Thursday, July 10, 2014

Drivers relish their moments in the Sun

March 21. 2013 11:48PM

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PLAINS TWP. - In one of his most glorious moments on a race track, Matt Romano zipped around Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs and sped to his 2,500th career victory as a driver.

He doesn’t expect any big milestones this season.

But what Romano does anticipate is another year of unbridled excitement at Pocono Downs, which opens its 47th season of horse racing in front of an expected crowd of up to 2,500 fans at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

“This is the best race surface you’ll ever race on,” Romano said.

And it’s attracting some of the best events in the sport this year.

The Pennsylvania Stallion Series and Pennsylvania Sire Stakes come to Pocono Downs in May. The month of June will bring the James Lynch, Earl Beal Jr. and Max Hempt Memorials and Ben Franklin final on Sunstakes Saturday, followed by the Pennsylvania All-Stars at the end of the month into July. August features Superstakes Saturday with the Battle of the Brandywine, Colonial, Valley Forge races and consolations all being held Aug. 17, and the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes bringing a $235,000 purse Aug. 21.

The Stallion Series Finals will be held throughout September, then the prestigious Breeders Crown Eliminations and Finals close the season in October.

“I was surprised we have three big events in one year like this,” said Dale Rapson, the vice-president of racing at Pocono Downs. “I’ve got national TV from other countries doing our races.”

The major events like the Breeders Crown will leave many of the local drivers on the sidelines. But that doesn’t mean they won’t enjoy the event.

“When they have these big races, a lot of times we’re not even in them,” said Romano, explaining that the event draws high-caliber horses — and their regular drivers — from around the country. “For us, it’s a night out. One of these days, we look forward to having a horse like that.”

Tom Jackson, another Pocono Downs driver, looks forward to the same consistency he displayed last season.

“Just to do as well as I can,” Jackson said his goal is going into the season. “There are so many pieces that fit into the puzzle to have a good year.”

Both Jackson and Romano were pretty good at the track last season.

They both finished among the top 14 drivers in victories and purse winnings. Jackson won 91 times in 1,044 starts and earned $1,073,105 to rank 10th, while Romano won 38 races in 514 starts for a $481,475 purse payoff.

Among Romano’s victories was his 2,500th, which brought the Bronx native one of his most special memories since he’s been involved in the sport.

“It meant everything to me, really,” Romano said. “I won it with a horse I trained myself. I do both (driving and training). And you can all me a groomer, too. I raced in Monticello, N.Y., most of my life. My first thousand I won there, the next 1,500 I won here. This has been a home for me, really.”

And the start of what promises to be the biggest season in the 47-year history of Pocono Downs hits home for everyone associated with the track.

“It’s the same thing as opening day in baseball, opening day or opening night in football,” Rapson said. “You get that little nervousness. You want to see if the fans are going to come out.

“To have these events, it’s something we definitely look forward to.”

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