice in six starts for trainer Joe Holloway of Jenna's Beach Boy fame and will be a factor in the lane.