Friday, April 30, 2010

Run For The Roses

Vernon Downs Casino & Hotel will be hosting Derby Fest 3, in celebration of the Kentucky Derby, this Saturday, May 1.

The exciting day of events begins with simulcast races from Churchill Downs starting at approximately 10:30am. Guests can watch and wager on all the races leading up to the 136th Run for the Roses (post time approximately 6:24pm). An evening of Live Harness racing follows, post time 6:55pm.

Derby Fest 3 will also feature a day of events and activities including live entertainment, a Derby Hat contest, a Mint Julep Jamboree, the thrill of the gaming floor and more!

Now hosting its 57th season of racing, Vernon Downs occupies a 34,000 square foot gaming facility featuring over 850 video gaming machines, restaurants, lounges and arcades in addition to live racing and simulcasting. The property also offers an all-suites hotel and employs almost 300 people.

Vernon Downs Casino & Hotel is open year-round and is located on Routes 5 and 31 in Vernon, NY.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Tioga & Vernon utilize Track Master

Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs continue to improve on ways to better serve theharness racing fans and bettors of the harness racing industry. That is why they have partnered with Track Master to provide links on both of their websites ( & ) for fans to download programs from home.

"The cost of getting the programs to off site facilities to sell has moved beyond a break even venture for the companies. However, we don't want to just disregard customers that can't get to the racetrack to buy a program so we thought this was a great alternative way of going about it for both parties." Jason Settlemoir, VP of Racing and Simulcast.

Customers will be able to log on to Track Master through the links under the racing tab on the websites and download the programs right to their printer at home for advance handicapping. All major credit cards are accepted on the Track Master site along with easy to follow instructions for obtaining the information.

"Expanding the availability and variety of handicapping information is essential to keep harness racing on par with other sports and gaming alternatives.TrackMaster is happy to assist Vernon and Tioga in their efforts to move harness racing forward in this technology age" said David Segal, President of TrackMaster.

For more information please visit us on our website, or call us at 1-888-WIN-TIOGA.

Dustin ROSS

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Second weekend of live action at Vernon

Vernon Downs will roll on with its second weekend of live harness racing action from Vernon, New York beginning on Friday, April 23rd at 6:55 pm. An eleven race card has been drawn for Friday night with co-feature events slated as race 8 (Fillies & Mares Class A Handicap Pace) and race 9 (Class A Trot).

Howard Okusko Jr. and Jessica Okusko will send out Bet The Ranch in the fillies and mares pace looking for two wins in a row after last week's 1:56 pocket riding victory. However, the powerful Jeffrey Long Stable ships in from Delaware with Infinite Desire who has already won three races in 2010, and banked just shy of $34,000. Bet the Ranch and Howard Okusko Jr. have been given the nod as the 9-5 morning line favorite over last week's bridesmaid Chantal hall (Jimmy Whittemore), but Infinite Desire cannot be overlooked at 6-1 on the morning line with Greg Merton.

The Okusko stable will also send out Unshakeable in the co-featured Class A trot in the ninth race who will also be looking for two in a row. Last week the 5-year old son of Andover Hall-Sister Sammy used a first over grind to nail John Paul's Legacy (Angus Mac Donald) on the wire in 1:57.1. Sharpshootennorris (Josh Marks) has been made the 9-5 morning line favorite after getting pinned in last week down the stretch. Tracy Brainard trains the 7-year old son of Earl-Our Royal Gem, who is winless in 2010, but tallied ten wins in 2009.

Vernon will host a twelve race card on Saturday, April 24th featured by the sixth race Class A Open Pace with a field of seven, post time on Saturday is 6:55 pm.

Vernon Downs will host "Facebook Friday" on Friday, April 23rd and "Myspace Saturday" on Saturday, April 24th. For more information please visit us online at

Dustin ROSS

Tioga/Vernon hit social media sites

In the day and age of social media sites being the pinnacle of keeping in touch with old friends and promoting products to millions of viewers, Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs are gearing up to use those sites in coordination with promotions at the track in 2010.

