Matt Zuccarello--yes, Zuccarello-- reined the harness racing winner of Monticello Raceway's 16th annual Passover Pace on Tuesday afternoon, April 22. He hustled his charge Winsmith Molly up to collar the pacesetter-- Sam's Fortune and driver Alan Charles-- in the final strides and walked away with the box of matzohs. Zuccarello's mother, the former (Arlene Rosenberg) is Jewish, and because of that Matt was eligible to compete in the race for drivers of Jewish heritage. And for Zuccarello, who's refers to himself as "Pizza- Bagel", this was his first drive in the event and he made it memorable. An amateur driver with a provisional license, Zuccarella has recently been bitten by the harness driving bug. Now in his third year of competitive driving Zuccarello has been competing in the various amateur club races on the East coast as well as in the Billings Series. "I've won a couple of races before but winning the Passover Pace today was more than I could have asked for," said Zuccarello, who by trade is a salesman for heart rate monitoring equipment. "I thought there were a couple of horses in there (the race) that would be hard to beat but my mare raced her best race of the season thus far." Perhaps Zuccarello was referring to Sams Fortune and Christoffer Bliss who was driven by Austin Siegelman. Both were the 6-5 co-favorites in the race. When the man said go, Alan Charles sent Sams Fortune to the lead from the pylon position but he relinquished command to Pascal's Wager and Dave Yarock just before the quarter pole but he wasted no time and re-took the lead as the field headed into the turn. However, when Charles made his quarter pole move Murray Bassen, with Welcome Lover, and Bobby Krivelin with Road Work Ahead, followed suite. "I was seventh at the quarter and with all the action upfront I moved third- up and as the horses in front of me either cleared or found a spot (along the pylons) I just kept my mare going forward," Zuccarello related. Winsmith Molly passed everyone in front of her and then ranged up alongside Sams Fortune at the three quarters. Then, from there to paydirt, a blanket would have covered both pacers right to the finish line. At the wire Winsmith Molly was a head in front of Sams Fortune while Tidewater Moses and driver Alan Schwartz rallied from far back to finish third and pay $36.00 for show. Krivelin's Road Work Ahead finished fourth and fifth place went to 50-1 shot, Five Card Stud driven by Peter Kleinhans. Christoffer Bliss and Siegelman got locked- in from the quarter pole on and they were never a factor and finished sixth. Pascal's Wager was seventh and Welcome Lover brought up the rears. Winsmith Molly is trained by Gary Messenger for owners Brenda Messenger, Dr. Scott Woogen and Phil Shapiro. It was the mare's first win in nine seasonal outings and she returned $15.60, $3.30 and $3.00 across the board. by John Manzi, for Monticello Raceway
Last fall when Austin Siegelman was presented with the Rising Star Award by the Monticello-Goshen Chapter USHWA at their annual banquet he told the attending crowd that among the things he was looking to accomplish during 2014 was to win Monticello Raceway's Passover Pace. Now on Tuesday, April 22 he will get that chance, and a good one at that, when he jumps up behind the 5-2 favorite Christoffer Bliss. "That's correct, I said one of my goals (in 2014) was to win the Race for the Matzohs," said the 22 year old Siegleman in all seriousness. "I know it has been a fun event and I read about it every season for as long as I can remember. Now not only do I have a chance to win it but I'll be driving the favorite in the race." Last year in his first full season of driving Siegelman reined 90 winners and currently with 47 already he's more than halfway home in equaling last year's numbers. However, since he's now getting calls to catch drive here, and at Saratoga Raceway, look for Siegelman's numbers to vastly increase. However, Siegelman will be going against some veteran Passover Pace drivers in Alan Schwartz, Bobby Krivelin and Alan Charles. Schwartz has been a three-time winner and Charles and Krivelin each have won the Race for the Matzohs twice. Krivelin is the defending champion having won the event last year with Isn't She Lovely. In this year's Passover Pace on Tuesday afternoon, Charles may have the best chance at upsetting Siegelman when he handles Sam's Fortune-- rated 3-1 on the early line-- from the pole position. "I've won this race with outsiders before and being able to start along the pylons is always a positive," said Charles who has won two of the last four Passover Paces. And speaking of outsiders, both Schwartz and Krivelin have them. Neither driver's pacers have won a race yet this year; Schwartz's Tidewater Moses (post five) is 0-for 12 and Krivelin's, Road Work Ahead (post seven) is 0-for 13. "It's all the luck of the draw; both with the horses we'll drive and the post positions we get,'" Schwartz said philosophically. "You never know what will happen in a horse race and it's never official until the judges declare it so." The sleeper in the race is Winsmith Molly, from the hot Gary Messenger barn. Matt Zuccarello -his mother is Jewish-drew the mount behind the 7 year old mare who won six times last year (the fastest in 1:57.3) although she has yet to find her stride this season. They'll start from the six hole. Others who drew mounts in the 16th Annual "Race for the Matzohs" include: Peter Kleinhans(Five Star Stud -- post two), Murray Bassin (Welcome Lover -post 4) and Dave Yarock (Pascal's Wager -post eight). The Passover Pace is slated as race number six on the Mighty M's Tuesday afternoon card of April 22. By John Manzi, for Harnesslink.com
