When Matinee Dragon won the $20,000 Fillies and Mares Open Handicap at Dover Downs last month, the harness racing bettors who overlooked her at 56-1 odds weren’t the only ones who were surprised. Louis “Bill” Catana, who owns the mare with trainer Vincent Bradley, was shocked. Naturally he had faith in Matinee Dragon, but even he didn’t think she could go first over against the best mares in the state and win. “She really surprised me,” Catana said. “I was watching it on my computer at home. I was screaming so loud I woke up the neighborhood.” The Feb. 16 victory was just one of many for Matinee Dragon (Dragon Again-Play Ball) since she moved to the Bradley stable last year. The 6-year-old mare now boasts a lifetime mark of 1:52.4f and career earnings of more than $145,000. Bradley, who with his son Bart trains a stable of Standardbreds in southern Delaware, says the mare caught his eye last spring. “I liked her breeding and her build,” he said. "Dragon Again mares seem to get better with age and I decided to give her a try.” Catana didn’t hesitate to partner with him. “Vincent is very good at picking out horses,” he said. “He’s picked out a number of horses we’ve done well with.” Though he had his trainer’s license for some time, Catana, 76, leaves the barn work to Bradley these days. It was the trainer, he said, who encouraged him to get back into the business when he moved to Delaware from New Jersey. “Now we have seven horses,” he said. Matinee Dragon is proving to be the best of them. “She’s won 11 races for us,” Catana said. When he and Bradley purchased the mare, she was picking up checks in the Fillies and Mares $15,000 claimer at Harrington Raceway. Bradley wasted no time in dropping her in a race designed to boost her confidence. On June 9 of last year, Matinee Dragon made her first start for the Bradley stable a winning one, easily besting the competition in a Fillies and Mares non-winners of $1,501 at Harrington Raceway. She moved up the ranks from there, winning a Fillies and Mares non-winners of $3,001 the following week and a non-winners of $80,001 lifetime event for fillies and mares after that. Forced to move into the Fillies and Mares Open from there, just three weeks after her first race for Bradley, she proved she was a contender, finishing third and pacing a mile in 1:53.2 on Harrington’s half-mile track. Matinee Dragon went on to win six more races in 2015, competing against some of the best mares in the First State. She ended the season with $61,465 in earnings and a new mark of 1:53h. Bradley says she’s no trouble in the barn. “She’s a laid back mare,” he said. “Nothing fazes her. A child could jog her.” Since kicking off 2016 at Dover Downs, Matinee Dragon has again worked her way up through the conditioned races to the Fillies and Mares Open. Since moving into the top class in early February, the mare has missed just one check for driver Jonathan Roberts. In nine starts in 2016, Matinee Dragon has earned $25,065 and established a new lifetime best of 1:52.4f. “She’s done very well,” Catana said. “She’s probably the best horse I’ve ever had. I just hope she keeps going.” He credits Bradley with the mare’s success, and with convincing him to get back into a business he’s enjoyed since the 1980s, when he first started watching races at Liberty Bell and Freehold. “I love it,” Catana said. “It’s something that gets in your blood.” by Charlene Sharpe, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent
Seaford, DE --- Double harness racing millionaire and 64-time winner Golden Receiver is seeking success of a different kind this year as he embarks on his career as a riding horse. The renowned pacer, who came back to the races briefly last year after a first attempt at retirement following the 2014 season, is now an ambassador for the Starting Gaits Standardbred Transition Program. Mandi Cool, founder of the program, is excited about the interest a horse of his caliber will bring to the organization. "For us, having a horse in the program as well known as Golden Receiver grows attention to our program and what we are doing," she said. "A lot of owners are willing to send their horses to a program like ours when they are done racing, but not everyone knows about us and what we do." Golden Receiver, known throughout the country for his prowess on the racetrack, earned more than $2.2 million between 2008 and 2015. From 177 starts he won 64 races, finished second 25 times and third 28 times. Although he retired in early 2015, his connections brought him back to the races last summer. He went on to earn just under $8,000, racing for charity. The pacer, trained by Alexandra Berube, called it quits for good in September. When Cool got to know Berube, she began helping her find homes for several retired Standardbreds. "We have placed 26 horses for her farm