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BEDFORD PA - The Pennsylvania Fair Harness Horsemen's Association, in conjunction with their good friends at the Pennsylvania Harness Horsemen's Association and the Meadows Standardbred Owners Association, honored their best and brightest harness racing stars of 2015, both human and equine, at the annual awards banquet traditionally held after the USTA District 7 (Pennsylvania) meeting.   The event was held at the historic Bedford Springs Omni Hotel and Resort, in the hometown of USTA District 7 Chairman and PHHA President Sam Beegle, who presided over the distribution of awards with Darryl Breniser of MH Eby, Inc., always among the most generous of suppliers of door prizes, with this year's prizes climbing by one unofficial count to approximating $15,000. 20-30 inches of snow fell over different parts of Pennsylvania during the 36 hours before, during, and after the banquet, but of the 180 ticket purchasers approximately 100 attended (and those that didn't but called in and canceled were included in the door prize drawings).   The highlights of the evening were the inauguration of two awards which will become annual Fair Banquet events. The first award was the Walter "Boots" Dunn Rising Star Award, named after the former Chairman of District 7, fair legend, and possessor of the spirit of a colt even if the body has bouts with lameness. Boots himself was present to give the award to Brady Brown, the up-and-coming western Pennsylvania horseman who was fourth in the fair driving standings last year. At age 22, Brown already boasts three drives behind Fair Championship winners, and when you consider that there are only twelve drivers who have more in their career - and their names are Hammer, Schadel, Merriman, Hall, Offutt, Zendt, McNeight, Bolon, Schoeffel, Palone, Stillings, and Wilder, a collection which has to his credit two Hall of Fame members, two national dashwinning champions, and four national UDR champions - and you can see the sky is the limit for young Brown.   The second new award was the Top Gun Award, which was given in its inaugural year to the legendary Roger Hammer, not merely because of his resemblance to Tom Cruise, but for the fact that for the umpteenth year Hammer led all Pennsylvania fair horsemen in driving wins (86) and training wins (81).   A third award was presented in absentia to Ron Battoni, longtime executive vice-president of the PHHA who semi-retired (Beegle kept emphasizing the "semi-") at the end of 2015, and who was one of the major driving forces behind the fair horsemen getting their share of the prosperity generated in the Keystone State with the introduction of slots. Battoni was going to drive from his brother's birthday party in North New Jersey Friday night to Bedford (Meadowlands to Bedford is 269 miles), but the snow put paid to that idea; quick-thinking PHHA marketer Ed Kobesky did a panorama cell phone shot of the crowd applauding Battoni, which he will no doubt enjoy.   Two sets of eight horses and their connections earned awards last night - and there were 16 different winners because none of the leading pointwinners during the 20-stop fair season could come back to win their Fair Championship race at The Meadows October 10, showing what a tightly-matched group from top to bottom this year featured.   Pointwinning leaders:   2TC - Keystone Shotgun, owned by Roger Hammer and Todd Schadel, and trained by Hammer; 2TF - A Little Laid Back, owned and trained by Hammer; 2PC - Billy's Falcon, owned and trained by Hammer; 2PF - Unbeamlievable, owned by Mason Shaw and trained by his father Jason;   3TC - Wimborne Hanover, owned by Susan Daugherty and trained by Bill Daugherty Jr; 3TF - Peoplesaimnogood, owned and trained by Hammer; 3PC - R N Nate, owned and trained by Hammer; 3PF - Betterthanrevenge, owned by the Thomson Sisters Racing Stable and trained by Harold Brocklehurst (who, surprisingly, was the only native of Albuquerque, New Mexico at the banquet).   Fair Championship racewinners:   2TC - Major Matter, owned by Rick and Regina Beinhauer and trained by Rick Beinhauer; 2TF - Waterview Hanover, owned by Susan Daugherty and trained by Bill Daugherty Jr.; 2PC - Wagon Master, owned by Bob Key and trained by Mike Gillock; 2PF - Worthy Jackie, owned by the Bay Pond Racing Stable and trained by Sam Beegle;   3TC - Simeon, owned by Dave and Delores Wade, Jerry Brittingham, and William Peel III, and trained by Dave Wade; 3TF - Piano Rose, owned by Ralph Del Priore Jr. and trained by Steve Schoeffel; 3PC - Royaltyhasarrived, owned by Virginia & Kathy Schoeffel and Michael Munn and trained by Steve Schoeffel; 3PF - Crumcake, owned by Mike and Yvonne Medors and trained by Pat Medors.   A final note - you may have done the division of those $15,000 of door prizes by even all 180 tickets sold and gotten about $85 for an average "swag takeaway" for a $35 ticket. We invite you to come to the Pennsylvania Fair Banquet next year!   (And who won the most "swag," including a $6000 Spyder racing bike? Well, if your guess has initials other than "RH," you need to spend more time at the Pennsylvania fairs next year!)   Jerry Connors  

Aaron Merriman won three races yesterday, giving him a total of 836 sulkysitting victories for 2015 to increase his leading in this year's North American harness racing dash championship to four over George Napolitano Jr., who had the definitive reiteration of his season being finished given by himself and his wife Kathy.   There had been a brief flurry of interest yesterday when Napolitano's name was down on two Chris Oakes-trained horses at Pompano on Sunday, but immediately contacted George, and both he and Kathy restated that George would not be back into the sulky into 2016. "Chris Oakes wanted me to fly down on Sunday, but our son (Kristopher) is in school until Friday, and we have things to do around here (Pennsylvania)," Napolitano told   Aaron Merriman began adding to his lead on Wednesday by posting a driving double at The Meadows during afternoon racing, reporting home first with the up-and-coming trotter Kirty Dream in the fifth, and then taking the 15th and final race by a head with another trotter, Bella Palazzo, who paid $16.20 after going first-over and then holding off the late charges of the two favorites.   Aaron's staying until the last at The Meadows meant that he did not get to Cleveland's Northfield Park until the fifth race and had only nine drives in all, but he did add another tally to his continent-leading total by sweeping his field in the last quarter with the pacer Card Dealer.   Thursday is a dark day for both tracks; on Friday, Northfield has its usual nighttime scheduled card, but The Meadows, with groups looking to hold holiday parties at the track, switched his normal afternoon racing to nighttime on Friday, and Merriman has decided to race at the Pittsburgh track that night.   After tomorrow, The Meadows has three cards left on its 2015 schedule, daylight sessions next Monday through Wednesday. Northfield has nine more nighttime cards planned: this Sunday through Wednesday, and then Saturday the 26th (making up the card that normally would fall on Christmas Day) through its closing on Wednesday, December 30.   This, then, should be the last report of its type. We leave Aaron Merriman with a lead of four, 13 more possible programs of participation to extend that lead ... and a clear path on the road leading to his first North American crown.   Jerry Connors