And now, the answers to the trivia questions that have appeared in this space recently. We'll deal first with Bob "Hollywood" Heyden's question, paraphrasing from the previous article: "Jerryconnors, this year Shebestingin and Beeamagician both went faster than any of their three-year-old colt counterparts. What was thelastyear that thathappened?" (Bob's brain is always in hyperwarpdrive, and sometimes the words come out of his mouth as if frantically trying to keep up with the gray matter that had just produced them.) When I originally told of this encounter, I did not include my first, smart-ass answer: Since Bob was asking me the question in 2014 (the February of the Dover USHWA/banquet), I said, "2013," which was the previous and, thus by definition, "last" year. That of course was a correct answer. (Watch, and it'll turn more correct the further you read.) Heyden wasn't impressed, giving a "Geez" and a shake of the head as if wondering why he wastes his time trying to educate the unwashed. "Before that, I mean." As I did recount earlier, my next response was, "I don't know." Which was the second correct answer - because 2013 was the FIRST AND ONLY time that Bob's phenomenon had ever occurred! And of course you can't know something that doesn't exist. So BOTH of my answers were correct! I owe thanks for verification to David Carr, veteran computer guru and statistical researcher for the USTA (along with being a Tottenham Hotspurs fan, as is Roy Davis). David said that when he saw the article, he set up the computer parameters, and could trace the data back to 1951 - and that 2013 was the first year that the phenomenon occurred. (Though, according to David, it had happened three times previously among two-year-olds - but that's for a future column.) After Hollywood's stumper, I mentioned, I happened upon an amazing piece of trivia in the Dover paddock: Not 10 feet apart from each other were two gentlemen who are both members of a very, very exclusive club - they were both the leading dashwinning drivers at tracks that hosted just ONE season of harness racing! They accomplished their feats 15 years apart. And they both have the same initials! I did plant one clue in yesterday's story - if you read Ron Pierce's career travels carefully, you may have noted "Minnesota" thrown in there. In 1986, Pierce was the leading driver during the only year they had harness racing at Canterbury (which, for different trivia fans, was where Governor Jesse Ventura's post-election celebration was held). Forrest Skipper won there that year,too - in the Dan Patch Pace, of course. So now we know that the other driver's initials are also "RP" - and from there it's a short jump to Roger Plante Jr., now a solid regular on the Delaware circuit, but for three weekends in 2001 plying his trade at Oakridge Racecourse in Virginia - where he won their only dash title with 14 triumphs. Oak Ridge Estate in southwest VA is an historic plantation/horse farm/events site that was purchased by the Holland Family in 1989, with John Sr. later thinking to try to secure a couple of off-track wagering permits in the Old Dominion - but that required him to hold a pari-mutuel license. So he carved a mile track on the grounds, brought in tents for a paddock and temporary fixtures for fans (no simulcasting in or out, the latter disappointing Plainridge, and I know because they called me, who had written a story, and asked me), and conducted Friday-Saturday-Sunday racing from September 21 to October 7 of 2001. (Alas, for overall naught for Mr. Holland's oval, as he did not get the off-track permits.) There was only that one season of harness at Oakridge (how the USTA records spell it) - nine days, 101 purse races. Plante won 14, one more than Clifton Green, to secure its only dash title, and join that super-exclusive club that both he and Pierce have membership in. And now to end - FOR POSSIBLY THE ONLY TIME EVER IN PRINT - the list of the drivers who won the 101 races at Oakridge! 14: Roger Plante Jr. 13: Clifton Green 11: Brian Allen 7: Dan O'Mara, Fern Paquet Jr. 5: Mark Gray, Donnie Russell 4: Gary Messenger 3: Ken Billman, Joe Offutt, Del Richards 2: Kyle DiBenedetto, Gerry Bookmyer, R. Scott Gregoire*, Jukka Paljarvi, Tim Roach, Tom D. (father of ...) Tetrick, Bryce Truitt, Don Wilson II 1: Mark Clark, Rusty Cox, George Filion, Grover Freck, Warren McIlmurray, Jim Morand, Barry Probber, Basil Sapienza, James Smallwood, Kelly Staten * - Mr. Gregoire gets a special mention because he swept the Daily Double on the inaugural card. By Jerry Connors for Harnesslink.com
