Day At The Track

2014 North American harness racing “Year In Review”

12:20 AM 28 Dec 2014 NZDT
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Dave Palone, harness racing Sebastian K, harness racing Harness Racing JK She'salady, harness racing Jack Darling, harness racing Harness racing Amie Choquette Ron Burke, harness racing
Dave Palone hugs his mom Jeane after setting world record. One week early Dave's father had passed away.
Chris Gooden Photo
Sebastian K brought harness racing fans to their feets with his amazing speed
Photo by Chris Tully
Five drivers were sent to the hospital after Freehold's starting gate slide into the field
JK She'salady goes a perfect 12 for 12 in 2014
Lisa Photo
Jack Darling starting fund to televise harness racing
New Image Media Photo
Sydney Weaver, Pinky and dad, Don Weaver, getting ready to race
Photo by Lisa Weaver
Steve Wolf with Amie Choquette, harness racing's greatest second trainer turned 100 on October 31
Ann MacNeill Photo
Ron Burke became horse racing winningest trainer ever in a single year
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The year 2014, just like every season in the history of harness racing, was jammed packed with special events, major stakes races and other points of interest that made the year super exciting and quite a bit controversial.

We have highlighted the “Year In Review” as best possible with the top events and races that took place each month. We apology for any news items that were missed.

2014 got off to a terrible start when on January 10 the starting gate at Freehold Raceway went into a spin after the start of a race and came down upon the field and took out most everyone in the race. While all horses miraculously escaped without major injuries, five drivers, Catello Manzi, Debra Rucker, Vincent Ginsburg, Chris Scicluna and Jim Pantaleano were taken to the hospital to be checked out. The worst injured were Manzi and Rucker.

The new Miami Valley Racetrack in Lebanon, Ohio tried opening up for live racing on Friday, February 9 but the lights failed to work and thus had to wait until the next night to officially get underway.

Sydney Weaver was the at the epicenter of the most potent demonstration of social media as a positive force in harness racing in early February  when her beloved mare Sydney Seelster was taken from her in a claiming race at Flamboro Downs. Trainer Guy Gagnon was pilloried on Facebook and Twitter for making the claim and soon cried uncle, agreeing to allow Sydney to claim her mare back.

On March 28, two harness racing horses died on impact at Flamboro Downs after they collided head on in a tragic accident. The incident resulted in all tracks in Ontario having to install a siren alarm system by Jan. 1, 2015.

April saw horseman Jack Darling take command when he heard that there was no funding to promote some of the sport’s biggest races on television and within a short time and through his own blog, helped raise over $100,000 and thus the Meadowlands Pace and the Little Brown Jug were able to be televised.

In June a major tiff between harness driver Brian Sears and Meadowlands, Tioga, Vernon Downs owner Jeff Gural ended up with Sears being barred from competing in qualifying and overnight race events. After less than a week, Gural rescinded the ban.

On June 28, harness racing fans saw the fastest trotting mile ever in history as the amazing European star, Sebastian K, win at Pocono Downs in 1:49, shattering the former record that was set on a larger track. With trainer/driver Ake Svanstedt, Sebastian K took harness racing in North America by storm with his amazing speed and racing barefoot with no horse shoes.

On July 13, He’s Watching tied the world record on a mile track in winning the Meadowlands Pace in an amazing clocking of 1:46.4.

With Father Patrick making a costly break at the start of the race, stable mate Trixton and trainer/driver Jimmy Takter grabbed all the glory in winning the early August Hambletonian Trot.

At the Little Brown Jug it was Limelight Beach in straight heats and the same for Color’s A Virgin in the Jugette. Wild Honey became the fastest two-year-old trotter ever on a half mile track with a 1:55.2 triumph.

The Hippodrome 3R in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, revived the great Prix D’Ete stakes race with a purse of $200,000 and saw Sunfire Blue Chip and driver Yannick Gingras lower the all-age track record by two seconds with a 1:50.3.

October started off with a bang as Mission Brief became the fastest two-year-old trotter in history with her 1:50.3 clocking at the Red Mile for driver Yannick Gingras.

On October 4, Dayton Raceway in Dayton, Ohio opened its doors for harness racing with a full house as thousands came out to check the new racetrack.

Nuncio and driver John Campbell captured a one-heat $435,000 Kentucky Futurity in 1:51.3, beating stable mate Father Patrick and then went to Yonkers Raceway to take the Yonkers Trot, winning two of the three Triple Crown of Trotting races.

Natural Herbie, at odds of 9-1, posted his fourth straight win with a world record performance at Yonkers Raceway Saturday, Oct. 25 in beating many of the best trotters in the world in the $250,000 International Preview.

On Halloween, October 31, harness racing’s great second trainer, Quebec’s Ami Choquette, who worked for Delvin Miller for over 50 years, turned 100 years old.

Maven brought $750,000 at the Harrisburg sale and became the highest priced racehorse trotting mare sold at public auction in November. She was purchased by Herb Liverman.

Yonkers Raceway and the SOANY broke the simulcasting barrier overseas and began simulcasting five races to France/Europe early Sunday mornings with great success and millions wagered on the USA product. The simulcasts will continue in 2015.

Harness driver Dave Palone did the unthinkable years ago and caught Germany’s Heinz Wewering to become the sports winningest driver ever as he recorded his 16,754th career victory. This took place at his home track, The Meadows, on Friday, November 14. Palone has now increased his lead, has no plans of an early retirement and his lead may never be bettered.

The Breeders Crown helped seal up a number of Dan Patch divisional awards in late November but perhaps the most impressive was that of world champion Commander Crowe coming over to the USA and stealing the limelight with his stakes record 1:51 triumph. He surpassed the $5 million mark in career earnings at age 11 and gave North American fans a thrill to see this world class performer in action.

In late November, early December, just one week after Harnesslink exposed to the harness racing social media fans about the abuse that trainer Monica Thors was inflicting on horses in her stable, all seven horses and one goat was taken away by the NJ SPCA. More than 14,000 people “liked” the Stop Monica Thors” page on Facebook and were relentless in going after state officials to do something. They are also raised money and services to care for the horses once they were taken away.

In December Hall of Fame driver David Miller paid a $750 fine for dropping his foot and allowed McWicked to hit it numerous times around the final turn of the $301,000 Progress Pace final at Dover Downs. When asked about the penalty, Miller said he would do it again in trying to win the race. His comments set up major controversy in the harness racing social media venues and prompted Jeff Gural to issue a “no tolerance” rule at the Meadowlands, Tioga and Vernon Downs against any driver who drops their foot other than to pop ear plugs.

When Appomattox crossed the wire first in the Free For All Handicap Trot on December 12 at the Meadowlands, harness horse trainer Ron Burke's season earnings moved to $28,118,465, surpassing the mark set by Thoroughbred trainer Todd Pletcher seven years ago.

By the end of the year, JK She’salady was sensational with her undefeated season and capped it becoming the first two-year-old pacing filly to ever be name Harness Horse of the Year. But her triumph was unique as top older pacer Sweet Lou was voted the Pacer of the Year by one vote over JK She’salady, but the tables were turned in the final voting for Harness Horse of the Year as the filly beat out Sweet Lou by five votes! Both occurrences have never happened in the history of voting.

The year sorta ended on a sour note as Balmoral Racing Club, Inc. and Maywood Park Trotting Association, Inc., two of the oldest horse racing venues in the country and the only harness racing tracks in Illinois, announced Christmas Eve that each has voluntarily commenced Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization cases in Chicago.

Let’s hope for a bigger and better racing season in 2015. Happy New Year to everyone!

By Steve Wolf, for Harnesslink.com

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