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DAYTON, OH. - Colorful Sky made a successful debut into harness racing open mares company on Friday night (Oct. 13) at Hollywood Dayton Raceway, winning the featured $18,500 event in a new lifetime best 1:51.4 clocking. Defending national dash champion Aaron Merriman, who recently scored his 800th win for the fourth consecutive season and has announced a goal of 1000 wins in a single season for his first time this year, was the sulky sitter as the 5-year-old daughter of Skydancer Hanover notched her 16th career victory. Colorful Sky also passed the $100,000 earnings plateau with the win. Owner Grant Wilfong has campaigned the winner throughout her career, but recently relegated the training duties to Charles Stewart. In her first start under Stewart's tutelage, Colorful Sky finished second in a top distaff condition event that went in 1:50.4. In this week's clash, Merriman and Colorful Sky yielded briefly to Addys Way (Dan Noble) as they approached the quarter-mile marker in :26.4. Immediately moving back to the lead, Colorful Sky lead the field to the half in :55.3 and the three quarters in 1:23.3, then tacked on a :28.1 final panel to barely hold on over last week's Open winner Town Temptress (Kyle Ater) for the victory. Longshot Make Three Wishes (Josh Sutton) was best of the rest to garner the show dough. Gregg Keidel      

Aaron Merriman is not the type of person who sets statistical goals, but after becoming on Tuesday the first driver in harness racing history to win at least 800 races in four consecutive years, he admitted to having another number in mind: 1,000. Only three drivers have reached 1,000 wins. Tim Tetrick holds harness racing's record of 1,189 victories, set in 2007. Walter Case Jr. won 1,077 races in 1998 and Tony Morgan won 1,004 races in 2006. Morgan is the only other driver to win at least 800 races in three consecutive years, which he accomplished in 2006, 2007 and 2008. He has surpassed 800 victories a total of four years in his career, with the remaining time occurring in 1996. "That's cool," Merriman said Wednesday when told of his record streak. "I didn't know that. I thought someone else would have done it. That's awesome. "I don't set goals, which everyone kind of knows," he continued. "I just try to look at the smaller picture, day to day, and the drives that I have in front of me. But when I heard somewhere in late June or July that I got my 500th win, I actually set a goal. I'd like to win 1,000. I just think it's an amazing feat. I'd like to try to get that done. I'll be aggressively seeking that. Eight-hundred came up fast. I'm glad I'm on pace." He then added, with a laugh, "I hope I can eclipse the goal I actually set. If I don't, I'll never set another one again." Merriman, who entered Wednesday with 803 wins, is averaging nearly three victories per day and is on pace for 1,061 wins this season. He trails Tetrick's 2007 record-setting pace by 93 triumphs through a comparable number of days. "Timmy's record is pretty safe, I believe," Merriman said. "He's unbelievable. The pace he kept that year was awesome." Merriman's 803 wins lead North America and put him 325 victories ahead of second-place Jason Bartlett. Merriman led all drivers in wins in 2016, with 890, and in 2015, with 874. In 2014, his 841 victories were second to Ronnie Wrenn Jr.'s 847. "There are so many great drivers out there," Merriman said. "Some guys don't get as much due, maybe because of their location. But I'm telling you, there are many drivers that can drive a good horse. There is a handful at every track that could succeed anywhere with the right horses. Catch driving is definitely a trade now and guys are good at it. "I've got to race against David (Palone) every day," he added, referring to the sport's all-time leader in wins, with 18,090. "You think I like to win? Let me tell you something, Palone is sicker than I am. If he loses with a horse he thinks should win, he's upset. You can tell. I think that's great. He wants to do good. "You want to race with people like that. It makes you better. You're not going to play basketball with a bunch of kindergartners and ever get better. I love it." For his career, the 39-year-old Merriman has won 9,532 races, which ranks 18th in North American harness racing history. He was the second-youngest driver to reach 9,000 victories, behind only Tetrick, who did it when he was 34. "We are so fortunate to be able to drive horses for a living," said Merriman, who lives in Ohio and keeps busy by driving at multiple tracks several days a week. "It's unbelievable. We love the breed, we love the game, and I couldn't be more blessed to have the opportunity to do this for a living." Ken Weingartner Media Relations Manager

