Laurel, DE --- “It was amazing.” That’s all 20-year-old driver Brandon Henley could say about winning five races on one card at Ocean Downs. “Races were just working out for me,” the Bridgeville, Del. resident said. The five-win night at Ocean Downs on Sept. 2 is so far the highlight of what has already been an exciting season for Henley, who has nearly tripled last year’s earnings already with $190,114 in money won as a driver in 2013. In his third year driving, Henley, with a 2013 UDR of .265, has won 59 races lifetime and amassed earnings of $268,720 in 525 starts. Not bad considering he spends his days as an electrician. “Eventually I’d like to have my own stable and just race horses,” he said. In the meantime, he spends the first part of his day doing electrical work and heads to the barn in the afternoons. With the help of his family, including grandfather Melvin Cannon, Henley maintains a stable of five horses that he races in Maryland and Delaware. They include Scootin Cammie and Lady Gamelton, the horse Henley won his first race with. While that Rosecroft Raceway win is one he’ll never forget, when asked what his most memorable win was Henley couldn’t decide. “I like all my wins!” he said. Henley said it was through helping his grandfather as a child that he became interested in harness racing. After learning to jog and train he was hooked. What is it about sitting in the bike that he likes? “How a horse grabs on,” he said. “How they feel when you move them off the rail. A lot of things go on when you’re on the track.” He earned his driver’s license primarily through qualifying Cannon’s horses. Although he knew he wanted to drive, Henley said he always told himself he wouldn’t go out and ask for drives. “I figured if people liked the way I drove I’d get catch drives,” he said. Sure enough, over time Henley has managed to pick up some catch drives. He stayed quite busy at Ocean Downs this summer and was excited to be listed in every race at the half-mile track on Labor Day. He says he’s thankful to all of the trainers who have given him drives, particularly Garey Jump, who puts him up on all of his horses. Maryland trainer James Wilkins is another trainer who has taken to using Henley. “He’s done a good job for me,” Wilkins said, adding that Henley had steered pacer Pilgrims Easel to three wins at Ocean Downs. Henley, who admittedly got his start driving cheap horses, does not dwell on how good or bad a horse is when he’s on the track. “I just try to get a horse in the best position I can,” he said. “I started off driving bad horses. I was always driving the ones that had problems and just had to learn to drive them through it and make the best out of the race.” He believes that has helped him pick up more mounts. “I just try to drive the best I can and give them the most honest drive I can,” he said. by Charlene Sharpe, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent Courtesy of the United States Trotting Association Web Newsroom
For harness racing trainer Marvin Callahan, amazing is the word that comes to mind when he thinks about star pupil Abelard Hanover.
While the Shenandoah County Fairgrounds barn in Virginia that was destroyed in a Valentine's Day fire will be rebuilt, harness racing officials say its size will depend on the funding available. Tom Eshelman, general manager of the Shenandoah County Fair, said the barn that several Virginia horsemen called home would definitely be replaced but insurance money would not cover the cost.
Julianne Watkins believes in bucket lists. That's what she'll tell you when you bring up her striking harness racing roan broodmare. "I'd always wanted a strawberry roan," she said.
In October, harness racing horseman Danny Minton's green 3-year-old pacing filly qualified in 2:02.4 on her first trip to Harrington Raceway. Minton, quite pleased with her performance considering it was the first race of her career, dropped her in at Harrington Raceway.
Led by harness racing trainer Janet Davis, horsemen racing at Harrington Raceway and Dover Downs have already donated $6,000 to go toward providing needy children with clothing and toys this Christmas.
When harness racing trainer/driver Jonathan Nikodemski purchased Blue Time Frosty two years ago, the gray gelding was underweight, covered in fungus and had thrush in all four feet. As they say though, good things come to those who wait.
When announcer Pete Medhurst got the chance to start calling races at Ocean Downs, he was already working in a radio station in Virginia Beach. Rather than miss his first chance to announce full-time, he decided to make the four-hour round trip four days a week.
Delaware horsewoman Jeanmarie Kurowski spent the summer living a dream. No she didn't win the Hambletonian or train any record-setting Standardbreds. She spent the summer harness racing at Ocean Downs. While it might not be the lofty aspiration of most horsemen, for Kurowski, a newcomer to the sport, it was exactly what she'd hoped for.
Twenty years and hundreds of horses later, Maryland based rescue Horse Lovers United is still going strong. 'We've helped hundreds of horses have a new life after harness racing,' HLU president Lorraine Truitt said.
Anyone who's ever been to Rosecroft Raceway knows John Wagner. The green, white and red clad harness racing driver and trainer has been a staple at the five-eighths-mile track since his father began racing there in 1949. Although racing has been a bit tenuous in Maryland in recent years, Wagner is still going strong in the mid-Atlantic area.
Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug. The line, heard in a Mary Chapin Carpenter song, has become something of a catchphrase at Les Givens' farm in Seaford, Del. The current harness racing star of the Givens stable, the trotter registered simply as Windshield, has been unstoppable in the First State, where he has dominated Delaware Standardbred Breeders Fund competition.
Horsemen from the little town at the southeast corner of Maryland are making their presence felt across the state at Rosecroft Raceway. Two of the tight knit group of harness racing trainers based at the Pocomoke City Fairgrounds have found the winner's circle in recent weeks, with William Brittingham, Jr.'s Golly Me coming home victorious twice and Cliff White's Cedar Hall Boy achieving a new lifetime mark of 1:55.
Better late than never, as they say. New Jersey harness racing trainer Andrew Kovath is quick to point out that Tune Town, who he campaigned in the 1990s, didn't make it to the track until the last week of his 3-year-old season and went on to earn nearly $1.1 million. He's hoping 6-year-old Jazz Tune, a son of Tune Town and Artztartzzz (Artsplace), who is beginning just his second year of racing, is on the same track.
As his name suggests, the harness racing competition is having trouble catching Tagyoureit Hanover. The 6-year-old son of Andover Hall-Tags Sweetie has been beaten just once from three starts in 2012. Eric Ell trains the trotter for owners Stewart Goldberg, Toby Rekoon, Kenny Wood and Brian Gordon.
James Whelan, Jr. calls Varsity Hanover the best paint job he ever did. The Maryland harness racing horseman took ownership of the 2-year-old who's now won six in a row after some old fashioned bartering with fellow trainer George Teague, Jr. This spring Whelan did $3,000 worth of painting for Teague, who gave him three horses to choose from for his payment.