06/24/2016 10:21AM

Bergman: Sun Stakes eliminations should provide thrills at Pocono


It’s been a year that’s been tempting for many a standardbred follower. Those who have witnessed horses with exceptional talent have been waiting for roads to collide. Well, given the draw for this Saturday’s Sun Stakes eliminations at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, the wait is definitively over.

It’s time to get down and dirty with divisions that offer potential superstars. Pocono will begin to sort things out and perhaps truly define greatness in the next two weeks.

The matchups that we’ve been waiting for have finally come in to play, with the aged pacers likely to take center stage as they battle for the $500,000 Ben Franklin top prize.

[POCONO: Watch the entire Sun Stakes eliminations card--Live on DRF Saturday!]

Horse of the Year Wiggle It Jiggleit hasn’t avoided competition thus far and remains Numero Uno in the sport. His presence at Pocono could have kept entries to a minimum but that is not the case, as three eliminations have been set.

The big confrontation this week will come in the form of an elimination, something that Wiggle It Jiggleit has avoided. Supplemental entry Mel Mara ($30,000) landed the pole position in his elimination and the recent 1:47 victor has more than his share of company. Joining Mel Mara will be last year’s Breeders Crown champion and most recent Mohawk Gold Cup winner Always B Miki. The two battled on the big track at the Meadowlands with less on the line, but Saturday’s race should be epic.

Adding to this division are more than a few horses with definitive upset chances. Rockin Ron showed his smaller track prowess in capturing the Confederation Cup at Flamboro over Wiggle It Jiggleit. Trainer Ron Burke suggested that he wasn’t 100 percent in the Graduate leg at Tioga on June 12, a fourth-place finish. Prior to that, all Rockin Ron did was win races for the Burkes.

Team Burke will also have the rugged and reliable All Bets Off in this assemblage, and the pair will start directly outside of Always B Miki, something that may propel them at the start.

Joining the other elimination field will be Freaky Feet Pete. Last year’s sophomore Breeders Crown winner has been superb this year, losing just once in five tries and that was by no means an embarrassment. The pride of Indiana (as if Always B Miki and Wiggle It Jiggleit aren’t enough), Freaky Feet Pete appears to have landed into the weakest of the three divisions and has drawn the rail to boot.

The James Lynch for 3-year-old pacing fillies landed two elimination divisions, but most eyes will be focused on the second elimination. That’s because recent Fan Hanover winner Pure Country will have to deal with her Pa.-sired rival Darlinonthebeach as well as New Jersey champion Blue Moon Stride. This is the first meeting of cross-state rivals on the grand stage and it will be a legitimate test for all three.

If the Fan Hanover final proved anything, it probably showed that races don’t always go as well as planned. Driver Brett Miller had a momentary lapse past the first quarter while sitting behind Pure Country and nearly got locked in to a horrible spot. Fortunately Miller was able to work his way off the pylons without severely hampering any rivals in the process. The mile track tends to offer some forgiveness for minor errors. Miller or any other drivers in the Lynch won’t have that luxury over the speedy five-eighths oval.

Pure Country has only won twice in five starts this year after going unbeaten as a 2-year-old. That said, her victories came with impressive closing efforts in the two richest events.

Darlinonthebeach probably lacked the momentum that Pure Country had in the Fan Hanover final and had to settle for second. The gifted daughter of Somebeachsomewhere gets another crack at her on Saturday, but there will be a post position reversal. Perhaps driver David Miller may elect to race the filly from off the pace and see what she can do in crunch time.

Of course Blue Moon Stride has looked powerful in New Jersey and that once stood for something. Saturday will be the first time to find out if the Mark Harder-trained filly is indeed among the elite in this division. Andrew McCarthy has proven in just a short time on these shores that he can handle himself under pressure. Blue Moon Stride drew between the two stars of the division and will get her chance on Saturday.

While last Saturday’s North America Cup answered many questions about this year’s 3-year-old crop of male pacers, it opened up a few more queries about some of the also-rans.

Most notably, why did Brett Miller behind Racing Hill back up to allow the previously parked Lyons Snyder to get in front of him before the three quarters?

And why did the connections of Control The Moment wait until the North America Cup to finally put some speed into the horse? The son of Well Said entered the final off a pair of final quarter sprints and perhaps that is why he lacked the measure of both Betting Line and Racing Hill in the late stages.

Fortunately in this sport there is always next week and retribution is never that far away.

One horse that may use the Max Hempt Memorial as an opportunity to gain some recognition is American Passport. Denied a spot in the North America Cup final after getting locked in during his elimination, American Passport moves to the five-eighths for trainer Tony Alagna with new driver Brian Sears listed. It’s a shocking change considering Scott Zeron’s loyalty in ceding the sulky seat on Lyons Snyder for this colt.

Southwind Frank has been most impressive tuning up in New Jersey for trainer Ron Burke and still looks to be on a direct path towards Hambletonian favoritism. However, the son of Muscle Hill landed post eight in one of two eliminations for the Earl Beal Jr. Memorial and he will have three colts from the Jimmy Takter stable inside of him, at least at the start.

While all too often horsemen save their stock in eliminations looking to go all out in finals, this week’s Pocono races are likely to force their hands and produce the type of racing we can all be proud of.