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Batavia, NY---On Saturday (Dec. 17), the curtain came down on the 70th anniversary season of harness racing at Batavia Downs. America's oldest lighted harness track's meet that began on Monday (July 25), ran two days longer than originally scheduled after racing was extended for an extra weekend. As usual, the stake season was highlighted by eight divisions of the New York Sire Stake series which featured the best state bred horses and Grand Circuit horsemen. The series featured visits from the likes of John Campbell and Andy Miller and produced two new track records. On Saturday (Sept. 3) Pointomygranson (Marcus Miller) toured the facility in 1:53.2 and set a new standard for 2-year-old pacing geldings and on Wednesday (Sept. 14) Zack's Zoomer (Marcus Miller) trotted a mile in 1:58.1 and established a new track record for 2-year-old trotting colts. Racing under saddle (RUS) made its debut at the Downs on Wednesday (Sept. 7) and that produced a new track record as well. Admirable Hanover who was ridden by Vanessa Karlewicz won the $4,000 event in 2:03.4. On Saturday (Oct. 9), Batavia Downs signature stake, the $50,000 Robert J. Kane Memorial trot saw the $7 million man, Foiled Again (Kevin Cummings) come from well off the pace to win by a length in 1:52.2 on the strength of an exciting stretch drive at 9-1. That win marked the 90th trip to the winner's circle for the richest standardbred in the history of the sport. For the first time ever, Batavia Downs offered a new claiming series that ran throughout the whole meet. Claimers of both gaits accrued points month to month in order to make finals worth between $15,000 and $20,000. On Saturday (Nov. 13) trotters Love U Forever and Chrome Finish, and pacers Outoftexas, War Front, Vals Jett, Big Unit and Can U Be Fun won the finals in their respective divisions. In September, Batavia Downs hosted a new owner's seminar in conjunction with the United States Trotting Association and the Harness Horse Breeders of New York State. 26 people took part in the workshop that took them from the classroom to the paddock and provided them with everything they needed to learn in order to make informed decisions about Standardbred ownership. On the track, one of the best driving colonies in some time put on quite a show. Perennial local favorite Jim Morrill Jr. put in another stellar effort that was highlighted by a seven-win night, two six-win nights and four five-win nights. But it was 22-year-old Drew Monti who eventually won the dash driving title with 116 wins for the meet. Monti also registered a seven-win night and two five-win efforts as well. It was the first ever driving title won by Monti. Jim Morrill Jr. did set a new single meet earnings record at the Downs after he banked $849,024 in purses from July to December. JD Perrin "three-peated" his training crown, finishing first again this year with 47 wins. Perrin's meet started off strong before many of his horses fell ill. But after a trying middle stretch, the stable got back on track over the last month and Perrin was able to defend his title again. The winningest post position was post one with 231 wins followed by post two (151), post four (138) and post three (126). Post one also made the board 63% of the time. Also, the favorites won the race 46% of the time during the course of the meet. "We had a very exciting year at Batavia Downs this year. The product on the track was very competitive and having drivers like Jim Morrill Jr., Drew Monti, Shawn Gray and newcomer Larry Stalbaum joining the fray, the competition was fierce every night" said Todd Haight, GM/Director of Live Racing. "Despite our handle being down 5% for the meet, we paid out a record $5.9 million in purse money and we look forward to doing that again next year." Pending approval from the New York State Gaming Commission, the 2017 live racing meet at Batavia Downs will start on Wednesday (July 26). The management and horsemen of Batavia Downs would like to wish everyone in the industry a very Happy Holiday season and the best of luck in the upcoming new year.   By Tim Bojarski, for Batavia Downs  

Shady City stuck to script with a strong come from behind effort to win the $9,500 Open pacing harness racing feature at Batavia Downs on Saturday night (Dec. 17). Foreign Officer (Shawn Gray) shot out for the lead quickly and gained that position without any opposition. Once there, he led the group in single file to the half in :57.2. When the race advanced past five-eighths, Shady City (Larry Stalbaum) pulled first up and brought Warrawee Qually (Kevin Cummings) with him as they proceeded to advance toward the leader. Those positions remained unchanged around the far turn, but at the head of the stretch, Shady City put on another of his furious closing brushes. He went by the fading Foreign Officer, as well as Western Expression (Mike Whelan) who had tripped-out and snuck up the rail, to win by a head in 1:54.4. It was the sixth win of the year for Shady City ($4.10) who has now earned $68,332 for 2016. The 6-year-old gelded son of Metropolitan is owned by his driver, Larry Stalbaum and is trained by Kim Asher. In the $9,000 co-featured Open II pace, Rock The Dream (Ray Fisher Jr.) came from last at the half to go three-wide at three-quarters and win a narrow decision over Private Equity (Todd Cummings) in 1:55.1. It was the fourth win in five starts for Rock The Dream ($7.90) who is owned by Tessa Roland and trained by the Downs leading trainer, JD Perrin. Ray Fisher Jr. had a driving grand slam while Larry Stalbaum got the hat trick and Shawn Gray doubled up. Trainer Kim Asher also had three wins on the night followed by JD Perrin with two. As the 2016 meet came to a close, the leading driver and trainer were welcomed in front of the grandstand and presented with their winning hardware. Drew Monti was the leading dash driver with 116 wins and trainer JD Perrin was the top conditioner for the third straight year at the Batavia summer/fall meet with 47 wins.   By Tim Bojarski, for Batavia Downs

