Francis Azur, a harness racing horseman and resident in the western part of the state of Pennsylvania, gathered a few of his friends for a 'road trip' on Aug. 21 this past year. The destination was the Orleans County Fair in Barton Vt., Azur's hometown fair.
Already in Barton was a check for $16,000, a gift from Azur to Barton to help improve the purses at the fair. (He would also donate $4,000 for advertising and promotions, for a total of $20,000.)
Three of Azur's road buddies were the pacers Blueridge Western ($1,029,254, 1:49.2) and Noble Falcon ($640,485, 1:48.3), and their trainer Kevin McDermott. Azur's other two friends were drivers Brian Sears and Tim Tetrick -- who between them have won the last three Driver of the Year contests, and have guided the winners of almost $30 million this season.
What happened next insured Francis Azur's selection as the Lee Anne Pooler Unsung Hero of the Year in balloting among active members of the U.S. Harness Writers' Association.
A giant crowd came to the fairgrounds, and were delighted all day. Tetrick and Sears were very generous with their time, going into the grandstand to sign autographs -- and probably converting many other people to harness racing's cause. And the two pacers went a ding-dong exhibition mile: Noble Falcon prevailed in a photo in 1:56.2, but the actual winner didn't matter as much as the overwhelming good feeling pervading the day, with the Vermont fans indeed knowing they were witnessing something special.
Kevin McDermott said, "I don't think I ever had tears in my eyes at a race before this. They cheered when the horses stepped on the track. They cheered when they turned to go to the gate. They cheered at every quarter-mile marker. I was proud to be a part of this."
And recording every cheer and every great moment were three regional newspapers, a statewide radio station, and the regional CBS-TV affiliate.
Azur's modest reaction?: "I just wanted to do something for this fair."
Did he ever, in spades - a triumph of the harness racing season.
Francis Azur will be honored at the annual awards dinner of the U.S. Harness Writers', to be held on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010 at Yonkers Raceway, just north of New York City. To obtain tickets, or for further information, please contact Dave Little at (212) 210-1691.
by Jerry Connors, for the U.S. Harness Writers' Association
Courtesy of The US Trotting Association Web Newsroom