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Ken Wood has seen Soto grow up. And now Wood is watching the harness racing 5-year-old pacer tangle with the big boys. Last week, Soto won his first-round division of the George Morton Levy Memorial Pacing Series at Yonkers Raceway. Soto defeated a field that included defending Levy champion Bit Of A Legend N, 2014 Levy winner P H Supercam, open-stakes-winners Wakizashi Hanover and Somewhere In L A, plus world champion Always At My Place. "It was a privilege to be in the same race with those horses," said Wood, who owns Soto with Bill Dittmar Jr. and Stephen Iaquinta. "There are a lot of horses better than him, but it's fun to have him be able to race with them. He's not the best horse in the world, but he's decent when he gets it his way a little bit." Wood and his partners bought Soto for $40,000 at the Standardbred Horse Sale Mixed Sale in 2015. Since the purchase, Soto has won 17 of 50 races and earned $234,045 in purses. For his career, the stallion has won 21 of 75 starts and banked $345,575. Soto won only one of his first six races for his new owners, but eventually worked himself up to the Preferred/Open level of competition at Dover Downs and Yonkers prior to heading to the Levy. "He didn't start off with a boom, but he's gotten a little better all the time," Wood said about Soto, whose family includes Dan Patch Award-winners Sportswriter and Precocious Beauty. "He was a nice purchase for the money we gave for him. "When you're at the sale, you look at all of them. He showed some 26-second last quarters early as a 3-year-old, and if they're doing that well early on, there's speed in there. He had a few little problems, but nothing serious. You know they're supposed to get better as a 4- and 5-year-old. That's what I go by, anyway. "I think somebody else helps me raise my hand once in a while," he added. "We're not geniuses, just lucky." Wood, who also co-owns 2015 Dan Patch Award-winning older male trotter JL Cruze with Dittmar and Iaquinta, uses the profits from his horses to fund his mission to dig wells for safe drinking water in Africa. Since starting his Lifetime Wells project in 2006, his group has put in a total of 1,700 wells in Ghana and Tanzania. "It's going good," Wood said. "We've got one rig drilling every day with the locals. When I go four times a year I drill in Tanzania myself. I spend three months every year over there." It was upon returning from one of his trips that Wood realized Soto had done a lot of growing up following his season as a 3-year-old. "I've never seen a horse grow from (age) 3 to 4, but he's grown six inches taller," Wood said. "He was a little bitty fella. I'd been in Africa for a while and when I came back he grew a lot. He's grown much taller than he was. I've never had that experience before when they grow at that age, but he sure did." Soto returns to the Levy Series this Saturday, where he will compete in the second of four second-round divisions. Soto, trained by Eric Ell and driven by Matt Kakaley, will start from post two. The field also includes Bit Of A Legend N, Rockin Ron, Mach It So, McWicked, Guantanamo Bay, and Blood Brother. The third division features two first-round winners --- Provocativeprincen and Missile J --- while the fourth division includes opening-round winner Long Live Rock. The series has five $50,000 preliminary rounds followed by a $200,000-added final, which is scheduled for April 22. "Post position helps quite a bit at Yonkers, naturally," Wood said, referring to high win percentages for horses with inside starting spots on the half-mile oval. "Luck went our way the first race anyway. We're just hoping he gets checks because we know those other horses are better than he is." If Soto keeps enjoying success, though, Wood might no longer be able to say that. "I hope I have that problem," Wood said, laughing. For Saturday's complete Yonkers card, click here. Ken Weingartner Media Relations Manager Harness Racing Communications A division of the U.S. Trotting Association

Penpal is yet to come up with a statement win so far in her career, but the now 4-year-old pacing mare has done plenty to enhance her bank statements through two seasons of harness racing. A daughter of stallion American Ideal out of the stakes-winning mare Copywriter, Penpal has won four of 28 career races, but earned $288,639 lifetime for owners Patrick Lachance and M&M Harness Racing thanks to picking up checks in 25 of those starts. Penpal, who finished second in two qualifiers this month, is expected to make her seasonal debut later this week at the Meadowlands Racetrack. "She qualified good," said Lachance, who also trains and regularly drives Penpal. "We'll see it how it goes and take it week to week. If she's real good we'll try her in a few stakes and see what happens. She was very good last year and came back bigger and stronger. She seems like she matured quite a bit. I hope to see good things from her this year." Penpal won two of 17 races last year and earned $204,288. She finished second to two-time Dan Patch Award-winner Pure Country in the Matron Stakes for 3-year-old filly pacers and second to Blue Moon Stride in the Mistletoe Shalee. Penpal, who possesses a strong finishing kick, was in contention in numerous stakes last season, but ran into a deep group of fillies that included multiple-stakes-winners Pure Country, Blue Moon Stride, Darlinonthebeach, Call Me Queen Be, and L A Delight and Newborn Sassy. "I was happy with her," Lachance said. "She held her own and made some decent money. "Speed is her best tool, but she's tough to manage. She gets really hot and she's not easy to drive. But she's very fast." Penpal is a full sister to Capital Account, a winner on the New York Sire Stakes circuit and runner-up to Always B Miki in a division of the 2014 Tattersalls Pace. Penpal was purchased for $65,000 at the 2014 Lexington Selected Sale and her family also includes past Lachance star Image Of Dawn. "I've been with that family and had luck with it," Lachance said. "Her page caught my eye and when I saw her, I liked her. We took a shot at her. She showed ability right off the bat." With only four wins to her credit, Penpal still fits in conditioned classes, which will enable Lachance to ease the mare into competition this year. Lachance bypassed the ongoing Blue Chip Matchmaker Series at Yonkers because Penpal is less handy on a half-mile oval. "She's too big and she runs in pretty good," Lachance said. "Maybe in the future sometime, but I certainly didn't want to start her (year) on a half-mile track. "It's a transition year, and that's why I got her ready a little bit earlier. I wanted to give her some overnights and see what she's about. We didn't want to bring her right into that competition. She's only got four lifetime wins, so she fits non-winners of five. That leaves her some nice options." If all goes well this spring, Lachance will send Penpal to chase her first major stakes victory later in the year. Penpal is staked to events including the Graduate Series, Betsy Ross, Golden Girls, and Lady Liberty. "It would have been nice to get a big win last year, but it didn't happen," Lachance said. "I think that she will (go with the best mares this year). She's got some options to do some decent stuff." Ken Weingartner

Trace Tetrick is the leading driver this year at Miami Valley Raceway in Ohio, but it won't be long before Tetrick is back home again in Indiana. The 30-year-old Tetrick calls Hoosier Park in Anderson, Ind., his home. In fact, Tetrick lives only five minutes from the track, where he holds the record for the most career wins (with more than 1,800) and has captured five driving titles (including the past three in a row). Hoosier Park is scheduled to open its 163-day meet April 1. "I know the drive to work will be a lot better," Tetrick said with a laugh, referring to his Miami Valley journey, which is four hours round trip. "I'm very fortunate to have that short commute (to Hoosier). Hoosier is a great place; they put on a great show there. It's my home track, so it's always fun to race there." Not to say Tetrick isn't enjoying himself at Miami Valley. Tetrick leads the driver standings there with 93 wins, holding an 11-victory advantage over second-place Kayne Kauffman and a 36-win margin over third-place Tyler Smith. When Hoosier Park opens, Tetrick will continue to race at Miami Valley on Sundays and Mondays. Miami Valley Raceway concludes its season on May 8. "I'm having a good run at it," Tetrick said about his success at Miami Valley. "I can't complain one bit. I wanted to go there and try to be competitive. It worked out where I got with some really good trainers, like Tyler George and Virgil (Morgan Jr.) and Jim Eaton, who have some really good horses. It's been really clicking lately." Last year, Tetrick set career highs with 478 wins and $5.49 million in purses. He set the single-season record for victories at Hoosier Park with 372, breaking his own mark of 325 established just a year earlier. Tetrick, a native of Illinois, got his first win as a driver in 2003 and became a regular on the Indiana circuit in 2006. He has won 3,878 races in his career and $38.96 million in purses. "I've been very fortunate," Tetrick said. "I started driving out here when I was 19. You always hope (for success). Like everyone else, I was trying to get my drives and get my name on the sheet. When I got opportunities, I wanted to do the best I could with them. Things have just kind of worked out. "It's just experience. The more you drive, the more you realize that. We can all drive watching the TV, but when you've got to get out there and make decisions, it's always quicker and faster. It just becomes a habit, what to do and when to do it. You try not to take the races home with you, but it's hard not to because that's your profession. You'll watch replays and pick out something and try to learn and improve." Five years ago, Tetrick began making his name in Grand Circuit stakes by winning the Oliver Trotting Classic with Upfront Billy at Indiana Downs and an American-National with Our Lucky Chip at Balmoral Park. In 2014, Tetrick won the Jugette at the Delaware County Fair in Ohio with Indiana-bred Color's A Virgin and upset world champion Sebastian K with Creatine in the Allerage Farms Open Trot at The Red Mile. In 2015, he won multiple stakes with Freaky Feet Pete, including the Breeders Crown for 3-year-old male pacers. Last year, Freaky Feet Pete was part of the well-documented rivalry with Always B Miki and Wiggle It Jiggleit before being sidelined by injury. Always B Miki went on to be named Horse of the Year and was retired to stallion duty. Wiggle It Jiggleit, a gelding, will return to action this season along with "Pete." "We had a lot of good battles with Wiggle and Miki," Tetrick said. "Just being on the stage with those guys was a highlight. It was big for our sport to have those three top contenders. They might have been three of the best horses we've seen in the last decade at one time. If you see how many times they paced in (1):49 or faster, it's pretty scary. That's hard to do that many times, and they did it wherever they went. "You hate to lose good horses for the sport," he added, referring to Always B Miki's retirement. "Whether you can beat them or not, you hate to lose the opportunity to watch them again." One of the goals this season for Freaky Feet Pete will be to compete in October's Breeders Crown at Hoosier Park, which is his second home. Marty Rheinheimer, who co-owns Freaky Feet Pete with his mother Mary Jo, has taken over the training of the horse following the passing of his father Larry last September. "He looks good," Tetrick said about Freaky Feet Pete. "I think everybody has come together good as a group to make preparations for this year to go back at it again and try to have Pete as good as we can. I know (the Breeders Crown) is one of the goals they have. It would be great to have the Breeders Crown here at home and have Pete be in it with the local fan base." In the meantime, Tetrick, who followed his father Tom D. and brothers Tom T. and Tim into harness racing, is looking forward to an enjoyable year at the races. "My goal is to be competitive on a nightly basis," Tetrick said. "I want to go out there with a clear head and hope everything works out and do the best I can for the people I'm working for. "Just being able to drive a lot of different types of horses and getting to drive for people that, when you win or they race really good, they're excited and happy, that's always fun for me. That's the biggest thrill of it. I've been able to be very successful over here and won some titles and some stakes races. But the game itself to me is a fun game. It's a great job to have; that's the part I love about it." Story by Ken Weingartner/Harness Racing Communications/USTA  

