Racing

Hats, Harness Racing, and Derby Horses! Kentucky Derby Day is almost here!

Monday, April 16th, 2018

A double header of live harness racing; a hat revue with 5 categories including the “Triple Crown” winning hat;  and a Champagne Brunch are all part of the biggest Kentucky Derby party north of Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May at the Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono.

Doors open Saturday, May 5th at 10:00 Post for the first of the double-header of live harness racing card is 11:00a.m., and a patio bar will be open just for those early birds!  Pacer’s Clubhouse will host a Champagne Brunch like no other from 10:00am to 3:00pm featuring delectable Southern delicacies and Brunch favorites, by reservation only.  Call 1-888-WIN-IN-PA.  At 5:30pm, a top shelf all-you-can-eat dinner buffet will be featured, also by reservation only.

Ladies can proudly wear their elaborately decorated Kentucky Derby hats for the Run for the Roses Hat Revue sponsored by Spa Sapphire, located in the casino.  All hats must be registered from  3:30pm to 5:15pm in the lobby, and the Revue takes place promptly at 5:30 p.m. in front of the Winner’s Circle with cash prizes and  more!  Five categories will be judged, including “Most Colorful;  “Most Horsie”; “Most Elegant”; “Most Fascinating Fascinator”, and the overall grand prize winner, the “Triple Crown Winner”! The “Most Fashionable Couple” will also be selected.  All prizes will be awarded by a panel of judges.

A photo booth in the lobby will be open at 3:00pm to capture the best moments of the day, with a $1 minimum donation to the Standardbred Retirement Foundation.  For last-minute hats, fascinators, and accessories, stop by the Sapphire Boutique located in the racing lobby, open at 1:00pm.

The Trackside Concession bars, food truck, and the Party Tent open at 3:00PM, and of course, Mint Juleps will be available all day in the official Kentucky Derby 144 souvenir glasses!

Following Kentucky Derby 144 on the jumbo screen, fans can stay and enjoy another exciting live card under the stars.  A stellar card is planned, including the finals of the Bobby Weiss Series for the 3 and 4 year-old trotters and pacers, as well as the Van Rose Memorial Pace for 4 year-olds and up.

As always, parking and admission is free at the racetrack!

The Downs will open for advance wagering on Friday, May 4th at 11:00am.

The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono Week In Review

Monday, April 9th, 2018

March 31-April 6, 2018

As we barrel forward into the month of April, we are still waiting for signs of spring to show up in the weather in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Rest assured, however, the cold weather hasn’t had any negative effect on the early-season racing at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. If anything, the racing action is ripping along as if we were all basking in a heat wave in the middle of summer. That means lots of competition for this edition of the Weekly Awards.

PACER OF THE WEEK: WALKS OF LIFE

First of all, any horse sort of named after an 80’s hit gets my immediate stamp of approval. But this eight-year-old gelding has brought the game to match up with the name. And his success started long before he arrived at Pocono for the beginning of the meet. Racing on the New Jersey circuit, Walks Of Life hit the board in every one of his first eight 2018 races while winning five of them. He didn’t waste any time at Pocono either, winning his first two races of the meet in gate-to-wire fashion.

After winning at the $12,500 and $15,000 claiming levels, he went back at it against the $15,000 claimers on Saturday night. This time around, he was working for a new barn, going for trainer Toni Freitas after the bulk of his 2018 success came with Vincent Fusco Jr. Even with the barn switch, the Pocono faithful believed in Walks Of Life, making him a 3-5 favorite as he left from post position #1 in a field of eight. When driver Jim Morrill Jr. asked him for a quick burst of speed on the front stretch, he moved to the lead, which is where he loves to operate.

From there, the favorite handled a first-over challenge from Mainland Key N, while the pocket tripping Annuity tried to stay close for a final rally. But the rest of the field turned out to be playing for second, as Walks Of Life glided away from the pursuit and ended up winning by 5 ½ convincing lengths in a season-best time of 1:51:2. Now with wins in seven of ten on the year, he also became the first horse to rack up three wins in the Pocono 2018 meet. And, with how great he’s been going, he’ll probably be tough to beat as he tries to be first to four.

Other top pacers this week include: Cowboy Terrier (Eric Carlson, Ron Burke), who scored a condition victory on Saturday night in a sizzling time of 1:50, fastest of both his career and of all pacers on the young 2018 racing season at Pocono; Kimberlee (Jim Marohn Jr., Ake Svanstedt), a filly whose victory on Sunday night in the first leg of the Bobby Weiss late closer series made her two-for-two at Pocono in the meet and came in a career-best 1:53:3; and Charmbro Curiosity (Marcus Miller, Dan Morrissey), who stepped up in claiming price to $10,000 on Saturday night and won his second straight at Pocono, this one coming in 1:53:4.

TROTTER OF THE WEEK: TOUR DE LINDY

A year ago as a three-year-old, the most memorable win for Tour De Lindy came when trainer Lucas Wallin drove him to a victory at Pocono at some of the longest odds for any winner in the entirety of 2017 at the track. When he returned to Pocono racing on March 27, he came in much more highly-regarded. He had begun the year with back-to-back near-miss second-place finishes at The Meadowlands. With Wallin handing the driving chores off to Marcus Miller, the four-year-old gelding easily handled a tough non-winners of four grouping in 1:55, which marked a new career-best time.

On Sunday night, Tour De Lindy stepped up his game to face the non-winners of six group with a purse of $17,000. Leaving from a #6 post in a field of eight, he was made the 1-2 betting favorite in a field of eight. And Miller once again set about putting him out in front of the field with a move to the outside on the race’s first turn. With seemingly no sweat, Tour De Lindy stepped past Zagster and grabbed the lead, daring anyone to come and try to catch him.

Needless to say, nobody could, nor did anyone really threaten his supremacy in the race. After being rated well by Miller, Tour De Lindy powered home in the lane to win by 2 ¾ lengths over Ataboy Hanover and matched his career-best time of 1:55 from the week before in the process. That time was also the fastest of any trotter on the week at Pocono. Considering how well he’s been racing, it will likely be quite a stretch before this gelding is ever again deemed a long shot like he was a year ago.

Honorable mention on the trotting side goes to: Ameliosi (Marcus Miller, Jenny Melander), a mare whose victory in a condition group on Saturday night in 1:55:1 gave her four wins in five races on the year; Chas Hanover (George Napolitano Jr., Gilberto Garcia-Herrera), who picked up a win in a division of the Weiss series for male trotters on Sunday night in 1:56:2, the fastest time of the three Weiss divisions for that group; and Myrna Myrna (Mike Simons, Scott Betts), who posted the fastest winning time among three divisions of the Weiss for distaff trotters in the slop on Tuesday night with a 1:57:4 victory, a new career-best.

LONG SHOT OF THE WEEK: SHUTTHEFRONTDOOR

This mare rallied from way back in Tuesday night’s featured condition pace to win at 24-1 with Jim Taggart Jr. in the bike, paying off $51.80 on a $2 win ticket.

DRIVER OF THE WEEK: MIKE SIMONS

Mike looks well-stocked in the distaff trotting Weiss series after scoring victories in two of the three divisions of the first leg held on Tuesday night.

TRAINER OF THE WEEK: JENNY MELANDER

Melander had fun with the trotters at Pocono this week, scoring trotting victories with Ameliosi on Saturday night, Meadowbranch Ricky on Sunday, and Ms American Muscle on Tuesday.

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

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 jbeviglia@mohegansunpocono.com.

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 jbeviglia@mohegansunpocono.com.