Day At The Track
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In harness racing, provisional drivers aren't supposed to get first call to drive the best horses on the grounds. Provisional drivers don't repeatedly drive horses to track records and absolutely under no circumstance do they ever win more often than their peers. But all of that changed Saturday at Batavia Downs where 23-year-old provisional driver Shawn McDonough concluded the meet at the Western New York track by becoming the first "P" driver in harness racing history to win a track's dash title. And in the end, it wasn't even close. McDonough took the lead atop the driver standings over the summer and entered the final week of the meet holding a 93 to 84 win advantage over the next closest driver, Ray Fisher. In the final three days of the meet, McDonough won three races Wednesday, another three on Friday, and for just good measure scored a grand slam on the meet's final night putting him over the 100 win mark. A strong Buffalo meet in the first half of the year that saw McDonough win 71 times from 591 starts gave the young driver a wave of momentum heading into the new meet at Batavia. There, a number of factors played a role in McDonough's record breaking success. McDonough said, "John Cummings left here and that opened spots up. A couple drivers got hurt (Ray Fisher and Jack Flanigen nearing the end of at Buffalo), and that opened up opportunities. I did well for a number of the trainers and they kept with me." McDonough credits the Empowered Racing Stable and Resilient Racing Stable as a large part of his success at Batavia. I was working for Empowered Racing Stable with Carl Smith and they put me on the right foot with some power to drive. My own owners, the Resilient Stable, they gave me a great opportunity to train horses and I've done well. In regards to Empowered, "You know, they have great horses and spend a lot of money on horses and bring them to these tracks. I broke the track trotting record this year with their mare Mystical Escapade," said McDonough. In addition to the smashing record setting performance by Mystical Escapade who would go onto be named Trotter of the Year at Batavia, McDonough also broke a track record with the pacing mare Xenia Hanover by virtue of a blowout eight length win in 1:53. Other horses of note from McDonough are Cactus Jack and Resilient Stable's millionaire trotter, Self Professed. McDonough said that his best of claim of the year was Debs Girloffortune. "I claimed her for $4,000 and she made almost $16,000 just at Batavia for me. I think she missed one check in about twenty starts." Even with the breakout success at Buffalo, it was hard for McDonough to envision just how much of that would carry over into the Batavia season. "Heading into the meet someone had asked me how many wins I'd get, and I thought maybe 75 or so. I can't explain it but for some reason every year I have better luck at Batavia than I do at Buffalo. Being a provisional driver I didn't know what the opportunities would be like, but a lot of my buddies are good trainers and they all helped to put me on the map pretty good." McDonough continued, "I never thought realistically I would hit the 100 mark; it was just a great year. I'm thankful for my owners, all my family and friends. I've got a good helper too with my girlfriend Ashley Holiday who helps out a lot. We've got a really great team here and everything clicked." In becoming the first provisional driver to ever win a track dash title, it does beg the question: Why is McDonough still a provisional driver in the first place? By the very definition of what a provisional license essentially is, it's almost inexplicable that McDonough remains under that classification. Ultimately, it is only the state appointed judges presiding at Buffalo/Batavia that can grant McDonough to a full "A" driver status. But despite the subjective nature at which that determination is made, McDonough has laughably outpaced what the standard minimum requirements are, pursuant to the United States Trotting Association 2014 Bylaws. There are a number of different ways that minimum requirements can be met, but generally speaking what's required while holding a 'P' license is one year driving experience, plus 25 satisfactory pari-mutuel starts and a win requirement of 5 wins. McDonough has held a 'P' license now for 4 years and in just this single year alone, he has won 174 times with earnings in excess of $900,000. Searching for an answer, McDonough said "I asked at the beginning of the Batavia meet why I can't yet have an 'A' license and didn't really get an answer, so I told myself that I'm going to have to go out there and try to win a title to show the judges. I'm not sure how it makes them look having a 'P' driver go out there and win a title, but you can't argue with them." He continued, "They're actually the ones that told me towards the end of the meet that I was going to be the first 'P' driver to win a dash title and break history, I didn't even know that." McDonough added, "I had an opportunity to go to the Meadowlands and drive for Empowered Racing. They asked me to go with them but I wasn't able to (because of the 'P' status). All I can do is be patient and keep it going. Just this year I've had close to 180 wins; I'm not dangerous and haven't caused any accidents - nothing." The next time we'll see McDonough in action is when Buffalo starts their new season on January 8. Until then, he's giving his horses time off for a little break. As for plans later down the road McDonough says "I'm just being patient. If I have a good year again maybe we'll look at trying Pocono. If I get a couple of my guys to go and get owners like Empowered and Resilient to move their stock we'll see what happens." In the meanwhile, McDonough will enter 2014 seeking his second consecutive track title in Western New York. Unheard of for a 'provisional' driver. by, Brett Sturman for The Racing Beard

