Day At The Track

Isle of Man based firm Virtual Software has launched a new concept in live virtual racing products this week which features fully rendered replicas of real tracks, stunning graphics, and results based on historical race data in partnership with leading American racetrack venues. Virtual Live Racing is a global first, claims the firm, because races are based on anonymized and encrypted data from real-life thoroughbred, harness and greyhound races – a huge leap forward compared to RNG (Random Number Generator) products that are currently offered by legacy market suppliers. A number of tracks are live including Derby Lane and Tampa Bay Downs in Florida. Five other tracks are signed and are soon to be launched, including Hawthorne in Chicago, and Parx in Philadelphia.  The product is available to all tote systems in the US via distribution through Amtote International’s Spectrum betting system which is the leading technology tote provider in the USA, enabling tracks to accept wagers from players and create a brand new risk-free revenue stream. Virtual Software, operating from its Manx HQ, has a proven track record of innovation in digital product development for the pari-mutuel or fixed odds betting industries. Chairman Vincent Caldwell started one of the world’s first online wagering companies (betinternet – licensed in the Isle of Man) which then went on to become the first such company to list on the London Stock Exchange. The launch of VLR is the result of several years’ hard work by the firm’s highly experienced executive team which, along the way, has led to some historic milestones for the industry. Most notably these include a State of Oregon Legislature Senate Bill which made history by granting regulatory approval for virtual racing products. Caldwell said: “While virtual racing products operate in over 40 countries and are very much a mainstream wagering product with billions of dollars bet on them each year, we have identified a niche opportunity for a unique product.  “We’ve developed a real-time rendering engine deployed to deliver horse, harness and greyhound racing with high quality graphics and animations. Unlike other products, our technology ensures that a racetrack’s intellectual property in the form of historic race data is anonymized and encrypted so outcomes cannot be known prior to the race being run.  “We believe that Virtual Live Racing products, which are built on a parimutuel wagering model, have a massive potential because it allows market access into an existing $11bn USA parimutuel wagering market, and other access points into international regulated racing markets valued at $100bn.” Reprinted with permission of

MANALAPAN, NJ -- May 28, 2020 -- After months of anticipation, the Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association of New Jersey is very pleased to announce that New Jersey has been approved for harness racing qualifying dates. In conjunction with Dr. Karyn Malinowski of the Rutgers Science Center, the SBOANJ developed a very comprehensive "Risk Management and Racing Protocol" that had earlier been presented to Governor Murphy and the New Jersey Racing Commission. This program will be implemented for the qualifying races and our return to racing at the Meadowlands. Qualifiers will be held at Gaitway on Friday, May 29, Sunday, May 31, and Tuesday, June 2, for farm tenants only, no outside horses will be permitted. The Meadowlands will host qualifiers on Saturday, May 30. Magical Acres has applied to hold additional qualifiers on Monday, June 1, and Wednesday, June 3, pending approval from the New Jersey Racing Commission. Entries for training center qualifiers must be done online, through the USTA etrack system. Post time at Gaitway on Friday and Tuesday will be 10:00 AM; while Sunday's post time will be 9:00 AM. Pending approval Magical Acres post time will be 9:00 AM for both days. Entry fee will be $100.00 per horse. Only essential personnel will be permitted on-site on qualifying days; no owners or outside spectators are allowed. Proper PPE and social distancing will be required for all participants, and all COVID-19 safety protocols must be followed. The SBOANJ sent a formal request to the NJRC for a "Waiver of the Commission's Rules" in reference to the 45-day qualifying rule and administration of Lasix. It was proposed that the 45-day qualifying rule be temporarily amended. It was also requested that the administration of Lasix, by a state-approved licensed veterinarian, be allowed to take place at training centers where horses are stabled. Both requests are still pending NJRC approval. We will continue to work with the NJRC, in order to help minimize the number of trainers, drivers, and caretakers on-site at one time to adhere to COVID-19 safety protocols. Please be aware of the importance of following the safety provisions that have been mandated. For a copy of the "Risk Management Protocol" click here For further information please contact the SBOANJ. Best of luck and safe racing. Courtney Stafford

By Dave Di Somma - Harness News Desk    Canterbury-based driver Blair Orange has today become just the seventh New Zealander to rein home 2000 winners. The victory came in race 5 at Addington this afternoon , when he steered the Paul Court-trained favourite Terror The Christian to a one length win over the John Dunn-driven Prodigal Guinness. Orange had earlier been a close up second in race 3 with Pat Campbell. Before today Orange’s last winner was on another Court runner in Well Said Love at Wingatui on March 23. That was the also the last race before all harness racing in this country was stopped because of COVID-19. Orange joins six others who have driven 2000 winners, alongside Tony Herlihy (3530), Maurice McKendry (3268), Ricky May (2947), David Butcher (2428), Dexter Dunn (2226) and Colin DeFilippi (2028). With Dunn now based in the U.S., Blair is the country’s top driver, winning the premiership for the past two seasons. Going into today he had 174 wins for the season from 862 starts, streets ahead of closest challengers Matthew Williamson and John Dunn. Orange debuted as a junior driver in the late 1990s and last year his career highlight was Cruz Bromac’s New Zealand Cup win. 2018 though was his most successful with 232 wins for the season. Today John Dunn also got off to a flier, with a second (Yuri – race 1) and two wins in the opening three races (Race 2 - 12 Comfortably Numb – $12.50 + $3.20 and Race 3 - 3 Garry’s Legacy $15.70 + $4.10). He then had a second in the race that gave Orange his milestone win. Blair Orange getting win 2000

