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Darlinonthebeach handed Pure Country the first loss of her career in last weekend's eliminations for Saturday night's $313,800 Miss Pennsylvania Stakes, but harness racing trainer Nancy Johansson knows her filly faces another challenging task ahead. Johansson trains Darlinonthebeach for breeder/owner White Birch Farm. Darlinonthebeach, who is 2-for-2 this year after hitting the board in nine of 10 races last season, is the 5-2 morning line favorite in the Miss Pennsylvania, which is restricted to Pennsylvania-sired 3-year-old female pacers. Darlinonthebeach will start the final from post four with David Miller in the sulky. Pure Country, who was unbeaten in 10 starts in 2015 and received the Dan Patch Award for best 2-year-old female pacer, will leave from post six with driver Brett Miller and is the 3-1 second choice. She made her seasonal debut in the first of three Miss Pennsylvania eliminations and finished third after getting to the front following a :26.3 opening quarter-mile and leading into the stretch. Newborn Sassy, who finished second to Darlinonthebeach's 1:50.4 mile in that elim, is 5-1 on the morning line and will start from post two with driver Tim Tetrick. Newborn Sassy won eight of 10 races last year, including the Matron Stakes, for training tandem of Jim King Jr. and Jo Ann Looney-King. Call Me Queen Be and I Said Diamonds, the remaining two elimination winners, will leave from posts five and nine, respectively. Call Me Queen Be, with Scott Zeron driving for trainer Ross Croghan, is 4-1 on the morning line and I Said Diamonds, with Matt Kakaley in the bike for Matias Ruiz, is 10-1. "I think Pure Country is a great filly," said Johansson, who is the daughter of Pure Country's trainer, Jimmy Takter. "She needed that race. Newborn Sassy needed that race too; it was the first start of the year for them. I'm sure Pure Country and Newborn Sassy are going to be much better this week. They're going to be tighter. It's going to be a good race." Darlinonthebeach is a daughter of stallion Somebeachsomewhere out of the mare Darlin's Delight. White Birch Farm also bred, raced and owns Darlin's Delight, who earned $2.90 million in her career and received the 2006 Dan Patch Award for best 3-year-old filly pacer. Last year, Darlinonthebeach won two of 10 races, including a division of the International Stallion Stakes, and finished second on five occasions, including the She's A Great Lady Stakes. "It seems like she's matured a little bit from last year," Johansson said about Darlinonthebeach. "She grew up quite a bit; filled out quite a bit from last year. I think that helps. When they get stronger they can carry their speed a little longer. Mentally I think she's a bit more focused than she was last year. It all just needs to come together, which so far it has." Darlinonthebeach's only off-the-board finish came in last October's Breeders Crown final, where she finished sixth after going off stride at the halfway point. But Darlinonthebeach made up ground with a :26.4 last quarter-mile that was nearly one-second quicker than any other horse in the race. "It was unfortunate in the Breeders Crown that she ran into the horse in front of her because I think she would have been right there on the wire with Pure Country in that start," Johansson said. "She made up an enormous amount of ground; she was really sharp that day. But that is what it is; you can't change that now." Because she won only twice last year, Johansson was able to qualify Darlinonthebeach once and then put the filly into a conditioned race for Pennsylvania-preferred female pacers ages 4 and under. Getting a start prior to the Miss Pennsylvania eliminations was an advantage, she said. "Qualifying and racing is a big difference," Johansson said. "But you don't want to race these 3-year-old fillies against open (level) mares. For her, she had the advantage where she was still in non-winners of three and Pennsylvania-bred, so I had an option to race her somewhere. "I think she raced really well (last weekend)," the trainer added. "She went (1:)50.4 under no urging whatsoever. When I watched the replay I realized David didn't even encourage her to go coming down the stretch. He just pulled the earplugs and she was off. So I was happy with it. So far so good." Pocono will conduct two race cards Saturday sandwiching the Kentucky Derby. The first card, with first-race post time of 11 a.m., features three divisions of the Pennsylvania All-Stars for 3-year-old male trotters. The evening card, in addition to the Miss Pennsylvania, includes the $561,500 Pennsylvania Classic for Pennsylvania-sired 3-year-old male pacers. Ken Weingartner