Wanna Rock N Roll continued her late season dominance of the best local harness racing mares as she fended off challenges the entire race to take the $9,000 Mares Open pacing feature at Batavia Downs on Friday night (Dec. 16). Wanna Rock N Roll (Drew Monti) left like a freight train and took a lead she would never relinquish. But her journey was not without pressure. Scarlet N Silk (Ray Fisher Jr.) also left from post eight and acted like a prompter in a time trial for three-quarters of a mile. After recording stiff fractions of :28.1, :57.2 and 1:27.1 on a frigid night, Wanna Rock N Roll put away Scarlet N Silk, but then face an onslaught of horses swinging four-wide around the parking ticket recipient. The Filly Princess (Kevin Cummings), Aritiza Hanover (Ben McNeil) and Tymal Luckynpink (Shawn Gray) were bearing down on the leader around the last turn and inching closer with every stride. But Monti started urging and his mare, who responded in kind, and Wanna Rock N Roll paced away to a length victory in 1:56.3. It was the third straight victory in the top distaff class at Batavia Downs for Wanna Rock N Roll ($2.70) and tenth overall for the year. She has now earned $71,220 in 2016 for owner Rose Campbell. The 5-year-old daughter of Rocknroll Hanover is trained by Steve Kiblen. Shawn Gray registered a driving triple on Friday while Drew Monti, Shawn McDonough and Ray Fisher Jr. each had a double. The final card of racing for the 2016 season is Saturday (Dec. 17) at a special post time of 5 p.m.     Tim Bojarski

The Upstate New York Chapter of the United States Harness Writers Association has named their divisional winning horses of the meet for Batavia Downs, whose live harness racing season comes to a close on Saturday (Dec. 17). The connections of these horses will be honored and presented trophies in the Purple Haze winner's circle on Friday night (Dec. 16). Male Pacer of the Meet Thunderbolt Jaxon 18-8-2-4 $41,100 1:53.3 Owner: Michael L. Torcello Trainer: Gerry Sarama Driver: Jim Morrill Jr. and Ray Fisher Jr.   Male Trotter of the Meet Kahoku 15-4-4-1 $34,005 1:56.3 Owner: Colleen Girdlestone Trainer: Mark Laidlaw Driver: Ron Beback Jr. and Kevin Cummings   Female Pacer of the Meet My Tallia Ideal 16-5-3-4 $38,061 1:53.4 Owner: Peter Kibler, Kenneth Owczarczak and Courtney McNeight Trainer: Dave McNeight Jr. Driver: Dave McNeight III   Female Trotter of the Meet Love U Forever 17-6-5-2 $37,680 1:58.3 Owner: Michael L. Torcello and Samuel Smith Trainer: David Weston and Gerry Sarama Driver: Jim Morrill Jr. and Dave McNeight III   Claimer of the Meet Charmschooldropout 17-8-3-1 $27,394 1:56.4 Owner: Priscilla Mooney and Edward Belica Trainer: Priscilla Mooney Driver: Jim Morrill Jr., Kevin Cummings and Ray Fisher Jr.   By Tim Bojarski, for USHWA

Not too many Standardbreds are tough enough to make it through their 14th year and still be on the track winning races. Former Open trotter Armbro Casino is one and he will lead the post parade for the Open trot on Friday night (Dec. 16) at Batavia Downs and then circle back to the harness racing winner's circle where he will be officially retired. Whereas some horses make a lot of money in a short period of time winning stake races, it takes a special kind of horse to be competitive night after night, year after year and accumulate over a half-million dollars in the process. Armbro Casino has done just that. Armbro Casino is by Striking Sahbra out of the Pine Chip mare Chiptease. He was bred by the Armstrong Brothers of Brampton, Ontario and as a yearling, sold at Lexington as hip number 189 for $25,000. He didn't race as a 2-year-old and then his first four years at the races after that were at best, inauspicious. He didn't even make enough to cover costs. Between dealing with issues that racehorses do, his starts were limited and the quality of those were as well. But he always showed promise and glimpses of what he really was. Armbro Casino's first really good year was in 2009 when he competed in upper level condition races at major east coast tracks under the tutelage of Shaun Vallee. Over the next five years, Vallee and Armbro Casino would be household names at those venues as they would go on to accrue 26 wins, a mark of 1:55.4 and $439,845 in purses during that time. Even at the end of that run, the then 12-year-old gelding was far from done. On September 5, 2014, the venerable trotter set a new lifetime mark at Harrah's Philly when he went wire to wire in 1:53.3 by a gapped six-lengths while the rest of the field could only watch. During his career, Armbro Casino raced at 17 different tracks in 9 different states. He had 305 starts, 55 wins, 38 second, 41 thirds and made $600,188 in purses. That's an average of just under $2,000 per start, all in overnight races. For the last two years, Armbro Casino has raced under the ownership of USHWA president Tim Bojarski and Tony Gruppo. They have arranged for him to go to New Vocations in Laurelville, Ohio to be retrained for life after racing and eventually, re-homed with his new skills. New Vocations is one of the premier racehorse retraining facilities and has a program that their horses go through which is designed with the best interests of the horse in mind. The Laurelville location is run by Jennifer Daniels. "The first week he'll settle in and start acclimating to our barn routine and being turned out. By the end of the week he will likely be paired with one or two paddock mates. If he needs a bit of a rest we'll let him vacation for a while. But if he's ready to go back to work, we'll start with longeing and groundwork in the first part of week two" said Daniels. Week two is when their horses are evaluated for temperament, aptitude and soundness. After a couple days of in-hand work and longeing, they put a rider up with a third line. Usually after five or 10 minutes of learning leg and seat aids, they come off the line and are being ridden solo. From there it's just a matter of putting quiet saddle time in. "We want to give each horse the best possible chance to succeed in their new home-- we want them to be relaxed and happy in their job so we take things slow and instill solid basics. It will be an adopter's job to finish their training. Our job is to prep them for that and figure out who the horse is as an individual, the type of rider they will need and the lifestyle they're best suited for" said Daniels. Once they feel they've got a good handle on who the horse is, New Vocations then takes photos and video and posts their profile to their website (newvocations.org). Then carefully screened and approved adopters will reach out when they see a horse they're interested in. "We evaluate their application carefully and set up an interview time-- it's really important to make a good match. We are a service for the horse first and foremost; the successful adopter will be one that's the best fit for that individual horse. Typically every horse will get 20-40 inquiries and our job is to find the best match" Daniels summarized. Winnie Morgan Nemeth is the Standardbred Program Director at New Vocations. She was raised in the Standardbred business and is passionate about the breed and promoting them beyond the race track. "Having a retirement ceremony like this (for Armbro Casino) brings so much awareness to our great horses and lets our audience know how much the racing connections care about their them. I think it is a very fitting tribute for him as well. We are excited to have him come to New Vocations!" said Morgan Nemeth.   From Batavia Downs Media Relations  

