Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono 2018 Racing Season Preview

Tuesday, March 13th, 2018

It has been a long, cold, snowy winter in Northeastern Pennsylvania, one that, at press time, hadn’t shown many signs of letting up. Yet there is one sure sign that spring is on the way, and that, of course, is the opening of the harness racing season at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. And 2018 should be a special one for our beloved track and all those who inhabit it, fans and competitors, on a nightly basis.

Saturday night, March 17, marks the 52nd racing season at Pocono. That is really an incredible number, especially when you consider that countless other harness racing tracks have come and gone in that time span. The longevity of the track is a testament to the love of the sport that has never really waned in this area since Pocono racing debuted.

That love has only intensified over the years. It hung around even when the racing product was at its lowest point, in terms of both purses and mainstream attention. Those patrons who followed us faithfully even through those lean years have been rewarded for the past decade or so, ever since Mohegan Sun took over ownership, with some of the most exciting racing in all of North America. It is not bragging to say that Pocono is one of the premiere tracks; it is just a statement of fact backed up by the amount of money on the line during the racing season and the caliber of horses and horsemen and women who frequent the track each year.

Part of what makes a special track is the ability to host big racing events. There are, of course, none bigger than the Breeders Crown, and, in October of 2018, those year-end championships will return to Pocono for the third time in the past decade. The first two events were unforgettable, and I was so proud to have been a part of calling the action. I’m probably like the rest of the Pocono faithful in that I simply cannot wait for the Breeders Crown return engagement.

After all, it is a night akin to the World Series in baseball or, since we are at that time of year, the NCAA tournament in college basketball. All of the action that takes place during the season leads up to it, and it allows the sport to close out the year in definitive fashion by crowning champions in the various classes. To put it simply, no horse’s legacy is complete without competing in the Breeders Crown as the ultimate test against the best of the best.

Of course, there will be plenty of thrilling action leading up to that point. And that’s not just in terms of the stakes races that will be held throughout the year, although there are plenty of those that will whet the faithful’s appetite for the high stakes of the Breeders Crown races. What has distinguished Pocono’s rise to among the elite tracks has been the quality of our overnight racing, both in terms of the horses who compete and the drivers and trainers who battle night in and night out for supremacy during the season.

Attracted by the top-of-the-line racing surface, the excellent purses, and a colony of regular drivers that can stand with any those at any track in the world, the finest owners and trainers bring in their claimers and condition horses to how well they’ll fare against the rugged racing competition at Pocono. Judging by just what I saw on the Opening Night program, and how difficult it was for me as an oddsmaker to find definitive favorites when there were so many worthy possibilities in each race, 2018 could be the most competitive ever at the track.

That’s why I, for one, can’t wait to get this thing underway. For those who might be unaware, our racing schedule, once it is fully up and running after three partially full weeks to start the season, consists of action on Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights each week. The one big change this year comes in terms of our post times, which will be at a steady time of 7:00 PM Eastern time for Race 1 each evening.

With all of that said, there’s really nothing more to do than get those horses out on the track and get this season rolling. We have a lot to look forward to in 2018, and every step of the way should be thrilling. So welcome to the 2018 racing season at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. It should be a blast.

That will do it for me for this week, but I’ll be speaking to you each week in this column and, of course, we’ll see you at the track. Feel free to e-mail me at

The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono Announces 2018 Racing Season

Wednesday, February 21st, 2018

The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono is pleased to announce our 2018 racing season schedule.  The track in Northeast PA is looking forward to another tremendous season of racing, with the Breeders Crown returning for the third time.

Opening night has been set for Saturday, March 17 at a new Post Time of 7:00pm for all race nights, with the exception of Easter Sunday at 5:00pm and all three Triple Crown nights.  In the month of March, racing continues on Tuesday, March 20th; Saturday, March 24th; Sunday, March 25th; Tuesday, March 27th, and Saturday, March 31st.  Beginning in April, the track will move to its permanent schedule of Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, with no racing on Monday, April 2nd and Monday, September 10th.

Stakes action kicks off in early April with a Late Closing Series, and spring and summer action includes the PA Sire Stakes for 3-year-olds starting in May, as well as the PA All-Stars and PA Stallion Series.  All three continue throughout the season, with the 2-year-olds taking center stage starting in July.  The PA Sire Stakes for 3-year-olds is on Sunday, September 2.   The prestigious $2 million Sun Stakes Saturday is June 30th featuring the $500,000 Earl Beal Jr. Memorial Trot; $500,000 Ben Franklin Free For All Pace; 500,000 Max Hempt Memorial Pace; and the $300,000 James Lynch Memorial Pace.  Eliminations will take place on Saturday, June 23.

