$1 Million North America Cup (and Other Stakes) Set for Saturday

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Mohawk Racetrack has a jam-packed stakes program prepared for Saturday, June 17, highlighted by the $1 million North America Cup.

There are other races on the card, too, but it’s the North America Cup! Do we really care about the other races?

Yes! The $440,000 Fan Hanover stakes looks like one of the best betting opportunities of the year, as does the $100,000 Mohawk Gold Cup (though we could get away with not talking about the $253,000 Ambro Flight or the $365,000 Roses Are Red). We could not, however, get away with skipping the $75,000 North America Cup Consolation by virtue of the words “North”, “America”, and “Cup” being in the name — and in that order.

Frankly, there might as well not be any racing anywhere else. But if, for some reason, you feel the need to pay your respects to racetracks competing with Mohawk on Saturday, check out Frank Cotolo’s Hambletonian Trial for some Hambletonian-prep action at Vernon Downs. However, beware, the Trail is highlighted by the $251,000 Goodtimes Stakes at Mohawk.

Pepsi North America Cup Presented by Pepsi 

Institutionalized by the Suicidal Tendencies is a great song. Commenting on the dichotomy between paranoid society and outcast, it presents a dialogue that makes me think North America Cup every time.

I go ‘There’s nothing wrong, mom’
And she goes, ‘Don’t tell me that, you’re on drugs’
I go, ‘No, mom, I’m not on drugs, I’m okay
I was just thinking you know, why don’t you get me a Pepsi 

And she goes ‘No, you’re on drugs
I go, ‘Mom, I’m okay, I’m just thinking’
She goes, ‘No you’re not thinking, you’re on drugs
Normal people don’t act that way’ 

I go, ‘Mom just give me a Pepsi, please’
All I want is a Pepsi and she wouldn’t give it to me
All I wanted was a Pepsi, just one Pepsi
And she wouldn’t give it to me, just a Pepsi

We could dig deeper into this song, but this is a harness racing column. I just wanted to talk about Pepsi, just one Pepsi: the Pepsi North America Cup.

Mohawk gathers ten of the best three-year-old colt and gelding pacers to compete for a massive prize and a trophy that is, surprisingly, not a sterling can of Pepsi.

This race serves as the first meeting between the three giants of the “glamour boy” division, as it’s called. Drawing inside is Downbytheseaside, the freshman world champion entering off an elimination that former driver David Miller deemed “not his best.” I agree, and that’s why he’s the third choice on the morning-line at 3-1.

Fear The Dragon (photo via harnesslink.com).

Fear The Dragon (photo via harnesslink.com).

Second choice is Fear The Dragon, who was nearly taken out by a rogue head number laying in the middle of the stretch in his elimination. He lost stride, regained it as the shadow of the wire loomed and, after all that, picked up David Miller, who opts for this seemingly faster Brian Brown trainee, for Saturday’s big race. He is the obvious counter contender to the horse to beat, who is… drum roll, please… Huntsville.

Named after the native town of Hunts’ Ketchup (we think), he was the primary freshman sensation, stirring waves across the shorelines of harness racing. The Two-Year-Old Colt Pacer of the Year in 2016, he has the potential to give trainer Ray Schnittker his first win in the North America Cup.

So, we look at this race knowing we have to beat Huntsville for a price. Here’s the scenario, and perhaps, the genius of Brian Brown: he has two speedsters flanking the champion pacer. One of them, perhaps Downbytheseaside, will be used to string out Huntsville, as the two have a history of speed duels during their juvenile years. This speed struggle could be the vacuum that suctions Fear The Dragon into the mix and propels him to North America Cup glory.

We have a theory potentially worth about $7 — which is more than the theory of gravity ever paid. We want more, though. We want… outsiders!

Ocean Colony is an interesting exotic horse. Drawing the rail, he’s guaranteed to get positioning off the gate and has shown his best work is chasing the triumphant trio. Don’t necessarily discount him to win, however, as the suction scenario could easily apply to him too — and he should be around 12-or-so-to-one. If that price speaks to you, then follow the echoes. If it doesn’t, it’s exacta time, baby!

Ditching his free-legged style, Classic Pro is bound, by hopples, to improve if his gait can be contained. Though he was second in a best-of-rest situation in his elimination last week, he still finished well considering he couldn’t manage to pace with these guys in two starts prior. If something sucks him into the race, like a speed vacuum of sorts, then we have another exotic type at a price.