At least one thing is certain this week at Miami Valley Raceway: Kiss Of Terror will not get claimed. Already claimed five times this year, Kiss Of Terror is entered in Saturday's $22,000 Open Handicap at Miami Valley. Kiss Of Terror, a 5-year-old gelding pacer who has won six of nine races this season and earned $54,425, will start from post four with Kyle Ater at the lines for his father, trainer Dan Ater. Kiss Of Terror was claimed for $30,000 last week by Kirk Nichols and Seth Downing. Kiss Of Terror won that start by 10-1/4 lengths in 1:51. It was his sixth victory in his past seven races. "He's a real popular guy," Dan Ater said about Kiss Of Terror, who has won 18 of 71 career starts and earned $190,944. "I guess when any horse is winning they are popular. Hopefully we can keep him on that string. It'll be tough at that level, but we'll find out. "The owners wanted to move him up, which is what we usually do with claimers. We don't play the rent-a-horse game. We try to find something we like and hang on to him a little while. Sometimes that's good and sometimes that's bad, but that's our plan anyway. We'll see what happens." In January, Kiss Of Terror won a $27,100 Claim to Fame Series championship at Miami Valley. Kiss Of Terror's only setback in his past seven starts came in the Open Handicap on Feb. 25 at Miami Valley. He finished seventh, beaten by 3-1/2 lengths after a first-over trip. Kiss Of Terror is a son of stallion Western Terror out of the stakes-winning Kissed By A Fool. The dam is a half-sister to millionaire I Am A Fool and was one of nine foals out of I'm No Fool to earn at least $200,000 at the races. "He likes to win," Ater said. "I like his gameness. He's not a very big horse, but he seems like a nice horse. He just looks like a quality horse and quality horses are hard to find. We'll see how he does. It's all a gamble. You try to take care of them and do the best you can and hope for the best." Saturday's Open Handicap at Miami Valley also features Night Pro, who is 2-for-2 this year and will start from post nine with Sam Widger driving for trainer/owner Dale Decker. The remainder of the field is Account Rollover, Angelo J Fra, Feelnlikearockstar, My Buddy Ninkster, Swing City, Latest Desire, and My Hero Ron. "I hope he races good this week and I hope I can keep him racing good," Ater said about Kiss Of Terror. "We try to look for horses for a little longevity, but it's a big task. Nowadays it's a tough game. "Hopefully for us you don't see him in a $30,000 claimer next week." by Ken Weingartner, for Harness Racing Communications  

