Day At The Track

Pocono Week In Review by Jim Beviglia

10:38 AM 29 Jun 2016 NZST
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Pocono Downs, harness racing
Week In Review Pocono Downs

What can they possibly do for an encore?

That's the question on the lips of anyone who was lucky enough to witness the spectacular performances during last Saturday night's eliminations for Sun Stakes Saturday coming up on July 2 at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. Elimination races can sometimes feel like formalities, with the favorites shuffling along without much movement in the hopes of sneaking into the finals.

But the races on Saturday were almost uniformly thrilling, with the eliminations for the Ben Franklin free-for-all pace in particular going down as some of the most memorable races that Pocono has ever hosted in its half-century plus of existence.

It's important to note that the other three sets of eliminations held on the night possessed their own share of standouts and surprises. In the Max Hempt eliminations for 3-year-old pacers, favorites Control The Moment and Racing Hill delivered in their respective splits and seem headed for a showdown in the final.

Pure Country reasserted her dominance among three-year-old pacing fillies in her elimination for the James Lynch, winning despite a tough first-over grind. And Bar Hopping provided the biggest upset of the night, handing 1-9 favorite Southwind Frank just his second career loss in an elimination for the Earl Beal for three-year-old trotters.

In all fairness, the night really began with Race 10, the first of three consecutive races on the card that would serve as eliminations for the Ben Franklin pace, which carries a $500,000 purse for the finals. The top three finishers in each race would punch a ticket (although that got a bit complicated, as you'll read in a moment.) And the very first elimination gave Pocono fans their first 2016 glimpse of Wiggle It Jiggleit, the sport's preeminent superstar.

Among the 22 wins that Wiggle It Jiggleit amassed in his ridiculously successful 2015 3-year-old campaign were a pair of huge stakes wins at Pocono. He came into Saturday night with seven wins and three places in ten starts so far in 2016 against the very best competition. As a 1-9 favorite, the four-year-old gelding trained by Clyde Francis didn't have an easy time making the lead, clearing just past the half. He then had to deal with a strong first-over charge on the back stretch from Always At My Place, who pulled up even at one point.

Driver Montrell Teague knows how to coax something extra out of Wiggle It Jiggleit, which is what he did in the stretch on Saturday night. The gelding stepped away from the pursuit to win in a scorching 1:48:1, a length-and-a-quarter in front of State Treasurer. Meanwhile Always At My Place faded to a a dead heat for third with Shamballa, meaning that there will be ten horses eligible for the Franklin final, with four of them coming from the first division.

As for the other six finalists? Well, the second split featured Always B Miki as the 1-5 favorite. The 5-year-old stallion from the Jimmy Takter barn won three of his first five races this year and was coming into the elimination off an incredible 1:47:1 victory at Tioga. But it looked like his chances might be doomed on Saturday when he was strung out around the clubhouse turn by Mel Mara, who set the pace on the inside.

Driver David Miller never gave in with Always B Miki. He was still battling it out with Mel Mara even as he had to endure a second turn on the outside and even as the fractions bordered on the sadistic. Always B Miki then uncorked one more burst of speed to free himself from Mel Mara and the rest of the pursuit. He crossed the line in 1:47, matching the fastest time ever on a 5/8-mile oval. All Bets Off came on late for second, while Mel Mara managed to dig deep to hold on for third to make the final.

After that world record performance, it seemed like expecting even more drama was greedy. But we still had one elimination to go, and it featured the amazing Midwesterner Freaky Feet Pete in his Pocono debut. Trained by Larry Rheinheimer, the four-year-old stallion came into the eliminations with a staggering career record of 28 wins in 32 career starts and over $1.2 million in the bank. Were it not for Wiggle It Jiggleit's exploits, we'd likely be talking about Freaky Feet Pete as the sport's dominant superstar.

Based on his performance on Saturday night, the jury may still be out on that. From the inside post, driver Trace Tetrick grabbed the lead early with Freaky Feet Pete, and it was a lead that no one would take away.

In what appeared to be an effortless performance, the stallion clipped fraction after stunning fraction without seeming to break a sweat, until he was well in front of the rest of the standout field and crossing the line in 1:47:1, which broke the world record for 4-year-old stallion pacers on a 5/8-mile oval. Rock N'Roll World and Sunfire Blue Chip were nowhere in the ballpark with Freaky Feet Pete but at least snuck into the final by finishing second and third, respectively.

Three Ben Franklin eliminations and three incendiary performances. The final should be an incredible showdown, as should the three other huge stakes races to be contested on Sun Stakes Saturday. Don't even think about missing it.

That will do it for this week, but we'll see you at the track. Feel free to e-mail me at jbeviglia@mohegansunpocono.com.

by Jim Beviglia, for Pocono Downs

 

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