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Shady City stuck to script with a strong come from behind effort to win the $9,500 Open pacing harness racing feature at Batavia Downs on Saturday night (Dec. 17). Foreign Officer (Shawn Gray) shot out for the lead quickly and gained that position without any opposition. Once there, he led the group in single file to the half in :57.2. When the race advanced past five-eighths, Shady City (Larry Stalbaum) pulled first up and brought Warrawee Qually (Kevin Cummings) with him as they proceeded to advance toward the leader. Those positions remained unchanged around the far turn, but at the head of the stretch, Shady City put on another of his furious closing brushes. He went by the fading Foreign Officer, as well as Western Expression (Mike Whelan) who had tripped-out and snuck up the rail, to win by a head in 1:54.4. It was the sixth win of the year for Shady City ($4.10) who has now earned $68,332 for 2016. The 6-year-old gelded son of Metropolitan is owned by his driver, Larry Stalbaum and is trained by Kim Asher. In the $9,000 co-featured Open II pace, Rock The Dream (Ray Fisher Jr.) came from last at the half to go three-wide at three-quarters and win a narrow decision over Private Equity (Todd Cummings) in 1:55.1. It was the fourth win in five starts for Rock The Dream ($7.90) who is owned by Tessa Roland and trained by the Downs leading trainer, JD Perrin. Ray Fisher Jr. had a driving grand slam while Larry Stalbaum got the hat trick and Shawn Gray doubled up. Trainer Kim Asher also had three wins on the night followed by JD Perrin with two. As the 2016 meet came to a close, the leading driver and trainer were welcomed in front of the grandstand and presented with their winning hardware. Drew Monti was the leading dash driver with 116 wins and trainer JD Perrin was the top conditioner for the third straight year at the Batavia summer/fall meet with 47 wins.   By Tim Bojarski, for Batavia Downs

The public was heavily backing Thunderbolt Jaxon after he won the top class the last three weeks, but Shady City ($9.40) had other ideas as he fired late to a photo win in the $9,500 Open pacing harness racing feature at Batavia Downs on Saturday night (Dec. 10). Three horses bolted from the gate and argued for the front before Thunderbolt Jaxon (Ray Fisher Jr.) took control as they passed the quarter pole. Things settled down until the half when Brees Creek (Drew Monti) pulled first over bringing an outer flow that had the race in two rows; three in and three out. Heading towards three-quarters, Thunderbolt Jaxon had gapped Brees Creek and he went back to the pylons. This left China Dream (Shawn Gray) and Shady City (Larry Stalbaum) outside on the chase around the last turn. China Dream and Thunderbolt Jaxon then went stride for stride to the top of the lane and it looked like it was one of theirs for the taking. But three-lengths behind them, Stalbaum cranked up Shady City who then paced furiously down the lane. He gobbled up ground all the way to the wire and headed China Dream for the win in 1:55. Thunderbolt Jaxon hung on for third. It was Shady City's second win at Batavia Downs and fifth overall for the year and it increased his earnings to $63,582. Larry Stalbaum owns the 6-year-old son of Metropolitan who is trained by Kimberly Asher. The Stalbaum-Asher combination also took the co-featured $8,600 Open II-III pace when Itsonlyrocknroll A went wire to wire in 1:54.1 to score his third win in his last four starts and ninth win of the year. Stalbaum also owns Itsonlyrocknroll A who now has earned $49,454 in 2016. Several horse people had multiple win performances on Saturday night. Drew Monti and Larry Stalbaum both had the driving hat trick while Shawn Gray scored a double. Trainer Kim Asher sent three winners to post and JD Perrin sent two. With two nights of racing left in the 2016 meet, Drew Monti is the dash driving leader with 114 wins and trainer JD Perrin leads in his category with 44 wins. Racing resumes at Batavia Downs on Friday (Dec. 16) with post time for the first race at 6:15 p.m.   By Tim Bojarski, for Batavia Downs  

