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Kakaley Wins Summer Drivers Challenge

Published: September 18, 2016 11:15 pm ET

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Before Sunday’s $100,000 'Summer Sizzle Drivers Challenge' Championship at Harrah’s Philadelphia, there were two simulations run of the eight-race contest, conducted among the eight busiest drivers during the summer at the two tracks of the Pennsylvania Harness Horsemen’s Association and with the top driver receiving a bounty of $40,000.

Both projections had 28-year-old Matt Kakaley ahead after the third race, and indeed with two wins and a second in the opening trio of races, Kakaley was on top.

Where Kakaley might have problems, the projections said, would likely come after the third race, where he was scheduled to drive horses 20-1, 20-1, 8-1, 20-1, and 7-1 on the morning line, with none of this quintet rated to get a cheque by the early odds. And it was in these latter five contests that Kakaley really won the Challenge, as he finished third twice, fourth twice, and once fifth – remember, in races where he was not projected to get a cheque – adding valuable points to his commanding early lead and coming home a relatively easy winner.

Within a 35-25-15-10-8-5-4-2 (7 for scratch) point system, Kakaley finished with 153 points, well clear of the only other driver to win twice in the contest, George Napolitano Jr., at 129. (Matt and G-Nap had one other thing in common: in each race, one driver was able to pick the horse he wanted to drive, with the first pick going to highest summerlong point-earner Napolitano and then down the line, and he and Kakaley, who had sixth selection, were the only drivers to win with the horse they picked, although in fairness we mention Andrew McCarthy’s pick was scratched.)

The other drivers in final order were Tony Morgan (112 points and the only other “lap leader” besides winner Kakaley, as he won the initial race of the contest), Marcus Miller (104), Simon Allard (97), Corey Callahan (92), Pat Berry (91), and Andrew McCarthy (58). The tone of the contest was consistent – all-out – from the first 10 seconds of the first race, where four drivers were rocking and urging their horses leaving, to the very end, where there was a photo needed to decide both second and fourth.

Besides the drivers, other horsemen was also rewarded for their efforts in staging the contest – all eight races used carried purses 20 percent higher than normal, and the horses who finished sixth through last brought home a $300 cheque. And all at the track were thrilled with the generally go-go-go, no-quarter-given racing – and watching Matt Kakaley earn his Drivers Challenge Championship with intelligent handling of his latter-race longsho
ts, taking advantage of every opportunity (Kakaley noticed early on that horses wide at the three-quarters and through the far turn were not faring well with a strong stretch headwind, so he raced “tucked in” much of the day then came along the inside) with his longshot legion to protect his early cushion and earn the 'bragging rights’ of the Championship.

Also raced Sunday at Harrah’s were three divisions of three-year-old pacing colts going for $35,000 in the Liberty Bell stakes series, a PA-sired set of eight races, one per stakes division, to be held over the next two weeks, akin to Pocono’s PA All-Stars and The Meadows’ Keystone Classics. Home first in those contests were: Another Daily Copy, a Somebeachsomewhere colt guided by Tony Hall to victory in 1:52.3 for trainer Nicholas Devita and owner Carl Sackheim; the McArdle colt Sam McSmith, who lowered his mark to 1:52.2 for driver Tim Tetrick, trainer Tony Alagna, and the partnership of Andray Farm and David J. Miller; and the Western Ideal gelding Ideal Jimmy, last year’s 2YO PA Sire Stakes champion, who finally got his first win of 2016 by scoring in 1:53 for driver Marcus Miller, trainer Erv Miller, and owner D. R. Van Witzenburg.

(Pennsylvania Harness Horsemen’s Association)

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