The action was fast and furious at Mohegan Sun Pocono Saturday night. Instead of fast cars harness racing fans were treated to the fastest horses in North America and they put on a speed show that Vin Diesel himself would have appreciated.
First of all, once again, as in 2010, Mohegan Sun proved to be an excellent host for this marquee event. There were plenty of places to sit outside and watch the races, with good views. Although it rained on and off throughout the night, the highly-regarded, lightning-fast 5/8's track held up well even when sloppy.
On the 14 race card, 5 drivers won all the races. The best drive of the night was delivered by Ron Pierce. Pierce, one of the top big-race drivers in the sport's history had a huge night with 3 wins. In the 2-year-old filly trot, Pierce gunned Shake It Cerry to the early lead. This forced the one-dimensional front runner Cooler Schooner to take back and that was exactly what Pierce was hoping for. Cooler Schooner was not comfortable in the pocket and when driver John Campbell moved her out to try and go for the lead off the first turn she broke and Shake It Cerry, under perfect rating by Pierce, rolled to a sharp wire-to-wire win.
Yannick Gingras also had a huge night winning 5 races, three of which were Breeders Crown wins. I've said many times that in my opinion Gingras is one of the best drivers of trotters I've ever seen, and Gingras won 3 trot races on the night. But perhaps the most popular was his win with a pacer, the great Foiled Again. At 9 years of age, Foiled Again, who now has a remarkable 74 wins, became the oldest horse ever to win a Breeders Crown race when he dug in and held on by the narrowest of margins to win the Breeders Crown Open Pace in 1:49.2 over the sloppy track. It was vintage Foiled Again, who never seems to work out an easy trip. In the Open Pace, Foiled Again was parked to a fast half by Pet Rock, took on pressure from Modern Legend, then held off Pet Rock's bold late charge. Warrawee Needy loomed boldly turning for home but broke. If Warrawee Needy didn't break, I think he would have been right there so it was tough luck for the connections.
David Miller, another great big-race driver, won two Breeders Crown races, both with 4-1 shots. Miller had to work out trips to win but that's what he's so good at. He won the 2-year-old filly pace from second-over with Uffizi Hanover and then put Shelliscape in a good spot when she upset the Open Mare Pace. Shelliscape lost cover and had to grind to the leaders but Miller rated her beautifully and she had something left to surge for the win late in a game effort.
Tim Tetrick also had a huge night with 3 wins. In his first two wins, with Market Share and I Luv The Nitelife, he left aggressively and worked out pocket trips. But, in both races the leader tired and Tetrick had to use his considerable skills to maneuver his horses out of traffic in time. And Tetrick also won with Captaintreacherous, who made two moves to the lead and just held on. In mid-stretch it appeared that the gutsy colt was going to get caught but Captaintreacherous always seems to find more and he refused to give up and surged late to win by a neck over a stout Sunshine Beach, who went a huge parked-out trip without cover for driver John Campbell. Sunshine Beach, the only horse to beat Captaintreacherous this year, gave Captaintreacherous a workout in this race.
Another highlight of the night was the win by 3-year-old filly trotter Bee A Magician. This filly is now 15 for 15 this year but this was perhaps her greatest performance. She quarter-moved to the lead off the first turn for driver Brian Sears, shook off pressure down the back and drew off to an impressive win while in hand. This was the first time I saw her in person and I was impressed. Frau Blucher, the filly who finished 2nd, is a fast trotter but was no match for this outstanding filly. The horse of the year vote between Bee A Magician and Captaintreacherous is going to be interesting this year.
I just want to mention two more things. One, if you didn't get to see the races, I recommend that you watch the replays. Two, I want to commend the drivers, all the drivers, for their performances. Like many 5/8 sized tracks, Pocono is speed favoring. At times, especially in the last 10 years, I've been critical of the drivers in big races such as the Hambletonian and Meadowlands Pace when they allowed a horse to get away with a soft pace. One thing you don't want to see in these championship-caliber races is boring races with no movement. In my opinion, the evolution of the sulky is the main reason why speed carries so well. If we're going to use these sulkies, then the drivers have to be aggressive. It's tough on the horses, but it is what it is.
On Saturday night at Mohegan Sun, the drivers did a great job. In three of the championship races, the first quarter was raced in :25 and change. The action was fast and furious, and there was a good outside flow in most of the races. You could tell that the drivers were acutely aware of the speed favoring nature of the track, and, what was at stake. The horses, and the drivers, put on a quite a show.