Ali v Frazier. Yankees v Red Sox. Barcelona v Real Madrid. Secretariat v Sham.
Every sport has had its prize fight, its greatest game, its greatest battle, its greatest race. Thoroughbred racing has had its masterful performances and major duels, like Secretariat and Sham, like Affirmed and Alydar, like Sunday Silence and Easy Goer. Very rarely do three heavyweights show up in one race; it happened with Dr. Fager, Damascus, and Buckpasser. However, Harness Racing rarely has a battle like those. Perhaps the matchups between Swing Back and Shady Daisy or Eternal Camnation and Bunny Lake could get to that stage. This Saturday night at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, three of the best Free For All pacers will square off, each hoping to not only take home the winners share of the $500,000 purse, or the lead in the FFA Pace division, but perhaps the world record, one that could become sub- 1:47.
Last weekend at Pocono, the eliminations were held for the Ben Franklin Pace, as well as all of the other major stakes races for this Saturday’s Sun Stakes Day. Wiggle It Jiggleit would come up first, facing one of the world record holders, State Treasurer, the 2015 Ben Franklin winner Luck Be Withyou, and Mohawk Gold Cup runner-up Shamballa. Montrell Teague took the Little Brown Jug winning son of Mr. Wiggles right to the winners circle in an easy 1:48.1. It looked too easy for him as he goes on to win his 31st race out of 38 starts.
Next up was reigning Breeders Crown champion Always B Miki, coming off a Canadian record 1:47.1 in the Mohawk Gold Cup. He has been getting faster and faster, finishing each race in a quicker time since his 2nd place finish to Rockeyed Optimist back in April. Also in this elimination was Mel Mara, who forced and then beat Always B Miki in an open handicap in 1:47.2 at the Meadowlands, on a night where a rain storm right at the first post of the night made the track sloppy, although upgraded to good by that race. Much of this elimination was filled with nonwinners of and stakes also-ran class, even though Trackmaster gave this race a 101 class rating, the highest of the three elimination. Being pressured by All Bets Off and Mel Mara, and being parked wide for a good part of the race, Always B Miki blew by everyone in the stretch, capturing the elimination in a world record 1:47 flat.
While all the talk became Wiggle It Jiggleit against Always B Miki, almost as if another elimination was not even happening, Freaky Feet Pete was prepared to cement himself a spot in the final. He got the best of Wiggle It Jiggleit when they met in the Monument Circle back in October, but was unable to get the best of him in the Battle of Lake Erie after he got a poor draw compared to his rival. He would need to earn himself a spot in the finals here if he wanted another chance. He had his own Little Brown Jug winner to deal with in Limelight Beach as well as runner up to Wiggle It Jiggleit in The Graduate at Tioga with In The Arsenal. But, after taking over the lead from Rock N’ Roll World after a half a mile, he never looked back, coasting home in 1:47.1, just a fifth of a second slower than Always B Miki, without any pressure.
So with that, the showdown was set, Wiggle It Jiggleit would face off with Freaky Feet Pete once again, with the score tied at two each. Entering this rivalry is Always B Miki, trying to show that he can contend with the best of them.
Always B Miki already took down one of the best pacers of all time Foiled Again last fall and now tries to take down two of the best pacer of last year. After spending most of last year on the sideline, watching as the pace division became dominated by the three year olds, setting the country ablaze, as Jimmy Takter sat patiently waiting to take this horse back to the show. He was the Indiana showstopper when he was a three-year old, winning many Indiana Sire Stakes Finals and the Super Final. He would aso win the Somebeachsomewhere Stakes from Mohawk and also taking a stakes at The Red Mile in 1:47.4. Perhaps one of his best performances of his three-year old campaign was a very impressive 2nd in the Meadowlands pace behind He’s Watching, who equaled the all-age world record at 1:46.4; Always B Miki would close that day in a last quarter time of 25.3, while being three-wide for much of the race. Now, with a Breeders Crown win to start of an impressive return, Always B Miki wants the world record that his foe from two years ago holds. He has been getting close, running quicker each time. He has already tied Sweet Lou’s record in his elimination. The Buckeye, Dave Miller will try his best to get this one home.