The promotion will kick off on Friday, April 23, at Vernon Downs when it is deemed “Facebook Friday.” Guests that have Facebook must be a friend of Vernon Downs and print off a coupon good for one free hot dog, soda, and race program. The guest then brings the coupon in on Friday, April 23, only, and takes it to the guest services booth.

“My Space Saturdays” will begin on Saturday, April 24, and follow the same concepts as the Facebook Fridays.

“Social networking is here and is the present and future of marketing to wide audiences online. This is another way of trying to bring in the crowds for live harness racing and promoting our sport to everyone online,” said Jason Settlemoir, VP of Racing and Simulcast.

To become a friend of Vernon Downs and Tioga Downs, sign up for a username on Facebook or Myspace and search for Vernon Downs and Tioga Downs.

For more information visit and

Vernon Downs' success used as blueprint, Saratoga race season in jeopardy

VERNON, N.Y. (WKTV) - Six years ago, the future of Vernon Downs was in jeopardy and racing at Saratoga continued to thrive.

Now, those roles have been reversed.

OTB terminals and the hundreds of thousands of jobs associated with them are on the chopping block in New York City.

New York City OTBs recently filed for bankruptcy and told the New York Racing Association that they will be delaying payments to them. NYC OTBs owes NYRA around $15 million, according to Executive Director of New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association Jim Gallagher.

The OTB debt is important to Mohawk Valley horse racing fans, because the money they bring in affects racing at Saratoga. Gallagher said that if little-to-no money is being brought in, then racing at Saratoga is in question.

State lawmakers can, however, save both if they allow video lottery terminals (VLT) at downstate tracks like they allowed at Vernon Downs.

The Aqueduct Race Track in New York City has been hoping for VLTs for eights years, as well as expanding to a racino. However, Gallagher said the state has yet to decide on who will run the video lottery terminals.

Aqueduct, along with Belmont race track and Saratoga, are all under the governing body of the NYRA.

NYRA officials say wagering alone is not bringing in enough revenue to support the three race tracks, but they believe the Aqueduct VLTs would accomplish that.

Gallagher says the fate of Saratoga's race season could be decided in June, shortly after the Belmont Stakes. According to the track's website, opening day at Saratoga will be July 23.

Principal Owner of Vernon Downs Jeff Gural said that it's no secret that the Downs would be closed if they did not get a license for VLTs in 2006. Gural says he feels Vernon Downs and their racino is a blue print for the future of racing in New York State.

"It is clear that the long term salvation for Saratoga is awarding the VLTs to Aqueduct," said Gural. "We could not have survived without them. No race track can."

When asked if Saratoga would have racing this season, NYRA Director of Communications Dan Silver said "We are hopeful there will be a full racing season at Saratoga."

Monday, April 19, 2010

Are we there yet?

Friday, March 26, 2010 by Jason Turner

Twenty years ago the late Terry Holton moved to Newark, Ohio, and was almost immediately befriended by a bright-eyed, harness racing enthusiast who lived across the street.

USTA/Mark Hall photo

Children wave as horse #7 races by.

The 13-year-old, who also served as the neighborhood paperboy, had been going to races with his parents since he was 5, and had been a fan of Holton’s for almost as long. But when Holton took the youngster under his wing, the teen’s passion for the sport, and the opportunities that came with being joined at the hip to an Ohio legend, changed his life forever.

Today that boy-turned-man, Jason Settlemoir, is one of the most active figures in the industry, serving as vice president of racing and simulcast for Vernon and Tioga Downs, simulcast director for the Little Brown Jug and vice president of Harness Tracks of America. He’s also a USTA director and president of the U.S. Harness Writers Association. It’s hard to imagine he’d be any of those things if the interest and enthusiasm he showed as a teenager hadn’t been fostered by Holton and his racing colleagues.

A toddler clings to her mom while assessing how to react to this different breed of horse.

