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Bottom claimers got a unique opportunity to race for a $20,000 purse at Miami Valley Raceway on Monday afternoon (February 8) when the championship leg of the track's popular Survivor Series was contested. Ninety-one $5000 claimers paid $100 entry fees to start the elimination tournament on January 11 in ten divisions. The top three finishers plus the six fastest fourth place finishers advanced to Round 2 a week later, comprised of four divisions. Following a cancelled card on January 25, two semi-final fields faced the starter on February 1 with the top half of the finishers qualifying for the lucrative championship. Peck Blue Chip, despite narrowly surviving the early rounds with two third place and one fourth place finishes, was crowned Survivor Series King with a 1:54.2 upset victory for driver Josh Sutton, trainer Daniel Jones and owner Miracle Meadows LLC. Back At Cha (LeWayne Miller), part of a favored Todd Rosenberg-owned entry, finished second; while Sammy Storm (Jason Brewer), who was claimed in each of the preliminary elimination rounds, garnered the show dough. The winner paid $17.00 for a $2 ticket. Sutton wrestled the winner off the gate and retreated to the pylons through a :27.4 opening quarter. Miami Valley's current leading driver pulled into the outer flow just prior to the half, but still had five horses to pass. Abandoning the second-over position at the three-quarter station, Peck Blue Chip was angled three-wide coming off the final turn and responded with a strong stretch drive to secure the triumph. Although Peck Blue Chip now has 21 career wins and $168,585 in earnings, the $10,000 winner's share of the championship purse is the son of Art Major's largest ever payday. Although he finished second as a two-year-old in The Standardbred stake at Delaware, Ohio, and had won several $25,000 claiming races at Hoosier Park in 2013, Peck Blue Chip's tally in the Survivor Series final has been his largest single financial success.   The win was one of four on the program for Josh Sutton, who entered the day tied with Jeremy Smith for the meet dash lead. He also scored with Caseofthesillies (1:56.1, $8.00 to win), Mojito Hanover (1:54, $4.80) and Dolly's Girl (1:54, $11.80). Sutton now sports 36 wins through the first 22 days of the 2016 meet. Jeremy Smith is second with 33, followed by Dan Noble, Tyler Smith and Trace Tetrick-all deadlocked with 29. Rounding out the Top Ten are Chris Page 26, Kayne Kauffman 24, John DeLong 20, Randy Tharps 19 and LeWayne Miller 14. Miami Valley Raceway

LEBANON, OH. - Penn continued his domination of the open trotting ranks in Dayton, Ohio on Sunday afternoon (January 24) with an overpowering 1:57.1 triumph over a harness racing track rated 'good' due to a partial thaw during the matinee. Despite racing on an every-other-week schedule, the six-year-old Master Glide gelding has remained razor sharp since showing up in southwest Ohio following the completion of the Hoosier Park meet in mid-November. Five of the nine classy trotters left the gate in the $20,000 feature event, including Penn who was saddled with an assigned outside post position. Driver Josh Sutton pressed forward confidently until all the inside leavers settled, then crossed over to the front well past the quarter, which was reached in :27.2. Without the ability to take a second quarter breather due to immediate pressure from It Really Matters (Dan Noble) Penn stopped the middle teletimer beams in :56.3 and 1:25.3 before holding off a trio of closers in the lane. Boytown (LeWayne Miller) nosed out Martz Time (Trace Tetrick) for runnerup honors with Herbies Wildflower (Doug Rideout) racing creditably as the only mare in the full field finishing fourth. Bobby Brower trains Penn for owner Barkley Counts of Tennessee. Four $17,500 preliminary divisions of Claim To Fame Series action for $20,000 claiming horses and geldings were also presented on Sunday with the results determining the finalists for the $35,000 championship race next week. Winners were Bolero Andrew (Chris Page, 1:54.1), Double Dribble (Jeff Nisonger, 1:56.1), Blueridge Doc (Josh Sutton, 1:54.1) and Supreme Z Tam (LeWayne Miller, 1:56.1). That quartet will be joined by Major Marcus, Master Of Desire, Mr. Dennis and M G Kid in the lucrative final, plus the winner of a random draw for the final spot between Johnny Come Lately, Mach To The Max, Machin Music and Montana Pablo A. A total of 45 nominees started in the series with five changing hands at the claim box during the first two legs. Racing resumes Monday and Tuesday with 2:05 p.m. matinees at Miami Valley. Gregg Keidel