It is impossible to put a figure on the number of lives touched by Sam McKee. Whether through his race calls, studio interviews, work at horse sales, or personal interactions, Sam left an indelible mark on harness racing and the people in and around the sport. And it would be difficult to find a person more respected and universally liked than Sam McKee. When news of Sam's passing at age 54 due to complications from a stroke suffered in early February filtered through the industry Wednesday, the outpouring of admiration, love and support to his family on social media and beyond was a testament to Sam's ability to make, as harness racing writer Dave Briggs wrote on Harness Racing Update's Facebook page, "everyone feel like the biggest person in the room, when in truth, it was always him." Ken Warkentin, Sam's colleague at the Meadowlands Racetrack and fellow announcer, spoke for many when he said, "This is undoubtedly one of the saddest days in the sport in a long time. Many like myself are in shock, devastated, in a state of disbelief and just plain sad. Sam was the modern day Mr. Harness Racing. It seemed like he knew everybody and everything about the sport. "And Sam could do it all. He was talented, passionate, positive and an inspiration to all. And everybody knew it. He was so much fun to work with. He just made people and everything around him better." Hall of Fame driver John Campbell, who has called the Meadowlands home for decades, echoed those sentiments. "We were so fortunate that Sam chose harness racing," Campbell said. "With his talent, personality and knowledge, he could have been an announcer in any sport, whether it was NASCAR, football, or whatever. We were very fortunate that he turned his talents and abilities toward harness racing. He was such a shining light. "He just had that bubbly, exuberant personality for what he was doing. When he was doing interviews, I think it rubbed off on a lot of people. I know it did me. He was always very upbeat. The interaction I had with Sam, whether it was on camera or off camera, was always fun and it was always something I felt good about. It was genuine. His enthusiasm for harness racing and people was right from his heart. "The most important thing was the friendship I had with him. He was a very good friend." A native of Michigan, Sam's interest in harness racing and announcing can be traced to his earliest days, virtually from the time he could speak. His family raced Standardbreds as a hobby at the county fairs and small tracks. Sam more than once told the story about being 4 or 5 years old and "calling races" with toy horses that had numbers taped to them. When he was 10, Sam began writing letters to horsemen and others in the industry. He began a letter-writing friendship with legendary announcer Roger Huston, who became instrumental in helping launch Sam's career behind the microphone. Huston invited Sam to The Meadows, where Sam had the opportunity to call qualifiers and a junior driving championship. After hearing Sam's work, Huston persuaded Bobby Williams, the speed superintendent at the Clinton County fair in Ohio, to give the then-14-year-old Sam a job announcing races there. "I was just flabbergasted at how good he was," Huston told hosts Mike Bozich and Mike Carter last month on a "Post Time with Mike and Mike" podcast. "He had the voice of a 13-year-old, but he was seasoned even without ever being on the PA system. He was born to be an announcer, there's no question in that. The amount of advice I had to give him was very minimal. "It's very seldom that somebody at the age of 6 determines what they want to do in life. He made it happen. He knew what he wanted to do and we were just so happy we had a part in getting him started." When he learned of Sam's passing, Huston posted on Facebook yesterday, "A part of me will never be the same." A day after graduating from high school, Sam was hired as the track announcer at Saginaw Valley Downs and later Sports Creek Raceway. From there he moved to Raceway Park, where he called races and worked as director of group sales in addition to being involved in the publicity and television departments. A stint in the publicity department and announcing booth at Ladbrokes Detroit Race Course followed and in the early 1990s he served as director of operations at Northville Downs. In the late 1990s, Sam was hired at the Meadowlands. He shared race-calling duties and soon added the role of TV coordinator at the track. In 2007, he also became the director of simulcasting. Sam also worked the Grand Circuit meets at the Delaware County Fair, where he hosted the Little Brown Jug week simulcast, and The Red Mile. He was elected to the Michigan Harness Horsemen's Association Hall of Fame in 2009. In 2012, he received the sport's highest honor when he was elected to the Communicators Hall of Fame in Goshen, N.Y. Mike Tanner, the U.S. Trotting Association's executive vice president, first met Sam when he was working at Detroit Race Course. Tanner was an intern at the time. "It was my first front-side job in racing, and I was kind of in awe of him," Tanner said. "He was a terrific announcer, even back then. But he was so kind, encouraging, and down to earth, and we became friends. When I got hired there on a full-time basis the next year, he might have been happier for me than I was for myself. That's just the way he was. "I can't think of anyone in our industry better liked or more respected. I feel badly for anyone that never had the chance to meet him, and worse for those of us that did, because we know what we've just lost. He was special." The stories of Sam helping others, encouraging others, are countless. Gabe Prewitt, the executive secretary of the Kentucky Harness Horsemen's Association and a multiple-track announcer, first heard Sam calling races at The Red Mile in the early 2000s --- Prewitt's introduction to harness racing --- and acknowledged Sam's role as a mentor, "so supportive of me from Day One," on last month's Post Time with Mike and Mike podcast. Sam's influence stretched beyond the announcer's booth, Prewitt said. "Just on a personal level, his kindness, his class, how he treats everyone; I learned as much from him on a personal basis - just by observing him for that matter - as I have professionally." Jason Settlemoir, the chief executive officer and general manager at the Meadowlands, told Mike and Mike that Sam always had the ability to sense when someone was having a bad day. And he was always there to discuss the situation and help in any way possible. "By the time the conversation was over you always felt enlightened by him," Settlemoir said. "You'd walk out of talking with him being much happier." Meadowlands broadcaster and statistical guru Bob "Hollywood" Heyden, who was inducted to the Communicators Hall of Fame with Sam, recalled seeing Sam several years ago helping a lady who had fallen in the parking lot following a snowstorm during a Saturday night card at the Big M. Because the snowstorm hit during the card, the parking lot was not yet plowed. Heyden later found out that Sam had fallen several minutes prior to helping the woman, who was a waitress at the track, and injured his back. "The only way I found out was by seeing the pills he was taking the following weeks," Heyden said. "He didn't say anything, and wouldn't, because he was once again Sam being Sam." Beyond the racetrack, Sam was an accomplished horseman (see sidebar following this story) and a go-to choice as a pedigree reader at the industry's horse sales, where his knowledge, expertise and demeanor made him a natural. "Sam had an exacting job --- make a good impression for the horse in 15 seconds or less, give current update information about the horse with perfect accuracy, and be ready to jump back in at any moment if the auctioneer decides to pause the auction for emphasis," said Russell Williams, the newly elected president of the U.S. Trotting Association as well as chairman of both the Standardbred Horse Sales Co. and Hanover Shoe Farms. "Sam's work in this area was virtually flawless, and he did it with that wonderful voice of his. "We at Standardbred Horse Sales Company have lost a great announcer, but we're conscious now that we've lost a cherished friend. We offer our condolences to Sam's family. You will be in our thoughts." Sam's surviving family includes his wife Chris and daughters Meagan, Melissa and Lindsey. "He was an amazing family man," Warkentin said. "He was a true Hall of Famer; a great person, honest and pure. A true friend to many and a real gentleman. "When I first heard of his passing I said it couldn't be possible. And the first thing I thought was he wasn't going anywhere. He's always going to be here with us in so many ways. We will never forget Sam McKee." Sam McKee was a part of so many of harness racing's greatest moments and biggest events. Here, we remember him with a few of our favorite Sam McKee moments, and some that were his favorites as well. To view the videos, click on this link. * * * * * * * * * * Sam McKee was as accomplished on top of a horse as he was skilled behind a microphone. He often competed in speed events, such as barrel racing, with his retired Standardbred Who's Your Buddy, or simply, Buddy. Helene Gregory, the vice president of the Standardbred Pleasure Horse Organization of New Jersey, recounted the following story about Sam and his competition with renowned equine advocate and author Alex Brown: "One year Sam was at the National Standardbred Show with Buddy and I had my retired Standardbred JB (Jambalayabar Man) there as well. My friend Ellen Harvey had earlier approached me asking if a friend could get on JB. He was an exercise rider for some Thoroughbred racing trainers, but had never been on a Standardbred before. His name is Alex Brown and not only has he ridden thousands of Thoroughbreds, he is also an author of a book (Greatness and Goodness: Barbara and His Legacy) and had a big social media following. I thought it was a great idea because it would bring some attention to our Standardbreds. So we entered Alex and JB in the 'Ride a Buck' class, which is ridden bareback with a dollar bill under the rider's knee. "The riders then have to follow the commands of a judge --- walk, trot and canter (if they get that far). It was a big class, always a fun class to watch. One by one the riders lost their dollar bills, but two riders were not giving up. Sam had just interviewed Alex the night before at the track about his book and less than 24 hours later they were facing each other in what quickly became a two-man contest. "They were battling it out, Sam joking with Alex to please give up because he couldn't hold on to his dollar much longer and Alex saying he would never give up. The audience was cheering them on and the judges gave more and more commands, turn right, turn left, trot, turn without stopping and go the other way, to try to force them in to a mistake. Finally they got up to a canter and Sam's dollar floated to the ground, while Alex's was right where he put it. JB and Alex were victorious, but Sam was grinning from ear to ear. It was a joy to see these two grown men have fun and laugh like little kids. "This was what Sam was, always a good sport, always smiling and always had kind words to everyone he met. Whenever I would see him he always stopped for a few words, didn't matter if he was on the run, in the TV studio at the Meadowlands or anywhere else. He always made time to listen. He will be deeply missed by the entire harness racing community." The following anecdote, recounted by Ellen Harvey, the director of the USTA's Harness Racing Communications division, further demonstrates Sam's ability, knowledge and thoughtfulness: "In 2011, the World Trotting Conference came to the U.S. and the USTA was host for leaders of harness racing from all over the world. They visited a variety of farms in New Jersey in between meetings and I was asked to put together a demonstration of Standardbreds in other disciplines showing off their athletic ability. "I asked Sam if he would show off his ex-racehorse Buddy's skill in barrel racing and he very nicely obliged. Sam and Buddy were the last team in the demo; they screeched around the barrels and came to a full stop, kicking up a spray of dirt, right in front of the audience, from a dead run. "When they got over their shock and horror at being nearly run over, the audience gave him a big round of applause. "My then 86 year-old dad, Harry Harvey, lived near the site of the demo - at the Standardbred Retirement Foundation's facility. I invited him and my mom to come see the demo and they were tucked away in chairs in a corner of the ring, watching. Walking on an uneven surface was hard for my dad by then. "After Sam was finished greeting the guests, I asked him to bring Buddy over and show dad that he had controlled that horse at maximum speed with no bit - he used a bitless bridle that put pressure on the horse's nose, not his mouth. "Sam brought the horse so close he was almost in dad's lap. Dad struggled to his feet to watch intently as Sam explained all the things he'd tried to control Buddy, how he finally arrived at the bitless bridle and showed dad every part of it and the mechanics of how it worked. My father was transfixed - learning something new about training horses at age 86. He talked about that day for months afterward. "The next time I saw Sam at the track, I thanked him for taking the time to show my dad this new gizmo for riding horses. His response was typically modest, 'I couldn't believe that I was teaching a Hall of Fame trainer something about rigging a horse.'" Ken Weingartner Media Relations Manager

Eight years ago, Frank Bellino bought a harness racing colt from the first crop of stallion Rocknroll Hanover. The pacer's name was Rock N Roll Heaven and at age 3 the horse won 16 of 21 races, earned $2.15 million in purses, and was named Horse of the Year in the United States. Two years ago, Bellino bought a colt from the final crop of Rocknroll Hanover. The pacer's name is Stealth Bomber and he is a full brother to Rock N Roll Heaven. Now a 3-year-old, Stealth Bomber will try to follow in the footsteps of his renowned sibling. Stealth Bomber was unraced at age 2 because of soreness, but the Bellino family believes the sky's the limit this season. "I've had some special horses and so has dad," said Frank Bellino's son, Joe. "He doesn't over-react to things. But when he saw this horse win in his first start, he said this could be a special horse. We've got very high hopes. I'm as high on this horse as any we've had. "He is just something special, in my opinion. We're really looking forward to this year." Stealth Bomber won his career debut Feb. 16 at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto. Sent off at odds of 3-5, the colt won a $10,640 conditioned race by 3-1/4 lengths from post eight in an eight-horse field with Doug McNair driving for trainer Tony O'Sullivan. The time for the mile on a 24-degree night was 1:53, which is tied for the fourth-fastest clocking of the season by a 3-year-old pacer. "He looked pretty good," O'Sullivan said. "For his first lifetime start, well, that's kind of what good horses do, isn't it? He did it well in hand." On Thursday night, Stealth Bomber returns to the same class for his second start. He will leave from post five in a seven-horse field, with McNair again at the lines. "He's been remarkable training down," Bellino said. "He's big and strong and does everything right. He can sit if you want to sit. He can leave if you want to leave. When you pull, he's right on the bit. He's never done anything wrong. He's just so smooth; you'd think he's an older horse. He acts like he's been there before." Stealth Bomber, purchased for $125,000 at the Lexington Selected Sale, is out of the mare Artistic Vision and was bred by Steve Stewart, Charles Nash, Julie Nash and Francene Nash. In addition to being a full brother to Rock N Roll Heaven, the colt is a half-brother to multi-millionaire Clear Vision. Last year, Stealth Bomber was training well, but started dealing with sporadic soreness. There were no signs of injury, but the connections decided to shut down Stealth Bomber to give him time to mature. "It took a lot for us to shut him down, but we didn't want to push him to get to the races," Bellino said. "We didn't want to discourage him." Stealth Bomber will have every chance to compete at harness racing's top level this year. He is staked to all the sport's major events for pacers, with the exception of the races at Lexington's Red Mile. It is similar to the stakes schedule that was prepared in 2010 for Rock N Roll Heaven, who was later supplemented to race in Lexington. "He's got a full plate if he's up to it," O'Sullivan said. "He's put together like a good horse. He's not a tall horse, but he's got a lot of muscle on him and he looks after himself." O'Sullivan plans to race Stealth Bomber every three weeks or so as he prepares the horse for the stakes season. If all goes well, his first stakes test will come on the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes circuit in early May. "I don't want to race a lot, but at the same time, he hasn't raced," O'Sullivan said. "He's going to need to be versatile. We need time to see what makes him tick." The Bellinos are looking forward to hopefully returning to the Grand Circuit with a 3-year-old pacer. "You want to make those races," Joe Bellino said. "The last time we were there was with Pet Rock (in 2012). It's not easy sitting on the sidelines. "I think everything is aligning for us," he added, referring to coming full circle with a colt from the final crop of Rocknroll Hanover. "We hope it's going to be a special year." Ken Weingartner

