Chris Lems sent Fireyourguns ($4.40) to the front and never looked back, pulling clear on the far turn and winning by a convincing 6-1/4 lengths in Saturday (April 19) evening's $10,000 Miracle Mile 2 harness racing at Vernon Downs. The five-year-old American Ideal gelding rated a :55.3 first half mile before getting good separation on his seven rivals, opening up a six-length lead over the pocket-sitting Sheer Brilliance through three-quarters in 1:22.3. Unable to keep up, Sheer Brilliance faded through the stretch, overtaken by eventual runners-up Stonebridge Master (Aaron Byron) and Western Trademark (Fern Paquet, Jr.) while Fireyourguns held his clear margin intact for a 1:50.2 win over a fast track. Trainer Terence McClory co-owns Fireyourguns with Jennifer and Robert Lowe. Three $4,000 divisions of the Anthony Farina pacing series co-headlined the card, with Medusa (1:53.3), Crew Dream (1:54.4), and Stony Brook (1:53.3) claiming victory in their splits. Live racing returns to Vernon Downs on Friday and Saturday evenings this week, with first post on both nights set for 6:45 p.m. EDT. by James Witherite, for Vernon Downs
Tracking from the pocket before unleashing a lethal stretch kick, Kelly Hope's Rocks N Bagels ($5.10) proved a dominant 1:50.4 winner in Friday (April 18) night's $8,000 Miracle Mile 2 harness racing event for distaff pacers at Vernon Downs. The six-year-old Rocknroll Hanover mare drafted behind the pacesetting Asset Management (Fern Paquet, Jr.) before angling out in upper stretch, drawing clear for an 8-1/2 length win over a late-gaining Got the Munchies (John Macdonald). Rocks N Bagels turned in a :26.2 final quarter as part of a :53.4 last half in rein to Aaron Byron for trainer Jordan Hope. The featured trotting event of the evening was an $8,000 Miracle Mile 2 event as well, with Jerry Clark's Jaipur ($4.30) kicking cover for a neck win over House Money (Roman Lopez) in 1:53.4 for driver Fern Paquet, Jr. and trainer Jamie Paquet. The Catherine Burton trotting series kicked off as well with four $4,000 first-round divisions. Ray Schnittker trainees Indira Blue Chip (1:56.1) and Corsair Hall (1:57.2) prevailed in their splits, while Driving Miss Crazy (1:55.4) and Keystone Sadie (1:57.1) also proved victorious. Live racing returns to Vernon Downs with a thirteen-race Saturday card, and first post slated for 6:45 p.m. EDT. by James Witherite, for Vernon Downs
Strong attendance and handle numbers marked the return of racing to Vernon Downs last weekend, doing well to set the stage for the 2014 meet. On-track attendance was up both nights from Opening Weekend 2013, while live handle was up nearly 5% per race from last year's figures. Additionally, the simulcast market showed up in earnest, with export handle figures showing a 25% per-race increase and a 14.1% overall increase this year from the first weekend of 2013. "We were very happy with the numbers for opening weekend all across the board but especially the response to the 50 cent minimum for trifecta tickets," said director of racing Scott Warren. "Even with the lower minimum we showed nearly a 30% per race increase compared to opening weekend last year." Horseplayers can feel confident in their wagers with the help of the new "Handicapping Resources" page on the Vernon Downs website, featuring detailed race analysis and trip notes at http://www.vernondowns.com/racing/handicapping.php. After a strong opening weekend, Vernon Downs hosts two late closing series starting this weekend. Trotters contest the Catherine Burton series starting on this evening (Fri., April 18), while pacers square off in the Anthony Farina series on Saturday (April 19). Both series culminate with $10,000 added finals on Saturday, May 3. Tonight's card also features a free on-track handicapping contest, where fans can vie for a $500 top prize. Post time for both the Friday and Saturday cards this weekend at Vernon Downs is slated for 6:45 p.m. EDT. by James Witherite, for Vernon Downs
With Restless Yankee and MacKenzie's Bliss tussling early, Kelly Hope's Stonebridge Master ($5.10) had a fast pace to close into, looping the field in the final quarter mile for a 1:51.2 triumph in the featured $8,000 Miracle Mile 2 Pace at Vernon Downs on Saturday (April 12) evening. The eight-year-old Artsplace gelding was in no hurry early on, sitting well off a pressured :26.4 first quarter, and even having a 12-length deficit at race's midpoint, where JK Panache (Truman Gale) pushed past Restless Yankee (Chris Lems) to force a :55.2 half mile. Midway around the far turn, Aaron Byron angled Stonebridge Master off the pegs, and the Jordan Hope trainee's response was instant. Moving three-wide at the top of the stretch, Stonebridge Master gobbled up ground at will, taking over the lead in upper stretch, drawing clear to win by 3-1/4 lengths, and posting a solid :26.3 last quarter en route. Unicorn Hanover (Shawn McDonough) closed from far back to take second, while Moonlight Ransom (Jimmy Whittemore) rallied from last to finish third. by James Witherite, for Vernon Downs