Finally, don’t discredit Miso Fast from post 10. This little guy has grown to be a big little guy in his last few starts and finished the best out of any finalist in the elimination last week. Post 10 for him means that he’ll drop to the back of the field and wait for the speed vacuum to carry him into the race, though he’s one of the few here that has the ability to carry himself into the race, too.

So let’s recap, because that’s a lot of horses:

If you are trying only to beat Huntsville: 

The most logical choice is Fear The Dragon.

If you are trying for an upset of Huntsville and Fear The Dragon: 

Ocean Colony and Classic Pro have the ability, but need the circumstance to arise. Find what price you require from them and go from there.

If you are trying for uber-cool exotic payoffs with Fear The Dragon on top: 

Ocean Colony, Classic Pro, and Miso Fast should be the prices that will be there late. This does not necessarily mean keep Huntsville off the ticket, however. But you will need some prices to make the bet, you know, worth betting.

Well, that was fun. Time for the preview revi… oh, right, there’s more races.

Lifting ‘Armbro Flight’

Mare trotters are usually a boring division. One of them is just eons better than the others bumbling their way around the track because there are no other real opportunities for them to race. This generation’s mare trotting phenom is Hannelore Hanover, an Indiana-bred approaching $2-million in earnings. She usually walks over this group of mares, but it seems there’s one that’s finally catching up.

Earlier in the season, Charmed Life swept by her rivals to win the Miami Valley Distaff, beating Hannelore Hanover, who struggled to get around the Miami Valley oval. Since then, Charmed Life tried the boys in the Maxie Lee Memorial, finishing third to Crazy Wow and Jl Cruze, who are arguably at the top of the male-trotting division. Winning her elimination off a perfect trip, which she could potentially get here drawing better than Hannelore Hanover, she’s in the right form to, once again, beat the queen of the castle.

For the (Mohawk) Gold (Cup)

McWicked (photo via harnesslink.com).

McWicked (photo via harnesslink.com).

Open pacers are fun. They fight one another every week and usually, usually, a different one rises to the occasion.

We’re hoping that horse is not McWicked, who is the likely favorite off a sharp-closing effort against preferred types two weeks ago. Sprinting home in :25.3 to edge Great Vintage out of a well-deserved win, I can hear — is that possible? — mouths salivating at the thought of putting money on this guy.

Great Vintage is one that can win here at a bit of a price. Being outsprinted by McJerky (McWicked if you’re not in on the joke) two weeks ago, he chose to race on the lead rather than come from off the pace as he had on so many other occasions. The lead may not be the place to be here, but he at least has the speed to position himself towards the front, which could manifest itself into a ground-saving trip.

Making his second start off a layoff, Modern Legend is a dangerous value contender. Finishing third to Nirvana Seelster’s absurdly fast mile in the preferred last week, he can only be sharper this time around. Unless he’s not, then forget everything I wrote.

Pepsi North America Cup (Consolation) Also Presented by Pepsi

PepsiConsolations can be a great place to make money, because the public is often awful at picking among a group of losers.

The obvious form in this race is Hurricane Beach and Stealth Bomber to the inside. However, this race is filled mainly with closers, which makes me think massive traffic jam. So we want someone that can be towards the front, to avoid any delays on the turnpike.

We’ll try Lawrencetown Beach for those reasons. He burned himself out in the elimination by battling for the front heading to the far turn, so clearly he has the speed to position himself. He just has to use it smarter. 

A ‘Fan Hanover’ Blowing Against the Wind

The three-year-old filly pacing division is usually one of the more fun divisions to cover, because these gals are constantly at each other’s throats. We have potential speed battles here as well, which could set up for a one-way ticket to Price City if we can beat Idyllic Beach, though she will likely be driven more tactically, as she has been recently, meaning we need a filly that can outsprint her in the late-stretch scurry for the wire.

Shes Watching has a quick turn of foot. Racing first-over in her elimination, she didn’t get a chance to show it because she used it to go first-over. She races best being carried into the mix. However, if nobody shows speed off the gate, then she will likely be placed up front, which could work in our favor if she does no work whatsoever. That’s usually what drains her.

Bettors Up is getting good coming into this race. Losing in the final strides to Tequila Monday in their elimination last week, this speedy gal could get the spot that Shes Watching may dream for up front: the pocket. With the rail, she can leave, but she will be able to yield to whoever may be challenging her for the front on the outside. That would be ideal, as she is much better chasing fillies home than being the one chased, as last week showed. She will likely not be as good a price as Shes Watching, however.

Sorry Agent Q, this doesn’t seem like it’s your race (now watch her win).