Harness racing driver Aaron Merriman finally made it back to the top of the 2015 North American driving win standings on Tuesday - but at Northfield last night, it was more a rollercoaster ride than a smooth progression to the top.   With the score starting the day at 832-830, Merriman two victories behind George Napolitano Jr. (who yesterday reiterated to the Daily Racing Form's Derick Giwner that he did not plan to drive again this year), Merriman first went to work in the afternoon at The Meadows, where he narrowed the lead to one with a victory with trotter Pathian in the day's fifth race. (Pathian would make quite a story herself, as she raced three times in four days at the State Fair of West Virginia in August - and set five track records, including lowering the half-miler's all-time standard to 2:01.1.) Merriman drove through the 13th at The Meadows, then headed to Northfield and his date with destiny.   Arriving at the Cleveland-area track in time for the sixth race, Merriman started his evening action with a third - and then the ride on the rollercoaster began. In the seventh, Aaron utilized the rail to work out a pocket trip with second-choice Sand India Blu, behind favored Dayplanner. Merriman ducked his horse into the Northfield passing lane, and went to the fore 100 feet from the finish - only to have his trotter go offstride within the shadow of the wire, finishing first, but being placed second for the lapped-on break.   The next dip in the ride would come in the ninth, when Merriman never saw the rail with Mustodian, circled a parked horse to challenge on the turn and go to the lead in the stretch - only to have another Merriman, Michigander Jason, follow his move with Stardust Memories, who just got by Mustodian in the final strides for a neck victory. Still 832-831 - but that was about to change.   In the tenth race Aaron gave a textbook drive to Howabout Hanover in a claiming race for non-winners of six races lifetime, tucking fifth and watching a wild early battle result in splits of 27.3 and 55.3 in 41-degree temperatures on the twicearound. Merriman moved his horse into position behind a limbed-the-mile horse, then swept three-deep off the third turn to engage frontstepping Arrow at the 1:24.3 ¾. Late on the last turn and through the stretch, there was no question which horse had more left in the tank, as Howabout Hanover strode off to a 4½ length victory in 1:53.4 - a time only 4/5 off his lifetime mark taken at the roomy Hoosier Park earlier this year, with the mercury at 78 degrees. Merriman was again tied for the driving lead at 832 - and the horse's scattered backers marveled at collecting $18.60 on a horse rated 5-2 on the morning line.   Merriman endured a breaker in the 11th and a horse mired by dull cover in the 12th, but when opportunity knocked in the lucky 13th, he opened the door, and went inside. Literally - again working out a pocket trip, here with 9-2 shot Lock Three, Merriman went to the passing lane, and while for a second it looked like his horse wouldn't kick in fast enough in the short Northfield stretch, Aaron got a late bit-grabbing burst from Lock Three to rally for a half-length tally - 2015 victory number 833, and a lead he does not seem likely to lose until the end of the season.   If you have a chance to watch the replays of the races concerned in the drama at Northfield last night, it's worth the effort to watch Aaron Merriman's body language, and how it progressed. After the seventh race, the camera follows Merriman after the race, and you can see him briefly shake his head as he was bringing his misbehaving trotter under control. In the ninth, the shot to watch is the tight-up stretch replay, as Aaron's face goes in the stretch from reflecting faint opportunity to a grimace of certain knowledge as Merriman edged past Merriman late. In the 10th, the stretch camera shows Aaron exhibit a tight-lipped half-grin as he draws away in the lane, and in the winners enclosure, he actually waves to a couple of people upon existing.   For the historic 13th, the stretch shot shows Merriman so intent on rallying his pacer up the inside that he is a study in concentration, and he shows little emotion in Victory Lane. But stay with that replay to the very end - Northfield shows a stock picture of the winning driver after the post-race ceremonies are over, and the very last shot you'll see is of a widely-grinning Aaron Merriman. ______________________   REPHIGURING THE PHINAL PHILLY NUMBERS - George Napolitano Jr. wound up with 399 wins and a UDR of .397 after the last day of racing at Harrah's Philadelphia this past Sunday; Gil Garcia-Herrera's final numbers were 153 victories and a .438 UTR. The totals were checked in the tallying system after the Philly card, but the numbers included in Monday's story did not include the Sunday results, which had not yet gone through the system as official. (The 832 seasonal figure for "GNap," verified again the next morning along with Merriman's, is official.) We apologize - but any way you look at the figures, the two horsemen had terrific seasons at Harrah's.   Jerry Connors    

