06/22/2016 8:46AM

Pocono: Wakizashi Hanover makes 2016 debut on Saturday

Derick Giwner
Wakizashi Hanover has earned $1,257,789 in his career.

With most of the “Big Guns” of the standardbred world racing in eliminations for rich finals the following week, it is easy for one of last year’s stars to get lost in the shuffle this Saturday night at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. One week after Betting Line was crowned the North America Cup champion at Mohawk, the 2015 winner Wakizashi Hanover returns to the track for his first race of the year.

Wakizashi Hanover is late to the older pacing ranks party due to the need for tieback throat surgery. The career winner of $1,257,789 had the operation back in early April and trainer Jo Ann Looney-King is cautiously optimistic the 4-year-old gelding is ready to compete.

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“All I want is for him to come back and race,” said Looney-King. “It doesn’t matter if he can compete with the top older pacers. They go in (1):47 and :48 every week, so he’ll have to be at the top of his game to race against them.”

Wakizashi Hanover competed in a pair of qualifiers to prepare for his debut. He was second in 1:56 4/5 at Harrington on June 8 and followed that up with a 1:53 3/5 win at Harrah’s Philadelphia on June 14. The second qualifying effort was with regular driver Tim Tetrick in the bike and included a 26 4/5 final quarter.

Despite the good showing, Looney-King was far from ready to declare Wakizashi Hanover as 100 percent cured of his ailment. While the paralyzed flap in the back of his throat was tied back to prevent a blockage of his airway, the surgery came with no guarantees.

“The flap could come back down at any time and there is a chance he would have to have surgery again,” said Looney-King.

Wakizashi Hanover begins his 2016 campaign from post four in a Winners Over $27,500 Lifetime race. While he avoids the likes of Wiggle It Jiggleit, Always B Miki and Freaky Feet Pete, who are the stars of three eliminations of the Ben Franklin later in the card, the son of Dragon Again tackles a strong field led by recent Roll With Joe winner Rockeyed Optimist. Leaving from post six with Brett Miller in the bike, Rockeyed Optimist seeks his third straight win and tenth in 15 starts this year.

Saturday’s 15-race card at Pocono gets underway at 6:30 p.m. and also features eliminations for the Max Hempt (3-year-old pacers), James Lynch (3-year-old filly pacers) and Earl Beal (3-year-old trotters). Wakizashi Hanover goes to post in race four on the program.