Stephen Blacker freely admits that he's been in a pretty bad place at times in his life, but harness racing has played a significant role in getting him through. "I've suffered a lot of mental health issues that's for sure, with depression and anxiety, but the horses are a great outlet," Blacker said. "My involvement with them probably goes back 15 to 20 years ago when I always had at least one with some great horsemen in Kevin Brough and Bob Mahanke," he said. "Then in later years I've worked for Mattie Craven and more recently, Aaron Dunn, at Horsham, where I've been for the past 16 months." And Blacker is certainly and deservedly enjoying success as an owner, after all, in his own words, "a few things have changed in my life". In a landmark civil case in February 2018, Blacker sued the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat and two former bishops for negligence, alleging as a nine-year-old he had been raped in the small Victorian town of Mortlake. The Diocese of Ballarat eventually admitted it was aware a prolific child abuser had been abusing children as far back as 1975 and the church was forced to pay Blacker an undisclosed amount in a landmark settlement. Father Gerald Ridsdale is in prison after being convicted of multiple counts of sexual abuse of 65 children over 40 years. Although his legal fight is over, Blacker now supports other victims who are taking matters to the courts. But he is also now looking to his own future and planning to step up his active involvement in the sport he loves. He's shown over the years that he's more than a competent judge of quality when it comes to selecting both pacers and trotters to buy, and at the latest Terang meeting, Blacker cheered home three of his horses to victory. He combined with Dunn in getting a double with pacers Silent Major (Art Major-Hi Life Franco (Falcon Seelster) and Philadelphia Freedom (Art Major-Putting On The Glitz (Walton Hanover). His other winner was square gaiter The Summer Cat (Angus Hall-Flash And Flair (S J's Photo), which he races in partnership with trainer Michael Gadsden. And it could have easily been a Blacker "fab four" with his Maorishadow going down by a neck to Deltasun in the $12,000 Trotters Handicap. "I used to watch the New Zealand horses intently and then made a good friendship with well-known Sydney horse dealer Darrell 'dasher' Kidd. I first of all got a cheap one off him 10 to 15 years ago," Blacker said. "I'd never actually met him in person, but a few years ago I bumped into him by chance overseas. I was getting a suit made up and there was another guy doing the same. "He came up to me and said: 'You're an Aussie, which part do you come from?' And after we got talking he introduced himself-and I finally got to meet Darrell face-to-face! "Generally speaking I buy Kiwi horses that are coming out of a good yard. Mark Jones is always a seller and I got Silent Major, as well as Philadelphia Freedom, a horse that is lovely to do anything with, both from him." As youngsters, Aaron Dunn and Steve Blacker played junior football in the same team-Caramut, a small rural township in Western Victoria, near Warrnambool "I realize it might be a bit hard to visualize now, but I was our ruckman and Steve was the rover," Dunn said. "After our football days, we probably didn't catch up for over 15 years, but I talked him into working for us in December, 2018. He'd come over for three days a week, then one day he told me he'd be here bright and early on a Monday-he did that, and he's been here ever since." Blacker sends his pacers to Dunn to be trained, while the trotters go to Michael Gadsden and his partner Denbeigh Wade, who are based at Ararat. "Aaron reminds us that he has a five-from-five strike rate with first starters from NZ, but he hasn't won a Group Two race yet, which Michael achieved with Maorishadow!" Blacker said. Blacker said from a mental health point of view, the continuation of harness racing during the COVID-19 pandemic had been fantastic for him. "Usually I umpire football matches in winter and then play cricket in summer. With no football, I could have been at a loose end if it wasn't for the horses," he said. "I've also put the time to good use in ramping up my trial drives because one day I'd love to be driving in races. That's my next aim anyway." The Dunn stable has been enjoying its best-ever season with 29 wins and 33 placings, finishing in the top three nearly 50 percent of the time. "We decided to give it a real crack awhile back. We've done improvements at our training complex and the horses love the spacious 1350m track," Dunn said. "I've always prided myself on consistency and with a nice team we're able to do that. There's 14, including five owned by Steve, and in addition four unraced two-year-olds. We also operate Dunn-Ezy mobile seed cleaning and grading service, so we are pretty busy at times."   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