LEBANON, OH. - Harness racing action was hot and heavy at Miami Valley Raceway on Saturday night (January 23) with a $20,000 Open Pace and six divisions of preliminary Claim To Fame series races, the final opportunity for the nominees to earn valuable points to qualify for lucrative championships next Saturday. Sandwiched between all those keenly contested events came a real shocker, though, as Thisjetsabookin (Josh Sutton) sped to an all-time track record 1:50 performance in a conditioned race for non-winners of ten races lifetime. The altered four-year-old son of Jereme's Jet lowered his own speed standard, taken at Hoosier Park in mid-summer, by a full second in capturing his ninth career victory. Owned by trainer Tom Harmer's Ciara Stable and his longtime friend Gerry Bookmyer, who is also the new track record holder's breeder, Thisjetsabookin shaved one-fifth of a second off the old 1:50.1 standard established by Ice Scraper (Ken Holliday) on April 4, 2015. Thisjetsabookin was the frontstepper for the seventh consecutive race, rushing to the quarter mile marker in :26.2 despite 25-degree weather. Subsequent fractions were :53.3, and an eye-popping 1:20.2 at the three-quarter station before coasting home in 1:50 flat. Fancy Creek Elusiv (Chris Page) captured the $20,000 Open Pace in 1:51.2, holding off Mykindachip (Kayne Kauffman) and Positively Perfect (Jeremy Smith) for his first 2016 score, fresh off a 2015 season in which he won nine times and earned $114,394. Billy Farmer conditions the six-year-old Sportsmaster gelding for owner Todd Rosenberg. In Claim To Fame Series action for $12,500 pacing mares, Lady Ashlyn (Tyler Smith) was an upset winner in the first division over Love Of Liberty (Josh Sutton) and Ellie's Best Dream (Jeremy Smith); while the second split was won by Allthatjazz De Vie (Trace Tetrick) who bested Ginger Spice N (Randy Tharps) and Princess Baby Ella (Chris Page). Those six will be joined by Miss Metro Fitz, Zumba and McEver in the $18.700 championship next week. Male $12,500 pacers concluded the preliminary legs in their series in four divisions. Winners were Ally Con (Josh Sutton) in 1:53.1, Hot Shot Lawyer in 1:52.1, Falcon Justice (Chris Page in 1:52.3) and Scootnfordamoney (Trace Tetrick). The top nine money winners in the series will go postward chasing a $29,500 bounty next Saturday. Gregg Keidel

LEBANON, OH. - Buckeye Thea, one of the most consistently outstanding pacing mares in the state of Ohio during the past two harness racing seasons, was triumphant again Friday night (January 22) in the $20,000 Fillies and Mares Open Pace at Miami Valley Raceway. It was the six-year-old Dave Panlone mare's first 2016 victory, but her 11th in the last twelve months and 23rd in a career comprised of 102 starts. Owned throughout her life by owner-breeder Rich Paltani, she is trained by Steve Carter and was driven by Josh Sutton to the 1:53.3 score. Getting away fourth from the trailing post position in the full field of ten, Buckeye Thea took up second-over position just before the half before swinging three wide midway around the final bend and pulling away in the final strides. Art I Sweet (Ken Holliday), fresh off a victory in a $20,000 late-closing claiming event, stepped up to test the best distaffers in southwest Ohio and rallied well for a second place finish. Addys Way (Dan Noble) used the advantageous rail post draw to garner the show dough in the feature race. Second round Claim To Fame Series action was also contested in five divisions by $8000 claiming male pacers; while a pair of $20,000 claiming mares divisions also went postward. Winners in the $8000 series were Art's Delight (Josh Sutton, 1:53.1), Allstar Seelster (Dan Noble, 1:53.4), Concert Ticket (John De Long, 1:54), Csardas (Trace Tetrick, 1:53.2) and Fox Valley Mahalo (Kayne Kauffman, 1:54.4). The nine top money earners in the two preliminary legs will chase a $23,000 purse in the championship leg next Friday (January 29). Seascape Hanover (Josh Sutton, 1:55.2) and My Hare Lady (Jason Brewer, 1:54.4) copped the $20,000 distaff splits. When their $26,500 final goes the same night they will be joined by Art I Sweet, Gran Gabriel, Pipecreek Star, A Little Starstruck, Dream Ball, Medoland Lindeylou and either Somenicebeach or Top Brand, who will draw randomly for the final spot in the nine-horse field. Gregg Keidel      