As the 2016 live racing season comes to a close at Batavia Downs, the Upstate New York Chapter of the United States Harness Writers Association annually recognizes the top horses and horsemen who put on the show for the harness racing fans during the meet. This year the Chapter will present the Lifetime Achievement Award to Richie Mays and the Award of Valor to Jim McNeight Jr. Richie Mays got his start in harness racing by working for his father, Frank Mays, who was a respected longtime horseman in western New York. They were stabled at the Butternut Farm which was a training facility they owned in Silver Creek, NY. At a young age, Mays, along with his brothers Frank Jr, Tom and Terry, were taking care of outstanding horses like Mighty Tar Heel, a local legend that his father trained. Richie perfected his skills from the ground up and was eventually driving by the 1970's. Getting good mounts from the family stable gave Mays notoriety and it didn't take long before he became a very popular catch driver. Through the 1970's and 80's, Mays was one of the top drivers on the Batavia-Buffalo circuit and the horses that he and his family campaigned dotted the top classes for many of those years. Magician, Lyron Hanover, May O Neighs, Avon Sweet Song, Suspense, Elmo Hanover, Sam Fella, R L Lobell, Family Fortune, Spooky Doyle, Mountain Pam, Karen's Joy, Diesel Duke, Two Twenty Two and Serious George are just a small sampling of names that Mays brought to the winner's circle in a career that spans over five decades and is still going strong. Mays has logged career numbers as both a driver and trainer. Driving he has 1,638 wins and $4.22 million in earnings. As a conditioner he shows another 273 wins and $1.2 million in purses. Successful and professional could be used when discussing Richie Mays. But liked and respected by all who know him is what everyone would tell you first. On June 1 of this year, longtime western New York driver Jim McNeight went down in a three-horse accident at Buffalo Raceway and seriously injured his back. Being immediately sideline from doing any training or driving, and with a qucik come back not a consideration, the day to day operation of the stable was seriously in jeopardy. Jimmy's son, 19-year-old Jim Jr., had been grooming horses for a little over a year before getting his "Q" license. He had only driven 20 qualifiers in 2015 and 14 more in 2016. He was given his "P" license and made his first pari-mutuel start on May 6 of this year. 17 professional drives into his career, his father went down and it was time for him to step up. And step up is exactly what he did. It's not easy to fill the shoes of a horseman who has 3,578 wins and $13 million earned driving and another 974 wins and $3.3 million training. But the young McNeight answered the bell and put up impressive numbers despite taking on his father's training and driving responsibilities of a 10-horse stable with little experience. McNeight Jr. had a lot to learn. He had never even driven a truck and trailer before. But with the help of Michelle Gramza and Bradley Jackson who would help him train, Bill Weigand who helped him jog, and Bruce Scheffler, Dale Donovan and Mike Kwoka who helped with barn work, the young McNeight eventually got a handle on the day to day operation and fell into a groove that helped his family keep the business running smoothly. Two days after McNeight Jr. took over the barn, he scored his first ever win behind their good trotter, Jim Dandy in 2:00 flat. For the remainder of the Buffalo meet he added 4 more wins, 8 seconds and 14 thirds out of 71 starts and earned $37,544 in purses. During the current Batavia Downs meet, McNeight Jr. has 12 wins, 10 seconds and 15 thirds with $94,224 in earnings. In the face of adversity and under a tremendous amount of pressure, Jim McNeight Jr. has put together a year he can be proud of. He registered 208 starts with 17 wins, 18 seconds and 29 thirds with $102,975 in purse money. He also gained a wealth of experience through sweat equity, all with helping his family in mind. Rich Mays and Jim McNeight Jr. will receive their awards in the Purple Haze Winners' Circle at Batavia Downs on Friday night (Dec. 16).   By Tim Bojarski, president of USHWA  