By Jonny Turner    Chevron Action and El Dorado have made the most of harness racing’s enforced hiatus and are ready to show that at Addington on Thursday. The handbrake that has put harness racing on hold across the country is set to be released when the first of nine races gets underway at noon. While the break has been a major headache for stables across the country and disastrous for the TAB, it has brought some small silver linings. The Cran Dalgety and Nathan Purdon trained pairing of Chevron Action and El Dorado provide two examples. Chevron Action looked to be have risen to the peak of her powers when second in the New Zealand Trotting Oaks before lockdown. But, the break has proven she has even more to offer. Because the 3yr-old trotter will return an even better prospect on Thursday. “She has definitely improved from the little break she has had,” Purdon said. “Her trip to Auckland really made her and then having the two weeks out during the lockdown, she has really thrived on that.” The Dalgety-Purdon barn has readied Chevron Action for her resumption with two trials. The filly was soundly beaten when third behind race rival, Sioux Princess, in the first. Chevron Action then looked much sharper when beating her smart stablemate, Chloe Rose, to win a week later. “We were pretty happy with her last trial, she found the line pretty good,” Purdon said. That latest effort and her progress through lockdown should combine to make Chevron Action hard to beat in race 7 on Thursday Afternoon. “She should go close, really,” Purdon said. “She is generally pretty safe in her gait now, so she should be hard to beat.” Sioux Princess’s tearaway Addington trial win suggests she will be the hardest horse for Chevron Action to beat. El Dorado will step out in Dalgety and Purdon’s colours for the second time in race 6 on Thursday. Like his stablemate, the 3yr-old thrived during lockdown. “When we first got him he was quite green and he hadn’t quite hit his hopples, really.” Purdon said. “He was quite ill-gaited for a while, but he seems to have come out of it, just with time more than anything.” El Dorado has had one trial ahead of his resumption, finishing fifth behind race rival Ohoka Matty when not fully extended in the straight. The Dalgety-Purdon camp feel they have found the right race for El Dorado to make a stylish resumption on Thursday. “He seems well and he is in the right race to suit him.” Purdon said. “He should probably go pretty close.” Chevron Action and El Dorado will provide something of an entre for Dalgety and Purdon stable followers before the Kentuckiana Lodge trainers line up a big 12-strong team at the same track on Friday night. Like many horsepeople across the country, the pair simply can not wait to get back to the races. “We have been waiting a long time for it, it sort of feels like the start of the new season,” Purdon said.  “We will be looking forward to it and we have got a big day on Friday, as well.”  Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

Columbus, OH – On the front page of Sunday’s (May 24) New York Times, the newspaper paid tribute to 1,000 of the nearly 100,000 victims who have lost their lives to the COVID-19 virus. Among them was former USTA President Phil Langley. His listing read, “Phil Langley, Frankfort, Ill., member of Harness Racing Hall of Fame.” To read the complete New York Times story, “The Project Behind a Front Page Full of Names: A presentation of obituaries and death notices from newspapers around the country tries to frame incalculable loss,” click here. To scroll though the map of the 1,000 victims listed in the New York Times, click here.   from the USTA Communications Department

Columbus, OH — In Tuesday (May 27) night’s 13th race at Northfield Park, four harness racing horses and drivers were involved in an accident at about the five-eighths pole. The four involved were Led Schneppelin (Tony Hall), Splendid Party (Hunter Myers), Boys Turn (Chris Lems) and JK Parlay (Ryan Stahl). According to a post by Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association’s Executive Director Renee Mancino on her Facebook page and shared on the OHHA’s page: “Heartfelt concern and prayers for continued healing for all horses and drivers involved in last night’s 13th race chain reaction accident at Northfield Park. The accident appeared to have occurred due to Ryan Stahl’s horse catching a shoe, hopple, or some other equipment failure and dropping to the track, trailing horses had no chance to avoid and went over him. Tony Hall, Hunter Myers, Ryan Stahl, Chris Lems were all involved. All horses are rumored to have walked off with road rash and minor contusions. All drivers involved are stable and alert or walked off. Chris Lems drove in the next race and won, Ryan Stahl walked off, but was later being encouraged to visit the hospital. Immediately trailing horses with Tony Hall and Hunter Myers took the brunt of it. Early reports show Tony was awake and alert, but admitted to Level One Trauma with spinal trauma and broken ribs. Hunter was also awake and alert with possible hip and facial injuries. God Bless them and their families as they recover. Thank God it wasn’t as bad as it looked.” Also on the OHHA Facebook, Amy Hollar, the MGM Northfield Park Track Representative for the organization, added this post: “Spoke with Hunter’s (Myers) sister, he has a fracture in his jaw. Tony’s (Hall) wife, Ashley, told me he has nine broken ribs and a crushed vertebrae. Both are still hospitalized……………all horses are OK from last night’s accident.” the USTA Communications Department