Batavia, NY --- Larry Stalbaum has been a regular competitor at Yonkers Raceway and Pocono Downs for many years now. But much like Jim Morrill Jr. before him, the small-town feel of western New York has drawn Stalbaum from the major harness racing circuits and he couldn't be happier about the move to Batavia Downs. Stalbaum made his first start of the year at Batavia Downs on Saturday (Nov. 5) and has since been one of the hottest drivers at the track. In only 10 nights of racing his own stable of 16 along with catch drives, Stalbaum has had 79 starts with 20 wins, 12 seconds and 10 thirds. That amounts to a 22% win and 54% in the money percentage, a .329 UDR and $100,570 in purse earnings in very short order. Stalbaum was born in Valparaiso, Indiana and started racing ponies at age seven. He went to work with standardbreds after graduating from high school and has been doing it ever since. Through his early years he worked for many horsemen, but credits Frank O'Mara for teaching him all he knows about harness racing. "I started grooming in Louisville at Latonia and eventually made my first career driving start at Brandywine Raceway in 1986" said Stalbaum. "Since them I have raced just about everywhere, even tracks that most people have never heard of." Racing everywhere has taken Stalbaum 29 years and the numbers that he has accrued in that time are pretty impressive to see; 5,378 wins and over $37 million in purses. Stalbaum lives in Matamoris, PA, which is just across the Delaware River from Port Jervis, NY. He races off his 152-acre farm there and makes the 560 mile, 9-hour round trip to Batavia every race night. His whole operation is family based. Stalbaum's wife, Kimberly Asher, is the trainer and his four children Riley, Kiley, Hawk and Sky jog, train and groom the stock. "My four children are all involved in racing and our business. They all do the horses, they all like the horses and they all want to drive eventually" said Stalbaum. "My oldest daughter Riley just passed her test and got her qualifying license and will start driving very soon. And my other kids will follow along one by one as they get old enough. I don't have any help in my stable right now other than my wife and kids. They do it all." With having much success at bigger tracks that were closer to his home, Stalbaum still made the decision to race at Batavia Downs. "I'm getting a little older and I wanted to slow down a bit. That's part of the reason I was racing at Monticello recently; it was close to home" said Stalbaum. "But the money isn't quite as good there as it is here. What I really wanted to do is just get away from the hustle and bustle of the bigger tracks." "I'm tired of shipping three to this track and four to that track and being on the road every night. I would much rather just ship the whole stable over three days and get them all raced and spend more time at home" Stalbaum concluded. After having raced at Batavia for almost a month now, Stalbaum has become quite comfortable in his new environment. The local racing community has embraced him and he is happy to be competing there. "I like western New York. It's got a lot of farm country like where I was raised and many of the people who race there come from families that have been racing locally for generations, and I like that" said Stalbaum. "I tell people all the time about it and when you tell them about being in New York, they think New York City. Because if you're not from upstate New York, you don't know any better." After the Batavia meet ends, the plan is to move the stock to Buffalo Raceway and stable at the track. "When I go to Buffalo, Kim and the kids aren't coming and that's going to be hard for me because I've never been away from them. But because of the winter, I can't ship like I do right now but also can't move the family up here at this point. But that's what we have to do and we'll see how it goes" said Stalbaum. "If everything goes right, we are planning on moving up here permanently. We'll sell the farm in PA and buy some land in western New York and settle down here and race this circuit". With four children aspiring to make harness racing their livelihood, Stalbaum appreciates the atmosphere in western New York for both raising a family and racing for a living. "The future of this sport is young people and all my kids are interested in it now. I let them choose what they want to do with their lives and they all want to race and that makes me happy. I can't make them a doctor or a lawyer, but I can teach them how to be a solid trainer and driver. I just hope the sport is still here for them" Stalbaum said. By Tim Bojarski, for Batavia Downs

