06/27/2013 11:57AM

Pocono Sun Stakes: Open draw places favorites at a disadvantage


There are certainly critics of the open draw. People will argue that giving the connections of an elimination winner the right to choose their post in the final is fair and serves as an extra incentive to go “all out” to win the week before the big money is on the line. Those people are wrong!

Granted my view is not that of an owner, driver or trainer who are all directly affected by a possible poor draw, but from the viewpoint of the tracks and the betting public, the open draw creates a greater opportunity for more exciting races with better wagering opportunities.

[DRF HARNESS: Watch the Saturday Sun Stakes Finals card at Mohegan Sun Pocono Downs LIVE! Video Analysis, features and more!]

When the Sun Stakes finals at Mohegan Sun Pocono were drawn, bettors were given a treat. In three of the four races, the logical post time favorite drew an outside post. At some tracks this would not be a death sentence, but at Pocono, for the most part, you don’t want to draw outside of post six.

Statistically the inside six post positions win at rates between 12.2 and 15.7 percent. That number drops to 8.5% from post seven, 7.7% from post eight and 6.3% from post nine. To make matters worse, horses starting from posts eight and nine have only finished second 14.9 and 12.4 percent respectively.

The victims of this terrible fate were I Luv The Nitelife (post 8) in the $300,000 James Lynch Memorial, Captaintreacherous (post 9) in the $500,000 Max Hempt Memorial and Smilin Eli (post 9) in the $500,000 Earl Beal Memorial. But none of the connections of these horses were quite as wounded as driver Tim Tetrick, who will have the unenviable task of overcoming the outside handicap with all three.

“I think all of them could win,” said Tetrick, hardly excited as he spoke of his chances. “The nine-hole is up on a hill and it is tough to get [off the gate fast] and get to the front.”

Tetrick thought that I Luv The Nitelife, who only drew post eight, was his best opportunity to score a stakes win on the Saturday card.

As Tetrick mentioned, the problem with winning from an outside post is the ability to make the front or get good position early in the mile. On last Saturday’s 14-race elimination card (June 22), eight winners won with a pocket trip, five won on the lead and one (Sunfire Blue Chip) took the uncovered route. That means every winner on the card was no worse than third at the head of the stretch!

While Pocono is typically a speed-favoring track, the numbers from June 22 may be more of an anomaly rather than the rule. Looking back at the previous three Saturdays of racing, 29 of the 46 winners (63%) either had the lead or sat the pocket. While that indicates a clear bias, it hardly matches the 92% rate on elimination night.

The key to winning at Pocono is to be near the lead or chasing a fast pace from second or third-over. But it is worth noting that the $500,000 Ben Franklin along with the finals mentioned above contain the best of the best. These horses are capable of going multiple fast quarters and hanging on in the stretch. I believe the reason eight pocket-sitters and five front-end horses won last Saturday was because the best horses tend to leave the gate hard in elimination races (the crème rises to the top) and are ultimately near the lead. With only three or four top horses in each elimination, there are simply not enough serious contenders to press the leader hard through the first three quarters and soften him up for the stretch.

It is hard to say whether any of the outside favorites will find their way to the winner’s circle. If you feel strongly about the chances of I Luv The Nitelife, Captaintreacherous, Smilin Eli or Betterthancheddar (post 8, Ben Franklin), you will be rewarded with a much better price than if they drew an inside post. The percentages say that if even one wins it will be a good night. While I give them all a chance to win, do you want 6-5 on a horse starting from a post that wins only 6% of the time?

For the record, I like I Luv The Nitelife’s chances to win and believe Captaintreacherous will definitely hit the board. I’m not sure what to make of Smilin Eli. He has done everything right so far but I’m not even sure he is the fastest horse in the race.

$1,000,000 on the line

While the purse for the Earl Beal is listed at $500k, there is a bigger pot at the end of the rainbow for the winner. If the Beal victor also finishes first in the Colonial Trot (August 17) and Breeders Crown 3-year-old colt trot (October 19), his connections will receive a $1,000,000 bonus courtesy of the Pennsylvania Harness Horsemen Association.