by Brett Sturman
With just under 20 race days presumed remaining in the history of Pompano Park, this week the track will see the best collection of drivers assembled in perhaps decades. That’s because Tuesday and Wednesday (March 15 and 16) feature a world driving challenge, dubbed “Team Pomp” versus “The Outsiders.”
Defending their home turf, Team Pomp consists of Wally Hennessey, Dave Miller, Peter Wrenn and Keven Wallis. The Pompano team will benefit greatly from having Dave Miller on their team who otherwise would be an ‘outsider,’ but has driven full-time at the south Florida oval this winter. Maybe he’ll get some ribbing from his more frequent competitors for defecting.
Despite Miller making Pompano his home this winter, forever trop driver at the track, Wally Hennessey still leads the way in the local standings. Having 12 fewer starts than Miller, Hennessey has more wins, 59 to 50. Included in that is a UDRS of .375 for Hennessey to Miller’s .338. Together, the two Hall of Famers form a strong foundation for Team Pomp. Hennessey captains the team.
The Outsiders includes 2022 bound Hall of Famer in Yannick Gingras, who serves as the team’s captain. He’s joined by fellow world class drivers Dexter Dunn, Andrew McCarthy and James MacDonald, who comes off a career year in 2021. Amazingly, this will be the first start for all of the Outsider drivers at Pompano Park. What better time though to get it in.
You wouldn’t think off-hand the Team Pomp quartet would be able to win against the Team Outsiders group, but thanks to possibly some good old home cooking Team Pomp might actually have the edge. The draw for Wednesday won’t take place until Sunday, but here’s how things shake out for Tuesday, the first of two cards for the driving challenge.
Races 2, 3, 4 and 8 consist of the races specifically designated towards the driving challenge. Will horses driven by Hennessey offer more value than they would normally with the other drivers around? Dunn, Gingras and others can be found on other drives throughout the card which may completely change the complexion of typical Pompano Park handicapping, though for now we’ll focus just on the driving challenge races.
In a N/W $3,000 L5 trot, it’s perhaps no surprise that Hennessey lands on the 1-1 even money programmed favorite to kick things off. His drive, Holton, comes off a solid second from last week when he took his shot through the stretch against a heavily backed 1-5 shot and came up short only a length or so. That 1:55.2 clocking came in just his third start back on the year and he’s gotten quicker each time out; would seem likely to start things with a notch in Team Hennessey’s corner. Manwilling comes out of that same race as Holton and goes from Campagnuolo in that Florida Amateur Driving Club – Legends race, to Gingras. He was a useful second six races back against similar, though would still need to go faster to threaten the looming big favorite. Thundercrest from the outside could be there to complete some exotics if for no other reason that he gets Dunn; he’s gone some relatively tougher trips in recent tries against better. Race pick: Team Pomp.
On the pace, a N/W $4,000 L5 race, it’s Hennessey with another morning line favorite though this one is a little more questionable. Mc Mach broke last week after being looped for the lead and it’s hard to tell where he was going to go if not for the break. That said, he was an Open III winner at the end of January and continues to take another drop. America’s Fleet gets Wrenn as another as part of Team Pomp and he was a $15,000 claim in January. He did good for himself last week to take a shot in behind a couple of essentially dual even-money favorites and hold for second. Rockntouch is another class dropper and picks up Gingras. Only knock is that Hennessey had been driving prior with notable success, came up short a few times at low prices in February. I’m guessing Drunkonaplane will show speed from post 8 despite not showing it recently. He has Dave Miller and Team Pomp seems to have this race cornered. Race pick: Team Pomp.
It’s the third consecutive morning line favorite for Team Pomp and here’s where I’ll take a stand. In the lower-level condition for fillies & mares N/W $2,000 L5, The Outsiders look good with Hallsglensmavis. This one goes from Sanzeri to Dunn and this 5-year-old mare checks a lot of boxes. She won in 1:54.3 a few races back and has had a tougher go of it since then, including a first-over try two back and then was used last out when parked through an opening quarter of :26.3; she can take these all the way. Misty Memory N is the early 5-2 favorite for Team Pomp. She had Miller last week as she does now and had to take the overland route from post 7 as the 4-5 favorite. Not sold that she’s simply as fast as #5, we’ll see. Indian Creek Kyla endured a horrible shuffle last out when the outside flow cleared and she actually had a lot of late pace to come back on to get third. It’s her fourth start at the reduced level and she gets McCarthy. Gypsy Merlot brushed to the lead in that same race but couldn’t stave off the onslaught; needs one well-timed move. Race pick: The Outsiders
The final race of the first driving challenge night is a TrackMaster rated 70.3 or lower condition and Hennessey again lands the probable favorite in Lyons Johnny. Amazingly, this one switched to Hennessey last out and almost won at a price of 6-1 which would have been unheard for the driver at Pompano. That was a tough beat and speed will be coming again from the 14-year-old. St Lads Flirt rode the cones in her first start back since December and came down to these parts from Canada last fall. That last race went relatively fast and might serve him well for this one; won in 1:52 last year at Georgian. Born Of Fire makes his third start off the Scott Nance claim. He just missed two back and closed with a :28 final quarter last week, gets James MacDonald. Rope The Moon is always around and is another asset in the race for Team Pomp. Race pick: Team Pomp.