MOUNT VERNON - It may have already been a hot day, but Ammon Hershberger managed to set the racetrack on fire. The area harness racing driver, who lives just outside of Mount Vernon, was a three-time winner in the Home Talent Colt Stakes at the Knox County Fairgrounds on Sunday afternoon.
It started to look like another Hershberger might rule the day. Ammon Hershberger’s older brother Jonas won the second race aboard the 3-year-old Dawn Of New Money. The 4-5 shot won out over Dangerous Forever with Mount Vernon’s Howard Mills driving.
Both Hershberger brothers faced off in Race 4 with Ammon getting the best of his older brother, who currently lives in Scioto. Ammon drove 2-year-old Howling Hannah to victory over Nightie Nite Gracie with Jonas aboard. Later in the day, Jonas would finish out of the money in the sixth race aboard Harper Marie as Keith Kash, Jr. drove Spirited Misty to the win.
“Yeah, he got me. It’s a nice feeling,” said Jonas Hershberger of his brother’s head-to-head win. “It was cool. We don’t, very often, get to race side-by-side like that. I think he’s a little better than big brother.”
The brothers, now in their mid-30s, have been racing for the last nine years.
“We kind of got into it together,” said the younger Hershberger. ”I know (Jonas) got more publicity early on but, we got in together and we grew from there.”
Horses and drivers both had to battle the heat, which didn’t lose its edge despite Saturday night’s storms.
“It’s hot out there,” said Ammon Hershberger. “We drink a lot of fluids and it’s the same with the horses. As soon as they get back to the barn, we make sure they get fluids in their system and cooled out right as soon as possible.”
Ammon Hershberger came right back in Race 5, taking command aboard the maiden, Review The Glide. He barely held on to win, fending off a serious challenge from track veteran Don McKirgan, who pushed his aptly named horse, Verge Of Victory, right to the verge going down the stretch. Unfortunately for McKirgan, his horse faded slightly and finished second.
“She hung up,” said McKirgan of Verge of Victory. “She does that. I thought I had him. I was just trying to keep up. She’s a nice, solid mare. She just couldn’t go quite enough.”
First, second or whatever, McKirgan, who has been racing since 1957, is doing what he loves best.
“I always wanted to ride horses,” said. “My dad had a hardware store in Mount Gilead. So, we bought a farm outside of town there and I had to have a horse. I was about 10 or 11 years old. He got me a race horse — he had some race horses when he was a kid.”
McKirgan took care of cooling down his horse after the race but, for himself, he wasn’t impressed by the heat at all.
“I spent five years in the Army in Texas,” said McKirgan. “This is a cold day down there. This time of year, it’s about 110 everyday but the humidity is not like this.”
McKirgan was also second aboard TT’s Honey Bun in the first race of the day, nearly beating winner Rockin H Winnie with Charlie Myrick aboard. Rockin H Winnie, a 40-1 shot, won in a three way photo finish with TT’s Honey Bun and locally owned Dontknowmyname, who finished third with Scott Cox driving. Cox won Race 3 with Mamie’s Jailbird beating 2-year-old Boot Scootin’ Belle. Cox also drove Rose Run Nellie to first place in the seventh race.
Mount Vernon’s Chris Page, who drove the show horse — Wait For It — in the fourth, would need to wait for the eighth race to finally get a winner.
Page, driving 3-year-old Pantsuit Hilary and Jonas Hershberger, aboard Cruisin Wanda, were warming up their horses for the eighth, when there appeared to be trouble. First, Cruisin Wanda and then, Pantsuit Hilary started getting riled along the backstretch. both drivers took their horses onto the infield grass and got them calmed down quickly. Maybe both horses had a sense of what was going to happen.
“She gets real anxious,” said Page of his horse. “In her case I just tried to keep her as calm as possible out there. The more they pull around the more they are taken out of the race — the more energy they’re using up.”
Cruisin Wanda broke in front early but was passed by Pantsuit Hilary on the second lap. Page looked like he was going to let his horse run away with it when Jonas Hershberger cut loose with Cruisin Wanda down the stretch. In an exciting finish, Pantsuit Hilary held off the late challenge, clocking the fastest time ever for a 3-year-old pacing philly at the fairgrounds of 1:58.30, shaving nearly a second off the old record.
“I drove that mare at the Hilliard Fair for the first time last week,” said Page. “She’s a little headstrong and a little full in the face. She loves her work and she really gets pumped up about it. Just keep her in there and she’s got one big move. She can spring fast so you just got to time your move right.”
In the final race, it was Ammon Hershberger driving Swivel Hips to a solid victory over Page, who was aboard Tansi.
Harness racing returns to the fair Tuesday beginning at 7 p.m.
By GEOFF COWLES
News Sports Writer for the Mount Vernon News
Courtesy of The Mount Vernon News