Quietly, and without much fanfare, Rose Run Nash keeps winning. Yesterday (July 16) at Monticello Raceway the harness racing 5 year old Trainforthefuture gelding notched his 13th seasonal triumph and continues to lead all trotters in races won in North America. Driven, once again, by Jimmy Marohn, Jr. and carrying a $10,000 claiming tag, Rose Run Nash scored a neck victory in 2:00.1 when he came from sixth at the three quarters to collar both Famous Dude (Bruce Aldrich, Jr.) and Larissa (Mike Merton) who finished in a dead-heat for second. "This is the best race he (Rose Run Sam) went all season. He trotted his last quarter in :28.4 and had to come a long way to win it," trainer Danny Gill said after the mile. He then added "Now we're up two," meaning that Rose Run Nash has a two-win lead over four others each with 11 wins. When queried about the gelding's sire, Trainforthefuture, Gill replied quickly. "Oh, he's Ohio- bred and I've had him just about a year now. He's a sweetheart, just a pleasure to be around and Jimmy (Marohn, Jr.) says he's always on the trot (doesn't break stride) and real handy in a race," Gill was leading trainer here two years ago and was second to Lounsbury last season, This year, again, his pupils are winning plenty of races. Currently Gill is in a fight-not literally- with Bob Lounsbury and Gary Messenger for leading trainer honors. At days end, Messenger is in command with 79 winners, four more than Gill's 75, while Lounsbury is close with 73. John Manzi
Goshen, NY --- It was a nearly perfect day for harness racing trainer driver Ray Schnittker. Schnittker drove in seven Landmark Stakes events at Historic Track on Friday afternoon and came away with six victories. Among the winners was 3-year-old male pacer Stevensville, who could be heading to the $450,000 Delvin Miller Adios at the end of the month. Other winners for Schnittker, who is based at Historic Track, were 2-year-old male trotter Gabe The Bear Dean, 2-year-old female pacer Shes Ready To Rock, 3-year-old female trotter Suegrabbitnrun, 3-year-old male trotter Derby, and 2-year-old female trotter Kaliska. Gary Messenger trained two Landmark winners, 2-year-old male pacer K J Ben and 2-year-old female trotter She's So Into Me, and Angus MacDonald sent out a winner in 3-year-old female pacer Misty Major. Stevensville, who was coming off a fifth-place finish in the Max C. Hempt Memorial on June 28 at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, won the $19,340 Landmark Stakes for 3-year-old pacers in 1:58.1 over a sloppy track. Rain fell throughout the afternoon on an unseasonably cool 66-degree Fourth of July. Owned by Schnittker, Paul Bordogna, and Ryan Miller, Stevensville has won seven of 21 career races and $185,079. He finished second in last year's Matron Stakes. "He's been real good," Schnittker said. "He raced real good last week and I think if he'd gotten through a little sooner he would have been maybe third. "We're going to go to the Adios, I think. I skipped the Meadowlands Pace. I think he's fifth to 10th best [horse in the division] and there's so much money later in the year, hopefully I can grab some." Derby, who finished second in the Dexter Cup in May, won the $20,640 Landmark Stakes for 3-year-old trotters in 2:03.3. The gelding is owned by Schnittker, Jeff Gural's Little E LLC, and Ted Gewertz. He has won three consecutive starts after starting the season with six setbacks. "He's come around a little bit," Schnittker said. "He actually raced pretty good for Danny Cappello at Saratoga the last two starts. He had sort of an attitude problem, but it looks like he's starting to get it figured out now. Hopefully he'll end up having a good year." Schnittker also was pleased with Kaliska, who won in 2:05.2, and Gabe The Bear Dean, who won in 2:03. Kaliska (Credit Winner-Armbro Vivian) is owned by Schnittker, Thomas Spatorico, Pepin Stable, and Fam Alber Horse Racing. She is a full sister to stakes-winner Frank The Hands. Gabe The Bear Dean (Lucky Chucky-Madam Hooch) is owned by Schnittker and Minix Stable. "[Kaliska] kind of doesn't know what she's doing," Schittker said. "She figured out to go by [other horses] finally; usually she's a little bit late that way. "Gabe The Bear Dean, I think he could be a real nice New York Sire [Stakes horse]. He's going next Wednesday at Buffalo. I think he's one of the better Lucky Chucky colts, so hopefully he'll be alright." Suegrabbitnrun won in 2:01.4 for Schnittker and Charlie Iannazzo, who also bred the filly, and Shes Ready To Rock (Rocknroll Hanover-She's My Belle) won in 2:04.1 for owners Schnittker, Frank Baldassare, and Mary Kinsey. K J Ben (Riggins-Winsmith Karen), driven by Jason Bartlett, won in 2:04 for breeder/owner Scott Woogen. In the next race, She's So Into Me (Conway Hall-In To Me) and driver Jim Taggart Jr. won in 2:07 for owners Woogen and Brenda Messenger. Misty Major, also driven by Taggart, won in 2:03.3 for owner E.J. Treadway. Friday's nine-race Landmark Stakes card was part of the Grand Circuit visit to Historic Track. Saturday features the New York Sire Stakes Excelsior Series and Billings Amateur Drivers Series. Sunday is Hall of Fame Day, which includes a race featuring drivers in the Harness Racing Hall of Fame along with 2014 inductee David Miller. Post time each day is 1 p.m. for the first race. Story and photos by Ken Weingartner/Harness Racing Communications/USTA