Batavia, NY---With only two nights of harness racing left in the 2016 season at Batavia Downs, the competition for top horsemen of the meet has been decided. Drew Monti is the dash winning driver of the meet and JD Perrin is the dash winning trainer of the meet. Drew Monti currently has 114 wins at Batavia Downs and is two ahead of Jim Morrill Jr., who began his winter break a short while ago. He also has 89 seconds and 79 thirds with $621,716 in earnings. For the year, Monti has won 217 races and earned a single year career best $1.2 million in purses. This is the first ever driving title won by Monti and at just 22 years of age, makes him one of the youngest drivers ever to accomplish this in western New York. Monti has been driving full time for the last four years while attending Canisius College to attain his degree in economics. Despite the long hours required for these endeavors, Monti excelled both in school and at the track. His four-year career totals to date show 688 wins, 644 seconds and 694 thirds on the strength of 4,885 starts and just under $3.7 million in purses. JD Perrin has now won the training crown for a third straight year at Batavia Downs. Perrin sent 44 horses to the winner's circle, six more than Maria Rice who did not enter any horses at Batavia this weekend. Perrin also had 44 seconds and 34 thirds. These efforts helped his students put $255,338 in the bank this meet. Overall in 2016, Perrin has won 151 races with 103 seconds and 83 thirds with $716,319 in purses. It's also interesting to note that his starts, wins and purses won were all career high numbers. Although Perrin doesn't drive much anymore since turning his attention to training full time upon arriving in western New York in 2012, he did manage to get eight starts in the bike this year with one win for his efforts. Perrin's career training numbers show 723 wins, 561 seconds and 460 third out of 3,377 starts and $3.1 million in earnings. Monti and Perrin will be honored in a winner's circle presentation at Batavia Downs on Saturday night (Dec. 17) during the races. Here are the current top five drivers and trainers of the 2016 Batavia Downs meet: Drivers Drew Monti 114 wins Jim Morrill Jr. 112 wins Ray Fisher Jr. 92 wins Kevin Cummings 75 wins Dave McNeight III 67 wins Trainers JD Perrin 44 Maria Rice 38 Gerry Sarama 34 Dave McNeight Jr. 30 Priscilla Mooney 24   Tim Bojarski

The public was heavily backing Thunderbolt Jaxon after he won the top class the last three weeks, but Shady City ($9.40) had other ideas as he fired late to a photo win in the $9,500 Open pacing harness racing feature at Batavia Downs on Saturday night (Dec. 10). Three horses bolted from the gate and argued for the front before Thunderbolt Jaxon (Ray Fisher Jr.) took control as they passed the quarter pole. Things settled down until the half when Brees Creek (Drew Monti) pulled first over bringing an outer flow that had the race in two rows; three in and three out. Heading towards three-quarters, Thunderbolt Jaxon had gapped Brees Creek and he went back to the pylons. This left China Dream (Shawn Gray) and Shady City (Larry Stalbaum) outside on the chase around the last turn. China Dream and Thunderbolt Jaxon then went stride for stride to the top of the lane and it looked like it was one of theirs for the taking. But three-lengths behind them, Stalbaum cranked up Shady City who then paced furiously down the lane. He gobbled up ground all the way to the wire and headed China Dream for the win in 1:55. Thunderbolt Jaxon hung on for third. It was Shady City's second win at Batavia Downs and fifth overall for the year and it increased his earnings to $63,582. Larry Stalbaum owns the 6-year-old son of Metropolitan who is trained by Kimberly Asher. The Stalbaum-Asher combination also took the co-featured $8,600 Open II-III pace when Itsonlyrocknroll A went wire to wire in 1:54.1 to score his third win in his last four starts and ninth win of the year. Stalbaum also owns Itsonlyrocknroll A who now has earned $49,454 in 2016. Several horse people had multiple win performances on Saturday night. Drew Monti and Larry Stalbaum both had the driving hat trick while Shawn Gray scored a double. Trainer Kim Asher sent three winners to post and JD Perrin sent two. With two nights of racing left in the 2016 meet, Drew Monti is the dash driving leader with 114 wins and trainer JD Perrin leads in his category with 44 wins. Racing resumes at Batavia Downs on Friday (Dec. 16) with post time for the first race at 6:15 p.m.   By Tim Bojarski, for Batavia Downs  

Batavia, NY---As squalls streamed off of Lake Ontario, it was like harness racing in a snow globe at Batavia Downs on Friday night (Dec. 9). But despite the inclement weather, Wanna Rock N Roll delivered like the mailman and won the featured $9,500 mares Open pace as a result. Wanna Rock N Roll (Drew Monti) took a quick early lead before releasing that spot to the charging Aritzia Hanover (Ben McNeil) at the quarter. The field remained in single-file style to the half when Susie's Delight (Ray Fisher Jr.) pulled first-over with Who Says That (Shawn Gray) on her tail. Racing up the backstretch, McNeil popped the plugs on Aritzia Hanover and accelerated the pace, causing the outer flow to stall as they passed three-quarters in 1:26.4. That uncovered the pocket-sitting Wanna Rock N Roll who was primed to strike at the top of the lane, and that's just what she did. Monti tugged the right line and began methodical urging and the mare responded in kind, pacing right by Aritzia Hanover in 1:55.4 while Monti tucked the whip. It was the second straight top distaff class victory for Wanna Rock N Roll ($5.20) and her ninth win overall in 2016 and it inflated her earnings for the year to $66,720. Rose Campbell owns the 5-year-old daughter of Rocknroll Hanover who is trained by Steve Kiblin. In the co-featured $8,500 Open trot, Kahoku ($9.00) overcame the dreaded eight-hole to gain an easy coast to coast victory in 1:58.2 with Ron Beback Jr. in the bike. Kahoku now has 13 wins this year and $82,415 in earnings for owner Colleen Girdlestone and trainer Mark Laidlaw. Drew Monti had hot hands on the cold Friday night, winning three races on the card. After that, doubles were the norm. Shawn Gray and Ray Fisher Jr. both had two driving wins while Steve Kiblin and Jeff Amann each watched two of their students get pictures taken. Racing resumes at Batavia Downs on Saturday (Dec. 10) with post time for the first race set at 6:15 p.m. By Tim Bojarski, for Batavia Downs