Monticello Raceway presented its third annual All-Amateur Day on September 6 with all the participating drivers on the 10 race card carring amateur status. But by no means were they novices. And to say it was a success would be an understatement. Nineteen of the country’s top amateurs came from far and wide and convened at the Mighty M just to participate in what was billed a special “Veterans Day at the Races’. Each participating amateur driver paid $500 to be part of the day and monies were raised for the Sullivan County Veteran’s Food Pantry. Attending fans were asked to donate non-perishable goods and clothing for the less fortunate and at day’s end a pick-up truck was needed bring the goods to the Federation for the Homeless, of which the Veteran’s Food Pantry is a component. Co-sponsored by the North America Amateur Drivers Association and Monticello Raceway nearly $10,000 was raised along with the food and clothing. It turned out to be a day enjoyed by everyone who shared in the festivities. Every race presentation was done by a armed forces veteran and visiting veterans were afforded 50 percent off the dinner in the casino’s Winners Circle Buffet and over $420,000 was wagered on the 10-race card on the added race date to just accommodate the all-amateur program. “It’s getting bigger each year,” noted Alan Schwartz, a former Marine Corporal and Vietnam veteran, who is also the president of the Monticello Harness Horsemen’s Association. “It has taken a while but officials and racing fans alike are beginning to realize and understand what amateur racing brings a lot to the game. Nearly every amateur driver owns horses, employs a trainer, and continually invests in the sport. And over the years the betting public is cognizant of their drivers talents and considering the wagering numbers today most enjoy betting on the amateur races.” On the 10- race card three different amateur drivers each won two races. Dein Spriggs, a real estate magnate who traveled infrom Jupiter Fla. just to participate, scored a seven- length triumph with Beal Hanover in time of 1:58.1 and he also won with Multiple Cash in 1:58.4. Dr. Scott Woogen, a gastroenterologist up from Richmond VA., also had a driving double. He won with Windsmith Molly in 2:01.1 and with Paulimony in 1:59, two pacers he co-owns with Brenda Messenger, the wife of his trainer Gary Messenger. And Dave Yarock, a financial planner from Tenafly, NJ, scored two driving victories on the program when he won with his own Bambina’s Sorella in 1:59.4 and with Game Jocko in 1:58.1. Spriggs now has 375 career wins, Woogen has 119 amateur driving victories and Dave Yarock, who entered the amateur ranks in 2008, has 42 wins. Other amateurs with driving victories that day included; Steve Oldford, an automotive manufacturer’s rep from Croswell, MI; Joe Pennacchio, a retired business executive from Delray Beach, Fla.; Kelly Walker, a nursery owner from Davison, MI; and George Bonomo, a CEO from greater Chicago,(Naperville) Ill. Besides the 10 pari-mutuel races fans were treated to a trotting race under saddle, which is beginning to be more than just a sideshow in the industry. And that nearly all of the participating riders are female it adds another dimension to the sport. That non-wager contest was won by Michelle Crawford when she rode Vassar Hall to a 2:08.3 victory over John-Michael and Jodie Doherty. Third place went to Docdor Chaser with Ruth Calcagni aboard. by John Manzi
They came; they saw; they conquered. Well at least Vic Harrison did. Of the four participating harness industry executives it was Vic Harrison, director of sales for United Tote in Louisville, KY, who prevailed in the third edition of Battle of the Brain Trust On Monday afternoon, July 22 Monticello Raceway presented the non-wagering race with the horses driven by executives in the racing industry. Besides Harrison, others at the lines were Shawn Wiles, Monticello Raceway’s general manager, Jason Settlemoir, general manger of the new Meadowlands and VP of Racing at Tioga and Vernon Downs, and Jerry Murkerson, who operates the Hawkinsville, GA training center. Although the four gentlemen had a wonderful time driving it was Harrison who guided Bet On Lindy to a 2:06.2 victory over Wiles and Keystone Iris. Murkerson finished third with Pembroke Lil and Settlemoir fourth behind JM Dancing Star. It seems strange what some people will do to pursue something they enjoy. Take for instance, Harrison and Murkerson. Both gentlemen traveled hundreds of miles just to drive a spirited steed in this unique harness race. “I’ve driven in a few races over the years at Monticello and even though I finished up the track I loved every minute of it,” a joyful Harrison spouted in the winner’s circle