Scott Woogen's path to sitting behind racehorses began on a New York City basketball court, in a scene reminiscent of a Damon Runyon tale. Woogen, who will have two horses he bred and owns competing in Landmark Stakes at Goshen Historic Track in New York on Friday and will be driving there in amateur races on Saturday, was introduced to harness racing as a teenager in the Bronx when he was offered a job selling handicapping sheets outside Yonkers Raceway. The offer came from a police officer who spotted Woogen and his friends playing basketball in the school yard. "I was probably the youngest and smallest kid, but fairly aggressive, and I told him I could do whatever he wanted," Woogen said. "His moonlighting job was printing his own handicap sheet called the Top Trotter. I sold them for 25 cents and also sold programs for 75 cents. I got $5 a night. "I started reading the programs and taking an occasional bus up there to Yonkers Raceway and watched the races. I really liked it. When I was old enough, I got working papers and worked a little bit in the stable area on the weekends. If I hadn't been playing basketball that day, I wouldn't know anything about horses. It was kind of a quirk of fate." That quirk of fate has led Woogen, who now is a gastroenterologist living in Virginia, around the world. He began driving in races, even winning a collegiate event held at Roosevelt Raceway while representing Columbia University as a sophomore. He gave up driving to pursue his medical career, but returned to the track 17 years ago to compete as an amateur, often in the Billings Series, where he is known as the "Driving Doctor." He has won 127 races as an amateur and competed in Germany, Finland, Italy, Spain, Russia, Estonia, and New Zealand. "It's been a really nice hobby," Woogen said. "It's been a lot of fun; I really enjoy it." On Friday, Woogen will send out KJ Brenda in the $11,547 Landmark Stakes for 3-year-old female trotters and K J Ben in the $12,520 Landmark Stakes for 2-year-old pacers. Both horses are trained by Gary Messenger. Last year, KJ Brenda - the "K J" is for Woogen's fiancÃ©e Kathy Jean and Brenda is Messenger's wife - finished second in the Kentucky Sire Stakes championship. She has won two of 10 career races, hit the board a total of eight times, and earned $80,821. "She came back this year and her first couple starts she bled and we had to put her on Lasix and she's been getting better," Woogen said. "We're excited about her chances to go down to Kentucky and get some of that sire stakes money." K J Ben, named in honor of Kathy Jean's first grandson, Benjamin, is making his debut after winning a qualifier at Ocean Downs in 2:00.1. "We're excited about his prospects," Woogen said. Jim Taggart Jr. is listed to drive KJ Brenda and Jason Bartlett is listed on K J Ben. So why doesn't Woogen drive those horses in the stakes? "There's a reason why I'm in the amateur races," Woogen said, laughing. "It's a lot of fun and I think I can hold my own against the amateurs, but it's a little tougher to drive against the professionals. I'll leave that up to the professionals. I'm just excited that we have some horses that might do a little bit of good this year." Friday's nine-race Landmark Stakes card is part of the Grand Circuit visit to Historic Track. Saturday features the New York Sire Stakes Excelsior Series and Billings Amateur Drivers Series. Sunday is Hall of Fame Day, which includes a race featuring drivers in the Harness Racing Hall of Fame along with 2014 inductee David Miller. Post time each day is 1 p.m. for the first race. Ken Weingartner, for Harness Racing Communications
