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Sacramento, CA — Velocity McSweets made it two in a row at Cal Expo, winning Tuesday’s (March 31) harness racing fillies-and-mares open pace by a half-length over Alwaysalittlemore in 1:53.1. Sent off as the 4-5 favorite, Velocity McSweets and driver James Kennedy left from post six and sat second behind Alwaysalittlemore through three successive quarters of :28.1 before kicking home in the stretch for the victory. Dancingonthesand finished third. Velocity McSweets is a 5-year-old daughter of McArdle out of Playful Sweetheart. She has won two of three races this season, including the fillies-and-mares open pace in her previous start, for owner/trainer Jennifer Sabot. For her career, the mare has won 18 of 69 races and $178,047. The win was one of two for Kennedy on the 10-race card. He also won with 4-year-old gelding Hi Ho Julio at odds of 33-1 in the sixth race conditioned pace, helping ignite $1 payouts of $1,654.10 for the trifecta and $5,708.40 for the superfecta. Joining Kennedy with driving doubles were Luke Plano, Nick Roland, and Braxten Boyd. Plano is the leading driver at Cal Expo, with 73 wins. Roland is second with 55, followed by Kennedy with 53. The $50,000 guaranteed Pick-4, races seven through 10, produced a pool of $92,228 and $1 payout of $414.10. Winning horses in the Pick-4 were Velocity McSweets (No. 6), Vicious Aloicious (2), Senga Nitro (1), and Sweet One (5). Racing at Cal Expo resumes today (April 1) at 3:30 p.m. Pacific/6:30 p.m. Eastern. For free TrackMaster past performances, click here. For Tuesday’s complete Cal Expo results click here. by Ken Weingartner, USTA Media Relations Manager