WASHINGTON, PA, Oct. 2, 2017 -- Sassa Hanover blazed the opening quarter in 26.3 and didn't slow thereafter, easily capturing Monday's harness racing $20,000 Filly & Mare Not Listed Preferred/Preferred Handicap Pace at The Meadows. Sassa Hanover pocketed her stablemate, Tessa Seelster, before the quarter, and the pair drew away from the field late to transform the stretch drive into their own private battle. Tessa Seelster vacated the pocket but could not cut into the margin of Sassa Hanover, who prevailed by 3/4 lengths in 1:52 for Aaron Merriman. Shark Gal rode the cones for show. Ron Burke trains Sassa Hanover, a 5-year-old daughter of Rock N Roll Heaven-Sayo Hanover who now boasts $1,211,024 in career earnings, for Burke Racing Stable, Panhellenic Stable, Weaver Bruscemi LLC and Larry Karr. It was one of three wins on the 13-race card for Merriman. The Meadows Racetrack & Casino

WASHINGTON, PA, Aug. 29, 2017 -- It took her three tries, but Barn Girl finally wore down a determined Goodtogo Hanover and captured Tuesday's $20,000 harness racing filly & mare  $10,000 Life/Preferred Handicap Trot at The Meadows. The two mares dueled for the early lead, and when Goodtogo Hanover and Brian Zendt refused to release Barn Girl, Aaron Merriman settled her into the two hole. She pulled the pocket and attacked once again down the backside but still could not clear. Finally, when it looked as though Goodtogo Hanover might pull off the upset, Barn Girl gathered her talent and resolve in the stretch and downed her stubborn rival by a head in 1:55. Classical Annie was third. Bill Bercury trains Barn Girl, a 5-year-old daughter of Cash Hall-Turquoise Sweetie who won for the 22nd time over the past two seasons and extended her career bankroll to $511,108, for Renee Bercury. Mike Wilder piloted four winners while Tony Hall and Merriman each enjoyed a triple on the 13-race card. Because Wednesday's card at The Meadows is the final program of the Mountain Laurel meeting, no pool can be carried over. Therefore, the Pick 4, Pick 5 and final superfecta all are "must pay." First post is 1:05 PM. The Meadows Racetrack & Casino

WASHINGTON, PA, May 24, 2017 -- The harness racing veteran Tamarind displayed his class and toughness Wednesday at The Meadows when he sustained a first-over bid in the slop and went on to capture the featured race, a $13,000 conditioned trot. Tamarind was fourth near the half when Aaron Merriman sent him after the leader, Classic Banker. It took the 9-year-old son of Angus Hall-Spicegirl Kosmos most of the back half to wear down Classic Banker, but he drew off in the stretch to prevail in 1:55. Mike The Trader rallied for second, 2-1/2 lengths back, while Classic Banker saved show. Bill Bercury owns and trains Tamarind, who boosted his career bankroll to $892,084. Mike Wilder and Merriman each fashioned a three-bagger on the 12-race card. Live racing at The Meadows resumes with a special Friday card that features the $72,000 Currier & Ives for 3-year-old filly trotters. First post is 5 PM. The Meadows Racetrack & Casino

WASHINGTON, PA, May 16, 2017 -- Stuck three-wide through a sizzling 26.4 opening quarter, Barn Girl showed her grit when she held off all harness racing challengers to capture Tuesday's $20,000 Filly & Mare Winners Over $10,000 Life/Preferred Handicap Trot at The Meadows. When Barn Girl finally reached the front near the three-eighths, she shrugged off the first-over move of Bessie. A more serious threat was Princess Pablano, who went three-wide down the backside and drew even with Barn Girl into the final turn. But Barn Girl drew off for Aaron Merriman in late stretch and downed Princess Pablano by 1-1/4 lengths in 1:53.4. Bessie persevered for show. Bill Bercury trains Barn Girl, a 5-year-old daughter of Cash Hall-Turquoise Sweetie who has won 18 times over the past two seasons and $455,108 for her career, for Renee Bercury. The Meadows Racetrack & Casino

