WILKES-BARRE PA - The inaugural edition of a pair of important stakes events, between them having purses of $800,000-added, as the start of the high-level stakes season for the sport's glamour divisions, the three-year-old pacers, will take place on April 30 (eliminations) and Kentucky Derby Day May 7 (finals) with the $500,000A Pennsylvania Classic Pace and its companion $300,000A Miss Pennsylvania Pace, for the best Pennsylvania-sired horses, at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono.
A restructuring of the funding added by the introduction of money from slot and table gaming in Pennsylvania, totaling some $1.6 million, helped bring about this instant early-season classic. Half of that total went towards beefing up purses for the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes Championships, which at $350,000 are the richest in North America, and their consolations, and half the money was devoted to staging these showcase events for the best of the state's produce, an early-season barometer of the horses to beat during 2016's summer season.
Both of the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes champions in these divisions at two, Ideal Jimmy among the colts and national champion filly Pure Country (also voted Pennsylvania Sire Stakes Horse of the Year by the local chapter of the U.S. Harness Writers Association), are in line to make their 2016 seasonal debuts in the elimination races, which will be drawn on Monday (the top nine in the elims will come back to race n their open-draw Championships). Here's a look at some of the major contenders in both races:
--Ideal Jimmy, from the barn of Erv Miller, won five of ten starts as a freshman, taking a mark of 1:51f, and earned the bulk of his $293G bankroll in capturing his Sire Stakes Championship. The son of Western Ideal has been second in two preparatory qualifying races, the latter on Wednesday when he missed a neck to the $600G-winning older performer Windsong Jack in 1:52.4, with "Jimmy" pacing his own last quarter in 27.2.
--Check Six comes to the PA Classic elims off of a qualifying victory at The Meadowlands last Saturday in a withering 1:52, his own last quarter in 26.2. A son of Somebeachsomewhere, Check Six won four races and almost $120G last year, was third in the Sire Stakes Championship, and is from the barn of top trainer Ron Burke - and it "can't be" a major PA stakes race without a Ron Burke horse in it.
--JJ Flynn is a Western Ideal colt under the tutelage of trainer Chris Ryder, and he has an advantage that the first two horses mentioned don't - he has raced three times this year, winning twice, fastest in 1:51.3 this past Tuesday, and in his second-place finish he was beaten a head while racetimed in 1:50.2.
--Pure Country was pure perfection in her two-year-old form for Trainer of the Year Jimmy Takter, winning all ten of her starts, including the Breeders Crown, and bankrolling just shy of $690,000. She swept all four legs of her Sire Stakes races and the Championship, earning the most money ever in a single Sire Stakes campaign by any one horse, $286,918. But a funny thing happened to the daughter of Somebeachsomewhere in her initial 2016 qualifier - she was second, although beaten only a nose by a well-bred filly named Blue Moon Stride, coming from off the pace in the 1:54.1 mile with a personal last quarter of 27. At press time Takter planned to qualify her again at The Meadowlands on Saturday, and then come to Pocono if his filly comes out of the race properly.
--Ava N Ella is a daughter of Western Terror who was unraced at two, then won her first two starts at The Meadows for locally-based trainer Linda Schadel. After those victories, she was sold to the famous Bellino family interests, and for new trainer Tony OSullivan (and that's the USTA spelling of his last name by the way) she has added two more, and comes off a sharp qualifying win at Pocono last week.
--Call Me Queen Be, a winner of over $278G at two, was second to Pure Country in both the Sire Stakes Championship and divisional Sires money earned (over $177,000). She won a qualifier in her return at Pompano Park, and she's in to qualify at The Meadowlands Saturday - where she can look to her left from PP8 and see her fellow daughter of Somebeachsomewhere and archnemesis Pure Country right next to her. (In fact, half of that ninth race qualifier at M(1) Saturday are Miss Pennsylvania eligibles!)
Both the Pennsylvania Classic and Miss Pennsylvania will be raced during the latter portion of a "brunch-evening" doubleheader of action on Derby Day at The Downs, with the first card starting at 11 a.m. and ending in time to give a break until the Run For The Roses. The evening portion of the day's harness racing will start immediately after the Bluegrass clash, with the Pennsylvania Classic and Miss Pennsylvania joined on the second card by the $50,000 Van Rose Invitational Pace, honoring the memory of the longtime area Standardbred journalist.
From the PHHA