Freehold, NJ --- Judy Magie gets emotional when she talks about Smoke Pan Mirrors. The 10-year-old harness racing female pacer might not be a household name around the nation, but she is a beloved member of the Magie family’s home in central New Jersey. Purchased as a yearling for $5,500 by Judy and her husband, trainer Brian Magie Jr., at the 2008 Standardbred Horse Sale, Smoke Pan Mirrors has won 39 of 271 career races and earned $409,108 in purses. She’s done it the hard way, never winning a race worth more than $20,000 and never competing in a claiming race. She has never won more than $72,202 in a season, or less than $33,348, and averaged nearly 40 starts a year since turning age 6. And she just keeps going. On Thursday night, Smoke Pan Mirrors competes in a conditioned race at the Meadowlands, where she is 9-1 on the morning line with Brett Miller in the sulky. Her race leads the one-hour “Meadowlands Harness Live” broadcast beginning at 9:30 p.m. on SNY. “When we bought her at the sale that day, never would I have imagined what she’s been to my family,” Judy said. “You can always count on her to take care of us. It’s a blessing. It’s a huge blessing. She’s really been a gift from God. We love her. We just treat her like family, because she is. She’s just been so good to us.” Smoke Pan Mirrors is a daughter of stallion No Pan Intended out of the broodmare Sleight Of Pan. She was Sleight Of Pan’s sixth foal, but first by 2003 Horse of the Year No Pan Intended. “We noticed a lot of times that mares bred to No Pan Intended would come to life, so to speak,” Brian said. “We were going mostly on conformation, and she was gorgeous. The fact the mare had a few foals, and this was the first No Pan Intended, we liked that combination. We were thrilled to get her. We loved her.” Smoke Pan Mirrors raced on the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes circuit at age 2, finishing second to future multiple-stakes-winner Dancinwiththestarz in her series debut. She also finished second in a division of the Arden Downs that season. At 3, she won twice in the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes Stallion Series. Two years later, she posted one of her biggest victories, winning the Fillies & Mares Open at Tioga Downs. She might be one of the hardest-working women in harness racing. Smoke Pan Mirrors has started at least one race in 84 of the past 85 months, including the most recent 21 in a row. And if you’re a driver, there’s a good chance you’ve sat behind her. A total of 53 different drivers have been in the sulky for her races. “She’s been so durable and enjoys her job, so it’s kind of hard to shut her down,” Brian said. “In this day and age, with the hard racetracks and the style of racing, you don’t find this durability just anywhere. I think it’s just a tribute to her conformation; she was put together the way you want a horse to be put together. The drivers all love her. Nobody says she’s a Cadillac anymore, but she always has been. “We just hope that someday she passes those traits off to her offspring. We’re looking forward to the day when we can train one of her babies. I think in my heart that she will be a good broodmare.” Smoke Pan Mirrors resides in a stall at the end of a row nearest the stable’s office. In the stall next to her is 9-year-old stallion Voice Of Truth, himself a $456,177-earner in his career, bred by Judy Magie and Pine Creek Stables. “They’re like an old married couple,” Judy said. “They’re just as happy as can be.” Keeping Smoke Pan Mirrors happy is one of the keys to her longevity on the racetrack. She has a routine -- first out to the field in the morning and then last to jog or train, followed immediately by lunch. “She’s a bit of a diva,” Judy said, laughing, “But she’s just a really fun horse.” “She’s set in her ways, just like most women,” Brian said, also laughing. “But she’s a sweetheart. My 1-year-old son (Luke) could walk in there and she wouldn’t hurt him. She’s good to be around. She’s a pleasure. She doesn’t owe us anything. We have great respect for her and what she’s done over the years. We’re always trying to think about what’s best for her.” When the time comes for Smoke Pan Mirrors to retire from racing and focus on motherhood, she will do it right at home. “She’ll get to spend the rest of her life as a broodmare at our house. We still have Voice Of Truth’s mother (Shandelle Hanover). They bought our farm, so they’ll get to live out their days there. “I’m happy to be able to do that for her.”  by Ken Weingartner, Harness Racing Communications 

If all David Miller did in 2016 was win a couple Breeders Crowns, the North America Cup, Little Brown Jug, sit behind three divisional champions, become only the third harness racing driver in history to surpass $200 million in lifetime purses (while also setting a career best for earnings in a single season) and become only the fifth person with at least 12,000 victories, well, that would be a pretty memorable year. So imagine a year when a driver could accomplish all those feats and still not have any of them register as the achievements that will be best remembered in the decades to come. Miller doesn't have to imagine it. He lived it. Miller, of course, was the driver of male pacer Always B Miki, who was the 2016 Horse of the Year and paced the fastest mile in harness racing history, 1:46 at Lexington's Red Mile in October. Always B Miki, who battled 2015 Horse of the Year Wiggle It Jiggleit throughout the season in one of the most talked about rivalries in recent memory, won 12 of 18 races, finished worse than second only once, and earned $1.48 million in purses last year. "It was pretty incredible," Miller said. "When I think back about him, I'll think about his world record first. He raced tough so many times --- the Breeders Crown was a great race (surging late to beat Wiggle It Jiggleit by three-quarters of a length) and probably one of the highlights there --- but when I think about him I always think of Lexington. For him to do it, it was pretty special." Miller on Sunday night was honored as the 2016 Driver of the Year at the U.S. Harness Writers Association's Dan Patch Awards dinner, presented by Hoosier Park, at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. Always B Miki was recognized as Horse of the Year and the stallion's trainer, Jimmy Takter, was honored as Trainer of the Year. Other equine honorees included Trotter of the Year and 3-year-old male trotting champion Marion Marauder plus divisional winners Walner (2-year-old male trotter), Huntsville (2-year-old male pacer), Ariana G (2-year-old female trotter), Idyllic Beach (2-year-old female pacer), Betting Line (3-year-old male pacer), Broadway Donna (3-year-old female trotter), Pure Country (3-year-old female pacer), Obrigado (older male trotter), Hannelore Hanover (older female trotter) and Lady Shadow (older female pacer). In addition to driving Always B Miki, Miller was the driver of Betting Line and Broadway Donna. After opening his campaign with a second-place finish against older horses, Betting Line never lost again, putting together a 14-race win streak. His wins included the North America Cup, Little Brown Jug, and Battle of the Brandywine. He set the world record (1:47.2) for a 3-year-old pacer on a five-eighths-mile track and his 1:49 mile in the Jug equaled the record for a 3-year-old pacer on a half-mile oval. "If I didn't have Always B Miki, Betting Line had a tremendous year," Miller said about the Casie Coleman-trained colt. "He was so strong and dominant all season. By rights, he had every shot to be Horse of the Year himself. He was such a dominant horse in his category." For the second consecutive year, Broadway Donna was named a divisional champion and in the process joined her dam, Broadway Schooner, in receiving a Dan Patch Award at age 3. Broadway Schooner was honored in 2009. Broadway Donna, trained by Jim Campbell, won seven of 12 starts and earned $664,708. Her wins included the Breeders Crown for 3-year-old female trotters, Kentucky Filly Futurity, and the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes championship. "She's very deserving," Miller said. "She really wasn't in the limelight, but to me she's a real special horse. We just have a real special connection with her, all of us, because she's battled through some problems and ended up the year better than she had been in two years. She was so sharp her last four or five races. Jim did a great job." But, oh, that Miki. In addition to becoming the fastest horse in history, Always B Miki shares the world record of 1:47 for the fastest mile by a horse on a five-eighths-mile track. Always B Miki paced 1:47 on a five-eighths oval on three occasions, an unprecedented feat. He also holds the record of 1:47.1 for the fastest mile ever paced in Canada. And he did it all after being twice sidelined by leg injuries that each required surgery and forced him to miss the end of his 3-year-old season as well as the majority of his 4-year-old campaign. "The things he did on the track, and the things he overcame, it was just unbelievable," Miller said. "It's hard for horses to come back off of injuries. And to be better than what they were, it's pretty much impossible, I think." Miller was ready for a try at the world record when Always B Miki competed in the Allerage Farms Open Pace at The Red Mile, and had fractions mapped out for the attempt. When Always B Miki reached the halfway point in :52.2, Miller thought they were right on schedule. When they hit three-quarters in 1:19.4, he thought they were in trouble. But Miki paced the final quarter-mile in :26.1 to break Cambest's 1:46.1 time trial clocking and lower the race record by four-fifths of a second. "The world record was on my mind quite a lot," Miller said. "The anticipation for it kind of kept building all year. He was coming close (to the race record) and winning races. "I had fractions figured out what to go to try to beat the world record. I had mapped out the first half that fast, but the three-quarters a lot faster. When we got to three-quarters in (1):19.4, I didn't think he would go (1):46 flat. But he was just that type of horse. He never let anybody down." Always B Miki and Wiggle It Jiggleit met eight times last year, with Always B Miki winning four times to Wiggle It Jiggleit's three. (Shamballa won the remaining encounter.) The rivalry captivated fans across North America. "Wiggle It (Jiggleit) was the only one, and (his connections) would probably say this the other way, that could go with Miki week in and week out," Miller said. "It was quite the rivalry. It was good for the sport. It got people interested in watching them go at it, and I think that's great. "They probably needed one another. It made it good for everyone. Wiggle It (Jiggleit) has got quite the fan base, and Miki did too, and it really was a big deal for all of them. It was pretty cool." Racetrack announcer Sam McKee, who is recovering from a stroke suffered earlier this month, told Miller during last year's campaign that Miki was probably the best horse Miller ever drove. Miller hadn't really thought about it in those terms until then. "I never said it during the year, but I always thought he was before his time," Miller said about Always B Miki, who was retired to stallion duty at the end of last season. "I've had horses go big miles once or twice, but he seemed to do it every week. He was unbelievable. So Sam probably had it right; I'll probably never drive another horse like that. I'm going to miss him, that's for sure." Click here for a complete list of award winners from Sunday's ceremony. Ken Weingartner