DAYTON, OH. - Hollywood Dayton Raceway closed the curtain on a successful second season on Wednesday night (December 30) with an overall average nightly handle increase of 20% over the inaugural 2014 harness racing session. Over $5.2 million in purses were paid out over the 75-night meet. Josh Sutton successfully defended his 2014 driver's dash title by winning 116 races (through the 8th race on closing night) and earning nearly $600,000 in purse money. At age 33, Sutton has won 3,288 races in his career and is nearing $20 million in purse earnings. He currently ranks seventh in the national dash standings, one of four Ohio-based drivers in the top ten. Kayne Kauffman also cracked the 100 wins barrier to finish second with Dan Noble, Chris Page and Jeremy Smith rounding out the top five. Trainer Jeff Brewer garnered his first Hollywood Dayton trainer's title, harnessing 46 winners with stable earnings of almost $200,000 for the meet. The 56-year-old Brewer has sent a total of 1,675 horses to the winner's circle in a productive career that also includes training titles at Hoosier Park, Indiana Downs, Lebanon Raceway and Thunder Ridge. Horses in his care have earned just under $8 million over the years. The remainder of the top five were Virgil Morgan Jr., Kayne Kauffman, Chris Short and Sam Coven. An astounding total of 440 trainers made at least one start during the 3-1/2 month Hollywood Dayton season. New track records were established on both the pace and trot. State Treasurer (David Miller) copped the $138,500 Dayton Pacing Derby in 1:48.4, the fastest mile ever at Dayton; while Penn (Josh Sutton) lowered the square-gait standard to 1:52.3 in a December open event. Hollywood Dayton Raceway put an exclamation point on its successful second season with another all-time record handle, $366,773, on the final program of the year--eclipsing the old record established a week earlier of $357,603. Gregg Keidel

DAYTON, OH. - Penn, Somenicebeach and Freddyscooter won the three featured Open races during the Saturday night (December 26) harness racing program at Hollywood Dayton Raceway. Track record holder Penn (Josh Sutton) topped the Open trotters in 1:53.3 over a sloppy surface, topping Rehab Mountain (Tyler Smith) and Martz Time (John De Long) in relatively easy fashion. After working hard to get the front from the assigned outside No. 7 post position just before the :26.3 quarter station, the five-year-old son of Master Glide raced evenly throughout the remainder of the mile stopping the subsequent teletimers in :55.4, 1:24.1 and 1:53.3 for his ninth win in 20 starts this season. His seasonal earnings end at $97,860 with his lifetime bounty increased to $211,294 for owner Barkley Counts. The weekly top distaff pace went to Somenicebeach, giving meet-leading driver Josh Sutton his second feature win on the program. In her first start at Hollywood Dayton, the four-year-old Somebeachsomewhere lass narrowly edged Albanian Era (Dan Noble) with Sectionline Aqua (LeWayne Miller) also looming large in the stretch. The 1:53 score was the winner's sixth in 2015 and twelfth lifetime. She was claimed at Yonkers Raceway six months ago by Carl Howard and Bruce Soulsby and entrusted to trainer Virgil Morgan Jr., who laid her up for a couple months, put her on lasix and qualified her twice before her winning debut pari-mutuel effort. Freddyscooter (Tyler Smith) beat the best boys at the meet in 1:51.2, giving the ten-year-old gelding his 49th career visit to the winners circle and upping his earnings to $894,895, all for trainer and co-owner Steve Brannan, who also bred him, and partner Frederick Shiery. Freddyscooter benefitted from a two-hold trip behind eventual runnerup PQ Three (Jeremy Smith), who set early fractions of :26.3, :55 and 1:22.2 before begrudgingly giving way to the winner in deep stretch. E R Oliver (LeWayne Miller) closed well to finish third in the $12,000 race. Just three nights remain in the Hollywood Dayton Raceway meet with 6:35 post times on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of the coming week. Gregg Keidel

