2018 Breeders Crown Betting Preview: The Top Favorites and Sleepers
Harness racing’s biggest event is almost upon us, and that makes it the perfect time to prepare a 2018 Breeders Crown betting preview. The storylines are plentiful heading into this night of huge races. All harness racing roads lead to this, and for bettors, a 2018 Breeders Crown betting preview will help you separate the prospects from the suspects.
For those of you who might be novices, we’ve already prepared a list of the best 2018 Breeders Crown betting sites for you to check out. But those of you who know all about the sport of harness racing will want to know who to watch, and more importantly, who to wager on for the 12 championship races. That’s what we hope to illuminate with this article.
I suppose that I have a pretty good perspective on the events, considering that I’ll be up in the booth at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono calling the races on Saturday night (October 27th.) I’ve been the track announcer there for over a decade and have had the privilege of calling the Breeders Crown at Pocono twice before. It is an awesome spectacle and I’m thrilled to be a small part of it once again.
This year offers some fascinating storylines for harness racing fans to savor. I feel like these could be the most competitive Breeders Crown races in quite some time. There are a few horses that stand out as clear-cur favorites in their group, but more races than not you can make a solid case for several in the field.
I’m not sure that the eliminations this past weekend helped clarify the picture at all. The weather was cold and rainy, and many drivers seemed more concerned about getting their horses through to the final than winning. Even so, some top horses missed out and won’t be racing Saturday, such as 2018 Little Brown Jug champion Courtly Choice, unbeaten two-year-old pacer Workin Ona Mystery, and two-time Breeders Crown champ Hannelore Hanover.
After a quick setting of the scene, I’m going to take you through the action race by race. I’ll throw the spotlight on the horses who figure to be favorites, and I’ll also give you a look at a possible value play or two for each group. By the end of this 2018 Breeders Crown betting preview, you should be in the know enough to grab a racing form and make some picks for yourself.
The 2018 Breeders Crown Races
Before we can give you a proper 2018 Breeders Crown betting preview, we should set the scene. This year’s event takes place at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. It is a 5/8-miles oval, meaning that, to cover the mile distance for each race, horses will have to complete three turns of the track.
Weather could certainly play a factor, although early forecasts call for only a slight chance of rain and chilly but seasonal temperatures. There will be twelve championships held, with many of the horses having been pointed toward this thrilling event all season long. Here are the races on the card, with a first post time of 5:30 PM Eastern:
- $600,000 2-YEAR-OLD FILLY TROT
- $600,000 2-YEAR-OLD FILLY PACE
- $600,000 2-YEAR-OLD COLT TROT
- $600,000 2-YEAR-OLD COLT PACE
- $500,000 3-YEAR-OLD FILLY TROT
- $500,000 3-YEAR-OLD COLT PACE
- $500,000 3-YEAR-OLD COLT TROT
- $500,000 3-YEAR-OLD FILLY PACE
- $400,000 BREEDERS CROWN PACE
- $250,000 MARE PACE
- $500,000 BREEDERS CROWN TROT
- $250,000 MARE TROT
When you add up all those purses, you are looking at over $6 million on the line. Not too shabby, as they say. With that in mind, let’s take you through the races in terms of the horses who will likely receive the most betting attention, along with one or more in each race that you might be able to get at a price.
$600,000 2-Year-Old Filly Trot
Favorites: Verlin Yoder might be not a household name to casual harness racing fans, but that’s likely to change after Saturday night. His filly Woodside Charm is one of two unbeaten horses in the event, and she has won with authority. Case in point: her elimination win on Friday night at Pocono by 12 ½ lengths. Some might be concerned that it is Yoder’s first appearance in the Breeders Crown. But Woodside Charm might not need him to be much more than a passenger, what with her great getaway speed and solid finishing touch. Look for her to be odds-on on Saturday night.
