All-Star drivers labor all weekend

07:00 AM 02 Sep 2014 NZST
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Harness Racing Sebastian K, harness racing Harness Racing Harness Racing Ron Burke, harness racing
Drivers salute the playing of the national anthem
Photo by Chris Tully
Sebastian K and Ake Svanstedt tied track record in Crawford Farms Trot
Photo by Chris Tully
The boss, Jeff Gural, chats with Yannick Gingras across the fence
Photo by Chris Tully
RUS final winner Heather Reese is joined by Team Crawford
Photo by Chris Tully
Ron Burke evaluates yearlings as Michelle Crawford look on
Photo by Chris Tully
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Vernon, NY --- Labor Day weekend harness racing began with a bang at Vernon Downs on Friday (Aug. 29) night as the opening leg of the Tioga-Vernon All-Star Drivers' Championship shared the spotlight with the Zweig Memorial, the Jack Bailey Memorial and the Crawford Farms Trot. All drivers advance to Tioga today (Sept. 1) for round two and the Cane Pace.

Following the first four legs of round one of the drivers 'race for the cup' the lead is shared by Yannick Gingras and Ron Pierce with 20 points each. But it was not solely the lure of a $10,000 first prize that drew the top reinsmen to Vernon. With over three-quarters of a million dollars of purse money on the card, and some of the best racehorses in the country, the big guns were happy to be in town.

For trainers, the day began with a noon check-in at the detention barn for the top stakes horses. Many horsemen made the most of the opportunity to attend the inaugural Open House at Crawford Farms in Durhamville, just 10 minutes north on route 31 near Verona.

With plenty of yearlings to inspect, several trainers like Ron Burke, Linda Toscano, Charlie Norris, Homer Hochstetler and Gates Brunet got a head start on their evaluation rounds. Al and Michelle Crawford put out an elaborate spread of barbecue and refreshments and most attendees spent the sunny afternoon socializing and looking at colts.

The crew at Vernon also had a fun-filled evening planned at the Downs, which started with an autograph session with the top drivers and included a T-shirt giveaway as well as the Jim Marohn Jr.bobblehead. Fans lined up along the apron to get the T-shirts and Marohn dolls which were individually emblazoned with the nine different drivers competing.

Even the boss himself, Jeff Gural, was on-hand to greet the drivers and fans, and could be seen along the outside fence chatting with the Green Hornet before the card began.

Following the third race was the ever popular Racing Under Saddle series $5,700 final. The race was won by Heather Reese who opened up a city block on the rest of the field by the time they rounded the final turn. Team Crawford packed the winner's circle to help celebrate with their colleague and farm manager who was the winning rider in 2:04 with Tymal Oh So Nice.

Both Zweig finals went to Takter stable all-stars. Filly Shake It Cerry rallied in 1:53.4 with Ron Pierce driving and improved her seasonal stats to 8 wins in 10 starts and $395,036. Colt Father Patrick got back to his winning ways and eclipsed $700,000 for the season with regular pilot Yannick Gingras in 1:52.2.

Despite all the 3-year-old trotting talent on tap, the elixir that the crowd was truly thirsty for was Sebastian K and the rest of the field in the $236,000 Crawford Farms Trot. The number one horse in North America went off the prohibitive 1-9 favorite and did not disappoint, winning strategically for Svanstedt USA in 1:53, equaling the track record.

The Crawford-sponsored purse put the collective earnings of the talented field just over the $15 million mark, and included Archangel (2nd), Market Share (3rd), and 2013 Dan Patch Horse of the Year Bee A Magician (4th).

Gingras and Pierce will be reunited today (Sept. 1) at Tioga along with Corey Callahan, Tim Tetrick, Matt Kakaley, Scott Zeron, Jody Jamieson, Jim Marohn Jr. and Chris Lems for the final round.

Along with the drivers challenge, the Miss Versatility and the Shady Daisy fill-up the Southern Tier's holiday menu. Highlighted by the $437,325 Cane Pace, first leg of the pacing triple crown, the historic event features glamour boys He's Watching and JK Endofanera. Labor Day in central New York will assuredly go out with a bang as well.

by Chris Tully

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