It's been less than two years since Brian Witt and his brother, Aaron, purchased their first harness racing horse. Since then, Witt has found his way to the winner's circle with several horses --- including open-level pacing mare Aniston Seelster --- bought a 30-acre farm/training center, and just generally had a lot of fun. "We got into it pretty quick and deep," said Witt, a 45-year-old Cedarville, Ohio resident. "We haven't been in very long, but I've learned a lot in a year and a half. What to do and what not to do. It's been interesting. I really like it." This weekend, Witt and his wife Kara will watch as 5-year-old Aniston Seelster competes in Friday's Fillies & Mares Open at Miami Valley Raceway, 7-year-old male pacer Latest Desire races in Saturday's Winners Over $10,000 Life/Preferred Handicap at The Meadows, and 5-year-old male pacer My Hero Ron makes his seasonal debut in Saturday's Horses & Geldings Open Handicap at Miami Valley. Witt owns My Hero Ron with neighbor Cory Atley. They purchased the horse, who has won $493,458 lifetime, last June. Atley's father Carl previously owned open-level pacer Mykindachip and was one of the people who helped Witt down the road to horse ownership. "When we first started thinking about getting a horse, Carl invited me and my wife to Miami Valley to watch Mykindachip race," said Witt, who is a grain and livestock farmer. "That was in February of 2015. We went and Mykindachip won and we had a really good time. That's when I did a little more homework on the whole horse thing." Kara had a feeling that evening her husband was going to get involved in harness racing. "My children when they were younger always showed cattle," Witt said. "That was our sport. The girls got older and my wife knew I was going to have to have something else to do. She said harness racing is going to be your new thing." Four months later, Witt and his brother Aaron claimed then-6-year-old gelding Talk Back for $20,000 at Scioto Downs with encouragement from trainer Keri Brammer. Talk Back became near-fatally ill soon thereafter, but recovered and won in his return to Scioto Downs in September. "That was probably the ultimate," Witt said. "It's fun to win the Opens and things, those are great moments too, but that was a trying month and a half. We almost lost the horse. When he came back, and Keri trained that horse back up and won at Scioto, that was a thrill." Witt, his wife, and his brother own, or are partial owners, of nine horses at the moment. Kara sometimes uses the nom de course Fairway Stables, which is a nod toward Witt's nephew Mason, who late last year helped Team Ohio to a third-place finish in the PGA Junior League Golf National Championship in Arizona. "My wife is a great lady," Witt said. "She loves (harness racing) too. She's an RN but if she has a couple days off in a row she goes to the horse farm and helps Keri with the barn work. She's not afraid to get dirty." The Witts' horses are trained by a various group, including Brammer, Virgil Morgan Jr., and Danny Dubeansky. "Keri was very influential in getting the ball rolling and we've met a lot of nice people along the way," Witt said. "I think it's good to have a couple different trainers and horses positioned in different places where they can be successful. "We're kind of focusing now on the higher quality horses, as you can probably see by what our purchases have been. I'm really comfortable with where I am now. Once I got four or five months into it, my goal was to have an open pacer, an open mare and an open trotter. I think we're kind of there now. We might be light on the trotter side but we'll see. I guess time will tell." Witt is looking forward to seeing My Hero Ron return to action Saturday. As a 3-year-old in the Ron Burke Stable, My Hero Ron was a multiple winner on the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes circuit, finished second to Wakizashi Hanover in the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes championship, and was third in the Little Brown Jug. My Hero Ron, trained by Dubeansky, won two of 12 races for Witt and Atley after they acquired the horse. "I see him three or four times a week at the horse farm," Witt said. "He's looking good. I know Danny is really excited about this year. He said he's come back a beast, that's how he put it to me. We're hoping to see some good things out of him. "His last race in September he got interfered with, another driver's bike rubbed his leg a little bit, so we just decided at that time to give him his break with the hopes he would come back really strong this year. I think he's going to have a good year. He just acts a lot different. I know Saturday is his first race back and we might not see his true colors yet, but I think soon we'll see what we're dealing with. He's a big, strong horse. "We'll see how it continues to go." Ken Weingartner

