The month of June arrived at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs and brought with it some of the most competitive racing we've had all year long. We saw a little of everything: Standout performances, stunning long shots, drivers and trainers putting in big efforts, and much, much more. It's never easy to pick out the very best of such a crowded field, but that's what we're here to do by handing out another edition of the Weekly Awards. PACER OF THE WEEK: BJ'S RAMEAU Like any other athlete, character is often most clearly revealed in a harness racing horse when adversity strikes. In the case of BJ's Rameau, that adversity came in the midst of an outstanding season as one of the top claiming pacers at Pocono, when, in his first start in the barn of trainer Matias Ruiz on May 17, he finished dead last in a field of nine despite having a lead at the top of the stretch. That rare clunker of a finish was mitigated somewhat by the fact that he started the race from the outside post, meaning that the lead he captured was extremely hard-fought. Still, the bettors were skeptical enough that in his next start, BJ's Rameau went off at a tepid 6-1. He responded with a gutty win from the pocket in 1:50:2. On Saturday night, he was the even-money favorite once again in his usual $25,000-$30,000 claiming handicap group, and he delivered a bravura effort. With Joe Pavia Jr. in the bike, BJ's Rameau made the lead about 3/8 of a mile into the race and poured it on from there, beating the toughest pacers on the grounds by 5 Â¾ lengths and doing so in a career-best 1:49:1, which was the fastest pacing time posted this week at Pocono. Like all the finest horses, this 5-year-old gelding bounced back from his brief bout of adversity stronger than ever. Other top pacers this week include: Morgan Shark (Simon Allard, Pierre Paradis), who ripped off his Third Straight claiming win on Saturday night and did so in a career-best 1:50:1; Skitsofrantic (Mark MacDonald, John Barchi), who continues to tear up the lower claiming ranks, winning in 1:53:3 on Sunday night for his fourth consecutive victory; and Stanhope (Anthony Napolitano, Steve Salerno), a three-year-old who won his Third Straight condition race on Sunday, this one in 1:52:4, despite the fact that he wasn't favored in any of those starts. TROTTER OF THE WEEK: JOHNHANNIBALSMITH Fans of 80's television will recognize this name as being the same as the leader of the A-Team, a guy famous for saying, "I love it when a plan comes together" at the end of every episode. For the trotter of the same name, an 11-year-old gelding from the barn of trainer Gilberto Garcia-Herrera, the plan has been pretty simple. He just goes out and beats everybody he faces. Coming into Wednesday night's $12,500 claiming trot, Johnhannibalsmith had made seven starts in 2014 and won six of them. His only loss was by a heartbreaking head to Fortissimo on April 25 at Chester, but he ripped off three more wins in a row following that defeat, two of them coming at Pocono. On Wednesday night, he upped his claiming price from $10,000 to $12,500 for a new challenge, but the race played out the same when the gelding booked to the front end. With his regular driver George Napolitano Jr. in tow, Johnhannibalsmith led all the way even though he was tested at the end of the mile. That extra effort led him to a career-best time of 1:54:3, meaning that this veteran trotter deserves another victory cigar lit in his honor, just like his television namesake liked to do. Honorable mention on the trotting side goes to: Tamasin Hall (Bill Mullin driver and trainer), a mare who picked up her second straight condition win on Tuesday night, this one in 1:56:3; Bufalino Hanover (Matt Kakaley, Todd Schadel), whose condition win on Tuesday night came in the week's fastest trotting time of 1:53:3, which was also his career-best; and Truth In Action (Mike Simons, Jenny Melander), who overcame an outside post position to win a claimer on Tuesday night in 1:55:2. LONG SHOT OF THE WEEK: PSYCHOBABBLE The filly's maiden victory on Tuesday night with Tom Jackson in the bike was probably just as memorable for her bettors as it was for her, as she cashed in at 36-1 for a $74.40 payout on a $2 ticket. DRIVER OF THE WEEK: Joe Pavia Jr. Joe proved this week that he is still a force in the sulky when he takes on enough drives, posting back-to-back three-win nights on Saturday and Sunday night. TRAINER OF THE WEEK: FRED GRANT Grant pulled off a unique training double on Tuesday night, as each of his winners, trotter Psychobabble and pacer Somenicebeach, earned their maiden victories. That will do it for this week, but we'll see you at the track. Feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com. by Jim Beviglia, for Pocono Downs