Breeders Crown 2018 is Saturday, October 27th, with eliminations Friday, October 19th and Saturday, October 20th.  According to Dale Rapson, Vice President of Racing Operations, Crown ‘18 promises to be a memorable one with all twelve races in one night.   “We are very excited to bring back the Breeders Crown, and are already planning a great event,” he said.  The track is working closely with the Hambletonian Society and the PHHA on the spectacular night of racing.   “I’m really looking forward to my first Breeders Crown with Pocono,” said Mike Harant, Executive Director of the PHHA, “as well as the entire 2018 racing season.”

A double-header of live racing is once again planned for Kentucky Derby day, Saturday, May 5th, with a first post of 11:00am and the second card approximately 7:30pm.  Racing follows the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes and will also be an approximate Post Time of 7:30pm.

Plenty of fan-friendly events and promotions are in the works for the season, and opening night will be “50/50 Night”.  Fans get $50 in free live racing vouchers when they buy $50, and valid on the live racing racing card that evening, while supplies last.   Fans get a free live program on opening night starting at 5:00pm, also while supplies last.  Additional fun events are planned throughout the season, including celebrity meet-and-greet autograph sessions with several sports stars; giveaway items;  and on Kentucky Derby day, the annual “Run for the Roses Hat Revue” which is the contest for the most fashionable hats in several categories with cash prizes.

In addition, the Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono will add the text messaging service for promotional giveaways, as well as updates for fans on upcoming events and big race nights.  Fans can opt in starting in March, and regular message and data rates may apply.

The stables will open for the season on Thursday, March 1st at 7:30am, and the familiar sight of horses training will soon be the first sign of spring and the 53rd year of racing at the Downs.  Qualifying dates have been set for Tuesday, March 6th; Thursday, March 8th; and then every Wednesday thereafter for the remainder of the season.

The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono 2017 Season Review

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

Well, here we are at the end of another campaign of racing at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. The meet officially ends on Saturday, November 25, at which point we in racing all begin our hibernation periods. It’s hard to believe that it is the end of the racing season, perhaps because we were blessed in Northeastern Pennsylvania with such benign weather for most of September and October. When the weather really started to bite in November, we were already on the home stretch.

Reflecting back on the season that was, I, as I always tend to do at this point of the year, realize how difficult it is to sum everything up in just one article. Harness racing is comprised of mini-trends and spurts, but it’s very rare that you can point to something that has really taken hold for the duration of the season. But there are a few thoughts that do stand out and will likely separate 2017 from other seasons in my mind.

The first thing was a wager, which is ironic for me, because I don’t do any betting myself even though I essentially go through the process of handicapping the races as the morning line maker. But I must say that the Rainbow Pick 5, which we added about halfway through the 2017 campaign as a wager at Pocono, really took an already exciting sport up a few more notches. The strategy in the wager as well as the little bit of luck that went along with it really super-charged the last several races of each night’s card. I know that I thoroughly enjoyed it, and, by the response of the fans, I wasn’t the only one.

One other occurrence, or I guess it would be accurate to say that it was the lack of an occurrence, was the fact that there were no track records set at Pocono in 2017. Now that in no way is a commentary on the caliber of racing; I actually the think that this might have been our most rugged year of competition ever. On the contrary, I think it was a more a reflection of times in general becoming more moderate around the harness racing world. Some wetter summer weather also had a hand in it as well. What I think you’ll see is a huge reversal of that trend next year, especially with the Breeders Crown coming to town. More on that later.

As for the driving and training communities, George Napolitano Jr. and Rene Allard continued to dominate, which shouldn’t be taken for granted. There is as deep a colony of quality drivers and trainers at Pocono as anywhere in the country, so the way that George and Rene have kind of planted themselves at the top daring everyone else to knock them off is truly impressive.

As usual, many of the top names in the sport passed through Pocono in 2017. Superstars like Keystone Velocity, Manchego, Ariana G and many others made appearances and wowed the faithful. On a nightly basis, the overnight races provided excellent proving grounds for a wide variety of claimers and condition horses, many of whom put together impressive winning streaks and eye-opening times. Again, there were far too many to possibly note them all in a short article like this one, but all of their exploits definitely deserve honor and appreciation.

