Eliminations highlight dampened Pocono Downs card

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Ted Black

June 28th, 2015

A series of heavy downpours that swept through the Mid-Atlantic region may have left numerous standardbred racing ovals sloppy on Saturday night, but the off going at Pocono Downs certainly could not dampen the enthusiasm of owners, trainers and spectators who witnessed numerous elimination races for a quartet of lucrative finals this Saturday at the Pennsylvania five-eighths mile oval.

Last Saturday night Pocono Downs hosted eliminations for the Earl Beal, Jr. Memorial for three-year-old colt trotters, the Max Hempt Memorial for three-year-old colt pacers and the James Lynch Memorial for three-year-old filly pacers. Not all of the eliminations proved to be formful, but they were revealing to a great extent and should set the stage for four stellar events this weekend when over $1.8 million will be on the line.

In the first elimination for the Earl Beal, Jr. Memorial, Habitat (Yannick Gingras) made an early break as the 2-5 favorite and finished last as Cruzado Dela Noche (David Miller) overcame a first over journey and splashed home to a 1:53.3 score for trainer Nancy Johansson of JK She'salady fame. A Muscle Massive colt out of a Credit Winner mare, Cruzado Dela Noche has won twice in five starts this year and sports five wins in 16 career starts. Longshots Southwind Mozart (Ake Svandstedt) and Boots N Chains (Andy Miller) also advanced to the final.

One race later in the first of three elims for the James Lynch Memorial, Stacia Hanover (Scott Zeron) easily lived up to her role as the even-money choice when she overcame post six to gain command from the outset and then led throughout to score in 1:51.3. A daughter of Western Ideal out of an Art Major mare trained by Steve Elliott, Stacia Hanover has won twice in six starts this year and boasts five wins in 11 career tries. She will be a major player in the final. Bettor Be Steppin (Corey Callahan) lasted for second after a perfect pocket journey, while Wicked Little Minx (Brett Miller) closed willingly late after sitting three-deep on the rail throughout.

Then one race later in the second Earl Beal, Jr. Memorial elim, Wicker Hanover (Andrew McCarthy) benefited from sharp handling and rallied in the lane for a 16-1 upset in 1:54.1, toppling the 1-9 Jimmy Takter-trained entry of Pinkman (Gingras) and Whom Shall I Fear (David Miller). Pinkman lasted for the place spot in a decent effort after setting the fractions, while Whom Shall I Fear got usurped from final contention when Centurion ATM (Svandstedt) rallied late for third. Centurion ATM won last year's Peter Haughton Memorial Final at the Meadowlands on Hambletonian Day and was later the runner-up in voting for Maryland-bred horse of the year behind Weeper.

Then one race later in the first of three elims for the Max Hempt Memorial, Artspeak (Zeron) rebounded from a dull, fifth-place effort in the North America Cup final at Mohawk to lead throughout as the 4-5 choice in 1:50. Last year's champion two-year-old colt pacer left to make the front in 27 flat, got a breather by the half in 55.1 then kept Pierce Hanover at bay first over and outlasted the inside bid of In The Arsenal (Brian Sears) while under serious urging in the lane. All three colts are certainly capable of being major players in the final.

Then one race later in the first of two eliminations for the Ben Franklin for older pacers, Luck Be Withyou (George Napolitano, Jr.) rebounded from an eighth-place finish as the even-money choice in the $175,000 Battle Of Lake Erie at Northfield Park when he gained command in a wicked 26 flat opener, led the field by the half in 53.4 and then held safe Vegas Vacation, Captive Audience and Domethatagain to prevail in 1:50. Foiled Again finished a nondescript fifth, but he would eventually earn a spot in the final as the fastest of the two fifth-place finishers from the elims.

Then one race later in the second Max Hempt Memorial elim, Wiggle It Jiggleit (Montrell Teague) rebounded from the first setback of his career when second to Wakizashi Hanover in the $1 million North America Cup final to score by four lengths in 1:50.1. One week after being sent to the front in a 25.1 opener, Wiggle It Jiggleit bided his time through the early stage, brushed to command passing the half and then sprinted clear in the lane to his 11th win in 12 starts this year. Longshot National Seelster rallied for the place spot, but Wiggle It Jiggleit looks like the only serious animal from this elim.

Then one race later in the second Ben Franklin elim, State Treasurer (David Miller) continued his torrid recent form when he rallied from last early and fourth over to score by a length in 1:50.3. A six-year-old Real Desire stallion trained by Ian Moore, State Treasurer has now won four of his last five starts with prior wins in the Gold Cup at Mohawk and the Molson at Western Fair. He can win on any size track and under any circumstance and now boasts 25 wins and career earnings of nearly $1.1 million from 78 lifetime outings.

Then one race later in the second of the three Max Hempt elims, Wakizashi Hanover (Tim Tetrick) benefited from smart handling and maintained his winning ways when he overhauled Lost For Words (David Miller) in the lane to score by nearly a length in 1:50.4. A Dragon Again gelding trained by Joann Looney-King, Wakizashi Hanover has now won six of seven starts and earned over $500,000, thanks primarily to his recent score in the North America Cup at Mohawk when he handed Wiggle It Jiggleit the first defeat of his career. They will be reunited in next weekend's final, which will feature the five best sophomores in the land.

Artspeak, In The Arsenal, Wiggle It Jiggleit and Lost For Words, who suffered his first setback in five starts this year on Saturday night, all loom serious contenders for the Max Hempt final. In fact, the post position draw will play a big role in the outcome, as it did with the North America Cup. This group of sophomore pacing colts is a genuine bunch and they will have numerous encounters in major stakes this summer and fall.

One race later in the second James Lynch Memorial elim, The Show Returns (John Campbell) continued her solid start to the season while JK She'salady continues to baffle. While The Show Returns angled out of the pocket to follow Sassa Hanover (Gingras) rather than JK She'salady (Tetrick) through the far turn, the reigning horse of the year wilted in the lane and suffered her third straight setback after winning the first 13 starts to her career. More importantly, JK She'salady failed to earn a berth in the final.

Then one race later in the second Earl Beal, Jr. Memorial elim for trotting colts, Uncle Lasse (Brett Miller) benefited from a pocket trip and eventually overhauled favored Crazy Wow (Gingras) to prevail in 1:54. Uncle Lasse remained perfect in all four starts this year now sports an 8-4-1 slate and $465,000 bankroll from 17 career tries for Takter, while Crazy Wow has won three of five on the season and sports an 8-3-0 slate and $420,000 bankroll in 16 career tries. Both will be major players in the final.

Then in the final elim on the card, Momas Got A Gun (Brett Miller) left, yielded, angled first over and then wore down favored Divine Caroline (David Miller) to capture the third James Lynch elim in 1:51.3 while Happiness (Gingras) faded in the lane and failed to earn a spot in the final. Momas Got A Gun won for only the second time in seven starts this year, but now owns six wins in 15 career tries for trainer Virgil Morgan, Jr. Divine Caroline owns a 2-2-3 slate from seven starts this year and a 3-6-5 slate from 18 career outings for trainer Joe Holloway, but she merits respect in next week's final.