Value Play: Stella Jane was a best-of-the-rest in second behind Woodside Charm in her elimination, which wasn’t bad considering she went off at 55-1. Her record is relatively undistinguished, with just two wins in 11 races. But what she does have working in her favor is a driver who knows Pocono better than anybody. George Napolitano Jr., who has won ten driving championships at the Northeastern Pennsylvania oval, will be making his first ever Breeders Crown final start aboard Stella Jane. His presence alone, considering his Pocono track record, recommends this filly as an exotic play.
$600,000 2-Year-Old Filly Pace
Favorites: As usual, trainer Ron Burke will have a lot to say about who comes away a Breeders Crown champion. You could argue that he has the two best fillies in this group. St. Somewhere seems to be rounding into form at the right time following her elimination win on the front end. Meanwhile, Warrawee Ubeaut might have disappointed in her split, finishing fourth at 4-5 behind winner Tall Drink Hanover. But she is only two starts removed from an incredible world-record victory at The Red Mile in Kentucky. It’s likely that the top two choices on the board in this race will be stablemates.
Value Plays: Another Pocono connection here: Chris Oakes has been one of the top trainers at the track for more than a decade. He has won countless big races at the track, including several stakes wins against invaders from elsewhere in the country. His filly Annie Hill has procured multiple wins at Pocono in overnight races, and she was coming on strong behind St. Somewhere in the eliminations last week, finishing just three-quarters of a length back. Driver Brian Sears could have her in prime pouncing position if the favorites beat each other up in a speed duel.
$600,000 2-Year-Old Colts and Geldings trot
Favorites: Gimpanzee should be one of the biggest favorites of the entire event; I wouldn’t be surprised if he went off in the neighborhood of 1-2 or 1-5. And why not? Trained by Marcus Melander, who is having a breakout season, this colt overcame an outside post and a parked-out trip with ease in Friday night’s eliminations in 1:54.4. That makes it eight for eight in his career, as he proved he could do damage outside of his home base in New York. With a better post secured for the final, he could be established on the front end in a heartbeat and daring everybody to play catch-up.
Value Plays: The good news is that most of the rest of the field besides Gimpanzee will likely be a value play in this one. That includes Smart As Hill, who sprung an upset at 17-1 over Gimpanzee’s stable mate Green Manalishi S in the eliminations. The races on Friday night were a kind of coming-out party for Smart As Hill’s driver Bob McClure, who won two eliminations without much backing. Top trainer Jimmy Takter also has a pair of finalists in Super Schissel and Hudson River coming off third-place finishes. Attention must always be paid to the Takter barn.
$600,000 2-Year-Old Colts and Geldings Pace
Favorites: It’s anybody’s guess who will be anointed favorite in this class, after division favorites De Los Cielos Deo and Workin Ona Mystery both turned in clunkers in the eliminations and won’t be racing Saturday. My guess is that Proof, a Brian Brown-trainee who was underbet on Friday but won his elimination, might get the call. You could also make a case for Captain Trevor, who won his split for trainer Tony Alagna and will be driven by Andrew McCarthy, who races often at Pocono. But this could be one of the few races on the night where the favorite goes off at higher than even-money.
Value Plays: Again, you’re probably going to get value no matter whom you choose here. But in terms of horses that will likely be on the back end of the betting, No Mas Amor makes for an intriguing play. He doesn’t get much respect, not after winning a race at the Red Mile at a ridiculous 114-1 and then winning his elimination at 9-1. In both cases, he benefitted from an excellent trip, and bettors often think that racing luck will often turn in those circumstances. Or maybe this horse, to be driven by another Pocono regular in Matt Kakaley, simply has a knack for finding the right nook in each race.
$500,000 3-Year-Old Fillies Trot
Favorites: This sets up as one of the most intriguing races of all on the card, with four horses who have taken turns beating each other and winning high-stakes races suiting up. Atlanta likely will be the favorite; after beating the boys in the Hambletonian, she heads to the final on a winning note after a comfortable elimination win. Plunge Blue Chip took advantage of being in the weaker split but has the stuff to win from the inside post. Phaetosive has a Pennsylvania Sire Stakes championship win at Pocono in her pocket, while Manchego is the defending division Breeders Crown champ. Any one of those four could immediately ascent to yearend honors with a win here.
