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Sophomores Descend On Pocono

Published: April 25, 2016 7:54 pm ET

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The finest of the Pennsylvania-sired three-year-old pacers get an early start to the 2016 stakes season this Saturday night at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono.

Elimination races are set to determine who will compete in the inaugural $561,500 Pennsylvania Classic for colts and geldings and the $313,800 Miss Pennsylvania for fillies on Kentucky Derby Day, Saturday, May 7 at Pocono.

Eighteen males and nineteen females were declared in to the stakes eliminations on Monday. Because the track at Pocono accommodates nine-horse fields on the gate, there will be two $25,000 eliminations for the colts and geldings, slotted for races eight and eleven on Saturday. The top four finishers in each elimination, plus the faster of the fifth-place finishers will advance to the Pennsylvania Classic final. On the filly side, three $20,000 elims will go to the gate in races three, four, and five, with the top three in each elimination going through to the Miss Pennsylvania finale. Both Championship events will use the open draw for post position system.

There was one immediate -- and for the respective horses’ camps, unlucky -- fact obvious after the elimination draws: last year’s Pennsylvania Sire Stakes Championship winners, Ideal Jimmy among the colts and Pure Country among the fillies, drew the outermost post for their elimination races. Thus both pacers will have to be on their toes in their 2016 betting bows.

Ideal Jimmy will be looking to solve post nine in his eighth race elimination contest. The gelded son of Western Ideal, trained by Erv Miller for owner D. R. Van Witzenburg, returns to the racing wars after two qualifiers -- both seconds to sharp older pacers. A winner of five races as a freshman with a mark of 1:51f and earnings of $293,185, Ideal Jimmy will try to handle his less-than-ideal draw under the guidance of Marcus Miller, trainer Erv‘s son.

Four of Ideal Jimmy’s rivals will try to keep their 2016 records unblemished in this elim: Bully Pulpit (post one, trainer Brian Brown, driver Dave Palone) has two wins already this season, with the other three successful in their only pari-mutuel start this year: the Ron Burke-trained, uncoupled duo of Manhattan Beach (post two, Matt Kakaley) and JK Will Power (post four, Yannick Gingras), along with Western Dynasty (post seven, trainer Chris Ryder, driver Tim Tetrick).

In the eleventh race Classic elim, the outside post nine went to the horse who has by far the loftiest scorecard so far this year: Easy Lover Hanover, a Somebeachsomewhere colt trained by Ben Wallace for owner Brad Grant. The “Easy Lover,” to be driven by Jody Jamieson, has won seven of ten 2016 starts and $57,217, and comes off of taking a lifetime mark in 1:51.4 last Saturday night at Mohawk.

Ron Burke will start a pair of horses in this elimination: Check Six (post one, Yannick Gingras), who won his seasonal bow in 1:52.2 at Harrah’s Philly this past Sunday, and Big Top Hanover (post seven, Gingras also listed on the early sheet), a Matron Stake winner in 2015 and third in the Governor’s Cup after winning an elimination.

Going over to the filly side, champion filly Pure Country should find her outermost starting position not as onerous as her counterpart Ideal Jimmy, as she will line up in post six in the third race elimination. The daughter of Somebeachsomewhere, to be driven by Brett Miller for 2015 Trainer of the Year Jimmy Takter and owner Diamond Creek Racing, earned many accolades herself in her freshman season.

She garnered U.S. two-year-old pacing filly honours after going unbeaten in ten races, winning $689,968 (almost half of that in her Breeders Crown victory), and taking a mark (like Ideal Jimmy) of 1:51, that speed badge coming in her Pennsylvania Sire Stakes Championship. That Championship victory also helped her to be named Pennsylvania Sire Stakes Horse of the Year, as her four elim wins and Championship victory brought her $286,918 in Sire Stakes earnings --the most-ever for one horse in one year in the Keystone State. This year, Pure Country missed a nose in her first qualifier, then came back this past Saturday to win in 1:53.1 over off going at The Meadowlands.

In the fourth race elimination, there are a number of question marks to be resolved: can Ava N Ella (post six, trainer Tony O'Sullivan, driver Scott Zeron) rebound from a break in a Pocono overnight after starting her career with wins in her first four starts at three?; can I Said Diamonds (post five, trainer Matias Ruiz, driver Matt Kakaley) be ready in her seasonal debut after two sharp qualifiers?; can Some Fancy Filly (post one, trainer Nancy Johansson, driver David Miller) take advantage of her inner draw and current sharp form, coming off of two wins and a third, a head shy, in three prelims of Pocono’s Weiss Series?

The fifth race elimination is the one having the field of seven, with the Somebeachsomewhere filly Call Me Queen Be starting from post three for driver Scott Zeron, trainer Ross Croghan, and the ownership of Let It Ride Stables Inc and Dana Parham. The “Queen” was second to Pure Country last year in both the Sire Stakes Championship and overall money won in her PaSS division, and hit the board eight starts in ten starts at two, with four wins and earnings of $279,811.

Also to attract attention in this elim is Ivy League (post four, trainer Jimmy Takter, driver David Miller), the royally-bred daughter of Somebeachsomewhere-See You At Peelers, who looked like a worldbeater when she won early in her two-year-old form in 1:52.2, but never quite developed on that promise shown; maybe her sophomore season will see her full potential, as hinted at in her bow, a second at The Meadowlands where she came her own last quarter in a blistering 26.1.

The Saturday card at Pocono will also contain a $25,000 winners-over event for older pacers; it’s not a handicap event, but drawing the two outside slots were Luck Be Withyou (post six, trainer Chris Oakes, driver George Napolitano Jr.), who won both his 2013 Breeders Crown event and last year’s Ben Franklin Final over the Pocono oval, and the $2 million-plus winner JK Endofanera (under the guidance of two Hall of Famers, trainer Jimmy Takter and driver John Campbell) starting just to the aforementioned horse's outside.

First race for Saturday’s 15-race card at Pocono is set for 6:30 p.m. The Championships for the two new PA-sired sophomore pacers will be held during the latter card of a brunch-evening doubleheader at The Downs on Derby Day, May 7, with one card starting at 11:00 p.m., finishing in time to allow concentration on the famous thoroughbred race in the Bluegrass, and the other starting approximately just after seven p.m., when the Derby doings will be completed. The May 7 evening card will also feature the $50,000 Van Rose Invitational Pace, honouring the late area sportswriter, and some of the winners-over horses here this Saturday may just stay around for that race seven days afterwards.

(with files from PHHA/Pocono; photo, clockwise from top left: Check Six [Curtis Salonick], Easy Lover Hanover [New Image Media], Pure Country, Ideal Jimmy [Chris Gooden])

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