Festivities of Derby Day at The Downs celebrate traditions, honor harness racing

By Dave Rosengrant - For Times Leader
The Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs had a huge afternoon hosting a Kentucky Derby party, but many stayed on to watch the two Van Rose Memorial Races on May 5. Tony Callaio | For Times Leader - Tony Callaio | For Times Leader
It was a fun night for these two couples from Macungie, PA. From the left, Brad Burchett, Jason Miller, Melissa Burchett and Mrs. Jason Miller, Molly Tandy. Tony Callaio | For Times Leader - Tony Callaio | For Times Leader
Taking the first of two Van Rose Memorial races was Rodeo Romeo (2) out of the Oompa Farm, Inc. stables from Creamridge, N.J. owned by Peter Mazzella and groomed by Alex Golden. - Tony Callaio | For Times Leader
Peter Mazzella, owner of Rodeo Romeo, right, congratulates driver George Napolitano after winning the first of the two Van Rose Memorial Races on Saturday night at The Downs at Mohegan Sun. - - Tony Callaio | For Times Leader
Amanda Smihosky of Avoca keeps a hand on her Judges Choice Award winning hat to keep it from blowing off during Saturday’s festivities at the Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. - - Fred Adams | For Times Leader
Nick Scalzo of Montdale won the top prize in the hat contest held Saturday as part of a big day of festivities and races at the Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono in Plains Township. - - Fred Adams | For Times Leader

PLAINS TWP. – The best day on the calendar for The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono is Derby Day.

Not only does the harness racing track host plenty of festivities to celebrate the Kentucky Derby, it also holds two cards of live harness racing.

The live racing was highlighted by two $50,000 races in the Van Rose Memorial on Saturday night for the first leg of the Great Northeast Open.

Rose was a longtime sports writer at the Times Leader and handicapper at the racetrack before passing away in 2011. This year was the first in the seven-year history of the Van Rose Memorial that Mohegan Sun Pocono held two races in his honor, bumping up the total purse to $100,000.

There was so much interest to be involved in the race that two races were held, and it brought in even more of an attraction to the track. The winners of both races also received a plaque commemorating the big win.

“This is overwhelming,” said Jennifer Starr, the Racing Marketing Manager at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. “In the last few years that we’ve had the Van Rose Memorial we’ve had enough horses to be in for one. We had two divisions tonight and that just shows how much the popularity of this pace has become. Not only to honor Van, but the caliber of horses that are coming to Pocono and continue to come to Pocono.”

The No. 2 horse Rodeo Romeo won the first Van Rose Memorial race holding off the early favorite Dr J Hanover. By the time the race started, Rodeo Romeo had catapulted as the favorite and won as the 6-5 favorite finishing in 1:49.2 with Dr J Hanover finishing second (1:49.3) and Long Live Rock (1:49.4) placing third.

Rodeo Romeo is trained by Chris Ryder and was driven by George Napolitano Jr. Robert Mondillo and Peter Mazzella from Oompa’s Farm Inc. in Creamridge, N.J. are ownership partners of Rodeo Romeo.

“He’s always been a good horse, just hasn’t had the best of luck at times, but he’s coming around (and) the trainer did a great job with him,” Mazzella said. “Every time you go to the gate, they’re all good horses at this class. Anybody can win a race on any night any time. It’s the trip. It’s how the horses are feeling. Every horse in there is a good horse. It went our way today and I’m happy with that.”

The second race of the Van Rose Memorial was the tenth race of the 13-race card at night and gave the crowd a thrilling showing.

Rockin Ron, who started from post one when early favorite Keystone Velocity was scratched, led all the way but was given stiff competition from Mach It So, who was in the three post. Rockin Ron, trained by Ron Burke and driven by Anthony Napolitano, held off Mach It So, winning by a head in the 1:50.2 mile.

The dramatic finish of that race was a fitting cap to the day that was packed with activities at Mohegan Sun Pocono on the special occasion.

The day started with the first live racing card, kicking off at 11 a.m. Keeping up with the tradition that started years ago at Mohegan Sun Pocono, a hat contest was held. Many people attending the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs always wear unique hats, and MSP has been holding a hat contest for years. Hundreds of patrons entered the venue donning extraordinary headwear. This year, for the first time, the overall winner in the contest was a man. With more and more men showing interest in dressing up for the contest, there’s a possibility for a change to the contest.