Batavia, NY --- For the second week in a row, Perfect Rendition stalked quick early fractions before gearing up in the payoff half to win the $10,000 Open trotting harness racing feature at Batavia Downs on Friday night (Nov. 25). When the gate released the short but classy field of six trotters, Noble Legend (Shawn Gray) went for the early lead, seating Jim Dandy (Jim McNeight Jr.) and Perfect Rendition (Larry Stalbaum) in the process. The leader then proceeded to cut quarters of :28.2 and :58 and did it unchallenged as the trailing drivers were content to sit in. The situation remained unchanged until just before three-quarters when Perfect Rendition pulled and started to advance. By the time they hit that panel in 1:27.3, Perfect Rendition was matching strides with Noble Legend and a battle ensued around the final turn. When the pair straightened out at the head of the lane, Perfect Rendition got a slight advantage under Stalbaum's urging and as a result, ended up the best of the bunch as he trotted to victory in 1:57.2 over the rain-soaked track. It was the fourth win of the year for Perfect Rendition ($19.40), half of which were registered at Batavia Downs the last two weeks. The 10-year-old son of Perfectly who is trained by Kimberly Asher has now bankrolled annual earnings to $29,763 for owner-driver Larry Stalbaum. In the co-featured $9,000 filly and mares Open pace, Kruella ($8.60) scored her third win in a row, coming from second-over in the outer flow to tip three-wide at the head of the lane and brush by to a slick 1:56.4 win for driver Shawn McDonough. Kruella is trained by Jineen Simone who co-owns the mare with Bonnie Kowalcyk. Ray Fisher Jr. had a grand slam Friday night, including a natural hat-trick in races four through six. He won with Wicked Elphaba ($6.50), Southern Palms ($11.20), Rock The Dream ($9.60) and Babes Chip ($2.60). Shawn Gray and Larry Stalbaum both registered driving triples on the evening while trainer Kim Asher sent two of her students to the winner's circle. Racing resumes on Saturday night (Nov. 26) with first race post time set at 6:15 p.m. By Tim Bojarski, for Batavia Downs  

Batavia, NY---After three outside draws in lower class, Perfect Rendition (Larry Stalbaum) moved into the top class and took advantage of post one to rebuff six harness racing challengers in the $10,000 Open trot at Batavia Downs on Friday night (Nov. 18). Noble Legend (Shawn Gray) left and took a hard fought lead at the quarter in :28.1. But as soon as he crossed over, Perfect Rendition pulled and retook the lead. From there he dictated a :58 half and a 1:27.2 third panel. During that stretch, The Bronx Bumper (Jim Morrill Jr.) came first over to challenge but never got closer than third. At the head of the stretch The Bronx Bumper challenge had ended, but then Nobel Legend popped the two-hole and drew a bead on the leader. Noble Legend gained ground with every stride but he ran out of stretch before they hit the wire and Perfect Rendition won by a head in 1:57.2. It was the third win of the year for Perfect Rendition ($6.70) and it pushed his earnings to $24,763. Larry Stalbaum owns the 10-year-old gelded son of Perfectly who is trained by Kim Asher. Jim Morrill Jr. won three more races on Friday while Shawn McDonough, Ray Fisher Jr. and Larry Stalbaum each won two. Racing resumes at Batavia Downs on Saturday night (Nov. 19) with post time set at 6:15 p.m.   By Tim Bojarski, for Batavia Downs  

Batavia, NY---Yonkers Raceway invader Shady City got away last before sweeping the field around the last turn to pull away and win the $10,000 harness racing Open pacing feature at Batavia Downs on Saturday afternoon (Nov. 5). Last week's Open pace winner, China Dream (Shawn Gray), tried to repeat his effort by going to the front in a quick :26.4 quarter. After he settled, the field of six rounded the turn before splitting into two-rows as they motored to the half. Thunderbolt Jaxon (Jim Morrill Jr.) pulled first up in the outer flow with Knocking Around (Dave McNeight III) and Shady City (Larry Stalbaum) following right behind him. The group remained three in and three out past the five-eighths when Shady City (Larry Stalbaum) swung three-deep as the leader tripped the third panel in 1:25.2 with a two-length lead. Shady City seemed to stall by the head of the stretch and China Dream was looking like a winner. But Stalbaum went to the stick in the lane and with his tail flagging and ears perked, Shady City made up three lengths and strode by China Dream like an easy day at the office to win in 1:54.1. It was the fourth win of 2016 for Shady City ($9.60) and it pushed him to $53,882 in earnings for the year. Stalbaum owns the 6-year-old son of Metropolitan who is trained by Kimberly Asher. In the co-featured $9,000 Open II pace, Lucky King (Ron Beback Jr.) took the long way home, coming from seventh and parked out from just past the quarter, to swing five-deep in the stretch and win by one and one-half lengths in 1:56. It was the fifth win of the year for Lucky King who is owned by Keith Pinkowski and trained by Mihajlo Zdjelar Jr. The grossly overlooked winner returned a healthy $77.00. Drew Monti had a four-win night while visiting reinsman Larry Stalbaum copped three. Shawn Gray and Ron Beback Jr. both took two races apiece. On the conditioning side, Kimberly Asher had the training hat-trick. Racing resumes at Batavia Downs on Wednesday night (Nov. 9) with a guaranteed Pick-5 pool of $3,500. Post time is 6:15 p.m.   By Tim Bojarski, for Batavia Downs  

