The 2021 harness racing season got underway on Saturday afternoon at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, and while the temperature hovered just above 20°F, the action was hot on the racetrack, at the claiming box, and if your horse was driven by Matt Kakaley.
Featured during the curtain-raiser were the first preliminary legs of the Game Of Claims Pacing Series for two divisions: horses with a $25,000 base tag and horses based at $15,000. The claiming prices rise a little in the next two preliminaries -- which may be part explanation for the incredible total of 41 claims during the card. All told, $825,000 worth of horseflesh went home to a new barn after the races as hopefully the right horse for their purchasers to chase after their $50,000 and $30,000 Championships respectively on March 6.
There were seven $25,000 divisions of the action for the $25,000-priced set, with Kakaley winning three times in the class and six times on the day. His fastest win in the group came with the American Ideal gelding American Rebel, who sat a ground-saving journey then angled out in the lane to lower his mark to 1:52.3 for trainer Jennifer Bongiorno and the ownership of Glenn Goller, Abraham Basen, and David Postman.
Unfortunately for those connections, American Rebel was one of six overall Game Of Claims winners to be purchased out of his race.
The 1:52.3 clocking was matched by another winner in the higher-level action, with the Mach Three gelding Lord Willoughby A one of a minority of horses on the lead to do well on the arctic day. Despite only one race in just under two months, Lord Willoughby A paced bravely late to win for owner/trainer/driver Larry Stalbaum.
The fastest mile in all the Game Of Claims action came in one of four $15,000 divisions for the $15,000-tagged pacers, with the Always A Virgin gelding Sunset Braydon continuing his hot form with a 1:52.1 win for driver Jim Pantaleano, coming off his 8,000th career win on Thursday; trainer Justin Pirillo; and Fox Racing Inc.
The Royal Art gelding Royal Heart won the Game Of Claims Series Championship for $15,000 horses here last year, and he got his 2021 off to a good start by winning a division in 1:54.2 despite a two-month layoff. Royal Heart was one of three Kalaley winners for this price tag as well, with Matt driving for trainer Clay Faurot Jr. and owner Chelsey Faurot. Both Sunset Braydon and Royal Heart were claimed out of their races.
Quickest of all the Saturday competitors at Pocono was the richest one: Western Fame, with the son of Western Ideal raising his career earnings closer to $1.9 million with a 1:51.1 victory. Jordan Stratton rated the half, then sent the talented pacer through the chill in :54 the last half to tally for trainer Shane Tritton and owners Bruce Soulsby, Stephen Klunowski, B & I Stables LLC, and Kapildeo Singh.
(PHHA / Pocono)