Suppose this shaped up to be the first day of what should be one of the best weeks of your life - a week when you went to the lead in the North American harness racing drivers dashwinning derby.   And then you lost in your first 17 drives of the day.   But Aaron Merriman kept his cool. He won with his 18th steer of the day ...   ... and his 19th ...   ... and his 20th - and suddenly things had righted themselves.   That trio of victories in Northfield's 11th, 12th, and 13th races last night boosted Merriman's 2015 sulky success total to 830, leaving him just two behind current leader George Napolitano Jr.'s total, with Napolitano done for the year.   Merriman may not have won a race at The Meadows yesterday afternoon, but as racehorses often do, he "had excuses": for one, he did achieve four second-place finishes, and at 7-2, 9-1, 10-1, and 46-1. Another was that that 7-2 shot, along with another at 3½-1, were the only two horses in 11 drives where Merriman went off less than 7-1 - and he had four mounts who were 30-1 or more!   Also, the southwest Pennsylvania track has been going through a period where the opening card of the week has been "Meadows Manic Monday," with the last nine weeks generating nine horses paying $50 or more, three of them topping the $100 return line for a $2 win bet, and the average win bet paying off at $16.15. Yesterday it was the turn of Hall of Fame driver Dick Stillings to join in the fun, getting a 27.2 last quarter out of Purdy Sam in a "nw3" race, rallying him from seventh at the ¾ pole to win for trainer Doug Hamilton - and return $114.80 to win.   At Northfield, the hot driver was Chris Page, who had five wins on the night, including taking four of the first five races. But Merriman kept at his craft, and was eventually rewarded with the consecutive triple. In adding four seconds and five thirds in his 23 miles for the day, Aaron - despite that 0-for-17 start - managed to post a .300 UDR for Monday.   Merriman now has doubleheader action set for Tuesday and Wednesday. Both The Meadows and Northfield race Friday, but unusually The Meadows has a night card scheduled for Friday this week, so Aaron will have to make a choice.   But by then, the form would indicate that he will be King of the Driving Hill for 2015, and not likely to be looking down or back.   Jerry Connors

Aaron Merriman outslugged George Napolitano Jr. in Friday's "round" of the ongoing 2015 North American harness racing drivers dashwinning title battle, posting six winners to Napolitano's five to narrow "Nap"'s lead to six, with the current score Napolitano 829, Merriman 823.   Napolitano got in a serious punch during Friday afternoon's racing at Harrah's Philadelphia, scoring five victories in 13 sulky turns. Four of the victories came from the barn of Gil Garcia-Herrera, who now has mathematically eliminated Ron Burke from winning the Philly trainers crown, with a 15-victory lead with 14 races to go. (Team Burke was digging to the end, though, also scoring four times on Friday, all with horses guided by Yannick Gingras.)   But with the action switching from The Meadows to Northfield Park Friday night, Merriman uncorked a "1-2 combination," following up on his earlier double at The Meadows with four victories at Northfield to "outpoint" his opponent for the day by one and thus making his deficit six.   Harrah's Philadelphia, The Meadows, and Northfield Park are all dark on Saturday, which means the next report in this series will come Monday, after Merriman races the Sunday night card at Northfield, and Napolitano winds up his 2015 season by driving on the last card of the Harrah's Philadelphia meet on Sunday afternoon. After that, Merriman has doubleheader action on Monday through Wednesday at The Meadows and Northfield, while Napolitano has said that he would end his 2015 campaigning after Philly on Sunday (and indeed has no drives listed anywhere after the Philly card) - and it's not hard to see "the changing of the guard" during that period or slightly thereafter.   FINISHING LINES - Napolitano will be completing a "grand slam" of eastern Pennsylvania racing on Sunday, winning the dash and UDR titles at both Philly and Pocono. At Pocono, "GNap" notched 407 winners, breaking his own record, while posting a UDR of .407; at Philly, Napolitano will likely be adding to his seasonal local record of 396, which eclipsed Tim Tetrick's 380 figure of 2011, and has a .398 UDR going into the final session....On the training side, Garcia-Herrera will be taking his first Philly dash title - Burke had worn the crown the last two years, and five of the last six - but the UTR title is still very much on the line, and that score entering the final card is Chris Oakes .440, Garcia-Herrera .439.   Jerry Connors

Well, if harness racing driver George Napolitano Jr. is ending his sulkysitting for 2015 on Sunday, he looks like he intends to go out a-blazin'.   Napolitano won four times at Harrah's Philadelphia Thursday afternoon, stretching his lead over Aaron Merriman in this year's North American dashwinning driving derby to seven - the current score is Napolitano 824, Merriman 817.   On a "Trottin' Thursday" card that featured 11 trots in 14 races, Napolitano won three times on the trot and once on the pace, extending his one-year Philly record to 387 victories after having broken Tim Tetrick's old mark of 380 this past Sunday. One victor on each gait was supplied by Gil Garcia-Herrera, who will win his first Harrah's conditioners crown, with a 146 victory total through the Thursday card.   Actually, Napolitano had a fifth horse cross the wire first, but the Garcia-Herrera trotter Czech It Out, known to be hard to handle, eased out of the pocket at and after headstretch rather than use an open passing lane, and in doing so caused first-over Jailhouse Juice to take up slightly, necessitating the placing of Czech It Out for interference. Ironically, the horse who was 2pl1, Schalom G, was a beaten favorite in this class last week -- with Nap up, but was overlooked Wednesay and returned $48.80 in being placed first - after coming quickly up the passing late late.   The action today (Friday) finds Napolitano with afternoon duties at Harrah's in the penultimate card of the year at the riverside oval in the south suburbs of the City of Brotherly Love, while Merriman will go day and night at The Meadows and Northfield, with two-time defending NoAm champion Ron Wrenn Jr., whose 2015 output of 750 wins has him third, joining Merriman at the Cleveland oval this evening.   All three drivers are scheduled to be out of action on Saturday; Napolitano is then scheduled to drive his last slate of races for the year at Harrah's Sunday, having said he intends to do no driving, "unless you count motorcross," for the remainder of 2015. This will leave the door open for Merriman, who is supposed to race at Northfield Sunday night and then in Meadows-Northfield doubleheaders on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.   FINISHING LINES - George Napolitano Jr. is unfortunately not a stranger to potentially-historic achievements being lessened by a disqualification from first. Many people remember him tying Dave Palone's one-card single-dash pari-mutuel driving win record with 11 Victory Lanes visits at Pocono on June 10, 2011, but not too many remember that "GNap" crossed the wire first TWELVE times that night - but with one on the run, and disqualified for an LOB.   Jerry Connors