What Cheer, IA -- The 2020 harness racing season opened on Sunday (May 24) at the Keokuk County Fairgrounds in What Cheer, Iowa. Eighty-four horses competed in 16 overnight races. The grandstand was closed to spectators following Iowa's COVID-19 guidelines and participants on the backside practiced social distancing. The 2-year-olds in the first six races were all first time starters. The Dan and Jeri Roland stable dominated the 2-year-old trots taking all three races. Mneumonic captured the first win in 2:11.3 with Mike Morales in bike. A daughter of Dontyouforgetit and the Muscle Hill mare Southwind Celine, Mneumonic is owned by Dan and Jeri Roland. Rush to the Bank, a colt by Banker Volo, won the second 2-year-old trot in 2:11.2 for owners Jeri Roland and Vickie Rush. It's So Fluffy, a Banker Volo filly owned, trained and driven by Dan Roland, took the final division in 2:17.1. The fastest 2-year-old pace of the day went to Welltheraceison in 2:08.1. Driven by Eric Delong, the Well Said filly made strong debut for trainer Curtis Carey and owners Rick & CD Huffman, Jeff Carey and Jay Delong. The next division of 2-year-old pacers went to Zipper Flipper, a Roll With Joe colt trained by Rick Huffman and owned by Huffman and Larry Mather. Chad Svendson piloted Zipper Flipper in his 2:12 mile. Another Curtis Carey trainee, Messin With Melesa, took the final 2-year-old pace in 2:09. Driven by Nick Roland, the Time To Roll filly is owned by Rick Huffman. Three-year-old veterans and first time starters came out on the top of their divisions in both the pace and the trot. Minnesota bred filly Go Margeaux started her 3-year-old season strong with a win for the Justin Anfinson stable. Driven by Nick Roland, the Braggart filly clocked a 2:05.4 mile for owners Jeanne Marquis and Jay Delong. After a rocky 2-year-old season of never seeing the winner's circle, Lucky Banker cashed in a win with a 2:04.3 mile with Mark Mintun in the bike. The 3-year-old son of Banker Volo is owned by Mintun and Stephanie Gould. The final 3-year-old trot went to first time starter Lucky La Boot. An American Native gelding out of the Lucky Chucky mare Lucky Combination, Lucky La Boot is owned, trained and driven by Gary Liles. Three-year-old pacer Slippin The Clutch came back in top form after finishing last season with a 1:50.4 mile at Lexington. Trained by Curtis Carey, Will Roland drove the Millionaire Cam gelding to victory in 2:02. Slippin The Clutch is owned by Jay Delong, Rick & CD Huffman and Jeff Carey. The Duane Roland Stable took the next two divisions of the 3-year-old pace. Bizy's Beatle, a Sportsmaster gelding, paced a 2:05.2 mile for his second lifetime win. First time starter Somewherebeautiful, a daughter of Somebeachsomewhere, took the final division of the 3-year-old pace in 2:06 for owners Duane and Roger Roland. The meet concluded with one FFA Trot and three divisions of FFA pacers. Bordogna dominated in the FFA trot. After some early shuffling, driver Adam Hauser took the 4-year-old son of Trixton to the top where he separated from the field cruising home in 2:03. Bordogna is trained by Justin Anfinson and owned by Cathy Dessert and Ken Stauffer. After starting his racing career as a 2-year-old in Iowa with driver Will Roland five years ago, 7-year-old gelding Buzz Light reunited with Roland to best the top division of FFA pacers in 2:00.2. Buzz Light is trained by Nick Roland and owned by Cathy Dessert. Owned, trained and driven by Rob Anderson, Harry Fredrick took the second FFA pace in 2:02.1. The final race of the day clocked in at 2:03 for Officer Jim, a 4-year-old American Ideal gelding driven by Brady Jenson, trained by Brandon Jenson and owned by Stephanie O'Connell. Iowa harness racing action resumes Saturday, May 30 at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds. Post time is 12:30. From Gretchen L. Roland for the Iowa Harness Horse Association

NZB Standardbred’s highly anticipated 2020 All Age Sale saw New Zealand’s largest breeding stock go under the digital hammer on New Zealand Bloodstock’s online subsidiary platform Despite initial COVID-19 uncertainty, the first-ever sale of its kind saw 138 lots sell for a total turnover of $1,042,310. The average reached $7,553 and the median settled at $4,550.  The confidence in the market over the past week of bidding has been reflected in the strong clearance rate, which topped the 97% threshold at the close of selling. NZB Director and Operations Manager James Jennings was delighted with the outcome of the Sale. “I think it’s a great result in light of recent and unprecedented circumstances. “The support and commitment we received from vendors was echoed by the remarkable clearance rate and their enthusiasm to meet the market. “There was a strong, international buying bench present and we are thankful for their participation in the Sale,” said Jennings. The top-priced Lot of the session was an Art Major weanling colt out of Alta Camilla (Lot 75). The colt was secured for $52,500 by Stonewall Stud’s Jill Stockman from the draft of Alabar Farms. “He is from a great family and is a very nice looking colt, we are happy to have secured him,” said Stockman. Stockman had completed her research prior to the Sale taking place. “The online bidding experience has been really good overall, it was certainly a different experience but Steve Telfer had gone to look at the horses first, so we knew exactly what we were bidding on.” First season sires were in hot-demand this evening, highlighted by Stonewall Stud’s purchase of Lot 35, a Downbytheseseaside filly out of Revere Me for $50,000 from the draft of Woodlands Stud. “She is a lovely filly and I think given her pedigree she would have made six figures had she gone through the ring next February. “She definitely ticked all the boxes for us,” said Stockman. Over the Tasman, prominent buyer Jean Feiss locked in Lot 26, another Woodlands Stud colt by Downbytheseaside out of Panforte for $26,000. Feiss was pleased with her purchase, “normally I don’t go for first season sires but I just liked the type of weanling he was, that’s what attracted me to him. “He could have been anything, I truly thought he was an outstanding weanling.” The previous owner of Vincent herself, Feiss also secured two of his offspring, Lot 44 (ex Sheza Monkee) filly and Lot 103 (ex Delightful Lover) filly for $19,000 and $26,000 respectively. “I really liked these two fillies, their breeding stood out to me as well as their exceptional type. “Overall Vincent has produced some outstanding types and I hope they are going to represent his results on the track. Feiss was pleased with the outcome of the digital format but is looking forward to getting back into the physical auction ring. “I think given the circumstances it went very well, it has been great to see vendors rewarded and buyers being able to secure good stock but I think we are all looking forward to when things can go back to normal,” said Feiss. Alabar Farms (NZ) General Manager Graeme Henley was elated with the result of his resident first season sire Vincent. “We thought the Sale went great overall, the biggest thing we were thrilled about was how Vincent’s progeny sold. “It was a great outcome for us and it was nice to see them receive the prices they deserve. “It’s been a lot of work and a bit of a roller coaster leading up to the Sale but the results we achieved today has made it all worthwhile,” commented Henley. First-time digital buyer Shane Sanderson was pleased with the simple online process on the Standardbred platform. “It was easy for me to get verified as a buyer and a good experience. I ended up purchasing Lot 59, a Rock N Roll Heaven filly from a good producing family for $20,000. I actually trained one of the half-sisters so I was pretty happy,” said Sanderson. All weanlings offered at the 2020 All Age Sale are eligible for the NZB Standardbred Harness Million Series, with approximately $1million in prizemoney on offer.  If you wish to notify and enter your horse into the Series, please contact Rachel Deegan ( or +64 3 381 0141).  To make enquiries about any Passed Lots, contact Cam Bray on +64 21 737 199. To view the full 2020 All Age Sale results on Standardbred click here. 2020 All Age Sale Statistics Aggregate  $ 1,042,310 Average  $ 7,553 Median  $ 4,550 Sold 138 Offered 142 Clearance 97%  