“Everybody always treated me like I was involved,” said Settlemoir. “It was like God shining down on me and saying, “This is what you’re going to do with your life.”

Settlemoir knows first-hand the importance of creating an environment that is welcoming to kids and the enduring impact it can have, which is why he and other likeminded track directors are working to ensure that kids are a focal point of the harness racing experience.

Among the most crucial components of a family-friendly track experience is providing activities that are specific to kids. Going to the track should be exciting for the whole family, Settlemoir said, not just the parents.

“At Vernon and Tioga we place a strong emphasis on Family Days and doing things so that kids can be actively involved,” said Settlemoir. “We have a bounce house, we do caricatures, balloons and we offer backstretch barn tours so kids can get a good look at the horses.

“We want to emphasize bringing families to the track. That’s how most of us got involved—a parent or grandparent brought you to the track for the first time and you fell in love.”

Some of the kid-friendly activities include face-painting, blow-up bounce houses, clowns, and balloon animals.

Providing entertainment and interactivity for kids and families is an equally important goal for the staff and management at Grand River Raceway, said Marketing and Communications Manager Kelly Spencer.

Among Grand River’s youth-inspired initiatives is a horse craft station, where kids are invited to create, color and solve puzzles, and as an added bonus, they’re also given the opportunity to make a trophy and present it to their favorite driver in the winner’s circle.

The craft station and winner’s circle presentation are just a few of many opportunities available to kids and their families as part of Grand River’s popular summer series “Fun and Frivolity Friday Nights,” which is well-attended, said Spencer.

“We recognize there is an opportunity—I’d even call it an obligation—to make an impact on kids right now,” she said. “It’s an investment in the longevity of the sport. Most kids are smitten with horses and we try to nurture that affinity.”

Education is another key component of Grand River’s family-focused approach.

USTA/Mark Hall photo

A great way to get youngsters into horses is giving them a ride in the job cart, as shown here at the Delaware County Fair.

In addition to co-hosting an annual harness racing youth camp, Grand River also works with the Ontario Harness Horse Association to put on an interactive open-house event where participants learn about horse care, equine anatomy and many other topics.

Similarly, Tioga Downs offers monthly backstretch tours, where kids and their families are given the opportunity to meet drivers and trainers, ask questions, tour the paddock and even feed the horses. At the end of each session prizes are awarded.

“We need to educate kids on how the sport operates,” Settlemoir said. “I think it’s important to the viability of any sport to have young people involved and wanting to understand it.”

Being a family-friendly facility, however, does not eliminate limitations. There are slot machines at both of Settlemoir’s sites, and at Grand River, and the casino floor is one area where kids are not welcome.

“We want everyone to have a good time, but just because you’re a racetrack doesn’t mean you have to focus on the gambling,” said Settlemoir.

Currently at Northfield Park slots are not an issue, but finding the right balance between accommodating kids and their families and serious bettors sometimes is.

Even outriders get in on the act, allowing children a chance to get up close between races.

“It’s our goal to make everyone feel comfortable,” said Northfield’s Vice President of Racing and Simulcasting Dave Bianconi. “We would like for our track to be kid-friendly. The restaurant has a kids’ menu. It’s definitely not anti-kids, but we don’t have puppet shows. It’s different than going to a pro sports venue where kids are the main target they’re going after. We don’t keep score in attendance. We keep score in handle, so it’s just not the same.”

Despite the challenges, track operators agree that creating a track experience conducive to kids and their families is essential for the future of the harness racing.

“We [tracks] should be catering to families,” Settlemoir said. “We’re creating fans of the sport and I think that’s important.”

“Since I spend thousands of dollars every year trying desperately to awaken some inkling of curiosity in adults, it seems obvious to me that we—as an industry—need to be extremely vigilant in speaking to tomorrow’s racing fans today,” said Spencer.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Opening weekend cards drawn at Vernon Downs

Wednesday, April 14, 2010 - by Dustin Ross, regional racing operations manager, Tioga/Vernon Downs

Vernon, NY --- Vernon Downs is gearing up for opening weekend, which begins on Friday, April 16, with a 6:55 p.m. post time featuring ten live races. Opening night will kick-off with a race date t-shirt giveaway (while supplies last), followed by a fireworks display immediately following live racing.

