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Trenton, NJ – Karl-Johan Blank has built a business empire in Europe and is now looking to create a harness racing legacy in the United States. The 57-year-old is owner and CEO of Jula Holding AB, which features a highly successful chain of 103 department stores throughout Sweden, Norway and Poland. He has also started or purchased numerous other companies over the years, including real estate and financial institutions, hotels, and Hööks, which has 53 stores selling equestrian accessories in northern Europe. At age 10, Karl-Johan’s parents began with trotting horses on their small farm named Jultorp, which became the inspiration for the company’s business moniker. In 2008, Blank met Tommy B. Andersson, a respected trainer/horseman who hailed from the same area of Sweden. The two went in on the first horse Blank ever purchased and an ownership career blossomed. “After that I bought some horses almost every year; more like a hobby,” Blank said. Since Andersson had years of experience in America, it was only natural the duo gravitated to the States. Then it became more than a hobby. “I decided in 2018 to go to the Lexington Sale and the Red Mile,” Blank said. “That had been my dream and goal for a long time, but I was always busy with my purchasing work at the hardware fairs at that time of year. “Together with Tommy I bought four horses and one more in Harrisburg. This time they were horses that I really liked, with very good pedigree and at a little bit higher level.” Included in that group was the Susanne Kerwood-trained Jula Shes Magic, who won the Ontario Sire Stakes Super Final for 2-year-old filly trotters. In fact, “all five were racing as 2-year-olds and did OK.” Another of those was a colt trotter Jula Trix Treasure – most of Blank’s horses are named after his business – who has his final Hambletonian prep in Saturday’s $89,100 Tompkins-Geers Stakes at The Meadowlands. Jula Trix Treasure, trained and driven by Ake Svanstedt, is the 5-2 second choice on the morning line behind 2-1 Real Cool Sam. A half-brother to millionaire Uncle Peter, Jula Trix Treasure won a division of the Reynolds Memorial on July 11 and finished second in the New Jersey Sire Stakes championship one start earlier. The son of Trixton-Victory Treasure sold for $145,000 under the name Trixton’s Treasure at the 2018 Lexington Selected Sale. “I really liked the pedigree on the horse especially with the mother producing a horse like the fantastic Uncle Peter,” Blank said. “I also really liked the way he moved with his star-like charisma. He was a very good-looking horse. I liked the size and Tommy B could not find anything wrong with him.” Last year, while trained by Per Engblom, the colt had two wins and two thirds in five starts, earning $15,685. “We realized last year that he was not an early horse because of his size so we gave him a lot time with Per,” Blank said. After winter training in Florida with Andersson at Sunshine Meadows, Svanstedt began training Jula Trix Treasure in April. “I have had horses with Ake over the years and thought that he would fit in very well with Ake’s good training and driving methods,” Blank said. “We thought that he should be better and better with every race but of course you never know. So far, it’s been very positive, and I am very happy with what he has done.” In four starts this year, Jula Trix Treasure has two wins, a second and a third, and $69,575. The plan is to enter him in the Hambletonian, but Blank and Svanstedt will make the final decision after Saturday’s race. Eliminations for the Hambletonian, the sport’s premier race for 3-year-old trotters, will be Aug. 1 at The Meadowlands and the final is Aug. 8. “I hope he will be one of the best (Saturday), and that it’s a fast race because he’s always strong in the finish,” Blank said. If the horse does enter the Hambletonian, how might he stack up against the sport’s best 3-year-old trotters? The owner won’t predict a win but thinks Jula Trix Treasure can be among the leaders. “There are some very good horses, but he is getting better and better for every start,” Blank said. “He is strong and tough. I think he can be a (contender).” Jula Trix Treasure is one of nine horses in the U.S. now owned by Blank, who is building himself up in harness racing the same way he did in the business world. Following the oil crisis in 1979 his father, Lars-Göran Blank, founded Jula Industri AB in the family barn to produce a device that was a combined log saw and log splitter. The idea came from his grandfather, Otto, who made circular saws to produce firewood for gas cars during World War II. The business name evolved from farm’s Jultorp title. Lars-Göran’s wife, Irene, was also part of the operation and 16-year-old Karl-Johan would work there after school as the device began selling well. Before there was ever Amazon or eBay, the Blanks expanded their business by selling accessories to their invention to farmers in small, mail-order leaflets. Karl-Johan eventually began working for his dad fulltime. “The business expanded fast with a bigger catalog, so in 1984 we started Jula Mail Order AB and had some very good years,” Blank said. Father and son became co-owners in the early 1990s, building a chain of DIY stores and changing the name to Jula AB. Rapid expansion of the stores began in 1995 and, a year later, G&K Blanks real estate firm was established. Business sky-rocketed from there. The Blanks won Sweden’s Businessman of the Year award in 2005 and purchased a company plane one year later. The Jula Hotel was inaugurated in 2007 and the company went international in 2008. Lars-Göran passed away in 2014 and Karl-Johan became owner under the title Jula Holding AB. While still maintaining its department store empire, the company has diversified into numerous fields in creating a billion-dollar business. On the company website, Blank says “Different business areas have developed and created new business opportunities as the business has grown. Some of these have developed into independent companies that are now part of the Jula Holding Group. With this arrangement we see excellent opportunities for the businesses to support each other.” As Blank’s professional operation expands, so too, does his Standardbred world. After his 2018 foray at Lexington, he followed up by purchasing five more horses in Lexington and Harrisburg last year. Four of them qualified, giving Blank nine horses that are actively racing. Seven of them have, or will, race this week at Yonkers, Mohawk and the Meadowlands. Karl-Johan also owns eight horses in Sweden and breeds in his homeland “on a hobby level.” “There have been some really good times,” he said. “I had a part in Good As Gold; he won the (1995) Swedish Derby and was the best colt in Sweden at 3 and 4 years old. I also owed his son, Filled Gold, that won the Danish Kriterium.” He is hoping for some more good times in America, and is happy with his arrangement with Andersson, who trains the horses at Sunshine Meadows from sale until the end of April. Blank becomes an interested observer during that period. “I like to spend a couple of weeks in Florida then, to take time to watch the training and be with the horses,” Blank said. “After April we like to place the horses with the best trainers that we think will be good for the horses. After the season some of the horses go back to Tommy for winter training. I am very happy with the way it’s working out just now.” Saturday’s card at The Meadowlands also includes two Tompkins-Geers divisions for 3-year-old filly trotters. Next Level Stuff is the 3-5 morning-line favorite in the first, Sister Sledge is the 7-5 favorite in the second. For complete entries, click here. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Trenton, NJ — Harness racing driver Jason Bartlett clearly remembers the first time he trained a horse. The pre-teen thought he was going much faster than instructed, discovered he was going much slower, and came up with a number somewhere in between. “My grandfather (trainer Dick Bartlett) told me to go in (2):15 and I think I went in, like, (2):40, and I thought I was flying,” Bartlett said. “I missed that mark by a lot. I had to come back and lie to him a little bit and told him I went in (2):25 so I wasn’t too far off.” Since that day Bartlett has learned to go fast for real in becoming one of harness racing’s top drivers. He has ranked among the Top 10 in North American harness racing in wins nine times overall and among the Top 10 for purses also nine times. Bartlett has enjoyed great success at his home track, winning nine driving titles at Yonkers Raceway. He has 8,431 career wins and $114 million in earnings. It all started on his family’s farm in Windsor, Maine, where Jason would wile away the hours in the stable when not excelling at football and basketball. “As a kid I was always drawn to it, it was never a chore for me to go to the barn and work and help out,” Bartlett said. “I always loved it. Loved going to the races. It was very easy for me. I kind of knew I wanted to do that. But my grandfather told me to ‘Go to school, get a degree, and this will always be here when you get back.’” Dick had a stable that ranged between 20 and 30 horses, “so on the weekends and school vacations it was almost kind of mandatory I was there at the barn helping.” Aside from performing his duties, Bartlett showed an eye for horses at a young age. One of the favorites among his grandfather’s stable was Pay Or Play, for good reason. “I actually picked him out at a sale,” Bartlett said. “He showed a lot of speed, but he showed a ton of breaks and my grandfather always loved that. I had to drag him to the barn to look at him. He was in one of those far barns and he was like ‘Nah I don’t want to go see this thing.’ I ran over myself and looked at it and I dragged him over and he ended up buying him.” Another special horse from Bartlett’s youth was Geri’s Beauty, with which he won his first race at the Windsor Fair in 1998. “I don’t remember that much,” he said. “I just remember it was at a fair and it actually worked out pretty good. I came second over to three-wide down the backside. I started driving three weeks before that. I think I was a junior in high school. We started out two fairs before that and I finally got my first win at our hometown fair.” Jason Bartlett has enjoyed great success at his home track, winning nine driving titles at Yonkers Raceway. Mike Lizzi Photo. During that period, Bartlett was splitting his time between the stables and the gym. As a standout two-sport athlete in middle school, he needed to decide between basketball and football in high school. He would have opted for the gridiron, but his school did not have a football team, so he chose hoops. That turned out to be a pretty good choice as Bartlett became an explosive backcourt scorer. Heeding his grandfather’s wishes about attending college, Jason took his talents to the University of Southern Maine in Portland, where he became the NCAA Division III scoring champion one year with a 28-point average. Despite those numbers, he never harbored illusions of playing at the next level. “Division III is a whole different beast,” he said. “I’m fast, I’m quick, I can jump, but I was too small, didn’t have enough muscle.” After graduating with a degree in industrial electricity, Bartlett headed straight back to the barn to get started on his “real” career. Asked if that major ever came in handy, Jason laughed. “For the most part if I look at a tool I draw blood,” he said. “If I had to, yes. But I wouldn’t get rich on it. My uncle did that sort of work, that’s why I jumped into that field. But I just got the degree to have it in case racing didn’t work out.” Bartlett worked with his grandfather for the next five years. In 2009, owner Scott Dillon — who owned most of the horses Bartlett trained at the time — encouraged him to go out on his own. Dillon helped him financially in making the move to New York. “I knew some trainers in New York that were originally from Maine,” Bartlett said. “Bobby Sumner and Timmy Case were doing really well at Yonkers at the time. I used to take horses from Bobby Sumner if they weren’t right, he would send them to me so I could race them in New England. “Bobby always had a stable of 40 or 50 horses, he was one of the leading trainers at Yonkers. When I came down, he asked me to drive some of his horses at Yonkers, so I started catch driving for him. We started doing really well and it just took off from there.” Bartlett also trained 25 of his own horses when arriving in New York. But when he started having driving success, he sold them in order to focus on just one aspect of the sport. “Driving was always the one thing I was trying to strive for,” he said. “To be a catch driver, and that was it.” Bartlett points to Dillon, Sumner, and Maine Hall of Famer Don Richards as playing big parts in his success. Richards allowed Jason to live with him during college so he needn’t incur any housing bills. His biggest influence, of course, is Dick, who is still going strong at 80. “Tough love would be one of the big things I took from him,” Bartlett said. “He critiqued me a lot. I always say he was my biggest fan but my biggest critic. Even if we had a great day he was always pushing me to be better. Don’t be satisfied. Don’t be complacent. Just because you’re doing good now doesn’t mean you’ll be doing good in a month. Work hard.” Jason Bartlett and his family celebrated his 8,000th career win in 2019. Katy Gazzini Photo. Bartlett and his wife Kristen are trying to pass along those qualities to their children, who inherited the athletic gene of both parents. Kristen is a former field hockey, basketball and softball player. The Bartletts run their local CYO basketball program and also coach their sons’ teams. Kobe, 13, and Karter, 9, are more into playing sports than working the stables at the moment. Jason speaks with pride at how Kobe’s team finally won New York’s Orange County CYO championship along with the regional title after several years of near misses. “They focus a lot on sports,” Bartlett said. “They play soccer, lacrosse, football. They’ll watch me on TV. I guess Karter is a little more intrigued by it, he loves to go jog. It’s a tough business, a tough way to make a living. They might get into it later but they’re going to have to go to school and stuff, just like my grandfather made me do.” And that seems to have worked out pretty well. Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Trenton, NJ — Much like George Bailey in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” harness racing owner / trainer Alex Urbanski knows exactly what she wants to do at a young age. Unlike poor George, who needed divine intervention just to survive, the 19-year-old dynamo is actually doing it. “For my age I feel like I’m ahead of the game,” Urbanski said. “I’m in a pretty good situation.” Alex and her brother John are third generation harness horsemen and work with their dad, John, on their Jackson, N.J., farm. Alex runs her own stable, the Alex Urbanski Racing Stables and is 100 percent owner of two that she trains — Uilleann and Mister Love. She also trains her brother’s horse, Lunatic Fringe, while helping her dad with some of his. After a third-place finish at Freehold in her farewell race on Feb. 28, the 10-year-old Uilleann was retired by Urbanski and bred to Sunfire Blue Chip. She will continue to race the 11-year-old Mister Love and is in the market to buy two more horses when she finds ones that she likes. And while she is taking it week by week with Mister Love’s racing schedule this year, she has already set a long-range career goal. “I’d like to have a stable of at least 30 horses eventually for myself,” Urbanski said. “At the farm we have 18, not all of them are racing. We have the broodmares and the babies. I’d like to have 30 of my own and my parents have plans of moving to a bigger farm so we can expand and keep all our retired horses.” Alex Urbanski works with her dad and brother on their Jackson, N.J., farm Does Alex plan on training all 30? “Eventually I’d like to hire some employees so I don’t have to clean all the stalls myself,” she said. “But between me, my father or brother, we would be the trainers.” Urbanski’s exuberance for the sport is a result of it being in her life from the time she busted out of her playpen. She was born in Bayville where her dad stabled a few horses and moved to Jackson at age 4 as the family wanted to live on its own farm. Alex immediately got her first pony and began riding lessons. There was an ever-so-brief moment when she quit riding in order to pursue club ice hockey, but that was just a whim even though her team reached the nationals in Vermont her last year of playing. After approximately six weeks of high school, Urbanski left in her freshman year to be home schooled in order to work with horses. Aside from her ice hockey fling, Alex said, “I’ve always known this is where I wanted to be. I’ve known some of the horsemen since I was 2 years old just going to the farm while my dad was shoeing.” Along with helping her dad, Urbanski attended the Harness Horse Youth Foundation’s summer camp and was one of four youths chosen to give a driving demonstration on Hambletonian Day in 2015. Once the home-schooling started at age 14, Alex worked every day cleaning stalls for her dad before going off to her job at a pizza parlor. She was trying to make money to buy a horse and when Uilleann came up for sale, John bought her for $6,000. “I worked that whole summer for my father and made $2,000,” Urbanski said. “I owned a third of her until I was 16, and that Christmas my father signed her over to me as full owner.” Urbanski got her trainer’s license in March 2019 and began racing Uilleann last season. But the horse needed surgery and was unable to race much, leaving Alex still searching for her first training win in September. It was then that she purchased Mister Love from Maryland owner Marjorie Kazmaier.   On Nov. 30, Vinny Ginsburg gave Alex Urbanski her first career win by driving Mister Love to a four-length victory in 1:57.2 at Freehold. Freehold Raceway photo.   Two months later, on Nov. 30, Vinny Ginsburg gave Urbanski her first career win by driving Mister Love to a four-length victory in 1:57.2 at Freehold. “I was over on the grandstand side of Freehold and watching him race with my friends,” Urbanski said. “I knew coming out of the last turn there was no shot he wouldn’t win. Immediately I got teared up and choked up and emotional. All I kept saying to Vinny was ‘Thank you so much, this means so much.’” By season’s end, racing predominantly at Freehold, Ocean Downs, Yonkers and Harrah’s Philadelphia, Urbanski had two wins, four seconds and nine thirds in 60 starts, good for $18,700. In her first 20 starts this year, many with Mister Love, she has one win, one second and three thirds for $7,258 in winnings. She also made her Meadowlands debut on Feb. 29. “It was awesome,” she said. “When you go to The Meadowlands, you’re around top trainers and very high-class, high-caliber horses and it just is a good feeling to race top people like that.” Aside from her training, Urbanski is also a part-time student at Ocean County College, where she is majoring in business. It’s probably a good choice for someone who plans on being in on all aspects of her operation, as Alex’s plan is to only train horses that she owns. “I had an offer over the past summer from someone at Ocean Downs that asked me to train some horses for them at Freehold,” she said. “I turned it down. I want to run my own thing and just own and train my own. I don’t want to have to deal with other opinions and stuff like that, I like to keep it in the family.” So far, she has dealt with a lot of older horses, including family favorite Beau Rivage N, who she grew up jogging. Beau Rivage N is now retired but was still successful at age 14 four years ago. “He’s our little baby-sitter now for our babies, they grow attached to him,” Urbanski said. “I like the older horses, they’re just classier. They have good manners.” And yet, Alex will break her fourth baby with her dad this year and plans on breaking more as she wants to train the horses she breeds. “I feel like the future with racing is with the babies,” she said. “I want to breed and train. I was thinking about getting my (qualifying driver’s) license sometime this year if possible. If not this year than next year, just so I have it.” It is all part of the rapid progress being made by a woman who feels she is way ahead of the game. “My parents do nothing but help me and want to see me succeed,” Urbanski said. “They’re willing to help me with anything I ask of them and it’s been great. I thought by now that I’d still be struggling with Uilleann and trying to get my little checks here and there.” Instead, it really is turning into a wonderful life. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Trenton, NJ — Apparently, there is one chink in the amazing Wanda Polisseni’s armor. Ask her what it means to receive this year’s harness racing Unsung Hero Award from the U.S. Harness Writers Association, and you discover the kryptonite. “I’m speechless,” the 80-year-old philanthropist said. “I don’t do well in these instances. I’m blown away. I don’t know what to say.” After that, of course, the woman who defines class knew exactly what to say; and she said it with the dignity that has made her a beloved figure in harness racing this century. “I never even think of receiving anything like this,” Polisseni said. “I don’t go about my days doing the things I do, thinking that it’s going to be rewarded with recognition. I know people appreciate what I do. I know my babies (her horses) all appreciate what I do. That in itself is enough for me. That’s what it’s all about.” Lest one think that is false humility, Wanda is honest enough to admit that while she doesn’t expect awards, she does enjoy receiving them. “I would say this one is probably one of my favorites, right near the top or at the top,” she said. “This is a great organization, a large organization. This ranks with getting a doctorate of humane letters from Keuka College. But every one of them is important. Each and every one. I don’t care if it’s from the local boy scouts or whatever. I’m appreciative of everything, although I don’t strive for that. I’d rather be under the radar.” Polisseni was informed of her award by longtime friend Betty Holt, a former Unsung Hero Award recipient and the executive director of Wanda’s newest endeavor, the Purple Haze Standardbred Adoption Program in Oxford, N.Y. Their relationship dates back to 2004, when Polisseni first got into the racing game as an owner. Her 2-year-old gelding, Smoky Bonz, won at Saratoga. Holt was involved in the breeding of the horse and visited the winner’s circle after the race. A friendship was born. “Whoever called Betty (from the U.S. Harness Writers Association), said it would mean more to me coming from her, and they were right,” Polisseni said. “Smoky Bonz is one of my all-time favorites, I have a huge oil painting of him in my living room and she foaled him. I worked along with her with the breeders and horsemen’s association and I knew without a doubt when I started talking about (the adoption center) that she would be the best one for the executive director. She’s doing a terrific job. So yes, hearing the news from her meant a lot.” The adoption center got underway in earnest last fall and recently placed its first two horses with new owners. There are seven more waiting for new homes in the 20-stall facility and funding has been provided by Polisseni and numerous private donations, “some of which came from people I wouldn’t have expected.” The center must wait between one and two years to petition for grants, but the face lift has been a typical Polisseni operation — first class. “I wanted to freshen it up and add stalls so we’d have more babies available for adoption,” she said. “If I ever wanted to live on a farm again (which is where she grew up), I would love to live on this farm, it’s so beautiful. But that’s not my aspiration. I just want a lot of babies there and a lot of babies to be adopted out.” Polisseni’s other babies can be found in her family-owned Purple Haze Stables, which houses 100 horses. Many have been successful over the years and she feels somewhat chagrined about that but, at the same time, unashamed. “I started in 2004,” she said. “That’s not many years compared to some of these people, these trainers and owners that have been in it for 50 years. I feel a little guilty for the success I’ve had, because they are due. They are long overdue. “But it is what it is. I’m going to take the wins and I’m going to take the losses. I’m happy if my baby comes in fourth or fifth and he’s done the best he can and he’s safe and healthy.” Tending to her babies and overseeing the adoption center is just a fraction of what makes Polisseni special. Showing an unheard of amount of energy for an 80-year-old, the upstate New York icon currently sits on eight different boards, including The Finger Lakes Horsemen Benevolent Protective Association, the Finger Lakes Thoroughbred Adoption Program, and the Harness Horse Breeders of New York. Beyond the business, she is involved with the New York State Trooper Foundation, Thompson Health, St. John Fisher College and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. She refuses to be on any board in name only and makes a firm commitment to each one. Polisseni is the epitome of someone who feels blessed with what they have been given, and truly wants to give back. She is unsung, because she will never sing her own praises. That will be especially true when she receives her honor at the Feb. 23 Dan Patch Awards banquet in Orlando, Fla., where the speech will be short and sweet. “Whenever anything like this comes along with all these organizations and galas, and it has many times in my years, they don’t want to sit there and listen to speeches; they don’t want to be inundated with speech after speech after speech,” Polisseni said. “Some people in the audience can’t relate to those experiences, so why make them have to listen to it? “I might just say a few words. I’ve always done that. I always get up and tell the audience ‘I’m going to make your night. I’m only going to say thank you very much and that’s it.’” She then added with a touch of whimsy, “That’s gone over very well at many of the galas I’ve attended.” For more information about the Dan Patch Awards banquet, visit the U.S. Harness Writers Association’s website. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Trenton, NJ — Just three years shy of age 70, Jim King Jr. is coming off a 2019 harness racing season that could make him the subject of an AARP magazine cover story. The popular trainer conditioned two Dan Patch Award winners in pacing mare Shartin N and 2-year-old female pacer Lyons Sentinel, and Shartin N is one of the favorites for Horse of the Year, which will be announced Feb. 23 at the Dan Patch Awards banquet in Orlando, Fla. The King Stable, where Jim trains alongside wife Jo Ann Looney-King, won a career-record $4.27 million in purses last year, smashing its previous mark of $2.88 million set just one year earlier. He also had a career-best 168 victories and notched career triumph 1,000 in early December at Dover Downs. And in late December, King was named winner of the U.S. Harness Association’s Good Guy Award, which his wife had won previously in 2015. Again, this all happened at age 67. “It’s almost unbelievable,” King said. “These things don’t usually happen to old men; I’ll be 68 next month. Usually that’s on a downwind. And heck, outside of the age number, it doesn’t look to be like it’s going to be anything any different for a time to come.” The reason he’s sticking around is not just because of his recent good fortune. King will be in the barn as long as it’s feasible, no matter how few or many wins he collects. “This is what I always wanted to do to start with,” King said. “(Success) doesn’t want to make me do it any more or less. It doesn’t change anything about me, except I probably smile a lot more.” And this from a guy who is known for smiling a lot. He’s a good-natured, good-hearted soul who people enjoy being around, and he is proud to be known as a Good Guy. “That’s one of those awards that I don’t think the name suits the award,” King said. “It doesn’t sound like as much as it really is. It’s quite a thing to win that award for what it means. Of all the people that could possibly be chosen, I was, and my wife was in the past. I think that’s kind of special. “It’s a lot more than talking to reporters. The reporters get info from other people as well. It’s more than just I took the time. It’s that that other people in the business had good things to say about us. I think that plays into it. We always care about that sort of thing.” They also care about the sport itself, which is why King feels it’s important to serve as an ambassador. Then again, his general character make-up is being nice to those beyond the Standardbred business. He likes people in general. “Absolutely,” he said. “Sometimes my wife teases me about talking to total strangers about the business. She says, ‘They don’t know what you’re talking about.’ I say, ‘That’s OK, some day they will maybe.’ But anything that will catch a person’s ear and make them pay attention to it helps. I think it’s important to be a person that’s approachable, to be outgoing to people in and out of the business. It kind of lays out the way I like my lead my life. It’s not always about the gain. Sometimes it tends to be, but it’s not about the personal gain.” If the gain comes along, however, King won’t argue. With his dynamic duo of Dan Patch Award winners, opportunity knocked with a couple of heavy hooves. “Those are really nice horses, top quality, no doubt,” he said. “I don’t know if it took a genius to get the accomplishments done with them. Fortunately, I got to go along for the ride. They’re just really good horses. With a little luck, maybe we’ll do it again.” He had a known commodity with Shartin N, who had another outstanding season on the heels of her 2018 Dan Patch Award-winning campaign. Shartin N won 15 of 19 races last year at age 6 and earned $982,177 on her way to her second honor as the sport’s top older female pacer. She finished second to pacing stallion McWicked in the voting for 2018 Pacer of the Year and Horse of the Year and is in the hunt for both awards again for 2019. “I was kind of disappointed she didn’t get it last year for whatever it’s worth, but she didn’t,” King said. “It’s hard for a mare to do; it’s got to be even harder for a foreign mare to do. Statistically I felt she had it last year, statistically I feel like she had it this year. I guess it’s not all about the numbers. I’ve never had anything like her before. There’s nothing like having something like her and owning part of a horse like her.” Then there was the newcomer, Lyons Sentinel, who surpassed expectations according to her trainer. She won nine of 14 races, was never off the board, and earned $801,809 to lead all 2-year-olds. “She didn’t just jump out as being the big dog, or being the best,” King said. “But each time I’d race her I would see traits that are very likeable. She liked to race, she’s not necessarily a run-off-and-leave-them type of girl, but she likes to win. Her will was just tremendous along with her ability.” And while that’s all in the recent past, it’s enough to keep King fired up for the immediate future as he is looking for another big year from the two of them and, hopefully, a few other horses who could make names for themselves. “They’re both a year older,” he said. “I’m hoping they both come back just somewhere close to where they were. At present time they both look real good. I’ve started them both back up and they’re very likeable. They kind of put themselves back together after a long year. “I don’t feel like I have any other horse the caliber of those two, but I’ve got a pretty nice bunch of horses as far as the stable goes. It’s exciting.” To hear King talk, last season’s excitement bordered on the sublime. “Things happened you just never felt could possibly happen,” he said. “It’s almost like the sky’s the limit. It’s amazing what you can do in this business. My wife and I lived in a tack room some years ago and then we go and win the Breeders Crown. I like to say I’ve walked every street.” Whether it’s another smooth street or a rocky road this year, King will continue to be a good guy and Jo Ann will remain a good gal. In fact, maybe the two of them should be the AARP cover story. They can safely be termed the “Good Couple” of harness racing. “I guess we are,” King said. “We’ve been together for 44 years now. It’s a real team at the stable. I’ve got quite a crew around here, and the support of my family (including Standardbred TV luminary Heather Vitale). It’s just kind of special. There is no such thing as Jim anymore. It’s Jim and Jo Ann. That’s the way it’s written, and it is definitely by choice.” A choice made by two good people. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent  

In discussing his horse, Sister Sledge, trainer Ron Burke gave a simple but accurate assessment of Friday's $600,000 Breeders Crown 2-year-old filly harness racing trot final at Woodbine Mohawk Park. "Moving forward, I think she's as good as any filly out there, but there are a couple real good ones," Burke said. "The 2-year-old trotting fillies are very solid - a bunch of them actually." This past Friday, Yannick Gingras showed just how deep the field is by driving horses to victory over undefeated opponents in both elimination races. Gingras guided Sister Sledge past previously perfect Hypnotic AM, a 1-5 favorite, in the first elim. He followed by driving Ms Savannah Belle to victory and keeping Ramona Hill out of the winner's circle for the first time. Hypnotic AM was second while Ramona Hill finished third. Gingras will drive Sister Sledge, a daughter of Father Patrick-Behindclosedoors, in the final. The horse, who drew the two-post, has eight wins and has hit the board in all 10 starts this year, winning C$308,852. She will go off right next to Hypnotic AM, who drew post one. A repeat of their exciting elimination battle would be interesting, as Gingras went outside in the homestretch to pass the favorite and win by 1-1/4 lengths. "When I got alongside of her I could tell I had more trot," Gingras said. "It was just a matter of getting to the wire. But I was definitely confident, throughout really. She's a nice filly. The other one is nice too, but I had all the confidence in the world in my filly. With the trip, I thought she would give her a really good run anyway." It was the first setback in eight starts for Hypnotic AM, who has won C$394,582 this season with Brian Sears in the sulky. "She raced good (in the elim)," trainer Marcus Melander said. "She got a little fresh on the lead and Brian had to hold her a little too much. Maybe we need to do some changes for this week, but I think she raced good. You always want to win so you know you're going to draw (post) one to five. She just got a little too fresh on the lead. It was just too much." Hypnotic AM had last raced Sept. 14 in winning the New York Sire Stakes championship. The Chapter Seven-Daydream AM S miss qualified in 1:54.2 in advance of her Crown elimination. "She was very good in her qualifier and I thought she was going to be ready," Melander said. "Maybe this will put her a little bit forward. I still think we have a great filly even if she got beat, and (Sister Sledge) is a good horse. I really like my horse and think she will have a big chance in the final. She gets over the ground so easy. She can do anything; race on any sized track, she's got speed, she's got stamina. She's got everything that a good horse has got to have." In the second elim, not winning proved costly for Ramona Hill, who drew post 10 in the final. Driven by Andy McCarthy, the Muscle Hill-Lock Down Lindy freshman lost for the first time in six starts. "I didn't think she was tracking as good as she has been, so we're going to make a couple of adjustments for the final, but she went a monster trip after Andy got her settled," said trainer Tony Alagna, whose filly has earned C$106,300 this year. "He tried to press out of there a little bit with her, but she wasn't as comfortable, so he just waited on her. She was parked the entire mile first over, so she went a huge mile just to be third. "We'll regroup, but we're very pleased with her. She's a filly we were very high on, but she was very immature and we didn't even know if we'd make it to the Breeders Crown with her at one stage. To be here, and to be in the final, speaks volumes to her quality. She just needed some time. As the year's gotten longer, she's gotten better. We gave her a nice break after the Kindergarten (leg on July 19) and that really seemed to help her. All those things helped her for sure." Winning for the fourth time in eight starts allowed Ms Savannah Belle to earn a post five Friday, setting up what could be a fierce final. As he did with Sister Sledge, Gingras rallied his horse down the homestretch. The filly has hit the board in seven races and won C$216,658 this year. "She was super down in Lexington; we only raced her the first week there, we skipped the second week just to aim her for this and I think she'll be even sharper (in the final)," trainer Per Engblom said of the daughter of Muscle Hill-Stubborn Belle. "I think my filly will do good. She hadn't raced in three weeks; she'll be a little sharper next week. "She's a darling. She's good every time. She had a couple (1:52 miles) in a row. I worried she might be a little short, but Yannick worked out the perfect trip for her, so it was no problem." Engblom has two horses in the final, as Shishito (Father Patrick-Yoga) will go off from the eight hole. "She was third in the first elimination and I think she'll step up and be a little better this week too," the trainer said. "She was very good. She was leaning in the turn a little bit so (driver Dexter Dunn) lost a little ground in the last turn, but then she finished really good in the stretch. We'll try to change her bridle up a little bit to keep her a little straighter. She's such an honest little filly, I just love her. She's nice." Rounding out the final are May Baby (post three), Dip Me Hanover (four), Wine Rack Hanover (six), Madame Sherry (seven) and Violet Stride (nine). Trainer Nifty Norman feels Wine Rack Hanover may be calming down at just the right time. "She's got a big motor, she's just had trouble with her manners all year," Norman said of the Kadabra-Winbak Maya miss. "But she's getting better and better all the time. She was really tough to hang on to; she was really hot. She's starting to work it out. She's got a great attitude. She never gives in. I'm pretty happy with her." Trainer Jim Campbell felt Madame Sherry, a daughter of Father Patrick-Celebrity Angel, "raced OK" in her elimination but echoed most everyone's thoughts about the final. "It's a tough group," Campbell said. "It's a real tough group. She's going to have to step her game up to be better for next week to get money in there, but she's got a chance to go for it, which is better than not being in it." Below is the field for the Breeders Crown 2-year-old filly trot final. PP-Horse-Driver-Trainer 1-Hypnotic AM-Brian Sears-Marcus Melander 2-Sister Sledge-Yannick Gingras-Ron Burke 3-May Baby-James Yoder-James Yoder 4-Dip Me Hanover-David Miller-Linda Toscano 5-Ms Savannah Belle-TBA-Per Engblom 6-Wine Rack Hanover-Sylvain Filion-R. Nifty Norman 7-Madame Sherry-Tim Tetrick-Jim Campbell 8-Shishito-Dexter Dunn-Per Engblom 9-Violet Stride-Tyler Buter-Mark Harder 10-Ramona Hill-Andy McCarthy-Tony Alagna By Rich Fisher, for the Breeders Crown

