Northeast Pennsylvania will undoubtedly be the center of world harness racing this Saturday night (June 23), as Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs offers a spectacular card, with the $500,000 Earl Beal Memorial Trot Final for 3-year-old colts -- whose eliminations last week spun off the two fastest trotting miles in global harness racing 2012 -- joining up with elimination races for the following Saturday's Ben Franklin Pace Final (FFA horses), Max Hempt Memorial Pace Final (3-year-old colts), and Jim Lynch Memorial Pace Final (3-year-old fillies).
The Beal Final is marqueed by Googoo Gaagaa, a son of Cam's Rocket who set a divisional world record of 1:51.3 in his elim while winning by seven lengths, and Stormin Normand, thecolt and defending PA Sire Stakes champion whose 1:51.4 triumph last week would have been a world record had it come 40 minutes earlier (that is, before Googoo Gaagaa hit the track).
In Saturday's rematch, which is race 12 on the 16-race card, Stormin Normand got a bit of an edge in the positional draw for Hall of Fame driver Dave Palone (who won last year's inaugural Beal with), trainer Jim Campbell, and breeder/owner Jules Siegel, shaking post four, while Googoo Gaagaa will have to overcome post six (which he did last week, by the way) for driver Corey Callahan and owner/trainer Richard Hans.
Not to be dismissed is Uncle Peter, the 2011 Breeders Crown winner (ironically, driven by Palone in that race), who thunderbolted home last week to just miss by a half-length to Stormin Normand. Thiscolt, owned by the Fieldings, Christina Takter and Falkbolagen AB, will begin from post seven for driver Ron Pierce as part of a three-horse entry trained by Jimmy Takter, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame eight days after the Beal, along with stablemates Nothing But Class (post two, Takter up) and Little Brown Fox (post eight, Yannick Gingras).
The first four finishers and the fastest fifth-place finisher from last week made the Beal final, and the same rules will be used in the Lynch Memorial and Franklin, which also have two elims. The Hempt Final, requiring three elims, will find the top three from each of Saturday's contests advancing.
The combined Franklin eliminations may gather the richest collection of pacers ever assembled for one race, with the 17 entrants sporting a total bankroll of $21,962,000 lifetime, including nine millionaires.
The ninth race second Franklin elim looks to be the tougher of the two, headed as it is by the No. 1 horse in the North American Top 10, Foiled Again. The ironsided altered son of, owned by trainer Ron Burke in partnership with Weaver Bruscemi and the JJK Stables, has hit the board in all ten starts this year, and the horse who knows no reverse gear will be guided from post four by Yannick Gingras.
Think we're kidding about a tough field? Foiled Again, with a lifetime assemblage of $3,843,305, isn't even the richest horse in the field -- heck, he's not even the richest Burke trainee in the field, with Won The West ($3,939,136) starting from post eight for David Miller.
This group also includes We Will See (post three, Hall of Famer Ron Pierce), whose all-age record of 1:48 at Pocono last September ties for the fastest mile ever on a five-eighths-mile track and who also is the defending Franklin champion, and Golden Receiver (post nine, Brian Sears), who has led the Top 10 polls for most of the campaign.
In the seventh race Franklin elim cut, much of the attention will focus on two horses who were in the photo for win in the Bettor's Delight Pace at Tioga Downs on June 10 -- Clear Vision (post four, yet another Burkian, driven by PcD regular Matt Kakaley), who nosed out (yes, stablemate) Foiled Again, and Bettor Sweet (post seven, Hall of Famer John Campbell), who set a scorching pace and succumbed only by a neck to the two outside-flow horses.
A good deal of the industry will have an eye on the 11th race Lynch elimination, a field of seven, topped by the Top Ten's No. 2, American Jewel (post four, driver Tim Tetrick, trainer Jim Takter and owner Brittany Farms), who had established herself as last year's top distaff pacing freshman before suffering a season-ending injury. But she has roared back in 2012, last week winning the $629,160 Fan Hanover Final at Mohawk in 1:48.2, a divisional world record -- enough to encourage her connections to put up $15,000 to supplement her to the Lynch.
Her archrival, last year's divisional champion Economy Terror, had a hard trip in the Fan Hanover and finished fifth, but Saturday night's post change from nine and the outside in Toronto to one at the track where she won her state's Sire Stakes Championship last year should position her for a big outing for driver Brian Sears, local trainer Chris Oakes and the ownership triumvirate of Pompey, Taylor and Gold.
The other Lynch elim, race three, may hinge on which Sarandon Blue Chip shows up at Pocono -- the one who was super-impressive winning at The Meadowlands three weeks ago, or the one who was rough-gaited and missed out on the Fan Hanover Final. Sarandon Blue Chip will try to bounce back from post five for driver David Miller, with the major danger looking to come from Major Look (post two, Jeff Gregory) who won in 1:50.1 at Tioga in her last start.
For the Hempt, the first elim is race five, where I Fought Dalaw, like Sarandon Blue Chip, will look to bounce back from a subpar Mohawk performance after strong Meadowlands form. David Miller will guide I Fought Dalaw from post two.
Also trying to shake off bad Mohawk luck will be Hurrikane Kingcole, starting from post three for Tim Tetrick in the 10th race second elimination. The "King" miscued at the start of his North America Cup elim, but was officially timed in a mind-blowing 1:18.3 for his final three-quarters after repairing his error.
The third Hempt group, in race 13, pulls together many horses with great credentials: Bolt The Duer (post two, Mark MacDonald), who has all the potential in the world; A Rocknroll Dance (post four, Yannick Gingras), who was the top-rated colt coming into this season; and Allstar Legend (post seven, Brian Sears), who smoked the last 1,320 feet of Philadelphia in :26.2 in posting a 1:48.2 triumph last out.
That 1:48.2 of Allstar Legend was just one-fifth of a second off the divisional world record of Custard The Dragon -- who just happens to be the defending Hempt champion -- and who just happens to be in the race which will kick off the card at 6:30 p.m., a $25,000 winners over pace.
by Gerry Connors, for the PA Harness Racing Commission