The reigning Dan Patch Pacer of the Year, Wiggle It Jiggleit had a nation leading 22 wins last year, with $2.81 million in earnings. Taking the Meadowlands Pace, Little Brown Jug, Max Hempt, and the Carl Milstein, among others, the son of Mr Wiggles has been nothing less than stellar as he ran past just about everyone he could the whole year. His start to the year couldn’t have been better, finishing first and second in all of his races, he puts his career record to near perfect; the only time he ever finished out of the top two, the Cane Pace, putting the brakes on any Triple Crown run. He would meet up with Freaky Feet Pete three times last year, winning their first matchup, but unable to come away with a win the second and third times. This year, he went through the Levy series at Yonkers, but was unlucky due to a dead heat, forcing him to miss the final. His next big race would come at Flamboro, finishing second in the Confederation Cup. Montrell Teague would then drive him to Northfield Park, where he would face off against Freaky Feet Pete for a fourth time, finally getting the best of him again thanks to a perfect draw, winning easily. When it seemed like he would finally get a rest, he was shipped off to Harrah’s Philadelphia to the Dorothy Mullins Invitational just eight days later, where he blew away the track record, finishing the race in a new personal best 1:47.3. He would then crush The Graduate field at Tioga enroute to his elimination win.
Freaky Feet Pete is very familiar with both of his foes, having raced against Wiggle It Jiggleit and competed on the same card as Always B Miki many times, including at the Breeders Crown and the American National. Larry Rheinheimer and Trace Tetrick finally get a change to take their star studded horse east, as for much of his career he ran in his native Indiana. Last year, Freaky Feet Pete had to share the Indiana headlines with Wiggle It Jiggleit, with both of them competing in the Indiana Sire Stakes. The two-year old Indiana pacing colt of the year didn’t want to play second fiddle, and as soon as his foe left for bigger and better things, he just kept stopping the clock first, striding on to quite a winning streak at Hoosier Park, and beating his rival twice in the fall. He came back to the races with three straight wins at Hoosier Park to open the year, but was faced with a tough trip in the Battle of Lake Erie, falling to Wiggle It Jiggleit, his only blemish this year. After a solid win in The Graduate at Mohawk, he freshened up with an easy qualifier, winning by more than 27 lengths. His classy and effortless win in the elimination turned many heads, but even though he stopped the clock just a fifth slower than Always B Miki, he will be third wheeling it in the final.
The most anticipated harness race in history is set for this Saturday, in a showdown of goliaths. And no matter the winner, this triple threat may end up repeating, as all three are nominated to the William Haughton, US Pacing Championship, and the TVG FFA Pace, all at the Meadowlands.
Each runner has its strengths, and each has its weaknesses. Perhaps the most notable is track size. Wiggle It Jiggleit has been a small track specialist, with his top performances coming at five-eighths tracks, like Pocono. Always B Miki is very different, not usually caring for the smaller tracks. With most of his best performances and his spring training coming on a mile track, it is no wonder that he continued to have to park wide in his last two starts on smaller tracks. His best performances may be yet to come, once his season switches back to The Meadowlands, he may become unbeatable. As for Freaky Feet Pete, he is a combination of the two, with his best running coming on the seven-eighths.
The race itself should set up for a fast pace. Although much of the speed is to the outside in All Bets Off and Rock N’ Roll World, Mel Mara will be coming from the pylons, and although he was gobbled up in his previous attempts at the small track, he won’t have too much pace pressure to deal with. Since coming from the Tony Alagna barn, Dylan Davis has gotten this seven year old into a new grove, putting up some very quick times. Wiggle It Jiggleit gets the better of his rivals in the draw, and while a pocket trip for the first quarter is probable, going straight out to the lead might not be out of the question. As for Freaky Feet Pete and Always B Miki, with All Bets Off and Rock N’ Roll World to their outside, they may be swallowed up by the Ron Burke duo. I wouldn’t be surprised if Always B Miki got a similar trip to the Mohawk Gold Cup, getting taken far back and then having to rush up late. For Freaky Feet Pete, he may have to contend from very far back. He hasn’t been more than four lengths off the lead all year, but he may be farther back.
By the time they make their first trip across the wire, Wiggle It Jiggleit will most likely be out front, with Always B Miki trying to make up some ground on the outside. Freaky Feet Pete, after a troubled start, will be fourth back but poised for a move on the backstretch. Mel Mara will already be fading and much of the early speed will be falling back. Wiggle It Jiggleit will still be on the lead, with Always B Miki right to his outside off the clubhouse turn. State Treasurer, who hasn’t been able to find his best on the small track will be right behind them, followed by Freaky Feet Pete who finally gets some room.