WASHINGTON, PA, May 9, 2017 -- Bessie sat patiently through three-quarters before tackling the leader, Goodtogo Hanover, and nailing her in the stretch to capture Tuesday's $20,000 harness racing filly & mare Preferred Handicap Trot at The Meadows. Goodtogo Hanover enjoyed a comfortable 58 opening half, which discouraged any early challenges. But when Tony Hall tipped Bessie off the cones, the 6-year-old daughter of Equinox Bi-Cantab's Chorine steadily eroded the margin and downed Goodtogo Hanover by a length in 1:55.1 Princess Pablano was a ground-saving third. Rick Clapper trains Bessie, who vaulted over $300,000 in career earnings, for Paula Clapper, Umholtz Racing Stable and Kennedy Sports Corp. Aaron Merriman collected four wins and Hall three on the 13-race card. The Meadows Racetrack & Casino

WASHINGTON, PA, April 4, 2017 -- Aaron Merriman, harness racing's "winningest" driver in 2015 and 2016, collected career win 9,000 Tuesday at The Meadows when he piloted DD's Comet to victory in the fourth race. A native of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, Merriman, 38, has been driving at both The Meadows and Northfield Park for the past few years and has been rolling up wins at a rapid pace. He notched career win 6,000 in October 2013, meaning he has amassed 3,000 victories in the last 42 months. Why has he been so successful? "I think just showing up every day and trying to do your best is part of it," he said. "I'm not a guy who calls off. I show up. When you do that and win a few races, you build your confidence." Driving regularly at two tracks can be grueling, but Merriman says he expects to maintain his hectic schedule. "As long as the quality of racing is as it is or better, I can see myself doing it," he said. "Yeah, there are four tough days of doubleheaders, but that leaves three days to do things I need to do or relax. It's not the size of the purses so much that motivates me as the quality of the horses. There are such nice horses at both tracks now." Even when he gets the opportunity for a few days off, he doesn't take it. "One of my fears is I would lose my drives if I took a couple days off. That's not necessarily lack of confidence, but someone's always there to step up and drive your horses. Some days, I want to stay in bed and sleep, but I can't do it for fear I'd lose my horses. I know that sounds horrible; imagine what it's like to feel it." Merriman indicated he has no long-range plans -- for harness racing or anything else. "I'm a day-to-day guy," he said. "I don't look ahead at all, although I should. I just hope my kids find something they can get as attached to as I have." The Meadows Racetrack & Casino

WASHINGTON, PA, April 4, 2017 -- Dismissed at 18-1 thanks to a stale date and poor post position, Box Of Luck zipped right to the front and pulled off the harness racing upset in Tuesday's Tamarind Trot at The Meadows. DD's Comet captured the other $15,000 opening-leg division -- and gave Aaron Merriman his 9,000th career win -- in the series for 3-year-old colts and geldings. The event honors Tamarind, long a top performer at The Meadows and still active for owner/trainer Bill Bercury. Box Of Luck earned $39,225 at 2 but ended his season Sept. 11 off a stretch of subpar performances. He hadn't raced since then and was saddled with post 8 for his return. But when Mike Wilder sent him to the lead, the Lucky Chucky-New DVD gelding thwarted the first-over bid of Rockefeller Lindy and prevailed in 1:58, 1-1/4 lengths better than Media Buzz. Rockefeller Lindy saved show. Robert Rougeaux III trains Box Of Luck for Brocious Racing Stable and Lone Wolf Stable. In the $13,500 Filly & Mare Winners Over $10,000 Life Handicap Trot, Goodtogo Hanover withstood nearly race-long pressure from Oho Diamond to down her by a head in 1:55, with the pocket-sitting Bags For All third. Brian Zendt drove for trainer Phillip Zendt and owner Gary Saul. The 4-year-old daughter of Explosive Matter-Grammy Hall extended her career bankroll to $171,427. Jim Pantaleano piloted three winners on the 13-race card.   The Meadows Racetrack & Casino

