05/04/2016 3:33PM

Pocono: Miss Pennsylvania no day at the beach for 'Darlin'

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Curtis Salonick
Darlinonthebeach in flight to the wire.

Darlinonthebeach handed Pure Country the first loss of her career in last weekend’s eliminations for Saturday night’s $313,800 Miss Pennsylvania Stakes, but trainer Nancy Johansson knows her filly faces another challenging task ahead.

Johansson trains Darlinonthebeach for breeder/owner White Birch Farm. Darlinonthebeach, who is 2-for-2 this year after hitting the board in nine of 10 races last season, is the 5-2 morning line favorite in the Miss Pennsylvania, which is restricted to Pennsylvania-sired 3-year-old female pacers.

Darlinonthebeach will start the final from post four with David Miller in the sulky.

Pure Country, who was unbeaten in 10 starts in 2015 and received the Dan Patch Award for best 2-year-old female pacer, will leave from post six with driver Brett Miller and is the 3-1 second choice. She made her seasonal debut in the first of three Miss Pennsylvania eliminations and finished third after getting to the front following a :26 3/5 opening quarter-mile and leading into the stretch.

Newborn Sassy, who finished second to Darlinonthebeach’s 1:50 4/5 mile in that elim, is 5-1 on the morning line and will start from post two with driver Tim Tetrick. Newborn Sassy won eight of 10 races last year, including the Matron Stakes, for training tandem of Jim King Jr. and Jo Ann Looney-King.

Call Me Queen Be and I Said Diamonds, the remaining two elimination winners, will leave from posts five and nine, respectively. Call Me Queen Be, with Scott Zeron driving for trainer Ross Croghan, is 4-1 on the morning line and I Said Diamonds, with Matt Kakaley in the bike for Matias Ruiz, is 10-1.

“I think Pure Country is a great filly,” said Johansson, who is the daughter of Pure Country’s trainer, Jimmy Takter. “She needed that race. Newborn Sassy needed that race too; it was the first start of the year for them. I’m sure Pure Country and Newborn Sassy are going to be much better this week. They’re going to be tighter. It’s going to be a good race.”

Darlinonthebeach is a daughter of stallion Somebeachsomewhere out of the mare Darlin’s Delight. White Birch Farm also bred, raced and owns Darlin’s Delight, who earned $2.90 million in her career and received the 2006 Dan Patch Award for best 3-year-old filly pacer.

Last year, Darlinonthebeach won two of 10 races, including a division of the International Stallion Stakes, and finished second on five occasions, including the She’s A Great Lady Stakes.

“It seems like she’s matured a little bit from last year,” Johansson said about Darlinonthebeach. “She grew up quite a bit; filled out quite a bit from last year. I think that helps. When they get stronger they can carry their speed a little longer. Mentally I think she’s a bit more focused than she was last year. It all just needs to come together, which so far it has.”

Darlinonthebeach’s only off-the-board finish came in last October’s Breeders Crown final, where she finished sixth after going off stride at the halfway point. But Darlinonthebeach made up ground with a :26 4/5 last quarter-mile that was nearly one-second quicker than any other horse in the race.

“It was unfortunate in the Breeders Crown that she ran into the horse in front of her because I think she would have been right there on the wire with Pure Country in that start,” Johansson said. “She made up an enormous amount of ground; she was really sharp that day. But that is what it is; you can’t change that now.”

Because she won only twice last year, Johansson was able to qualify Darlinonthebeach once and then put the filly into a conditioned race for Pennsylvania-preferred female pacers ages 4 and under. Getting a start prior to the Miss Pennsylvania eliminations was an advantage, she said.

“Qualifying and racing is a big difference,” Johansson said. “But you don’t want to race these 3-year-old fillies against open (level) mares. For her, she had the advantage where she was still in non-winners of three and Pennsylvania-bred, so I had an option to race her somewhere.

“I think she raced really well (last weekend),” the trainer added. “She went (1:)50 4/5 under no urging whatsoever. When I watched the replay I realized David didn’t even encourage her to go coming down the stretch. He just pulled the earplugs and she was off. So I was happy with it. So far so good.”

Pocono will conduct two race cards Saturday sandwiching the Kentucky Derby. The first card, with first-race post time of 11 a.m., features three divisions of the Pennsylvania All-Stars for 3-year-old male trotters. The evening card, in addition to the Miss Pennsylvania, includes the $561,500 Pennsylvania Classic for Pennsylvania-sired 3-year-old male pacers.

--Courtesy of Harness Racing Communications, a division of the U.S. Trotting Association. For more information, please visit www.ustrotting.com

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Blaine MacMillan More than 1 year ago
I like this filly a lot. She looks like she's matured into something fierce in her division.