PLAINS TWP. — Officials at Mohegan Sun Pocono have decided to gamble on February’s weather.
And thanks to that, harness racing fans will get to see live action at The Downs at Mohegan Sun much earlier than usual than ever before.
The Downs will open its 2020 harness racing season Saturday with a 13-race card starting at 5 p.m.
Dale Rapson, Mohegan Sun Pocono’s vice president of racing, said the decision to move the season’s start from late March to mid-February was based on looking at the amount of money wagered historically at the 5/8-mile track.
Rapson, who was speaking at a season-opening press conference Thursday at Mohegan Sun Pocono, said that typically once football season starts in September, attendance for live racing starts to wane.
By starting in February, more of the track’s 133 scheduled days of racing will be before fall activities begin to compete for attention, leading to hopefully a large amount of money being wagered at the track throughout the year.
While Racing Marketing Manager Jennifer Starr was thrilled that Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring last Saturday, she was quick to point out that there is plenty more going on at The Downs this year than the early start to the season.
One of those events is a new series called Game of Claimers, which focuses on horses in the claiming ranks and kicks off Saturday.
“We will be spotlighting our claimers, which can be looked at as the life’s blood of racing,” Starr said.”The Game of Claims will have six different events for various claiming levels, starting at $7,500.
“We will kick off opening night, right off the bat, with our stakes series for the claimers.”
Starr also mentioned that that the Pennsylvania All-Stars will return in May and June. There are also several multi-million dollar stakes nights scheduled throughout the season,
“Our big calendar event is Sun Stakes Saturday,” Starr said. “(It) returns once again in the summer. And that is without a doubt the most spectacular part of the summer.”
Sun Stakes Saturday will be held July 4 with more than $2 million in purses up for grabs. It will feature the Earl Beal Jr. Memorial Trot, Max Hempt Memorial Pace and the James M. Lynch Memorial Pace.
“The stakes action throughout the summer is without a doubt second to none,” Starr said.
She also noted that harness racing fans will be able to see some of the top drivers in the country, including some who call The Downs home.
“We have one of the best drivers colonies, without a doubt, in America,” she said.
Among those drivers are Matt Kakaley, who has more than 4,000 career wins; George Napolitano Jr., who reached 10,000 wins; his brother, Anthony Napolitano, who is closing in 3,000 wins; and Jim Morrill Jr., to name a few.