You wouldn't wish upon your worst enemy the kind of luck that harness racing driver Aaron Merriman has been plagued with the last two days.   Merriman left Northfield Park Friday night tied for the 2015 North American lead in driving victories with George Napolitano Jr. at 812. Since Merriman's two bases of operation, Northfield and The Meadows, were dark on Saturday, Aaron took a mini-jaunt to California early Saturday, planning his return flight so that he would be back in Cleveland to drive Northfield's Sunday night card.   But while Napolitano was ringing up seven winners at Harrah's Philadelphia on Sunday , Aaron was stuck with a different kind of "seven" - a flight delay that caused him to miss his connecting flight to Cleveland, where he finally arrived Sunday night seven hours later than planned, with the Northfield card all but done.   Aaron bounced right back, though, on Monday, beginning a string of three Meadows/Northfield doubleheaders (while Napolitano's action during that period would be limited to Wednesday afternoon, the start of the last four days of the season at Philly).   Only Aaron's luck didn't change on Monday, as he rolled "another seven" - seven seconds (along with five thirds and two other checkgetters), but zero winners in his 23 drives at his two ovals. (To show how well Merriman did on one scale - he had a UDR of .217 going 0-for-23, which is very hard to do!)   Merriman was unlucky he ran into three drivers who had very hot hands on Monday. At The Meadows, both perennial leader Dave Palone and Eric Goodell each had five visits to Victory Lane; at Northfield, two-time defending North American dashwinning champion Ron Wrenn Jr. came home first six times (he now has 744 wins in 2015 as the closest driver behind Napolitano/Merriman). Aaron also didn't have the best of equine stock in front of him Monday - only once in the 23 races did the public make his horse the favorite (an equal number to the horses he drove that were dismissed at 133-1 or more!).   But fear not for Aaron Merriman, a resilient soul, and one who really can say "Time is on my side," as the Rolling Stones sang. For while George Napolitano Jr. has a seven-win lead going into today (Tuesday, when he is not racing), he has only four more opportunities to add to his 2015 win total - he has stated that at present he does not intend to drive beyond closing day at Harrah's Philadelphia this Sunday. Merriman's December could include nine more Meadows matinees and at least 16 scheduled nighttime cards at Northfield - both tracks have evening racing planned for Friday, December 18.   It still appears Aaron Merriman will get home first in this particular race - and the memory of these past two unfortunate days will just be a bump in the road in the rearview mirror.   Jerry Connors

When the advantage George Napolitano Jr. had over Aaron Merriman in the 2015 North American harness racing dashwinning derby dropped from its high of 24 on November 21 to zero this past Tuesday, combined with the fact that this week is the last week of racing at Harrah's Philadelphia for "George Nap" -- his other main track, The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono closed (not coincindentally) on November 21 -- it was assumed that George's chance for a second dashwinning championship (he won in 2010) were dead.   Well, hold on a second ...   It's true that Merriman looks to have a definite edge in opportunities for victories, with both of his driving ovals, The Meadows and Northfield extending their seasons well beyond this Sunday.   But on Sunday, with Merriman not in action at Northfield, George Napolitano Jr. won seven races -- half the 14-race card at the riverside oval just south of Philadelphia -- and has regained that much of a lead in this back-and-forth derby.   Naploitano guided the winners of races 1-2-3 at Philly yesterday -- none of them favorites, then added victories in races 5, 8, and 11 before bookending the card with a 5-1 win in race 14. The win with Charger Blue Chip was his 381st of the year at Harrah's, allowing him to break the single-season total for victories, the 380 total registered in 2011 by Tim Tetrick (who, semi-ironically, is in Australia for a driving tournament connected with the Inter-Dominion Championship).   Napolitano is now scheduled to drive next at Harrah's on Wednesday afternoon, while Merriman is penciled for day-night action at The Meadows and Northfield Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.   FINISHING LINES -- In last week's Napolitano-Merriman matchup, the big winner was ... Ron Wrenn Jr., two-time defending dash champion and third at this point in 2015; he had 19 Northfield victories to raise his year's total to 738; Merriman had 17, and Napolitano 14 ... As for Tetrick, he has a win and a second (beaten a neck at 30-1) in three starts in the Down Under driving competition, according to reports. The victory came earlier today (Monday; remember the time difference) at the Pinjarra track, where he thrilled the fans with a consecutive "treble" of victories.   "The report of my death was an exaggeration." -- Mark Twain, in London in 1897, responding to Stateside rumors about his health. Jerry Connors