and the owners affiliated with her," Cool said, "and still continue to place around five horses a month from this farm. Allie and I quickly became friends and I met one of Golden Receiver's owners, Nina Simmonds, through her." Simmonds knew she wanted to start riding Golden Receiver, as the gelding was clearly bored just sitting in the field. When Cool expressed interest in borrowing him to serve as an ambassador -- with plans to break him to ride in the process -- Simmonds was quick to agree. “It’s a win win,” she said. “She’s trail riding him and is going to show him to be an excellent example of the breed. Eventually he’ll come back and be my riding horse.” Though Cool won't be finding a new home for him as she does with most of the horses in her program, Golden Receiver will spend the coming year with her as an ambassador. She and volunteer Amy Buchert began working with him under saddle during the fall. Like most Standardbreds, she said he took to the new form of exercise as if he'd been doing it all his life. Because Cool's facility doesn't yet have an arena, Golden Receiver has done most of his training on the trail. "We are fortunate that our facility is located less than 10 minutes from a state park with lovely bridle trails," she said. "They have water crossings, hills, bridges, and all the major obstacles we like to break our horses to before placing up for adoption." For his first trail ride Golden Receiver was paired up with a more experienced horse. "Because horses are such herd animals, they are hugely influenced by the horses around them," Cool explained. "Taking a calm, experienced horse makes a lot of 'firsts' less scary under saddle and quickly builds their confidence." Though he followed his partner for a few minutes, it wasn't long before Golden Receiver took over the lead that first trail ride. Cool said he loved every minute of exploring the woods. She sent Simmonds photos and videos along the way. “The first time they put a saddle on him he went through streams and rivers,” Simmonds said. “He’s a tremendously smart horse and he loves having a job.” While he's getting in plenty of trail rides, Cool also plans to show the multimillionaire pacer in the coming year. He'll compete in a local show in March and later in the year she hopes to take him to the National Standardbred Show in New Jersey as well as the World Standardbred Show in Ohio. In his role as Standardbred ambassador, Cool says Golden Receiver will also make several public appearances throughout the year. Though the weather halted plans to bring him to the Maryland Horse Expo last weekend, he is scheduled to attend the Hoosier Horse Fair in Indiana April 1-3. Cool says she's also working with several tracks to set up visits. "We would love to travel as much as we can and bring him out," she said, "so we are taking inquiries and invitations from anyone that is interested." Showcasing Golden Receiver in his career off the track is expected to bring attention to the Standardbred's versatility as well as Cool's program. She said Starting Gaits has about 12 horses at any one time on its leased 30-acre farm. The nonprofit organization, which was founded in 2013, has placed more than 135 horses since then. “Our primary focus is providing off-the-track Standardbreds with new, marketable skills as riding and pleasure horses with the end goal of preventing the need for a rescue situation in the future,” Cool said. “We all know too well some of the alternative outlets for ex-racehorses; we just want to provide new skills and careers to as many as we can.” For more information look up Starting Gaits on Facebook or visit www.startinggaits.com. by Charlene Sharpe, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent
Seaford, DE --- While the holiday technically isn’t until Friday, it’s felt like Christmas all year long to the harness racing connections of Jingle Bell Rocker. The 5-year-old pacer is wrapping up the most successful year of his career with earnings of just under $40,000 and 16 wins in 2015. The son of Rocknroll Hanover-Blissard Of Oz took a new lifetime mark of 1:52.2 and nearly doubled his earnings from the previous year. “He just likes to win,” said Orlando Greene of the Les Givens stable. Greene, Givens’ second trainer, has handled the care of Jingle Bell Rocker since the gelding arrived at the Seaford, Del., farm. The pacer, who is owned by Tina Clark, is ending the year with a four-race win streak at Dover Downs. He kicked off the first week of the fall season at the five-eighths-mile oval with a convincing win in 1:53.1 and equaled that time in his most recent start. Members of the Givens Stable were particularly impressed with his latest victory on Dec. 10. “He won in 1:53.1 after coming first over against Rocknroll Jim,” Greene said. But was he surprised? “No. I expected him to