Palmers Pride (Monsieur Kan Due) went wire-to-wire in the John Mongeon Sr. Memorial Trotting Series Final on a harness racing Sunday afternoon at Saratoga.  The five year old trotter is in the midst of his first racing season and has had a breakout campaign in 2016. Larry Stalbaum piloted Palmers Pride for trainer Don Sherman and the up-and-coming trotter had little difficulty going coast to coast in the $28,500 Series Final. The win, which came in 1:59.3 on the cold and windy afternoon, was the fourth in eight tries this year for the trotter who has hit the board in each of his first eight career starts and enjoyed the biggest win of his young career on Sunday. Band Winsome (Billy Dobson) came on to finish second while longshot Mo Titos Blue Chip (Phil Fluet) earned the show spot. Palmers Pride was the race's even money favorite and led an exacta and triple that paid $22.80 and $242.00, respectively. Palmers Pride adds his name to the list of previous winners of the Mongeon Memorial Trotting Series that includes Quick Feet, Order By Don and Pop I. Live racing resumes on Thursday afternoon at Saratoga with a first post time of 4:00pm. Mike Sardella

WILKES-BARRE PA - South Side Hanover and Stirling Debutante both took their third victories in as many preliminaries of the Bobby Weiss Series by winning $15,000 divisions of the trotting females competition Tuesday night at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, while in the third cut two "logical" horses came home 1-2 - and combined for a $919 Exacta.   South Side Hanover has had the rail in all three of her Weiss starts - the outer one the first week, the inner one the last two - but the result has always been the same, a visit to Victory Lane. Tuesday, the Cantab Hall filly went wire-to-wire in 1:58, with back fractions of 58.2 - 28.3 for trainer/driver Todd Schadel and Schadel's co-owner Roger Hammer, a/k/a "Team Vivid Photo."   Even though she equaled her lifetime mark of 1:55.4 in another Weiss division, the Credit Winner mare Stirling Debutante did not have it easy, pressed hard by first-over Abbie's Celticlass, but she nonetheless held her lead over that rival to the wire by a half-length, with Anthony Napolitano again in the sulky for trainer Christie Collins and owners J M F Racing LLC.   And as for that "logical" $919 exacta? Well, the winner, Squeals Of Delight, had seconds in both her two previous starts in the Weiss, and second-place horse Real Caviar had won a Weiss division in week one, so you think those two would get some respect here, right?   Well, $107.00 winner Squeals Of Delight held off 23-1 place horse Real Credit (another Schadelite) to her left by a length in 1:57.4, lowering the winning Donato Hanover mare's mark by six seconds - but admittedly they did have some assistance from the remainder of the seven-horse field, who all went offstride, including 1-5 favorite Selfie Hanover while on the lead on the far turn. Larry Stalbaum had Squeals Of Delight in the pocket at that point and took over the lead, during the moans of agony of the chalkplayers, and captured the victory for trainer Robert Bath, co-owner with Eldo Leonelli.   Squeals Of Delight was the second $100+ winner at Pocono in three nights, after $197.00 Majo Just Do It won on Sunday, and the timing couldn't have been more curious - because The Downs had just come off a week where the combined win prices of every winner, each night for four straight nights, never topped $100 TOTAL for a single card!   From the PHHA