DAYTON, OH. - Despite temperatures hovering around the freezing mark, Buckeye Thea swept to her second straight $12,000 Fillies and Mares Open pace victory at Hollywood Dayton Raceway on Friday (December 18) by equalling her lifetime mark of 1:51.4. With the impressive win, the five-year-old's tenth of the year and 22nd of her career, Buckeye Thea ran her lifetime bankroll to $$175,552 for owner Richard Paltani, who entrusts the training duties to Steve Carter. Driver Josh Sutton was content to back off the gate from an outside post position, but didn't wait long to charge up and challenge pacesetteer Rockin Good (Jared Finn) after the :27 first quarter. By the halfway station, the winner had poked a head in front as the teletimer flashed :56.2. By the third split in 1:23 Buckeye Thea had opened up an impressive six-length lead, leaving the balance of the field little option but to fight for the minor spoils. Western Empress (Trace Tetrick) was best of the rest with American Girl (Tyler Smith) garnering the show dough. The win was one of two through race ten on the program for Sutton, who has regained the lead in the local dash derby with just eight cards remaining in the Hollywood Dayton Raceway season. Five wins on the Thursday night program pushed Sutton past Kayne Kauffman, who has held the lead for much of the meet. The current tally is Sutton 102, Kauffman 94, with Chris Page 86, Dan Noble 84 and Jeremy Smith 80 rounding out the top five. Gregg Keidel

DAYTON, OH. - Penn dominated the $12,000 Open Trot at Hollywood Dayton Raceway on Saturday (December 12), speeding to the quickest trotting mile in the two-year history of the five-eighths mile harness racing oval. With his 1:52.3 clocking, Penn shaved a tick off Market Share's previous standard of 1:52.4 taken in the 2014 Dayton Trotting Derby. Driver Josh Sutton set sail when the wings of the gate folded, clearing to the front just before reaching the first quarter station in :26.1. The five-year-old son of Master Glide, who had made a miscue in last week's feature, had no such problems on this warm evening. Penn coasted through subsequent fractions of :55 and 1:23.1 before arriving in-hand at the wire in 1:52.3. Chips (Trace Tetrick) made a mild bid in the stretch to finish second with Martz Time (Chris Page), who was last week's winner, finding room late to rally for third. Barkley Counts of Tennessee owns Penn, who now has 27 career wins and $205,794 in earnings from just 62 lifetime starts. Bobby Brown conditions the new Dayton Raceway track record holder. Three races later Sports Sinner returned to the winner's circle after winning the $12,000 Open Pace in 1:51. The four-year-old Western Ideal gelding has now captured the week's top race three of the last four tries for driver Dan Noble, trainer Christi Pokornowski and owner Perkins Racing Stable LLC. It was the ninth seasonal triumph for the late-blooming winner and pushed his career bankroll over the $100,000 plateau. Fancy Creek Elusiv (Chris Page) raced gallantly to finish a lapped-on second, while PQ Three (Jeremy Smith) made a furious stretch charge from far back to garner the show money. Racing will be conducted six consecutive nights next week as Hollywood Dayton begins winding down towards closing night on December 30. Excitement is building for the Tuesday night program, which features the "Buckeyes vs. Hoosiers Driver's Challenge." Five of Hoosier Park's top reinsmen will battle with Dayton's top five in the current dash standings over six races borderline bragging rights. The two tracks, despite being in separate states, are only a little over an hours drive apart. The Buckeye team has 13,918 combined wins and earned $72,825,298 in their careers. The Hoosiers have 8,262 total victories good for $73,298,825 in earnings. The Ohio squad is comprised of Kayne Kauffman, Josh Sutton, Chris Page, Dan Noble and Jeremy Smith; while Indiana will be represented by Trace Tetrick, Tyler Smith, LeWayne Miller, Ross Leonard and Andy Shetler. Post time every night is 6:35 p.m. Gregg Keidel