Hanover, PA - Pick your catastrophe. We face a world health crisis worse than any we've seen for over a century. Meanwhile, the Governor of Pennsylvania is engaging in some state budget buccaneering that would, if the General Assembly permits it, destroy a two-century-old, native horse racing industry that brings $1.6 billion in economic impact and 20,000 jobs to the state. If this succeeds, what will happen in other states? And, finally, a long list of Thoroughbred and Standardbred industry participants face a reckoning that, looking at their conduct as alleged, you would think they never expected. This last situation is in the forefront of the minds of our Board of Directors as we work through our "annual meeting from home" this week and next. We all abhor the allegations in the indictments and criminal complaints, and we roundly condemn all conduct of the kind. At the USTA, however, there is an obligation to forego the luxury of performative outrage and, instead, to concentrate on what concrete steps our mandate requires us to take. Our record in dealing as an association with cheating and horse abuse is excellent. Now I write to call for concrete action that will move us forward in the right direction. In this editorial, I offer some recommendations. Others will join in, I hope, offering additions and corrections. At last, I hope, everyone of good will in harness racing will contribute time and money to the work that must be done. We can resolve to embrace change and to bear its cost, because we know that only then can our racing sport thrive in the modern era. The Narrative We love horses. This is our narrative, its beginning and its end, and it consists of countless stories of courage, hope, and love for horses that totally contradict the acts of a criminal few. Perhaps our very survival as a sport requires us now to make sure that the world learns about our true selves. When a horse puts its nose ahead of another horse's nose, evolution is at work. Taking the lead is part of a horse's social nature, so (unlike dog racing, for example) horse racing is entirely natural, and horses thrive on it. Horsepersons can tell inspiring stories of horses that found a way to win against unplanned-for adversity, just as we must overcome adversity now. Caring well for horses, and we do care well for them, involves trying to understand these beautiful creatures that cannot communicate with us in human terms. But those of us who employ their intelligence to understand and communicate in something like horse terms become better people for it. There are wonderful stories of lives that have been transformed, not merely economically, but in a deeper way, by the bond with the horse, an animal that evolved along an entirely different strand of the net of creation from humans. Horses can teach us things about courage and beauty, even love, that we would otherwise never learn. Some people do not know that our award-winning writers and photographers have been telling the story of harness racing in Hoof Beats since before the USTA was founded. But today the USTA has more powerful resources for telling the story of harness racing than it has ever had: our website is the most visited in harness racing and is closely watched by other breeds, and our social media presence is a serious force on the internet. Our Communications Department is unrivaled among breed associations, and our ability to put these resources to use is limited only by the cooperation of our membership. Finally, the USTA Board of Directors is meeting as I write, by means of a series of teleconferences, and advanced communications is under discussion. As the USTA and the membership find new and more effective ways to tell the true story of harness racing, we can correct the cultural narrative and propel our sport into its rightful place in the future. "The Feds" In the United States, the federal level provides the services that a central government should provide, while the states retain authority over every other matter. Federal prosecutions are usually the best way to address criminal activity occurring in multiple states. Although the conduct alleged took place in several states, the indictments and criminal complaints under discussion issue from the Southern District of New York, one of the most sophisticated offices within the United States Justice Department. We must not fall prey to the ignorant notion that there is any magical connection between the Justice Department and the Horseracing Integrity Act which, if it ever were to see passage, would be governed by the Commerce Department. As Ed Martin, president of the Association of Racing Commissioners International (representing state authority), has pointed out: nobody needed a Horseracing Integrity bill to make these prosecutions happen. The laws that make the allegations in the indictments illegal, and the federal, state, and private agencies that built these cases already exist, and we should build on the existing system to prevent cheating and horse abuse, and to incentivize best practices in our sport. The serious problems that the Horseracing Integrity Act poses for harness racing have been explained elsewhere. Yes, we have problems of our own to solve, but instead of throwing this poorly-considered federal Hail Mary, instead of ignoring the states' established knowledge and experience in regulating horse racing, and instead of relying on some unspecifiable federal magic to solve our problems, our effort must be to support and extend the growing cooperation among state racing commissions. The state racing commissions themselves called for this over a year ago, by proposing a dedicated unit among key federal and state agencies to investigate racing matters and, where appropriate, to refer them for prosecution. This call was ignored by those proposing so-called racing integrity bills at the federal level, but individual state racing commissions are continuing nevertheless to strengthen their ties with state and federal enforcement agencies. An even more significant development is taking place. "Interstate compacts" provide a contractual structure that enhances cooperation among states regarding regulations and enforcement. This is not a new concept: for years an interstate licensing compact has existed, simplifying licensing for owners, trainers, drivers, jockeys, and other licensees across the country. In a similar but more important way, an interstate medication compact would bring about consistent medication regulation nationwide. (We don't use the word "uniform," because Standardbred and Thoroughbred medication rules can't be uniform. They must differ in a few areas because the two breeds have different performance models.) Interstate medication compacts are working their way through several state legislatures, and we may be approaching passage of a multi-breed medication compact in one of the leading racing states. If this happens, I believe that the other racing states will quickly follow suit. Reading legislative bills (and enacted statutes) can be extremely tedious for most people. But someone has to do it. And if you read the Horseracing Integrity draft bill, you will discover something very surprising: recognition in the bill's own language of the primacy and importance of interstate compacts and, by implication, state authority. It's almost as if the federalization special interests felt compelled to acknowledge that the states have already done all the work and already have all the know-how regarding medication regulation. Section 4(e) of the draft bill says that the whole federal house of cards collapses if, "after the expiration of five years following [the effective date of the Act]," an interstate compact is established. Amazingly, the draft then goes on, in subsection 4(e)(2), to recite important steps that we should take to develop an interstate medication compact. Let us not wait five years enduring some sort of expensive and pointless federal intermission before we do what should have been done in the first place: to fully establish the breed-specific medication compact that is presently evolving in the states. The Ethical Climate We can achieve a radically new regulatory process that will render extinct the criminal activity of a few horsepersons and veterinarians, and we can do it without having to purchase any expensive federal snake oil. The type of criminal activity under discussion was, in the past, often veiled by certain legal concepts and, to some extent, aided by a certain "don't ask don't tell" attitude within the industry. We now have the opportunity, maybe our last, to change this permanently. First, the days of turning a blind eye to suspicious activity are over. They never should have existed. I offer, as a good counterexample to horsepersons who failed, in the past, to report suspicious activity, the American bar. If a lawyer becomes aware of an ethical infraction and fails to report it, he or she becomes guilty in turn of another serious ethical infraction. In other words, the legal community has a self-policing system that can be expected to work much better than the "don't ask don't tell' system that we have tolerated in racing. In grade school, if you told on someone, you were a "rat." Unfortunately, this way of thinking persisted into adulthood among some horsepersons. It was never valid. We must police ourselves, because our obligation is not to be a "stand-up guy." Our obligation is to ensure the health and welfare of our horses, and to preserve the integrity of our industry. Second, we must recalibrate our internal affairs. No longer can we be excused for leaving investigation and enforcement up to our chronically underfunded racing commissions. But rather than pouring more of our money into the state commissions, we should develop private investigative capabilities that support the regulators' powers and we should demand the commissions' formalized cooperation with the investigations that must be carried out. Much of the investigative work that went into the current prosecutions was carried out not by the FBI, but rather by a private firm called "5 Stones intelligence" or "5Si." We have contracted with investigative firms in past years, but never did we make the sort of commitment that was made to 5Si. Maybe this should be the model going forward: use the power of private investigations wherever necessary to support the work of the racing commissions. Indeed, as Ed Martin pointed out, the current prosecution demonstrates the way to protect racing. No federal Hail Mary is necessary. Third, all licensees in racing should be required to consent to investigation by any racing authority, in any public or private place, at any time, and also to consent to all appropriate, effective corrective action pending a hearing. If you want to participate in our industry, this comes with the territory. I'm aware of a case in which a trainer was caught doing something blatantly wrong to a horse, behaved extremely guiltily when caught, and then influenced a veterinarian to lie about the matter. The USTA suspended this individual and never looked back, but the state racing commission did nothing about it, because it thought that its hands were tied. Let us untie the hands of the racing commissions and other racing authorities, including the USTA, which has always been a powerful investigative force in harness racing. Where are the large sums of money going to come from that will be needed for all of this? This is something that we will have to figure out, and now the discussion has begun. But I can tell you this: the funding we come up with to make effective the work of the state regulators is sure to be less than what the Horseracing Integrity Act would cost us. According to the testimony of a Thoroughbred witness before the Congressional subcommittee that is presently considering the Horseracing Integrity Act, the cost to the Standardbred industry would be about $13.8 million. Even if we had to put that much into the existing system to make it work effectively, at least we would know where the money was going. Conclusion and Invitation Times of peril are also times of opportunity. We're aware, we're outraged, we're worried. But we're also energized as perhaps never before. Now is our chance to do things that probably could not have been done before. The USTA will act. I invite industry stakeholders to join the USTA in developing a comprehensive template that will protect real integrity, support the health and welfare of our horses, and permit the beautiful narrative of horse racing to continue uninterrupted. Ken Weingartner Media Relations Manager U.S. Trotting Association

