WILKES-BARRE PA – The Pennsylvania All-Stars series began its annual run at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono on Saturday night, with three $30,000 divisions of sophomore pacing males in the spotlight.
The first All-Stars division was taken by the heralded and well-bred Sweet Lou colt Blood Money, but only by a nose in 1:50. It was an interesting strategic “chess match” between Scott Zeron, guiding Blood Money, and George Napolitano Jr. behind Escapetothebeach: Zeron gradually guided Blood Money to the lead past a :26.4 opener, only for Napolitano to brush in front of the stands with his first-time 2019 starter to have the lead before the :55 half. Zeron didn’t want to be caught in with his 1-5 shot, so he regained command before the 1:22.3 three-quarters, only to have Escapetothebeach hang right behind him, take the Pocono Pike, and only get beaten by the slightest of margins. Brassy Hanover, ducking inside fading cover on the far turn, rallied up the far inside and missed by only ¾ of a length in third.
Branquinho, winless at two but a full brother to Huntsville, looks like he may flourish in his sophomore campaign – he’s now undefeated in three 2019 starts, following up on a Stallion Series win last week with an All-Stars victory in 1:50.1, his fastest ever. The Somebeachsomewhere colt bypassed an enormous hole mid-first turn and went on to the lead near the :27.2 quarter; favored Lyons Night Hawk also chose to press forward and grabbed the top halfway to the next station, which was reached in :54.4.
The chalk had repelled outside competition by the 1:22.4 three-quarters; Branquinho (the 9-5 second choice) would be his major challenger in the lane, and the winner responded sharply when tipped out from the two-hole by Tyler Buter, winning by ¾ of a length for owner/trainer Ray Schnittker (note: Buter and Schnittker share brown-and-gold colors).
Somebeachsomewhere picked up a second sire credit when Air Force Hanover, parked a good way for the lead and not getting a breather up front, was still able to draw clear in the lane to take a new mark of 1:50.1.
Air Force Hanover and George Napolitano Jr. (who drove five horses to Victory Lane on the card) were still outside past the :26.3 quarter, then ranged up to the lead in the frontstretch towards the :55.2 midway clocking. Aflame Hanover, the 2018 PA Fair champion, forced the winner to go an all-out :26.3 third quarter to keep the lead, and after the challenger started to fade past the 1:22 three-quarters, “George Nap” kept the winner’s mind to business as he posted a 2¾ length victory over fast-closing Highlandbeachlover, who was hampered by a nonflowing outer tier. Brian Brown is the conditioner of the four-time career winner for Country Club Acres Inc., Joe Sbrocco, Richard Lombardo, and W. J. Donovan.
Pocono’s love affair with the claiming box produced a “new track record” on Saturday, as the Mach Three seven-year-old gelding Raksmach N was claimed for $40,000, a record for the mountain oval. A winner of three straight before a very hard-fought third from the outside post eight on Saturday, he leaves owner Mark Akins with a $2400 purse check and a $5000 profit on his haltering of the horse for $35,000 last week, minus the week’s training fee; the horse now goes to the Oakes barn and the Northfolk Racing Stable. In all for the night, 12 claims totaled up to $304,500, running the seasonal totals to 147 claims, with $2,642,500 changing hands.
Tomorrow night marks the 2019 debut of The World’s Fastest Trotter, the locally-based Homicide Hunter, in a $30,000 open trot event in the Great Northeast Open Series (GNOS); Tequila Monday and Kissininthesand seem likely to renew their first-round GNOS rivalry in the $30,000 mares open pace.