Value Plays: If those four are grabbing all the betting attention, that leaves five in this field, some of them with top-notch records, who will likely go off at 20-1 or much greater. Among those, I can understand some betting attention for Impinktoo. Leaving from the #6 post, she is trained by Ron Burke and battled Plunge Blue Chip pretty gamely in the elimination. The key will be if she can change tactics and stay out of the early chase for the lead. It she gets caught up in that, she’ll likely be mowed down quickly. But, if driver Brian Sears can hold her back, she could uncork late.
$500,000 3-Year-Old Colts and Geldings Pace
Favorites: You’d be hard-pressed to argue that Lather Up has the most talent in this field, as he has shown in some electrifying victories during his three-year-old season. But Pocono has been a house of horrors for him this season, as evidenced by his breaks of stride in both the Max Hempt final and the elimination. He was lucky to get back on stride on Saturday night and make this final. A surer thing might be Dorsoduro Hanover, who is more of a workmanlike performer but is always in the mix and has raced very well at Pocono. This one has the makings of a wild and woolly race.
Value Plays: There are several who deserve a look at potentially long odds. Remember when I mentioned Lather Up breaking in the Hempt? The horse that won that race at 15-1, Springsteen, snuck into the finals with a late-kicking third place finish. Springsteen’s driver/trainer combo of Simon and Rene Allard have been exceedingly successful at Pocono. Some people also might sleep on This Is The Plan because his elimination win was against the weakest of the three splits. But I could foresee a scenario where he gets to the front end and rates the pace in his favor.
$500,000 3-Year-Old Colts and Geldings Trot
Favorites: This is looking like a showdown between the two elimination winners. Tactical Landing has been racing better and better as the season progressed, and his parked-out yet effortless elimination win was proof that he is at his absolute peak for trainer Jimmy Takter. Meanwhile, trainer/driver Ake Svanstedt, who is still seeking that elusive first Breeders Crown win, might have his best shot with Six Pack. Occasionally breaks of stride are an issue, but Six Pack has record-breaking speed in his favor if he can manage to behave himself and stay flat.
Value Plays: I’m not sure that anybody can really throw a scare into the top two mentioned above. Still, you might be able to get a nice price on Fiftydallarbill, the pride of Indiana who is out to prove that his 2017 Breeders Crown championship as a two-year-old was no fluke. I also think Evaluate deserves a look as possibly the final piece of the trifecta. Another Marcus Melander trainee, he’ll benefit from the savvy hands of driver Tim Tetrick and could be sneaky if he can somehow find the form he flashed early on in the season.
$500,000 3-Year-Old Filly Pace
Favorites: Kissin In The Sand has been the divisional powerhouse all year long. Her handlers decided to take a bye to the final, meaning she would miss out on the opportunity to choose an inside post position if she won. That decision might have cost them, as she was awarded the outside #9 post. Meanwhile, her rival Youaremycandyfgirl won that elimination and will be tucked in a good post on Saturday night. Still, Pocono fans remember Kissin In The Sand’s incredibly victory earlier this year at the track in the James Lynch Memorial, when she was parked every step of the mile and still won.
Value Plays: It’s most likely that Youaremycandygirl and Kissin In The Sand will dominate the win betting and rightly so. Your best bet to make some money with this race might be taking a horse as a flier in the exotics. In that regard, you might want to look at a filly named Solitary. She went off at 99-1 in the Saturday elimination. Yet she came flying out of the clouds for a fourth-place finish. Expect driver Brett Miller to try a similar tactic here, hoping that the speed gets out of control up front so that a closer like Solitary, trained by Nick Surick, can pick up the pieces.