When Kurt Sugg looks back on his childhood, some of his fondest early memories of harness racing involved climbing into the family's Ford Ranchero and accompanying his father, Ivan, on trips to the county fairs in Ohio. Sometimes, they would stop on the way to pick up driver Jeff Fout, then continue on their journey to the races. One horse in particular at that time, a pacer named On Bret, was the center of Kurt's attention. The reason was simple. On Bret found his way to the winner's circle on a regular basis. The colt won 13 of 19 starts as a 2-year-old in 1978, just as the then 9-year-old Kurt was becoming immersed in the sport. "I remember going to the fairs and (On Bret) would win all the time; at least it seemed that way when I was there," Kurt said, adding with a laugh, "I guess I got to thinking it was pretty easy back at that time. Being a kid, you don't realize it's not as easy as it appears. But from a child's eyes, that's the way it appeared to me." Kurt jogged his first horse that same year. "My toes just barely could touch the stirrups and my butt was just on the edge of the seat," he said. "This is kind of all I ever really wanted to do. After school, we were always down at the barn helping dad when we got old enough to clean stalls and harness horses and things like that. That's kind of where it started. "And I always liked the competitiveness. That really got me into it. I like being competitive." Eight years after On Bret's rookie season, Kurt won his first race as a driver. In the ensuing 34 years, he has added 4,319 more, plus 1,067 as a trainer. Not surprisingly, he has cited his father as the biggest influence on his career. Ivan was the 2003 Trainer of the Year after guiding No Pan Intended to the Pacing Triple Crown and was inducted into the Ohio Hall of Fame in 2006. "I didn't work for my dad back then (when No Pan Intended raced) so it was kind of different, but I was happy to see my dad have that success in the business, which I think he deserved," Kurt said. "He did this his whole life. "When I was a kid, we went to the horse sales and dad would buy some yearlings, but they were always on the cheaper side, and he developed them into good stakes horses. When he got some little better horses, he proved what he could do with his training ability. That was a thrill for me to watch." Last year as a driver, Kurt won 361 races, the second-highest total of his career and not far from the 375 victories he posted in 2016. His $2.78 million in purses in 2019, though, were a lifetime best. He was off to a strong start this season, with his 96 triumphs tied for seventh among all drivers in North America, before racing was halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He was second in the driver standings at Northfield Park, trailing only five-time national dash champ Aaron Merriman. "This was by far the best start to a year I've ever had," Kurt said. "Everything was going along very nicely for me. I'm anxious to get back to racing, but I understand we need to do what we need to do to protect ourselves and the whole nation as far as this goes. "We have a big farm here, so we can get out and move around. But, still, not being able to go and do anything is really tough." Kurt has 10 horses at the Wayne County Fairgrounds in Wooster and another five horses at home. "We can sit in the living room and look out the window and see the horses in the field, so we really enjoy that a lot," he said. Although the sport faces an uncertain time, Kurt said people in the industry will work together to come through it. "We're pretty competitive on the track but when it comes down to somebody needing something and the welfare of the horses, people are going to band together to help them out," Kurt said. "That's good to see." Ken Weingartner Media Relations Manager U.S. Trotting Association

Hightstown, NJ — Mark Ford was a guest on the ESPN “In the Gate” podcast produced and hosted by Barry Abrams. Ford discussed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on harness racing, particularly the deaths of John Brennan and four members of the Fusco family, including trainers Carmine and Vincent. Ford, a trainer with more than 3,900 wins, is on the U.S. Trotting Association Board of Directors and president of the Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association of New Jersey. He was a close friend of Brennan and the Fuscos and shared his thoughts about their passing as a result of COVID-19. Followed are excerpted comments, edited for clarity and length, from the podcast. Ford said he talked with Brennan in the hospital the day before his passing on March 10. Brennan also was a USTA director and on the board of the Standardbred Owners Association of New York. He was the horsemen’s representative at Yonkers Raceway. “It really put things into perspective and it really shook me up because he was such a dear friend,” Ford said. “He was such a dear friend to the industry, too. John was always there to fight for the horsemen. He was not only a real good friend, but a really, really good guy. We’ll certainly miss him. “He didn’t have a big family, he didn’t have any kids, but he spent a lot of time with the horsemen and more or less adopted a lot of their kids. He had lots and lots of friends around. “When I first came to New York, he was one of the first people that you met on the backstretch. He always had, not a big stable, but 10 or 12 (horses) all the time and was always there. He was just a good guy and it’s a terrible shock.” Ford said the passing of Carmine Fusco as well as Vincent, their mother Grace and sister Rita, was a devasting blow for a family that was almost synonymous with Freehold, N.J. “You can’t imagine Freehold, N.J., without the Fusco family,” Ford said. “It’s one thing to lose a member of their family, they’re very tight-knit … (but) now, you lose Carmine and his mother and sister and it just keeps going. Vinny was another one. They’re New Jersey horse people that have been around forever, you don’t ever expect them to be anywhere else. “You look around, it’s hard to believe that Carmine Fusco is not going to be here anymore, or five or six of the people we deal with, literally on a daily basis, aren’t going to be here anymore. It’s just devastating. “How do you understand this? It wipes out a big part of your population and they’re all good friends too. Personally, it’s been a terrible week. Life must go on, but it’s not going to be near as easy as it was.” He added about the impact to the harness racing community, “This has happened so fast. I know that it’s been two weeks now since it’s happened, but people are walking around in a daze. It’s just rocked our whole world. It’s one thing to cancel the racing, where none of us have any income, but this is real. “With this stuff, it could be one of us tomorrow. People I’m sure didn’t take this very seriously at all, or maybe they’re still not taking it seriously enough, but these are things we have to deal with. This is a tremendously big deal because it could be anyone of us tomorrow or the next day. It’s serious stuff and I don’t think we’ve seen the end of it yet.” To listen to the “In the Gate” podcast in its entirety, click here. by Ken Weingartner, USTA Media Relations Manager  

James Witherite is known to harness racing fans for his years of race calling and occasional performances as a bugler for major stakes events. Away from the track, though, Witherite's musical talents extend far beyond, most notably as an accomplished composer and jazz musician. This past Monday, Witherite opened that world to an audience on Facebook with the first in a series of streaming concerts, "Live from the Jazz Bunker." Witherite hopes the concerts, which will be 1-2 p.m. (EDT) every Monday and Thursday, can provide a welcomed diversion for people asked to stay at home as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic. "It's said that in times of trouble and pain that art is a great uniter and healer, and hopefully that's the case here," Witherite said. "Being that we're all kind of left in the lurch, this is the new normal for right now. I'm not doing anything monumental or earth-shattering, but I hope these little windows of live music, which are intended to be in the background admittedly, can bring some light into an otherwise murky and uncertain situation for all of us." This past Monday, James Witherite hosted the first in a series of streaming concerts, “Live from the Jazz Bunker.” USTA/Mark Hall photo. Witherite has released four jazz albums in his career, ranging in scope from big band to organ trio. His streaming concerts on Facebook Live will feature solo jazz organ. "Everything that you will hear is either written by me, written by one of my friends who has said to go ahead and use the song, or is in the public domain," Witherite said. "I'm a big stickler when it comes to copyright law, so I'm following it to the letter." The 33-year-old Witherite graduated from Duquesne University in 2007 with a degree in composition. He was first drawn to music at the age of 3, when he found his way to his grandmother's Wurlitzer organ. He taught himself to read music, picked up the trumpet in the third grade, and soon added the piano to his repertoire. He recently set up a studio in his home, in part to provide online lessons to students. Once the studio was functional, he decided to offer his twice-a-week concerts. James Witherite recently set up a studio in his home, in part to provide online lessons to students. Photo courtesy of James Witherite. "I saw other musician friends were streaming live music at various times, so I thought why not join in," Witherite said. "I was really happy with the first (concert). I had a good turnout, I thought, and a nice cross section of my very diverse world. "Even though I know jazz isn't everybody's cup of tea, I hope it does put a few smiles on faces and help people get a little bit of a respite from the new day-to-day life. You can listen actively if you want, or you can listen passively if you want. You can have it in the background and it's there. Hopefully it's a pleasant wallpaper for those 120 minutes a week. "A little bit of happiness, a little bit of light, I think can go a long way." To watch a replay of Monday's concert on Witherite's Facebook page, click here.   Ken Weingartner Media Relations Manager U.S. Trotting Association www.ustrotting.com