win,” Greene said. “He felt good that week. He’ll let you know when he’s off.” Though the pacer found a fair amount of success in 2014, winning six races and earning slightly more than $21,000, Jingle Bell Rocker is a name that in 2015 has become synonymous with winning in Delaware. The pacer has spent more time in the winner’s circle than not this year, with 16 wins from 27 starts. In fact, he came full circle, winning his first start of 2015 back on Jan. 7 at Dover Downs and ending the 2015 season with a victory at the same track. He had plenty of success at Harrington Raceway in between. Greene says Givens made a shoeing change when Jingle Bell Rocker first arrived, replacing his aluminum shoes with steel ones, and that aside from that the pacer has required little special care. He jogs and trains him between starts and makes sure he gets plenty of time to himself in the field. The basic regimen appears to be working, as Jingle Bell Rocker -- a $5,000 claimer in 2014 -- is now beating $10,000 claimers at Dover. Greene says the pacer’s best race was his Nov. 30 victory. He started from post four and was eventually moved first over by regular driver Ross Wolfenden. He took the lead at the top of the stretch and won by a length in a new lifetime best of 1:52.2. Greene says the pacer has proven himself versatile, often winning regardless of the trip he receives. “You can drive him any way,” he said. His only complaint about Jingle Bell Rocker is the gelding’s tendency to occasionally make breaks. He recalls one race this spring when the pacer looked like a sure winner until a miscue at the head of the stretch. “It seems like it’s either a win or nothing with him,” Greene said, referencing the less than a handful of times the pacer hit the board but didn’t win. Nevertheless he and the rest of the horse’s connections are hopeful he’ll keep doing what he’s been doing in the new year. “He’s one of the most consistent horses in the barn,” Greene said. by Charlene Sharpe, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent
Charlene Sharpe is doing what she loves to do The full time reporter who works for the Dispatch newspaper of Berlin, Maryland is moonlighting, by showing and racing horses and is having a great time along with being successful. The hardworking journalist also has written articles for HoofBeats and the USTA. Charlene acquired "Don't Fool Me Now" an 11 year old by Camotion out of Philly Fantasy a Abercrombie mare last year when the owners gave up on her and turned her over to Charlene. She rested the horse for a year converting the 11 year old gelding over to being a pleasure horse. Along the way she found out that the gelding loves watermelon. It is her secret weapon. "Don't Fool Me Now's" attitude and disposition changed so much that Charlene decided to drop him in the entry box for a race at the Pocomoke Fair, Pocomoke City, Md. On August 1st the 11 year old gelding won his race at the Pocomoke Fair. The following week she entered him in four events at the National Standardbred Show scheduled for August 9th in New Jersey and he would ribbon in all four events. The next night (August 10th) he was off to the races at Ocean Downs where he won his race wire to wire in 1:57.3 with the veteran Frank Milby at the reins. Her other horse "Wynnfield Flash" that she also owns and trains won his race at Ocean Downs on August 7th also with Milby in the bike. Both horses are in to go for Monday night August 17th at Ocean Downs. "Don't Fool Me Now" is scheduled to compete in the Clarissa Coughlin organized Maryland National Standardbred Horse Show at the Timonium State Fair on Monday August 31st. I also hear that her mother Pam Polk who at one time worked at Roosevelt Raceway for Frank Popfinger and is currently a USTA tattoo technician will also be completing along Charlene's good friend Cate Carrick Nellans. A big thank you to Charlene, Clarissa, Pam and Cate for promoting harness racing and the versatile Standardbred. Fred Hudson
Seaford, DE --- “Dead-mouthed runaway” is not a phrase the average person wants to hear describe a horse they’re about to get on. Nevertheless, caretaker Nicky Ratledge knew just what she was doing when she decided to ride Courser Hanover, one of her charges in the Delaware stable of harness racing trainer Tim Crissman. She’d asked him to let her try it time and again, but knowing the gelding’s nearly notorious tendency to pull, Crissman advised her against it. She kept asking though, and in April, she finally got on him. Ten minutes later they were off on a trail ride. “He loved every minute of it,” Ratledge said. Proof of that is in the horse’s recent performance on the racetrack. Less than a week after his first trail ride, Courser Hanover made it to the winner’s circle at Harrington Raceway after taking a new seasonal mark of 1:53.1. In