The 2017 season basically stands as a continuation of the excellence that the racing product has displayed for about the past decade at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. It may not have been a round number anniversary year like the 50th a year ago and it may not culminate in the Breeders Crown like 2018 will, but it was a season of racing featuring outstanding performances, constant surprises, and excitement pretty much from the opening race on Opening night all the way through these waning moments of the season. And that’s nothing to sneeze at.

In the meantime, we’re all looking forward to the return of The Breeders Crown a year from now. It will be the third time we’ve hosted the event at Pocono, and there’s nothing quite like having all of those champions of every age, gait, and gender on the same track. It will be bittersweet calling the races without Sam McKee, who was with me for the previous two Crowns at Pocono, but I’m certain he’ll be with us in spirit.

Until next season, just let me say thanks to all of my co-workers at the track who do such an amazing job putting on our racing product night in and night out. And thanks as well to the Pocono faithful, the best fans in the racing business without a doubt. I hope everyone has a wonderful winter, and I look forward to seeing you all again and communicating with you via this column again next season.

That will do it for this season, but we’ll see you at the track. Feel free to e-mail me at

The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono Week In Review – End of Season Awards

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

November 4-10, 2017

For the past seven months plus in this column, we’ve been chronicling the exploits of some of the finest horses each week at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. Now it’s time to go a little further and highlight the 2017 Horses of the Year.

This is never an easy task, simply because there are so many excellent horses who pass through Pocono, many of whom put up outstanding records along the way. Narrowing down all of those choices from an eight-month season into just four winners means leaving out a lot of worthy competitors. But these choices are what I consider to be the best of the best this season. Let’s take a look.


After dominating racing at Pompano Park early in the season, this five-year-old gelding made his first appearance at Pocono in August not long after joining the Rene Allard barn. He immediately made his presence felt by ripping off back-to-back wins in tough condition races. And that pretty much set the tone for what we could expect from him in 2017. He raced at Pocono nine times, often in Saturday night features, and won five of those races. He only missed the board in two of those races, and many of his wins broke the 1:50 barrier. If that kind of performance sounds familiar, you might remember that Keystone Velocity, another Rene Allard trainee, put up similar stats in winning Pacer of the Year at Pocono, and now he is one of the top aged pacers in the country. Who knows? Maybe Maxdaddy Blue Chip will follow in his footsteps.


This seven-year-old gelding trained by Mark Ford has bounced around this year, but whenever he journeys to Pocono, good things to happen. He started out the meet inauspiciously, finishing no better than fourth in his first three races, before picking up a $14,000 condition win on May 6. After about a month in New York, he returned to Pocono and really got cooking, picking up wins in four out of nine races, including a couple for $16,500 purses. Then it was off again, this time to Harrah’s for a couple months. But when he returned for a condition start on October 14, he picked up right where he left off with another solid condition victory. When you combine the amount of time that he has performed here this season, his excellent overall performance with six victories in the meet, and the caliber of the competition he faced, Up Front Billy makes sense as our Trotter of the Year.


Sometimes a horse can make such an impact with just one hot streak that it overpowers the deeds of those horses who have been around much longer and put up consistent performances throughout the season. That’s the case with this six-year-old gelding, who made his mark this season at Pocono with a six-race winning streak. That stretch ran from June 5 to July 31, during which time Pounce Hanover had three different trainers and three different drivers. He also raised his claiming price during that time from $10,000 to $20,000. Many of his wins came from far outside posts, which raised the degree of difficulty level considerably. Overall this gelding won seven of his twelve races this season at Pocono, but that unforgettable two-month streak is the reason he stands as the 2017 Pocono Claimer of the Year.


Making the transition from three-year-old to four-year-old can be tough for a distaff trotter, because you often go from facing just your own age and gender to battling older, male horses. This four-year-old mare trained by Staffan Lind made that transition this season with aplomb, especially when he was at Pocono. In seven races this year at Pocono, all condition trots and none with a purse lower than $14,000, she put up three wins and three places. In most of those miles, she faced off against more experienced trotters with gaudier career records. Much of her damage was done in May and June, but Celebrity Eventsy returned for one command performance in September, beating the $25,000 winners over trotters. Along the way she also posted a career-best of 1:52:2 on the Pocono oval. Her performance was such that you could also make a case for her as Trotter of the Year, but Mare of the Year will do just fine.

Congratulations to these well-deserving winners. Next week we will wrap up the 2017 season at The Downs at Mohegan Sun in this column.