In response to the devastating impact of Covid-19 on health and economic activity in Australia and New Zealand, Club Menangle previously announced a revised Covid-19 fee structure for Lazarus in 2020 harness racing breeding season.. Club Menangle announced the reduction in his 2020 service fee to $8,000. An added incentive, for those who booked last year, his 2020 service fee will be $6,000. Club Menangle’s Chairman, Robert Marshall has announced a further initiative aimed at assisting breeders in Australia and New Zealand, given the serious impact Covid-19 is having on economic activity and confidence. Mr Marshall has indicated Club Menangle will offer a two-stage payment arrangement for the stallion’s service fee for the forthcoming breeding season. “The Club recognises breeders will be challenged by the current economic circumstances”, Mr Marshall said. Mr Marshall added “Club Menangle is a true not for profit and while our principal responsibility is to Club members, we recognise the part we play in the industry”. The new announcement is aimed at structuring the payment fee for Lazarus for the 2020 breeding season in a manner which smooths out the payment arrangements over two financial years. “I am pleased to announce that my Board has agreed to the payment terms being $2,000 on 40-day positive test and the remainder at 1 September in 2021” Mr Marshall said. This will apply whether the fee is at $8,000 or the $6,000 fee for 2020. It appears the difficulties confronting Lazarus during his 2019 season down-under are resolving and Cub Menangle and Yirribee Stud are looking forward to his return in spring. This year Lazarus will be able to shuttle to Australia direct and will not be required to quarantine in New Zealand. Lazarus after winning the Interdominion Final (Ashlea Brennan Photo) Club Menangle Chief Executive, Mr Bruce Christison has been working closely with Mr Duncan Taylor of Taylor Made Stallions, the North American owners on the initiatives for the forthcoming breeding season.  “The Club appreciates the excellent working relationship we have with the team at Taylor Made Stallions”, Mr Christison said. Our two entities are focussed on providing Lazarus every opportunity to prove he is one of the greatest standardbred stallions of our generation. We look forward to welcoming Lazarus home to Yirribee Stud. Club Menangle