Batavia, NY---The 2016 live harness racing meet may be coming to a close at Batavia Downs next week, but there are still plenty of promotions left on the slate before the final race goes off. A free $500 Pick-6 contest will be held on Saturday (Dec. 10), Friday (Dec. 16) and Saturday (Dec. 17). Players must pick all six winners to win on December 10 or December 16. If that is not done, the December 17 prize increases to $1,000 and is a mandatory payout. So if no one picks all six winners, those who select the most will get paid, as the pool will be divided equally. The Pick-6 starts on race four and runs through race nine. Players can pick up their entries at Player's Club beginning at 5:00 p.m. each night. Entries can then be deposited until start of 4th race. Because of the earlier 5 p.m. post time on Saturday (Dec. 17), the sign up for the Pick-6 will commence at 3:30 p.m. There is a limit of one entry per person. Friday (Dec. 16) is also Customer Appreciation Day at Batavia Downs. After the fourth race, live racing fans can celebrate with free sandwiches from Subway of Batavia, free cake from BJ's Wholesale of Batavia and coffee courtesy of Batavia Downs. All are while supplies last. It's Batavia Downs way of saying "Thank You" to all our loyal customers. Then on Saturday (Dec. 17), there will be a free "all-age" Holiday concert by country music recording artist Ricky Lee in the Paddock Room from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. He will perform many seasonal favorites along with some of his original hits. The clubhouse is completely sold out for Saturday (Dec. 17) so this Saturday (Dec. 10) will be the last night to dine on the Downs famous prime rib, crab leg and shrimp buffet. Finally, simulcast wagering returns to Batavia Downs 7 days a week starting on Sunday (Dec. 18) in the simulcast center. There are only four cards of racing left in the 2016 season: Friday (Dec. 9), Saturday (Dec. 10), Friday (Dec. 16) and Saturday (Dec. 17). Post time is 6:15 p.m. each night except for Saturday (Dec. 17), when post time will be 5:00 p.m.   By Tim Bojarski, for Batavia Downs

In what could only be described as the claim of the year in western New York, Thunderbolt Jaxon who was taken for $12,500 on October 1, has now won his third straight $9,500 Open harness racing feature at Batavia Downs on Saturday night (Dec.3). Thunderbolt Jaxon (Ray Fisher Jr.) left sharply and eventually took the lead after being parked out by Inthenameofjames (Drew Monti) to the quarter. When the field settled in, they stayed single file to the half when Shady City (Larry Stalbaum) pulled and started an outer flow with Knocking Around (Dave McNeight III) on his heels. Feeling the heat, Fisher let his charge out a notch up the backside and put some space between him and the attackers as they sped by three-quarters in 1:26.1. At the head of the stretch, Inthenameofjames popped out of the two-hole and took a quick shot at the leader. But that challenge was swiftly turned away as Fisher rocked and knocked in perfect timing and Thunderbolt Jaxon sped away to an easy two-length victory in 1:55.1. It was the sixth win in nine starts since being claimed, and 10th win of the year for Thunderbolt Jaxon ($10.80). He has now accrued $53,846 in annual earnings, the bulk of which has benefited his current owner Mike Torcello. The 4-year-old gelded son of Mach Three is trained by Gerry Sarama. In the co-featured $8,600 Open II pace, P H Hellcat (Shawn Gray) led from the quarter pole until about 200 feet from the wire; that's when the pocket-sitting Brees Creek (Drew Monti) paced on by him to win by a neck in 1:56. Brees Creek ($8.70) is owned by the Resilient Racing Stable and trained by Rose Russo. Several horse people had multiple win performances on Saturday night, led by Drew Monti who had a driving triple. Shawn Gray had a driving double while Sean McDonough was victorious with two horses he both drove and trained. And trainers Rose Russo and JD Perrin each sent two students to the Purple Haze Winner's Circle for pictures. Racing resumes at Batavia Downs on Wednesday night (Dec. 7) with post time at 6:15 p.m.   By Tim Bojarski, for Batavia Downs  

