Track record holder Panocchio, forced to change his usual front-stepping tactics, overcame a first over journey and went on to score a victory — his 40th lifetime — in Pompano Park’s $11,000 Open Handicap Pace on Sunday night (April 10).
The six-year-old gelded son of No Pan Intended, handled, once again, by Wally Hennessey, hit the wire in 1:51, holding Rockin In Heaven, making his seasonal debut, and driven by Gilles Barrieau, safe by three-parts of a length. Dedis Dragon, with Ricky Macomber Jr. handling the lines, was third, two and a quarter lengths away, while Southwind Amazon (Mike Micallef) finished fourth. Duc Dorleans (Donald Dupont) was fifth in the very talented sextet.
When the gate folded, all six of these combatants seemed to go for the lead with only Rockin In Heaven relenting early and dropping to the back of the pack. So, around the opening turn, Duc Dorleans and Dedis Dragon mixed it up with Southwind Amazon double-bubbled early and Panocchio next on the outside, but able to finally land in the fourth spot past a hot opener in :26.3.
With Southwind Amazon pressing on, he was able to stick his nose in front past the half in :54.1. That’s when Panocchio left his cozy spot and marched up first over and engaged Southwind Amazon in battle, reaching the third station in 1:22.3 with Dedis Dragon content to sit chilly in third and Rockin In Heaven second over in fourth.
In the lane, Panocchio took command with authority as Rockin In Heaven took up the chase, but with just a slight “reminder” from Hennessey, Panocchio was confidently home free in the final stages.
In a post-race interview, Hennessey remarked, “You know, this horse likes to be in the thick of the battle from the get-go, but tonight that wasn’t a realistic strategy since they were going so much up front. So, I found that spot in fourth and thought that was the right thing to do at the time.
“These horses aren’t machines, you know, but now that I think of it,” Hennessey smiled, “this one is pretty close to it!
“He’s just awesome and, again, you have to give credit to Jim and Vicki [Mattison] because they are the ones who keep him happy and sharp.”
In getting that 40th win in 90 lifetime starts, Panocchio sent his 2016 scorecard to 4-3-0 in seven starts, good for earnings this semester of $40,910. He’s banked $331,598 lifetime for trainer Jim Mattison, who co-owns along with Emile Johnson Jr.
As the 2-5 talk of the toteboard, Panocchio paid $2.80 to his multitude of followers.
The $8,500 Open 2 Pace went to Steelhead Hanover, with Joe Pavia Jr., in 1:51.2 as this seven-year-old son of Bettors Delight made a sharp quarter (:27.1) move to the top and went on to clock fractions of :55.1 and 1:23 before sealing the issue with a :28.2 finale. His winning margin was one length over Alexas Jackpot (John MacDonald), with Mister Virgin (Ricky Macomber Jr.) a fast-closing third. Northern Companion and Prairie Jaguar were next in the field of six.
Both Steelhead Hanover (post four) and Alexas Jackpot (post five) played a bit of musical chairs early with Steelhead Hanover, first, yielding and, then, retaking, ultimately proving to be the winning strategy.
Trained by Pavia for the Dijo Racing, AGC Stables, Pint Size Racing and Joseph Barbera, Steelhead Hanover earned his initial win of the season in three starts. It was his 22nd success career-wise to send his lifetime bounty to $543,320.
Off as the 3-1 second choice, Steelhead Hanover returned $8.20 to his faithful.
Also of note on Sunday night was the performance of the 11-year-old warrior, Ricks Sign, rallying late for Ricky Macomber Jr. in a conditioned-optional claiming event to win in 1:53. It was his fourth consecutive win and 64th lifetime success in 274 career starts.
Trained by Paul Holzman for owner Mary Holzman, Ricks Sign now owns a 5-2-1 scorecard in 10 starts this year, good for $19,368. Lifetime, this son of Life Sign has banked $417,589 and has a 1:50.3 mark, taken at Pompano Park five seasons ago.
Ricks Sign was somewhat neglected in the wagering and returned $15 to win.
Racing continues at Pompano Park with a Sunday-Monday-Tuesday calendar throughout the remainder of the month. The May calendar features racing on Sundays and Tuesdays. Post time is 7:30 p.m.
(Standardbred Canada with files from Pompano Park)