Trenton, NJ -- David Miller may not be driving one of the more well-known horses in Saturday's (Aug. 3) Hambletonian at The Meadowlands, but he will be driving for one of the more high-profile owners in the race. Miller will be in the sulky behind Reign Of Honor, who has two wins in 21 lifetime races along with four seconds and three thirds. He has won a total of $294,550. This year, Reign Of Honor has one win in the second leg of the New Jersey Sire Stakes in a lifetime best of 1:54.2. He is a son of Father Patrick out of Margarita Momma. While those figures may appear modest when compared to much of the field, the horse will have a pretty famous rooting section at The Meadowlands, as one of his owners is Jennifer Dalton. Fans of Bravo Network will remember Dalton appearing in Pregnant in Heels in 2012 and one year later she was a season-long guest star in The Real Housewives of New Jersey. A friend of Teresa Giudice, one of the show's top stars, Jennifer is also a Sotheby's realtor who appeared on the show while trying to sell a home for Melissa and Joe Gorga, and she counts Lil' Kim as one of her best friends. And when the gate goes up Saturday, Reign Of Honor will have the Housewives on hand to lend vocal support. "All the Housewives crew are going to be there," Dalton said. "The producer wants to do a show with the horses." It's a show that no one would have thought possible just five years ago. Dalton had no interest in horses for most of her life until one day she went to a race at Yonkers, where John Campbell drove her girlfriend's horse. As they were stuck in traffic while leaving, she saw the horse trailers and became obsessed. Rolling down the window she yelled out to a trainer, who happened to be Pat Lachance. He invited her to see the horses and the two became friends. Soon after, she entered the Meadowlands' "Own a Horse" promotion and "won" 10 percent of UF Fast Feelin. Her first race as an owner was Jan. 2, 2016 and she never looked back. In fact, once the contest ended, she claimed the horse. The horse was eventually claimed from Dalton, which broke her heart. "I never owned a claimer again," she said. "I cried." Once Jennifer got involved in Standardbreds, she discovered a different kind of tension than that which occurred amidst the Housewives controversies. "There's drama in both," she said. "But Housewives of New Jersey I got paid. This one, I pay so much money for horses and training, and you just hope you get paid back." Dalton now has a stable of 19 horses at trainer Richard "Nifty" Norman's New Jersey barn. Most of them have something in common -- they honor Jennifer's 5-year-old daughter. "All my horses are named after her," she said. "When you see a 'Reign' somewhere, it comes from us," Dalton's boyfriend Mike Herrera added. Several years ago, Dalton actually brought a horse to Reign's school for show-and-tell. "She had me driving around in a tractor and trailer in Edgewater, N.J., right under the George Washington Bridge," Herrera recalled. Jennifer has completely immersed herself into harness racing. A striking, stylish woman who always looks her best, she surprises folks when they see her cleaning out the stalls. After attending several Hambletonians it became a dream for her to enter a horse in the race. She and Norman staked Reign Of Honor and made the call to enter him. "I'm so happy," said Dalton, who owns the horse with Deo Volente Farms, Tom Pontone, and Kentuckiana Racing Stable. "This horse is so good, he really is. I love this horse." The Hambo is a great morale lifter for Dalton, who suffered a serious stroke at the beginning of last year. She is able to walk and live an everyday life, but is still undergoing speech therapy, and her memory has issues at times. "It was serious, but I'm OK now," she said. Jennifer thinks her horse, who is coming off a sixth-place finish in the Reynolds Memorial and drew the four hole in the second elimination, is pretty OK as well. She and Mike playfully joke about his chances in the Hambo. "You know what, he's a real nice horse, but he's been second to Greenshoe (in the New Jersey Sire Stakes final)," Herrera said. "I don't think we can beat that horse right now. To be honest, I think we're racing for second place." He then directed his conversation to Dalton, saying with a laugh, "You know that; you're a professional, you know that. "A couple of years ago she would have been like 'My horse is the best,' but she realizes the business now, she understands the numbers. I'm just keeping it real." And what is Dalton's version of real? "I want to go for it all!" she said. Either way, it's a big day for the couple. "Imagine," Herrera said, "going from a 10 claimer to a Hambo horse." Sounds like a made-for-TV saga. Mr. Vicktor deserves shot at Hambletonian Tyler Buter doesn't know if his horse can win the Hambletonian, but he knows darn well that he deserves the opportunity to try. Buter will be driving Mr Vicktor out of the five hole in the first elimination Saturday, and he is certain the horse belongs in the field of outstanding competitors. "I thought so early on in the year," Buter said. "They sold him to (trainer) Jennifer Lappe and (husband) John Kokinos and that was the main reason they bought him, to have a horse with the potential to race in the Hambletonian. The only time other than last week that he's been beat was against Gimpanzee, who is one of the top two to win the Hambo in my eyes. When you can keep up and race well against one of the top trotters in the country, there's no reason to believe that he doesn't belong in the Hambletonian." In nine starts this year, Mr Vicktor (RC Royalty-Hawaiian Vicky) has won six and finished second twice. His two seconds were both to Gimpanzee. He made his first Meadowlands start -- in fact, his first start outside of New York -- on July 27 and finished 12th after making a break in the Reynolds. He has rebounded from an abbreviated 2-year-old season, in which he was shut down after breathing issues surfaced. There have been no such issues this season, and Buter felt the Reynolds clunker was an aberration. "He's had a great year; his start last week, I would just throw it out," he said. "It was unfortunate. It was a 12-horse field, two trailers, horses going everywhere in the first turn. It didn't work out. I would not even take that start into consideration and look forward to this week. "He's really good gaited and he has a desire to race. As soon as you turn him to the gate, he wants to go. He's a very willing horse. He's always showed up every week to race." The horse is also owned by Robert Santagata, Diamond Pride LLC (baseball legend Joe Torre) and Joe Lee, and Lee praises the way Buter handles the horse. This will be the driver's Hambletonian debut, although he won the Townsend Ackerman Stakes with Two AM on Hambletonian Day in 2017. "This is something you always look forward to growing up," he said. "It's what you work for. For the trotters, it's the biggest race. It's what you strive for, what you work for all your life. The chance to drive in it at (age) 33 is pretty cool, I think." Forbidden Trade ready for the Hambletonian  Bob McClure won the Dr. John R. Steele Memorial with Dream Together on Hambletonian Day last year, so it was jokingly suggested to him it should be no problem to win his Hambo debut this year. "I wouldn't say that," McClure said with a laugh. "It takes a lot of horsepower and good luck. But it's fun when it does come together." McClure will try and have his fun driving Forbidden Trade out of the one hole in the second elimination. The horse has four wins and two seconds in six starts this year, good for $122,956 in earnings. Last year he won seven of 11 starts and earned $236,244 in winning the O'Brien Award as the top 2-year-old trotting colt of the Year in Canada. The son of Kadabra-Pure Ivory is trained by Luc Blais for owner Serge Godin's Determination Stable. "I don't think he's disappointed anybody yet," McClure said. "He's only been beaten twice. The first time he was on a half (-mile track) and the next time he got locked in. He almost got out to beat Pilot Discretion (in the $185,250 Goodtimes final at Woodbine Mohawk Park). I think every race he's had, he's improved and couldn't be going into the Hambo any better. "I think the sky is the limit for him. He's been a professional from day one. He's made my job easy. If he's in any position to win he usually gets the job done. He's been fun to drive all year. I think he has the potential to be a top Grand Circuit horse." McClure likes Forbidden Trade's versatility, nothing that as a 2-year-old "he just chased horses," and that this year, "out of nowhere in the Goodtimes elim, I left with him. He's very handy either way. He doesn't have a preferred style." On April 25, McClure suffered a broken pelvis in an accident during qualifiers at Woodbine Mohawk Park, and returned to the sulky May 23 using a hyperbaric chamber three to four times a week to aid his recovery. After all that, needless to say Saturday is a big day for the 28-year-old. "It's exciting," he said. "I definitely never would have thought this two years ago. But I wouldn't be here without Determination Stable. That's a big contribution to it all. I owe it all to them." As for whether last year's Steele victory can help him, McClure said, "It doesn't hurt. Last year we went into it kind of green, but came out OK. I think as long as you've got some good horses and some confidence, you'll be OK." ​by Rich Fisher, for the USTA  

Trenton, NJ — Harness racing driver Kiara Morgan’s biggest problem wasn’t winning her first race, but what to do after she won. “I pulled around and I was like ‘I don’t even know what to do. Where’s the winner’s circle? Where do I go?’ Morgan said. “So, I finally pulled around and got our picture and it was cool. I was happy.” This all occurred July 17 at the Washington Court House Fair in Ohio, when the daughter of renowned trainer Virgil Morgan Jr. drove Action Metro Max to victory. It was only her third start and she had taken second in her first two. It didn’t take long to get her second win, which came later in the day with Tail Gunner Hall. Morgan wasn’t too surprised at winning the second, but taking first with Action Metro Max was a bit unexpected. “Max was a little bit lazier and you have to get after him,” she said. “The second one, he’s just a little bit classier of a horse. He’s older too but he wants to race, whereas Metro Max is more of a surprise. But Tail Gunner is really good.” Which might say something about Morgan’s driving skills in that she brought Actin Metro Max from behind and got him to win easily. “He’s 9, so as you would imagine he’s pretty laid back, he’s not going to do anything more than he has to,” Kiara noted. “He wasn’t real quick off the gate. I got away fourth or fifth, it wasn’t a big field and I was pretty far back there. “A little bit after the half, someone right in front of me kind of pulled out to pull up a little bit. I was pulling out at the same exact time. They pulled back in and I went around him. I had qualified that horse at Scioto, I really think after he realized it was a half-mile track instead of a mile, he liked it. He literally just took off. After I pulled him he just said ‘Hey wait a minute’ and he just took off.” From there, Morgan could smell the victory. “I got up next to the person leading,” she said. “I kind of grabbed him up a little, by that time we were almost up to the three-quarter pole and I just let it go. He was real good. After I pulled away, he was just cruising. I was kind of grabbing him up a little because I don’t really like to win by that much, I don’t like to blow him out more than I have to. I remember I got done I was kind of like ‘I didn’t mean to win by that much, but I didn’t want to walk him either.’ I just kind of grabbed him up and let him go at a comfortable pace and he was ahead by quite a bit.” And just like that, the newbie was the winner. It was 20-year-old Kiara Morgans’s first driving win as she took a condition pace with Ken Sommer’s 9-year-old gelding by Metropolitan Action Metro Max in 2:01h for her dad, trainer Virgil Morgan Jr. Our RWTS winner Bill Holley of WCH joined them for the photo. Ohio Harness Horseman Association Photo “Before last year I’d been in a jog cart a handful of times growing up helping my dad,” she said. “Other than that, it’s all really new to me. So, it all happened quick.” It was an eventful day for the 20-year-old, who only began working with dad in December. Virgil Morgan Jr. is No. 2 in training history with 6,411 wins, trailing only Ron Burke. He is No. 8 in purses with $56 million. Despite Virgil’s success and notoriety in Ohio, Kiara wasn’t immediately sold on the harness racing game. But she got her first horse at age 7. “I always had a huge passion,” she said. “I’d ridden and shown horses my whole life, so I’ve always been around them, but I’ve always been riding and showing them and going to all kind of shows and stuff. I would come out maybe in the summer, my dad would jog with me and my brother (Trey). His training center is 12 minutes from the house and I’d maybe been there a handful of times.” By last November, however, she began to feel the urge to see what harness racing was all about. Virgil was reluctant at first but when he got a few more horses he relented in December. “I just started jogging, gradually he would put me on the training sheets,” Kiara said. “Every day I got more experience. It happened really quick. The reason I decided to try to get my license was we had heard about the (Ladies Driving Series); I thought that would be cool with all girls. I qualified a few and now I’m doing the lady pace thing. That’s where that all started.” Once again, Morgan was back in the world of racing. Only this time, someone else was doing the running. As a student at Grove City High School, Kiara was a standout on a formidable track and field team that was Southwest Ohio’s top team during her time there. She ran the 100, 200 and 400 and had success, but is modest about it. “I’m not going to say too much about that,” she said. “I won some races, but I don’t remember the specifics.” Kiara just knew she was having fun, because she was competing. “I’ve always loved to race,” she said. “I remember being a little kid, we’d get all the neighborhood kids together, and my dad would literally have a race around the house. Ever since I was little I liked to race. Track became a big part of my life in high school.” Upon graduation she attended Columbus State College and this summer she transferred to Fortis College in order to study radiology. While she would love to make a career of harness racing, Virgil has made her understand she needs something to fall back on just in case. But rest assured, racing is in her blood at the moment. When asked to equate the thrill of running a 400-meter event or driving a horse on a fairgrounds track, Kiara said there’s no comparison. She came to that realization after her Ladies Driving Series debut race at the Wilmington (Clinton County) Fair on July 9. “When I got off the track from my first race, I didn’t win, I got beat by a neck,” she said. “Those girls are extremely competitive. I remember I got off the track and I was so happy. It’s like a high you don’t get from anything else. I was parked the whole mile and I still came out and I was smiling from ear to ear. It’s a feeling like really no other I ever felt before. You’re controlling an animal, you’ve got to make decisions in split seconds and stuff. It’s really a different feeling.” As much as she loves it, Morgan knows she has to get that college degree in order to have security. “I’m going to be honest, I don’t really like school and I have to force myself to do it,” she said. “I thought about not doing it before and just trying to do the horses. But school’s really important to my dad so I always have a safety net. It takes a lot to be extremely successful with the horses, I want to have a fallback, a definite career income. “But racing pulls my heart a lot. Everyone’s always like “Aww you’ll find something that you want to do, what you love.’ I tell them ‘I know exactly what I want to do!’ I’ve known this all while I was growing up, but it’s just the fact you never really know how successful you’re going to be. I don’t want to jump into horses and end up having nothing.” So instead of diving into the pool, she is wading into it slowly. Her mindset is that she will see where driving takes her, but always have an alternate plan. In the meantime, Morgan has one of the best tutors a girl can find in her father. “Oh gosh, everything I know, it all comes from him,” she said. “He says every time I go on the track just learn something new. Obviously I’m going to make a lot of mistakes. He says every time you’re out there, learn from my mistakes, learn something new especially. Me and my brother claimed one ourselves, I’m learning all about what to do to help the horse itself. He’s always telling me to watch the grooms and ask questions. We have the greatest help in the world, they’ve all made an impact on me and are teaching me new things.” And while Virgil is a little cautious about throwing his girl right into the fire, that hasn’t stopped him from enjoying her early successes in the sulky. “It’s funny, after my first win somebody said ‘How many pictures are you going to get,’” Kiara said. “My dad never gets pictures of himself, but he got four win pictures that day just to make sure everybody had one.” Thank goodness she found out where to go. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Trenton, NJ — Jessica Smith attended last year’s Standardbred Horse Sale in Harrisburg by herself for the first time. She was given a friendly reminder by husband Randy to purchase a trotter or pacing colt, since the Smiths already had several pacing fillies. So, of course, she brought home a pacing filly. “It was the first year my husband wasn’t with us picking out horses,” Jessica said. “I looked at all the babies myself. She really stuck out to me. When I first saw her, I was like, ‘Wow, oh my God.’ Just the look about her, she wasn’t too big, she wasn’t too small.” She was, however, a pacing filly named Sweet Style. “I kind of got a little bit of crap when I got her,” Smith said with a laugh. “My husband told me to come home with a trotter or a pacing colt. We already had a bunch of pacing fillies and I came home with a pacing filly sooo. . .” So, the $13,000 buy has turned out to be a pretty nice purchase if two races are any indication. On June 26, Smith’s first start as a trainer was Sweet Style’s first start behind the gate. It was an evening of sweet debuts as Mike Oosting drove the 2-year-old to a come-from-behind victory in 1:56 at Harrah’s Hoosier Park. Randy was not at the race but phoned in pre-race instructions to Oosting. “He had driven her in the qualifier, he kind of gave Mike a heads up on where she was at as far as experience wise,” Smith said. “She had one qualifier and we schooled her before. “With that he sent her off the gate, she got away real good out of the six hole. He got her in a hole, she paced along with the fillies that were leading, coming up the stretch he popped the hole. Trace Tetrick (driving Western Sierra) had a few lengths on her at the head of the stretch and she dug in and won by a neck. It was close, I didn’t even know at first that I had even won until it popped up on the screen. That was pretty exhilarating.” As it should have been, considering the circumstances surrounding the race, along with the fact that Smith absolutely loves Sweet Style, a Sweet Lou filly out of 2005 O’Brien Award winner Style. It got even better when the two made their second start together July 9, as Sweet Style won in 1:55.2. “She’s got some class in her pedigree,” Smith said. “I’m just a complete fan of Sweet Lous; I’d definitely buy another one. The work ethic, the attitude (of Sweet Style) is just amazing. She’s very tough on the track and she’s just a very, very nice filly.” And it didn’t take long for Randy to become a fan. “My husband and I have worked with her all winter,” Smith said. “We were taking things very slowly, trying to be very cautious so she doesn’t get injured or anything like that. Once we started training her down he was very happy for sure.” Just as Jessica is happy in her new career, which took root 10 years ago when she first met Randy. Prior to that, Standardbreds had always been an interest for Smith growing up in Maine. Her family owned several acres and Jessica grew up riding event horses in shows. While she enjoyed doing that, what really got her blood moving was when her mom took Smith to nearby Lewiston Raceway to watch harness racing and she fell in love with a horse. “I asked my mom about claimers, and she’s like ‘Yeah if you have the money, you put the money down and you claim the horse,’” Smith recalled. “I said ‘Well can you claim this one for me?’ I was probably 7 or 8 and I wanted a racehorse. I used to try to get her to claim that horse. It’s just one of those things that sticks with you.” Not surprisingly, her mom didn’t think claiming a horse for an 8-year-old was a good idea, and the dream drifted into hibernation. Jessica went to college and became a certified operating room nurse, and also continued to ride show horses. In 2009 she met Randy, a lifelong horseman who trained and drove Standardbreds. With horses as a common interest, the two started dating and Jessica’s urge to be part of the business resurfaced. She began helping Randy out and in 2016, the couple moved to Ohio in order to race year-round. Jessica got a per diem job at a hospital where she could select limited hours in order to help out more in the barn. Randy’s daughter Kristina — who also recently got her first training win — eventually left her dad to go out on her own. Jessica left nursing to begin working the stables full-time a year ago. It was basically a case of protecting her investments, as well as looking after her two children, ages 6 and 9. “When you own the horses, you don’t have a steady paycheck coming in and you’re more invested in trying to do well and making sure your horses are getting the right care,” Smith said. “You want to know that the overall barn management stuff is being taken care of.” Jessica got her trainer’s license last September and her driving license soon after. She finished third in her lone driving start so far, as her opportunities are limited due to managing the barn while Randy is away. The stable, under the moniker of Randy Smith Racing, is located at the Greene County Fairgrounds in Xenia, Ohio. It contains 13 racing horses, three broodmares, two babies and a yearling. And while being a trainer might seem light years away from being a nurse, Jessica feels there are some common aspects. “I think that a lot of it is time management for both of them,” she said. “You’re trying to get through your day, making sure your I’s are dotted, you’re T’s are crossed. There’s a lot of similarities in handling an operating room and managing a barn.” But surely there is more pressure when someone’s life is in your hands? “Yes and no,” Smith said. “When you’re training a horse, you have to make sure they’re trained properly. You’re really putting that driver’s life in your hands and the other drivers on the track. You’ve got to make sure the horse is safe, that you’re rigged right. You need to pay attention to what you’re doing and know your horse. “The biggest thing is knowing your horses, where to put them, where to classify them. My husband and I talk about all the horses, get the team together and plan where is the best fit for this horse this week; and honestly where the best place we can make money. We don’t have owners, it’s on us. We don’t have an income coming in other than what we’re making.” Which is one of the big differences between nursing and training. “It’s definitely stressful when you don’t have a guaranteed paycheck coming in,” Smith said. “That can be completely stressful. As a nurse I know the hours I put in I’m getting paid for.” The bright side, of course, is that Jessica loves her life in the barn. “Most definitely,” she said.   by Rich Fisher USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Trenton, NJ — A major aspect of Frank Sinatra’s famed legacy is how he nearly died at birth, won a fierce battle for his life and continued to scrap all the way through a legendary singing/acting career. Lather Up seems to be taking the same journey, only with four legs. He was nearly a breech birth before being saved by Kevin Switzer, Brenda Teague and Switzer’s wife, Denise McNitt. Ever since, he has been battling his way to success, much like Ol’ Blue Eyes. “What did he sing, ‘I Did It My Way?’” Lather Up’s co-owner Gary Iles asked. “Maybe Lather is doing the same thing. He’s doing it his way.” And what a way it is. After struggling through another near-death situation as a 2-year-old, Gary and Barbara Iles’ homebred son of stallion I'm Gorgeous out of their homebred mare Pocket Comb has been recording some real chart toppers. This past Saturday, across the bridge from New York, New York in Sinatra’s home state of New Jersey, the 4-year-old stallion won the $250,000 Graduate Series final at The Meadowlands by equaling the all-time mile record of 1:46. Always B Miki set the mark at age 5 at Red Mile three years ago. He also broke the previous 4-year-old pacer mark of 1:46.4, previously shared by Warrawee Needy and Dr J Hanover. It is a heck of a way for Lather Up, trained by Clyde Francis of the George Teague Jr. Stable and driven by Montrell Teague, to head into Saturday’s (July 13) $423,000 William R. Haughton Memorial at the Meadowlands. “I just couldn’t believe the fractions when they were coming up,” Iles said. “Especially (1):19.1 coming home. I must say I had so much confidence when I saw him tip out (from second place). He just comes home like a freight train. I thought ‘Well, we’re going to be close or we’re going to win this thing.’ “You never know what’s going to happen, anything can happen. But it was really exciting. It didn’t sink in about the (1):46 until I was talking to someone later and he was telling me what had transpired. You try to hear it over the loudspeaker sometimes, and everybody is screaming down the stretch, it’s pretty hard to understand what they were saying. It was quite a surprise. We’ve been blessed, there’s no doubt about it.” Some might say they were cursed as recently as two years ago. After surviving his harrowing entry into life, Lather Up won three times on the Ohio Sires Stakes circuit and was prepping for the series championship. But a near-fatal reaction to antibiotics sent the horse to the New Bolton Center in another dire circumstance. “That was probably the most heart-pumping situation we were in,” Iles said. “George (Teague) told me not to worry about it, and New Bolton told me if he makes it through the night, he might have a chance. I said, ‘Oh Lord,’ but it worked out, he came out of it, but it ended his 2-year-old career.” Hopefully, it ended his health woes as well. Lather Up returned with a vengeance as a 3-year-old, winning his first three races while setting a track-record of 1:50 in a division of the Ohio Sires Stakes at Miami Valley Raceway. He finished the season with 11 wins in 18 races and $893,512 after conquering some steering issues. His victories included the North America Cup and Ohio Sires Stakes championship. Lather Up and Montrell Teague winning the 2018 Pepsi North America Cup “We basically changed the bit and it made a big difference in him; a very big difference,” Iles said. “That was basically it.” This year, there have been some problems with breaks, but that hasn’t stopped Lather Up from taking five firsts and one third in eight starts. “We’re not sure exactly what’s causing it,” Iles said. “It’s something that just throws him off. Sometimes it’s hard to figure these things out, but that’s been our only problem with him. Every time you do a little bit more, you try to pinpoint it and see exactly what the problem is.” The owner will be hoping for a problem-free trip Saturday in the 12-horse, 1-1/8 mile Haughton. The field includes 2018 Horse of the Year McWicked, the 5-2 morning-line favorite. Lather Up is 3-1. Iles is happy with drawing the five post and has no concern about the race’s added distance. “That’s the least of our worries,” he said. “He was in a 12-horse field for the first leg of the Graduate (at the 1-1/8 mile distance) and he saw the tape and stormed home. He had to come across the track to come home and he handled it very well.” So, what’s the most of his worries? “You just hope nothing goes wrong, and you don’t have to stack him up somewhere and get him caught in a situation where he might make a break,” Iles said. “We don’t think so, but it’s happened in the past and hopefully it won’t happen here. We’re realistic.” He is also optimistic. Iles praised the field of horses, noting that when Lather Up made his record-setting run he “was only two ticks faster than the other group of two or three in there. This is some super racing and there are some super horses. You have to give them their due.” That said, he still feels Lather up has as good a shot as any of them to win the race. “Absolutely,” Iles said. “We’re trying to get the breaks straightened out, it’s frustrating. George has been telling me for two years, this horse can go in (1):46, I’ve never had a horse that’s ever been this fast, but you have to control their head and whatever else is going on with them. “But George would tell you he’s maturing. We’re starting to get a few things worked out, the things you thought were wrong, you’ve already discarded them moving forward so I think we are moving in the right direction. We’re very, very happy. He trained super (on Wednesday). Hopefully this can carry through until Saturday. You just cross your fingers and see what happens.” After all the obstacles Lather Up has faced in his young life, the fact he is headed in any direction at all is impressive. It’s no surprise Iles has a special spot in his heart for the horse. “I don’t know how you could not,” he said. “After everything that has happened to him, after those problems, he’s just been a real delight. The chance of having another horse like this in your lifetime is probably so small.” Sinatra’s parents probably said the same thing once he made it big. Saturday’s 13-race card at The Meadowlands also includes the Meadowlands Pace for 3-year-old pacers, the Hambletonian Maturity for 4-year-old trotters, divisions of the Stanley Dancer Memorial and Del Miller Memorial for 3-year-old male and female trotters, Mistletoe Shalee for 3-year-old female pacers, Golden Girls for older female pacers, and a leg of the Miss Versatility Series for older female trotters. Racing begins at 7:15 p.m. (EDT). For Saturday’s complete entries, click here. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Trenton, NJ — As he looks ahead to his 2,500th career driving win, harness racing driver John DeLong also took time to look back on a year of extreme highs and lows; and feels blessed to be back on a big-time high. On June 2, 2018, DeLong and fiancée Tabby Canarr had what John termed “a life changing experience,” in a good way when their baby Jessica was born. Just over five months later, DeLong was on the opposite end of the emotional scale when he suffered what could have been another life changer in a truly bad way. Fortunately, a worst-case scenario never occurred. There was a seven-week bout with pain and apprehension and, while that was certainly unpleasant, it was not life-altering enough to end the talented driver’s career. He has recovered with a vengeance and currently is tied for first place with Sam Widger in the Harrah’s Hoosier Park drivers’ standings with 113 wins. He celebrated Jessica’s first birthday 19 days ago and is just nine victories shy of getting halfway to 5,000. “Things are really good for me right now,” DeLong said. But for a seven-week stretch, an uncertain future loomed due to an incident that occurred while working in his Anderson, Ind. barn last Nov. 6. “We were putting hobbles on a yearling for the first time and I got kicked in the face,” DeLong said. “It was just kind of a freak deal. I’ve trained colts ever since I can remember. Me and my three brothers all trained colts with my dad (Jay) growing up. That’s just the risk you take, I guess. It actually caught us by surprise. Well, me anyway. I was picking up a back leg, and got cow kicked. I got hit on the left side of the face, broke my cheekbone and the orbital bone in my left eye.” With some such mishaps, the pain is so severe a person goes into shock and doesn’t feel it, or at least is knocked unconscious. DeLong had no such “luck.” “I didn’t get knocked out and I didn’t get a concussion, but the pain was unbelievable,” he said. “I had that pain all the way to the hospital. It was pretty bad.” Upon arriving at the emergency room, he was referred to an ear, nose and throat surgeon. Until that visit, 1,000 thoughts ran through John’s mind. “When I first got hurt, I was pretty down for a while,” he said. “My eye was swollen shut. But after my appointment with the doctor, I felt a lot better. I really didn’t know what was going to happen there for a while. I had quite a bit of damage.” That’s like Warren Buffett saying he has quite a bit of money — a huge understatement. DeLong underwent surgery to have two plates and eight screws inserted into his face and a very tender eye. There was ample nerve damage and he needed to have all his sinuses rebuilt (he goes back to the doctor in three weeks to see if another surgery will be needed to remove a plate). Once the operations were completed, DeLong was confined to his home for a month, “because they said I had the chance of losing my eye if it got infected.” Shortly before Christmas, John got his doctor’s clearance and the first thing he wanted to do was work on a trotting filly named GD Lone Survivor, who he had invested ample time in before the accident. Her maiden start came on the day he got kicked in the face, and her first few races were not up to DeLong’s expectations. Armed with a newly designed mud apron to help knock down some of the dirt in his face, he trained GD Lone Survivor at his farm. “I wanted to make sure if I took some dirt to the face a little bit, I would be able to take it,” he said. “I didn’t want my face to be sore or tender. Then I went to Cleveland (Northfield Park) and drove her and she finished second, trotted three seconds faster than she had been so I was pretty happy about that. It was good to get that out of my system and kind of get back on the horse.” He was not rushing into anything, however, and took it easy through the winter. Upon returning to driving, DeLong opened in Ohio. “I had a slow start when I first started back,” he said. “It probably isn’t the best stock over there but it’s OK. I wanted to ease myself back into racing so when we got to Hoosier I was ready to roll. It’s been good so far, no complaints. Stakes season is starting to get going here. Hopefully we’ll catch a couple good colts.” John DeLong drove Homicide Hunter, the future world-record-setting trotter, at ages 2 and 3.      (Linscott Photography). In 639 driving starts this year, DeLong has won 116, placed in 93 and finished third in 82. In 55 training starts he has nine firsts, seven seconds and seven thirds. There have been few remnants to remind him of his misfortune. “To be honest, it’s a lot better than I thought,” he said. “I had a very good doctor; he was very confident in what could be done.” As for his impending milestone, John was low key when asked if they mean something. “The big ones do,” he said. “I’m the first person in our family to race horses professionally as a full-time career. These are something that probably down the road I’ll sit back and be pretty proud of what I’ve done. Right now it’s just kind of day by day and night by night. You just have to do the best you can. Every night you get in the truck and go to the track. If things are going good and you’re doing things right, those things will come.” They have been coming in bunches since he made the move to Hoosier Park four years ago. A Wisconsin native who grew up learning the ropes under his dad, DeLong got his first win in 2005 driving Fox Valley Bono, a horse trained by his uncle “Bo” (William). He won the driving title at Running Aces during its inaugural 2008 season at the ripe old age of 19. After making a name for himself at the Chicago area tracks, John moved to Indiana in 2015 and built a 36-stall barn and a half-mile racetrack on 35 acres that sits just two miles from Hoosier Park. He and Jay owned two stellar horses that encouraged him to make the move. “Homicide Hunter was a 3-year-old and he was one of the driving forces in getting me to do it,” said DeLong, who drove the future world-record-setting trotter at ages 2 and 3. “I knew if I had a good horse to follow and get me going I should do it. Seventimesavirgin was a 2-year-old then, and when Seven was a 3-year-old, it just launched.” Seventimesavirgin, a DeLong family homebred, won the Indiana Sire Stakes championship as a 3-year-old and was a Breeders Crown starter at age 4. (Dean Gillette photo). Seventimesavirgin, a DeLong family homebred, won the Indiana Sire Stakes championship as a 3-year-old and was a Breeders Crown starter at age 4. She is racing this year and will then begin breeding. Since driving predominantly at Hoosier Park, DeLong has won more than 1,200 races and $14 million. Needless to say, he’s happy to have made the move. “Absolutely,” DeLong said. “I honestly don’t know what I’d be doing at this point if I hadn’t moved down here. I bought a farm, built a track and a barn and I live right on the farm. It’s kind of everything coming full circle. When I was a kid, I always wanted my own farm and wanted to catch drive and stuff like that, and now I’m doing it all.” Can it get any better? Sure it can. On Nov. 16, the Saturday after he is done racing for the season, DeLong and Tabby will be getting hitched. Which will be a lot more fun than it was getting kicked just one year earlier. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Trenton, NJ — On June 28, 2011, popular horse owner and breeder Mike Sorentino Sr. — whose good friends included former Yonkers Raceway General Manager Bob Galterio and Yonkers Racing Secretary Steve Starr — passed away at age 74. His spirit, though, lives on in the winner’s circle to this day. Miss U Big Mike, a horse bred and owned by Irwin “Cookie” Kaplan, a close friend of Sorentino, has picked up 17 victories in 59 career races since making his debut at the Indiana fairs in 2017. The 4-year-old pacer’s most recent triumph came May 26 at Harrah’s Philadelphia. He races again Sunday (June 9) at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. Cookie, who was tagged with that nickname because he weighed just two pounds at birth, is also an owner who sends his quality retired racehorses to Indiana for Alvin Schwartz to breed. He has been in the Standardbred business for 40 years, starting with Rolls Royce Stables, a successful operation at Yonkers. The name had to be changed when the auto company sued him, and evolved into Cookie N Mo Stables, and is now Mo Coo Inc. Stables. Mo is his wife Ellie, who picked up her nickname from a cousin who used to call her Elmo. Kaplan began shipping horses from New York to Indiana for breeding purposes several years ago. When the first foal arrived in 2014, he was stuck for a name. His daughter inspired the South Bronx, N.Y., native to call it Pops Pool Room, a popular hangout in his hometown. When Sorentino died, Cookie paid tribute to his friend with the moniker Miss U Big Mike, a 2015 foal by He’s Gorgeous out of Ready To Rumba. “We met at Yonkers,” said Kaplan, who will turn 80 in October. “His son (Michael Jr.) trained for me and drove for me at the time and we became friends. We still stay in contact with his wife Sadie. I talk to Michael every few months. Little Mike is like my own son. He and his dad were very close and we became like family. “Mike Sorentino was old school. We are the same way. We’ll give you the shirt off our back — just don’t take it.” Kaplan illustrated just what