There is $6 million at stake between 12 races. People as far as Europe come to see the event, and it’s been said that this is the one it all comes down to in the world of harness racing – and it’s going to be held at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs.
The Breeders Crown will take place this Saturday beginning at 5 p.m., and it’s actually not the first time Mohegan has hosted the huge event.
The Breeders Crown series, initiated by the Hambletonian Society, promoters of the Hambletonian Stakes, began in 1984, a time when all 12 races were held at one track. Afterward, the races were split up into being hosted at several different tracks, but in 2010, the Breeders came to Mohegan for the first time, and all 12 races were held in that one spot, making it not only big for the local facility, but the world of harness racing itself.
It’s an honor for Mohegan to host the race again, said Dale Rapson, Vice President of Racing at Mohegan, but it seems it’s no secret why.
“The first time we put a bid in and showed the industry the facilities, there was some hesitation that a track like us could handle it,” Rapson said. “But after we did, they said it was the best event they’ve had.”
The Breeders Crown races are divided into categories that concern a horse’s age, gait, and gender. On Saturday, there will also be two Pocono Downs races held, making for 14 harness races in all.
Not only are the stakes high as far as money concerned, but drivers are chomping at the bit for the prestige that will be bestowed upon not only themselves, but the horses that come out as winners.
“Like a lot of sports, we have divisional honors for the year and a lot of times it comes down to who actually wins one of these Breeders events to decide who may be the three-year-old Philly pacer of the year or some such other category. It helps determine some of the best in the sport,” said Director of Racing Rick Kane.
“A lot of these categories are very competitive,” he continued. “In some races, there’s an individual horse that’s pretty dominant, sure, but in others, it’s anyone’s game, such as the three-year-old trotting colts. There’s been a different winner for every big stakes this year, so whoever wins the Breeders Crown could very well decide who comes out on top.”
One of the drivers that will be racing for top prize at the Breeders is John Campbell, a Hall of Fame Driver who’s had an illustrious career.
Campbell started racing in 1972 when he was 17. He grew up on a farm in Ontario, where his father and grandfather raced horses.
Campbell’s purse earnings exceed any currently active driver or jockey. He was the youngest driver ever elected into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 1990 at the age of 35 and is also a member of the Canadian Harness Hall of Fame. He won his 10,000th race in July of 2008.
Through all he’s done, however, Campbell has one moment that stands out above the rest.
“Winning the Hambletonian,” he said. “It’s the biggest and most prestigious honor we have, so winning that race stands out more than anything else.”
And not only did Campbell capture the honor – he won the race a total of six times, most recently in 2006.
Harness racing has been a part of the area since 2005 and, though it has grown in popularity in the area, there are still those who may overlook it simply because of their unfamiliarity with the sport.
It’s different from the famed horse racing often seen on TV, such as the Kentucky Derby, in that the horses pull a two-wheeled cart called a sulky that the driver sits in to control the horse. But still, the hoof-pounding excitement of racing is still present, and it provides a relaxing night out for anyone who comes to see the races, betting or not.
“It’s nice because if you do want to bet, you don’t have to bring a lot of money,” said Rapson. “You could bring $20 and bet on 10 races if you want.
“And even without that….you can sit outside any time and have the beautiful scenery of the mountains, the fresh air. It’s more than gambling – it’s the beauty of the sport.”
It’s also the beauty of the animals and their demeanor throughout the races.
“To see the animals race, to see their competitiveness… They’re truly athletes,” Rapson said.
“Even if you aren’t a harness fan, you’ll get caught up in with just the pageantry that’s involved,” Kane said. “I really feel a horse can sense or have a feeling that they know when they win a race, and a good horse loves that feeling. Really, they’re no different than an athlete.”
Even for those who have been around horses all their lives, the thrill is still there.
“The lure for me, and almost everybody in the game, is the horse,” Campbell said. “There’s an addiction to being around horses. You have to search or go through so many to find horses that can compete at this level, so when you find ones that do, you really have an appreciation for them, for how good they are, what it takes for them to have that ability and have that attitude to get to this level.”
The exciting Breeders Crown series will be held once again at the record-breaking Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs 5/8 mile red oval on Saturday, Oct. 19.
The historic track held the series in October of 2010 and was the first track to host all 12 races, worth $6 million, in one night. Crowds from as far away as Canada, California, and Florida lined the apron to witness history in the making and several world records.
“Due to the huge success of 2010, we are excited to host the 2013 Breeders Crown”, said Vice President of Racing Operations Dale Rapson. “The Hambletonian Society Board of Directors have stated that they felt that the 2010 Breeders Crown, held at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, was one of the most successful ever held. They are as enthusiastic to come back as we are to have them. Of course, this cannot have happened without the ongoing support, participation, and cooperation of the Pennsylvania Harness Horsemen’s Association.”
Tom Charters, President of the Hambletonian Society, was equally enthusiastic about the partnership. “The opportunity to return to Pocono Downs in 2013 is very exciting,” he said. “Mohegan Sun and the Pennsylvania Horsemen (PHHA) were terrific hosts in 2010. Building on that memorable record-breaking night, the Hambletonian Society is looking forward to partnering with them again on what will be a spectacular event for the entire harness industry.”
Sam Beegle, President of the Pennsylvania Harness Horsemen’s Association, announced that the PHHA would award a $1 million bonus if the same horse wins the Earl Beal, Jr. Memorial Trot, the Colonial Trot, and the Breeders Crown Three-Year-Old Colt Trot.
The Breeders Crown series, in its 30th year, has typically crowned champions in every division for trotters and pacers and has been the deciding factor in Horse of the Year honors. A Breeders Crown title has become one of the most coveted honors in harness racing. The series has encompassed the entire North American continent and reflected the ambience and local flavor of each of the host markets.