In the featured event on Friday night six of the best pacing mares will square off in the Fillies and Mares Miracle Mile Class A Handicap in the ninth event of the evening. Bet The Ranch, from the powerful Jessica Okusko stable, will look to pick up where she left off last year. The daughter of Bettor's Delight-Silksndiamonds won 11 of 24 starts in 2009 and earned more than $90,000.

On Saturday, April 17, Vernon hosts a 12-race program beginning at 6:55 p.m. and will be giving out Race Date Magnets to its patrons (while supplies last). Vernon will also have the “Change Your Luck” promotion in which contestants drop losing tickets into a barrel for their chance to win a $20 betting voucher.

Featured on the card is the Miracle Mile Class A for pacers with a field of seven. Jessica Okusko sends out another powerful entrant in Diamond Stick Pin. The 4-year old, who is a full brother to Bet The Ranch, won six races last year and earned more than $166,000. Diamond Stick Pin qualified on Tuesday morning with a mile of 1:53.2, pacing a final panel of :27 for Howard Okusko, Jr.

Vernon Downs will once again be hosting its “Horse Play Car Giveaway” in 2010, in which contestants donate $1 to the charity of the month and receive a rubber horse. After the designated race of the night, contestants get a chance to toss their horse into the window of a 2009 Nissan Versa. One horse that successfully makes it into the window will be drawn and put into the final drawing for the Versa on Friday, September 17, during the “Summer Showdown” weekend at Vernon Downs. The 2010 “Horseplay Car Giveaway” is courtesy of Williams Toyota of Sayre, Pa.

For more information visit

Vernon gets ready for season opener

Tuesday, April 13, 2010 - by Jim Moran, for Vernon Downs

Vernon, NY --- Vernon Downs will begin its 57th pari-mutuel season with live racing starting at 6:55 p.m. this Friday and Saturday nights. The track’s 90-card campaign will extend through November 27.

Track superintendent Tony Rossi had a look of satisfaction on his face Tuesday morning (April 13) as he watched Diamond Stick Pin and Wake Up Little Gus uncork the fastest pacing and trotting miles, respectively, of the young qualifying season.

With Howard Okusko, Jr. doing the teaming for his wife, trainer Jessica Okusko, Diamond Stick Pin posted a 1:53.2 triumph in Tuesday’s second race, while Robert Moran, steering for owner and trainer Bette Jean Calice, urged Wake Up Little Gus to a 1:56.4 score in the third race.

“We’ve had good weather of late, and the track has shaped up nicely,” Rossi explained. “We resurfaced it yesterday and, after today’s four races, I’d say we’re good to go for Friday night’s opener.”

Downs Doings: Okusko, who also finished first with the trotter Dusty Diamond in Tuesday’s first contest, oversees a 46 horse stable at Vernon, including 17 2-year-olds…Conducting a double-draw on Tuesday, racing secretary Shane Hoehn had more than enough horses for this weekend’s two programs when he opened the entry box. “Everyone is looking forward to getting the live racing underway,” he stated…The Downs will present live racing on Friday and Saturday evenings only during its initial three weekends. Thursday programs will be added starting May 6…Additional information regarding the track and its casino can be obtained at

Monday, April 12, 2010

Double draw for opening weekend at Vernon Downs

Monday, April 12, 2010 - by Nick Salvi, for Vernon Downs

Vernon, NY --- Vernon Downs kicks off the 2010 live racing season this coming weekend and will conduct a double draw for both the Friday and Saturday cards on Tuesday, April 13, with the box closing at 12 Noon.

Condition sheets may be found at the Vernon Web site and the Race Office phone number is 315.829.6825.