Favourites, longshots, world records: Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs’s inaugural Sun Stakes Saturday had a bit of everything for harness racing fans.
The favourites delivering world records were American Jewel in the $250,000 James M. Lynch Memorial for three-year-old pacing fillies and Betterthancheddar in the $500,000 Ben Franklin Pace for open pacers, which was held at Pocono for the first time. A Rocknroll Dance filled the longshot’s role, winning the $300,000 Max C. Hempt Memorial for three-year-old colt pacers at odds of 17-1.
In the Lynch, O'Brien Award winner American Jewel was made the 1-9 betting favourite, but the race didn’t turn into the walkover that the odds might have suggested.
Leaving from post position No. 1 in the field of nine, the super filly from the Jimmy Takter barn sat back off the blistering opening quarter of :25.3 set by Shelliscape. Economy Terror took the lead on the front stretch and took the field to the half in :54.1, while driver Tim Tetrick held American Jewel back in fourth.
On the back stretch, the filly by American Ideal began her charge first-over, coming up even with Economy Terror at the three-quarter pole in 1:22.1. American Jewel wore down the leader in the stretch and then held off hard-charging Darena Hanover to win by a length and a half in 1:49.2, matching the world record time for three-year-old pacing fillies on a five-eighth-mile oval that she also managed in last week’s elimination. Economy Terror finished third.
The win gives American Jewel 12 wins and two seconds in 14 career starts, an amazing record that has earned her $1,151,313 in her young career. She is owned and bred by Brittany Farms of Kentucky.
Next up was the Hempt, where Hurrikane Kingcole was made the heavy 3-5 favourite off his record-setting mile in last week’s eliminations. A Rocknroll Dance left from post position No. 8 in the nine-horse field and driver Yannick Gingras aggressively sent the colt from the Jim Mulinix barn early, settling him in the pocket behind early leader Allstar Legend, who tripped the quarter-mile timer in :26.2.
The lead changed hands on the front stretch when Bolt The Duer brushed from third to the front, hitting the half in :54.2. Hurrikane Kingcole made his move first-over on the back, but Bolt The Duer gamely fought him off for the lead, hitting three-quarters in 1:21.1.
Gingras’ patient drive paid off on the final turn when the ground-saving A Rocknroll Dance was able to find daylight three-wide. In the stretch, A Rocknroll Dance swept by Bolt The Duer and Allstar Legend to win by a neck in 1:48.3. The two also-rans finished in a dead-heat for the second spot.
The win ends a string of bad racing luck for A Rockroll Dance, who earned $858,961 in a stellar two-year-old campaign, but had won just once in five tries in 2012 coming into the Hempt final. The son of Rocknroll Hanover now has nine victories in 17 lifetime starts and his career earnings jump into seven figures at $1,060,461. Mulinix shares ownership with Diamond Creek Farm LLC, Denny Miller, and J And T Silva Stables LLC.
Rounding out the night of big stakes races was the Franklin, where Betterthancheddar left from the No. 3 post as a 6-5 favourite in a field of nine. The colt sat third early as his rival We Will See gunned to the lead in :26-seconds even.
The fireworks began on the front stretch, when George Brennan cut Betterthancheddar loose first-over. The stallion struggled to clear We Will See until finally getting by at the half-mile mark in a scorching :52.4.
Despite receiving outside pressure from Aracache Hanover on the backstretch, Betterthancheddar was able to get the slightest breather, hitting the three-quarter mark at 1:20.4.
In the stretch, We Will See came at him again, but the four-year-old trained by Casie Coleman responded to win by three-quarters of a length in 1:48, matching the fastest time ever paced on a five-eighths mile oval by any age. Aracache Hanover finished a game third.
Sired by Bettors Delight, Betterthancheddar has now won five of six in 2012 and 15 of 24 lifetime races. He also broke into the million-dollar club with the high-stakes win, as his career total now sits at $1,134,616 for owners Steve Calhoun of Chatham, Ont. and the West Wins Stable of Cambridge, Ont.
(With files from Pocono Downs)