Amy and Stacy Butewicz have been around horses for nearly their entire lives. Amy began riding at the age of 4 and Stacy followed in her older sister's footsteps. Several years ago, they were introduced to harness racing and fell in love with the Standardbred, the sport, and the people. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closing of New Jersey's racetracks earlier this month, Amy and Stacy knew there would be people in the harness racing industry in need of assistance because of the loss of income. Last week, with cooperation from the Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association of New Jersey, they announced a food assistance program for those in the industry in the state. The program allows an individual or family to obtain a food assistance bag, every other week. The bags will include non-perishables, canned goods, household products and more. As of Tuesday morning, 13 individuals/families were enrolled in the program. "We expect that number to grow as people find out about the program and we will continue to accept anyone in need from the industry within New Jersey," Amy said. "Just in the days that we've rolled out this program, it's really been a tremendous help. We're going to have our first deliveries go out this week and we will keep it going every other week until live racing resumes." Amy and Stacy, who work together at Butewicz Equestrian Lifestyle Real Estate - Keller Williams Princeton, have received support from others in harness racing, including trainers and veterinarians, in the form of donations or supermarket gift cards. The sisters are no strangers to helping others. Among their philanthropic endeavors, they volunteer at a food pantry in central New Jersey. "I think our experience definitely made us feel more capable in taking this on, but Amy and I are always looking for ways to help people," Stacy said. "The opportunity to be able to help people one-on-one is what we love the most. Once we realized what was going on with the industry and how many people could be affected, we realized some of those people would be struggling. We thought of those people and jumped into it." Stacy and Amy hope the program reduces the financial impact on people, who must feed not only themselves and their families, but their horses. "The horse people we know care so much about those animals that they're willing to give up a meal for themselves," Stacy said. "We are thinking about the horses, too, and wanted to do whatever we could to lighten the burden on what is coming out of people's pockets in their personal situation." To register for the program, please use either following method, and include your name, address and training center/stable location. Requests will be kept confidential. TEXT "ASSIST" to 732.887.5649. EMAIL "ASSIST" to albutewicz@gmail.com. Items will be delivered directly to individuals/families or placed in a secure location for pick up. Arrangements also can be made for anyone wanting to donate dry goods or supermarket gift cards by contacting the above number or email address. "Both of us in the past three or four years have absolutely grown to love the Standardbred as a horse," Amy said. "Horses have always been in our blood. We got into this fairly late in our equestrian careers, but we absolutely love it. "The other thing we have seen is this is an industry that is so much like a family. One person really and truly cares about another; one stable is friendly with another. With what is going on right now, we've seen people really uniting and working together. It's been great." Ken Weingartner Media Relations Manager U.S. Trotting Association

Hightstown, NJ — The new editions of DRF Harness Digest, Harness Racing Update, and HarnessRacing Weekend Preview feature stories related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and harness racing. Among the stories available from those outlets, DRF’s Derick Giwner wrote Thursday about the lasting impact COVID-19 could have on the industry. “By the time Spring rolls around the harness racing world is usually enjoying the start of stakes racing at Yonkers Raceway where the top older pacers gather for the Borgata (nee Levy) and Matchmaker series,” Giwner wrote. “Yet as the seasons change on March 20 we are left in limbo due to the coronavirus, not just in terms of when we’ll see the best the Standardbred sport has to offer but also when it comes to the normalcy of a steady racing schedule.” To read the full story, click here. Note that several tracks have suspended operations in the time since the story was published, such as Miami Valley, Northfield, Rosecroft, and Rideau Carleton. HRU’s Dave Briggs talked to Hambletonian Society President John Campbell. “I think there’s a certain segment of the public that’s not taking it as seriously as they should,” Campbell said Wednesday. “I think everybody has to…be diligent in this social distancing and limiting what you do when you’re out in public. Just be out in public the least amount that you possibly can.” To read the full story, click here. by Ken Weingartner, USTA Media Relations Manager

Columbus, OH - The U.S. Trotting Association understands that there is a great deal of anxiety and confusion regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the impact that it is having on everyday life and harness racing. The USTA is monitoring and following the guidelines and advice of federal, state and local government authorities. Here in Ohio, our governor has declared a state of emergency and closed schools, restaurants and bars. While these circumstances are creating personal and professional challenges for all of us, our first and foremost concern is for you and your families. The health and safety of our members, employees, racing fans and visitors to our office are our top priorities during this public health crisis. In order to minimize the possibility of being infected by and spreading the virus at work, the USTA is closing our office to visitors effective Monday (March 16) and will have most of our employees work remotely from home. Only employees whose functions require that they be present in the office will work from there. However, be assured that the USTA will continue to provide the reliable access to important services that are needed. Many USTA employees already work remotely at night and over the weekends. Preparations have been made and are already in place to allow us to seamlessly conduct business remotely. As a reminder, all online services are available as usual. In addition, pictures of completed forms can also be emailed to memberservices@ustrotting.com with payments made by including that information in the photos or by calling the phone numbers on the forms. As new developments occur and additional information becomes available, we will keep you informed. Ken Weingartner Media Relations Manager