“Don’t look back. Something may be gaining on you.” -- Leroy “Satchel” Paige, legendary Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Harrisburg, PA --- Mr. Paige, this is Aaron Merriman and Ronnie Wrenn Jr. Ronnie, Aaron -- this is Mr. Satchel Paige, Hall of Fame baseball pitcher and icon. He is the author of the quote that starts this story. And the “something” he refers to is named George Napolitano Jr. For most of 2015, a casual glance at the leading dashwinning drivers in North America might have given you “déjà vu all over again,” as another baseball legend noted. Aaron Merriman has had the lead in the standings, with Ronnie Wrenn Jr. right behind. This is exactly the same scenario as happened in 2014, when Merriman led until the final days of the year, then saw Wrenn make a tremendous late push to secure himself his second straight North American title. But over the last three-plus months, a new wrinkle has emerged. (Well, not exactly new -- he was third behind “Double A” and “Ronnie” in 2014, and was national champion in 2010.) But the graph below shows what is meant by “a power move in the middle of the race”: MONTHLY AND SEASONAL TOTALS                                     AARON MERRIMAN   GEORGE NAPOLITANO JR.   RON WRENN JR.     Month Year   Month Year   Month Year                     end of April     290     124     263 May   66 356   101 225   78 341 June   70 426   77 302   61 402 July   79 505   100 402   67 469 August   63 568   106 508   62 531 September   52 620   92 600   75 606 Oct. 1-11   28 648   43 643   23 629 That’s right -- “George Nap,” 166 victories off Merriman’s lead at the end of April, has narrowed the gap to five after the racing of Sunday (Oct. 11). Wrenn has stayed within 20 or so victories of the lead throughout the year -- but now he finds himself looking up at two people, not one. And Napolitano shows no signs of present abatement, as the October numbers posted above show. A brief background: Merriman and Wrenn both have a base at Northfield Park in Cleveland. Wrenn has 488 seasonal victories there as of Oct. 11, Merriman 401, though their UDRs are practically the same (Wrenn .398, Merriman. 396). Where Merriman has gotten his edge is by doing “double duty,” also racing regularly at The Meadows near Pittsburgh, where he is in fourth place with 209 wins, behind perennial leader Dave Palone and the “second-third interchangers,” Mike Wilder and Tony Hall. The double duty sometimes means Merriman misses the last few races at The Meadows or the first few at Northfield; interestingly, the same thing happens with Napolitano. Napolitano’s season has one focus: a 100-mile strip of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and its Northeast Extension, between The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono (which races in 2015 from March 21 to Nov. 21, at night) and Harrah’s Philadelphia (which races March 20 to Dec. 11, during the day). During the eastern PA winter hiatus, Napolitano has in the recent past been going to his “official USTA” home in Florida, where he races a much-reduced, intermittent schedule at Pompano (he had 26 wins between the end of 2014 at Philly and its 2015 opening, with only 85 drives in 21 cards raced). But what a focus he has had in the Keystone State in 2015, by George! He had 100 or more wins in three different months (May, July, and August), and he had 10 winners in one day three times (July 26, Aug. 16, and Sept. 16). Between Philly and Pocono, there have been 124 cards between July 1 and Oct. 11; George has participated in 121 cards, and he has had at least one victory on 118 of those cards (97.5 percent). He is the runaway leading dashwinner at both tracks; at Pocono this will be his ninth win title, breaking a mark he shares with Bill Lambertus. This spectacular success rate has enabled Napolitano to get into the thick of the discussion of the North American sulky leadership. If he would have a couple of weeks producing at his current rate, it would not be a surprise to see George Napolitano at the top of the charts soon. Postscript “Objects in the rear view mirror may appear larger than they actually are.” --- A song by Meat Loaf, among other things Having said all of the above, it does not seem likely that George Napolitano Jr. will wind up as North American driving champion in 2015. Pocono raced its last Friday of the season this past weekend; there will be racing only on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday until season’s end, 18 more cards. Philly has four cards a week the rest of October, then reduces to three a week up to the final week of its season, 31 more cards. So Napolitano has fewer than 50 racing days left in his prime time. Even if he wins at his per-card rate since July 1 of 2.88, that would mean 141 more wins this season, 784 in all (if he can maintain this breakneck pace). George did not drive at Pompano at all from Dec. 14 of last year until Jan. 17 of this year. Merriman has his regular doubleheaders; Wrenn has been known for supplementing his Northfield total with day excursions to other pari-mutuel ovals (especially in his native Michigan, where he has 57 wins this year). And just for one example, Wrenn won more than 100 races last December alone in wrestling the win crown from Merriman in the final days. So, Mr. Paige, thank you for your counsel. It’s usually never a good idea to focus on what may be behind -- it’s always what’s up front, the pursuit of the next goal, that is the primary motivating force. I think these three talented “youthful veterans” would thank you and agree with you -- and they’ll go out and give North American harness fans some real excitement as the clock on 2015 winds down. by Jerry Connors  Jerry Connors is a freelance writer living in Pennsylvania and was recently voted into the Communicators Hall of Fame. The views contained in this column are that of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association.

Mach It So, the veteran Mach Three gelding coming off a late-charging victory in the Quillen Memorial at Harrington, used speedy tactics Saturday night at the harness racing meeting at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, overcoming less-than-ideal conditions and a good field to take the $24,000 featured pace in 1:49.4.   Driver Andrew McCarthy sent Mach It So to the lead after the 27.1, and the career winner of $1.09M took it from there, putting up middle splits of 55.3 and 1:22.4, then booking home in 27 over a good track in 46 temperatures to win by six lengths for trainer Jeff Bamond Jr. and Bamond Racing LLC.   The winner certainly seems to like the Pocono surface -- he took his mark of 1:48 here last year, and he certainly doesn't seem to mind traveling, now having consecutive wins at Mohawk, Harrington, and Pocono.   Scott Rocks, who had a series of "close but no cigar" finishes in his most recent starts prior to the $20,000 co-feature, finally got home first by using pocket rocket tactics under the guidance of George Napolitano Jr. to tally in 1:50.2 for trainer Chris Oakes and owners Susan Oakes and Chuck Pompey.   The winner was the fourth on the card for "George Nap," giving him 15 trips to Victory Lane in the first three days of October, an average of 3.75 wins per card (two at Philly and two here).   Jerry Connors  