“I really never saw myself broadcasting,” says Michigan native Jessica Otten. “When I was younger I always wanted to be a teacher… Why? I have no idea…” Now 23 and living in Hightstown, New Jersey, this third-generation horse person has gone from living on a farm to living in a town - which she says has been a big adjustment, but she does live close to quite a few training centers which helps. “I’ve always loved the horses,” she says. “They’ve been such a huge part of my life ever since I was a baby. When I got my driver’s license I was more excited to be shipping horses to the track, by myself, than I was going to pick up my friends… I honestly spent more time with the horses - than I did hanging out with my friends… I guess I just enjoyed being in the barn or going with my dad (Peter Otten) to the races more than anything else.” “In high school I backed away a little bit, with the horses, when my dad moved to Canada to race - so we didn’t have any horses on our farm. I became more involved with school functions and was on the Student Council. I know a lot of people who didn’t care much for high school, but I’d go back in heartbeat. There was nothing better than a home football game, at Roundhouse Stadium, with my friends and a bonfire to follow on a Friday night… I come from a small town so everybody knew everybody and we just always had fun. This year marks me being out of high school for five years now and if you would have told be back then - that I’d be working at The Meadowlands - I’d have laughed in your face and said ‘Yeah right!’” “Racing has always been a huge passion of mine… Bringing my friends and teachers to the track and showing them how cool my dad’s job was - that was my favourite thing to do,” says Otten. “I always enjoyed helping out at the tracks, in Michigan, if there were large groups of people for paddock tours, starting car rides, winner’s circle pictures and stuff like that. A lot of people in my life - outside of the horse business - never fully understood what my family did… When I’d say we had horses - they always assumed we had riding horses. Or if I said I take care of horses, they assumed I just brushed horses.” Social media has come a long way in recent years… The Facebook and Twitter platforms have become a great tool for marketing the sport. “When Facebook introduced the ‘Facebook Live’ feature - I did a series on Facebook of my entire night at the track,” explains Otten. “It was like taking my Facebook friends along with me while I paddocked a horse from start to finish and so many people were intrigued. And many didn’t even know what harness racing was and that honestly shocked me. From there I went on to interviewing people, at the track, to highlight the different roles people had in the business. And then I teamed up with Northville Downs and did some ‘Facebook Live’ segments on their page and even started posting on their Twitter account as well. I’d reach out to horsemen and get their thoughts on their horses racing that night and that all went over really well.” It’d be December 1, 2015, when Jessica would debut on The Raceway’s pregame show - talking horses and making selections - possibly a stepping stone for what may have been waiting in the wings… “I was at the Little Brown Jug, in 2016, and Mike Carter (Post Time with Mike & Mike) would call me to ask if I’d like to join them for the Breeders Crown at The Meadowlands… I remember it like yesterday and I remember agreeing to go - even before I knew the details,” she said laughing. “It was a bit nerve racking, but I really enjoyed doing all the winner’s circle and paddock interviews that weekend - interacting with the big names in the business - I had a blast! And when I got back to school, the following Monday, I ended up changing my major to marketing and the rest is history…” she says. “After that broadcast, with Post Time with Mike & Mike, I travelled with them full-time, for the next two years, covering events like the Molson Pace/Camluck Classic, North America Cup, Meadowlands Pace and other major racing events. I am so appreciative of everything Mike and Mike have taught me and have done for me.” Things can happen quickly in this business and sometimes it’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time… “In 2018 I was in Lexington, taking care of horses, when Jason Settlemoir contacted me about doing TV at The Meadowlands - I remember reading the message and I was like ‘Is this real life?’… And before I knew it I was working at The Meadowlands, on the weekend, doing paddock interviews. I don’t know why, but being on camera made me so nervous,” she says. “I got to work with experienced and knowledgeable guys like Dave Brower, Dave Little and Ken Warkentin - who were so welcoming when I first started - they helped so much…” Jessica’s newest job title, within The Meadowlands, is Marketing Coordinator… ”So in addition, to doing TV, I work alongside Rachel Ryan and help out with the big events. We run the social media platforms together - posting about our events, our dining, menus, promos and the races. I spend a lot of time on the computer and my phone - scheduling posts, seeing what horses are racing, noting milestones - anything that’s of interest, about our sport, goes on social media, because let’s face it - that’s where people spend a lot of their time now and not everybody can make it out to the track. I think it’s even more important now, than ever, with tracks having to race without crowds. Whether it’s a video of a horse warming up, a picture of them in the paddock, a fun fact, anything really - the more people see - the better - in my opinion…” So what may the future hold for this young broadcaster? “I don’t have a degree in marketing or broadcasting yet, but I am a big hockey fan and yes I’ll admit I’m a Red Wings fan too… I guess if I absolutely could not do something in harness racing - then maybe I’d try to do something with hockey. I do enjoy football too, but my dad and sister both played hockey - so I grew up watching a lot of it… But it’s the horses I love - so I’d rather just stay within harness racing if I could.” With some harness tracks opening up and many more to do so in early June - The Meadowlands may not be too far behind. “Right now I’m home, in Michigan, spending time with my family and helping out in the barn - so I’m keeping busy,” says Otten. “But once we get the OK to race, I’ll head back to New Jersey and hope to pick up where I left off.”  Shannon Doyle