Harness racing driver Joe Bongiorno plans on working nearer to home this year, but hopes to be no less busy. The 23-year-old New Jersey resident, who in 2016 set career highs with 2,754 starts, 399 wins, and $3.79 million in purses, drove frequently at Ohio's Northfield Park last season, but plans to cut down on long commutes this season. So far this year, Bongiorno has focused on racing at the Meadowlands, Freehold, and Yonkers. He will add Harrah's Philadelphia to the mix when that oval opens April 2. Bongiorno entered Wednesday with 45 wins this season, with 18 coming at the Meadowlands (where he is tied for fourth in the standings), 16 at Freehold (tied for fifth) and 11 at Yonkers (10th). On Thursday night, Bongiorno has eight drives at the Meadowlands. The final three races, seven through nine, will air on "Meadowlands Harness Live" from 9:30-10:30 p.m. on SNY. Last season, Bongiorno had 121 wins at Freehold, 77 at the Meadowlands, 49 at Philly, and 40 at Yonkers. He picked up the bulk of his remaining 112 victories at Northfield, where he visited the winner's circle 101 times. Bongiorno was the 2010 Amateur Driver of the Year, awarded by the U.S. Harness Writers Association, and was the USHWA Monticello-Goshen chapter's 2011 Rising Star Award winner. In 2015, he won (in a dead heat) the $489,400 Valley Victory Stakes with Make Or Miss in his first drive in a race worth more than $150,000. Last year, he competed in 14 races with purses greater than $150,000. Among those were three Breeders Crown finals, the Meadowlands Pace, the Messenger Stakes, William Haughton Memorial, and Cane Pace. He also drove in an elimination division of the Hambletonian. Other highlights for Bongiorno in 2016 included notching his 1,000th career win and driving 3-year-old female pacer Divas Image to victory on the Ontario Sire Stakes Gold circuit. Bongiorno recently took time to talk with Ken Weingartner from the U.S. Trotting Association's Harness Racing Communications division about his career and plans for 2017. KW: We talked during the early part of last year about how you were poised for a breakout year and it certainly lived up to that. JB: Yeah, it turned out to be a great year. I ended the year one (win) shy of 400 and had my best year for purses. For the horses that I own, it was a good year for them too. So it was an excellent year. Hopefully I'm going to build on that again this year. KW: Do you wish you had gotten to 400 wins? JB: It definitely would have been nice, but in the grand scheme of things, it's not really a big deal. I'm just going to move on and hopefully put up some similar numbers this year. It's going to be tough to get as many wins without going to Northfield, but so far it's been a good start to the year. I've been driving a lot at Freehold and the Meadowlands and Yonkers and I'm really looking forward to (Harrah's Philadelphia) opening. KW: Last year you pretty much doubled the number of drives you had in any previous year. How much did that benefit you? People say the more you drive, the better you get. JB: That's true. And you learn different driving styles, like Northfield the racing style is a lot different. And I got to meet a lot of new people and build new friendships. It was definitely a good thing. It was just the driving back and forth became too tough. I was very appreciative of Northfield. It was a good run. This year I'm doing pretty well at Yonkers and it's hard to turn down the money that they're going for there. KW: So what's your schedule going to look like this year? JB: It's all going to depend. I'm going to go where I get the most work. I think when (Harrah's Philadelphia) opens I'm really going to make a big push at driving over there fulltime. I want to try to pick up as many drives as I can and do it along with the Meadowlands and Yonkers, and when I can go to Freehold, I will. But I'm going to take a different approach at (Harrah's Philadelphia) this year and try to pick up as much work as I can get there. No matter what, I'm going to be traveling and trying to work as many days as I possibly can and drive as many horses as I can possibly drive. KW: Looking back at last year, what stood out? What are you most proud of? JB: Divas Image was a big help last year. I got to go to Canada and drive her in the Ontario Gold Sire Stakes and drive her in the Super Final there. She really turned out to be a nice filly. Hopefully this year as a 4-year-old she can make a little impact in the (Blue Chip) Matchmaker (Series) coming up at Yonkers. KW: You had a win, a second, and a third with her in the Golds. JB: She really turned out to be a nice mare. I'm really appreciative of the connections that used me. I would say she was probably the highlight of the year. And I hit my 1,000th win. So that was a milestone. That was definitely cool. KW: You got to drive in a lot of races that you'd never been in before, like the Meadowlands Pace and Breeders Crown and Hambletonian. JB: Exactly. Even though the Hambo didn't turn out as planned (finishing seventh with Make Or Miss) it's just really an honor to be, at the time, 22 years old and drive in a lot of those big races. I'm super appreciative of all the trainers and owners that have been supporting me. Hopefully this year I can build on it and drive some more stakes horses and maybe get a few nice stakes wins. KW: You won the Valley Victory at the end of (2015). JB: Yes, with Make Or Miss, and that really gave me a big boost toward last year. It helped get drives for sure. Another thing that stood out (last year) was the fourth-place finish in the Meadowlands Pace (with Manhattan Beach). It was a shame that horse had the outside and got away so far back. If he was inside for that race, he probably would have been a big factor. He was charging in the lane and just fell short of being third. KW: Is it nice to get starts in those types of races and get that experience under your belt? JB: Yeah, but I don't really get nervous. That's not my personality. I take every race the same; I try not to change my outlook on the race. Obviously, it's going for more money, but the key is safety and trying to put horses in the right spot. I try to look at those races the same as a regular overnight race. I don't really get worked up for them. I look forward to races like that, but you just try to drive the race smart and make as much money for the owners as possible. KW: This is your eighth year of driving. Can you believe it's been that long? JB: Wow. It is crazy. Time definitely does fly. It doesn't feel like it's been that long. This is what I love to do; I love working with horses and learning about each horse. Every horse that you sit behind is different and has their own personality. As a catch driver the key is being able to learn what they like and what they don't like. That's what makes it so fun. KW: Growing up did you play other sports? JB: I played baseball and basketball but when I started jogging horses for (trainer) Buzzy Sholty, I knew this was what I wanted to do. I kind of put everything else on the backburner and I worried about getting better at working with horses. KW: How old were you then? JB: Like around 13 or 14. I always liked horses but I never really worked with them much. We owned a horse with Buzzy Sholty and we would go over there. I jogged one and I just felt super comfortable. I just wanted to keep going back and doing it more. I really started to get the hang of it and I wanted to start going training trips with the horses. I really enjoyed it. I just got hooked. KW: What would you like to accomplish this year? JB: I just like to build on each year. It's going to be hard to surpass the 400-win mark this year because Northfield, I was winning a good share of races there. Not going there is going to slow things down a little bit. But I could win fewer races at Yonkers and make more money. I'm getting my fair share of rides over there and doing the best I can do. Hopefully I can keep picking up more work and keep winning races. As far as certain races, I don't look at it that way. I just look forward to driving horses like Divas Image in the Matchmaker and stuff like that. Hopefully some horses come along for (trainer) Ronnie Burke that I'll be able to drive. I own a piece of one baby, a Chapter Seven filly, and she's going well so far. I'm hoping that works out and I can travel to the (New York) Sire Stakes with her. KW: What's her name? JB: Chapter Of Love. KW: You went to 17 different tracks last year. That's quite a few. JB: That's a lot of tracks. It was a busy schedule last year, but this is what I signed up for, this is what I enjoy doing. I really love working with the horses and I want to drive as many as I can. Ken Weingartner

McGill and Brian Carsey share ownership of Missile J, who they purchased for $115,000 at the Tattersalls January Select Mixed Sale at the Meadowlands. The 4-year-old male pacer has gone 3-for-3 for his new harness racing owners and trainer Scott DiDomenico, fueling optimism for a limited stakes schedule later this season. The purchase of Missile J, a stakes-winner in 2016, came two months after McGill and Carsey bought Breeders Crown runner-up Manhattan Beach for $130,000 at the Standardbred Horse Sale Mixed Sale in Harrisburg. For McGill and Carsey, who frequently buy claimers and state-bred horses in their home state of Indiana, the two acquisitions represent a chance to compete on the Grand Circuit. "We'd like to, we're just going to see how it works," said the 54-year-old McGill, who runs a truck body and equipment business. "We wanted to try this and see how we do; just try to get our feet wet a little bit." Missile J, trained previously by Linda Toscano, won eight of 19 races last year and earned $313,902 for owners KJ Stables and Purple Haze Stables. His wins included the Art Rooney Pace and a track-record 1:53.1 triumph in a division of the New York Sire Stakes at Buffalo Raceway. A son of stallion American Ideal out of the mare Cantor's Daughter, Missile J was originally purchased as a yearling for $100,000 under the name Newsmaker Bluechip at the 2014 Standardbred Horse Sale. Missile J is a full brother to stakes-winner Brownsville Bomber and his family includes millionaire Cam Swifty and stakes-winner Lonesome Day. His 2016 campaign ended with an eighth-place finish in the New York Sire Stakes championship at Yonkers Raceway in late September. He qualified twice in the weeks prior to January's sale at the Meadowlands. "We're happy with him, that's for sure," McGill said. "I'm going to give all the credit to Scotty D. We weren't looking at him. We were a little bit afraid of him because he hadn't raced since September and he's in the January sale. He had a couple qualifiers, but that was going to be a lot of money for us to take a chance like that. But our trainer just insisted so we went ahead and went with his gut and so far it's worked out. Really, Scotty gets the credit on that one." DiDomenico said Missile J had "a ton of talent and raw speed that was hard to match." "He's going to dictate to us what he's ready for, but we're pretty optimistic right now," DiDomenico added. "It's great when you have owners who are willing to put up the money to buy horses and give you a chance. Brian and John have been very good about that." Manhattan Beach, a 4-year-old son of Somebeachsomewhere out of the world champion mare Benear, is a full brother to 2014 Little Brown Jug winner Limelight Beach. Manhattan Beach won five of 27 races last year and earned $483,379 for previous trainer Ron Burke and the ownership group of Burke Racing, Weaver Bruscemi, Geoffrey Lyons Mound, and Wingfield Brothers. In his four starts for the largest purses on his schedule --- the North America Cup, Meadowlands Pace, Pennsylvania Classic and Breeders Crown --- he never drew inside of post seven. "We liked the looks of him," McGill said. "He made ($483,379) last year and we thought he drew badly in a number of races. We just thought there was some potential there and maybe he would have a good year this year." Manhattan Beach will get a later start to his 2017 campaign because of surgery to remove chips from his hocks, but McGill is hoping the gelding will be ready to go in June and can compete in the Graduate Series. "We've got high hopes for Missile J, but we've still got a ways to go to see what he really is," McGill said. "With Beach, we see what he is, but after you do surgery you're hoping he comes back the same. So it's a little bit of a risk staking this year, but it should be easier next year when we know what we have. I'm already excited about it." McGill got started in harness racing nearly a decade ago through his truck business. "I put a truck together for a small town in northern Indiana and the street superintendent there was Ron Eash, who raced a little bit with his dad Wilbur Eash," McGill said. "When Ron would come down and check on his truck, I would always ask him a thousand questions on horses. He wanted to talk about his truck and I wanted to talk about horses. "He finally said why don't you come and talk to my dad and maybe you guys could go in partners on a horse together. We did, and it seemed to do all right and kind of set the hook for me." McGill and Carsey became partners about four years ago after being introduced by trainer Walter Haynes Jr. "Brian is a great partner to have," McGill said. "We really don't have any disagreements. For some reason we agree on mostly all the same things." In 2015, McGill and Carsey owned Indiana Sire Stakes champions Matrix Of Luck (2-year-old male pacers) and Martz Time (older male trotters). McGill said Matrix Of Luck's ISS championship victory was the highlight of his career as an owner. "But I'm really hoping to have some more thrills this year, especially after we paid our (February) stakes payments for Missile J and Manhattan Beach," McGill said. "I love the excitement," he added about harness racing. "To me, it's like when I had kids at home and they would play sports and you would go to the Friday night football and the excitement. I kind of get the same feeling watching the races and enjoy the challenge of trying to pick the next horse that I can claim and move up." Ken Weingartner

