World Class at Pocono

World records by Always B Miki and Freaky Feet Pete highlighted a stakes elimination card at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono loaded with scads of equine talent.

by Jerry Connors / PHHA / Pocono

Saturday at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, a bevy of standardbred stars contested elimination races to qualify for racing on the $2 million Sun Stakes Saturday Championship night set for next Saturday, July 2. A fairly strong stretch headwind influenced the racing in several of the big races, but world record speed still was generated, twice, by one of the greatest crops of free-for-all pacers in recent times.

Here are the elimination race results, grouped together by their division:

BEN FRANKLIN FFAP ($30,000 for each of three eliminations; $500,000 Championship)

Wiggle It Jiggleit was the 2015 Horse of the Year, and is ranked number one in the weekly Top Ten poll. He won his Franklin elimination in 1:48.1, which was the slowest elimination, by a full second.

World records were set in the other two cuts. First, five-year-old pacing stallion Always B Miki took his Franklin elim in 1:47, equaling Sweet Lou’s all-time world record for five-eighths-mile tracks (set in the Franklin Final two years ago) and missing the all-time race record by a single tick.

Then, Freaky Feet Pete was off by himself much of the other elim and still crossed the wire in 1:47.1, a world record for a four-year-old pacing horse on a five-eighths-mile track.

Always B Miki couldn’t have had much of a harder trip, yet still equaled the all-time record for Pocono’s size of oval with unbelievable resilience and heart in the lane. The son of Always A Virgin—Artstopper was moved uncovered past the 5/16 by driver David Miller, after Mel Mara had been hustled by Corey Callahan to the top past the :26 quarter. “Miki” uncorked a frightening brush sans earplugs and looked ready to sail by going to turn two, but he didn’t enter the turn 100 per cent smoothly, giving Mel Mara a chance to fight back and hang him to a :53 half and a 1:19.4 three-quarters – record-promising time territory. But what looked like it would be a good duel home quickly turned into a rout. Always B Miki had just gone :27 and :26.4 quarters uncovered, yet he still had a :27.1 kick home, into what was still a slight breeze, to win by three-and-three-quarter lengths over second-over All Bets Off (himself a world record setter at Pocono), with Mel Mara half-length further behind in third after giving his utmost in pursuit of victory.

Always B Miki now has won four of six races and $91,500 this year, and 22 of 41 races and $1,320,076 lifetime. Jimmy Takter has brought the pacer all the way back from injury to the top of his game for owners Bluewood Stable, Roll The Dice Stable, and Christina Takter.

Freaky Feet Pete made his East Coast debut a showstopper in his Franklin elim, with driver Trace Tetrick joining brother Tim as a stakes winner on the night as the four-year-old Rockin Image—Skyway Lori stallion lowered Pet Rock’s divisional world record by a fifth with his 1:47.1 win, which dropped his mark by over a second. Trace had “Pete” rolling before the :26.1 quarter, and they posted middle fractions of :53 and 1:20 without any particular pressure. That “pressure” faded even further into the distance in the stretch, as Freaky Feet Pete expanded his final margin to five-and-three-quarter lengths over longshot Rock N Roll World, with Sunfire Blue Chip coming on for third and making the Franklin Final.

Freaky Feet Pete is now five-for-six in 2016 and an amazing 29-for-33 in his career, with $1,224,050 in his till for trainer Larry Rhineheimer and owners Mary Jo Rhineheimer and Marty Rheinheimer – and he completed the “Indiana-sired” sweep of the Franklin elims, joined by Always B Miki and … oh yeah, Wiggle It Jiggleit.

Wiggle It Jiggleit, winner of the Hempt and the Battle of the Brandywine at Pocono last year – and his only start as a two-year-old – has now visited Pocono’s Victory Lane three years running after an impressive 1:48.1 victory. His victory was a contested one, at least for the first half, as Montrell Teague and “Wiggle” let Shamballa go just before a :25.4 quarter, and then State Treasurer quickly rushed around both to the lead early in front of the stands. But Teague pressed on with the defending Horse of the Year, brushing again and taking the lead by the half in :54.