WASHINGTON, PA, March 20, 2017 -- Dapper Dude stalked Mykindachip from the pocket, then blew by him in the lane to capture Monday's $20,000 Preferred Handicap Pace at The Meadows. Dapper Dude chased Mykindachip through a 1:23 three-quarters before Aaron Merriman vacated the pocket and asked the millionaire for pace. The 8-year-old son of The Panderosa-Dress To Suggest responded by wearing down Mykindachip and downing him by 1-1/4 lengths in 1:50.4. Heavenly Knox shot the Lightning Lane for show. Bill Bercury trains Dapper Dude, who boosted his lifetime bankroll to $1,060,520, for Renee Bercury. In Monday's companion feature, the $20,000 Filly & Mare Preferred Handicap Pace, Rockin Rum Springa cut out a brutal 25.3 opening panel but had enough to hold on and triumph by 1/2 length in 1:52.1 for Eric Goodell, trainer Ron Burke and owners Burke Racing Stable and Weaver Bruscemi LLC. Dime A Dance and Southwind Roulette, a Doug Snyder-trained entry, finished second and third, respectively. A 4-year-old daughter of Rockin Image-Deferred Comp, Rockin Rum Springa now boasts $185,611 in career earnings. Dave Palone piloted four winners on the 13-race card while Burke fashioned a triple. by Evan Pattak, for the Meadows  

WASHINGTON, PA, March 14, 2017 -- DD's Comet moved three wide into the final turn and left the field 5 lengths in his wake in capturing his second straight victory in Tuesday's Ken Weaver Memorial Trot at The Meadows. Claire And Kenny took the other $12,500 second-leg split in the series for harness racing 3- and 4-year-old colts, stallions and geldings. The 3-5 favorite, DD's Comet briefly followed the first-over cover of Bourdain before Aaron Merriman sent him on his decisive move. The 3-year-old son of Crazed-Deedee's Destiny prevailed in 2:00.1, with a fine 28.4 closing panel on a "good" surface. Bourdain saved place while Photo Bomber earned show. Chris Beaver trains DD's Comet and owns with Synerco Ventures. In the $20,000 Filly & Mare Winners Over $10,000 Life/Preferred Handicap Trot, Barn Girl collected a front-end victory for Merriman, trainer Bill Bercury and owner Renee Bercury in 1:58. Bessie, who saw her three-race winning streak snapped, rallied from last to be second, a neck back, with the first-over Homepage third. The 5-year-old daughter of Cash Hall-Turquoise Sweetie now boasts a lifetime bankroll of $414,696. Dan Rawlings piloted three winners, including a pair for trainer Dirk Simpson, on the 13-race card while Dave Palone also enjoyed a three-bagger, among them two wins for trainer Ron Burke. The Meadows Racetrack & Casino

WASHINGTON, PA, March 6, 2017 --Shuffled to sixth along the pylons with no path out, Hard Headed Women barreled through the Lightning Lane and scored the 8-1 upset in Monday's opening leg of the Donna Dunn Memorial Pace at The Meadows. Terrortina took the other $12,500 split in the series for harness racing 3 and 4-year-old fillies and mares. The event honors the memory of the late Donna Dunn, longtime Standardbred owner and wife of the late Walter "Boots" Dunn, prominent trainer, driver, breeder and United States Trotting Association director. Hard Headed Women got away fourth from post 9 for Aaron Merriman but was buried inside down the backside. Merriman sent her around one horse into the final turn before pointing her to the Lightning Lane. She prevailed in a career-best 1:55.4, 1-1/2 lengths better than Bella Ragaza, with Jade Bangles third. Bill Rhoades trains the 4-year-old daughter of Riverboat King-Dragon's Georgette for Leah Rhodes. In the $20,000 Filly & Mare Preferred Handicap Pace, Spreester, a 13-time winner in 2016 who had been shut out in her first eight starts this year, survived a miserable trip to score for Merriman, trainer Bill Bercury and owner Renee Bercury. Early leader Lakeisha was second, 1/2 length back, with a rallying Medusa third. The 6-year-old daughter of American Ideal-Rodeo Spree extended her career bankroll to $594,656. It was one of three wins for Merriman on the 12-race card. The Meadows Racetrack & Casino

