Ron Battoni, executive director of the Pennsylvania Harness Horsemen's Association and a prime mover in bringing all 12 Breeders Crown championship races to Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs last October, has been voted the most prestigious award of the Keystone Chapter of the U.S. Harness Writers Association, the Mary Lib Miller Award.
Mary Lib and her husband, Hall of Famer Del Miller, could always be found where the top-class racing action was, and no doubt they would have been pleased with the efforts of Battoni and the local PHHA partnering with Pocono, the Hambletonian Society, and other helpful entities to present the greatest spectacle ever in the 46-year history of the Northeast Pennsylvania oval, with nine of the 12 divisional champions, including Harness Horse of the Year, winning at Pocono on the $6 million night.
It wasn't that many years ago that Pocono didn't race for $6 million in an entire season, but Battoni has been one of the enlightened guiders of Keystone racing after the passing of the landmark Race Horse Development and Slots Bill in 2004-- in the board room, in the paddock, and most anywhere in between at Pocono and the other PHHA track, Harrah's Chester.
It is very difficult to establish a "pecking order" for listing the other winners without possible "slighting," so we'll go right down the ballot as sent to Keystone voters, with a relevant comment about each award winner:
PA Trainer of the Year - Ron Burke, Meadows-based horseman who trained the winners of $18 million in 2010, far and away the highest total ever posted in one season by one trainer's stable.
PA Driver of the Year - George Napolitano, Jr., who lead North America in driving victories last year with 753-- going over the 300 win mark at both Pocono and Chester on the same day!
PA Owner of the Year - Howard Taylor, the prominent Philadelphia lawyer, who represents many horsemen, campaigned trotting queen Buck I St Pat and Meadows record holder Fred And Ginger.
PA Breeder of the Year - Hanover Shoe Farms, the world's leading Standardbred nursery, who topped even themselves in 2010 by sending out the winners of a record $25.9 million.
PA Sire Stakes Horse of the Year - Dancinwiththestarz, the game 3-year-old pacing filly who won her Sire Stakes divisional championship and a PaSS one-year record of $242,043.
PA-Sired Horse of the Year (no requirement on state starts): Won The West, now a double Breeders Crown winner, 2010 Older Pacer of the Year, and a life winner of almost $3.5 million.
PA Horse of the Year (50% of seasonal starts in-state): Rembrandt Spur, who wore out the top trotting ranks at The Meadows while trotting that track's fastest mile on that gait, 1:52.2.
PA Small Stable of the Year: The one-horse fair invasion of 82-years-young Charles Von See and his baby terror Evening Shadows, a nine-time winner last year who tallied in 1:57 at the Port Royal fair!
Friend of Pennsylvania Harness Racing: Paul Williams, a Meadows trainer who has devoted himself to fire and other types of rescues, and gives horsemen instruction to prevent possible equine tragedies.
These awards will be handed out at the base tracks of the winners throughout the spring.
by Jerry CONNORS