Harnessing the Derby experience

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First Posted: 4/30/2013

Horses’ hooves pound the track. People yell for the winner of their choosing. Women wear large, gorgeous hats, and everyone is sucking down a mint julep to beat the heat and quench their thirst.

Though this might sound like the exact scene that’s going to take place at Churchill Downs for Kentucky Derby 139 on May 4, it’s actually something that’s going to take place right in our backyard at the Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs race track.

In what’s being billed as the “biggest Kentucky Derby party north of Churchill Downs,” the event will consist of live racing all day, TVs showing the action down south, a “Run for the Roses Hat Revue,” mint juleps, and all the frivolity that comes along with the big race in Kentucky.

The authenticity is certainly there, and no one knows it better than Jennifer Starr, racing marketing manager at Mohegan, who went to the Kentucky Derby three years in a row.

“It’s a combination of waiting for the race, the races leading up to the big one, everyone is dressed up, smoking cigars, and drinking mint juleps,” Starr said of her Derby experiences. “It really is just something to see, and we get pretty close to that here.”

The one major difference, however, is the way in which the horses are raced. While the Kentucky Derby consists of jockeys on the backs of the animal, Mohegan employs the harness racing method, where carts are attached to the horse that a driver sits in, controlling everything. The horses are also standardbred, not thoroughbred like the ones in the derby. Standardbreds are pacers or trotters, while thoroughbreds, which are considered a more delicate horse, are running horses.

Still, the races at Mohegan will get your heart racing just as much as those running at Churchill.

“You can’t even say one is more exciting than the other,” Starr said. “They’re both thrilling to watch in any way, shape, or form.”

It’s also all about a love for the animals themselves. One rider for this year’s Mohegan races, Tyler Buter, 27, said the animals are the main reason he has raced for as long as he has.

“My wife [Amber] and I were both born into the business,” he said. “We’ve always raced horses, and we train them.”

“I just love the animals, and being around them all day.”

Buter is one of the top Pocono drivers and recently reached the 2,000 wins milestone.

Advance wagering on the Kentucky Derby, and full coverage of the prestigious Kentucky Oaks, will take place May 3.

As for betting on the horses in the big show? Starr has been studying up and knows who she’s going with: Normandy Invasion.

“What I like about the story behind Normandy Invasion is that owner Rick Porter, who owned the beautiful Eight Belles, who broke down after the finish line after finishing second to Big Brown in 2008 and was euthanized, has been talking with actual survivors of the Normandy Invasion about attending the Derby as his guest, to watch this powerful horse do his thing.”

The field for Kentucky Derby 139:

1. Orb (Shug McGaughey/Joel Rosario)

2. Verrazano (Todd Pletcher/John Velazquez)

3. Goldencents (Doug O’Neill/Kevin Krigger)

4. Java’s War (Ken McPeek/Julian Leparoux)

5. Overanalyze (Todd Pletcher/Rafael Bejarano)

6. Revolutionary (Todd Pletcher/Calvin Borel)

7. Lines of Battle (Aidan O’Brien/Ryan Moore)

8. Vyjack (Rudy Rodriguez/Garrett Gomez)

9. Will Take Charge (D. Wayne Lukas/Jon Court)

10. Itsmyluckyday (Eddie Plesa Jr./Elvis Trujillo)

11. Black Onyx (Kelly Breen/Joe Bravo)

12. Palace Malice (Todd Pletcher/Mike Smith)

13. Normandy Invasion (Chad Brown/Javier Castellano)

14. Frac Daddy (Ken McPeek/V. Lebron)

15. Mylute (Tom Amoss/Rosie Napravnik)

16. Oxbow (D. Wayne Lukas/Gary Stevens)

17. Falling Sky (John Terranova/Luis Saez)

18. Charming Kitten (Todd Pletcher/Edgar Prado)

19. Golden Soul (Dallas Stewart/BJ Hernandez)