After having only one card rained out since the end of June, the 2015 Pennsylvania Fair Circuit came to a squishy end here this week, with two of the three cards lost - the two-year-olds raced Tuesday, but the three-year-olds were washed out Wednesday and then the time-honored Bloomsburg Stakes for both age groups were cancelled today (Thursday).   The racing for freshmen on Tuesday gave some regular winners another chance to shine, the best example of which would be the Moonbeam - DVC Iblieveinangels pacing miss Unbeamlievable, who made it 12 straight and 14-13-1-0 along the twicearound trail this year with a 2:04 - 29 triumph.   Team Shaw - owner Mason, trainer Jason, and driver Chris - will take its second straight blanket in the 2PF category (the blanket for highest pointearner during the season is presented at the annual Fair Dinner following the USTA District meeting) after winning with Tropical Terror last year; Unbeamlievable also amassed the highest pointcount among any fair competitor.   On the sidewheeling colt side, the Well Said - Lionness Hanover colt Well Lets See did his best to take the top spot by running his summerlong total to 14-11-1-2 with a 2:05.2 - 28.2 win for driver Brandon Givens, trainer Kevin Lare, and owner Frank Chick.   But he was edged out at the top by Billy's Falcon (14-11-3-0), despite that one finishing second to Wagon Master, a Western Terror - Free At Last K colt who has stamped himself as a major factor for the October 10 Championship with his sixth triumph in his last eight fair trips to the gait for owner Bob Key, trainer Mike Gillock, and driver Brady Brown.   Starting from the trailing post seven, Billy's Falcon had to brush in 29.1 in the second quarter to go to the lead around Wagon Master, with that one having enough in the stretch to come back on and conquer his main foe in 2:01.1.   The Yankee Glide - Keystone Sirena trotting gelding Keystone Shotgun earned his divisional title after a 15-7-5-0 campaign by winning in 2:04.3 - 29.4 for Team Vivid Photo: owner-trainer-driver Roger Hammer and co-owner Todd Schadel.   But this division is probably the most contentious of all, with any of a half-dozen horses having a shot at the big money.   A Little Laid Back (15-12-2-0) had already clinched the trotting filly crown, but the winners at Bloomsburg were a reminder that she'll have to work to get to Victory Lane: they were the Great George Two - Bank Star miss Mckean County, 6-1-0 in her last eight starts, who won here in 2:04.4 - 1:00.2 - 30 over A Little Laid Back for driver Wayne Long and trainer John McMullen Jr., co-owner with Michele Mc Mullen; and Connie Jean, a Cantab Hall - Eclat Hanover filly who brought her fair record to 10-7-1-0 with a 2:06.3 score for trainer/driver Todd Schadel, who in partnership with The Estate Of George F Hempt Trust just purchased the filly from a group headed by newly-elected Hall of Famer Charles Keller III. (A Little Laid Back can take some comfort from the fact that she won her division's pointstandings for the second straight year for Team Hammer, following in the hoofprints of Peolesayimnogood - who was the only sophomore who repeated from being last year's pointsleader).   Here is a list of the eight PA Fair Sire Stakes blanketwinners - a group which has a distinctly red and blue (with gold trim) hue to it:   2TC - Keystone Shotgun, 15-7-5-0, longest winning streak (LWS) 4 of 5, owned by Roger Hammer and Todd Schadel, trained by Hammer;   2TF - A Little Laid Back (top trotting pointwinner overall), 15-12-1-0, LWS 6, owned and trained by Roger Hammer;   2PC - Billy's Falcon, 14-11-3-0, LWS 5, owned and trained by Roger Hammer;   2PF - Unbeamlievable (top pointwinner overall, the second straight year her stable has taken that title after 2PC Nippy's feat last year, and after stablemate Tropical Terror's 2014 win of this division), 14-13-1-0, LWS 12, owned by Mason Shaw and trained by his father Jason;   3TC - Wimborne Hanover (the only Championship winner at 2 winning the point title at 3, and also matching stablemate's Fly Past Hanover's 3YO point title last year), 13-10-1-1, LWS 6, owned by Susan Daugherty and trained by Bill Daugherty Jr.;   3TF - Peoplesayimnogood (the only 2YO point champion repeating at three), 12-7-3-0, LWS 5, owned and driven by Roger Hammer;   3PC - R N Nate (biggest point accumulator among 3YOs), 12-10-2-0, LWS 7, owner and trained by Roger Hammer;   3PF - Betterthanrevenge, 11-8-1-2, LWS 8, owned by Thomson Sisters Racing Stable and trained by Harold Brocklehurst.   And lastly, the top ten trainers and drivers of the 2015 Fair Circuit (corroborating the above).   DRIVERS TRAINERS Roger Hammer 86              Roger Hammer 81 Chris Shaw 61                     Jason Shaw 47 Brandon Givens 48             Todd Schadel 34 Brady Brown 45                   Steve Schoeffel 30 Todd Schadel 32                 Kevin Lare 20 Wayne Long 21                   Mike Gillock 19 Aaron Johnston 14              Bill Daugherty Jr. 17 Steve Schoeffel 14              Harold Brocklehurst 12 Harold Brocklehurst 12      Gary Johnston 12 Shawn Johnston 12            Sam Beegle 11   Jerry Connors  

Where a nonfavorite won ... and the Exacta paid $3.60?   9-10 Wakizashi Hanover beat 3-5 Freaky Feet Pete at the harness racing meeting at Hoosier Park last night ... and the Exacta paid $3.60 ... LESS than the winner!   And while I have your attention, ...   After Wednesday at 11:59:59 pm, will be DEAD, after 13½ years of loyal service to the U.S. Harness Writers Association.   A larger company has purchased PAOnline, and they are discontinuing private e-mail service through their subsidiary.   We have sent up the new USHWA e-mail address to be   It will become active on October 1.   Jerry Connors                                                                                                                                      