Batavia, NY---Wanna Rock N Roll had an impressive first part of 2016, harness racing at Yonkers Raceway and Vernon Downs. But after making four starts at Batavia in the distaff Open, the mare was turned out in August. Now in only her second start back from the layoff, Wanna Rock N Roll was victorious in the $9,500 mares Open pacing feature at Batavia Downs on Friday night (Dec. 2). Even-money favorite My Tallia Ideal (Dave McNeight III) left and became the early race commander, taking the abbreviated field of five through their paces in post-position order in :28.3 and :59.3. When the group passed the five-eighths pole, Looney Dune (Ben McNeil) and Susie's Delight (Ray Fisher Jr.) both came off the rail and went nowhere, but the move allowed Kruella (Shawn McDonough) to shoot up the pylons from last to third behind the pocket sitting Wanna Rock N Roll (Drew Monti). As the girls came off the last turn, Wanna Rock N Roll tipped out and started pacing by the tiring My Tallia Ideal while Kruella ducked to the passing lane and did the same. But Wanna Rock N Roll had the jump and cruised to an easy length victory in 1:57. This was the eighth win of the year for Wanna Rock N Roll ($14.80) and the purse increased her earnings to $61,970. Rose Campbell owns the daughter of Rocknroll Hanover that is trained by Steve Kiblin. In the co-featured $9,000 Open trot, Noble Legend (Shawn Gray) followed Kahoku (Ron Beback Jr.) for 7/8th's of a mile before pulling pocket and out-brushing the leader to the wire by a nose to win in 1:58.3. The ninth win of the year raised Noble Legends bank to $68,138 for owners Vogel & Wags Nags Stable and Jack Rice. Maria Rice trains the winner. Drew Monti scored a driving triple on the card and that pushed him to 102 wins for the meet. Shawn Gray and Larry Stalbaum both had driving doubles while Steve Kiblin also had a training double. Racing resumes at Batavia Downs on Saturday night (Dec. 3) with post time at 6:15 p.m.   By Tim Bojarski, for Batavia Downs  

Harness racing driver Drew Monti has enjoyed a season to remember, and it’s not finished yet. Among the 22-year-old driver’s accomplishments so far are: graduating from college, winning a New York Sire Stakes race for the first time, and posting seven victories on a single card. He also is in the hunt for the driving title at Batavia Downs, where he trails Jim Morrill Jr. by 12 wins with eight more dates on the schedule. Following the conclusion of Batavia’s meet on Dec. 17, Monti might make a few trips to New Jersey to race at the Meadowlands before returning his focus to upstate New York and the start of a new meet at Buffalo Raceway. Monti finished fourth in this year’s standings at Buffalo. Monti, a Buffalo native, followed his father, Darrin, and grandfather, Carl, into harness racing. He began driving regularly in 2013 and has won 673 races in his career, including 202 this year. In 2015, Monti established career highs of 224 victories and $1.16 million in purses, but could surpass both totals this season. He needs less than $8,000 to establish a new best for earnings. In May, Monti graduated from Canisius College with an economics degree. In addition to driving, he also does some work for a financial advising firm. Monti recently took time to talk to Ken Weingartner from the U.S. Trotting Association’s Harness Racing Communications division about his career. KW: It’s been an exciting year for you in many different ways. DM: Yeah, absolutely. There are a lot of things to look back on. I had a good year last year, but I think this is my best year so far. I won a (New York) sire stakes this year, and I’d never done that before. That was exciting. I’m second in the standings at Batavia. It’s still tight. I’m a few behind (Jim Morrill Jr.) but we’ll see. Hopefully I can get there. That would be awesome if I could be leading driver here. And I won seven races (on a card) this year (on Oct. 26 at Batavia). That was a personal high. I’d won five a couple times, but never more than that. KW: I was going to bring that up. You won seven out of 10, right? What was that like? Is it a different feeling when you’re going through a night like that? DM: Not really. I’ll tell you, though, what is different --- it feels like the night goes right by.  When you don’t do any good, it feels like the night drags on forever. KW: Did you expect a big night? DM: I thought it was going to be a good card. I had some good posts and I had some horses that I’d been driving that were down in class and drew inside and were sharp. I didn’t really say anything to anybody; I never want to talk like that out loud. But I thought it could be a wicked good night. And it turned out like nothing could go wrong. I was getting breaks, getting good trips, horses that could beat me were coming up flat --- it was just left and right that I was getting breaks all night. (Laughs.) That’s how you win seven. KW: I’m sure there have been times when you’ve looked at a card and thought you could have a big night and maybe things didn’t go your way. DM: Lots of times. That happens way more often. You think you can really do some good and you don’t do any good at all. But that’s the game. KW: How old were you when you decided this is what you wanted to do? DM: Probably 14 or 15. I started helping my dad regularly. My grandfather has been in it for all his life. I was just brought up in it and we’ve always had horses, at least a few. I started qualifying horses and we had some decent horses throughout the last few years and it kind of showed people I could do a little good. Then I got some chances and it took off from there. I’m just very grateful to everyone that’s given me a chance. KW: What’s the most difficult thing when you’re starting out as a young driver? DM: If you have any success, not to get ahead of yourself. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. And also don’t get down if you don’t do well. I still struggle with that now. It takes a toll on you mentally and you can’t allow that to affect how you drive. You’ve got to go out there clear-minded and do your job the best you can do it. You have to focus on the things you’re doing right.  KW: When you’re trying to make a name for yourself do you take losses harder because you feel they’re missed opportunities? But, as you said, you also don’t want to get too high when you have the success. DM: Exactly. That’s the thing, you do well and you start thinking you should be doing well. And that should never be the case racing horses. There’s never any entitlement. You could do all your work, you could make all the right moves, and sometimes things just don’t line up right. Sometimes horses show up a little flat, sometimes other horses show up better. There are things that are out of your control. As hard as that is to accept, that’s how it is. KW: How do you learn as you’re going through it? DM: There are always different situations in races and you’re never going to do everything right. But you try to learn the kinds of horses you drive and adapt. You get better at that the more you drive. I just try to be really open-minded and listen to what the trainer has to say. I try not to have any preconceptions about the horse, or the trainer. I think you’ll be the most successful that way. KW: Do you watch other drivers and learn that way? DM: All the time. Morrill is right here at home. It’s really easy to watch him as he’s going by you. (Laughs.) I look up to Tony Morgan. I’m good friends with him and I watch him all the time. There are a lot of guys, really. If there is ever a race on, I’m not going to ignore it, it doesn’t matter where it is. You can always watch and try to think what you would do in certain situations. It’s always interesting, it doesn’t matter what race it is. KW: Do you set goals for yourself? DM: Not really numerical goals, like I want to win this many races or make this much money. But I’ll have goals like try to get all good trips, or try not to over-drive a horse, or try not to make a certain mistake again. Just little goals to try to improve. KW: What’s been your biggest thrill so far? DM: Winning the sire stakes, and I’ll tell you why. That’s something I’d never done and I haven’t had a lot of shots to do it. On top of that, Rick Dane trained the horse (Americanfirewater) and (his partner) Monica Banca was there with the horse. That horse was only (age) 2 and hadn’t had a win yet. I came off the track and she was in tears, happy. She said that was his first sire stakes win and I said it was my first sire stakes win, too, so I’m as happy as you are. She gave me the cooler and a hug and said she was so happy to be a part of it. I was like, please, thank you. I appreciate it more than anything. That was probably the coolest moment. It was awesome. That was meaningful. KW: How difficult was it to drive and go to college? DM: Very tough. I tried to schedule myself where I could go to the track. I usually went to school just in the morning, but I went every day because I couldn’t go a whole day. It was tough to manage my time. I’d come home from races and I’d be shot, but sometimes I had to study or finish a project. But I got through it and did pretty well. I can tell you, I’m glad it’s over. It was busy and taxing mentally. But it was fun. KW: Has it made you better now? DM: I think so. It was a situation where you had to be mature and make sacrifices, or you weren’t going to do it. I never got a chance to do a lot of extras (with friends) but that being said, I’ve been successful and made pretty good money racing. I have some things others don’t have the privilege to have, but I put work in to get them. KW: When you were in high school did you play any sports? DM: I played baseball all four years and I also bowled all four years. KW: Oh really. Were you good? DM: Yeah, my average was like a 210. If I ever get some time I’ll still throw a couple games. It’s just hard to find the time for it. KW: How about baseball? DM: I was pretty good. I pitched through high school. My junior year, we won the regional championship, it’s called the Georgetown Cup. That was a real big season for us. KW: You’ll be wrapping up at Batavia in a couple weeks. Then what’s the plan? DM: Buffalo opens Jan. 11 and obviously that’s home. I’m thinking of trying the Meadowlands when there’s nothing else going on. I’d have to have a lot of success to make it worth going to New Jersey every weekend. Tentatively, Buffalo is just the plan. But we’ll see what happens. I’m open to anything. I’ll probably go (to the Meadowlands) because I’ll be off, but as far as staying, we’ll have to see. KW: What do you most enjoy about doing this? DM: Honestly, one of the big reasons I even do it at all is because I can do it with my family. My grandfather, my father, and I are all at the barn every day. We get to spend time together. I get to spend a lot of time with my dad. Some people don’t get to do that with family. I think I’m lucky for that.   Ken Weingartner Media Relations Manager Harness Racing Communications A division of the U.S. Trotting Association