It may have said 27-1 on the board, but Incredible Gambler looked more like an odds-on favorite last week as she took aim on the leaders at the head of the stretch and won going away with Dave Siegel in the sulky. She attempts an encore in Saturday night's 10th race. Incredible Gambler, a 7-year-old daughter of Allamerican Ingot, currently carries the banner of Clint Lugar and hails from the Lino Pacheco barn. Making her first start since late August at Vernon Downs and sporting a qualifier with the comment "under wraps", she was ready to rock and roll off the bench. While Siegel was merely the passenger for the latest victory, he has a successful history with Incredible Gambler that also includes posing for pictures as the owner of this hard-hitting distaffer. "I claimed her back in April of last year," Siegel explained. "I owned her for a little over a year, though she was claimed a couple of times in between. Matias Ruiz trained her and she was about as reliable a performer as there can be. "I have won with her 11 times, and I think except for one race where she broke, she got a check in something like 25 consecutive races. Clint purchased her from me at the end of the last meet and she raced very well in Minnesota for Luke Plano, but did not seem to like the track at Vernon Downs as much as she does the Cal Expo oval." Incredible Gambler, who went over the $90,000 earnings plateau with her most recent appearance for Team Lugar/Pacheco/Siegel, can pretty much get the job done from any position in the race, but does have a preference. " While she can race any which way, she likes coming off the pace the best, so with our shorter fields and wide turns, she is really well suited for Sacramento," Siegel said. " I was really excited when Clint asked me to drive her, especially when we have some really good drivers here. I guess he saw how I had done with her and gave me the nod. " She qualified super, and I was just hoping for a good, off the pace trip with her in her first outing after the trip west. But the front went fast enough, and she was her old self coming from the back. It's really nice to be reunited and I hope I can continue to do well with her." It's Getting Hairy, Phantom Dan square off Saturday night's 13-race program is headed by an Open Pace that finds It's Getting Hairy and Phantom Dan in a rematch, with the former going from the outside while Phantom Dan gets some serious relief as he moves from the demanding 10 slot to the No. 5 post for this assignment. Since running into serious traffic problems and losing all chance in his local debut, It's Getting Hairy has posted back-to-back impressive victories for Tim and Denise Maier. The 4-year-old son of Relentless Yankee was haltered from a $6,000 claimer in August at Running Aces and set his 1:52 3/5 mark 10 days later over that track. He is looking for his ninth win on the year from 21 appearances. It's Getting Hairy came from last to prove a powerful winner in a conditioned affair on November 2, was scratched from his next scheduled outing and then got to the job done at the top rung in his most recent tour. Sitting next-to-last until the final bend, he swung out to take aim on the leaders turning for home and rolled by for the two and a quarter-length score. Phantom Dan kicked off the meet with three straight victories, but could not overcome the assigned 10 post last time and faltered. James Kennedy drives, trains and co-owns the 5-year-old son of Little Steven with Jennifer Burns and he could easily rebound now that he isn't doing his work from that testing slot. The bay performer was unbeatable here between October 26 and November 9, with the last two scores coming at this Open level. In fact, he was not beaten to a pole in those outings, twice hitting the wire in 1:54 2/5 twice and clocking a 1:55 mile in the other. His 1:53 1/5 lifetime standard was established over this layout earlier in the season. One And Only has been knocking on the door with two seconds and a third since returning from Vernon Downs in New York, where he set his 1:52 4/5 mark this summer. Richard Morita and David Yamada own, Lino Pacheco trains and Luke Plano will once again handle the lines. Completing the field are Giant Sculpture, who has the cozy rail slot with trainer Gene Vallandingham in the sulky; the Gretchen Smith-trained Steuben Jumpnjack, to be guided by Steve Wiseman; and Split Ticket, who gives the Pacheco barn two looks at the outcome with Chip Lackey at the controls. By Mark Ratzky for Cal Expo Harness
The mare Dreaming Of Amy and the gelding Bobby Baccala have a pretty good rivalry going in the trotting ranks here at Cal Expo, having met six straight times with three victories each going into this week's harness racing action. They clash again in Friday night's 11th race.