Jimmy Taggart, Jr. drove five more winners on Thursday (June 18) at Monticello Raceway after reining four here yesterday. On Wednesday four of Taggart's wins came from the Gary Messenger barn and today (Thursday) three more were harnessed by Messenger. Now with 94 driving victories Taggart is fourth in races won on the local leaderboard but no one is currently as hot as he is. Taggart began the day with a 2:01.4 front- end victory with Blameless, a 3 year-old Crazed gelding owned by Dr. Scott Woogen and Brenda Messenger. The good looking trotter from the Gary Messenger barn notched his second lifetime victory and paid $2.30 for win. Then beginning in the fifth race Taggart went on a tear with three consecutive victories two of which were trained by Messenger. In the fifth Taggart guided Brenda Messenger's sophomore trotting colt Enzo Pezza to the 2:02.2 come-from behind score and returned a $13.20 win mutuel. Taggart then won the sixth race with Bob Petitto's veteran trotter Stay All Day ($5.40) in a time of 2:02.1 and then scored his third victory for Gary Messenger when he guided Putnam's Art home first in 1:57.1. Sent off the favorite in the race, the pacer, a 6 year old Southwind Balsam gelding owned by Brenda Messenger and Dr. Scott Woogen, paid $4.90 for win. Win number five on the card came in the 10th and final race when Taggart sat the pocket and rallied down the passing lane to score a 1:57.3 victory with the Dennis Laterza owned and trained, Lola's Cruiser. It was the 6 year old Yankee Cruiser gelding 's first win in 15 seasonal starts and he paid $6.60 for win. "I've had a real good couple of days Taggart admitted. "Gary's (Messenger) youngsters are rounding into form and everything seems to be going my way now. I've been putting my horses in the right place and thankfully they're been responding." by John Manzi, for Monticello Raceway
Trainer Gary Messenger is again having a good year at Monticello Raceway. Yesterday alone, he harnessed four winners and he is keeping the pressure on Danny Gill and Bob Lounsbury. Now with 66 winners Messenger vaulted ahead of Lounsbury's 63 and now trails Gill be just two victories. It didn't seem to matter if it was Jimmy Taggart, Jr. or Zeke Parker who drove for Messenger, both gentlemen won for him; Taggart drove three winners and Parker drove one. Messenger's first winner was with KJ Brent, the promising 2 year old pacing son of Art Major who zipped the lead from the two-hole and sauntered off to an easy two length victory in a time of 2:00.2 for Jimmy Taggart, Jr.in just the colt's second lifetime start. "He was the only 2 year old in the field he handled them with ease," Taggart said after the victory. "He's got some class, is good gaited and is real handy." KJ Brent is owned by avid amateur driver Dr. Scott Woogen, a gastroenterologist from Virginia. He is one of the many horses that Messenger trains for the driving doctor. Parker drove Messenger's winner in the second race when he guided the 6 year old pacing mare Bet On Lindy home first in a time of 1:57.2. The Bettor's Delight mare is owned by Brenda Messenger (Gary's wife) and Dr. Scott Woogen. The same combination of trainer and owners copped the third race on the card which gave Gary Messenger three straight winners to start the day. Messenger and Woogen's 3-year old son of American Ideal, American Fighter, sat a two-hole trip and then rallied to a 2:00 victory in the pacer's fifth lifetime start for driver Jimmy Taggart, Jr. Taggart then won the seventh race with the Messenger-trained trotter, Monica's Image, in 2:00. That victory gave the Messenger and Woogen partnership its third winner on the program. "I've trained horses for a few other amateur drivers in the past but I've been training horses for Doc Woogen over 15 years. Together we own about 30 horses which includes broodmares and babies," Messenger said. "WE got a full brother to KJ Brent who is just a yearling now. That comment led to Messenger to reflect on the 2 year old KJ Brent, who won the first race today. "I love him", he said. "He's going to be a fast horse. He gets over the ground real easy and he has a lot of quick speed. Today on the final turn he opened up a quick five (lengths) and coasted to an easy victory." by John Manzi, for Monticello Raceway
This past weekend was the busiest thus far in this year's CKG Billings Harness Driving Series with a contest at Vernon Downs on Saturday night (June 14) and three events at Buffalo Raceway on Sunday (June 15). Scott "the Driving Doctor" Woogen was victorious at each venue and, Tony "the Capo" Verruso and, Steve "You're Never Too" Oldford also drove winners. After a great few days in Trot Town, USA working with the participants of the USTA Driving School in Goshen, Billings vice president Steve "You're Never Too" Oldford and seven other Billings drivers headed to Vernon Downs for at contest there. In that Billings trot Oldford sent his old warhorse to the lead from the five hole and they seemed to have it all in hand as the field headed for home. But in the deep stretch Doc Woogen, with I'm Fabulous, rallied strong to beat Celtic Merchant to the wire and pick up all the marbles in the 1:57.4 mile. Third money went to Choke Hold driven by Vladimir "Butch" Melnichenko. "I