$400,000 Breeders Crown Pace
Favorites: This is the one race on the card for which there was no need for an elimination, so you’ll be going into this race a little bit blind. Still, anyone who has seen the between McWicked and Lazarus N should be able to tell who the top choices will be. McWicked has made an incredible rise to the top of the racing world once again after several years of dormancy, while Lazarus N has proven to be every bit worth the hype he received when he left New Zealand to join the Jimmy Takter barn. This one should be a fun one to watch, even for casual harness racing fans.
Value Plays: Donttellmeagain has the kind of pop that might just play in this race, even against those two talented veterans above. His brilliant win in the Graduate series at The Meadowlands proves that, as he ripped up the mile that night in 1:47.2. This would normally seem like a great race for value plays, considering that every one of the other six competitors has the kind of racing resume that most could only dream of having. But I can’t see it being anything other than McWicked and Lazarus N at the line, which means the best that anybody else can do is a show.
$250,000 Mares Pace
Favorites: The story of Shartin N has been one of the most intriguing one of the 2018 harness racing season. She only came to the United States this season but immediately took off as the dominant force in her division for trainer Jim King Jr. and steady driver Tim Tetrick, winning a stunning 17 of 22 races. Ironically, one of her only flops came at Pocono in the finals of the Great Northeast Open pacing series, where she struggled to a lackluster eighth-place finish. Throw that one out though, as it was at the odd distance of 1 ¼ miles. Shartin N looked great in winning her elimination from an outside post.
Value Plays: Shartin N figures to be even-money or less from the #2 post. If you think that you can beat her with a mid-priced horse, Pure Country seems like the one to choose. She has, after all, won two Breeders Crowns and was racing very strong at the end of her elimination from off the pace on a night that did not favor closers. Twinkle could be an interesting one from the inside post as well. Trained by Ross Croghan, she briefly challenged Shartin N from the pocket in the eliminations and could be in a pocket seat if all works out her way.
$500,000 Breeders Crown Trot
Favorites: The eliminations just made this race extremely confusing. Held on the last two races of the night when the track was completely drenched from an all-night rain, the eliminations were won by Guardian Angel As at 9-2 and Top Flight Angel at 9-1. But both benefitted from being on the front end on a night that severely favored speed and from the fact that the top trotters seemed only concerned with getting in the final. I think that, when all is said and done, big names Homicide Hunter and Marion Marauder will be among the favorites, even after they turned in extremely lackluster efforts this past weekend.
Value Plays: I don’t know how much of a chance he has, but the sentimentalist in me wants to see Pinkman do some damage in the final. This is the same gelding who won a Breeders Crown at age 2 in 2014 and followed it up with the Hambletonian title the next year. It has been a long and winding road for Pinkman, now age 6, since then, as he picked up just one victory in 21 starts over the past two years. But his last two races have been the best two efforts he has managed all season. Who knows? In a wide-open race, maybe the old muscle memory will kick in and get him home.
$250,000 Mare Trot
Favorites: The second elimination in this group on Saturday night was a mess, as a break of stride by favorite Dream Together knocked her out of the final and allowed lightly-regarded NF Happenstance to win the split in a weak time. The first elimination was three seconds faster, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the top three choices are all from that group. They include Emoticon Hanover, who used a pocket trip to win the elimination with standout veteran driver Dan Dube and red-hot Canadian trainer Luc Blais; Ariana G, who is looking for the signature win of her four-year-old season after Breeders Crown wins the past two years; and Ake Svanstedt’s fast rising Ice Attraction.
Value Plays: Broadway Donna might not get too much play if people only look at the fifth-place finish in the elimination. But that was caused by Dream Together going off-stride in front of her. Hers is another case of a former Breeders Crown champ with another, long-awaited shot at glory. She has been much more herself this year after a lackluster 2017, and was the dominant force in the star-studded Ms. Versatility series this year. With the maestro David Miller in the bike, Broadway Donna has a good chance of being positioned just right. She just has to prove she can do the rest.
As you should be able to tell from this 2018 Breeders Crown Betting Preview, anything can, and probably will happen on Saturday night. Make sure to get your wagers in on time. Then all you have to do is sit back and enjoy all the action, much like I’ll be doing.