The best Pennsylvania-sired two-year-olds gathered at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs on Saturday night for their $1,240,000 Pennsylvania Sire Stakes Championships Night.
Each of the Championship events went for a $260,000 bounty; all consolations for the Sire Stakes divisions went for purses of $50,000.
The track was rated “fast” for the two baby trotter consolations; rain later forced the condition downward to “good.”
Two-Year-Old Filly Pace
Southwind Roulette headed a 1-2-3 sweep for trainer Ron Burke by winning her Sire Stakes Championship for two-year-old pacing fillies. She won in 1:52.3 over "good" going to become the richest pacer in one season of Sire Stakes competition, with $269,248 in her races for Keystone State-sired company.
Southwind Roulette, described as “a very professional filly – she’ll do just what you ask her to do” by driver Yannick Gingras – tucked third early as her Burke stablemates Well Hello There and Kays Dragon Lady argued through the :27 quarter, then was moved to the fore past the latter well before the :56.2 half. Southwind Roulette opened up at the 1:24.3 three-quarters and had a good-sized lead in the stretch, with Kays Dragon Lady closing well late but not really threatening, and Well Hello There salvaging the show.
The daughter of Somebeachsomewhere, owned by Bradley Grant of Milton, Ont. and Howard Taylor of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, went 4-3-0-1 in her Sires prelims, the three triumphs in her last three starts, and this victory boosted her money total to the record Sire Stakes mark for pacers, ahead of the $245,615 season sophomore filly Charisma Hanover put together last year. Two-year-old trotting colt Dontyouforgetit holds the all-time one season record in the Pennsylvania program, with $275,553 in 2012.
Pacesetting Macarena Mama was determined late to hold off inside-shooting Safe From Terror to win this section’s consolation in 1:53.1, a personal best. Corey Callahan was sulky-sitting behind the daughter of McArdle for trainer Blake Macintosh, who also co-owns with fellow Ontario connections Susan Hall, Anne Campbell, and Stephen Waldman.
Two-Year-Old Filly Trot
A race after the two-year-old filly pace Championship, driver Yannick Gingras came right back with “another professional filly, a real sweetheart,” Wild Honey, who set a stakes record of 1:54.2 despite the good going, completing a "sweep" of her division -- wins in all four legs and the Championship, following in the footsteps of only Coulantine (2004) and Fashion Feline (2009).
The daughter of Cantab Hall went straight to the front in the :28.1 opener, but in front of the stands Speak To Me made a bold brush and wrested the racetrack away from Wild Honey before the :56.4 half. Gingras seemed unperturbed though, and past the 1:25.1 three-quarters he moved Wild Honey out in front of the advancing Jersey Strong and went straight to command, holding off that rival with ease to knock a tick off the stakes record shared by Sand Violent Blu (2011) and Designed To Be (2013). Like the winner, a member of the Jimmy Takter barn, Smexi, finished third.
Wild Honey is owned by Christina Takter of East Windsor, New Jersey, Toronto's John and Jim Fielding and Herb Liverman of Miami Beach, Florida.
If you need proof that “times have changed” in harness racing, consider this: Pius Soehnlen campaigned the iron-tough Free-For-All trotter Dream Of Glory in the mid-70s, and that horse took a mark of 1:57.2. Tonight Soehnlen, as owner, won this consolation event with Matter Hatter, a daughter of Explosive Matter, who also rallied from far back to tally over Bright Bay Blues for driver David Miller and trainer Jeff Cox. Her third victory was a 1:55.2 lifetime mark (when the track was still fast) – two seconds faster than Dream Of Glory’s lifetime mark!
Two-Year-Old Colt Trot
Sire Cantab Hall completed a Championship double, and another horse joined the select club of being a Sire Stakes “sweeper,” when Billy Flynn roared off cover to win in 1:55.2 in the off going for driver Brett Miller and trainer Staffan Lind.