DAYTON, OH. - In her sixth start after a couple months rest, Buckeye Thea captured the $12,000 Fillies & Mares Open pace at Hollywood Dayton Raceway on Friday night (December 11), pushing her 2016 harness racing summary line to 9-6-6 in 39 starts, good for $93,445 in earnings. Following an unsuccessful first-over bid a week ago, driver Josh Sutton opted for a more conservative approach in this outing--content to get away sixth, moved into second-over position at the half, then swung three-wide just past the three-quarters before throwing a :27.3 final panel to win by over a length in 1:52.3. Pacesetter Rockin Good (Jared Finn), who didn't clear to the front until past the :26.2 opening quarter, held for second money while Western Empress (Trace Tetrick) closed for the show dough. Steve Carter trains Buckeye Thea for owner Rich Paltani. A race earlier, My Hare Lady (Jason Brewer) won a $7500 condition and optional $15,000 claiming event in 1:54, pushing the six-year-old Jereme's Jet mare's lifetime bankroll past the $100,000 plateau. Claimed by Chris Choros for $8000 a month ago, the winner carried a $15,000 base tag this time out. She topped Platinum Spirit (Dan Noble) and Ohmybelle (Chris Page) for trainer Jeff Brewer, who has a comfortable lead in the trainer's dash standings with 14 programs remaining in the meet. Gregg Keidel

DAYTON, OH. - Sports Sinner captured the $11,500 Open Pace at Hollywood Dayton Raceway on Saturday (November 21), his third tally in the weekly feature in his last four tries. Driver Dan Noble left alertly from the No. 1 post position, but yielded to notorious frontrunner Ice Scraper (Josh Sutton) before the first quarter beam was tripped in :26.4. Enjoying a pocket ride through middle splits reached in :54.4 and 1:23, Noble found a narrow opening at the three-quarter station and paced a final panel in :29.1 on a cold, windy night to complete the 1:52.1 triumph. Longshot Red Scooter (Lewayne Miller) rallied in the stretch to finish third. Sports Sinner is owned by Perkins Racing Stable and trained by Christi Pokornowski. The four-year-old Western Ideal gelding eclipsed the $50,000 seasonal earnings barrier with the victory and is rapidly approaching $100,000 in his career. The win was one of three on the night for Noble as he also scored with Allthatgltrsisgold (1:53.3) and JJ Shooter (1:55). Penn, a newcomer to Hollywood Dayton, beat the Open Trotters in 1:56.2 with Josh Sutton on his lines. The five-year-old Master Glide gelding's next check will push him over the $200,000 lifetime earnings plateau for owner Barkley Counts and trainer Bobby Brower. As the heavy favorite, Penn opened an eight length lead early in the stretch and coasted home ahead of a fast-closing Martz Time (Chris Page) and last week's winner Winwood Scout (Jeremy Smith). Sutton also fashioned a hat track with other wins behind Gear Box for trainer Derek Menchhofer and The Riddler for trainer Tom Harmer. From the press box at Dayton Hollywood Raceway

DAYTON, OH. - Drivers Josh Sutton and Randy Tharps each got "one for the thumb" late on the Saturday night (September 26) harness racing program at Hollywood Dayton Raceway, scoring five victories apiece. Based on Sutton's pari-mutuel payoffs, the defending driving champion's hot evening wasn't all that unexpected. Patrons who bet $2 on each of Sutton's five winners profited by $15; while Tharps' $2 backers reaped a $66 profit for their $10 in $2 win wagers. Sutton started his evening off with a bang, winning the first race with Killean Cut Kid (1:51.4, $4.80). He followed that up with victories in the third behind Hobbys Hobbit (1:54, $4.40), fifth with Avalance Hanover (1:51.1, $6.80), eighth with Fudge (1:52.3) and eleventh with Dress The Part (1:51.3, $4.20). Tharps' big night didn't warm up until the fourth when R O I (1:52, $24.00) got his first win. Friskies Cheapsuit (1:53, $12.40) captured the sixth, Kaffir Kemp (1:56, $19.40) trotted home a winner for Tharps in the ninth, Harnessnitencanada (1:53.3, $7.60 copped the tenth, and Rocknroll Special (1:53.4, $12.60) capped Tharps' big night in the thirteenth. Randy Tharps is the winningest African-American harness driver in history with 4,942 triumphs good for over $22 million in purse earnings. Neither Sutton or Tharps sped the fastest mile of the night, however. That honor belonged to driver Chris Page who captured the $12,000 Open Pace in 1:50.4 with Dedi's Dragon. It was the second straight open class victory for the five-year-old son of Dragon Again, who is owned by J. E. McGill, B. K. Carsey and J. L. Benson and trained by Walter Haynes Jr. Hollywood Dayton Raceway reminds trainers of nominees to the $135,000 Dayton Pacing Derby and the $135,000 Dayton Trotting Derby, to be raced this coming Friday night, October 2, that the entry box closes at 2:00 p.m. on Monday afternoon for Friday, including these two lucrative Grand Circuit Stakes. Gregg Keidel