“I’ve opened it up to ladies, but it seems more and and more the last couple years one guy, then two guys. So maybe in the future we’ll have a man’s category,” Starr noted.

The hat contest preceded the showing of the Kentucky Derby on a big screen set up on the infield of the track with thousands in attendance cheering on their horse of choice.

“I just think it’s exciting to see people, whether you’re a newbie or a die-hard racing fan, just coming out and having such a good time,” Starr said. “It’s just been so exciting seeing everybody’s faces watching our races and coverage from Churchill Downs, and the fashion.”

ONE GREAT SERIES

The Van Rose Memorial was the first leg of the Great Northeast Open Series, which gives area horsemen and fans an opportunity to participate in $30,000 races at Harrah’s in Philadelphia and The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono.

The races are to be held weekly at each racetrack between with one site hosting the Open Pace and the other hosting the Open Trot and Filly and Mare Pace; categories will flip sites each week. In the summer-long series, participants gather points for starting in and finishing high in each competition. Those with the highest points earnings at the end of the series will partake in a $100,000 championship event at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono on Sept. 2. That is also the same night that Pocono hosts the $1 million Pennsylvania Sire Stakes championship for three-year olds.

The Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs had a huge afternoon hosting a Kentucky Derby party, but many stayed on to watch the two Van Rose Memorial Races on May 5. Tony Callaio | For Times Leader
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_Van-Rose-Memorial-Race-1-1.jpgThe Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs had a huge afternoon hosting a Kentucky Derby party, but many stayed on to watch the two Van Rose Memorial Races on May 5. Tony Callaio | For Times Leader Tony Callaio | For Times Leader

It was a fun night for these two couples from Macungie, PA. From the left, Brad Burchett, Jason Miller, Melissa Burchett and Mrs. Jason Miller, Molly Tandy. Tony Callaio | For Times Leader
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_Van-Rose-Memorial-Race-2-1.jpgIt was a fun night for these two couples from Macungie, PA. From the left, Brad Burchett, Jason Miller, Melissa Burchett and Mrs. Jason Miller, Molly Tandy. Tony Callaio | For Times Leader Tony Callaio | For Times Leader

Taking the first of two Van Rose Memorial races was Rodeo Romeo (2) out of the Oompa Farm, Inc. stables from Creamridge, N.J. owned by Peter Mazzella and groomed by Alex Golden.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_Van-Rose-Memorial-Race-3-1.jpgTaking the first of two Van Rose Memorial races was Rodeo Romeo (2) out of the Oompa Farm, Inc. stables from Creamridge, N.J. owned by Peter Mazzella and groomed by Alex Golden. Tony Callaio | For Times Leader

Peter Mazzella, owner of Rodeo Romeo, right, congratulates driver George Napolitano after winning the first of the two Van Rose Memorial Races on Saturday night at The Downs at Mohegan Sun.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_Van-Rose-Memorial-Race-5-1.jpgPeter Mazzella, owner of Rodeo Romeo, right, congratulates driver George Napolitano after winning the first of the two Van Rose Memorial Races on Saturday night at The Downs at Mohegan Sun. Tony Callaio | For Times Leader

Amanda Smihosky of Avoca keeps a hand on her Judges Choice Award winning hat to keep it from blowing off during Saturday’s festivities at the Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_hats4_faa-1.jpgAmanda Smihosky of Avoca keeps a hand on her Judges Choice Award winning hat to keep it from blowing off during Saturday’s festivities at the Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. Fred Adams | For Times Leader

Nick Scalzo of Montdale won the top prize in the hat contest held Saturday as part of a big day of festivities and races at the Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono in Plains Township.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_hats2_faa-1.jpgNick Scalzo of Montdale won the top prize in the hat contest held Saturday as part of a big day of festivities and races at the Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono in Plains Township. Fred Adams | For Times Leader
Festivities of Derby Day at The Downs celebrate traditions, honor harness racing

By Dave Rosengrant

For Times Leader