Three $20,000 eliminations for next Saturday evening's inaugural $313,800 Miss Pennsylvania Pace for PA-sired harness racing three-year-old pacing fillies were held Saturday night at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, with the pocket the racing position to be in, as all three winners rallied from the two-hole - one outside, the other two inside up the famed "Pocono Pike."   In the first elimination, Pure Country, undefeated in 10 starts at two and national divisional champion, fell from the ranks of the unbeaten, as in a 54.3 sprint home she couldn't go enough in her seasonal bow and had to settle for third, and a position in the Miss Pennsylvania, behind the victorious Darlinonthebeach, a 1:50.4 winner, and Pocono Pike-shooting second-place finisher Newborn Sassy.   Driver David Miller sent the Somebeachsomewhere filly Darlinonthebeach directly to the front, ceding the lead at the 26.3 quarter to the 50-cent favorite Pure Country, with Newport Sassy sitting third. Pure Country got a breather into the second quarter headwind and hit the half in 56.1, picking up the tempo to reach the ¾ pole in 1:23.3.   Turning for home Miller pulled Darlinonthebeach (second choice at 2-1) outside and sailed right on by, with Miller sitting chilly in the bike. Newport Sassy came up the Pike to grab second, a length behind the winner and a neck ahead of Pure Country. Nancy Johansson had the winning filly ready for a 1:51.3 seasonal bow victory here, and now the fast miss is 2 for 2 in 2016 and possessor of a new speed badge for owner/breeder White Birch Farm.   "She was really strong all through the mile," Miller noted after the race; when reminded that a win in the Miss Pennsylvania would put Miller in the $200 Million Club in driving earnings, joining John Campbell and Ron Pierce, Miller gave the thumbs up and said, "Something to aim for!"   The two-hole was again the place to be in the second Miss Pennsylvania elimination, as the Well Said filly I Said Diamonds, parked to the 26.1 quarter for the top then yielding to sit behind Sail To The Beach through 54.2 and 1:22.3 middle splits, used the inside route to get the decision in a personal best of 1:51. I Said Please, uncovered from late backstretch, stayed game for second, a length back and completing the "I Said" Exacta, with Sail To The Beach hanging in for third, another half-length behind the victorious 3-5 favorite.   Matt Kakaley handled the sulky duties for Little Bapa LLC and trainer Matias Ruiz, who got the filly to train in the offseason and enjoyed victory with her at first asking. "She is by far the best horse I have ever trained," noted Ruiz after the race with a smile. "She was good last year, and she's a little bigger, a little stronger this year."   Driver Scott Zeron watched the first two elims and settled on a winning strategy in the third elim, sailing up the Pocono Pike to an easy 2 ¼-length triumph in 1:51.3 with the Somebeachsomewhere filly Call Me Queen Be, an even-money choice in her first start of the year. Zeron and the "Queen" parked main rival Ivy League to a 26.1 opener, and even when the pacesetter got a breather to the 56 half, Zeron was not worried: "This filly has great speed, and can do anything on the racetrack," he said after the race.   And sure enough, after a 1:23.3 ¾, Call Me Queen Be waited for the inside lane to open, then darted through with lightning quickness to go by with ease; Save The Treasure was along from third-inside position to get second, 1½ lengths ahead of Ivy League, who held for third. Ross Croghan trains the winner, who also took a new mark, for the Let It Ride Stables Inc. and Dana Parham.   These top three fillies for each division will return for the Miss Pennsylvania Championship during the evening card of a Kentucky Derby doubleheader next Saturday at The Downs. David Miller has the only driving decision to make, as he guided Darlinonthebeach and Ivy League; Ivy League's trainer Jimmy Takter, who also handles Pure Country, was the only conditioner to land two in the rich event.   Pocono / PHHA  

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