The New York Supreme Court ruled Thursday in favor of trainer Lou Pena and in the process rejected the various arguments made by the NYS Gaming Commission in their appeal of an October 2 decision where the Supreme Court ordered the state to dismiss all Pena charges. Pena attorney Andrew Turro explained the decision in that the court “determined that the Gaming Commission is not entitled to take any action with respect to all charges that previously had been dismissed on Constitutional grounds.”  Turro continued to say, “We believe the Court’s determination is correct and consistent with the law and we are gratified that Lou Pena can continue to train horses and pursue his livelihood.” In the latest – and perhaps final – of all rulings that have favored Pena, this one specifically took into consideration the findings of the state appointed Hearing Officer from a three-day administrative hearing from August 2012. Speaking to a grateful and relieved Pena, the trainer said “I now just want to be reinstated (everywhere) and be like a normal person I was before.  I want to get back to work and it hasn’t been easy with a cloud hanging over my head everywhere I go.” This has been a long road for Pena since his abrupt suspension in May 2012.  Says Pena, “I hope this is now over; I just want this whole fight to be over with because I’m still not even sure how I got into this position.  Someone decided to run with whatever they chose to convict me of.  There’s obviously animosity and the state has their right to investigate and request information from me – that’s their standing – but if I comply with the rules and have done everything asked then I think I should be handed back the baton and say go ahead, run.” Since Pena’s initial reinstatement this past February he has been racing primarily at the Pennsylvania tracks of Mohegan Sun Pocono and Harrah’s Philadelphia.  However, both of those tracks will shortly be closing for the winter which presents a potential issue for Pena.  “Obviously I still don’t have many blessings to go to many racetracks but I will apply out and hopefully go somewhere and race,” said Pena. While Pena has had recent starters racing in New York at Saratoga, Yonkers still remains an unknown.  “I really hope I can now get back at Yonkers because I loved racing there; Yonkers was always a good track to me,” said Pena. “I couldn’t race at the other New York tracks (Tioga, Vernon) due to a conflict with the owner (Jeff Gural).  It’s his track and property and he can do what he wants, but here’s the thing:  I never broke any rules.  I’ve never been to his track and broke a rule because I’ve never even been allowed.  I actually tried to meet with him once and ironically enough I got suspended the very day that he gave me an appointment to go see him in person in his New York City office.” When asked if he would still be willing to meet with Gural, Pena replied “Absolutely I would meet with him, absolutely.  I would have nothing but pleasure to at least meet him in person and introduce myself to him.” Pena concluded by saying that, “I hope today’s ruling opens doors for me in the near future and that I’m not perceived as a criminal or a bad guy.  I haven’t had any problems or issues with recklessness and have done everything asked of me when defending myself against these allegations.  It’s time for everyone to move on and I can get back to work.” By, Brett Sturman Courtesy of  RACING BEARD

This is the first Thursday of the New Meadowlands era, and the pick 4 features divisions of the Super Bowl and White Ruffles. Here are some thoughts to consider, followed by a pick 4 ticket.

When Lady Sorro trotted to her fourth win of the year this past Monday at Yonkers, the winner's share from the $10,000 claiming event sent 2011 harness racing earnings for the VIP Stable to over $2.5 million.

In the coming days and weeks this column will assess the most hotly contested races for year end divisional honors. In looking at the 3YO pacing fillies, will Drop The Ball's furious late season charge be enough to catch the once invincible See You At Peelers?

In the coming days and weeks this column will assess the most hotly contested races for year end divisional honors. Starting with what could be the closest race of all, I'll make the case for Economy Terror to nose out American Jewel for two year old Filly Pacer of the Year.

Saturday's Breeders Crown at Woodbine has the potential to be one of the most memorable cards in harness racing history from top to bottom, and race thoughts were too great to keep to myself. Seeking further counsel from the very best amateur expert of WEG racing that I know, handicapper Ken Perry and I had the following exchange for the upcoming Breeders Crown.

Today Brett shares his picks for the Super Stakes Sunday pick 4 at Chester.

Who would have thought that in this week leading up to the signature event in all of harness racing, the Hambletonian would only be the second most talked about story. The first one is the developing news coming out of Yonkers, and as the unspoken P word continues to be stricken from every book and tablet at the Westchester County racetrack, here are thoughts and analysis for some of the richer races this Hambletonian day at the Meadowlands.

With only 18 and 19 entries for the Hambletonian and Hambletonian Oaks respectively, what the stakes may lack in quantity is made up for in quality. With the likes of Cry's Dream, Blue Porsche, Chapter Seven and Manofmanymissions all going postward Saturday, here are some thoughts and analysis on the quartet of elimination races.

In yet another Harnesslink exclusive - live action as it happens from the Meadowlands. Brett Sturman - North America's leading harness racing analyst will be Harnesslink's man - 'Johnny on the Spot' - at the Meadowlands in New Jersey tomorrow (Saturday American and Canada time - Sunday New Zealand and Australia time) .

Eliminations last weekend for the Meadowlands Pace confirmed we may not be dealing with the fastest 3YO's seen in recent memory. Whereas the three Pace eliminations last year went in 1:48:4, 1:47:4 and Rock N Roll Heaven's 1:47:3, no one last Saturday could break harness racing's magical 1:50 barrier.

Ranging from the Pena Rule at Yonkers, to the See You At Peelers - Zenyatta comparison and the Meadowlands Pace eliminations, following are some thoughts from one of the more eventful harness racing weekends this year.

The new $0.50 cent Pick 5 debuts this Saturday at the Meadowlands and winning a simple 9 races in a row will take down both the Pick 5 (races 1-5) and the Pick 4 (races 6-9). Below is detailed analysis for the Pick 4 sequence as well as a bonus "quick takes" for the new Pick 5. Good luck, and have a great 4th of July holiday!

Through the first half of 2011 the VIP Internet Stable is on a blistering pace to shatter its own records for wins and earnings in a year by a public partnership group. The harness racing group rocketed out of the gate in the otherwise ordinarily slow winter months to garner repeated Open and Stake wins at multiple major tracks. This has been a record breaking season for VIP and it's about to get that much better.

Brett Sturman, a client relations manager at VIP Stable and columnist for will be "tweeting" all day this Sunday live from Harrah's Chester Casino & Racetrack.

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