Coming off three consecutive wins in the Open ranks at Buffalo, Lutetium ($5.30) proved a gutsy 1:52.4 winner, taking a lifetime mark in the featured $10,000 Miracle Mile 1 Trot at Vernon Downs on Opening Night, April 11. The seven-year-old Credit Winner gelding stayed true to his past strategy, clearing and setting a strong tempo, posting a :26.4 first quarter before facing pressure on the far turn from a first-over Mc Tiny's Hope (John Macdonald). Lutetium responded strongly, digging in through the stretch to stave off Mc Tiny's Hope by 1-1/2 lengths in a dazzling 1:52.4 victory in rein to Aaron Byron. Mc Tiny's Hope held second, with the pocket-sitting Grey Ice (Fern Paquet, Jr.) staying on for third. Mark Laidlaw trains the 24-time winner for owner Colleen Girdlestone. Byron swept the evening's featured events, scoring an 8-1 upset win with Rocks N Bagels in the $8000 Miracle Mile 2 distaff pacers. in first-over fashion, beating a re-rallying Artic Byrd (Truman Gale) and the mid-race pacesetting Asset Management (Fern Paquet, Jr.) in a lifetime best 1:53. The Opening Night card paid tribute to longtime racecaller Jim Moran, who retired after calling the first race of the 2014 season. After the first race, Moran was recognized in the winner's enclosure by staff, management, horsemen, and local dignitaries. “We thank Jim for his many years of service to harness racing at Vernon Downs,” said Jason Settlemoir, Regional Vice President of Racing at Vernon Downs. “We wish him nothing but the best in his retirement.” by James Witherite, for Vernon Downs
Punters will have an easier time aiming for a big score in trifecta, Pick 3, and Pick 4 wagers this season at Vernon Downs, as the base wager in all three pools has been reduced to .50 cents. "Although our export handle has increased 63% over the past three years, we still look for avenues to increase revenue," commented Vernon director of racing Scott Warren. "We have received a lot of feedback from our regular fans that attend the races live asking for the 50 cent Trifecta back. After discussion in the offseason, we took it a step further by changing the Pick 3 & Pick 4 wagers as well to hopefully grow the pools in these exotic wagers and give fans more bang for their buck." In addition to the lower base wagers, handicappers will have a wealth of information at their fingertips at http://www.vernondowns.com/racing/handicapping.php, with content-driven race analysis and trip notes made available for every race through the 90-program meet. For new fans, the How to Bet section of the Vernon Downs website explains how to read and interpret the program, along with some basic wagering strategies. Follow http://www.vernondowns.com/racing/racing-college.php for more. Opening night (Friday, April 11) post time is 6:45 p.m., and fans will receive a Race Date T-Shirt and Schedule Magnet (while supplies last). Longtime racecaller Jim Moran, who will enter retirement after calling the first race of the season, will also be honored throughout the evening. After the races, a spectacular fireworks display will grace the skies above Central New York's rolling hills. Then Saturday, Vernon Downs wants to help its fans pay off their taxes. With the April 15 Tax Deadline right around the corner, fans will have a chance to enter a contest to win up to $500 towards their tax bill. by James Witherite, for Vernon Downs
In 1962, a young man named Jim Moran ventured from his home in Springfield, Massachusetts to central New York at the suggestion of his uncle Bud Hebert. Hebert, the Vernon Downs racecaller, would see his nephew assume the Clerk of Course position for that first season there. Moran then took on the role of assistant race secretary the subsequent season, and in 1964 would become the full-time announcer. Fifty years and 73,000 races later, Jim Moran will call his last race this Friday (April 11), as Vernon Downs opens for the 2014 season. In a half-century atop the Vernon Downs grandstand, Moran has seen some of the greatest horses, trainers, and drivers in the history of American harness racing through his binoculars. "We got to see Bret Hanover, who was probably my all-time favorite horse," Moran reminisced. "I didn't get to call Bret Hanover as a two-year-old, but the following year (1965) I did get to call his race. We drew 14,000 people, which was the biggest racing crowd ever at Vernon. He won the race, continued his winning ways, and came back as a four-year-old. He also had a world record time trial at Vernon." Fourteen years later, another young pacer graced the Vernon backstretch, and eventually proved himself as one of the few worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Bret Hanover. His name was Niatross. Moran continued about seeing Niatross develop as a two-year-old: "Then Niatross came along, and Clint Galbraith developed him on the Vernon backstretch. I crossed the paddock one night, saw Clint after Niatross had won a couple baby races, and said 'That's kind of a nice colt you've got there,' and he said 'Jim, he's gonna be something special.' Sure enough, he became Horse of the Year two times." Moran has seen many developments in harness racing through his time documenting the sport, namely in terms of safety and speed. "By taking out the hub rail and putting the plastic wheel discs on the racebikes, the sport became a lot safer, and in turn, faster through improvement of the