Barn Girl, Dapper Dude, Tamarind and two other harness racing horses live on a farm in Slippery Rock. When they see the horse trailer, they get very excited because they know they are going to The Meadows racetrack. “They really, truly, love to race,” said William Bercury, who trains the horses that are owned by his wife, Renee Bercury. I “met” Barn Girl in January when she calmly stepped off the track after trotting faster than seven other mares and fillies to win the featured race of the day. I thought she looked small, as horses go, and dainty. The 5-year-old bay mare is 15.1 hands high and 815 pounds, Bercury told me. Proving that in her case, neither size nor sex matters. Barn Girl “beat the boys” on Feb. 15, Bercury said in a telephone interview. The only mare in the Preferred Handicap Trot, Barn Girl beat stallions and geldings, which is easier said than done because they generally are 100 pounds heavier and 4 inches taller than she is. Barn Girl is almost diminutive compared to the famous thoroughbred Secretariat. The Triple Crown winner nicknamed “Big Red” was 16.2 hands high and 1,155 pounds. Growing up without a horse of my own, I was entranced by the Walter Farley horse books, especially “The Black Stallion” and “The Black Stallion’s Sulky Colt.” Hanging out in The Meadows paddock on Jan. 18 with people who live the kind of lives that Farley wrote about, I got to ask and Bercury and their driver, Aaron Merriman, a series of dumb questions that they patiently answered. Do you talk to the horses when you are racing? Do they listen to you? How smart are horses? Do you have a favorite horse? Are the horses happy if they win? How do you communicate with them and control them when you are riding in a sulky behind them rather than sitting astride their backs? Merriman, the winningest harness racing driver in the country in 2015 and 2016, says he talks to horses during races, and they listen. “When they flick their ears back, they’re listening. But when their ears go flat on their head, they’re mad. You don’t want to see that,” he said. Bercury is always watching Barn Girl’s ears because they are often edging toward flat. “She’s a mare, and she is a very wary mare,” he said. Not to be sexist, but horse people generally agree that mares are moodier and harder to handle than geldings, which are neutered males. “Around mares you need to be attentive and do things their way,” Bercury said. “If you want a nice, easygoing horse, go with a gelding.” Since the couple bought Barn Girl in October, “she has adapted well to her surroundings, and we have adapted well to her ways,” Bercury said. “Mike, our assistant, treats her like a pet. We often enter the barn and find him singing or talking to her in the mellow tones of true love.” Since she moved into the Bercury stables, Barn Girl has had 11 starts and seven first-place wins, two seconds and two third-place finishes. Her lifetime record for 61 races is 30 wins, 10 seconds and 12 thirds. Her lifetime earnings are $394,196. Bercury said they bought Barn Girl from Ron Burke, “the top trainer in the country and perhaps the world. He sold us this horse because he had several mares in the same category … Ron Burke and his staff have been Barn Girl’s biggest fans since we bought her and have cheered us on as friends and first-class competitors.” Many animal lovers don’t think horses are as smart as dogs. Some people don’t think they’re smart at all. “Oh, they’re smarter than you’d think,” said Merriman, 38, who has been driving since 1999. Horses are especially smart about “picking up on people who fear or dislike them. They respond well if you’re relaxed and confident.” “Absolutely I have favorite horses,” he said. “They’re not necessarily the fastest horses. They’re the ones that try the hardest.” Merriman drives all of the Bercury horses, including Dapper Dude, an 8-year-old stallion with more than $1 million in lifetime earnings. He also drives horses for many other trainers and diplomatically did not provide the names of his favorite or least-favorite horses. “Some horses are happy when they pass a horse on the track,” Merriman said. “Some seem to enjoy being out in front.” Bercury, who with his wife has owned horses since 1978, is convinced “they want to win. I think they know the object is to beat the other horses. If they have confidence in the driver, they go.” “Aaron is not just a driver. He’s a horseman,” Bercury said. “He knows horses and he likes them, and that makes a difference. I have never seen him put a whip to a horse.” The driver uses the reins to guide the horse during the race. There are horses who would prefer to pick their own race route, Bercury said with a chuckle, but “their way is usually not the smart way.” So how do drivers and trainers communicate with harness racing horses? When you ride astride a horse, your legs are used to control and send signals and cues to the horse. You can put your hands on their necks to calm or encourage them. You can learn forward to talk to them. In a sulky or job cart, driver only have their hands. “When I drive or train, I really only have two fingers on the reins,” Bercury said. So some of the communication between drivers and race horses is akin to some form of magic that can neither be explained nor taught. The stalls of each of the Bercury horses open up into their own individual pastures. The horses are able to visit each other over the the fences. Tamarind, 9, is currently in the final weeks of what Bercury calls his “vacation.” The stallion wasn’t sick or lame when Bercury gave him six weeks off from training and racing. A vacation is just something Bercury believes a horse needs, now and then. “These horses give it their all. They work very hard, and they need time to be horses. They roll in the snow or do whatever they want to do. It’s their choice.” “Some people say they can’t afford vacations. I say I can’t afford not to.” By Linda Wilson Fuoco Reprinted with permission of The Sun-Gazette