In the Roses Are Red final, we are greeted once again by Lady Shadow, the mare we just somehow cannot beat. On the lead, off the lead, somewhere in the middle, she wins from there. This may be the night, however, that light finally casts down upon the darkness she has laid upon our bankrolls.

Off a trip, which she could easily work out, Frost Damage Blues is an obvious choice to beat the favorite. Gunning down mares faltering because they went a little faster than they could handle, Frost Damage Blues is good at picking up the leftovers. With speed up — and maybe filling — the wazoo, she could get the setup she needs.

This scenario, however, would also benefit two likely price horses: Call Me Queen Be and Penpal. Call Me Queen Be, who will likely try to station herself behind whoever is sprinting up front, will be able to cast the first strike upon the leader turning for home if she has the pocket. However, with an outside post, beware that she could then be left on the lead, and she does not like that, so she’s the riskier of the two.

Penpal just loves to fly. She’s been chasing and passing horses all season and has excelled so far as a four-year-old. Caught at the rail in her elimination, she prefers to mow her competition from off cover towards the center of the track, and her outside post likely puts her into the cover flow that will carry her to that position. She’s the more reliable outsider.

Preview Review

Wow, did we outperform our expectations last week!

We were expecting a $4 exacta here, a $5 exacta there… never did I think we’d score a double-digit exacta payoff!

Witch Dali (third, $9.30) started our night with a decent finish, especially since she had no room in the stretch. She was 38-1.

Then, we hit our first strike: Downbytheseaside won his Cup elimination as the favorite, with Western Hill (second, $8.40) completing the exacta, which returned $19.80.

We were totally wrong with the first Fan Hanover elimination, though. Roaring To Go (third, $2.40) was not a good price and the price play in the race, Soiree Seelster, stunk, finishing sixth at 5-1.

But we bounced back, not only with an exacta, but with a trifecta! Nike Franco N won as the favorite in the second Fan Hanover elimination, with Call Me Queen Be (second, $3.00 and $2.70) and Penpal (third, $3.70) completing the ticket. The exacta was not great, returning $8.90, but the $2 trifecta was great, paying $52!

Bettors Up (second, $6.10, $4.60) completed the next of our exactas, finishing second to favorite Tequila Monday. That one wasn’t as good, but decent, paying $13.20. Oh, and Obvious Blue Chip (sixth, 33-1) stunk.

We were edged out of another exacta in the second Cup elimination, with Classic Pro edging past Ozone Blue Chip (third, 39-1) to finish second to Huntsville.

But then we bounced again! Fear The Dragon won as the favorite over Filibuster Hanover (second, $5.80), completing an exacta that returned $21.70.

After that, Seventimesavirgin (fifth, 40-1) stunk and Lady Shadow ruled. And that was the night at Mohawk — exactas returning a total of $63.60 and that one trifecta that paid $52.

Elsewhere, Musical Rhythm (third, $7.80) was locked at the rail while Crazy Wow was left alone on the lead in the $200,000 Charlie Hill Memorial.

Warrawee Roo (fourth, 13-1) had broken equipment in the first division of the Graduate at Tioga Downs, trotting on to miss the board and disappoint us. Trolley won in track-record time.

Marion Marauder won in his four-year-old debut in the second Graduate division. Waitlifter K (fifth, 29-1) did not.

Dr J Hanover continued to be faster than everyone else, winning another leg of the Graduate. Lyons Snyder (fifth, 35-1) was locked at the rail and didn’t get room, while Sintra (seventh, 7-5) stunk as the favorite.

Phew, that was a lot of work. Now, if you need me, I’ll be downing a six-pack of Pepsi.

Ray Cotolo
Ray Cotolo is a seasoned handicapper and harness writer. At 17-years-old, he has worked in the harness racing industry for approaching a decade. Known for his creativity, humor, and eccentric personality, he works to promote harness racing while also entertaining. He is also known as the son of harness-racing guru Frank Cotolo and focuses primarily on the pari-mutuel side of the sport, invested in seeking value.

Ray hosts the weekly radio show “North American Harness Update,” which combines his talents to both entertain and aid the public in discovering overlay contenders from the highest-stake harness races to the cheapest overnights at Truro Raceway. He strives to put on the greatest show possible for all audiences along with his co-host, Mike Pribozie. It airs from 9-11pmEDT on SRN One.

Outside of racing, Ray is a playwright, writer, and, debatably, a comedian. He has performed and written sketch comedy while attending high school, as well as plays and varying side projects. He continually updates his Twitter account, @RayCotolo, with thoughts either pertaining to or not pertaining to harness racing.

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