Down the backstretch and Wiggle It Jiggleit is pressured by Always B Miki, with the two of them going off by two lengths, ending up going three quarters of a mile in just over 1:18. Freaky Feet Pete is chasing after them, but still a good three lengths behind as they hit the far turn. Just a quarter to go, Wiggle It Jiggleit is trying to hold on but Always B Miki closes on past, leaving his rival behind, but a fast closing Freaky Feet Pete shows what he is worth. After saving just enough after the elimination, the freak closes home and nabs his foe at the wire, stopping the clock in 1:46.3, a new world record.
Perhaps hoping for the world record to be broken is a little much, but what I described is very much possible. I’ll admit that I was very skeptical of Always B Miki heading into the Breeders Crown last year, and still might have some skepticism of him, but his Mohawk Gold Cup win was a sight to see, only to be topped by a more than impressive win in the Ben Franklin elimination. However, Freaky Feet Pete put on an almost identical performance, but without any of the trouble of the pressure that Always B Miki faced. While that second elimination could easily have gone sub 1:47 if he was given a clean trip, the way that Freaky Feet Pete ran was just too impressive to not notice, taking it by five lengths and holding off everyone for three-quarters of a mile. He looks like he has more to give. While Wiggle It Jiggleit may have much that will go his way, and a very clean trip for much of the race, I don’t think he can go as fast as he needs to win.
No matter what happens, when the sun sets on Pocono, the stars will come out, and a showdown of epic proportions will headline a night of champions, and possibly round one of one of the greatest prize fights in harness racing history: Wiggle It Jiggleit v Always B Miki v Freaky Feet Pete.
The Ben Franklin Pace will go as Race 11 for a purse of $500,000. Projected Post Time: 9:55pm.
|My Top Three:||1. Freaky Feet Pete||2. Always B Miki||3. Wiggle It Jiggleit|
|1||Mel Mara||Corey Callahan||Dylan Davis|
|2||Shamballa||Scott Zeron||Rick Zeron|
|3||Wiggle It Jiggleit||Montrell Teague||Clyde Francis|
|4||State Treasurer||Tim Tetrick||Ian Moore|
|5||Sunfire Blue Chip||Brett Miller||Jimmy Takter|
|6||Freaky Feet Pete||Trace Tetrick||Larry Rheinheimer|
|7||Always B Miki||David Miller||Jimmy Takter|
|8||All Bets Off||Matt Kakaley||Ron Burke|
|9||Rock N’ Roll World||Yannick Gingras||Ron Burke|
|10||Always At My Place||Yannick Gingras||Ron Burke|
|AE||Melmerby Beach||Corey Callahan||Ettore Annunziata|
|AE||Limelight Beach||Matt Kakaley||Ron Burke|
The Ben Franklin isn’t the only major race this Saturday, with the James Lynch, Max Hempt, and Earl Beal also on the card.
The James Lynch goes as Race 9 and has nine three-year old filly pacers lining up (with two also eligible) for the $300,000 final. With much of the field coming out of the Fan Hanover at Mohawk, this race is led by elimination winners Newborn Sassy and Pure Country, who also was the Winner of the Fan Hanover. Both winners just barely took the race, coming from behind to win by a neck. While Pure County looks the best in this field, Darlinonthebeach, runner up in the Fan Hanover, came surging home late after a troubled trip to just finish third by a half a length. Also dangerous is I Said Diamonds, the pace for her elimination who just got caught late. She is stepping out of state bred company and is improving nicely.