The pair got to the three-quarters in 1:21.1, and through the lane Wiggle It Jiggleit looked well in control, with a :27 kicker keeping State Treasurer at bay by one-and-a-quarter lengths at the finish. Another two-and-a-half lengths back, Always At My Place and Shamballa deadheated for third, and after a consultation with officials, the field for the Franklin Final became 10, as both horses will come back next week. Wiggle It Jiggleit ran his impressive statistics to eight-for-11 this year, 31-for-38 lifetime. His earnings are now $2,630,760 for trainer Clyde Francis and owners George Teague, Jr. Inc. and Teague Racing Partnership LLC.

EARL BEAL 3CT ($25,000 for each of two eliminations; $500,000 Championship)

The Muscle Hill—Cocktail Hour colt Bar Hopping, driven by Tim Tetrick for Team Takter, shocked Hambletonian favorite Southwind Frank with a 1:52.1 victory in their Earl Beal elimination, but it took the fastest mile of the year by a sophomore on a five-eighths mile oval, and a huge effort from the impressive winner, to do so.

Bar Hopping left strongly for the lead, then forced longshot Promise Delivered to go :26.3 to take command; Southwind Frank could have taken a three-tuck, but Yannick Gingras kept last year’s divisional champion on the bit and sent him on to the top early. The half was reached in :55.4, and the battle became enjoined when Bar Hopping vacated the three-hole at the 11/16 to challenge.

Southwind Frank went by the three-quarters in 1:24.2 and still looked in control as they turned for home, but in only his third start of the year and off a 25-day layoff, “Frank” was just, frankly, out-trotted, but remember the last quarter was :27.4, into a wind. Bar Hopping proved the toughest; in the wake of the top two came Trolley and Dice Man.

Bar Hopping was the fourth first-time 2016 winner among the six Sun Stakes Saturday elims, but like all of that type he too had been thereabouts in top company all year. Christina Takter, Hatfield Stables, Marvin Katz and Al Libfeld own the game sophomore, now a winner of $147,514.

The Conway Hall—Nervey’s Taurus gelding Dayson has never been beaten in 14 career starts when he has stayed flat – but that statement looked ready to go by the boards at headstretch of the first Beal elimination.

After a contested first quarter of :27.1, Brooklyn Hill brushed in front of the grandstand and posted middle splits of :55.4 and 1:23.4, opening a three-length lead at the three-quarters and carrying that margin around the turn. Dayson had been moved out from fifth by driver Jim Morrill Jr. at the five-eighths, caught cover at the 11/16, but was still five lengths off the leader at the top of the lane and still three down with 200 feet to go.

But Dayson was flying late, and Brooklyn Hill, despite a big effort, proved a nose less photogenic at the wire, which was reached in 1:52.3, with Truemass Volo coming from way back for third; Reigning Moni was fourth ahead of Hollywood Highway, the faster fifth-place Beal horse. The winner is now four-for-six in 2016 and 11-for-14 in his career for trainer Ron Burke and the partnership of Burke Racing LLC, Our Horse Cents Stable, J&T Silva Stables LLC, and Rossie Smith. The winning clocking was a tick behind Dayson’s career best, and the season’s record.

MAX C. HEMPT 3CP ($25,000 for each of two eliminations; $500,000 Championship)

The first turn told the tale in the first Hempt elimination, as there was a four-wide scramble for the lead: Control The Moment went three-wide to just past the eighth to live up to his name; Boston Red Rocks used track geometry to the maximum from the rail, holding the pocket while forcing JK Will Power alongside to tuck third; and American Passport scooted away four-wide, but was unable to clear and broke at the 3/16.

From there Control The Moment did just that, getting the quarter in :26.1 and the half in :55.1 after the stretch headwind, then sprinted home in :54.2-:27 to hold off a very game Pocono Pike-shooting Boston Red Rocks by a half-length in 1:49.3, with JK Will Power holding third and More Dragon fourth. The time was both a personal best and the fastest mile of the year by a three-year-old on a five-eighths-mile track.