WILKES-BARRE PA - Bushwacker, under full-out assault by Cooperstown down the backstretch in the $25,000 winners-over pace at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono Saturday night, turned back that rival on the far turn, then held off second-over Badiou Hanover by a neck in 1:49.3.   Driver Larry Stalbaum had no problem w(h)acking out the pace with the altered son of Rocknroll Hanover, passing the first two striped poles in 26 and 54.3. Shortly after the half Cooperstown, gunning for his fourth straight victory, came roaring up to the leader and got a half-length by before the ¾ but could not clear as the timer read 1:21.1, a 26.3 third quarter into an atypical backstretch headwind at Pocono.   Bushwhacker fought off Cooperstown and regained the lead, then had enough left when Badiou (pronounced ("BAD-I-O-U") Hanover circled wide and menaced nearing the finish. Cooperstown settled for third; favored Bettor's Edge raced in the pocket but may have been bottomed out chasing the whirlwind front end duel, as he faded in the last quarter and finished fifth.   Bushwacker posted his first victory since February 20, but he has been facing some pretty mean hombres in the interim: foe one example, he finished third behind Wiggle It Jiggleit and Rockeyed Optimist, arguably the two best pacers at the races at this moment, on March 28 at Dover. Chris Ryder trains the winner, who raised his bankroll to nearly $460,000 lifetime for Henderson Farms.   The Angus Hall mare Allerage Star went the fastest trotting mile year at Pocono in a $15,500 conditioned event, going right to the top for driver Marcus Miller and steaming home in 56 to complete a 1:52.3 victory, also a lifetime mark. Julie Miller conditions the winner of two straight for Little E LLC (also the breeder), Arthur Geiger, David Stoltz, and Jason Settlemoir.   With a temperature reading of 72 degrees at first post time, speed was the order of the day, as three other miles in 1:50 were paced, with Achilles Blue Chip (Marcus Miller), Simply Business (Anthony Napolitano), and Allbeef N Nobull (Mike Simons) all freezing the timer at exactly the new standard for the "magic mile." The Downs seasonal pacing standard of 1:49.1, set by Eighteen on March 26, did stand up to the speed-producing card (ironically, that win came in "nw9000L5," about four classes below the winners-over level).   The third round of the Bobby Weiss Series for pacers highlights the Sunday card at Pocono, which has a post time of 7:30 p.m. Both the males and females will contest three $15,000 divisions; hoping to making their Weiss records 3-for-3 will be, for the males, Options Are Adream (race 10, looking for his ninth win of an undefeated career) and Midnight Leader (race 11, the fastest Weiss winner in 1:51), and for the females, Candy Corn Hanover (race seven, her two Weiss wins the first two starts of her career.)   From the PHHA

TG's Divine Scene (Artistic Freedom) made his local harness racing debut a winning one on Saturday night in the $15,000 Open Pace at Saratoga Casino and Raceway. The Ron Burke trainee utilized his terrific early speed to secure a pocket trip behind longshot Titus Seelster (Frank Coppola Jr) who overcame post position eight within the first few strides of the 1 1/16 mile feature. Driver Larry Stalbaum popped the pocket with TG's Divine Scene after sitting through three quarters of 1:22.4 and cruised past the leader to take over and draw away turning for home. The race's favorite Fan Of Terror (Stephane Bouchard) was bottled up throughout the race but found late space to pace up the lane before coming up just shy of the 7-1 shot TG's Divine Scene who returned $17.00 to win. The exacta with Fan Of Terror second came back $77.50 while the triple with longshot Titus Seelster third paid $1343. The win, which came in 1:58 for the 1 1/16 after a mile in 1:50.3, was one of three on the night for Larry Stalbaum who has been regularly competing at the Spa since the start of the season last week. Live racing continues on Sunday afternoon with a matinee that begins at 12:15pm. Mike Sardella