As the most successful horseman in Ohio harness racing, Scioto Downs-based trainer Virgil Morgan Jr. has license to spend his mornings lollygagging in his loungewear and his evenings hobnobbing in the clubhouse. Morgan, 49, is the first North American harness trainer to reach 5,000 victories since records were first kept in 1992. His horses have won more than $47 million in purses in his career, during which he has finished among the top-10 winningest trainers in 16 of the past 19 years. Morgan has dominated Scioto Downs so thoroughly in recent decades that the track lost count of his consecutive training titles. After double-checking, it was determined that Morgan is on pace for his 22nd straight. Clearly, Morgan is the best at his home track and one of the best in his sport. But he can be better, he said. His horses can be better, he said. So Morgan will wake at his Grove City home at 4:55 a.m., as he does most days, and there will be precious little downtime until he gets home from the track late in the evening, as he does most nights. “Your top trainers, they’re all like that,” said driver Josh Sutton, who picks up most of Morgan’s drives at Scioto Downs. “But he’s more hands-on than most trainers. That means a lot. You can tell when you sit behind the horses and see how they are.” On a typical day, Morgan will have sent a mass text message to his employees by 6:30 a.m., laying out the day’s training schedule. By 7, he has made sure his horses’ racing schedules are set. By lunchtime, he has checked in with his blacksmith and veterinarian, reviewed any health issues and has been on the track for several training sets behind multiple horses. “I don’t require a lot of sleep,” Morgan said. Nor does he require a lot of praise or pomp. Although he did show up to an event in which he was presented with the key to Grove City in 2013, Morgan is not one for winner’s circle photos or for chit-chat, unless it’s with his teenage children, son, Tre, and daughter, Kiara. “Virgil just doesn’t have time for small talk,” said owner Carl Howard, the CEO of the Fazoli’s restaurant chain who has 20 to 25 horses in training with Morgan, including many that they co-own. “That can be something that doesn’t go over too well with people. He’s nice to people, but he has to move on. He has work to do.” Morgan bought his first horse at 17 and later started working for Scioto Downs-based trainer Randy Owens before striking out on his own in the late 1980s. Morgan’s horses won more than $1 million in purses for the first time in 1998. These days, Morgan can have as many as 70 horses in his stables at a time, with 15 or 20 more based at his satellite operation in New Jersey. Although he employs a staff of about 30, including assistant trainers, grooms and caretakers, Morgan is a hands-on horseman, priding himself, he said, on giving as much personal attention to the lowliest claimer as he does a prized invitational horse. The jogging cart and equipment bag are arguably his most important tools. Some days, the staging area outside Morgan’s barn can look like “a runway at LaGuardia,” with horses waiting for and returning from their spins around the track with Morgan at the reins, said Harolene Johnston, Morgan’s sister and administrative assistant. “With some large stables, and I’ve worked for many, if you pay Joe Blow to train your horse, Joe Blow never gets behind that horse,” said blacksmith Dave Thomas, who has been working for Morgan for more than two decades. “If you pay Virgil Morgan to train your horse, you get Virgil Morgan.” What comes with that is Morgan’s knowledge of the important aspects of harness racing and an uncanny ability to produce winners that has been developed by more than three decades of experience at tracks across Ohio. Morgan prefers to keep a low profile at Scioto Downs on racing nights. He will hit the paddock to chat with Sutton or head to the clubhouse, where he often sits alone with his reading glasses perched on his nose, a pile of paperwork and closed-circuit television controls close at hand. Morgan keeps close tabs on racing throughout North America, parlaying that knowledge into an ability to expertly classify his horses, making sure they are racing at the right place at the right time and against the right competition. He has long been a major player in the claiming game, never afraid to add a new horse to his stable if he thinks it can help his operation. Morgan, too, is obsessive over the equipment and shoeing setups of his horses, and is unafraid to try new setups or training regimens. Past successes don’t matter much if he thinks a horse can do more. In fact, Morgan said, he prefers not to know much about the routine or setup of any new horse that comes to his stable. “Other trainers see a successful horse and just keep doing the same thing,” said John Reichert, a Grove City equine veterinarian who has worked with Morgan for years. “He’ll change things up and see if it makes the horse happier. He’s very perceptive of what a horse is going to respond to.” Morgan keeps himself in prime physical condition, looking much younger than 49. He loves sports — he played football, basketball and baseball growing up in Grove City — and he views his horses as athletes. Morgan is big on sports analogies, comparing Sutton to a quarterback, his grooms to offensive linemen and himself to a head coach. The horses are his skill players. “And they can’t talk, so they’re tough to coach,” Morgan said. Yet, Morgan loves the challenge. He studies their blood work, their gait and their temperament, always in search of more speed. Horses have fascinated him since he was a child, when his late father, “Big Virg,” and uncle dabbled in thoroughbred ownership and were regulars at Scioto Downs. “He’s got stopwatches, the old kind, the silver ones, all over the place,” Johnston said. “He wants to have the fastest and the best, and he’s got a knack for it. He wants the best for those horses and he gets to know them very, very well. ” Howard said Morgan would never admit it, but he is a trainer who can get attached to his horses because he is around them so much. Morgan secretly hates seeing them claimed or sold, he said. Morgan’s bread-and-butter remains overnight and stakes racing in Ohio, though he has hit it big on occasion, training six horses that won $1 million or more in their careers. Mister Big was a two-time Dan Patch winner as the pacer in his division in 2007 and 2008. Pet Rock, one of the fastest pacers in the sport’s history, won almost $2 million before retiring in 2013. Both helped ease the burden on Morgan when Ohio’s harness industry was struggling before the legalization of casino-style slots injected new life into the state’s tracks in 2012. A new era was beginning to dawn, and Morgan said he finally allowed himself to step back and enjoy Pet Rock’s run. “Usually, when a horse hits the wire, I’m immediately thinking about what I want to do with the horse the next week or if there is anything I can do to improve the performance,” Morgan said. “I think sometimes I don’t enjoy the racing as much as I should or could, but nobody really cares that you won 5,000 races or $50 million in purse money. They care about the next race.” Morgan considered moving his entire operation to the more lucrative East Coast in the 2000s but elected to stick it out. Now, he trains all year at Scioto Downs, keeping his stable there even in winter. His presence adds panache. “I’m sure some don’t want to hear it, but there would not be this quality of racing in Ohio right now if he was somewhere else,” Howard said. “He’s brought in other owners with some unbelievably talented hoses. If he was gone, it would have taken a lot longer for the quality of racing that we have to come back.” By Shawn Mitchell Reprinted with permission of The Columbus Dispatch 

