Day At The Track

Pocono week in review, June 22 to 28, 2019

04:08 AM 26 Jun 2019 NZST
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The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono
The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono

We're taking a two-week break from handing out the harness racing Weekly Awards in this space to talk instead about Sun Stakes Saturday. The finals are coming up this coming Saturday, June 29, with nearly $2 million on the line in the four championship races. But before they could have the chance of competing for those monumental purses, some of the top horses in the sport took to the track on Saturday in the eliminations to qualify for the finals.

The weather was perfect, the track and times were fast, and the results weren't always predictable. Other than Highalator coming up short in the Ben Franklin elimination, the biggest names all managed to make it through to the finals, meaning that Saturday's races should be stellar. Let's take a look at how the eliminations played out in terms of both the top performers and those that could be sneaking under the radar heading into the high-stakes finals.

Max C. Hempt Memorial Pace (Three-year-old Open pacers)

Coming into the night, this was the most wide-open of the four championship races, and Saturday night really didn't provide too much clarity. Proof probably goes into Saturday as the favorite barring a really unfavorable post position; his win in 1:48:1 was an age-group best this year and he won't have to face Captain Crunch, winner of the last four races where Proof was an also-ran.

But Chris Oakes knows a thing or two about training stakes winners at Pocono, and Shake That House looked sharp in his elimination victory on Saturday night. Meanwhile, Ron Burke's Captain Victorious survived a hellacious speed duel for his own career-best performance in the final elimination of the night. All three are peaking at the right time, while the other qualifiers for the final all need to step up their games to be considered as upset candidates.

James M. Lynch Memorial Pace (Three-year-old filly pacers)

For a while it was the Tony Alagna show in the Lynch on Saturday night. Although neither Tall Drink Hanover or Odds On St Lucie were favored, they dumped odds-on favorites (Philly Hanover and Zero Tolerance) in the eliminations. Those latter two horses both got through, as did Chris Oakes' fast-improving Blue Ivy, who nearly upended Odds On St Lucie at 25-1.

But Alagna couldn't make it a clean sweep, as his trainee Treacherous Reign came up short of defending Breeders Crown champ Warrawee Ubeaut in the final elimination, a reversal of fortune from the Fan Havover in Canada where Treacherous Reign pulled off the upset. Still, you might not be able to glean too much from that elim, since Warrawee Ubeaut was able to get away with soft fractions that likely won't be part of the picture in the final when everyone is going all-out.

Earl Beal Jr. Memorial Trot (Three-year-old trotters)

Only two divisions here, which meant it was easier for horses to make the final. That didn't stop the first race from being a donnybrook, with White Tiger setting an unsustainable pace before faltering. The beneficiary was Green Manalishi S, no worse than 2nd in 10 races as a freshman but making his first start of the year. No rust here, as he used a second-over trip to win in 1:52:1. Race favorite Swandre The Giant did well to escape from the pocket behind the fading White Tiger to get third and punch his ticket.

Marcus Melander trains Green Manalishi A, but the focus was on the trotter he had lying in wait in the second split, Greenshoe. After dusting a pair of stakes fields at The Big M in ridiculous times to start the season, Greenshoe was a 1-9 choice in the elim. When defending Pennsylvania champ Osterc got away with a :57:1 opening half, upset possibilities seemed real. Then Greenshoe glided by without so much as a grunt of effort, winning by another wide margin. Even with a stacked field on Saturday, another 1-9 sendoff for this budding legend isn't out of the question.

Ben Franklin (Free-for-all pace)

We talked about the disappointment for Highalator, as Levy champ Western Fame, trained by Pocono's top conditioner Rene Allard, avenged an earlier loss at the track with a rock-solid effort in 1:48:1. He was coming off a month-and-a-half layoff, but the batteries appeared fully recharged after the long grind of the Levy. Ron Burke's This is The Plan put up a nice effort as a long shot, finishing just three parts of a length back, recapturing some of the form he flashed last year at age three.

The second split was star-studded, to say the least. Lather Up underperformed last year at Pocono to mar an otherwise stellar sophomore season, but he atoned somewhat on Saturday night. After Montrell Teague rated the pace to his liking, the four-year-old watched aged pacing legend McWicked take the lead from him late, only to grab it back for the win. McWicked is safe, finishing third, while Allard trainee Springsteen, the defending Hempt champ, nearly nipped Lather Up late despite it being his first start of the season.

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

Jim Beviglia

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