It all started in 1986; a year with just two driving wins. It got better a few years later, with 421 and 419 wins in 2004 and 2006 respectively. Now, Yonkers Raceway mainstay Larry "Bomber" Stalbaum's legendary work ethic and aggressive on-track style has garnered him the milestone achievement of 5,000 lifetime driving wins. Larry's path to accomplishment was a long and winding road, accentuated by his forceful desire to make good on both professional and personal fronts. While the 5,000 victory plateau is a career feat, his personal life is no less of an accomplishment. Larry and veteran conditioner Kimberly Asher are lovingly raising four focused and devoted children. Facebook postings show Larry with his brood, none older than teenagers, traveling behind him in jog carts during training miles with charges from the Asher Stable. A recent posting by the children themselves spoke volumes, referring to Larry as "the best Dad EVER." Larry has right to be very proud of how far he has come, exhibiting the traits of both a consummate horseman and a very special father. The SOA of New York is proud that Larry graces the Yonkers' oval as part one of North America's deepest driving colonies, and wishes him every continued success, both at the Hilltop Oval and on the northeast circuit. The SOA of New York

On Monday afternoon at Monticello Raceway, harness racing driver Larry Stalbaum entered the winners circle for the 5000th time. He guided a horse that he owns Multiple Choice, a 12 year old Keystone Raider gelding to 3 length win in the first race. Larry was surrounded a throng of family, well-wishers and horseman in the winners circle after the race. Larry has been a long time regular at Monticello Raceway, over the last few years he has also branched out to Pocono Downs and Yonkers Raceway. An excited Stalbaum said in the winners circle "I am very glad that this win came at Monticello, I have a lot of fond memories here." Larry added to his tally by also winning the 5th race with Givemybest Hanover, for owner Woody Hoblitzell of Destin,FL. By Shawn Wiles

At Yonkers Raceway on Monday night, they honored harness racing driver Larry Stalbaum for reaching the big 5000. Stalbaum won his 5,000th career race earlier in the afternoon at Monticello Raceway, but we decided to ignore that malfeasance and give him his props anyway. Stalbaum was presented with the congratulatory sign, recognizing his latest accomplishment. "A tired driver and a lot or tired horses," Stalbaum sheepishly said, though the numbers beg to differ. Stalbaum, who turns 52 next month, is a native of Valparaiso, IN. He won his first race in 1986 and was a leading driver in Michigan before making the move east. Now based in Matamoras, PA, Stalbaum plies his craft in Westchester, as well as Monticello and Pocono. The Stalbaum/Kim Asher Stable is annually among the leaders locally, with Larry, as his career total confirms, also a sought-after catch-driver. Want to make Stalbaum smile? Bring up Special Report. The career $1.5 million earner won the 2008 final ($390,000) of the George Morton Levy Memorial Pacing Series here (1:51.4), the highlight of the hard-knocking gelding's 59-victory career. Stalbaum's best seasons were 2004 (wins, 421) and 2012 (purses, $4.38 million), and has earned seven figures in purses every season since 2003. Frank Drucker

Sapphire City (Jason Bartlett, $8.60) and Backstreet Hanover (Larry Stalbaum, $10) shared the glory Saturday night at the harness racing meeting at  Yonkers Raceway's winning the co-featured $48,000 Open Handicaps. Pole-assigned Sapphire City won the weekly pacing feature, chasing Forty Five Red (Mark MacDonald) before whipping him in a two-speed number (:27.4, :56.1, 1:24, 1:51.4). The final margin was a medium-sized nose a season's-best effort. The Real One (Pat Lachance) was a belated third as the 7-5 favorite, with Frankie's Dragon (Dan Dube) and E Z Noah (Brian Sears) completing the cashers. For second choice Sapphire City, a 7-year-old millionaire Metropolitan gelding trained by Paul Blumenfeld for co-owners Centaur Stables and Jordan Sklut, it was his fifth win in 26 seasonal starts. The exacta paid $35.20, with the triple returning $150. The week's marquee trot saw the lass Backstreet Hanover-from post position No. 5-move from seventh turning for home to win going away. The margin was 2¼ lengths in a season's-best 1:55.2. Rock of Cashel (Tyler Buter) rallied for second with ABC Muscles Boy (Eric Carlson), Skates N Plates (MacDonald) and Tober (Jason Bartlett) settling for the remainder. The latter two mixed it up early (:27.4, :57.1, 1:25.4), helping the cause of the closers. Tepid 7-2 fave Theraputic (Joe Bongiorno) was a non-factor seventh. For third choice Backstreet Hanover, a 7-year-old daughter of Andover Hall trained by Chris Marino for owner David Hamm, it was her fourth win in 19 '15 tries. The exacta paid $115, the triple returned $744 and the superfecta paid $4,716. The Raceway's live season continues Monday (first post 7:10 PM), a "French-centric" Tuesday (1 PM), then Thursday through Saturday (all at 7:10 PM). Evening simulcasting accompanies all night programs, with afternoon simulcasting available daily. Frank Drucker

