WILKES-BARRE PA – Highalator, a son of Somebeachsomewhere and a certified “Pocono lover” with an 11-for-18 lifetime record locally, rallied from the pocket for pilot Ricky Still to win the $50,000 Van Rose Memorial Invitational Pace in 1:49.4 at The Downs at Mohegan Sun on the evening portion of a Kentucky Derby doubleheader.
Named for the longtime handicapper/writer covering Pocono Downs and the general harness scene, the Rose also doubles as the opener of the Great Northeast Open Series for the open pacing set, and it was contentious from start to finish. Highalator left from post two but needed most of a :26.1 first quarter to get around polesitting Duplicated N, with 3-5 favorite and Levy hero Western Fame on the move soon after Highalator cleared and clearing well before the :54.1 half.
49-1 shot The Wall had started uncovered from seventh nearing the second turn and showed no respect for the tote board when he went right up to go at Western Fame to the 1:22.1 three-quarters, with Highalator behind Western Fame and Bettor Memories second-over behind The Wall. To the shock of many, it was Western Fame who first showed a chink as The Wall got a short lead on the turn, with Bettor Memories swinging three-wide turning for home. Highalator, the second choice, and Still knew the Pocono Pike awaited them, and when clear Highalator showed his grit by responding instantly to the open space, outclosing Bettor Memories by a neck, with The Wall just another half-length back; Western Fame tired to be fifth.
The $21,500 co-featured pace went to the Always A Virgin gelding Always At My Place, who rallied up the Pocono Pike to catch pacesetting (:26.4, :55.2, 1:22.3) Scott Rocks by a neck in 1:49.1, the fastest mile of the year over the red surface. Ron Burke is the conditioner of the winner of $1,075,040, and he is owned by Burke Racing Stable LLC and Weaver Bruscemi LLC, Lawrence Karr, and Phil Collura. Always At My Place set his own mark of 1:47.2 here in August of 2015 – a world record for four-year-olds that still stands 1351 days later.
The driver of Always At My Place, Anthony Napolitano, certainly had a noteworthy day at Pocono, winning eight times, including four times on the afternoon card during which he crossed the wire first a fifth time but was disqualified for – drifting into the path of another horse, beating Kentucky to the punch by almost four hours.
The Royal Art gelding Royal Heart became the first horse to crack the 1:50 barrier at Pocono this year when he won a $17,500 conditioned pace in 1:49.2, taking a new mark at age eight. The winner of $401,790 sat in third, swung wide in the stretch for driver Anthony Napolitano, and caught frontender Ideal Wheel by a neck. Jose Godinez trains the sharp competitor for the ownership of Blindswitch Racing Stable and Doine Farm Services LLC.
Fourteen more horses were claimed during the doubleheader for a total of $313,750. On the nighttime card alone, four of six entrants were taken out of the $30,000/$35,000 claiming handicap, and later five of eight went to new barns after a $20,000/$25,000 claiming handicap.