the weeks since he’s won twice more. “He’s got a little more confidence now,” Crissman said. Crissman is just happy to see the horse racing. The day he claimed the son of Astreos-Cindy B for $15,000 at Harrah’s Philadelphia in 2013, the then-7-year-old broke a pastern bone. “They said he’d never race again,” Crissman recalled. He didn’t want to give up on the horse though. Eight months after the injury, Courser Hanover -- a $180,000 yearling in 2007 -- made it back to the track. In 2014, he won five races and earned just under $19,000 for Crissman. The trainer says it was dealing with the horse’s behavior that made the return to racing difficult. “He’s his own worst enemy,” Crissman said. He said that in spite of his age and past injury, Courser Hanover wants to go fast -- all the time. “I’ve never sat behind a horse that can pull as hard as him,” Crissman said. “He’s a dead-mouthed runaway.” Numerous bridle changes suggested by Tony Morgan, the pacer’s regular driver, and various training regimens have resulted in minor improvements in Courser Hanover’s behavior during the past two years, but the horse is still known to get out of control on occasion. Not too long ago, one of Crissman’s grooms tore ligaments in his leg as he was sitting on the jog cart, straining against the stirrups in an effort to maintain control of the horse. “You go to hook him up and he turns into a Tasmanian devil,” Crissman said. That’s why he didn’t want Ratledge riding the pacer. He was sure she’d get hurt. “I would have never got on him,” he said, adding that Courser Hanover gets agitated and starts kicking when you put the harness on him. Ratledge knew she had the right idea though when she put the saddle on the pacer and he didn’t move an inch. She says he enjoys being out on the trail -- he doesn’t pull -- and in turn is a happier horse all around. “He’s found himself,” said Ratledge, who rides Courser Hanover a few times a week now. “He went from being sour to being a lovable horse.” Crissman agrees that the pacer’s experiences under saddle have increased his composure. “He’s got more confidence in his ability,” Crissman said. “Before he just wanted to go around the track as fast as he could and he’d stop. He’s gotten to the point now where he’s trying.” From 15 starts this year, Courser Hanover has racked up six wins, four seconds and three thirds. He won a $7,500 claiming event at Harrington Raceway just last night (May 21) in 1:55.1 on a sloppy track. “He’s better now,” Crissman said. “I hope he stays that way. He’s a little easier to put up with when he’s making money.” by Charlene Sharpe, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent
Seaford, DE --- Trainer Justin Brenneman was scrolling through an online listing of horses for sale when one name brought him to a stop. Winbak Red. The old trotter instantly brought to mind Brenneman’s childhood at Ocean Downs. There he’d grown up, learning the ins and outs of harness racing from trainers and grooms with decades of experience with Standardbreds. It was there he watched Winbak Red transform from a green 3-year-old to an open trotter for trainer Richard Ringler. And so Brenneman had no qualms about selling his only racehorse to buy Winbak Red, now 12, for $2,000 with partner John Barth. “I’ve always liked old classy horses,” he said. “Most of them like to race and they like to win.” Brenneman, 25, purchased Winbak Red (Muscles Yankee-Red Oak’s Angel) the first week of March. The trotter had spent the winter racing at Miami Valley Raceway. Though he managed a win in 2:00.1 on Feb. 8, Winbak Red came back to trot a mile in 2:07 in a $5,000 claimer the following week. He raced once more in Ohio, finishing fourth in 2:03.2, before heading east. Brenneman was optimistic he’d be able to get the horse back on track. “He was sound so I thought I could make a couple changes to help him,” he said. Brenneman, who works for a trainer in Delaware and usually keeps a horse or two of his own on the side, said the first thing he did was change Winbak Red’s shoeing -- back to the way it was when the trotter was winning the open at Harrington Raceway. “I put four aluminums on with toe weights in the front the way Richie (Ringler) used to,” Brenneman said. Eager to keep the horse off the qualifying list, he put him in at Rosecroft Raceway two weeks after buying him. Brenneman figured if nothing else the trotter, who raced in the snow in Ohio, would pick up a few seconds just by racing in the more moderate temperatures of his home state. Winbak Red did more than that. He came from behind for driver Frank Milby to win by four lengths in 1:56.3. “I thought he’d trot more than he was out there (in Ohio) but I didn’t think he’d go in 1:56,” Brenneman said. If he was impressed then, he was even more impressed the following week when Winbak Red came back