Control The Moment, a son of Well Said—Life’sliltreasure won for the first time in four starts this season, after opening his career with eight straight triumphs followed by his season-ending loss in the Breeders Crown. But “Control” looks to be in top form at the moment for driver Randy Waples, trainer Brad Maxwell, and the Control The Moment Stable of Philadelphia PA, which contains Maxwell and owner Howard Taylor – who took two of the night’s first three races at Pocono.

In the second Hempt elim, the Roll With Joe—Chasing Ideals colt Racing Hill was “quarter-mover #2,” behind Katies Rocker, brushing to the lead in front of the stands, repulsing a big third quarter bid by Talk Show, and then drawing off in the stretch under a Brett Miller hold in tallying for trainer Tony Alagna and U.K. owner Tom Hill, while also winning for the first time this year and raising his earnings to $333,666. The victory was the third for driver Brett Miller in the card’s first five races; finishing behind him were in order Katie’s Rocker, Big Top Hanover, and late inside rusher Western Fame.

After a quick :26 opener, Racing Hill made the lead well before the :55.2 half, sprinted in :26.3 down the back to turn away Talk Show by the 1:22 three-quarter pole, then continued on into the headbreeze in :27.1 for a :53.4 back half and a 1:49.1 total package, a new mark and lowering the 40-minute old standard of Control The Moment for fastest three-year-old on the five-eighths-mile ovals. Talk Show’s 1:50.2 clocking in finishing fifth earned him a spot in the Hempt Final.

JAMES LYNCH 3FP ($20,000 for each of two eliminations; $300,000 Championship)

Champion filly Pure Country (Somebeachsomewhere – Western Montana) showed her class and toughness in taking the faster of the Lynch eliminations, having to go first-over against NJSS champion Blue Moon Stride, then both getting by her late and holding off a late rush from her early-season nemesis Darlinonthebeach in 1:50.1. Blue Moon Stride was a neck behind the winner and a neck ahead of “Darlin,” with Penpal closing for fourth and Kiss Me Onthebeach advancing to next week as the faster fifth-place finisher.

Blue Moon Stride worked her way to the top around speedy longshots to pace control at the rapid :26 quarter, with Pure Country starting the outside train raw at the 3/8, with Kissmeonthebeach and Darlinonthebeach in tow two-wide. The half was reached in 55.2 and the three-quarters in 1:22.4, but the Energizer Bunny of pacing fillies kept going, and 50 feet from the wire she again showed herself an irresistible force (although if you watch driver Brett Miller, handling his fourth winner in the first eight races, earlier in the lane, he seemed to feel he had enough filly in front of him). The late rally of Darlinonthebeach did her credit, as did the game pacesetting effort of Blue Moon Stride, but Pure Country has (at least) temporarily reclaimed the undisputed top peg in her division for trainer Jimmy Takter and Diamond Creek Racing.

Newborn Sassy proved to be a pocket rocket in taking the first Lynch elimination, catching favored I Said Diamonds in the final strides for a 1:51.3 triumph. The victorious daughter of Western Ideal—Sass Newtown left strongly three-wide to the early lead for driver Tim Tetrick, with the looped I Said Diamonds making the top near the :27 quarter. The half was rated to :56.1, and the third quarter with the wind was :27.4, for a 1:24 three-quarter clocking. The last quarter was in :27.3 against the wind, and Newport Sassy came out and finished strongly to catch her rival, who in her defense had been off 29 days. Newtown Sassy won by a neck, with JK Fannie missing the win by only a length, and Lindwood Beach overcoming PP9 for fourth.

Newborn Sassy became the third winner in three sophomore elims on the big Pocono card to be notching her first seasonal victory, although like the two Hempt colt winners she had been knocking on the door of stakes company in recent starts. Last year, the winner of $301,845 was eight for 10, and she seems to have picked a fine time to pick back up her winning ways for trainer Jo Ann Looney-King, who is also the co-owner with CC Racing LLC.