referring to his third attempt in the race for executives involved in the harness racing industry. “I’m now one for three in the Brain Trust races and I finally broke my maiden.” In a race that started as if it were a professional betting contest the four execs battled for the early lead with Harrison and Bet On Lindy on the pole position getting first call as the field headed into the first turn. When they straightened for the quarter pole Settlemoir found himself with no friends as he was parked on the outside as the first panel timer flashed :30.2. Wiles, in the two hole with Keystone Iris, didn’t make room for Settlemoir who couldn’t gain command over Harrison. “It’s too bad Jason got parked but I had the perfect spot and with him challenging for the lead I figured it would help me at the end of the mile,” Wiles said leaving Settlemoir on the limb. Bet On Lindy and Harrison kept going down the road and they passed the half in 1:02.1 with the order remaining the same. As the field headed for the three quarters which was paced in 1:34.3, Murkerson’s pacer, JM Dancing Star moved up to third position when Settlemoir’s pacer tired. But unfortunately for Wiles, Harrison’s charge was still strong. When the field headed for home Harrison urged Bet On Lindy and Wiles ducked for the passing lane but despite the two-hole journey Keystone Iris was empty and couldn’t overtake Bet On Lindy and Harrison was a winner. Wilesheld second place, Murkerson finished third and Settlemoir was fourth. When asked about being parked out, Settlemoir said: “I thought this was a friendly race but the guys were out for blood. When I couldn’t find a hole I knew it was all over for me. Still it was great fun.” Wiles made no excuses because really he didn’t have any to make. He had his pacer in the right spot and when the passing lane opened Bet on Lindy just didn’t fire like Wiles hoped she would. And Murkerson, who over the years has driven matinee races at the Hawkinsville Training Center was rather philosophical about his third place finish. “Sure I wanted to win but my mare just couldn’t make up any ground in the stretch,” Murkerson said in his distinctly Southern accent.”Nevertheless it was still a great time.” The winning horse is owned by Dr. Scott Woogen and Brenda Messenger and trained by Gary Messenger. Eric Warner, the tracks director of racing was on hand to make the trophy presentation to the winner. “We’d like to thank all the trainers and owners who helped us with this special race,” Warner said. “It seemed win or lose, everyone had a good time.” Post positions and driving assignment were drawn by lot and for safety sake the executives raced in jog carts without the use of whips. by John Manzi
Mark Twain once espoused that the difference from success and failure in life is 40 miles. Of course in his day 40 miles was a long way from home. Maybe that applies and maybe it’s more hyperbole than truth but in deference to Mr. Twain it seems one has a greater chance of success in a town other than his native one. But one can take Twain’s words with a grain of salt in the case of Monticello-native Jimmy Taggart, Jr. On the sweltering afternoon program of Wednesday, July 17 Monticello, NY-native Jimmy Taggart, Jr. had a hat trick at Monticello Raceway and those three victories followed the one he scored the previous day and the four he reined on Monday, July 15. Now the 43 year old reinsman finds himself just six victories shy of 3000.And when he scores his 3000th win he’ll join an elite group drivers who have reached that milestone Two of Taggart’s wins on Wednesday came behind trotters from the Gary Messenger barn. He won the feature with Mandinga ($6.90) in 1:59.1 and the co-feature with Four Starz F ($14.80) in 1:58.4. A third victory came behind Ron Coauette’s pacer Allamerican Master ($3.50) in1:58.1. Asked if feels any pressure closing in on his personal milestone Taggart answered quickly: “ Not yet. Maybe when I get one or two wins away I might but right but now I’m enjoying the ride.” A lifelong resident of the area and a graduate of Monticello High School Taggart’s gravitation to harness racing only seemed natural as the sport was still premier in the area in the mid-1980’s. Taggart began his driving career in the Catskill Amateur Drivers Club here at the Mighty M in the late 1980’s and he turned professional during the 1988 season Taggart. Although wins came sparingly in the early years after a few seasons in the sulky he showed a talent for driving harness horses and in 1994 his win total was inthree figures and has remained there in all but a few years in the late 2000’s. Often among the driving leaders here in the 1990’s Taggart scored his 1000th win at the Mighty M. Win number 2000 came at Pocono Downs where he was a regular during the early years of the 21st Century before returning home to the Mighty M. Last year his 229 winners here ranked him fifth best on the local leaderboard and his 285 wins during the 2011 season was third best. This season Taggart’s 109 wins at Monticello Raceway currently ranks him fifth in races won. by John Manzi
