Day At The Track

Mohegan Sun Pocono Week in Review

09:48 AM 16 Oct 2019 NZDT
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George Napolitano, Jr., harness racing
George Napolitano, Jr. in action

Normally in this space we hand out the Weekly Awards for excellent performances by horses, drivers and trainers at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. I would venture a guess that no one has won more of those awards than driver George Napolitano Jr. Which is why it's only fitting that we take a break from the Weekly Awards to honor George's latest milestone.

This past Saturday night, George Nap picked up his 10,000th career driving victory. A lot of times, when we stop and note these milestone wins, it's just about the fact that the driver happens to have landed upon a nice round number. But 10,000 victories represent extremely rarefied air, a total that few drivers could even dream of achieving.

For context, only 11 active drivers have done it, while only 18 in the history of the sport of harness racing in North America have reached that plateau. When you think about all of the drivers at all of the tracks through all of the years that the sport has been in existence, you realize that 18 represents only a tiny fraction of all of the men and women who have ever sat in the sulky.

So how is it that one comes to such a number? Well, it helps to have longevity, and George has certainly managed that. But you also have to be at the absolute top of your game during the time that you're driving. Many others have raced for as long or even longer than Napolitano and have not approached 10,000 victories. To get there, you have to be winning an extremely high percentage of your races.

And George has certainly done that, especially in the state of Pennsylvania. Pocono has always been his main stomping grounds, with just shy of half of those 10,000 wins coming on our oval. He's on his way to his 13th driving championship at the track, including the last eight years running. In that time, Pocono has boasted one of the strongest driving communities in the country. Coming out on top of that group year after year is truly a sign of excellence.

George Nap has also done a lot of damage at Harrah's at Philadelphia across the state, winning driving titles there as well. It becomes a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy when you have that kind of talent. He drives so successfully that the owners and trainers want him to drive their horses, meaning that he gets the choice of the best horse flesh. When you put that kind of equine talent together with George's driving skills, it's a winning combination.

But that doesn't take into account all of the wins George has earned when the horse he was driving didn't have the best of racing luck. That's why his 10,000th win was so emblematic. It came aboard a horse named Motown N who was made the favorite in a condition pace despite the fact that he was moving up in class.

In the race, Motown N was urged to go for the lead by Napolitano as the field came around the first turn. It's a move that George has made a million times, and it usually ends up with his horse in the lead before they hit the 3/8-mile marker of the race. But this time, the early pacesetter, Santafe's Coach, was unwilling to give up the lead. Motown N was parked al the way through the front stretch and only cleared for the lead at the half-mile marker.

As someone who has seen a lot of races from up in the announcer's booth over the years, I know that such a trip usually spells trouble. A horse parked around two turns and used hard during that stretch generally struggles to sustain the lead. When Youcaniknow came charging up with a stout first-over charge, it seemed again like it would be too much for Motown N to handle.

But one of the things that has characterized Napolitano throughout his amazing career has been his ability to keep horses afloat that might otherwise falter in lesser hands. And this historic race proved to be another example of that. Motown N rebuffed the charge of Youcaniknow and was still out in front at the top of the lane.

It was never going to be easy, though, as Motown N still had to weather a late charge by Redbank Blaze A, driven, ironically enough, by George's brother Anthony Napolitano. But there was no denying this horse or this driver in this one. Motown N gutted it out to win by two lengths.

Normally, during a stretch drive of a harness race, the television shot tries to widen out to encompass as many of the contending horses as possible. But in this case, the professionals at International Sound, who handle the Pocono TV production so adeptly, took a quick closeup of Motown N as he strived to the finish line. And that closeup showed George Napolitano Jr., all grit and determination, working just as hard as his horse, calling on every last bit of savvy and skill that he has amassed over the years to get the victory.

Do that just once in your life and you've accomplished something. Do that 9,999 times more, and you can call yourself as successful as George Napolitano Jr. I think I can speak for all of us here at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono as I pass along my congratulations to George and let him know what an honor it has been to witness his excellence. Here's to many more victories to come.

That will do it for this week at Pocono, but we'll see you at the track. Feel free to e-mail me at jbeviglia@mohegansunpocono.com.

by Jim Beviglia, for Pocono Downs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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