WASHINGTON, PA, Feb. 15, 2017 -- The only harness racing mare in the field, Barn Girl stalked TSM Photo Bugger from the pocket, then blew by in the lane to capture Wednesday's $18,000 Preferred Handicap Trot at The Meadows. Aaron Merriman kept Barn Girl under wraps until the top of the stretch, when she brushed past the tiring leader and scored in 1:54.3. Valley Of Sin followed cover well for second, a neck back, while Trustworthy Kid, the 1-2 favorite, rallied for show. Bill Bercury trains Barn Girl, a 5-year-old daughter of Cash Hall-Turquoise Sweetie who extended her career bankroll to $394,196, for Renee Bercury. It was one of three wins for Merriman on the 13-race card.   The Meadows Racetrack & Casino

WASHINGTON, PA, Jan. 18, 2017 -- Trailing by 7-1/2 lengths at the half, Barn Girl unleashed a sustained bid for Aaron Merriman that carried her to an impressive harness racing victory -- her third straight and sixth in her last seven starts -- in Wednesday's $20,000 Filly & Mare Preferred Handicap Trot at The Meadows. A determined Whata Donato, who was parked to the three-eighths before getting the lead, appeared to have the field put away heading into the stretch. But Barn Girl rocketed by her, drawing off to defeat her by 2-1/2 lengths in 1:56.4 over a "good" surface. Early leader Unefoisdansmavie earned show. Bill Bercury trains Barn Girl, a 5-year-old daughter of Cash Hall-Turquoise Sweetie who triumphed for the 29th time in 58 career outings (50 percent) and extended her lifetime bankroll to $377,796, for Renee Bercury. Wilbur Yoder and trainer Norm Parker teamed for a pair of wins on the 13-race card while Dave Palone, Dan Rawlings and Merriman also enjoyed two-baggers. The Meadows Racetrack & Casino