LEBANON, OH. - Harness racing driver Josh Sutton and trainer Virgil Morgan Jr. captured their respective titles at the recently-concluded second-ever Miami Valley Raceway meet. The 89-day season, which started January 2 and ended May 3, could only be deemed a huge success as almost $8.5 million was doled out in purses, numerous track records were lowered, and overall average daily handle was up a whopping 29.2%. Sutton's 182 wins not only dominated the Miami Valley driver's dash standings, but currently places him fifth in the national wins column despite competing at just one track. In addition to his lofty win total, Josh managed 115 place and 92 show finishes, giving him an impressive .332 UDRS average. Sutton visited the winner's circle after 21.9% of his 832 races. Purse earnings for his mounts totaled $1,012,134, for an average of $11,372 per program. Other top ten dash drivers at the 2015 Miami Valley meet were Dan Noble with 121 wins, Kayne Kauffman 116, Chris Page 101, Jeremy Smith 80, Kyle Ater 69, Randy Tharps 66, Tyler Smith 62, Jason Brewer 49, and Ken Holliday and Jeff Nisonger tied with 43 apiece. Morgan Jr. garnered his second consecutive trainer's title with 66 wins in 222 starts and a lofty .404 UTRS average. The first trainer in harness racing history to reach 5,000 career wins and Ohio's all-time leader, Morgan's stable amassed $442,760 in earnings during the 2015 Miami Valley meet, an average of just a shade under $5,000 per program. Jeff Brewer finished second in the conditioner's standings with 50 victories, followed by Chris Short 43, Dan Ater and Kayne Kauffman 33, Jim Arledge Jr. 28, Jim Dailey 24, Jeff Nisonger 21, Jim Pollock Jr. 18 and Deborah Swartz 17. A total of 16 stables earned over $100,000 over the four-month meet. Best post position was No. 5 with a winning percentage of 18.4. The percentage of winning favorites was 36.09. Overall average daily handle was up 29 percent over the inaugural 2014 season. Gregg Keidel

