PLAINS TWP. — The crowds and hats at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs could only mean one thing: Saturday was Kentucky Derby day.
The 140th “Run for the Roses” brought out a huge crowd once again for live harness racing and a simulcast of the Derby from Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.
“This is by far the most popular event in thoroughbred racing, which we simulcast at our track,” said Jennifer Starr, spokeswoman for the Mohegan Sun. “Anyone that is a fan is here to watch the race — even new fans make it a point to watch and wager on the Kentucky Derby.”
Joseph Tondrick said he has been coming to the track for most of his life, but he wasn’t interested in placing a wager on Saturday.
To be sure, the 61-year-old Larksville resident and his wife, Karen, were at the casino and harness track to watch horses run, they just had no interest in risking any of their hard earned cash on picking a winner.
Joseph Tondrick said the couple is just into the sport as opposed to gambling.
“The horses are beautiful, gorgeous animals doing what they love to do — run,” said Karen as the couple enjoyed brunch in the clubhouse.
The couple watched the track’s harness races on the small television set on their table, while waiting for the thoroughbreds to take center stage in in Louisville.
Joseph Tondrick called it “the Super Bowl of racing.”
California Chrome won the race and will have a chance to go for the second jewel in horse racing’s Triple Crown in the Preakness on May 17. The third and final leg is the Belmont Stakes on June 7.
Starr said the casino can host as many as 8,000 people at the Derby each year.
The casino was well on its way to that mark Saturday afternoon as a sea of people swarmed the facility and parking spaces were hard to find.
With the exception of the Tondricks, most people seemed to be mulling over their bets.
Among the crowd was Lou Consoli, 67, of Albrightsville and Danny McGinley, 62, of Jim Thorpe.
Consoli and McGinley brought a group of friends from McGinley’s Pocono Trail Lodge in Blakeslee. The group has been coming to the races for five years, but Consoli and McGinley have been coming to the races together for 35 years. McGinley said there’s a camaraderie between those that attend, along with the entertainment of the races, that brings them back each year.
McGinley and Consoli encouraged those that are not familiar with the sport to check into the events.
“It’s enjoyable,” McGinley said. “We meet a lot of people.”
Consoli added that they love watching the animals run and seeing years of training come to that peak moment during the races.
And then, of course, there is the sideshow that is Kentucky Derby day.
Starr said fashion is essential on Derby day. Women could be seen wearing elaborate hats, while men dressed up in suits.
“Our track holds the biggest party, and it has become ‘fashionable’ to attend Derby day here,” Starr said. “It is a tradition to dress up for this day and attend the Derby, and both women and men look forward the opportunity to look their best.”
A number of Consoli and McGinley’s group were women, all of which were dressed for the occasion.
“The girls like to dress up on Derby day,” Consoli said
Janette Bruzgulis, 58, of Jim Thorpe was one of the women in the group. She said the group bought hats especially for the occasion, then decorated them to make them stand out.
“Girls love to dress up,” Bruzgulis said. “It makes it fun.”
The Tondricks chose not to dress up, but said seeing others dress up adds to the allure of the day. The attires, along with the races and the atmosphere, were elements that Joseph Tondrick said create the unique event.