05/10/2016 11:09AM

Pandolfo: Napolitano brothers have the confidence factor

Curtis Salonick
Drivers George (left) and Anthony Napolitano have been a force at Pocono Downs this year.

On April 23, harness drivers Anthony Napolitano and George Napolitano, Jr., set a harness racing record for bothers when they combined to win 13 of the 14 races at the Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. Anthony won 7 races and only one was a favorite; he brought in longshot winners that paid $69.80 and $21.40.

The Napolitano brothers have driven against each other many times over the years, mostly at Pocono and Pompano, both 5/8 size tracks. George started driving in 1993 but his career really took off once he stopped training and became a catch-driver in 2008. Since then he's been one of the top drivers in the sport. In 2015, George Napolitano, Jr. had his best year, winning 834 races for over $8.5 million in earnings.

George's younger brother Anthony started his career in 2002. Like George, Anthony also trained horses. It's hard to become a top tier driver as a trainer because you lose good drives. Anthony gave up training in 2014.

Last year, Anthony won 188 races for $2.5 million in purses, equaling his career best for earnings. Which brings us to 2016. Rather than go to Pompano this winter, Anthony decided to stay up north and try his hand at the Meadowlands.

On November 13, 2015, Anthony won his first drive of the meet, winning with $39.60 longshot Stonebridge Idol. It turned out to be the first of many wins, with Anthony Napolitano emerging as the hottest driver at the Meadowlands this winter.

When Pocono opened on March 19, Anthony started driving there again. He currently has 42 wins and is second in the driver standings behind George.

What happened to Anthony is not unusual. Many harness drivers have had that one break-out meet where they suddenly put it all together. Right from the start of the meet you could see that Anthony's driving skills were tailor-made for the Meadowlands.

It's not like he won a race here and there and then gradually keep improving. From day one of the meet, Anthony won races, and he brought in many longshots, including $47.80, $42.80, $51.60, $48.20, and $35.80 winners. Anyone can win when they have the best horse, but Anthony was waking horses up.

Confidence is so important in life. Anyone who bets horses knows how confident we get when things are going good, but how quickly that can turn to insecurity. When you bet horses, depending on whether you bet to win or exotics, you're probably going to hit anywhere from 15 to 30% of your wagers. You're going to lose a lot more bets than you win.

If you're ultimately going to enjoy wagering on horses, you have to learn how to deal with the losing bets. One of the best professional horseplayers I've ever met is Ernie Dahlman, who succeeded as both a harness and thoroughbred player. Dahlman does a good job at staying on an even kneel.

One way to keep your confidence from getting too shaky is to not shoot for the moon all the time. Dahlman had some big scores in the Twin Double when he was a young man, but he eventually became an exacta bettor who would back up his key wagers with a few hedge bets. And during his career as a professional bettor, Dahlman had an air of confidence about him. Not arrogance, confidence.

I've watched a lot of races at Mohegan Sun the past few years, so I've seen the Napolitano brothers in action. George always struck me as a very confident driver. He's aggressive and he's one of the best in the business on the front end. But George is not just a front end driver. One night last summer my wife and I were at Mohegan Sun with her sister and her husband. George was driving the horse we bet. He left and tucked but got shuffled back badly in traffic.

My brother-in-law, Barry, glanced at me and said, "It doesn't look good."

My response was, "He's in a bad spot, but we've got Georgie Nap, so we've got a shot."

As they turned into the stretch, George deftly swung his horse off the inside, weaved his way through horses like a master seamstress, found an opening in the five-path and rallied to win the photo. You think George Napolitano has confidence? You bet he does. Very few drivers could have won from that spot -- the slightest hesitation and that hole closes up.

And now it's his brother's turn. It took the big track, The Big M, to turn the light on. At 34 years of age, Anthony Napolitano has gone from a good driver to a top driver. The skills were there. But watching him drive this year, you can see the difference, the confidence. He learned by driving against the best, his older brother. And that couldn't have been easy because George gets good horses to drive, and he's a dynamic force on the racetrack.

Anthony came into the Meadowlands where he had to compete with the top drivers in the sport: Tim Tetrick, Yannick Gingras, John Campbell, Scott Zeron, David Miller, etc. And not only did he win consistently but he proved that he didn't have to have the best horse.

To win consistently at the Meadowlands in particular, you have to save something for the stretch. Some drivers can put their horses in good spots but the horse lacks the stretch punch. That's because they can't get the horse to relax enough. Anthony Napolitano has something you can't teach: great hands. Whether he leaves, goes first over, or follows cover, he gets horses to finish, and that can be the difference between good and great.

Anthony Napolitano's success at the Meadowlands gave him the confidence that he needed to take his career to the next level. Talent isn't always enough. If you don't think you're great, you can't be great.

To find out more about Pandy’s handicapping theories check out his www.trotpicks.com or www.handicappingwinners.com websites, his free picks at handicapping.ustrotting.com/pandycapping.cfm or write to Bob Pandolfo, 112 Michael Ct., Northampton, PA 18067.