Batavia, NY --- Larry Stalbaum has been a regular competitor at Yonkers Raceway and Pocono Downs for many years now. But much like Jim Morrill Jr. before him, the small-town feel of western New York has drawn Stalbaum from the major harness racing circuits and he couldn't be happier about the move to Batavia Downs. Stalbaum made his first start of the year at Batavia Downs on Saturday (Nov. 5) and has since been one of the hottest drivers at the track. In only 10 nights of racing his own stable of 16 along with catch drives, Stalbaum has had 79 starts with 20 wins, 12 seconds and 10 thirds. That amounts to a 22% win and 54% in the money percentage, a .329 UDR and $100,570 in purse earnings in very short order. Stalbaum was born in Valparaiso, Indiana and started racing ponies at age seven. He went to work with standardbreds after graduating from high school and has been doing it ever since. Through his early years he worked for many horsemen, but credits Frank O'Mara for teaching him all he knows about harness racing. "I started grooming in Louisville at Latonia and eventually made my first career driving start at Brandywine Raceway in 1986" said Stalbaum. "Since them I have raced just about everywhere, even tracks that most people have never heard of." Racing everywhere has taken Stalbaum 29 years and the numbers that he has accrued in that time are pretty impressive to see; 5,378 wins and over $37 million in purses. Stalbaum lives in Matamoris, PA, which is just across the Delaware River from Port Jervis, NY. He races off his 152-acre farm there and makes the 560 mile, 9-hour round trip to Batavia every race night. His whole operation is family based. Stalbaum's wife, Kimberly Asher, is the trainer and his four children Riley, Kiley, Hawk and Sky jog, train and groom the stock. "My four children are all involved in racing and our business. They all do the horses, they all like the horses and they all want to drive eventually" said Stalbaum. "My oldest daughter Riley just passed her test and got her qualifying license and will start driving very soon. And my other kids will follow along one by one as they get old enough. I don't have any help in my stable right now other than my wife and kids. They do it all." With having much success at bigger tracks that were closer to his home, Stalbaum still made the decision to race at Batavia Downs. "I'm getting a little older and I wanted to slow down a bit. That's part of the reason I was racing at Monticello recently; it was close to home" said Stalbaum. "But the money isn't quite as good there as it is here. What I really wanted to do is just get away from the hustle and bustle of the bigger tracks." "I'm tired of shipping three to this track and four to that track and being on the road every night. I would much rather just ship the whole stable over three days and get them all raced and spend more time at home" Stalbaum concluded. After having raced at Batavia for almost a month now, Stalbaum has become quite comfortable in his new environment. The local racing community has embraced him and he is happy to be competing there. "I like western New York. It's got a lot of farm country like where I was raised and many of the people who race there come from families that have been racing locally for generations, and I like that" said Stalbaum. "I tell people all the time about it and when you tell them about being in New York, they think New York City. Because if you're not from upstate New York, you don't know any better." After the Batavia meet ends, the plan is to move the stock to Buffalo Raceway and stable at the track. "When I go to Buffalo, Kim and the kids aren't coming and that's going to be hard for me because I've never been away from them. But because of the winter, I can't ship like I do right now but also can't move the family up here at this point. But that's what we have to do and we'll see how it goes" said Stalbaum. "If everything goes right, we are planning on moving up here permanently. We'll sell the farm in PA and buy some land in western New York and settle down here and race this circuit". With four children aspiring to make harness racing their livelihood, Stalbaum appreciates the atmosphere in western New York for both raising a family and racing for a living. "The future of this sport is young people and all my kids are interested in it now. I let them choose what they want to do with their lives and they all want to race and that makes me happy. I can't make them a doctor or a lawyer, but I can teach them how to be a solid trainer and driver. I just hope the sport is still here for them" Stalbaum said. By Tim Bojarski, for Batavia Downs

