PLAINS TWP. — They came streaming across the borders, flooded the walkways and burst into the betting windows by the thousands.
All in an attempt to get a piece of the action at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs.
“This is, like the big one,” said harness racing fan Walter Stankavecz of Shenandoah.
It was one that both hardcore and casual racing rooters didn’t want to miss.
The 30th Breeders Crown was held Saturday at Pocono Downs, where harness fans from far and wide flocked to watch what is known as the Super Bowl of harness racing.
“It’s a big deal to me,” said Michael Parisi, whose New Jersey-based White Birch Farm was selected as the 2012 nation Breeder of the Year.
“It’s the Breeders Crown. It’s the biggest event of the year,” said his wife, Robin Parisi.
But people didn’t have to be involved with the race to appreciate it.
Robin Miller came from Cleveland to make his first visit to Pocono Downs for one reason.
“The Breeders,” Miller said.
When they arrived, fans immediately noticed the electricity for this harness racing night was turned up a couple notches higher than for those in a stakes series or regular racing card.
“It’s a little bit more,” said Dan Sweeny, who also made his first trip to the Pocono Downs track from Cleveland. “With the Breeders Crown (here), I decided to take the trip. Even in the warmups, you could tell there are really better horses here, better drivers.”
Even some annoying rain at the start of the 12-card race didn’t seem to dampen spirits much.
“It’s very good,” said Craig Founds, from New Jersey, who took refuge inside the track’s downstairs lobby. “But if it wasn’t raining, it’d be better. It doesn’t spoil it. But I’d like to be sitting outside.”
It seemed everyone wanted to get an up-close view of the racing action.
“I feel this is a fantastic year for 2-, 3-year-old and aged horses,” said David Landieri of New Jersey. “You don’t get many like this. It comes along once in a great while.”
The number of fans at Pocono Downs — along with the high-stakes races (most had purses of $500,000) — made the night feel almost surreal for some.
“It does to me,” said Suzanne D’Ambrose, who drove in from New Jersey equipped with a black cowboy hat to combat the dreary conditions outside. “I know a lot of those horses from when they raced at the Hambletonian. I know some of the harness drivers. I said, ‘I’m going to come out.’ “
Many fans like her had the same idea, causing a lot more dodging and darting everyday harness fans are accustomed to dealing with as they tried to make their way to place their bets.
“A little hectic,” Stankavecz, who visits Pocono Downs a few times a week, called the scene. “The more people, the more congested things get. I’m sure people would rather be outside, but the rain didn’t dampen anything.”
Except maybe just a couple spirits.
A few fans complained about raised prices of programs that were selling for $4 on Saturday.
And Mark Eashow, who’s grown most familiar with watching past Breeders Crown runs at the Meadowlands, came over from New Jersey complaining about everything from seats to stalls.
“This place is not set up for this,” said Eashow, who remembers visiting the track at Freehold Raceway while growing up in the 1950s. “Not enough bathroom space or comfortable seating outside the bleachers. In the rain like that, where are people going to go?”
Still, he wasn’t about to miss the sport’s grandest race at Pocono Downs.
“It’s the prestige of the best horses that have been running all year,” Eashow said.