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Pocono opens Saturday, earliest in 55 years

February 04, 2020
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The trotters and pacers take to the track at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono Saturday for the earliest seasonal opening in 55 years of the harness sport in northeast Pennsylvania, with the first of thirteen races scheduled for 5 p.m.
 
The opening set of features during February’s racing at The Downs will be part of the new Game of Claims Series, grouping horses of varying values. It’s appropriate that the claiming horses will provide the early season highlights at a track where 483 claims resulted in $9,465,025 turnover during 2019.
 
Saturday’s Game of Claims’s first preliminary rounds will have two groups of horses with a base claiming price of $25,000 going for $25,000 a division, and three sections of $15,000 basic-level horses racing for $15,000 purses. The claiming price will go up slightly for prelims two and three, with each group’s top pointearners in the preliminaries getting a chance to race for the throne as their Game Of Claims division’s champion on Saturday, February 29, with a $50,000 bounty on the line for this week’s $25,000 base-price horses, and $30,000 up for grabs by the leading $15,000 base-price competitors.
 
Multi-time leading Pocono trainer Rene Allard will be sending out horses in four of the five Game Of Claims cuts, three of them new to the barn; the “holdover,” Maxdaddy Blue Chip, was the 2017 Pacer of the Year at Pocono, and is still going strongly at age eight.
 
Another “golden oldie,” the 11-year-old Atta Boy Dan, returns to Pocono in a $14,000 pace after being named the 2019 Pocono Pacer of the Year. Atta Boy Dan, who will be starting from the outside in a field of seven, was the winningest harness horse in the United States last year with 19 victories, and he was the focus of the attention of many stables, being claimed no fewer than seventeen times, for a total of $670,000.
 
FINISHING LINES -- In Tuesday morning qualifying action at The Downs, Crocketts Cullen N turned in a sharp 1:54.2 mile in wire-to-wire fashion for driver Larry Stalbaum and trainer Tracy Tarantino. The Kiwi import won fifteen times in 2019, including ten times in his last fifteen starts, all in high-class company.
 
During the month of February, Pocono will race on Saturday and Sunday at 5 p.m., with Mondays being added in March and post times shifting to the standard 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Monday cards will start at 4 p.m., and they will be joined at that start time in April with Tuesday racing as Pocono expands to its full standard schedule.
 
An introductory press briefing will take place this Thursday to preview the highlights of the 2020 racing season at the northeast Pennsylvania track. (PHHA/Pocono)
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