Batavia, NY---With another dark and stormy night as the backdrop, Thunderbolt Jaxon didn't despair over the wet harness racing track; he reveled in it as he won his second straight $10,500 Open pacing feature at Batavia Downs on Saturday night (Nov. 26). It was basically a two-horse race from the word go. Thunderbolt Jaxon (Ray Fisher Jr.) left and parked Sam Hill (Kevin Cummings) to the quarter in :27.3 before letting him overtake. Once settled in, Sam Hill looked strong on the front and took the group to the half in :56.3. With Thunderbolt Jaxon safely tucked in second, Knocking Around (Dave McNeight III) came first over past the half and tried to mount a challenge. He did draw alongside the leading pair at three quarters but faded from contention by the top of the lane. There, Thunderbolt Jaxon shot into the passing lane and began eroding Sam Hill's lead with each stride, eventually sneaking by him at the wire by a short neck in 1:55.4. It was the ninth win of the year for Thunderbolt Jaxon ($15.00), five of which were accomplished for owner Mike Torcello who claimed the 4-year-old gelded son of Mach Three on October 1. Gerry Sarama trains the winner. In the co-featured $9,000 Open II pace, Southwind Torque ($7.80) made a four-wide move around the last turn to nose out the front running Bakken (Ray Fisher Jr.) at the wire in 1:57.3. It was a four-horse photo finish that saw six horses within one length of each other at the wire. Southwind Torque is owned by Vogel & Wags Nags Stable and Jack Rice and is trained by Maria Rice. Shawn Gray and Larry Stalbaum both had the hat trick on Saturday while Ray Fisher Jr. settled for a pair. On the training side, Kim Asher and Maria Rice both sent two horses for pictures. The early Pick-5, which was part of the USTA's Strategic Wagering program on Saturday paid $4,365 for the 1-1-3-5-8 combination. Racing resumes at Batavia Downs on Wednesday night (Nov. 30) at 6:15 p.m.   By Tim Bojarski, for Batavia Downs  

Batavia, NY --- For the second week in a row, Perfect Rendition stalked quick early fractions before gearing up in the payoff half to win the $10,000 Open trotting harness racing feature at Batavia Downs on Friday night (Nov. 25). When the gate released the short but classy field of six trotters, Noble Legend (Shawn Gray) went for the early lead, seating Jim Dandy (Jim McNeight Jr.) and Perfect Rendition (Larry Stalbaum) in the process. The leader then proceeded to cut quarters of :28.2 and :58 and did it unchallenged as the trailing drivers were content to sit in. The situation remained unchanged until just before three-quarters when Perfect Rendition pulled and started to advance. By the time they hit that panel in 1:27.3, Perfect Rendition was matching strides with Noble Legend and a battle ensued around the final turn. When the pair straightened out at the head of the lane, Perfect Rendition got a slight advantage under Stalbaum's urging and as a result, ended up the best of the bunch as he trotted to victory in 1:57.2 over the rain-soaked track. It was the fourth win of the year for Perfect Rendition ($19.40), half of which were registered at Batavia Downs the last two weeks. The 10-year-old son of Perfectly who is trained by Kimberly Asher has now bankrolled annual earnings to $29,763 for owner-driver Larry Stalbaum. In the co-featured $9,000 filly and mares Open pace, Kruella ($8.60) scored her third win in a row, coming from second-over in the outer flow to tip three-wide at the head of the lane and brush by to a slick 1:56.4 win for driver Shawn McDonough. Kruella is trained by Jineen Simone who co-owns the mare with Bonnie Kowalcyk. Ray Fisher Jr. had a grand slam Friday night, including a natural hat-trick in races four through six. He won with Wicked Elphaba ($6.50), Southern Palms ($11.20), Rock The Dream ($9.60) and Babes Chip ($2.60). Shawn Gray and Larry Stalbaum both registered driving triples on the evening while trainer Kim Asher sent two of her students to the winner's circle. Racing resumes on Saturday night (Nov. 26) with first race post time set at 6:15 p.m. By Tim Bojarski, for Batavia Downs  

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