|My Top Three:||1. I Said Diamonds||2. Darlinonthebeach||3. Newborn Sassy|
|1||Jk Fannie||David Miller||Nancy Johansson|
|2||I Said Diamonds||Matt Kakaley||Matias Ruiz|
|3||Newborn Sassy||Tim Tetrick||Jo Ann Looney-King|
|4||Lindwood Beachgirl||Yannick Gingras||Mark Steacy|
|5||Skinny Dipper||Andrew McCarthy||Ross Croghan|
|6||Darlinonthebeach||David Miller||Nancy Johansson|
|7||Pure Country||Brett Miller||Jimmy Takter|
|8||Blue Moon Stride||Andrew McCarthy||Mark Harder|
|9||Penpal||Pat Lachance||Pat Lachance|
|AE||Princess Fabulosa||Scott Zeron||Gregory White|
|AE||Sail To The Beach||David Miller||Richard Bilach|
In the Max Hempt, Meadowlands Pace hopefuls run for $500,000, hoping to get a crucial win before the big one on July 16th. Early Meadowlands Pace favorite Boston Red Rocks hoped to keep the form, but just hasn’t looked like his old self this year while Control the Moment, Racing Hill, and Katies Rocker have all improved. While North America Cup winner Betting Line won’t be here (and is not Meadowlands Pace eligible), runner up Racing Hill came back to win his elimination in style, pulling away by three lengths over NJSS winner Katies Rocker, who showed no real late kick. Control the Moment went wire to wire in his elimination, beating Boston Red Rocks. The two elimination winners look to lock horns Saturday and may be the two dueling late.
|My Top Three:||1. Racing Hill||2. Control The Moment||3. Boston Red Rocks|
|1||More Dragon||Matt Kakaley||Ron Burke|
|2||Racing Hill||Brett Miller||Tony Alagna|
|3||Western Fame||George Napolitano Jr||Jimmy Takter|
|4||Jk Will Power||Yannick Gingras||Ron Burke|
|5||Talk Show||Scott Zeron||Steve Elliott|
|6||Boston Red Rocks||Tim Tetrick||Steve Elliott|
|7||Katies Rocker||David Miller||Jim Campbell|
|8||Control The Moment||Randall Waples||Bradley Maxwell|
|9||Big Top Hanover||Yannick Gingras||Ron Burke|
|AE||Tailgunner Hanover||Tim Tetrick||Ray Schnittker|
The final of the four stakes races is the Earl Beal for three year old trotters, many of which hoping to take the Hambletonian on August 6th. Southwind Frank has held his spot on top of this division for the past two years, winning the Breeders Crown 2yo Trot last year. In fifteen lifetime races, he has won all but two, with one of those losses coming in his elimination to Bar Hopping, who stopped the thirteen race winning streak. Dayson, who is not Hambleotnian eligible, was the favorite heading into the Goodtimes at Mohawk after winning in the elimination, but broke on the lead and finished a distant last. He recovered after a troubled trip to win his Beal elimination. There is no telling what he will do, but he has a lot of talent and looks ready to win here. Runner up to Dayson in that elimination is Brooklyn Hill, who continued to finish second to Southwind Frank throughout his career. When he broke free of the Frank, he was able to take a win in the International Stallion at The Red Mile, but has been finishing second ever since. He seems to do his best running on a mile track, but was able to lead for much of the elimination.
My top selection here will be Bar Hopping, who I will let it be known is my Hambletonian selection, and has been since May. He finally got a crucial win getting past Southwind Frank at the wire and has been improving each and every race. The switch to Tim Tetrick in the Goodtimes finally seems to have worked, and looks like a duo that could go far. I’ll be hoping that this tandem takes their talents all the way to the Meadowlands winners circle in August, bust first stop will be this Saturday.
|My Top Three:||1. Bar Hopping||2. Southwind Frank||3. Dayson|
|1||Reigning Moni||Scott Zeron||Jimmy Takter|
|2||Hollywood Highway||John Campbell||Staffan Lind|
|3||Trueness Volo||Eric Goodell||Douglas Hamilton|
|4||Dayson||Jim Morrill Jr||Ron Burke|
|5||Trolley||Marcus Miller||Erv Miller|
|6||Brooklyn Hill||David Miller||Jonas Czernyson|
|7||Southwind Frank||Yannick Gingras||Ron Burke|
|8||Dice Man||Ake Svanstedt||Ake Svanstedt|
|9||Bar Hopping||Tim Tetrick||Jimmy Takter|
|AE||Love Matters||Brett Miller||Jimmy Takter|
|AE||Iron Mine Bucky||George Dennis||Greg Haverstick|
One of the most anticipated days in harness racing is Saturday, where The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono play host to four of the best stakes races of the year, and possibly a prelude to the months to come with the Meadowlands Pace and Hambletonian still to come. This is one card of racing that you will not want to miss.
Download my Pure Speed Figures for all of the stakes races here.