cut them mile and really thought it was all mine but Doc Woogen snuck up and snapped me at the wire to win it all," Old ford said. "Unfortunately for me, it was another good drive by Doc Woogen." I'm Fabulous is owned by Woogen and Brenda Messenger and trained by Gary Messenger. He paid $5.30 for win. The next night in Hamburg, (NY) in the second Billings event- a pace- Doc Woogen with 10-1 shot Launching Tonight caught everyone by surprise when he gunned the pacer to the lead from the four hole. They grabbed command on the first turn and despite a swift :28.2 quarter they kept right on going. By doing so it kept the challengers away and Launching Tonight cruised to a solid one length victory in a time of 1:58.3. Howie "the Horse" Gelfand came from fifth at the three-quarters to finish second and "Tough Tony" Ciuffetelli finished third with Officer Candidate. "It was certainly a fun weekend driving both days in the Billings." Doc Woogen related. "They were my first two races in the series this year and added to my pleasure was that I got a chance to visit my daughter who lives in Buffalo. Launching Tonight paid $22.40 to win. He is owned and trained by Scott Bompczyk. Series president, Tony Verruso got the Billings started that evening when he guided pacer Aurora Borealus to a 1:59.4 victory. They used the front-end route, and like Doc Woogen, they didn't back down the second quarter and kept the pedal to the metal and led the field by the halfway point in :58.1 When they reached the homestretch Aurora Borealus was getting a bit leg weary but the pacer had enough left to keep LCB's Charm and driver Howie Gelfand at bay for a neck victory in 1:59.4. Skyway Shania and "Sir Christopher" Shambo took home the show dough. "The mare I drove was coming off a two and a half year racing absence due to breeding. They told me she was rounding into form and I should just send her, which I did. She left like a rocket into that first turn and I didn't look back from there, Verruso said. Aurora Borealus , owned by Fortunate One LLC paid $4.40 for win. She is trained by John Mungillo. In the final Billings event, a trot, Steve Oldford made amends by sending Sam Can to the lead and he took no chances about being caught from behind this time and finished a seven-length winner over Alabama Flash and driver "Bullet Bob" Davis. Chris Shambo was third in this one. "I figured to leave a little but once I got on top my horse swelled -up like no tomorrow and grabbed leather so I took a deep seat," Oldford said. "The farther we went the more we opened daylight on the field and in the lane I had enough of a lead so not to get caught at the wire this time "When I got back to the paddock the owner ( Perry Wilson) invited me back to drive him again. I guess he thought I did a good job." Wilson owns and trains the Sam Can who paid $6.00 for win. by John Manzi, for the Billings Amateur Drivers Club
I DO HANOVER DOES IT by Michael Chamberlain, Vernon Downs Publicity I Do Hanover (Shark Gesture-I'm Married) romped to a three length victory in the $8,000 featured pace at Vernon Downs on Saturday night. Driven by Chris Lems, I Do Hanover sat third in the early stages of the 9th race before tipping out and charging up to take the lead just before the half mile mark. From there, the issue was effectively settled as I Do Hanover built a large lead before the field reached the top of the stretch and won impressively in a time of 1:51.4. The overall split times for the race were 26.2 for the quarter, 55 seconds for the half, and 1:22.4 for three quarters. Some Or Lis (Claude Huckabone III) angled off the pylons in the stretch to get racing room and split horses late to get up for second. Some Or Lis was the longest shot in the six-horse field at 10-1 and completed the $30 exacta with the favorite. I Do Hanover is owned by Philip Hale of New Hartford, New York and David Dewhurst of Clinton, New York. Dewhurst is also the horse's trainer. The complete order of finish for the feature was: I Do Hanover, Some Or Lis, Whitemountainpower, Stormin Rustler, Dragon Fever, and Oozie's Bad Boy. Vernon Downs also hosted a CKG Billings Amateur Trot on Saturday night. The 3rd race was won by I'm Fabulous, driven by part-owner Scott Woogen, in a time of 1:57.4. I'm Fabulous had to rally past Celtic Merchant (Stephen Oldford), who had maintained the lead throughout the mile until getting passed in the shadow of the wire. I'm Fabulous has now won two of her last three starts, including a Miracle Mile 5 score at Tioga Downs on June 1. She is owned by Scott Woogen of Mechanicsville, Virginia and Brenda Messenger of Monticello, New York. The trainer is Gary Messenger. by Michael Chamberlain, for Vernon Downs
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.