Opening Night Take 2 for the Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono

The Standardbred trotters and pacers will begin their 52nd season of pari-mutuel harness racing in northeast Pennsylvania this Tuesday evening, March 21, as The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono will present the first of 135 cards of the sulky sport scheduled for 2017, with Tuesday’s first race marked for 6:30 p.m.

The racing was set to begin on Saturday night the 18th, but two feet of snow at the mountain oval this past Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by high winds that caused considerable drifting in places, put paid to that idea, as for the safety of the horses and horsemen it was imperative to do a thorough job of track preparation, and thus the opener was pushed back until Tuesday.

The highlight of the 2017 Pocono season will come on Saturday, July 1, with the $2 million+ Sun Stakes Saturday card, which annually draws the sport’s best horses over several of the major categories. It was recently announced that Wiggle It Jiggleit, 2015 Harness Horse of the Year at age three and the fierce seasonlong rival of 2016 Harness Horse of the Year Always B Miki, will make his debut for the year in the Franklin Pace elimination races, to be held on Saturday, June 24.

And speaking of Wiggle It Jiggleit – the very first race of the 2017 racing season at Pocono, a $14,000 pace for “non-winners of three races or $30,000 lifetime,” is likely to have as its chalk, starting from post three, a stablemate to “Wiggle,” from the Bergstein/Proximity Award-winning Team Teague of owner George, driver Montrell, and trainer Clyde Francis. This three-year-old Delmarvalous gelding – who is 3 for 4 in his brief career – is named Nine Ways (nine is of course three times three), and his fastest win is in 1:53. (That’s a lot of coincidental numerology.)

The fifth race companion “nw 3” trotting event to the opener finds the sophomore filly Gin’s Tonic drawing the rail as she makes her first start of the year for local trainer Neal Ehrhart. The daughter of Muscle Massive had only one victory at two, but she picked a fine spot to notch it – in a division of the Keystone Classic at The Meadows, where she earned a mark of 1:56.3.

Older campaigners will be spotlighted in a pair of $12,500 events. The ninth race trot finds veterans ABC Muscles Boy and My Love Bi, who both took their 2016 marks of 1:53.3 at Pocono, coming into this race off promising early-season form, while the tenth race mares pace sports no fewer than six distaffs who have won since February 1, all of them in 1:54.1 or better in all kinds of wintry conditions.

Pocono’s all-time driving champion George Napolitano Jr. will be on the scene from opening night, coming up from Florida, where he already has shown himself in “midseason form” with a 27% win rate; his brother Anthony, second in the standings last year, will also have a full driving schedule from the word “go.”

The basic racing schedule at Pocono follows a Saturday through Tuesday basis, with first post at 6:30 except on Sundays, when the action starts an hour later. After Tuesday the 21st, Pocono is scheduled to race on Saturday-Sunday-Tuesday of the “following racing week” (March 25-28), with Mondays joining the mix on April 10.

A press conference/luncheon will be held at the track at 12 noon on Monday, with Pocono officials and horsemen on hand to take part in a preview of what should be a quality season of racing at The Downs. Pocono’s person of contact for media is Jennifer Starr, 570.831.2195.

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