breed and equipment," Moran explained. "In the first season at Vernon Downs there were only four 2:00 miles. Last year, 1,100 of the races were 2:00 miles, including two of the fastest miles ever here." In addition to calling a "Who's Who" of harness racing athletes, both human and equine, Moran has been feted for his efforts as a harness racing publicist and historian on numerous occasions. He received the North America Harness Publicists Association's Golden Pen Award in 1990, was elected to the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame in 2003, and was inducted into the Communicators' Corner of the Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 2009. While Moran looks forward to more time with his wife of 49 years Suzanne, their three children, and three grandchildren, he has every plan on capping his career at Vernon on a very high note. "There are things I'm going to miss about the sport, I'm sure, and as far as calling the last race goes, I hope I can still do the job like I used to. I've told people in recent years that I may not be as good as I once was, but I can be good once as I ever was, and hopefully I'll be as good once on Opening Night." by James Witherite, for Vernon Downs
A trio of Truman Gale trainees sparkled in Saturday (Apr. 5) morning's qualifying session at Vernon Downs, with Ocean Mist turning in a dominant 1:56.2 effort. The five-year-old Artiscape gelding registered a 19-length win in the morning's second qualifier, pulling well clear of pocket-sitting Newyrorkstateofmind in a sparkling :27.3 third quarter with Gale in tow before maintaining a wide margin on the rest of the field through a stretch headwind. Gale trainee Painite (2:00) turned in the fastest trotting mile in the eight-race session, with Artic Byrd (1:58.2) rounding out the "New York Night Train"'s dynamite trio. Of 43 horses to face starter Mark Phillips in the morning's session, 36 met qualifying standards. Opening Night for the 2014 Vernon Downs season is slated for Friday, April 11, with first post at 6:45 p.m. by James Witherite, for Vernon Downs
Vernon, NY - Vernon Downs has named Michael Chamberlain their lead racecaller, as legendary announcer Jim Moran will retire after a half century in the broadcast box. Announcer Emeritus Moran, a member of the Harness Racing Hall of Fame's Communicators' Corner, will call his final race at Vernon Downs to kick off the Opening Night program on Friday, April 11. The evening, capping a 50-year legacy of Moran's describing the races at Vernon, will be a celebration of what Moran brought to the Central New York track, with a poster giveaway, tributes, and a meet-and-greet throughout the card. Moran's successor, Michael Chamberlain, is a 43-year-old New Jersey native who has established himself well as a sports broadcaster-in horse racing and otherwise-since earning a degree in broadcasting from Arizona State University in 1994. After a stint as the color commentator for the IHL Phoenix Roadrunners, Chamberlain served as the track announcer at Sam Houston Race Park for twelve years before assuming a similar role at Turf Paradise in Phoenix in 2009. He has also called races at Lincoln Race Course in Nebraska and Fair Meadows in Oklahoma. "I am incredibly excited to be coming to Vernon Downs," said Chamberlain, who will assume the microphone in early May after Turf Paradise concludes their season. "Succeeding a legend like Jim Moran will be difficult, but it will be an honor for me to follow in his footsteps." With Chamberlain maintaining his winter base in the Valley of the Sun and returning to Turf Paradise for their fall opening, Tioga racecaller James Witherite and Vernon director of racing Scott Warren will describe the beginning and end of the Vernon meet in his stead. While he may be new to calling harness racing, Chamberlain has long been a fan of the trotters and pacers, and looks forward to bellowing his signature "They Are Off!" sendoff at the central New York oval. "Coming to Vernon will bring me back to my eastern roots," continued Chamberlain. "As a Northern New Jersey native, I have always enjoyed harness racing and look forward to being part of it from now on." Post time for the first of 90 cards at Vernon Downs is slated for 6:45 p.m. (Eastern time). by James Witherite, for Vernon Downs
Nichols, NY - Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs have announced their 2014 stakes schedule, with an estimated $4.3 million in purses to attract the top horses in New York and across North America throughout the season. Tioga Downs opens their stakes season on Sunday, June 1 with the $200,000e Roll With Joe Open Pace. New York Sire Stakes races mark the calendar through June and July, leading up to the $350,000e Tompkins-Geers Stakes for two- and three-year-olds of both gaits. Unlike years past, where the Tompkins-Geers Stakes have been contested throughout an entire week of racing, two-year-old pacers will have their events on Sunday, August 3, while two-year-old trotters and three-year-olds of both gaits will race on Sunday, August 17. Between the Tompkins-Geers events, New York-sired sophomore pacers will take the spotlight on Sunday, August 10 in the $500,000e Empire Breeders Classic, with separate events