Fifty five years ago, on July 15, 1965 to be precise, standard-bred trotters and pacers stepped for the first time onto the 5/8th mile red clay racing oval at Pocono Downs in Plains Twp., cheered by a crowd of thousands in the new grandstand and clubhouse, and harness racing history was made in Northeast Pa.

In the ensuing five decades, the sport, and the race track which hosts it here in the Wyoming Valley, has undergone many changes. Now known as The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, the harness track is part of a much larger casino and entertainment complex.

The 55th season for harness racing at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono got underway Saturday, Feb. 8, more than one month earlier than the traditional March opener of previous years.

Access NEPA was there for the opening weekend, from the backstretch paddocks to the starting gate, to give readers an inside look at the early opener for the region’s premier harness track.

Racing starts at 5 p.m. weekends through this month. Starting in March, 4 p.m. cards will also be offered each Monday, and weekend racing shifts to 7 p.m. Tuesday cards at 4 begin in April. A full four-day race schedule will continue through the summer months.