As a third-generation harness racing trainer Rebecca East is the first to admit she never considered not pursuing the family passion for the sport. But while her family enjoyed its share of success over the years, Rebecca's training treble at Stawell last week is no doubt one of her personal milestones in the sport. "It's not my first treble, because I had one at Mount Gambier not too long ago, but they're hard to get and you always enjoy them, whenever they come along," Bec said. "This was my first one in Victoria, and it was a pretty good day!" East's Stawell success began with consistent three year old She Will Wantano (Roll With Joe - Mama Tembu (Albert Albert) who scored a much-overdue second career win - the filly has failed to weigh in only twice in 20 career starts. To watch the video replay click here The stable followed up that success two races later with blowout ($30) winner Girls In Charge (Lincoln Royal - Proud Trick (Falcon Seelster) and rounded off proceedings with the second win within a week for handy stable acquisition Juddy Douglas (Auckland Reactor - Markeaton Navi (Falcon Seelster). To watch the video replay of Girls In Charge click here To watch the video replay of Juddy Douglas click here "We thought they all had a bit of a chance, but you never get ahead of yourself and you always need a bit of luck," East said. "Fortunately, we did get a bit with Girls in Charge when another horse galloped, and she was able to pop in behind the leader. "Then the third one was Juddy Douglas and we were a bit lucky there, too, because he had won previously at Terang, but was still eligible for the race at Stawell - and because the barrier draws had already been done it was nice for us that he was still able to come out of barrier one." Rebecca said her love of harness racing was inherited from her parents, the late Judy and Robert East (who were hobby trainers at Condor, before moving to Heywood) and Robert's father Les East. "They all had some nice horses. Mum and Dad raced Irish Liner, which won the Horsham Oaks and a Mount Gambier Cup, and they also had another handy one in Silent Talk, so it's always been in my blood," she said. "I first got my licence after dad had a heart attack in 2001 and I kind of had to step up to keep on with the family interest. I've always loved the horses and now I can't ever imagine not doing them." East works part time as an aged care worker, and she and her partner, veteran former trainer Kevin Brough, put the polish on a team of around 15 horses at their Heywood property. "It's a lot of work, and the only disadvantage of being down here are the distances we have to travel to race. But we have a couple of part-time staff who come out each day in John Sutters and Kaylea Towers and they're a terrific help," she said. "We breed a few each year and we do enjoy the babies. You do the hard yards of handling them, getting them broken in and trying little things that you hope might be the difference. Like everyone, you're hoping for that Group One horse, and that keeps you just popping away!" At this time of year, though, with the chilly south west Victorian weather and short winter days, Rebecca said thoughts usually turn to September, which is the couple's annual month off to recharge the batteries. "But this year, I'm not so sure," she said. "With regional racing, we've been competing at Stawell and Terang, but both the Marg Lee and Matty Craven stables are in this region, so it's been pretty strong," she said. "This week we're opening up to take in Melton and Ballarat - but that brings in another couple of strong teams such as Emma Stewart and Andy and Kate Gath. "Hopefully it will be around September that the post COVID-19 racing might be starting to return to normal, and we can look to place our horses in the most suitable races again, so we'll wait and see how things pan out," she said. Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura               P 0498 490 672   E   W      

By Josh Smith - Harness News Desk    West Melton trainer Ken Ford is excited about the return of harness racing this week, but it’s the return of the sport to his living room that he is looking forward to the most. “It will be good to get back to the races, but what I have missed is sitting down and watching the races on TV. I love that,” Ford said. “In my stage in life, I am finding that more exciting than actually going to the races.” Ford said he wasn’t too affected by the COVID-19 enforced lockdown period as he was able to keep the majority of his team ticking over at his property. “It was good as gold,” he said. “We have got our own track, so we just kept jogging a few. We just brought them up quietly again. “We don’t work many. We usually work 10 and dropped it back to six and we have got them ready to race now.” Ford will have three stable representatives at Addington’s two meetings this week. Mordecai will kick off the stable’s season resumption in the Dunstan Remembering Lazarus Mobile Pace (1980m) on Thursday night. “He’s just a battler. He is Kerryn’s (Tomlinson, junior driver), my granddaughter, horse. He is a lovely old horse to have about the place and we use him as a pacemaker.” Ford has higher hopes on Friday when Justan’s Sister lines-up in the Dunstan Multi-Ultra Trot (2600m) and Zsa Zoe contests the Dunstan Feed Up handicap Trot (2600m). “Justan’s Sister was going along really well before lockdown,” Ford said. “She was coming along nicely for that Met Multiplier. She was the biggest disappointment over the lockup because we have lost that now. “She is going well. We gave her a good hit-out on Sunday at Kypros Kotzikas’ place. We took all the ones ready to race down there. She went really well. “She should hold her head up and look alright. She won’t disgrace herself.” Zsa Zoe will have her first start since December and is another whose preparation was cut short as a result of COVID-19. “She kicked out and hit a rail (in December) and she got a bit of swelling,” Ford said. “We got a little bit worried about that, so that’s why she had the break. “She was coming along really nice and then the lockdown came. “She went as good as any (on Sunday). I am really pleased with her. She has got Cracker Hill in that race so that’s going to be really tough. But she is going really well.” Meanwhile, Ford has welcomed the return of Group One-winning trotter Marcoola to his barn. “The last couple of weeks we have been putting him on the jogger and he looks a million dollars,” Ford said. “But there is nothing for him, so we will bring him up nice and quietly and see how we go.” A stud career beckons the seven-year-old entire, however, Ford said he and son Clint are having too much fun racing him. “I have got people ringing me wanting to put mares to him,” Ford said. “He is a lovely horse and is so easy to do things with. “I don’t want to be a stud farmer. I am absolutely loving going to the races and racing my horses, and he has given us some great thrills. “He is looking the best he has ever looked and If he can win us another race I would be happy.” Ford is also looking forward to the return of a couple of exciting rising three-year-olds. “A two-year-old by Love You out of Amaretto Son’s full-sister, he is a really nice horse,” Ford said. “He makes me get out of bed in the morning. “We would have raced him as a two-year-old but he was one that we dropped off because of the lockdown. “We have also got a two-year-old full-sister to Marcoola who we backed off when things closed down and we are about due to start with her again. She is a nice little horse.” 

