04/08/2013 12:20PM

Jay Bergman: Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs doing things right

George Anthony has been a policeman, trainer and race-caller.

Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs may be the most significant racetrack in North America these days. Here’s a track that need not apologize for having slot machines. That’s because horsemen and management have come together to craft a first-class stakes schedule.

On June 29 the track puts the wheels in motion with a $2 million stakes program that features the Max Hempt for three-year-old colt pacers, the Earl Beal Memorial for three-year-old colt trotters and the James Lynch Memorial for three-year-old filly pacers.

In August the track once again plays host to major three-year-old action. This time on the 17th it borrows from Harrah’s Philadelphia the prestigious Battle Of The Brandywine and the Colonial, the pacing and trotting colt events that date well back in the sport’s history, with the Battle formerly the signature event at Brandywine Raceway in Wilmington, Delaware. The Colonial had its own great run at the former Liberty Bell Park in Philadelphia. Joining that pair will be the Valley Forge for three-year-old pacing fillies.

The stakes season reaches its peak with a dozen Breeders Crown races worth in the neighborhood of $5.6 million. Mark down the date of Oct. 19 for the finale to a great racing season.

There have been some gamblers who have balked and squawked about the large takeouts at Pennsylvania-area tracks. This year Pocono has tried in a small way to address the issue by lowering the rake to 15 percent on its pick three plays. The track also tried a Rainbow Pick 6 with a guaranteed $25,000 payout as part of its grand reopening statement.

The Rainbow Pick 6, which offered a $1 minimum buy-in, was hit almost immediately and isn't currently being offered. That may have been bad news for some, but on-air personality George Anthony thinks there’s hope in the future for the wager

“I think we’re going to bring it back again later in the season," Anthony said. "It’s a good thing that it got hit, but of course we would rather have seen it last a little longer."

The Rainbow Pick 6 has gained popularity in Florida. The wager not only requires players to pick the winners of six consecutive races, but also be the lone person to do so. If more than one player hits all six races a majority of the pool carries forward to the next racing day. Perhaps what Mohegan Sun at Pocono management missed on its first go-round with this wager was that the $1 minimum could have been too high. Had more players entered the mix with say a 20-cent wager, the possibility exists that the carryover numbers would still be building.

For Anthony this is a big year for his track. He spends his days handicapping the races at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs and his nights as the solo on-air personality responsible for keeping players informed and aware of the action.

“I think it’s my job to try to educate as many people as we can about the races," said Anthony, a Bronx native who once was the leading trainer at Yonkers Raceway. "If we’re going to build an audience I think it’s important that we let them know what’s happening on the racetrack."

After joining Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs last year, Anthony agreed to give up all of his horse holdings. That meant giving up training horses as well, something he has relished over the course of his career.

“It really wasn’t that hard of a decision to make,” said Anthony. “They were closing the barn area at The Meadowlands and I just couldn’t see operating a stable where I had to be at a training facility and have the added costs to the owners of stabling and shipping in and out of racetracks."

For Anthony, who resides a stone’s throw from the Meadowlands in Fort Lee, giving up training was only giving up part of what he’s been doing for the past 30 years.

A former New York City policeman, Anthony admits that he loved the runners first, but the opportunity knocked on the harness side of the fence when he earned the job of race-caller at Ocean Downs in Ocean City, Md.

“I’ve been the race-caller there for 14 of the last 30 years,” Anthony said. “While I was calling races at night I ran into a veteran trainer by the name of Eddie Taylor. He asked me, ‘What are you doing during the day?’ I told him nothing and he said, 'Why don’t you come by and work with the horses.'”

That decision gave Anthony the experience he would need. When he left Maryland to return to New York, he had the know-how to open up a public stable.

Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs is indeed fortunate to have someone with Anthony’s background at the helm of its nightly simulcast broadcast. And Anthony feels the same about his employers.

“I can’t say enough about the management here," he said. "They are interested in putting out a first-class product. I have to say in all my years around racetracks that there’s not a finer racing surface than our five-eighth-mile track."

Anthony has a half-hour pre-game show before the races and returns between each event with an analysis of the coming race and timely remarks after the race.

“I think its important to explain things that happened in the race, not just for the novices, but I think there are times I can point out something to the regular players,” Anthony said.

When the weather gets a little warmer, Anthony will be trackside to handle his chores, and that means the opportunity to interview drivers and trainers before and after the races. There’s nothing more vital to the sport’s credibility than hearing what the drivers and trainers have to say in real time.  Anthony, with his aptitude behind the scenes and on camera, is the perfect person to ask questions of drivers and trainers and get the answers the public deserves.

Anyone who has witnessed Anthony in action from Mohegan Sun at Pocono can see how his enthusiasm for the sport can radiate across the airwaves. Even in his early 60’s he’s passionate about each and every race, whether it be a $5,000 claimer or a major stakes race.

“I think this is a very important year for us,” Anthony said. “With all of the major stakes races culminating in the Breeders Crown, it’s important for us to put our best foot forward. I think you can see with the reduced takeout and the Rainbow Pick 6 that management has heard what some people have said and are responding in the right way. People have choices and it’s important that we listen and respond."

While the wheels of change don’t move as swiftly as everyone might like, it’s refreshing to see movement in the right direction.

For those who want to witness the best the sport has to offer, a trip to Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs this spring and summer would be a great place to start.