The 27-year-old harness racing driver Marcus Miller, who in two weeks will receive the 2016 Rising Star Award from the U.S. Harness Writers Association, today was named by the U.S. Trotting Association as America's representative for August's World Driving Championship in Canada. Miller, a native of Illinois now living in eastern Pennsylvania, has won 2,648 races in his career and is coming off a season in which he established a personal best with $5.44 million in purses. His top win came in October when he guided 17-1 longshot Someomensomewhere, trained by his father Erv, to victory in the Breeders Crown for 2-year-old female pacers at the Meadowlands Racetrack. Drivers from around the globe will compete in the World Driving Championship, which was introduced in 1970 and is now held every two years. The 2015 event, in Australia, was won by New Zealand's Dexter Dunn. "This is a great honor and I'm very excited," said Miller, who for the competition will trade his customary black, white and red driving colors for the United States' traditional stars and stripes. "That's so cool, to get to wear the red, white and blue colors. "Obviously I would love to win. I think it's also a great opportunity to face some drivers that are coming from different backgrounds; a chance to learn some things and have a little fun. But goal No. 1 is to win, to bring the trophy back home." Said USTA Executive Vice President and CEO Mike Tanner about Miller's selection, "We're thrilled that Marcus has agreed to represent the United States this summer, and is so excited about doing so. He brings the whole package to the table -- talented, engaging, and with a real respect for the sport of harness racing. He's breaking through in a big way, and the world is about to see why." Miller won't need to go far to get advice about driving in international competitions. His uncle, Andy, has twice represented the U.S. in the World Driving Championship, finishing fourth in 2005 and sixth in 2007. In addition, Miller's sister, Hannah, represented the U.S. in last year's FEGAT World Championship for Amateur Drivers (the World Cup) in Hungary and finished second, one point from the top. She also has competed in numerous amateur events in the U.S. and Europe against drivers from France, Spain and Italy. "I'll definitely be able to get some advice. Andy has done the (World Driving Championship) twice and Hannah's been everywhere for driver challenges," Miller said, adding with a laugh, "She's probably the one to ask first." The World Driving Championship, which coincides with the 250th anniversary of horse racing in Canada, begins Aug. 12 at Century Downs in Alberta. The second leg is Aug. 14 at Mohawk Racetrack in Ontario, followed by the third round a day later at Georgian Downs, also in Ontario. The fourth leg is Aug. 16 at Hippodrome 3R in Quebec before finishing Aug. 18 at Red Shores Racetrack and Casino on Prince Edward Island. Dave Magee was the most recent U.S. driver to win the championship, in 1995. The two other winners for the U.S. were Ron Pierce in 1989 and Joe Marsh Jr. in 1974. "A Chicago boy," Miller said about Magee, "just like me." Miller started driving regularly in 2009 and won multiple driving titles on the Chicago circuit before moving to the East Coast in 2013. His victories in the Midwest included a couple American-National Stakes and a number of state-restricted races. Last year, Miller won four open stakes divisions at Lexington's Red Mile in addition to his major stakes breakthrough in the Breeders Crown. "I think the last two or three years have been huge leaps and bounds," Miller said. "I'm a lot more confident, a lot more comfortable, when it comes to higher stakes, just being able to anticipate how those races play out. They take experience. When you're in those races, you're in with the guys who have the most experience. They're hard drives to get, so you want to do as well as you can right away, but it takes experience to do well. "You realize pretty quickly that they are just another race. Once they say 'go' you just have to drive your horse, drive your race. The buildup and the post-race are way different, but during the race, that's all it is -- a race. A long time ago, when I had my first (Illinois) Super Night drive, my dad slapped me on the back and said to just pretend I was at a county fair. I try to remember everything he tells me, but that one really stuck." And while Miller is grateful for the successes he enjoyed in 2016, not to mention the accolades, he is focused solely on continuing his improvement this year. "There was like a little streak last year where it seemed like everything was going right, capped off with the Rising Star Award," Miller said. "It's been unbelievable. I definitely enjoyed it. "But I've hung all the pictures up and now it's 2017 and it's time to work on new (accomplishments). As much as you don't want to dwell on the losses, I don't think when you're doing well that you want to over-celebrate either. You just have to keep moving forward and try to add to it." Ken Weingartner

Harness racing driver Brett Miller would like to continue building on the momentum he's picked up during the past several years. Bill Mann would like to build on the momentum he's picked up in the past several weeks. Both drivers will figure prominently in Thursday's action at the Meadowlands. The final three races of the night, races seven through nine, will be broadcast on "Meadowlands Harness Live" from 9:30-10:30 p.m. on SNY. The finals of the Dash for the "G" Notes overnight series for trotters and pacers will be part of the televised show. Mann trains and drives the 2-1 morning line favorite in the Dash for the "G" Notes final for claiming pacers, Mr Big Load, who was a winner in both of his preliminary rounds of the event. Miller, who is tied for the Big M lead in wins this year, sits behind I Found My Beach, who is part of a 3-1 entry with stablemate Idealist. "If he races like he has the last couple starts he definitely should be the one to beat," Mann said about Mr Big Load, a 6-year-old gelding owned by Friendship Stables. "That being said, he's also got the seven hole and there are some pretty decent horses inside of him that are sure to probably mix things up a little bit. It depends on how the race sets up." I Found My Beach, a son of Mach Three trained by John McIntyre for owner Renee Konefsky, won his "G" Notes division last week and finished second in his opening-round division. Last week was Miller's first time behind I Found My Beach since 2013, when he won with the horse in a top-level conditioned race at The Meadows. "I always liked that horse," Miller said about the 8-year-old I Found My Beach, who finished third in the 2012 Ontario Sire Stakes championship behind Michael's Power and Warrawee Needy. "It's been years since I'd driven him, but he acted the same. He's kind of a high-strung horse out on the racetrack and that hasn't changed. All his mannerisms are pretty the same. "He raced very good last week. We got a two-hole trip, he didn't have to do any work, but that horse is very versatile. He could race about any way. I think he's got a shot. But (Mr Big Load) is razor sharp. He won last week in the other division as easy as a horse could do it. I've definitely got him to beat." Mr Big Load, a son of Yankee Skyscaper, has won 14 of 101 career races and earned $138,686. He has a mark of 1:50.4, which he established last June at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono in winning a $15,000 claiming race. Friendship Stables and Mann have had the horse since November. "He's always been kind of a fast horse, but he's just a little peculiar," Mann said. "I had some issues getting him rigged up at first. It just seems like he's coming around now. "I liked him just because he showed so much speed for him. I thought there was a little bit of potential and if I had a little bit of luck getting him figured out that he'd be a good cheaper horse for me. So far it's worked out." The 40-year-old Mann has a stable of five horses and is based at Wingate Farm in Pennsylvania. Mann grew up in Virginia, where a neighbor had harness racing horses. He started working around the horses at the age of 13 and after graduating from high school began driving at Rosecroft Raceway in Maryland. Mann won a career-best 156 races in 2000 (when he also set a career high with 77 training victories) and has 697 driving triumphs in his career. He left the sport briefly in the late 2000s to sell cars, but slowly returned to the horses and is working on building his stable. "I'm just trying to get things rolling a little more," said Mann, who is driving in seven of Thursday's nine races. "Hopefully the little bit of success I've had at the Meadowlands this winter, I'm definitely hoping it carries over a little bit. Hopefully it presents new opportunities. That's the end goal. "Thursday I ended up picking up some more drives, which definitely helps because the more you're out there the better you get. Hopefully some of the momentum can carry on." Miller, a native of Ohio, has posted three consecutive $7-million seasons since moving to the East Coast. In 2015 he won his first Breeders Crown, with undefeated Dan Patch Award-winning 2-year-old female pacer Pure Country. Last year, he won a Breeders Crown with Racing Hill, as well as the Adios, Messenger and Hempt Memorial. He added major victories with Pure Country in the Fan Hanover and Lynch Memorial. Pure Country received her second Dan Patch Award in 2016. "Racing Hill and Pure Country won me some races that I've always dreamt about winning," said Miller, who has 7,384 lifetime wins as a driver. "It was a very good year. It was very exciting." Miller is tied with Jim Marohn Jr. at the top of the Meadowlands standings with 26 wins this year. He has 40 victories overall, with most of the others coming at Freehold Raceway. "It's been going good," Miller said. "I've been kind of taking it easy. I've been doing the Meadowlands and running over to Freehold once a week. "I'm looking forward to stakes season. Last year I had Pure Country and Racing Hill going into their 3-year-old seasons and that was really exciting. I don't feel like I have horses going into their 3-year-old seasons like them, but this business is funny. You could have a good one (at age 2) and it might not come back as good as a 3-year-old, or you may have just a so-so 2-year-old that is a really good 3-year-old. You just kind of have to see how it goes." In addition to driving I Found My Beach on Thursday's Meadowlands card, Miller will drive Never Ever Clever in the Dash for the "G" Notes Series final for conditioned trotters. A 6-year-old daughter of Muscle Hill, Never Ever Clever won her second-round division last week and finished second in the opening round. She is the 2-1 second choice on the morning line, behind the 9-5 entry of Montalbano Bi and Detroit Rapper from the stable of Patti and Rob Harmon. "She's a nice horse," Miller said about the Jonas Czernyson-trained mare. "She was just a little tricky leaving the gate a couple weeks ago when I drove her. She was coming off a break, so I didn't want her to break stride again. "Last week, I was a little more aggressive with her and she got out of there pretty good. That's my plan for Thursday, to get her out of there the best I can. I would love to be able to cut the mile or maybe sit the two hole. She's definitely got a shot at winning. She's got enough to go with any horse in there, it's just a matter of what kind of trip I get." Ken Weingartner