LEBANON, OH. - Poison Oak, a recent private purchase addition to the Virgil Morgan Jr. Stable, captured the $15,000 championship leg of the George Williams Memorial Series, one of nine series being contested at Miami Valley honoring the memory of 'Lebanon Legends' of days gone by. The four-year-old son of Always A Virgin topped E R Oliver (Tyler Smith) by a length with Awinkandagrin (Jeremy Smith) another three-quarters of a length back in third. Miami Valley's leading driver Josh Sutton sent Poison Oak charging out of the gate from the eight hole and steadily forged to the front just past the :27.2 opening panel. The winner posted middle fractions of :55.2 and 1:24.2 before finishing the job by stopping the clock in 1:53.4. The George Williams series featured male pacers who were shy of either four pari-mutuel wins or $30,000 in earnings when the nominations closed on March 1. It was the eighth career win for Poison Oak, owned in partnership with Morgan Jr. by Carl Howard, and increased his lifetime bankroll to $38,876. As the second choice on the tote board, Poison Oak paid $5.80 while the exacta kicked back $24.20. Gregg Keidel  

LEBANON, OH. - Harness racing driver Josh Sutton is enjoying his own version of 'March Madness' at Miami Valley Raceway. The 32-year-old reinsman, ranked sixth in the national dash standings prior to winning a handful (5) of races on Friday night, has scored multiple victories on 12 of the 15 programs presented thus far this month and is averaging better than three wins per night in March. Sutton visited the winner's circle on six occasions the night of March 11 and owns two five win nights, three four win nights and four three win nights in the past three weeks. His total of 46 wins in the last 15 nights at Miami Valley has vaulted him into a comfortable lead in the driver's standings with a season total of 125 scores. Dan Noble is second with 94 tallies, followed by Kayne Kauffman with 71. Among Sutton's Friday night successes was a second straight Fillies and Mares Open victory with Betterluvnexttime. The lukewarm favorite held off Shine N Shimmer (Chris Page) in 1:53.3. The top pair are both seven-year-old American Ideal mares with impressive credentials. The winner now has 41 wins in 100 starts, good for $488,875 in earnings; while the runnerup has 19 wins and has earned $333,617. Virgil Morgan Jr. conditions Betterluvnexttime for owner Daniel Mitchell. Sutton's other winners Friday were Royal Sue (1:57.2), trotter War Cry Hall (1:58.3), Perfectly Royal (1:55) and Ubettorbeturlife (1:54.2). A pair of first round $5000 divisions of the Robert J. "Skeeter" Brown Memorial Series, featuring non-winners of two pari-mutuel races trotters, also went postward on Friday. Held In Balance (Jeff Nisonger) captured the first split in 1:59.1 over All B Over (Tyler Smith) and Fly Away Bumblebee (Kayne Kauffman). The second division went to E R Justiceforall (Ken Holliday) who bested Mojito As (Jason Brewer) and Hooray Wisconsin (Kyle Ater).    

LEBANON, OH. - Red-hot Josh Sutton, Miami Valley's leading driver and ranked seventh in the country in 2015 wins, racked up another most impressive night over the southwest Ohio five-eighths mile oval. The 32-year-old reinsman visited the winner's circle six times during the 14-race card to become the first Miami Valley driver to pass the 100 win plateau already this season and the seventh driver in North America to reach that level. Sutton started the evening with 95 wins at Miami Valley to go with a .312 UDRS and $536,833 in purses earned for owners of horses he has handled. Only two of Sutton's winners were favorites. His parade of winners started in the third with Sand Shark (1:55.3, $9.40 to win), followed by Gypsy Colors (1:54.2, $8.80), trotter Vacation Angel (1:59.2, $17.00), Settlement Request (1:56.2, $6.40), Sir Howie's Z Tam (1:54.4, $3.40), and trotter Claim Jumper (1:57.3, $41.00). Driver Chris Page scored a triple on the Wednesday program; while Randy Tharps doubled. Gregg Keidel          

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