Paul Stafford always believed it was only a matter of time before he operated his own harness racing training stable. He just didn't know how much time it would take before it happened. But after 15 years as an assistant for barns in the Midwest and East, he seized his chance in August 2018 and couldn't be happier. Stafford, a 39-year-old San Francisco native, trains 27 horses for owner Tom Ceraso Jr. at central New Jersey's Gaitway Farm. In his first full season, Stafford won 71 races and $1.22 million. His stable's earnings, accrued mostly at Yonkers Raceway, fell just outside the top 50 for trainers in North America. Prior to accepting Ceraso's offer to train his horses, Stafford spent eight years at Gaitway working as a second trainer for, first, Tony Alagna and then Julie Miller. "I didn't foresee it taking me 15 years to have my own barn, but I wouldn't take the 15 years away because of all the things I learned along the way," Stafford said. "I've had the luxury of working for some good stables and I learned a lot of different things from different trainers. "There was a point in time when I knew that I could do this on my own, but it took me a long time because I needed to have the right opportunity at the right time. It didn't need to be 27 horses, it just needed to be the right opportunity to put myself in so I could do it my way and give myself the best opportunity to succeed. Tom was the guy to offer that." Stafford's relationship with Ceraso goes back a decade when Stafford trained a horse for Ceraso in Chicago. The two remained friends over the years. "I'm blessed to have Tom," Stafford said. "He's been in the business for a long time and he likes to race good horses." As a trainer, Paul Stafford enjoys the challenges of getting a horse to improve. USTA/Ken Weingartner photo. Stafford did not grow up around harness racing, although he was around horses. His father was involved in the Thoroughbred industry years ago and Stafford had riding horses during his younger days. His cousin, though, is driver Ryan Anderson, which provided Stafford's introduction to the sport. "As much as I knew about harness racing was when I would go visit Ryan in Chicago and go to the races or to the farm and hang out," Stafford said. Stafford became immersed in the sport while an equine science major at the University of Kentucky. He lived in an apartment across the street from Red Mile racetrack and worked helping veterinarian John Cummins. "Going to the track and working on the horses, you're surrounded by it and it just takes over," Stafford said. "It sucks you in. I knew this was what I wanted to do." Paul Stafford, a 39-year-old San Francisco native, trains 27 horses for owner Tom Ceraso Jr. at central New Jersey’s Gaitway Farm. USTA/Ken Weingartner photo. As a trainer, Stafford enjoys the challenges of getting a horse to improve. His youngest horses are 3-year-olds and none are stakes horses. "We have some horses that are projects, that you have to tinker with and figure out," Stafford said. "It's always gratifying to see a horse cross the wire first, but sometimes it's gratifying just to have it work. A horse might finish third, but you know what, he behaved himself. That's what is satisfying for me. "This business has never been about the money. It's always about the money at the end of the day because you have to pay your bills, but I love doing this. This is my passion. Because it's never been about the money, it has to be my passion, otherwise I'll go do something else. If I'm not excited coming to work, or doing this for a living, it's time for me to do something else." Ceraso and Stafford focus on buying 3-year-olds with limited starts that fit lower-level conditioned races with the idea of racing them up through the ranks. Stafford, who as a second trainer gained a lot of experience with Grand Circuit horses, wouldn't mind adding a yearling to the stable with the hopes of developing a stakes star. He sometimes jokingly drops hints to Ceraso about doing so. "I like the home run angle," Stafford said, adding with a laugh, "We'll get him. Eventually." Sometimes, it just takes time. by Ken Weingartner, USTA Media Relations Manager  

Caviart Ally finished last season with a flourish and owner Buck Chaffee hopes his mare can continue her winning ways when her 2020 campaign begins Friday at The Meadowlands. A 6-year-old pacer, Caviart Ally closed last season by winning four of her final five races, with three of the victories coming over eventual Horse of the Year honoree Shartin N. Caviart Ally's triumphs during that stretch came in the TVG Series championship for older female pacers, Breeders Crown, Allerage, and Milton. She makes her seasonal debut in Friday's $30,000 preferred for fillies and mares at The Big M, where she is the 3-1 morning-line favorite from post eight in a field of eight. She prepped for the start with two qualifiers, winning the second this past weekend in 1:52.3 with regular driver Andy McCarthy. "We're very hopeful she can pick up where she left off," said Chaffee, who owns Caviart Ally with his wife Judy under the Caviart Farms stable banner. "Andy said that when he qualified her, he didn't even ask her to go, she just wanted to go by herself. That's been the way she's been pretty much all along. She just really tries and wants to do it. "Physically, I always thought she looked like a linebacker. And she's always had that desire, which I think has been a real plus for her." Caviart Ally, by Bettor's Delight out of Allamerican Cool, has won 25 of 72 career races and $1.82 million. She was trained by Noel Daley at ages 2 through 4 before heading to Brett Pelling's stable when Daley took a year in Australia. Pelling believes he has a good understanding of Caviart Ally as she begins her second season with him. "I brought her back a little different than last year," Pelling said. "I think she's one of those mares that likes you to push the buttons and likes to work. If you let her have a bit of a vacation, it rears up in your face. She really showed us that. I've got a pretty good handle now on everything that makes her tick." Following this week's start, Caviart Ally will head to the six-week Blue Chip Matchmaker Series at Yonkers Raceway. It will be the mare's first appearance in the Matchmaker, which has been won each of the past two years by Shartin N. "She's 6 now, so there is no (concern about the) age thing," Pelling said. "There's no hiding from anyone. That's why we're in the Matchmaker. She's 6 and she's here to go race." Caviart Ally and Shartin N finished 1-2 in eight races last year, with Shartin N winning five. The emergence of their rivalry, which produced memorable finishes in the Betsy Ross and TVG final, was a big reason the Chaffees decided to race again this season rather than send Caviart Ally to motherhood. Shartin N got her season off to a winning start Wednesday with a 1:50 score in the fillies-and-mares invitational at Dover Downs. "I think it's great," Buck Chaffee said. "We had always said we were going to quit with her and breed her, that's always been our plan. But when she raced so good at the end of the year and that rivalry really kicked in, we decided that we had to bring her back. The sport needs rivalry. I think it's exciting. Hopefully it's the right decision." Racing begins at 6:55 p.m. (EST) Friday at The Meadowlands. The fillies-and-mares preferred is race four. For the night's complete entries, click here. by Ken Weingarder, for the USTA