The kids are getting out of school, the pools are opening up, and the weather is getting steamy which means we are entering the thick of the summer season, the point at which the harness racing action at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono reaches dizzying heights. Rest assured that the month of May went out with a bang at Pocono, with a bevy of excellent performers of both the equine and human variety vying for this edition of the Weekly Awards. PACER OF THE WEEK: FIFTYSHADESDARKER This 5-year-old gelding with a name that references a certain steamy book-turned-movie spent much of the spring at Northfield raceway in Ohio, reaching as high as Open II company in his stint there. He arrived at Harrah's at Philadelphia on May 7 and, after flashing early speed, faded to fifth in a $15,000 claiming event. Fiftyshadesdarker was claimed out of that race and joined the barn of trainer Chris Oakes. The gelding's fortunes began to change when he came to Pocono to face the non-winners of $7,000 condition group on May 19 in his first start for the Oakes barn. Driver George Napolitano Jr. found a nice cozy spot for him in the pocket, and Fiftyshadesdarker rallied late for the win in 1:52:4. On Saturday night he faced down the same condition group, this time from the #5 post and with the added pressure of being made the 3-2 betting favorite. But once again Napolitano was able to secure a pocket trip that allowed Fiftyshadesdarker to save both ground and energy. Come the home stretch, he had plenty left in the tank to blow by the pacesetter and he ended up pacing away to win by two lengths in 1:52:1. With two consecutive wins, Fiftyshadesdarker is probably moving up in class, but if he can keep finding that pocket, he might just be able to move up in style. Other top pacers this week include: Jebswesternshake (Anthony Napolitano, Kevin Lare), whose condition victory in 1:50 on Saturday night was the fastest time of the week at Pocono; Ideal Candidate (George Napolitano Jr., Dean Eckley), who followed up two straight wins at Harrah's with a claiming handicap victory at Pocono on Saturday night in 1:51:2, a new career mark; and Gordys Filly Yenta (Simon Allard and Jason Bartlett, Conor Flynn), a mare who won twice this week, a condition on Sunday and a claimer on Wednesday, each in a time of 1:52:2. TROTTER OF THE WEEK: PERFECT RENDITION In a $15,000 to $20,000 claiming handicap on Wednesday night, two extremely hot horses, Easter Leggs and P L Eureka, lined up alongside each other. Easter Leggs had won two of her last three races, while P L Eureka had won four of five, with his only loss in the stretch coming at the hands of Easter Leggs. Meanwhile Perfect Rendition had a pretty good record of his own to stand on, but since much of his success had come at Monticello, including a win in his last start, and since he was stuck with the #9 post, he was overlooked in favor of the others, going off at 14-1 on the tote board. Trained by Kimberly Asher, Perfect Rendition was fourth early on as favored Easter Leggs set the pace. Driver Larry Stalbaum stayed patient with Perfect Rendition, a nine-year-old gelding, moving up to third-in on the back stretch when another horse headed to the outside. Still, as the top of the stretch approached, Easter Leggs still had the lead and Perfect Rendition appeared to have precious little racing room. Yet Stalbaum was able to squeeze his horse through a tight window at the pylons. Easter Leggs began to falter and Perfect Rendition, full of energy, charged through this tiny aperture and blew by. He still had to sweat out a strong closing move by Trading Places, but he held up to win by a head in 1:55. It just adds to the wonderful year this veteran is having, with ten in-the-money finishes in eleven starts and six wins. Honorable mention on the trotting side goes to: Cadillac Cruiser (Simon Allard, Pierre Paradis), who rolled to a claiming handicap victory on Wednesday night in 1:53:4, the fastest trotting time of the week at Pocono; She Wore Red (Anthony Napolitano, Nancy Johansson), a filly who rallied for her second consecutive condition win on Tuesday night, setting a new career-best of 1:55:1 in the process; and Born To Fight (Anthony Napolitano, Mark Ford), who overcame a tough outside post to score his second straight condition win on Sunday night in 1:55:3. LONG SHOT OF THE WEEK: GORDYS FILLY YENTA This pacing mare sent the crowd home stunned on Sunday night by winning a condition in the last race of the night at 16-1, paying off $35.60 on a $2 wager.   DRIVER OF THE WEEK: LARRY STALBAUM Stalbaum had his best night of the meet at Pocono on Saturday night when the competition was at its toughest, as he picked up three driving victories.   TRAINER OF THE WEEK: AKE SVANSTEDT Following up on his big year at Pocono in 2014, Svanstedt has continued to roll this season, and he added to his total this week with three more training wins including a double on Sunday.   That will do it for this week, but we'll see you at the track. Feel free to e-mail me at Jim Beviglia