Freehold, NJ --- Peter Kleinhans is hoping to see two projects come to fruition in the next month or so, and it’s not all “Talk;” it involves singing too. Kleinhans is putting the finishing touches on his first musical project, an 11-song album titled “Something’s Not Right,” while at the same time keeping an eye on the comeback of his star trotter Enough Talk. The 14-year-old Enough Talk, a two-time Dan Patch Award-winner and harness racing’s first horse to trot a mile in less than 1:50, is in training with John McDermott and could compete in amateur races later this year. Enough Talk last raced in May 2012, winning a conditioned race at the Meadowlands. For his career, Enough Talk won 33 of 100 starts and earned $1.83 million in purses. His victories included the 2010 Breeders Crown Open Trot, 2010 Titan Cup, and 2008 American-National Stakes. In 2008, he won the Patriot Invitational at Colonial Downs in 1:49.3, the first sub-1:50 mile by a trotter. He also competed three times in the Elitlopp, with a best finish of third in 2008. That year, the gelding also finished second in the Copenhagen Cup. Enough Talk had throat surgery following his final win in 2012 and was retired in 2013. Kleinhans, who has owned Enough Talk since 2008 and also trained the horse for much of that time, said Enough Talk began working out again in October, primarily because he was overweight. But he appeared to be enjoying himself, so Kleinhans decided to take it a step further. “He looks like the happiest guy in the world,” Kleinhans said. “We figured we’d just give him a shot and see if he wants to do it. I’m not expecting anything record breaking. If he’s just a decent enough horse for the amateur races it would be a lot of fun. “John said you’d never know he’s 14 years old. He loves his work and is always full of life. He’s doing great to this point. I’m just excited that the horse is having fun, and John’s having fun.” Kleinhans has won 51 races as a driver and still is active on the amateur circuit. Last year, he was one of four members of the North American Amateur Drivers Association to participate in a Friendship Competition in New Zealand in December. “I love the amateur races,” Kleinhans said. “I haven’t been in any really since the summer. I qualified for a series in New Zealand and I went over there. That was a great experience. The trip was great.” Kleinhans stopped training horses in 2013, but has remained active as a driver and with other projects outside of harness racing. His most recent, his album, follows on the heels of taking a songwriting course several years ago. “I wasn’t expecting to be writing an album, I was just writing a bunch of songs and learning,” said Kleinhans, who also has a law degree and has served as a racetrack announcer and analyst. “Last year, I decided to get it all compiled. “It’s sort of from the perspectives of a number of different characters and different situations in life. It’s sort of a contemplative kind of album, but it still hopefully rocks out a little bit. I’m happy with it.” Kleinhans, who plays piano and guitar, wrote all the music for the album and enlisted other musicians to help record it. He is working with musician/producer Tony Conniff on completing the project and hopes to have the album available by April. “I’m a perfectionist,” Kleinhans said. “We’ve spent forever to get it mixed perfectly. It’s my first foray into this realm, so I’m learning at the same time. I’m not expecting great commercial success, but I’m pretty proud of it artistically.” by Ken Weingartner, Harness Racing Communications 

Jim Marohn Jr. just completed his most successful January ever, winning 47 races overall and sitting in a tie at the top of the Meadowlands standings with 21 victories. The 34-year-old harness racing driver hopes his fast start might lead to more fast horses in the future, particularly when it comes time for stakes season. Marohn has won 3,607 races in his career, which began in 2002, and has previously won driving titles at Tioga Downs and Monticello Raceway. Like many drivers working their way up through the ranks, his early emphasis was on winning as many races as possible. Now, he is ready to change his focus. "When someone is young and starting out, it's really all about winning as many races as you can and trying to prove yourself," said Marohn, who won a career-high 436 races last year, surpassing his previous best, set in 2015, by one victory. "That's how everybody comes up in the business. Now I think I see myself focusing more now on getting into the bigger races than the wins. I'd like to be in more stakes races. "And I'd like to concentrate more on the Meadowlands and Pocono this year," added the New Jersey resident, who has competed at 23 different racetracks during his career, winning at least once at 21 of them. "The Meadowlands is still the hardest place to race. They might go for more money some places, or go faster other places, but pound-for-pound (the Meadowlands) is still the toughest place to win a race. Every race is so competitive there." Marohn has got three morning line favorites on Thursday's card at the Meadowlands. The final three races of the night, races seven through nine, will be broadcast on "Meadowlands Harness Live" from 9:30-10:30 p.m. on SNY. "The year started off really good," Marohn said. "I'm picking up some good horses. I drive pretty much everything for (trainers) Rob and Patti Harmon and their barn right now is doing really good. They've got their horses classified really good. The name of the game is horsepower. You can't do much without it." Following is a look at Marohn's drives in the three races that will appear on the SNY broadcast. Marohn drives Jarnac, 9-2 on the morning line, in the seventh race. Jarnac, an 8-year-old female pacer trained by John Bavosi, is winless in three races this year but is coming off a third-place finish in this class at the Meadowlands last week. "She's OK," Marohn said. "She gets off the gate really good. I think the last couple times I drove her I left with her. She's got enough speed to get in position. If things shake out good late for her she could be right there." In the eighth race, a second leg of the Dash for the "G" Notes Series for conditioned trotters, Marohn sits behind Detroit Rapper from the Harmon barn. Detroit Rapper, who was second in his seasonal debut and third in last week's opening round of the "G" Notes series, is the 2-1 second choice behind 8-5 favorite Never Ever Clever. "He's an old classy horse," Marohn said about the 6-year-old gelding. "He's a horse that once you get started you've got to kind of keep rolling with him. I went the third quarter in 28.1 last week and it might have taken a little bit out of him finishing halfway down the stretch. But the horse showed a big turn of improvement that last start. "He's got post seven (Thursday). If he can stalk some of the leaders and get a good cover trip, I think he wins that race." In the ninth race, a second leg of the Dash for the "G" Notes Series for claiming pacers, Marohn has got the 7-5 favorite in Whatagamble. A 9-year-old gelding trained by Mike Watson, Whatagamble won his start in last week's opening round of the series. He has a win, a second and a third in four races this season. "He was really good last week," Marohn said. "I think he could definitely win again. You've got to get him up on the bit in the post parade because otherwise his mind will start to wander and not really focus on the racing. You've got to keep his mind on his business. I just went out and did that and he raced great, wire-to-wire." For more with Marohn from a conversation last year about his career, click here. Ken Weingartner Media Relations Manager

Let's Go Racing LLC's feature, "Always B Miki's Miraculous Return," which aired during the Breeders Crown telecast on SNY (SportsNet New York) on Oct. 28, was named the winner of the 2016 John Hervey Award for excellence in harness racing broadcasting, the U.S. Harness Writers Association announced Wednesday. Winners in the Hervey writing categories and Smallsreed Award photography divisions were announced last week. Meadowlands Racetrack Chairman Jeffrey Gural is continuing his longstanding sponsorship of the Hervey and Smallsreed awards by providing USHWA Dan Patch Awards banquet tickets for the winners. The broadcasting division was judged by Kurt Becker, track announcer at Keeneland and an Eclipse Award-winning broadcaster. "Always B Miki's Miraculous Return" chronicled the pacer's comeback from two leg surgeries to become a Breeders Crown champion and the fastest horse in harness racing history. The piece was produced by Bruce Casella and narrated by Heather Vitale. Becker said the production was "well-edited, with a keen sense of what was pertinent to the storyline" and "told the story in an efficient and powerful manner." Honorable mention was presented to WISH-TV's "Indiana Born" feature that focused on the career of pacer Freaky Feet Pete and his owners/trainers the Rheinheimer family. It appeared on Indianapolis' WISH-TV on Oct. 16. It was produced by Peggy McClelland. Winners will be recognized at USHWA's Dan Patch Awards dinner presented by Hoosier Park at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Feb. 26. For more information, visit www.ushwa.org. Ken Weingartner Media Relations Manager

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