The western Pennsylvania 'dynamic duo' of driver Dave Palone and trainer Ron Burke, the top trotting mare Hidden Viggorish, and the super generous owner Francis Azur were among the winners of awards for excellence in Pennsylvania harness racing in 2009 according to recent voting of the Keystone Chapter of the U.S. Harness Writers Association.
Palone won his 21st straight driving title at The Meadows racetrack outside Pittsburgh, and he recently earned the sport's highest honor when he was voted into the Living Hall of Fame. For his part, Burke won two awards-- one outright as trainer, where he dominated at his home base The Meadows while also having powerful divisions at Pocono and Harrah's Chester, and one as owner, for the many stars he owns in partnership, with his most frequent "companions" being Michael Bruscemi and Mark Weaver of Weaver Bruscemi LLC.
Hidden Viggorish, former Sire Stakes star and still a world champion, earned overall honors as Pennsylvania Harness Horse of the Year, which required a horse to have over half their starts in the Commonwealth. The trotter Hidden Viggorish won ten times and earned almost $200,000 without leaving The Meadows but once, regularly a top factor in the Open classes.
Hidden Viggorish was joined on the pacing side by the 3-year-old filly Bell On Wheels, who won Pacer of the Year honors by terrorizing the fair circuit and posting 21 wins overall for the season, tied for the top among all North American harness racers.
The fair circuit was also represented by Dean Brickell, Unsung Horseman of the Year, who had a large hand in preparing his own high-percentage barn and that of his brother Dave, and was tireless in his efforts (which fortunately were well-rewarded in 2009).
Pennsylvania Sire Stakes Horse of the Year was One More Laugh, a nationally-prominent freshman pacing colt who swept his PaSS preliminaries and his final while taking down over $200,000 in Sire Stakes action alone.
PA-sired Horse of the Year, with no start restrictions, was Lucky Jim, who this past season matured into the dominant free-for-all trotter in North America, getting his picture taken after 17 of his 18 starts and amassing over $1 million on his bankroll for his western PA owners.
Breeders of the Year, for the second straight season, were Arlene and Jules Siegel, who run Fashion Farms in eastcentral Pennsylvania. The Siegels bred two Breeders Crown winners in Broadway Schooner (whom they own) and, and also bred the top moneywinner in last year's Sire Stakes, Fashion Feline (whom they also own).
The Mary Lib Miller Award, named after the wife of the great Hall of Famer who had her own particular knack for fitting in and making people feel comfortable and special, was won by Francis Azur by proclamation of a blue-ribbon committee. Azur, from Coraopolis in western PA, decided to help out his hometown fair in Barton, Vt., and did so in an unprecedented fashion -- mailing a check for $20,000 for purses and advertising, then sending two top horses from his stable, along with drivers Brian Sears and Tim Tetrick, who between them have won the last three national Driver of the Year awards. The match race went in 1:56.2, five seconds better than the track record, but more importantly the entire Azur entourage (including its modest leader, content to remain "in the shadows") drew a huge throng of fans (and much media), who were delighted when the stars took personal time to visit with them and then acknowledged their efforts with continuous, loud cheering.
The award winners will be presented their trophies by Keystone USHWA over the next few weeks at their home Pennsylvania tracks.
by Gerry Connors, Keystone chapter, USHWA
Courtesy of the US Trotting Association Web Newsroom