he meant by that when he would visit Yonkers with his wife. “He was a real big shot at Yonkers,” Cookie said. “He would send someone over with a bottle of Dom Perignon, and I would send it back. He was like that; and people took advantage of him because of his good nature. I can’t do that. I can’t sponge off anybody. So, whatever he did, I did. If he gave me something, I gave it back.” Those were the days when Cookie went to the track. He has given that up, however, preferring to watch races from home. For him, it is basically about the bottom line. “I don’t make too much of this,” he said. “To me, it’s a job, that’s how I look at it. I don’t want to socialize. It’s a business, I just want to do my job to the best of my ability. “I don’t even know how I got to know what I know. Growing up in the South Bronx there wasn’t a horse in sight. I just did a lot of research through trainers.” And he leaves the betting window for others to use. Miss U Big Mike paid $44.80 in his first pari-mutuel win at Hoosier Park. Asked if he bet on him, Cookie said, “I don’t gamble. All I want to do is win and get purse money.” Asked what Big Mike would have thought of the horse, Kaplan laughed and said, “He might bet on him.” While Kaplan did not collect any wagering winnings from that victory, he does have the win photo on his wall. Miss U Big Mike’s career wins include last season’s Indiana Sired Fair Circuit Championship. The horse shipped east following that victory last August. “He’s just a horse that wants to win,” Kaplan said about the gelding, who has earned $97,582. “He’s like his mother. They’re athletes, they’re racehorses, they just want to win. He’s up in class now, he paced the fastest of his whole life the past two starts; he paced in 1:51.2. He’s a special horse to me because I bred him and because he’s named after our close friend.” A friend with which he accumulated plenty of memories with over the years. But don’t get too curious, as they will remain private recollections. “There’s a lot of stories,” Kaplan said. “But I couldn’t tell you them because if you put them in print, forget about it.”   by Rich Fisher USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Trenton, NJ — At this year’s U.S. Harness Writers Association’s Dan Patch Awards banquet, retired trainer Jerry Silverman was recognized for his upcoming induction into the harness racing "Hall of Fame". He concluded his speech with a little old-fashioned, grandfatherly pride. “Watch out for a new one on the market, a young fella named Brett Beckwith,” Silverman said. “Watch out. He’s here to stay.” When Silverman’s grandson got a look at the speech, it took him aback, but in a good way. “When I saw that I was actually pretty shocked,” Beckwith said. “It was really nice of him to say that. He definitely didn’t have to. So, I guess I’ve got to just live up to what he said now.” He started doing just that in a May 16 North American Amateur Drivers Association trotting event at Yonkers Raceway. The 16-year-old guided Dark Pool to an 8-1/2 length win in 1:56 for his first victory in just three tries. After sitting third through the first quarter, Beckwith took the lead by the halfway point and never looked back. “I pulled right around the three-eighths and my plan was to wait a little longer,” he explained. “The longer I could sit and not have to use him the better. But he apparently wanted to go and the field was starting to slow down, so I wanted to pressure the guy on the top. I went to the front and he drove himself pretty much. He’s a good horse. “I was pretty happy (going across the line) just because it was only my third amateur drive. Before that I only had 19 qualifiers.” It was an impressive win considering he defeated three former National Amateur Driver of the Year winners in the race. “I definitely knew there was some good competition in that race,” Beckwith said. “Not only the drivers but there were some other legit horses as well.” Dark Pool is trained by family friend Paul Fusco, who put Beckwith down after he drove him to a second place finish two weeks earlier. “He was really solid,” said Beckwith, who is engagingly well-spoken at such a young age. “I knew he was good enough to win those races because he was around 13 lengths from the field last week. I got stuck behind two breakers and he finished a charging second. We don’t have many trotters that fit that race (at Yonkers) and his horse seemed to fit the race pretty well.” Although he’s just 16, he’s wise enough to know the key to driving a sulky. “Good horses,” he said. “Good horses make you look good.” Brett Beckwith turned 16 in January and quickly got his qualifying license. Beckwith’s simple wisdom comes from a family steeped in knowledge. Along with his granddad, there’s his dad, Mark, who has more than 5,600 driving wins; his mom, Melissa (Silverman’s daughter), who has more than 1,700 training wins and is currently Saratoga’s leading trainer in both wins and purses; and his uncle, trainer/driver Richie Silverman, who has nearly 2,000 driving wins. Yet with all this heritage behind him, Brett spent the first 14-1/2 years of his life dismissing harness racing as a passing fancy. It wasn’t until a trip to The Meadowlands that things changed. “I definitely grew up around it, but I really didn’t start getting into it until around June of last year,” he said. “For some reason it kind of clicked when I watched this one race. It wasn’t actually the race itself. I was with my grandfather at the Meadowlands that day for a horse that my uncle was racing and something about just watching those guys drive there, it clicked something in my brain. That’s when I realized I definitely wanted to do this. “I’d been to the Meadowlands before, so it wasn’t that. I don’t really know. It was just watching that one race I guess. My outlook changed and I wanted to learn a lot more about it.” Brett spent last summer learning all he could. He went from just puttering around the stable for fun during weekends, to immersing himself into jogging, training, warming up horses and eventually training in the race bike. A former basketball player, he gave up the sport in this, his sophomore year at Saratoga Springs High School, in order to work out at the gym six days a week. “It definitely helps,” Beckwith said. “There’s really no way to work out the muscles you use when you drive. It’s a completely different muscle group and you can only get stronger by doing it more. But it definitely helps to be in athletic shape. And trainers like a guy with strength.” Brett turned 16 in January and quickly got his qualifying license. His first qualifying race was in February and he immediately knew he made the right choice. “There’s really nothing to compare to the adrenaline rush you get driving,” he said. “Once I realized that when I was out there for the first time, it definitely clicked.” Asked what Mark and Melissa thought, Brett said, “They’d probably rather see me do something else, but they still respect my decisions. They’re not going to discourage me from doing it.” Now that he’s on a mission, Brett taps Mark and Richie for all the info he can get. “My dad gives me a lot of tips and tricks for what to do and what not to do when you’re out there,” he said. “I talk to my Uncle Richie a lot. He’s definitely been a huge help as well. He comes to support me, calls me after races. He always gives me the positive side of things. “My dad helps my mom with the horses too, training-wise. Between her and him, I have a lot of opportunities because of the amount of horses we have. It helps a lot. It’s not like I have one qualifier every month, I’m able to almost qualify a horse a week and drive a lot of different horses to learn off of. Every horse is different.” And while Melissa’s driving input is limited since she strictly trains, she does help with another form of driving. A harness racing soccer mom, so to speak. “If we go to Yonkers, she’s the one getting us there,” Brett said. “She’s the one who’s taking me places. That’s a pretty important role.” And then, of course, there is the Hall of Famer. He also doesn’t drive, but still has an impact. “My grandfather is definitely an important role model,” Beckwith said. “Even if I forget to tell him that I’m qualifying or that I’m driving in a race, he always knows how I did and he’s always asking me what I did right and what I did wrong; and what he thought. He’s always giving me the positive side of things as well.” With so much experience to draw from, it’s no surprise that Brett has received an accelerated education in the business. “I definitely feel like I’ve learned a lot,” he said. “All the little things that there are. So many little things that helped. I definitely learned a lot in that respect. I wouldn’t have it any other way.” He also realizes that no matter what he learns from his family, his greatest lessons will come from his own experiences. “I’ve made some errors but you’ve got to fail to succeed anyway,” he said. “You’re going to make mistakes, it’s more about owning up and knowing what you did wrong, versus trying to just push it past. You’ve got to know what you did wrong and then move forward. But it helps having my dad, that’s for sure. Anything he tells me I always definitely listen up.” Brett also credits his high school buddies for firmly supporting him and showing interest in his career. He lauded four drivers who he looks up to — Hall of Famer Wally Hennessey, Jordan Stratton, Billy Dobson, and Mark MacDonald. The Beckwiths live in Wilton and are stabled at Saratoga. And while Brett already has a career goal, he is thinking about attending Hudson Valley Community College after high school. “I would be able to pick my hours,” he said, “so I could manage to drive full time at Saratoga and still go to college those two years just to have something to fall back on.” Brett’s long-range plans are to strictly catch drive. As for the immediate future, he wants to continue qualifying in order to keep learning. He hopes to drive in a June 8 amateur race at Saratoga and is scheduled for a June 13 race at Yonkers. And then there is July 7, when he plans on driving at Historic Track in Goshen, N.Y., also the home of the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame. It’s a day three generations will all come together, as Jerry Silverman’s Hall of Fame induction is that night. “I’m going to the dinner and earlier that day I’m going to drive in the fair races so he can see me drive,” Brett said. “He’s never seen me drive in person before so this will be the first time. He’s a big supporter. It means a lot.” It also raises the question — does Beckwith feel pressure to succeed coming from such a distinguished harness racing family? “I just think of it as a challenge to achieve,” he said. “I mean, I try not to stress myself out or put pressure on myself, just because you’re going to make more mistakes if you do that. The biggest thing I try to do is keep a level head and be humble.” Listening to his next statement, he certainly is achieving that goal. “It’s kind of just, you put a plan in place, and try to achieve it,” he said. “But I know I wouldn’t be anywhere right now if it wasn’t for the people behind me.” Hopefully they will be behind him for a long time. According to one knowledgeable source, he’s here to stay. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Trenton, NJ — It is safe to say emotions have run the gamut for 18-year-old Zack Gray over the past year. On June 10, 2018, his dad, popular trainer/driver Bobby Gray, passed away at age 56 — shortly before Father’s Day. Flash forward to this past Saturday (May 11) at Saratoga Casino Hotel, the night before Mother’s Day. As sad as things were 11 months earlier, they were that joyous for the family when Zack earned his first harness racing driving win in his 36th start. Making it more special is that he won driving Cool Jack, a pacer that his his mom, Sheryl, co-owns with Joe Facin Jr. and David Faile. “It was pretty good because I figured that’s what (my dad) wanted me to do,” Gray said. “It felt good, but it was a little sad too. I know my mom was pretty happy.” That’s an understatement. “It was the best Mother’s Day present,” Sheryl said. “But it was exciting because it has been Zack’s dream since he was a little boy. Friday was a rough day for us as it was (exactly) 11 months since my husband’s passing. Zack’s Nana Gray and uncle had just drove from Florida and were there for the weekend. Zack is very well-liked and everyone was cheering for him at the home stretch.” Zack nearly got his first win last November with Cool Jack, missing by a neck in a third-place finish. On Saturday, the tandem had to come from behind, with Zack coolly taking advantage of fast early fractions as the leaders reached the opening quarter-mile in :27.1 and the half in :55.1. “I was sitting last at the quarter pole,” Gray said. “I saw the fractions and I thought, this is going to work out good because my horse absolutely flies home. I took the lead around the last turn and I won by three (and a half lengths). I was pretty happy. It was pretty good.” As he crossed the finish line in 1:54.3, Zack looked up and pointed his whip skyward in a salute to his dad who, like his son, was also well-liked and respected. “It took my dad a long time to win his first race and I think he’d be proud of me to accomplish it earlier than he