Gus Dovi has fond memories of riding horses during his childhood in Sicily. Years later in the U.S., those remembrances were a factor in propelling him into harness racing horse ownership soon after the opening of The Meadowlands in 1976. Now, he has Bettor Memories. Bettor Memories, a 7-year-old male pacer, has been in Dovi's small ownership stable since January 2016. Since then, the gelding has won 31 races and $653,430. More importantly to Dovi, the horse has consistently provided enjoyment. "For me, it's not all the money, although it's very nice, don't misunderstand me," Dovi said. "It's the idea that he's racing against some very good horses. Me and my wife enjoy going to the track on the nights he races. If he's competitive week after week, that's the fun of it. If he's in the top three, I'm very happy, always. I just have a passion for the Standardbred, it's something I enjoy." Bettor Memories, trained by Richard "Nifty" Norman, has won three of six races this year and been worse than third only once. His next start is in Thursday's $50,000 invitational handicap at Dover Downs, where he is the 7-2 second choice on the morning line. Backstreet Shadow is the 5-2 favorite and Jesse Duke N, unbeaten in three races since arriving in the U.S. from Down Under, is 9-2. "He's racing well this year," Dovi said about Bettor Memories, who is a son of Bettor's Delight out of Allamerican Memoir. "He's been a pleasant surprise (since he was purchased). He came along very good and has done very well for us. I owe a lot of that to Nifty. He watches over him carefully; he manages him very well." Dovi, who lives in northern New Jersey, moved to the U.S. when he was 10. Following the opening of The Meadowlands, he got to know several horsemen through his printing business, which did work for the Big M. "As a kid, I always rode horses," Dovi said. "I've always loved the animal itself. It's the reason I was fascinated when The Meadowlands opened up. They had the stables there and I used to really enjoy going down there. That's the reason I got involved in the racing, because I like the animal." Dovi's first memorable horse was J J's Cornell in the early 1980s. Bettor Memories is his most recent. The horse was a Grand Circuit winner at age 3 and won a preliminary division of the George Morton Levy Memorial Pacing Series last season. He is eligible to the Levy, now called the MGM Borgata Pacing Series, which begins March 14 and concludes April 18 at Yonkers Raceway. "I think Bettor Memories is the best one I've had," Dovi said. "I enjoy watching him race, watching him compete. He has his good weeks and he has his bad weeks, like any other horse or any other athlete, but he's very competitive. When he's on his game, he's very good. "Of course, you always need a little luck, there's no question. So, you hope for a little luck. But he's a very nice horse. We'll see what happens." Racing begins at 4:30 p.m. (EST) Thursday at Dover Downs. The invitational handicap is race 12 on the 14-race card. For complete entries, click here. by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA 

Dylan Davis knows his pacing mare Apple Bottom Jeans faces a difficult task competing against the 2019 Horse of the Year Shartin N and Breeders Crown champion Caviart Ally, but he also believes his harness racing horse is pretty special, too. "She's almost the perfect horse," Davis said. "She does everything you want her to do, she never disappoints you in any way; she's just so professional about everything. She's an absolute sweetheart to be around and when it's time to do her job, she does it." Apple Bottom Jeans makes her 2020 debut in Wednesday's (March 4) $50,000 fillies-and-mares invitational at Dover Downs, where Shartin N also makes her seasonal bow. Shartin N, who won 15 of 19 races last year and was worse than second only once, is the 8-5 morning-line favorite. The 7-year-old Apple Bottom Jeans won five of 24 races last season and hit the board a total of 20 times on her way to $314,505. Her earnings ranked fourth among pacing mares in 2019. "I couldn't have been any happier with her," said Davis, who trains Apple Bottom Jeans for owners Howard Taylor, Robert Cooper Stables, and Ed Gold. "I'm very happy with the way she's trained back; she's really good. I expect her to do very well again this year." Apple Bottom Jeans' wins last year included three preliminary divisions of the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series. She finished second to Shartin N in the Clara Barton Pace and was third behind Shartin N and Caviart Ally in the Golden Girls and Betsy Ross Invitational as well as a preliminary round of the Great Northeast Series. She was second to Caviart Ally in the Rainbow Blue Series final. "She never stopped trying," Davis said. "She just was third best." Following Wednesday's start, Apple Bottom Jeans will head to the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series at Yonkers Raceway. The six-week event begins March 13 and ends April 18. She finished third in last year's final, which was won by Shartin N. Another Matchmaker-eligible mare, Major Occasion A, is the 2-1 second choice in Wednesday's race at Dover. Major Occasion A has won three of six races this year, her first in North America after a well-regarded career Down Under. The 6-year-old Australian-bred mare is trained by Richard "Nifty" Norman and owned by Norman's Enzed Racing Stable. Major Occasion A is 2-for-3 at Dover, including a 1:49.4 win on Feb. 5 in the fillies-and-mares open. "She's been a real pleasant surprise," Norman said. "I knew she was a nice mare, but she's nice in every respect. She's a nice mare to be around. She's a big really good-looking mare, she's game, she can race either way; she's just a pretty good horse." Norman has staked Major Occasion A to some other races on the Grand Circuit in addition to the Matchmaker. "I wasn't really sure if she was good enough, but she's made a bit of money so I did put her in a few stakes races at The Meadowlands so far just to make sure she's got somewhere to race," Norman said. "I've been real happy with her. I didn't think she was at this level, but I guess we'll find out a lot more about her on Wednesday when she races against a really good field of mares." Racing begins at 4:30 p.m. (EST) Wednesday at Dover Downs. The fillies-and-mares invitational is race 12 on the 14-race card. For complete entries, click here. by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA   

