Day At The Track

'The Mary Lib Miller Award' winner

06:44 AM 23 Mar 2018 NZDT
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Aaron Merriman, harness racing
Aaron Merriman recently became the 13th – and youngest – sulkysitter in continental history to record 10,000 career victories
Raymond Lance photo

HARRISBURG PA - Aaron Merriman, who was won more races than any other harness racing driver in North America for each of the last three seasons and who recently became the 13th - and youngest - sulkysitter in continental history to record 10,000 career victories, has been voted the Mary Lib Miller Award, the most prestigious award given by the Keystone chapter of the U.S. Harness Writers Association.

"Ironman" Merriman commutes on many racing days between The Meadows near Pittsburgh and Northfield Park on the outskirts of Cleveland - a lot of miles, and on a tight schedule that is hard to maintain (in winning an award in Florida recently, the "background music" as he approached the stage was the wail of a police car's siren). But Aaron has much more success on the racetrack than he does on the interstate - last year he won 1095 races, second-highest yearly total ever and almost 500 victories ahead of his nearest competitor.

The Mary Lib Miller Award is named after the wife of The Meadows' founder, Hall of Fame horseman Delvin Miller, who was the goodwill ambassador and hostess to scores of dignitaries who raced at The Meadows. (How much she would have seen of Merriman, who always seems to be racing a horse or racing to a car to drive at another track, is difficult to say.)

Hannelore Hanover, 2017 Harness Horse of the Year, was the logical choice for Pennsylvania-bred Horse of the Year. Raised at the renown Hanover Shoe Farms (another Keystone Chapter honoree after breaking their own record for yearly earnings with $31.5M), the trotting mare posted the second-fastest mile on her gait, a 1:49.2 mile at Lexington, and often defeated male company. The Meadows-based horse, trained by Ron Burke for Burke Racing, Weaver / Bruscemi, Frank Baldachino, and J&T Silva Stables, bankrolled just over a million dollars in a championship campaign.

A filly who many think may soon rank in the stratosphere is Manchego, a Jimmy Takter-trainee who was voted Pennsylvania Sire Stakes Horse of the Year. Last year at two she was undefeated in 12 outings, including two prelim wins in the Sire Stakes and then an authoritative victory in the Championship, with her 1:54.2 time in the final matching the stakes record of Wild Honey.

Horses purchased by the Bill Bercury stable after successful stakes campaigns in their youth were named the PA Overnight Pacer and Trotter of the Year. The sidewheeler is Dapper Dude, who beat Sweet Lou in his PaSS championship at two and now has gone in 1:50 in each of the six years since, with 13 wins and $163,000+ at age eight in 2017; the trotter is Barn Girl, who has won 19 times since being acquired by Team Bercury in October 2016, including 15 triumphs last year while amassing over $200,000.

Team McMullen added their second Small Stable of the Year award to the one they earned in 2012. Headed by patriarch John McMullen Jr., the three-horse stable ran up a UTR of .660 at the fairs, and had two Fair Final champions: Hockey Hanover, a two-year-old trotter who became the first PA horse to win his Stallion Series Championship and his Fair Championship in the same year, and All Set Lets Go, the only repeat Championship winner from two to three in 2017, and the top pointwinner at the fairs this summer.

The freshman pacing colt Venier Hanover earned a Special Achievement Award for the unprecedented speed show he put on at the fairs this season, setting eight track records, going seven times in 2:00 or better, and tying the all-age track record of 2:00.1 at Wattsburg under the guidance of Dave Brickell.

This elite group of Keystone State campaigners will be awarded their trophies in racetrack ceremonies throughout the state's pari-mutuel tracks, and at the fairs when they resume in early summer.

Keystone Chapter, U. S. Harness Writers Association

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