WILKES-BARRE PA – The $1,294,100 Pennsylvania Sire Stakes Championship card for three-year-olds on Saturday afternoon at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono has the star power one would expect – the winner of the Hambletonian Oaks, the winner of the Yonkers Trot, the winner of the recent Lynch Championship at Pocono – and Captain Corey, Hambletonian winner, 2020 PA Stakes Championship winner, #2 in the current national polls, in a $50,000 PaSS consolation event in the Daily Double.
Each division’s Championship race goes for $253,000, and its corresponding consolation race goes for $50,000. Let’s take a look at how each division shapes up:
So how did Captain Corey, who set a divisional Championship record of 1:53.3 in his 2YO event here last year, wind up in the Consolation? The simple answer is that he did not earn enough points to make the final: he only started in the Sire Stakes twice this year, winning here but making a break at Philly. He is the AE1 for his Championship, and could scratch in; if not, he gets the rail in the consolation to boot.
Among those with earned places in the Championship are three “teammates” from Captain Corey’s barn, that of Åke Svanstedt, including Johan Palema (post six, driver Yannick Gingras), winner of the Yonkers Trot and second to “The Captain” in the Beal Championship here. The “quiet danger” here is Jujubee, leading pointwinner in the Sires prelims, and a 1:49.4 winner at The Meadowlands on Hambletonian Day. He’ll start from post four, with Andrew McCarthy picking up the driving assignment.
FILLY TROT (Championship race 9; Championship speed record 1:51.3 [the fastest trotting Championship ever], Check Me Out, PcD, 2012; consolation race five)
Hambletonian Oaks winner Bella Bellini was bellissima in her 1:52.1 Meadowlands victory. She was given three weeks off, then was in an overnight at Pocono in her return, and some were concerned when she was only fifth. But the list of excuses is very long: the time away; the switch from the mile track (1:52.1) to the 5/8-mile track, where she still trotted in 1:52.3, perhaps even “faster”; facing older performers, all but one males; and the outermost draw. Unfortunately, that last “excuse” repeats Saturday and is worse, for driver Dexter Dunn will have to find a way to solve the outside post nine. In her favor is that she was the leading pointwinner in her group’s Sires prelims.
Yet another Svanstedt horse, Flawless Country, was the 2020 Championship winner in this section, showed good form to be second in the Delmonica Hanover Championship here, and she will start squarely in the center of the gate.
FILLY PACE (Championship race 11; Championship speed record 1:48.4, Party Girl Hill, Phl, 2020; consolation race seven)
Her fellow filly Bella Bellini drew the far outside, but the pacing miss Grace Hill draws the far inside as she goes for her fourth straight victory, her most recent triumph coming in the Lynch Championship. Always competitive but seeming to be bubbling just below the top level (earnings are $494,355), Grace Hill has currently achieved career form, and she will be reunited with Todd McCarthy, who won four races on the big Sun Stakes Saturday card here.
Certainly worth consideration are 2020 Sires champion Blue Diamond Eyes (post six, driver Yannick Gingras), who lost her own three-race win streak to an impossible trip in the Lynch, and Mikala (post eight, George Brennan), the leading prelim pointwinner and a winner in four of her last six starts.
COLT PACE (race 12; Championship speed record 1:48.2, the fastest clocking ever in a PaSS Championship, shared by Wakizashi Hanover, PcD, 2015, and Boogie Shuffle, Phl, 2017; consolation race 1)
Considering the COVID-forced rescheduling of the North America Cup preliminaries, and then these races falling on the same weekend of this Championship, Pennsylvania did quite well, with nine of the top twelve pointwinners coming to Pocono for their shot at the big money.
As has been the general case in the uppermost level of this division all year, it is hard to be sure about anything among these competitive horses. One horse certainly peaking at the right time is Hellabalou, who won his elimination and then the final of the Adios on the other end of the state, then finished third in the Hempt Championship here on a day where it was difficult to overhaul speed, especially that with the talent of 1-2 finishers Lawless Hanover and Perfect Sting. Hellabalou was stuck behind the 8-ball in the post positional draw, which should provide a tactical challenge for driver Tim Tetrick.
One Eight Hundred, so good here earlier this year, has seen his luck decline, but at his best he must be respected from post six for driver Dexter Dunn.
Program pages for the big Saturday card will be available at https://www.phha.org/downsmsppps.html.