26 May 2020 - The Elitloppet at Solvalla racecourse - the largest event on the Swedish harness racing calendar - is set to attract betting interest from a record 18 countries, former racing monopoly AB Trav och Galopp (ATG) has said. In addition to Sweden, bets will be taken from Finland, Denmark, Norway, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Italy, Hungary, Greece, the UK, Malta, South Africa, the US, Australia and New Zealand. Bets from eleven of these countries will go towards the Swedish pari-mutuel pool, while the remaining countries’ bets will be part of their own racing pools. However, ATG did not say exactly which countries would be commingling, and which would be operating their own pools. “It is truly inspiring that the Elitloppet is attracting so much international interest,” Ylva Svensson, head of international at ATG, said. With sports and racing in many other countries suspended, ATG noted an increased level of international interest in Swedish harness racing, which has continued through the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. “We have taken our mission, to maintain interest in racing in Europe and the rest of the world during this crisis, as seriously as possible,” Svensson added. “The Elitloppet is one of the few sporting events that can be carried out this spring and so it’s receiving extra focus from many international gaming companies.” The race will take place on Sunday 31 May. Yesterday, Sweden’s Minister for Social Security Ardalan Shekarabi put forward an amended set of temporary restrictions on gambling in which he aims to make horse and sports betting exempt from an SEK5,000 (£401/€459/$495) weekly deposit limit. The exemption had previously been recommended by ATG in a consultation held on the original controls.

Ronald Henry (Ronnie) Bencal passed peacefully on Monday, May 25 at 77 years of age after a long battle with respiratory illness. Born in New York City to Henry and Pauline Bencal, Ronnie began his career in harness racing when he went to work for noted horseman Jim Grundy after he was discharged form the Army in 1965. He then moved to the WR Haughton barn where he transitioned from caretaker to assistant trainer. In 1972 he joined his brother Bob as an assistant trainer at Roosevelt Raceway where they would enjoy many successful years racing there and Yonkers, The Meadowlands and eventually the Grand Circuit. During the 1980's Ronnie tried the civilian life for a few years, operating a Baskin Robbins franchise in Florida, but Bob eventually convinced him to return to the stable where he would remain until his retirement in 2012. Bob and Ronnie had a bond beyond their fraternal one, they were also great friends and equal partners in the training of the stable. They trusted each others judgment when it came to evaluating a horse and would bounce ideas off one another regarding how each horse in the stable could be brought to reach their potential. Ronnie was especially good with a horse that required patience. The Bencal brothers had a long relationship with Jeff and Paula Gural, training horses for them since the early 1970's led by 1990 Jugette winner Lady Genius. Ronnie thought the world of them and considered Paula to be a kindred spirit. Ronnie was an engaging and gregarious man. In his Florida retirement he'd spend his evenings at Bill Popfinger's Rattlesnake Jakes restaurant with a group of his friends, listening to the Grateful Dead and rooting for his beloved NY Yankees. He is survived by brother Bob and Bob's wife Monica, younger brother Ken and sisters Barbara and Susan, daughter Jennifer (Cosgrove), granddaughters Stella and Mareena Cosgrove and stepson William Fleming.   No arrangement details are available at this time. In lieu of flowers a donation to the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame or the Standardbred Retirement Foundation may be made in his memory.   Nick Salvi

New Zealand Bloodstock Standardbred bosses are seeing the last-day flurry they expected as New Zealand’s largest ever online sale comes into the home straight.  NZB Standardbred’s All Age Sale finishes tomorrow on, the first time a major catalogue of standardbred horses has been sold on that platform in New Zealand. Will has been active in in the standardbred market for over a year, the migrating of the entire All Age Sale catalogue with it’s very strong weanling component came about because of COVID-19 and has enormously boosted the registrations to the site, with 205 new potential buyers registered in the last week. And there has been plenty of clicking in the last 24 hours as the Sale draws to it’s conclusion starting at 1pm tomorrow (Wednesday). “The Sale starts the countdown to closing off at 1pm on Wednesday,” says NZB Director James Jennings. “At 1pm the first lot starts its one-minute countdown to being sold but if anybody bids in the last 30 seconds that lot will auto extend for 30 more seconds. “That is to stop somebody waiting until the last second to bid and other potential buyers not having the chance to counter bid. “So once that lot is sold the next lot starts to countdown for its last minute and so on until the sale is complete.” Jennings and his team have been thrilled with the response to the Sale, with 52 horses already having met their reserve. “That is not only great for their vendors but also for the buyers because it shows that reserves have been realistic.” Jennings says the Sale has been typical of Trade Me-style auctions when buyers know they have a week to bid. “We saw a flurry of activity over the weekend when people have had more time to study the catalogue and bid. “And we have been helping some of the newly registered buyers through that process. “So the next 24 hours should be really exciting. But already we are thrilled the Sale has gone so well.” One of the key attractions of the Sale is any weanling purchased will be eligible for the Harness Million series. Pinhookers will also have the opportunity to re-enter their purchases for next February’s National Yearling Sale, at an unmoved entry fee of $950 plus GST for the Auckland Sale or $925 plus GST for the Christchurch Sale. Entries for those sales open in June and will be made through the new NZB Standardbred portal which enables online entry, so no more paper forms. View the catalogue on here.  The first Lot closes at 1PM (NZT) on Wednesday 27 May with all weanlings purchased eligible for the Harness Million Series.   Michael Guerin