Aaron Merriman led all harness racing drivers in wins for the second consecutive year, setting career highs for victories and purses in the process, but his favorite sports-related moment of 2016 came away from the track. It came when Merriman's beloved Cleveland Cavaliers won their first NBA title and brought the city of Cleveland its first championship in 52 years. "It's not even a contest," said the 38-year-old Merriman, a northern Ohio native and lifelong Cleveland sports fan. "It was phenomenal, for the city and our state and the franchise. Cleveland is actually on a big resurgence; it's getting to be a place to go and to travel to. "Everybody in my family likes sports," he continued. "This is something I grew up with. It's just like racing to me. Sports are something to bring people together. That's one of the main reasons I think I like it. There's some rivalry involved, and there are friendly arguments and friendly competition. It's just enjoyable to be a part of it." Merriman is a Browns season-ticket holder and gets ticket packages for the Cavaliers. He also is a big fan of the Indians and manager Terry Francona (who spent his early childhood in Cleveland while his father Tito played for the Indians) and was proud of the team's run to the World Series, even though it ended with a seven-game loss to the Chicago Cubs. "One thing about me, I bleed my city," Merriman said. "I love the Browns, as bad as we are, it doesn't even bother me too much. I don't give up on my teams. That's for sure." He doesn't give up on much. In 2016 Merriman led all drivers in starts for the third consecutive year - he was the only driver to surpass 4,000 in any of those seasons - and he joined Tony Morgan as the only other driver in history to win at least 800 races in three consecutive years. Merriman won a career-best 891 races last year, on the heels of posting 874 victories in 2015 and 841 in 2014. Horses driven by Merriman earned $7.67 million in purses, topping his previous high of $7.42 million set in 2015. Not that Merriman would know, unless told. "I know it's hard to believe, and no one wants to believe it, but I don't look," Merriman said. "If you start thinking you have to be at (a certain number) you start psyching yourself out for no reason. There becomes this imaginary pressure and sometimes it can get to you. I don't care who you are, you begin to press. "I try to take it, not even day by day, but card by card. Even race by race, if possible, but that's sometimes tough when you have a bad day. I just try to maximize my performance by race card." Merriman drives regularly at Northfield Park, near Cleveland, and at The Meadows, near Pittsburgh. Three times a week, he drives at both tracks --- The Meadows in the afternoon and Northfield in the evening. "Physically it's tough," Merriman said. "But mentally, to me, it's a lot easier to turn the page when I don't have to wait three days for another race. If I have a couple days off, I'm happy, but a lot of times I've got 20 horses to drive. I've got the opportunity to put a bad day behind me and fix it immediately." On Jan. 21, Merriman will be honored by the Ohio chapter of the U.S. Harness Writers Association with the Winner's Circle Award, given for outstanding accomplishments in the previous year. In February, Merriman will be honored in Las Vegas by the national USHWA organization for leading all drivers in North America in wins. While Merriman can easily identify his favorite sports moments away from the racetrack, he has difficulty picking favorite accomplishments resulting from his work. Each day at the track produces its own moments. "Just being able to stay healthy and race all year, to me, is an accomplishment," said Merriman, who missed several months of action in 2010 after an accident in which he broke both wrists and an elbow. "To stay at a high level and stay as fresh as possible throughout the year. "I don't pride myself on what I've won. I'd rather just be known as a guy that works hard, stays focused, and is determined to do the best I can. I have more pride in showing up and giving maximum effort every day." Merriman got 2017 off to a fast start, winning eight races at Northfield Park on New Year's Day. He leads North America in wins with 41. "New Year's Day, a few guys didn't show up and I had the opportunity to drive some good horses," said Merriman, who has won 8,771 races in his career, which is good for 21st place among all drivers in history. "When you have the opportunity to drive nice horses in good spots, you're going to win races. It's opportunity, opportunity, opportunity." And while Merriman focuses his energy on racing at The Meadows and Northfield, he also has picked up Grand Circuit stakes drives at tracks around the country. He would like to possibly expand his Grand Circuit schedule this year, but it's not a priority. "We'll see what opportunities come along," Merriman said. "Everybody wants to follow a great horse. But I've driven a lot of good horses. I've never had 'The One,' but I'm blessed to drive any horse in any race that has desire to do good. Hopefully I do, but if I don't, I'll take advantage of every other opportunity I get. "It's not necessary for me to be at any certain place at any certain time --- except the winner's circle, ideally." Ken Weingartner

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