to win against some of the track’s top trotters in 1:56. “He was in tougher but Frank (Milby) said he was very handy,” Brenneman said. For Brenneman it was simply validation of his respect for “classy old horses.” Winbak Red has made every year of his decade-long career a winning one. The trotter won his first race at Rosecroft Raceway in 2006 as a 3-year-old. He stayed in the Mid-Atlantic area for several years, winning races at Harrington and Dover, where he set a then lifetime mark of 1:55.3 as a 5-year-old. Winbak Red had the best year of his long career in 2011 with a move to the Empire State. The trotter won 14 times and earned $101,820 -- nearly a quarter of his lifetime earnings -- that year alone. He set a new lifetime mark of 1:55.1 the following year at Pocono Downs but has slowed down since. Brenneman is hopeful though that these latest wins are a sign of more to come. Though Winbak Red made just $7,906 last year, the trotter has already earned $8,385 in 2015 with just eight starts. Brenneman plans to start racing him at Harrington Raceway later this month. In the meantime, he’s letting him enjoy some time off in the field. “I just try to keep him happy,” Brenneman said. by Charlene Sharpe, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent
Seaford, DE --- This spring, unraced 3-year-old pacing filly River Runs Thru It was galloping around with a herd of broodmares. A relatively quick six months later, she’s won three of her last five starts and earned nearly $13,000. “She’s been doing everything right,” said Mike Patterson, the filly’s owner and trainer. River Runs Thru It (Riverboat King-TJ Run) won her most recent start at Dover Downs on Nov. 4, taking a new lifetime mark of 1:56.1. Patterson, a lifelong horseman, couldn’t have been prouder after watching his prize filly -- the only horse in his stable -- make a move from last to cross the wire first. She’s come a long way from the filly that left the broodmares to run up to the fence the first time Patterson saw her. He started working with River Runs Thru It, who he essentially got for free, in April. The filly is the sixth foal and fourth winner out of TJ Run p,1:54s ($157,031). Although she’d started training as a 2-year-old, she was turned out for the winter and had yet to return to jogging in 2014 when Patterson took her on. He admits the filly’s solid red coat made him hesitant. “I was a little prejudiced,” he said, adding that he had experience with a number of chestnut pacers by Riverboat King during his years working for trainer John Wagner and hadn’t been impressed. He further doubted his decision to begin training River Runs Thru It the first time he asked her to go a little faster than her preferred jogging pace. “I chirped to her and she flashed her tail,” he said. “I thought, ‘oh great she’s temperamental.’” The filly seemed happy enough to jog though, so Patterson kept going with her, eventually beginning to turn her the right way of the track for some training miles. Things went well until she got stuck at 2:20. Patterson, who stables at Les Givens’ farm in Seaford, credits Les and Brandon Givens with helping to get the filly down to qualifying time. With some training company and a few equipment changes, River Runs Thru It was ready for the races by July. She proved to be a little shaky at first, making breaks on and off at Ocean Downs throughout July and August, but Patterson says tighter hobbles and a few steady miles toward the end of the meet gave her confidence. “Once she found out she could do it she started wanting to do it,” Patterson said. The filly won her first race in 1:59.3 on Sept. 25 at Harrington Raceway for driver Tony Morgan, who has since become her regular reinsman. She followed that up with a second place finish from the eight hole two weeks later. On Oct. 16, she bested the non-winners of two competition, lowering her mark to 1:57.1. She rounded out her time at Harrington with a third place finish on Oct. 23. Patterson says she never faltered that night, in spite of the fact that she had a broken line pole dangling from her neck the entire mile. “I don’t think she’s had a bad race since she’s come to Delaware,” he said. Patterson, who was happy just to see River Runs Thru It get qualified, is thrilled to have seen her progress from a gangly, out-of-shape green filly to a steady, confident racehorse earning checks every week. While she didn’t have the stakes success some of his past horses, including Mad Libs p,1:53.4z ($237,549) and Shaaga p,1:55.2f ($72,527) had, she’s made his time worthwhile. “All horses are not made to be good 2-year-olds,” Patterson said. “Sometimes you just have to have patience and wait for them to grow up.” by Charlene Sharpe, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent
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.