WILKES-BARRE PA - The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, the newly-announced official name of the northeast Pennsylvania oval known in the industry as Pocono Downs, kicked off its 50th anniversary year of harness racing on Saturday night, with three $15,000 divisions of the Bobby Weiss Series for developing male pacers all going against the form as far as the race winners.   The biggest upset was produced in the first division, with Shadow Margeaux (Larry Stalbaum), who had three third-place finishes in this series last year, benefitting from an overcooked pace over the "good" surface to rally from last at the stretch call and tally in 1:52.4. The Shadow Play gelding, trained by many-time Downs champion Steve Salerno for himself, Bruce Potter, and Edward Bardowski, paid $77.00 to win as the longest shot on the board - with second-longest shot Kolt Power second and third-longest shot Red Pine third.   The second Weiss cut saw the second choice win, but it was a $15.60 second choice, as the Well Said gelding Mojito Hanover (Marcus Miller) was a pocket rocket in a 1:53.1 tally, with the 2-5 Burke Stable entry settling for a 3-5 finish. Jim Campbell harnesses "Mojito" for Fred and Shirley Schwartz, Onda Racing Stable LLC, and Shore Thing Stables LLC.   A two-ply Burke force got some measure of revenge in the third division, but Victory At Last (Matt Kakaley), who held off the first-over YS Lotus in 1:52.4, was in an entry that was not the favorite - he paid $4.00 to win, while YS Lotus was 3-5. Victory At Last, an altered son of Quik Pulse Mindale, is owned by the leading combine in the sport, Burke Racing Stable LLC and Weaver Bruscemi LLC.   The Weiss Series will feature pacing females and trotting males in first division action on Tuesday, while trotting fillies will be in the spotlight Wednesday, as Pocono opens on a three-night-a-week schedule. The top competitors after four preliminary legs come back for a $30,000 divisional Championship.   The feature for overnight horses, a $22,000 pace, rang true to form as the Cambest gelding Blatantly Best (Jim Morrill Jr., $3.80) rallied from second-over to be clear late in 1:51.3. Larry Remmen trains the winner for owner Bradley Grant.   However, Shadow Margeaux was the first of many longshots to report home first on Saturday - races 11-13 consecutively saw One More Miracle ($41.40), Salevster Stallion ($34.40) and Feels Like Magic N ($48.40) handsomely reward their scattered backers.   George Napolitano Jr., going for his fourth straight dash driving title and record ninth local crown, guided home four winners on the opener, with Matt Kakaley, the last horseman other than "George Nap" to be on top here (2011), had three. Two-time defending North American dash champion Ron Wrenn Jr., in his first-ever night of racing at Pocono, had a respectable 10-1-3-1-.300 sulky tally, despite being named on only one horse at the time of the draw.   Jerry Connors

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