The trotter Boffin and the pacer Bushwacker went their respective $24,000 featured events Saturday night at the harness racing meeting at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, on a night full of interesting storylines.   Both the feature winners were "pocket rockets" en route to victory.   First up was the 5YO Donato Hanover gelding Boffin, a 7-5 second choice who parlayed a two-hole journey behind 6-5 favorite Ray Hall into a 2¼ length victory in 1:51.1, a national season's record, a personal best, and only 3/5 of a second off his division's world record of 1:50.3, set by Sevruga here three years ago.   Ray Hall, who in one way was the precursor of JL Cruze in that they both run roughshod in their division of Pocono's Weiss Series the last two springs, was making his second start for Team Allard after a claim and a 1:52 victory - and he was timed even faster tonight, 1:51.3, but that wasn't enough to hold off Boffin, driver by George Napolitano Jr. for trainer Anette Lorentzon, also co-owner with ACL Stuteri AB and Kjell Johansson.   "George Nap," who had four winners in the first nine races on the card, almost made it five and a sweep of the headliners in the tenth race top pacing event, but tactical turnabout is fair play, as his pacesetting Scott Rocks came home in 54.1 on the engine and yet was overhauled by Bushwacker and driver Andrew McCarthy by a half length in 1:50, another second choice catching a favorite in the lane.   Chris Ryder conditions the altered son of Rocknroll Hanover for Henderson Farms.   Ben Franklin winner Luck Be Withyou made it two straight since returning to Pocono with a 1:50.2 victory in a $20,000 pace.   George Napolitano Jr. was in the sulky of the victorious Western Ideal horse for trainer Chris Oakes and owner John Craig.   It was no surprise when "GNap" returned to the winners circle after the high-price claiming handicap pace with R Gauwitz Hanover, as that veteran has won eight of his last nine starts (all the time driven by Napolitano - that fact's significance will emerge shortly) and is 15-for-27 for the year after a 1:50.4 score.   What is amazing, though, about R Gauwitz Hanover is that on Saturday he was claimed for the eleventh straight start in a string going back to July 11, when Howard Taylor haltered him from Nick Gampietro Jr. after Gampietro had him for a relative "eternity," almost two straight months.   Trainer Jennifer Sabot and the Verrazano Stables LLC benefited from the pacer's talents this week; in his next start, he will be "completing a circle," as the successful claimant tonight was - Nick Gampietro Jr.! (We'd love to hear from anyone who knows of another horse who was claimed in 11 straight races!)   The reference to superowner Howard Taylor above was not gratuitous, but a link to the final newsworthy item at press time - he is the owner of Verdad, who came from last at the ¾ to win and pay $105.40 for driver Joe Bongiorno.   Verdad's trainer is Ron Burke - who now, shockingly, has produced the MOST $50+ winners at BOTH Pocono and Philly this year, with three boxcar winners at each eastern Pennsylvania oval!   He has only one "in the west," at his home base The Meadows, but even that one was newsworthy, because it came with $77 winner Cooperstown in the fastest elimination of The Adios Pace!   Jerry Connors

Coral Springs, FL – It was announced today by the United States Harness Writers Association (USHWA), that Charles Keller III, whose Yankeeland Farm produced Hambletonian winners Muscles Yankee (1998) and Yankee Paco (2000), has been voted into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame. In addition, two veteran publicists, David Carr and Jerry Connors, were also voted as inductees into the Communicators Hall of Fame. Keller took over the helm of Yankeeland Farm after the 1990 death of his father, Charlie Keller Jr., of New York Yankees fame. Keller’s father purchased the farm in Frederick, Md., in 1955 and assembled the mares and bred the progeny that contributed to the farm’s success over several decades.  Keller has been a director of the Hambletonian Society since 2000 and is a member of the executive committee, for which he was chairman from 2013 through this spring, following the passing of John Cashman Jr. Keller was a director of the United States Trotting Association (USTA) for five terms and an active member of the Finance Committee. He is a current trustee of the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame. David Carr joined the USTA as a publicist and staff writer for Hoof Beats magazine in 1982. Three years later, he proposed the creation of the information and research department, developed it into a superb resource for those writing about the sport of harness racing, and is now head of that department. Jerry Connors has had a passion for harness racing since he was a child and few in the industry can duplicate his memory of racing and events in the sport. A “jack of all trades,” Connors has worked at numerous racetracks and industry organizations throughout his career as a publicist and administrator. He has been an USHWA director for 23 years, and is a licensed judge, track announcer and race charter.  Keller, along with horseman Bruce Nickells, who was previously announced as the senior-elect to the Hall of Fame, will join Carr and Connors at the USHWA Dan Patch Awards dinner on Sunday, March 6, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., as their first introduction as harness racing’s newest members of the Hall of Fame. The actual induction ceremony takes place on Sunday, July 3, at the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame in Goshen, N.Y. By Steven Wolf, for the United States Harness Writers Association

After racing the likes of multichampion mare Anndrovette earlier in the month, the Rocknroll Hanover mare Empress Deo has enjoyed some class relief in her last couple of starts and has responded with a pair of victories, with Friday's coming in the $24,000 featured pace for mares at the harness racing meeting at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. First to the quarter in 26.1 for driver George Napolitano Jr., Empress Deo relinquished the lead to 2014 Breeders Crown 3PF winner Sayitall BB and sat behind that one through middle splits of 54.2 and 1:22.2.   Turning into the stretch "George Nap," The Downs' leading driver and coming off of consecutive months of 100 or more driving wins, guided "The Empress" to the famed Pocono Pike and the mare used the inner route to maximum effect, winning by a neck in 1:50.4, lowering her personal best by a tick.   Wayne Givens trains the 9-time seasonal winner for Legacy Racing of DE Inc.   Earlier in the card, George Napolitano's brother Anthony, third in the Downs' standings, guided First Impression from the outside post nine to victory at a $141.80 win mutuel, second this year only to the $152.60 ticker generated by Marathon Man (Brandon Simpson) on May 18.   First Impression had a fast first half after which to close, but he was five-wide and probably closer to the paddock judge's office than to the inside pylons swinging for home; still, he came from seventh in early stretch to get the half-length victory for owner Martin Chouinard.   The triumph was only the tenth conditioning success in the still-young career of trainer Jamie Kirin -- but he had already demonstrated his ability to win with a lightly-regarded horse, as in his very first training win, on October 13, 2012 at Pocono, the Kirin-harnessed Artsbred Camotion teamed with driver Matt Kakaley to light up the board to the tune of $96.00!   FINISHING LINES -- Over $1.7M will be on the line Saturday night at The Downs on a card which will feature four $350,000 Pennsylvania Sire Stakes Championships for three-year-olds, with national-caliber stars such as Wakizashi Hanover, Wild Honey, and Uncle Lasse among the major contenders in their respective events. (None of them are expected to pay $141.80, or even combined or parlayed.)   Jerry Connors

