07/01/2015 3:28PM

Pocono: Sophomore pacing colts set for round two in Hempt final

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Ken Weingartner/USTA Photo
Artspeak won his Max Hempt elimination last week.

The top 3-year-old male pacers in North America meet Saturday in the $500,000 Max C. Hempt Memorial at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, but with trainer Tony Alagna expecting the group to “trade punches all year,” the event might as well be called “Round Two.”

Wakizashi Hanover won Round One, capturing the North America Cup on June 20 at Mohawk Racetrack in Ontario. The sport’s leading money-winner this season, Wakizashi Hanover will start from post seven in the Hempt, entering the final off a 1:50 4/5 elimination victory over a sloppy track last weekend. He is the 3-1 second choice on the morning line with Tim Tetrick driving for trainer Joann Looney-King.

North America Cup runner-up Wiggle It Jiggleit is the 5-2 morning line favorite after winning his Hempt elimination by four lengths in 1:50 1/5. Wiggle It Jiggleit, the winner of 12 of 13 lifetime races, will start from post five with Montrell Teague at the lines for trainer Clyde Francis.

[POCONO DOWNS: Watch the Sun Stakes Finals LIVE on DRF!]

Artspeak, who was the 2014 Dan Patch Award winner for best 2-year-old male pacer, won the remaining elimination by a head over In The Arsenal, stopping the clock in 1:50 for Alagna and driver Scott Zeron. He drew post No. 4 and is 4-1 on the morning line.

In The Arsenal, who earlier this season won the Art Rooney Pace, is 5-1and will start from post six with Brian Sears driving for Kelvin Harrison.

Those four horses have combined to win 24 of 30 starts this season while finishing on the board a total of 28 times.

“I think those are the top four contenders right now and they’re going to trade punches all year, I believe,” Alagna said. “But I think that our horse is definitely going to get his fair share.”

Joining the four top morning line picks in the Hempt final are Lost For Words, who has won four of five races this year and finished second to Wakizashi Hanover in his elimination, as well as North America Cup third-place finisher Betting Exchange, Pierce Hanover, A Bettor Hat, and National Seelster.

The top three finishers from each of last week’s three eliminations advanced to the Hempt final. All of the finalists were in the top three entering the last quarter-mile of their respective elims and only two of the finalists – National Seelster and A Bettor Hat – were worse than third at the halfway point. They were fourth and on the move.

“It’s going to be a cavalry charge into the first turn,” said Alagna, who won the 2013 Hempt with Captaintreacherous. “Everybody is going to be leaving. Nobody wants to come from off the pace and going for $500,000 everybody is going to be forwardly placed. We just have to hope we land in a good spot and get a decent trip and get a shot at it in the stretch.”

In his elimination, Artspeak got the lead heading out of the first turn and then rebuffed challenges from Pierce Hanover (outside) and In The Arsenal (inside) to post the win. It was only the second time in his seven most recent starts that Artspeak was in front at the half.

“People thought he would have trouble with the five-eighths (of a mile track) and he whipped right around there,” said Alagna, who trains Artspeak for owners Brittany Farms, Marvin Katz, Joe Sbrocco, and In The Gym Partners. “He did it on the front end and that’s not normally his style. He’s a much better horse off a helmet, but we took a shot and Scott did a great job.

“He showed a lot of grit. He’s won a lot of races on talent, but the other night he showed true grit and what kind of horse he really is. They collared him at the head of the lane and he fought all the way to the wire to win. I was very impressed with his effort.”

Saturday’s card at Pocono also includes the $500,000 Ben Franklin Pace for older male pacers, $500,000 Earl Beal Jr. Memorial for 3-year-old male trotters, $300,000 James M. Lynch Memorial for 3-year-old female pacers, and $75,000 Sun Invitational for older trotters.

Following is the Hempt Memorial field in post order with drivers, trainers, and morning line odds:

1. Pierce Hanover, Brett Miller, Ken Sucee, 10-1

2. Betting Exchange, Jim Morrill Jr., Tom Fanning, 12-1

3. Lost For Words, David Miller, Brian Brown, 6-1

4. Artspeak, Scott Zeron, Tony Alagna, 4-1

5. Wiggle It Jiggleit, Montrell Teague, Clyde Francis, 5-2

6. In The Arsenal, Brian Sears, Kelvin Harrison, 5-1

7. Wakizashi Hanover, Tim Tetrick, Joann Looney-King, 3-1

8. A Bettor Hat, Yannick Gingras, Gilbert Garcia-Herrera, 20-1

9. National Seelster, Andy Miller, Chris Ryder, 15-1

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