did,” Zack said. “I knew mine would come at some point. You’ve just got to be patient.” Bobby Gray was licensed in 1982 and was a career amateur driver. He competed in the C.K.G. Billings Series and in amateur races predominantly in Maine. He also ran a small stable and amassed 189 wins, 183 seconds and 169 thirds in 1,412 lifetime starts. Those finishes pocketed $564,166 in purses. Perhaps his biggest legacy was doing all he could to care for his horses, and always being there to help his colleagues at the track. He apparently passed that trait on to family members, who were his number-one priority. “He was also well liked in the harness world,” Sheryl said. “Zack sure follows his footsteps in that aspect.” Bobby took his son under his wing and Zack remembers jogging his first horse at age 5. “I loved it right away,” he said. The family sold its stable in 2012 and soon moved from Maine to Saratoga. Bobby went to work for Jimmy Nickerson and Zack tagged along. “I didn’t really start working for somebody until two years ago,” he said. “I always helped my dad. I started working for Dave Spagnola and I worked there for a while.” Bobby became a huge supporter when Zack started driving, and early on some more emotions churned up. “He was always there when I started qualifying,” Gray said. “When I qualified a week after he died, it was kind of different. But I know that’s where he wanted me to be.” Zack Gray earned his first driving win in his 36th start on May 11 with Cool Jack. Melissa Simser-Iovino photo. Zack has driven Cool Jack in all but two of his starts since last November. He is trained by Amanda Facin, Joe’s daughter. “He’s been a good little horse for me; he’s a cool little horse,” Gray said. “And the people who help me out in the barn are just wonderful people. The Facin family helped me out with buying the horse and they’ve been there ever since.” Gray does not do any catch driving, and as far as helping out in stables he said, “I just kind of freelance,” mostly at Saratoga. He is trying to make his way in the business and has full support from Sheryl and sisters Dawn and Mikayla. “My mom is always there to root me on,” Gray said. “Good or bad, she says ‘You did a great job.’ And my two sisters are excellent, they cheer me on and give me support.” As far as driving goes, Zack will continue to do it for now, but has other plans. “If I can get some more wins now driving, I’ll do it,” he said. “But I like training too. I think I could go a little ways as a driver, but I’d like to be a trainer and drive my own stable.” Whatever he decides, his family will be right behind him with support, as will Bobby from up above.   by Rich Fisher USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Trenton, NJ — MacKenzie Kiel owns a horse named Going The Distance but calls him Finn. She has an uncle named Edwin Gannon Jr. but calls him Uncle Jay. The one moniker she prefers to keep the same is “winner,” which is what Kiel became for the first time in harness racing on April 24. The 22-year-old from Maryland garnered her first training victory that day at Rosecroft Raceway when Going The Distance started from post six and went wire-to-wire in winning by two lengths in 1:56. Prior to the win driver John Wagner, a wily veteran with more than 5,300 victories to his credit, plotted with the young trainer before changing tactics when the gate opened. “I asked him what he thought,” Kiel said. “He said ‘I’ll probably just take back and ride the rail.’ I said ‘OK that’s fine with me.’ Next thing I know I see John leaving and I got really scared. I thought to myself ‘I don’t think this horse is ready to win wire-to-wire,’ but he proved me wrong.” It was one of those wonderful moments where wrong feels so right. “I was overwhelmed with joy,” she said as her horse crossed what became known that night as the Finn-ish Line. “I’m not really sure why I call him that, it just seems to fit him,” Kiel said, adding with a laugh, “It’s kind of like the brand Finn Tack…minus the tack.” Wagner, who Kiel actually calls John Wagner, has driven Going The Distance in four of his five starts since MacKenzie bought him in March. Prior to his win he finished ninth, second and fourth, and after the victory he garnered another second. It has been a nice upgrade from the first horse Kiel purchased, “who I only had for about three months, and she never won.” When she bought “Finn,” a 4-year-old pacing gelding, it was all about the personality. “What I liked most is that he’s spunky,” MacKenzie said. “He acts like he’s going to bite you, but when you get close to him, he loves to be rubbed on and is actually very sweet.” Going The Distance is the latest in a long line of horses Kiel has developed a nice relationship with. Growing up in Church Hill, Md., she became involved with the animals at a very young age. “I grew up right next to my granny (Barbara Gannon) and pop pop’s (Edwin Gannon) horse farm,” she said. “My pop pop passed away a few years ago, but my granny and him owned and trained many racehorses, as well as my Uncle Jay (Edwin Gannon Jr.). We also have riding horses, mostly retired Standardbreds.” Kiel has long been interested in harness racing. Although her parents are not involved in the business, they would take MacKenzie to the track to watch the family’s horses race. During that time she had numerous horses and ponies that she would ride through trails or show. “I knew I always wanted to do something with horses,” she said. “I just wasn’t sure about the racing part, since there’s so much that goes on with it. I pretty much decided that I wanted to do this career-wise last year.” Kiel got her trainer’s license late last summer. She trains her own horse, has helped her Uncle Jay at Windswept Farm for the past two years, and works part-time in the afternoons at her mom’s business, Serenity Enhancement Center. MacKenzie Kiel got her trainer’s license late last summer. Photo courtesy of MacKenzie Kiel. MacKenzie’s biggest influences have been her grandparents and Uncle Jay, along with her mom (Susan Gannon) and dad (Timmy Kiel). “Although my parents aren’t involved in the racing aspect, they have always supported me and always watch my horse race when they can,” Kiel said. “My grandparents and my uncle have definitely taught me the most. They’ve been in the business for years, and they are always trying to help me when they can.” Her uncle’s stable is small, around 10 horses, but it keeps Mackenzie busy enough helping out with those horses while training her Finn, that she has stepped away from showing horses. Now that she has that first win under her belt, Kiel wants to continue to progress as a trainer and perhaps get a few more Standardbreds to call her own. “I’m very happy with where I’m at now,” she said. “I still feel like I have a lot to learn. I’d eventually like to have a couple more of my own horses. Right now, one is enough for me.” Especially when it goes by two names.   by Rich Fisher USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Trenton, NJ — Survey says…Final Claim! It was a one-man survey given to harness racing driver Yannick Gingras, who has driven both Final Claim and Goes Down Smooth in the Walner Series for 3-year-old male trotters at The Meadowlands, but who had to make a choice between them for Saturday’s (April 27) $54,500 final. They are two of three Ron Burke-trained horses in the final (along with Cheap Tricks) and both are eligible to the Hambletonian. Final Claim is the 5-2 morning-line favorite, starting from post one. Goes Down Smooth, with Tim Tetrick in the sulky, is 3-1 from post two. Asked how he came to his decision, Gingras said, “I mean, I think they’re both really good, I think (Final Claim) right now is maybe a little stronger. But on the other hand, I wouldn’t be surprised if the other horse wins it too. It was not an easy decision. Sometimes you’ve just got to go with what one you think, but it’s not always right. We’ll see how that works out.” Either way, it was a nice choice to have. “No doubt about that,” Gingras said. “It’s easier to pick from the two favorites than the two longest shots.” One thing that tipped the decision Final Claim’s way was his April 19 victory in his second of two Walner Series starts. He won by 6-3/4 lengths in 1:52.4, with a snappy last quarter-mile of :26.2. His win time is the fastest mile of the year by a 3-year-old trotter. “He was very good, he won fairly easy, he did what he had to do, so I’ve got to be happy with that,” Gingras said. “And he had some left, so that’s the good part. It definitely made a difference and was part of the reason I did pick him. “I do think both of them had something left. Goes Down Smooth wasn’t tired either the last time I raced him. But Final Claim was very good in that series. A couple starts before that I picked the other one, but changed my mind and decided Final Claim was the way to go.” Both horses had disappointing 2-year-old seasons for Burke, who was expecting strong years from each. They came back having to prove themselves and are doing just that. Last year, Final Claim had just one win but has gone 3-for-3 this season. Gingras drove Final Claim only three times last season, all in qualifiers before making his debut, and the horse went off stride each time. Once his campaign began, Final Claim went off stride six times in 10 starts, often when on the lead. “He was always fast last year,” Gingras said. “If you look at his lines, he was making breaks, but he was making breaks in the stretch. He wasn’t making breaks because he was tired, it was immaturity. He wasn’t ready to handle the speed he was going. He was a little dicey at times, a couple little issues. It’s mostly the reason why he was making those breaks. It’s not like he was sitting in the back and didn’t have the ability to do it. He just wasn’t ready for it. “This year he’s a little bit more mature and he’s able to handle it a little bit better. Sometimes that’s all they need.” There are still a few issues, but Final Claim is getting there. “If you watch him go you can tell he’s not 100 percent perfect yet either,” Gingras said. “He’s not bullet proof, he’s not exactly where we want him to be. But so far this year he’s able to behave enough to not make breaks. You just have to watch him; but he’s able to do it.” One of the nicer aspects of Final Claim is that Gingras has his choice of how to drive him, depending on the competition and situation. “It really doesn’t matter with him,” he said. “He’s been on the front the first couple weeks. Last time he sat third, he was really nice and easy, and let me do what I wanted to do. I pulled him around the five-eighths (point) and it was no worry at all. He doesn’t have a certain trip he needs, or nothing like that. I think he can race any which way.” Much like Final Claim, Goes Down Smooth has emerged after a tough rookie year. The horse was 0-for-9 last season but has won two out of three starts thus far in 2019. “He had ability too,” Gingras said. “A lot of time that’s what it is with these trotters, he just wasn’t really fully mature yet. I don’t think he has the ceiling that Final Claim has. Final Claim is bigger and stronger, and I think he does have maybe a higher ceiling than Goes Down Smooth. “But Goes Down Smooth was a little easier to handle last year. So far this year he’s been good as well. The time he made a break was more my fault than his. I got him to the gate a little too quick and that’s what really hurt him. But I think he’ll be just fine Saturday night.” Although he has been good to drive, Goes Down Smooth can also be a bit challenging at this juncture. Goes Down Smooth was 0-for-9 last season but has won two out of three starts thus far in 2019.  “He was a little harder to handle last week, he was a little grabby,” Gingras said. “I wish he relaxed a little more for me, but he didn’t. He might need a certain trip. I definitely think he can sit in a hole, but I think if he gets jammed up too much I’m not sure how he’ll like that. Final Claim right now might be a little easier to drive.” In looking at the two horses’ prospects for scaling the stakes ladder to Hambletonian Heaven, Gingras feels the horse he’s driving Saturday may have the better chance. “It’s big shoes to fill and let’s be honest, I think it’s not going to be that easy to go up and stuff,” he said. “Yes, it’s impressive the miles that they’re going right now; but some of these 3-year-olds did that last year. I do think Final Claim is the one that has a shot. He has that tremendous ability. I believe if one of the two does it, he’s the one who has a shot to go further. “But then again, horses make liars out of you. You never know how that goes.” Saturday’s card at the Meadowlands also includes the $58,500 Wiggle It Jiggleit Series final for 3-year-old male pacers. Respect Our Flag is the 3-1 morning-line favorite for driver Joe Bongiorno and trainer Jennifer Bongiorno. In addition, the Mr Muscleman Series for trotters gets underway with a field that includes 2015 Trotter of the Year Pinkman, Trolley, Ice Attraction, Yes Mickey, and Top Flight Angel as well as the opener of the Golden Receiver Series for pacers, where Donttellmeagain and Dealt A Winner make their seasonal debuts. Racing begins at 7:15 p.m (EDT). For complete entries, click here. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

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