Of all of Tracys Song’s 21 victories this year at Monticello Raceway the one she scored on Monday, July 15 was the toughest and most impressive thus far. After Jimmy Taggart, Jr. and KJ Anita parked Tracys Song past the quarter in a stifling :27 seconds Tracy’s driver Bruce Aldrich, Jr. then got away with a 1:00.1 middle half even though Taggart had KJ Anita extremely tight on his back throughout. On the final turn, as they have done so many times before, Aldrich asked ‘Tracy’ for more and again she responded by opening up two lengths which, however, were quickly diminished as the two pacers turned for home. “Jimmy’s mare actually headed- us halfway down the stretch but Tracy came back and refused to lose,” Aldrich said after Tracys Song scored her 21st victory by just a head in her seasonal best time of 1:56.2. “Talk about horses for courses--seems like Tracy was made for Monticello Raceway.” With her victory Tracys Song continues to lead North America in races won, three more than runner-up Haroun Hanover, another Monticello-based pacer. After conquering the track record of 15 consecutive wins on May 20th Tracys Song now is eyeing the track record of 22 wins in a single season which was established in 1985 by Golden Storm GB. Tracys Song is trained by Bob Lounsbury for owner Nancy Fugere. She paid $2.70 and $2.10 and there was no show wagering. At the end of the racing program that afternoon when announcer Howard Oil was giving the wrap-up he said: “It was the Billy Parker ( Jr.)- Jimmy Taggart (, Jr.) show today,” referring to both drivers who each won four races on the afternoon card. The four driving victories by the aforementioned reinsmen are helping to near milestones for both. With his victories Parker now needs just two more to crack the 11,000-career win plateau and Taggart’s four wins now leaves him just 10 short of 3000 career winners. Parker had two triumphs for trainer Ron Coauette--New Manhattan ($16.60) in 1:57 and Get Ready To Rhumba $3.70) in 1:57.1. He also won with Driving In Style ($6.20) in 1:56.4 for trainer Scott Blackler and was victorious with the Gary Messenger-trained trotter, Sin To Win ($5.10) in 2:00. Taggart on the other hand won three races for trainer Gary Messenger. He scored behind trotter Benn’s Starlet ($4.50) in 1:59.4 and pacers Mary Lou ($ 9.80) in 1:58.1 and Winsmith Molly ($2.90) in 1:57.3. Taggart’s fourth winner on the program was with trotter Strongbow ($7.60) in 2:00.2 for trainer Terry Beck. by John Manzi
In an outstanding career that began in the late 1960's Billy "Zeke" Parker, Jr. is approaching a milestone that only six others in the history of the harness racing sport have met ...and passed.
Quietly, and without much fanfare, Worthys Magic has joined the leading harness racing winners list in North America when Billy 'Zeke' Parker, Jr. reined the 7-year-old Cam's Magic Trick gelding to a 1:56.1 triumph at Monticello Raceway on Thursday, May 8.
The third and final preliminary legs of Monticello Raceways Name Your Price Claiming Series for mares on Tuesday, February 19 saw last weeks winners Tracy's Song and Winsmith Mollie each emerge harness racing victors again in their respective divisions.
Thus far Monticello Raceway's Name Your Price Claiming Series hasn't lived up to its unique possibility, that being the initially entered $4000 harness racing claimers all raced for that same claiming tag in round two.
Muddy race courses don't bother harness racing driver Billy "Zeke" Parker, Jr. He's raced on plenty of them. So with the rain falling intermittently on the afternoon of Monday, May 21 Zeke nonchalantly added three more wins to his seasonal and lifetime totals.
Chosen Voyageur is back in the Gary Messenger stable at Monticello Raceway and again on a winning path. Yesterday, March14, in his first start at the Mighty M after four unsuccessful tries at both Yonkers Raceway and Dover Downs, the veteran trotter returned to the form that made him outstanding here last season when harness racing driver Jason Bartlett guided him to an easy four- length triumph in a time of 1:59.1.
Get Chipped is not fond of standing still. She rears often but when she's mobile she trots with the best of them which an $80,000 harness racing bankroll last season can attest to. Now with her fourth start this year the 6 year old Chip Chip Hooray mare once again zoomed by the leaders to score a 2:01.2 victory; her second consecutive against the best trotters on the grounds.
Before they went to post for the weekly trotting feature at Monticello Raceway the Wednesday afternoon (Feb. 22) race appeared to be very competitive, perhaps because post positions were assigned by the harness racing secretary.
On Monday, January 2nd Mighty M assistant general manager and USTA District 8 Director, Shawn Wiles joined the 2011 harness racing driving and training champions for an impromptu trophy presentation ceremony in the track's winners circle.