for each sex. If needed, eliminations are scheduled for the week prior. Labor Day (Monday, September 1) proves to be a banner day in the Southern Tier, with a trio of stakes events headlining the afternoon. The $110,000e Shady Daisy for three-year-old pacing fillies and a $40,000e preliminary leg of the Miss Versatility for older trotting mares comprise the undercard features for the day, while three-year-old pacers take center stage in the $350,000e Cane Pace-the first leg of the Triple Crown for pacers. The $125,000 Reynolds Stakes for two-year-olds closes out the stakes schedule at Tioga, with trotting divisions on Thursday, September 4, and pacing divisions on Friday, September 12. Vernon Downs kicks off their stakes season on Sunday, June 8, with New York-sired three-year-old trotters contesting the $500,000e Empire Breeders Classic (like the pacers, separate events are held for each sex). If eliminations are necessary, they will take place on Friday, May 30. New York Sire Stakes events cover the early summer months, leading up to the first of two big nights at Vernon on Friday, August 29. The $700,000e Harry Zweig Memorial Trot for three-year-olds once again serves as the centerpiece of the Vernon Downs stakes schedule, with top open trotters sharing the spotlight that night in the $200,000e Crawford Farms Trot (formerly known as the Credit Winner). Two-year-olds of both gaits and sexes contest the $100,000e Simpson Stakes on Friday, October 24, leading up to a blockbuster Closing Night program, featuring a trio of rich events on Saturday, November 1. Two-year-old trotters wrap up the Kindergarten Classic series with a $200,000e final, and top distaffers compete in a pair of $200,000e events as well-trotters in the Muscle Hill, and pacers in the Artiscape, which moved to Vernon after being raced at Tioga in past seasons. Nomination forms and more information can be found at www.tiogadowns.com and www.vernondowns.com. by James Witherite, for Tioga Downs
NICHOLS, NY - Tioga Downs is proud to announce that James Witherite, one of the top young announcers in harness racing, will become the track's full-time race caller beginning with the 2014 racing season. The 27-year-old Pennsylvania native has spent the past seven years as the track announcer at Harrah's Philadelphia Casino and Racetrack. Witherite has also called races at more than 60 harness and thoroughbred tracks throughout North America. "I have always been impressed with every aspect of the racing product at Tioga," said Witherite, who has had the opportunity over the past few years to call a couple of race cards each season at Tioga Downs. "While I've enjoyed a great seven years at Philadelphia and called some remarkable miles there, I'm looking forward to this new endeavor." In addition to announcing the races, Witherite will provide his race analysis and commentary in the racing program and on the Tioga Downs website. He will also conduct fan education seminars, meet-and-greets with on-track visitors and even play live music. Witherite is an accomplished multi-instrumental musician and composer. "We've always had a rotating cast of announcers during our race meet, but when it became apparent that James was available, we jumped at the opportunity to get not only one of the premier race callers in our sport, but also a talented and passionate promoter of all aspects of the industry," said Jason Settlemoir, Vice President of Racing. "We have great racing here at Tioga and James will only enhance that product," said Jason Bluhm, Senior Director of Racing. "We plan on creating a pre-race show among other enhancements to our live product and James will be an important part of that. I feel privileged to have him join the team." Witherite will begin his new role this winter working as a fan education ambassador at Meadowlands Racing and Entertainment, Tioga's sister property located in East Rutherford, New Jersey. He will then relocate to Tioga Downs when its racing season begins. The ninth season of live racing at Tioga Downs is scheduled to begin on Kentucky Derby Day, May 3, 2014 (pending regulatory approval). by Justin Horowitz for Tioga Downs
An effortless :25.4 third quarter propelled Francis Azur's Lonewolf Currier ($2.80) to a dominant victory in his $79,182 Pennsylvania Sire Stakes division at Harrah's Philadelphia on Friday (June 14) afternoon.
Could Gallie Bythe Beach be a champion in the making? By the looks of her dominant 1:52.2 Pennsylvania Sire Stakes win at Harrah's Philadelphia on Thursday (July 12) afternoon, the two-year-old filly packs a lot of punch, possesses a lot of potential, and shows promise for a prosperous career.
James Witherite is comfortable with improvising, whether it is behind a microphone calling harness racing at Harrah's Philadelphia or in front of a crowd playing jazz.
After Wednesday (March 27) afternoon's harness racing Pick 4 was not hit at Harrah's Philadelphia, leaving a carryover of over $3500, Thursday (March 27) afternoon's Pick 4 will carry a $10,000 guaranteed pool.
A ferocious open-stretch rally propelled Transcending ($3.40) to a harness racing victory in the featured $23,000 conditioned pace on Friday (March 8) evening's Opening Night card at Harrah's Philadelphia.