None Bettor A and Rodeo Rock hope to make strong impressions on the Grand Circuit this year and the two older male pacers will begin their journey together by making their harness racing seasonal debuts in Saturday's (Feb. 29) preferred at The Meadowlands. None Bettor A captured last year's Battle of Lake Erie as part of a campaign that saw him win 12 of 18 races and $375,970. Rodeo Rock, who won eight of 21 starts and $349,650, was victorious in two preliminary rounds of the George Morton Levy Memorial Pacing Series and finished second in the final. He also was second in the Commodore Barry Invitational. The two 7-year-old geldings are expected to head to the MGM Borgata Pacing Series (formerly Levy) at Yonkers Raceway when it begins March 14. The six-week series concludes April 18. None Bettor A won a qualifier in 1:51.2 on Feb. 22 at The Meadowlands. He finished second in a qualifier on Feb. 15. "He'll race this week and then get next week off before jumping into the (Borgata) series," trainer Andrew Harris said. "Hopefully he can earn himself a week off sometime in the series, but if not, this way he can go four or five races in a row if need be. It's tough. Things have to go right from the get-go. "He qualified great last week. It looks like they're ready to go (1):48 this week so I'm sure he'll get stretched out and whatever happens it will be good for moving him forward." Harris began training None Bettor A this past August. After joining his stable, the gelding won the Great Northeast Open Series final and finished second in the Bobby Quillen Memorial. The 2019 season was the Australian-bred horse's first year racing in North America. He is owned by Joe P Racing and Oldford Racing. "He's just one of the coolest horses I have in the barn," Harris said. "He doesn't do anything wrong. He was real anxious in his first qualifier but he'd been away (from the track) for a little while. Last week he was back to his normal self. "He's got good gate speed, but on a personal level, I just really like his demeanor in the barn and how he handles himself." None Bettor A, then in the stable of trainer Jennifer Bongiorno, won the Battle of Lake Erie at half-mile Northfield Park in a world-record equaling 1:49. "I think he's probably one of the better half-mile horses we'll see this year," Harris said. "But we've staked him to everything, so he's going to get his opportunities on the big track too." Rodeo Rock enters Saturday's preferred off a fourth-place finish in last week's qualifier won by None Bettor A. He was timed in 1:51.4. "He's been very good (coming back)," trainer Robert Cleary said. "We were very happy with the way he qualified last week. I thought it was pretty good, really." Rodeo Rock was sidelined because of health issues in midseason last year. He was away from the races for nearly two months but ended his campaign with four wins and two seconds in his last eight starts. "I was super happy with the way he raced in the Levy and the early stakes," said Cleary, who trains Rodeo Rock for owner Royal Wire Products Inc. "Then he ran into some health issues and we had to give him some time off, but he came back strong at the end of the year." Cleary plans to race Rodeo Rock on the Grand Circuit but will keep the horse close to his base in New Jersey rather than send him on extended trips. "He's a bad shipper, so I only staked him to the local tracks," Cleary said. "But he's as good on a small track as he is on a big track, you can race him anywhere and any way. He's going to have opportunities to make money. "He can carry his speed a long way, which is probably one of his biggest attributes. He's just a real good racehorse. He shows up every week." Racing begins at 6:55 p.m. (EST) Saturday at The Meadowlands. For complete entries, click here. by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA    

No one needs to worry about Shartin N resting on her laurels, although she might get to relax a little more this year than her previous two seasons. In 2018, Shartin N made at least one start in every month from January through November on her way to the first million-dollar season for a pacing mare and a Dan Patch Award for best older female pacer. Last year, she made at least one start in every month from March through November. She won 15 of 19, finished second on three occasions, earned $982,177, set the record (1:46.4) for the fastest mile ever by a female pacer, and was named top pacing mare, Pacer of the Year, and Horse of the Year. She became the first pacing mare in history to be named Horse of the Year, as well as the first horse bred outside North America to receive the honor. The 7-year-old New Zealand import is already working toward her return to the races, which is expected to come next week at Dover Downs. Then it's off to Yonkers Raceway's Blue Chip Matchmaker Series, a six-week event that Shartin N has won each of the past two years. Following the Matchmaker, which begins March 13 and ends April 18, trainer Jim King Jr. will look to give Shartin N some time off. "We've decided to try to give her a split year instead of trying to go all the way through the year," King said. "If that works out, when we get done with the Matchmaker hopefully we can give her a pretty good break and then get her back ready to take off from there. It won't be a real long break, but there are some races that we're going to try to miss. "If she can be good early and be good late, she can still accomplish a lot. That's a lot to ask of a horse that you just got done racing for 10 months, twice. But so far, she hasn't minded me doing foolish things." Shartin N, bred in New Zealand by Grant Crabbe, was purchased in the fall of 2017 by Richard Poillucci. She is now owned by Poillucci, Jo Ann Looney-King, and Tim Tetrick LLC. Since arriving in North America, Shartin N has won 34 of 43 races and $2.03 million. "It's just absolutely amazing for us to be in a position to buy a Down Under mare and become Horse of the Year," Poillucci said. "I was just hoping for a nice open mare. This has far exceeded all expectations. What she's done at that level of racing is unbelievable. To keep them on their toes in those kinds of miles is a very difficult task. "I think that's what most impresses me, her ability to carry speed the way she does and standout in races where they're going (fast fractions) and she's still charging. Horses don't do that stuff on a regular basis." Tetrick has driven Shartin N in all her North American starts. "She was pretty tough (to handle) when she started," Tetrick said during this past Sunday's Dan Patch Awards banquet, when the Horse of the Year announcement was made. "But she had big lungs and you couldn't get her tired. When she was on her game she was as good as any horse I've ever sat behind. She has a ton of speed and grit. She had a mind of her own, but she worked with us and we got it done." Shartin N qualified on Feb. 19 at Dover Downs, winning in 1:51.3. Poillucci called the qualifier "absolutely perfect." "Here it comes again," King said, referring to a new season. "Every indication is that she's come back very good." Shartin N will attempt to become the first horse to repeat as Horse of the Year since trotting mare Moni Maker in 1998-99 and the first pacer to repeat since Cam Fella in 1982-83. She finished second to McWicked in balloting for 2018 Horse of the Year and, according to noted harness racing historian Bob "Hollywood" Heyden, is the first since Matt's Scooter in 1989 to be runner-up one year and come back the next season to receive Horse of the Year. "I just want to say thank you to all the voters, and most of all thank you to Shartin," King said Sunday at the banquet, adding later, "She's definitely been life changing for us." by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA

Orlando, FL --- Shartin N on Sunday night became the first pacing mare to be named Horse of the Year, receiving harness racing's top honor to cap the U.S. Harness Writers Association's Dan Patch Awards banquet at Rosen Shingle Creek resort. The New Zealand import also became the first horse bred outside North America to receive the award. Shartin N, who also was named Pacer of the Year, captured 83 votes in Horse of the Year balloting. Three-year-old colt pacer Bettor's Wish was second with 42 and 3-year-old colt trotter Greenshoe, the Trotter of the Year, was third with 14. Also receiving Horse of the Year votes were Manchego (three), Warrawee Ubeaut (two), and Atlanta, Six Pack, and When Dovescry (one each). In balloting for Pacer of the Year, Shartin N received 94 votes while Bettor's Wish got 48. Warrawee Ubeaut (three) and Lather Up and McWicked (one each) rounded out the Pacer of the Year voting. Greenshoe led Trotter of the Year balloting with 95 votes, followed by Manchego with 23, Atlanta with nine, and Gimpanzee and Six Pack with six each. Real Cool Sam (three), Bold Eagle and When Dovescry (two each), and Guardian Angel As (one) completed the balloting. Shartin N, who was a 6-year-old in 2019, is the fifth female pacer to be named Horse of the Year and first since 2-year-old filly JK She'salady in 2014. The others were 3-year-old fillies Rainbow Blue (2004), Bunny Lake (2001), and Fan Hanover (1981). Trained by Jim King Jr. and driven by Tim Tetrick, Shartin N won 15 of 19 races and finished worse than second only once. She earned $982,177 for owners Richard Poillucci, Jo Ann Looney-King, and Tim Tetrick LLC. She is the first Horse of the Year for the ownership group and trainer King. She is the third Horse of the Year for Tetrick as a driver. Shartin N's wins last year included eight races worth six figures --- the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series championship, Roses Are Red, Lady Liberty, Golden Girls, Artiscape, Clara Barton, Betsy Ross, and Sam "Chip" Noble III Memorial. Her 1:46.4 victory in the Lady Liberty on Aug. 3 at The Meadowlands is the fastest mile by a female pacer in history. "It's crazy good," King Jr. said. "It's unexplainable. It's one of those feelings that everybody should get the chance to experience. Unfortunately, everybody can't do this. "I was pretty confident, but I was pretty confident last year and it didn't work. I've got special feelings toward her. If I don't think so, who would?" Shartin N, a daughter of Tintin In America out of Bagdarin bred by Grant (G J) Crabbe, was runner-up to McWicked in Horse of the Year voting in 2018. "I wasn't a voter; she would have gotten my vote," King Jr. said with a laugh. "She had a tremendous season (in 2018) and to come back and do it again is special. Life is great." Trotter of the Year Greenshoe won 10 of 13 races and never was worse than second. His victories included the Kentucky Futurity and Dr. Harry M. Zweig Memorial. He was second in the Hambletonian, Breeders Crown and Earl Beal Jr. Memorial. Greenshoe was trained by Marcus Melander, driven by Brian Sears, and owned by Courant Inc., Hans Backe, Lars Granqvist, and Morten Langli. A son of Father Patrick out of Designed To Be, he was bred by Al Libfeld and Marvin Katz. Greenshoe connections                            --Mark Hall USTA photo "It's great," Melander said. "Of course, we had our hopes that we could be that. It was fun. "He had a good season. Missing to win the Hambletonian was the biggest disappointment, but we can't go back in time. That race is done. We're happy that he won some other big races and performed as well as he did all year. It was a privilege to train the horse and hopefully I'll train some of his babies in the future." The announcements of Horse, Pacer, and Trotter of the Year were made during Sunday's banquet. Previously announced divisional champions also were honored at the event. Division-winning pacers were 2-year-old colt Tall Dark Stranger, 2-year-old filly Lyons Sentinel, 3-year-old colt Bettor's Wish, 3-year-old filly Warrawee Ubeaut, stallion McWicked, and mare Shartin N. Division-winning trotters were 2-year-old gelding Real Cool Sam, 2-year-old filly Ramona Hill, 3-year-old colt Greenshoe, 3-year-old filly When Dovescry, stallion Six Pack, and mare Atlanta. Other honorees included Stan Bergstein-Proximity Award winners Joe Faraldo and the Libfeld-Katz partnership, Driver of the Year Dexter Dunn, Trainer of the Year Marcus Melander, Owner of the Year Courant Inc., Breeder of the Year Brittany Farms, and Rising Star Bob McClure. Also recognized Sunday at the banquet were the members of the 2019 Hall of Fame class, which will be inducted in July: Tom Charters, Jeff Gural, Bill Popfinger, and Tetrick. For a list of winners, visit the U.S. Harness Writers Association's website.   Ken Weingartner Media Relations Manager U.S. Trotting Association www.ustrotting.com

The name of the 2019 Horse of the Year will be announced Sunday night (Feb. 23) at the annual U.S. Harness Writers Association’s Dan Patch Awards dinner at Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando, Fla. But even if you aren’t among the attendees you will be able to watch the announcement live via USHWA’s YouTube page. After a one-hour cocktail hour, the awards ceremony gets underway at 6:30 p.m.(12:30pm NZ time) and will be available via the U.S. Trotting Association’s YouTube page. At approximately 9:30 p.m (3:30pm NZ time), emcees Roger Huston and Jason Settlemoir will announce the winner of the E. Roland Harriman Horse of the Year trophy, which follows the revealing of the names of the Pacer of the Year and Trotter of the Year. To access YouTube page, please click here. The entire video will also be available on the U.S. Trotting Association’s YouTube page on Monday (Feb. 24). Post time for the evening is 5:30 p.m., with a one-hour Red Carpet cocktail reception sponsored by Shartin N. Also starring on the Red Carpet will be Heather Vitale and Heather Wilder, with the two Heathers broadcasting live on their individual Facebook pages. It’s your guarantee to see who’s wearing what and what the attendees have to say about the festivities. Heather Vitale’s Facebook page can be found here. Heather Wilder’s Facebook page can be found here. (USHWA)   Ken Weingartner Media Relations Manager U.S. Trotting Association www.ustrotting.com

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