The richest harness racing Sire Stakes Championship series begins Saturday night.   The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono will host four $350,000 Pennsylvania Sire Stakes Championship for three-year-olds.   Each of the four divisions will also have a $60,000 Consolation race; the total program on Saturday at Pocono will distribute purses of $1,770,000.   COLT PACERS $350,000 Championship - race 12 $60,000 Consolation - race 5   Championship record: 1:48.4, McWicked, 2014 (fastest Championship in PA history)   Defending champion from 2YO year: Yankee Bounty   Leading pointwinner in four preliminaries: Lost For Words   Most of the attention in the "glamour division" will be focused on Wakizashi Hanover, already a winner of over $840,000 this year, including the North America Cup Final, and regarded as second-best on the North American scene to the amazing Wiggle It Jiggleit.   Wakizashi has driven post five for the Championship, and as usual trainer Joann Looney-King has tapped Tim Tetrick to drive the altered son of Dragon Again for the Tri County Stable of Nova Scotia.   The sophomore has experience over the track, winning a Hempt elimination and then finished fourth from a difficult draw, and following that outing up with a second to "Wiggle" in the Battle of the Brandywine.   It's unusual to see a defending champion and a leading prelim pointswinner regarded as "outsiders" in the field, but Yankee Bounty and Lost For Words, respectively, are not only figurative outsiders, but the literal outsiders as well in the field of eight.   Yankee Bounty, starting from post seven for all-time Sire Stakes driving champion Dave Palone,does come off a 1:49.3 win in a Sire Stakes prelim, while Lost For Words (post eight, David Miller) was the only three-time winner in the Sires prelims.   COLT TROTTERS   $350,000 Championship - race 11 $60,000 Consolation - race 4   Championship record: 1:52.4, Father Patrick, 2014   Defending champion from 2YO year: Billy Flynn (the only 3YO who did not qualify for these finals)   Leading pointwinner in four preliminaries: Wicker Hanover   Wicker Hanover and Uncle Lasse were both three-time Sires prelim winners.   Wicker Hanover, an Explosive Matter colt who has done well on or off the pace, will start from post six for driver Andrew McCarthy, trainer Ross Croghan, and the Christer Haggstorm Racing Stable Inc., while the Donato Hanover colt Uncle Lasse, third in both the Hambletonian Final and the Colonial, drew post two for driver David Miller, trainer Jimmy Takter, and owners Solveig's Racing Partners and Goran Falk.   A horse conspicuous by his absence is Pinkman, #2 in the prelim pointstandings while achieving three victories, but when he won the Hambletonian trainer Takter chose the Triple Crown road for him, and he goes Saturday night at Yonkers in the Yonkers Trot, the second Crown leg.   But even with two recent losses to Crazy Wow, in the Colonial and Yonkers Trot elim, Pinkman likely would have been a big favorite here, and using the "glass is half full" theory, the race is much more competitive this way.   FILLY PACERS   $350,000 Championship - race 10 $60,000 Consolation - race 3   Championship record: 1:49, Economy Terror   Defending champion from 2YO year: Southwind Roulette   Leading pointwinner in four preliminaries: Somewhere Sweet   Perhaps the best testimony to the contentiousness of this division all year, and in theory here Saturday, is the fact that prelim pointleader Somewhere Sweet won only once in the prelims.   But the daughter of Somebeachsomewhere, trained by Brian Brown for Miller's Stable, has been a very consistent miss, winning half her ten seasonal starts and never finishing worse than fourth, and she draws the favorable post two for driver David Miller.   There were two two-time prelim winners in this division, but for Saturday they had the misfortune of drawing the two outside spots on the gate: Serious Filly (PP7, also trained by Brown, Tim Tetrick listed) and Safe From Terror (PP8, trainer Ron Burke, also listing Tetrick on the early sheet).   FILLY TROTTERS   $350,000 Championship - race 9 $60,000 Consolation - race 14   Championship record: 1:51.3, Check Me Out, 2012 (fastest trot Champion ever)   Defending champion from 2YO year: Wild Honey   Leading pointwinner in four preliminaries: Sarcy (not entered), Smokinmombo #2   Last year's divisional champion Wild Honey has come back sharply in 2015, with a win in the Hambletonian Oaks Final and two Sire Stakes wins.   The Cantab Hall filly is likely to be held as the horse to beat despite drawing post eight for driver Dave Palone, trainer Jimmy Takter, and the ownership combine of Takter, Fielding, Liverman, and Fielding.   Jimmy Takter is also the trainer of Sarcy, who was #1 in the prelim points, but that filly has not raced since finishing fifth in the Oaks Final on August 8 and has not won since June 25, so she is not entered in the Championship.   But Wild Honey is certainly a fine "backup plan."   FINISHING LINES   Dave Palone has 38 career wins in Pennsylvania Sire Stakes Championships, and the driver in second needs a telescope to see him even though winning five Championships last year - Yannick Gingras, with a total of 12.   We know Yannick will not duplicate that output in 2015, as he will be driving Pinkman at Yonkers on Saturday.   Palone, however, has a call in three of the four Championships, and there are two to-be-resolved double calls in the race he currently is not listed on.   The PA Sire Stakes Championship series for two-year-olds will be held on Friday, September 11, at The Meadows, with the same $350,000/$60,000 purse structure. In between, Harrah's Philadelphia will host the eight $40,000 Championships of the PA Stallion Series - the three-year-olds on a special card this Monday, Labor Day, and the two-year-olds the following Thursday.   Jerry Connors

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