Billy Flynn raced atypically off the pace tonight, with Walter White on top at the :27.3 quarter, then yielding to Hurrikane Jonny K as that one put up middle splits of :57 and 1:26.1. Piercewave Hanover provided cover from first-over, and when Billy Flynn tipped off that cover, “he was great tonight – he felt great,” noted driver Miller, the colt not showing any of his previous bearing-out tendencies. Off-the-pace tactics proved best in this event, as Honor And Serve and Ralph R closed strongly for second and third, respectively.
Billy Flynn joins Stormin Normand (2011) as the only freshman colt trotters to notch the “4+1” Sire Stakes season. Bender Sweden Inc. own the emerging star, who is now undefeated in seven starts.
Not many horses break their maiden by missing their divisional world record by two-fifths of a second, but that’s what the Broadway Hall gelding On The Sly did in winning his consolation event in 1:55.2. Hinting at promise with a second, a third, and a fourth in Sires preliminaries, On The Sly finally put it all together, swinging wide from third-over behind contested fractions and overhauling front-stepping Pierre late for driver Brett Miller, trainer Morgan McInnis, and the Revocable Trust Of Barbara Boese. The 1:55.2 time over the still-”fast” track was just short of Correctamundo’s world standard, and only a tick shy of the local mark of It Really Matters.
Two-Year-Old Colt Pace
Billy Flynn and Yankee Bounty are both now seven-for-seven in their careers, and both completed Sire Stakes “4+1” sweeps.
That’s where the similarities end.
Whereas Billy Flynn came off the pace to win easily, Yankee Bounty made an early move to take the lead near the :55.1 half (Dragon Eddy had insisted on the early lead in an astounding :26 before yielding), then fought off a nose-to-nose challenge from Lost For Words by and past the 1:22.2 three-quarters.
Maybe it’s good Yankee Bounty had the practice in winning a hotly-contested duel – because another determined foe soon loomed in the Pocono Pike in the form of Tomy Terror. The two geldings battled on even terms much of the stretch, with Yankee Bounty showing great heart to put his nose over first in 1:50.3 – a Pocono track record for two-year-old pacing geldings, and just a tick behind the stakes mark of One More Laugh, whom Yankee Terror now joins in the two-year-old pacing colt Sire Stakes sweeping ranks.
The victory made Yannick Gingras a three-time Sire Stakes winner on the card, giving him 10 in his career and moving him to (a distant) second behind Dave Palone (34) on the career list. Two of those victories came for trainer Ron Burke, who recently engineered the new ownership combine of Yankee Bounty Partnership and Frank Chick.
McCito yielded the early lead to favoured Talking Points, then came back in the lane to nip that rival late and take a new mark of 1:52. The McArdle gelding, driven by Andrew McCarthy for C&G Racing Stable, comes from the red-hot barn of Aaron Lambert, who seems to be sending out nothing but winners the last couple weeks.
The Free-For-All Trot was named the “Modern Family Trot” after the late Pocono-based world-class trotter, with Pocono-based trainer Daryl Bier and the horse’s connections on hand for winner's circle ceremonies.
Modern Family, always a game horse, would have admired the stretch tenacity of his frequent foe Wishing Stone, who raced third on the rail and cleared “about three strides before the wire” according to his driver (with a combination grin/grimace) to edge out Not Afraid in 1:52.4 for Wishing Stone Syndicate. That driver, by the way, was Yannick Gingras, who along with trainer Ron Burke was in Pocono’s winner's circle for the fifth time on the night. Wishing Stone also “saved” the 1-5 betting entry, as the more fancied horse, Market Share, made a break early.
The ”Adieu to the Almost Summer” Pace saw Sunfire Blue Chip make a quarter-move, then say “adieu” to the field with a :26.4 last quarter in driving rain for a 1:49.2 win for driver Yannick Gingras, trainer Jimmy Takter, and the ownership combine of Takter, Fielding, Fielding, Brixton Medical AB and R A W Equine Inc. Perhaps “adieu” was just the right name for a race taken by the son of American Ideal, as the winner of four straight, at four different tracks, is the early favourite for the $200,000 Prix d’Ete, to be revived as a four-year-old event in two weeks at Hippodrome 3R in Quebec (Gingras’ base before coming Stateside; Takter confirmed that race was on his horse’s schedule.)