That will do it for this week, but we’ll see you at the track. Feel free to e-mail me at

The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono Week In Review

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

October 28-November 3, 2017

As we closed in on the month of November, Northeastern Pennsylvania finally settled into autumn-like weather after an extended benign stretch. It presented interesting challenges to the competitors at The Downs at Mohegan Sun this past racing week, including a steady downpour throughout Sunday night and biting winds on Monday afternoon and evening. Yet even with the adverse conditions, our horses and horsemen and women shined, as evidenced by these outstanding performers who earned Weekly Awards.


Saturday night’s $20,000 featured condition pace attracted a lot of excellent competitors, as that featured pace usually does. Andreios Kardia was one of the big names, a six-year-old gelding from the Tony Dinges barn who made his bones with excellent work throughout the summer with the toughest pacers at Tioga Downs. He wasted no time at Pocono, winning his first start after the ship on September 30 in 1:50:4. The gelding was sixth in his next race against a brutally rugged field on October 21.

On Saturday night he left from post position #7 in a field of eight at odds of 5-1. Andreios Kardia is not a pacer who likes to fire early, preferring instead to stay back and let others set the pace. This was a race that was made for him, as Parnu Hanover set the pace and was determined to hold it to such an extent that it creating grueling fractions. Andreois Kardia sat well off the pace, and even when he started moving third-over on the back stretch, he seemed like a non-factor, five lengths back at the three-quarter pole.

But Andreios Kardia was hitting his best stride just when everybody else was beginning to falter. Even with driver Jim Marohn Jr. forced to guide him five-wide so he could have racing room in the stretch, the gelding overpowered the pacers in front of him, finally picking off a game Parnu Hanover by a neck in 1:50:1. That makes two wins out of three against competition that would make lesser horses wilt.

Other top pacers this week include: Sneaky Girl (Matt Kakaley, Agostino Abatiello), a three-year-old filly who has now won two straight at Pocono after shipping in from the Midwest, scoring on Monday night in 1:55:4; Pramatic Life (Jim Taggart Jr., Robin DiBenedetto), who picked up his second straight claiming win on Monday with a victory in 1:54:2; and Stirling Escort (Matt Kakaley, Douglas Hamilton), who captured the annual Grey Ghost & Poltergeist Pace for Halloween on Tuesday night in 1:52:3.


It’s easy at times in the harness racing world to get caught up in the exploits of younger horses and overlook the performances of veterans. That could be why this six-year-old mare was let go as a 2-1 third choice on Sunday night despite coming off a standout win in 1:53:4 and having the post position edge on his top two competitors. Panana Republic, trained by Jennifer Sabot, possessed the #2 post in a non-winners of seven trot with a purse of $18,000.

Her toughest foes figured to be Evelyn, a three-year-old filly from the Ake Svanstedt barn with buckets of class and the fastest win in the field this season, and Catch A Mission, a four-year-old mare trained by Erv Miller without a loss in three tries in 2017. Those two horses were on the far outside to start and watched as Panana Republic muscled her way to the front early. When Catch A Misssion tried to get past on the second turn, Panana Republic, with Simon Allard in the bike, held her position and forced the other mare to go on a speed break.

Evelyn, on the other hand, made a furious charge at the leader late in the mile. But, again, Panana Republic was up to the challenge. She held together and held off Evelyn by a half-length, making it two in a row. Her win came in 1:55:2 in the sloppy, cold conditions that prevailed on Sunday night. This is a mare who is deserving of respect no matter the age or caliber of her foes.

Honorable mention on the trotting side goes to: Smalltownthrowdown (Simon Allard, Rene Allard), who moved up in class and rallied for a condition victory on Saturday night, his third straight, in a career-best 1:53:4; Weslynn Dancer (Simon Allard, Rene Allard), a three-year-old filly who picked up her second straight condition victory and fourth in her last five when she won on Sunday night in the slop in 1:55:2; and Crosbys Clam Bake (Pat Berry, Randy Bendis), whose condition victory on Saturday night came in 1:53:3, the week’s fastest trotting time at Pocono.


In the sloppy mess on Sunday night, this gelding glided between the raindrops for a condition trotting victory with Austin Siegelman in the bike at 65-1, paying off $132.20 on a $2 win ticket.


Marohn’s consistency in such a tough driving colony continues to be impressive, and he displayed it again this past week with four straight racing nights of multiple driving wins.


In a week with a lot of balance among the training community, Melander gets the nod for the convincing victory by her trotter Golden Son in Sunday night’s feature.

That will do it for this week, but we’ll see you at the track. Feel free to e-mail me at