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Shnitzledosomethin keeps growing on harness racing trainer Dylan Davis. Literally. "Physically, to me, he's still getting bigger," Davis said about the 6-year-old male pacer, who has earned $817,583 in his career. "If you saw him up close, you wouldn't think it was possible for him to get any bigger. But to me, each year he gets a little heavier, a little wider, a little more girthy I guess is the best way to put it. He's massive. "He's very heavy but his gait is unbelievable," he added. "I don't ever recall training a horse as heavy but as graceful as he is." Shnitzledosomethin races in Saturday's $27,500 winners over/open at The Meadowlands. So far this year, the stallion has two wins and two seconds in five starts. He was eighth in his most recent start, parked from post seven at Yonkers. "He was a little unfortunate; Yonkers is the toughest half-mile track in the world when you've got the outside," Davis said. "But overall, he's come back great. He seems to be as sharp as he's been. I don't remember him being much better than he is right now." Shnitzledosomethin, who has won 22 of 72 career starts, was a Breeders Crown runner-up in 2017 and finished second in Indiana Sire Stakes championships at ages 2 and 3. He won four of 15 races last season; a campaign interrupted in March by the COVID-19 pandemic. "I thought I had him peaking at the right time around the middle of March, and the next thing you know, we shut down," Davis said. "I just couldn't get him on his toes. He's a horse that has to work. If he's not working, he's heavy, he's lazy. I just could never get him into form." Davis is pointing Shnitzledosomethin toward the Borgata Pacing Series at Yonkers. The six-round event begins March 15. "He loves a half-mile track," Davis said. "As long as the draw goes OK, I think he fits with the best ones out there." Also in action for Davis on Saturday at The Meadowlands is 4-year-old male trotter Swan In Motion. The stallion joined Davis' stable at the end of 2020 after being purchased at the Standardbred Horse Sale's Mixed Sale for $65,000 by Howard Taylor. Swan In Motion, trained previously by Jamie Macomber, was an Indiana Sire Stakes champion last year and runner-up at age 2. He has won nine of 30 career races and $422,185. This season, Swan In Motion has a win and two seconds in five starts. He competes in Saturday's $15,500 conditioned trot at the Big M. "I'm very happy with him so far," Davis said. "I was kind of familiar with the horse from watching him race in Indiana. He seems to be living up to expectations of what we bought him for. He's always trotting hardest at the wire. He's not wicked quick off the gate but he does get home pretty good, with a lot of will. He's got a very good attitude." Racing begins at 6 p.m. (EST) at The Meadowlands. The Big M and TrackMaster have teamed to regularly provide free past performances for each race card. Past performances can be found here on The Meadowlands website. by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA    

Racing Reflections is an occasional USTA newsroom series recounting favorite memories of harness racing participants and their careers in the sport. When he was quite young, it wasn't enough for Jordan Stratton to spend his waking hours around horses, or with his father, trainer David Stratton. "My parents told me the only way they could get me to nap was by being on the jog cart with my dad, counting laps," Stratton said, adding with a laugh, "By the second lap, I was lights-out." Stratton's early exposure to harness racing and enjoyment in the sport meant lights-out on any other choice of profession. "Me and my brother (Cory) have been jogging and training our whole lives," Stratton said. "That was the only (career) track in life. As much as they say don't follow in my footsteps, go to college, do something else, it's hard when you get the harness racing bug early on." Stratton grew up in Ohio, where his family had a 30-acre farm. By the age of 14, Stratton was taking care of horses for his father on a full-time basis, including a future two-time Ohio Sire Stakes champion, pacer Noble Cam. "He was the first really good horse I took care of," Stratton said. "I remember sitting on a bucket his whole 2- and 3-year-old years in the sire stakes, going on the road with him. He came out (east) and competed with the top horses a little bit, but just wasn't up to it on a national level. But in Ohio he was a really good horse. He was a great horse to learn on." Noble Cam earned $505,021 lifetime and Stratton ended up driving the horse to his final six victories in a 32-win career. Several weeks prior to his 19th birthday, and two months before sitting behind Noble Cam for the first time in a race, Stratton notched his first career win with a pacer named Meditator at Monticello Raceway. "My dad bought him cheap for me to race in the amateurs," Stratton said. "He made a really big run up the backside, and I came second or third over and swooped the field. "I had a white helmet, my dad's boots, my dad's colors, no gloves; it was a mess," he continued, with a laugh. "But it's a fond memory. I started just warming up at Monticello, so everyone kind of knew who I was. It was fun to get a win. It was really thrilling." The thrills have continued over the years. In 2008, he became, at the age of 21, the youngest driver to win a driving title at Monticello. In 2009, still at the age of 21, he became the second driver in history to reach 1,000 wins prior to his 22nd birthday and received the Rising Star Award from the U.S. Harness Writers Association. Today, Stratton has won 4,415 races and $74 million in purses. He entered Tuesday as the leading driver at Yonkers Raceway this season. He has finished no worse than third in the standings at The Hilltop in each of the past four years. Last year's highlights included driving on the Grand Circuit with pacer Manticore and trotter Crystal Fashion. Stratton made his first appearance in the Breeders Crown and finished second in the Open Trot with Crystal Fashion. He was eighth with Manticore in the final for 3-year-old male pacers, beaten only two lengths in a blanket finish. "It was a lot of fun to go on the road with them," Stratton said. "To finish second in the Breeders Crown from (post eight) was a thrill." Among Stratton's other career highlights is his association with pacer Bit Of A Legend N, who won 33 of 99 races in North America and $1.90 million. In 2016, the stallion became the first - and still only - horse to sweep the six-week George Morton Levy Memorial Pacing Series (now the Borgata Pacing Series) at Yonkers. This year's series begins March 15. "I really like that series," Stratton said. "The way the points schedule is, you kind of have to start every race because you get 25 points just for showing up. It really narrows it down to the toughest horse at the end. "What Bit Of A Legend did was unbelievable, to win every leg and then the final. He was unbelievable. He did everything right." by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA

Melady's Monet is getting up in age but remains young at heart. The 12-year-old male trotter has three wins and a second in four starts this season and will look for career victory No. 71 when he visits The Meadowlands for Saturday's $22,500 conditioned trot. "He's doing really good," trainer Hermann Heitmann said. "Nothing has changed with him (over the years). He is still acting like a young horse, actually. He likes to play around in the paddocks, he enjoys his lunch, he doesn't look like he wants to slow down yet. "He just likes to race." Melady's Monet is a son of Revenue S out of Keystone Melady. He was bred by Ester Balenzano and her husband Luca, who passed away last year. Ester remains the horse's owner under the Melady Enterprises banner. For his career, Melady's Monet has won 70 of 224 races and $1.73 million. He has earned more than $125,000 in each of the past eight years. He won the 2016 Vincennes Invitational at The Meadowlands and later that season was second to Bee A Magician in the $250,000 Yonkers Invitational. In 2015, he won The Meadows Maturity and had third-place finishes in the Cutler Memorial and Crawford Farms Open Trot. In recent years, he has remained a consistent performer in top-level trots at various East Coast racetracks, particularly Yonkers. The gelding was sidelined for five months in 2018 because of colic surgery but has earned a paycheck in 49 of 54 starts since his return. "He's like the horse of a lifetime," Heitmann said. "There are not too many around like him." On Saturday, Melady's Monet heads to The Meadowlands to race for the first time since December 2019. He will start from post five with driver Scott Zeron and is 9-2 on the morning line. Kenziesky Hanover is the 5-2 favorite. "I'm sure he will put in a good effort," Heitmann said. What makes Melady's Monet successful in fending off rivals as well as Father Time? "His attitude," Heitmann said. "He knows when we're going to the races and he likes the competition. He tries unbelievably hard, always. He never gives up. "Attitude is everything with him. He just wants to do it. You can't teach that to any horse, they either have it or they don't. He wants to do it." Racing begins at 6 p.m. (EST) at The Meadowlands. The Big M and TrackMaster have teamed to regularly provide free past performances for each race card. Past performances can be found here on The Meadowlands website. by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA

Harness racing driver LeWayne Miller is a fan of the three-leg Howard Beissinger Memorial Medley Trot at Miami Valley Raceway, and has a "compelling" reason to look forward to Friday's (Feb. 19) $25,000 final. Miller will be driving the morning-line favorite, Compelling.   Compelling and Miller will start from post five in the final, which will be contested at the added distance of 1-1/4 miles. Compelling won a first-leg division of the medley, raced at five-eighths of a mile, and finished second in a second-round split, which was raced at the standard distance of one mile.   Perfect Chapter As is the 7-2 second choice in the final. The 7-year-old gelding won a second-leg division and was third in an opening-round division. The Ron Burke trainee will start from post six with Chris Page in the sulky. Shake It Mary, who won both of her preliminary legs, is 5-1 from post seven. The 5-year-old Sherif Cunmulaj-trained mare will be driven by Dan Noble.   Compelling, a 7-year-old mare, was an Indiana Sire Stakes champion at age 4. She is owned by Verlin Yoder and has spent the majority of her career at Harrah's Hoosier Park. Lifetime, the daughter of Swan For All out of First Lady Two has won 18 of 72 starts and $270,378.   "She's a very nice mare," said Miller, who is training and driving Compelling while she competes at Miami Valley. "She knows where the wire is, and she likes that last quarter (of a mile)."   Compelling used her finishing kick to win her first leg in the Beissinger. She was sixth at the half-mile point, nearly eight lengths from the leader. She won by a head.   "I was a little concerned about the five-eighths because it's such a short distance and she's a little lazy, so sometimes it takes her a little bit longer to get in gear," Miller said. "But she definitely closed strong. I think the pace was hot enough early that they just got a little tired late."   Compelling's racing style gives Miller reason to be optimistic in the Beissinger's extra-distance final.   "I like the mile-and-a-quarter for her because her best game is at the end of the mile," Miller said. "You approach (the race) the same way, you just have to be a little bit patient and manage when to use your horse. I think she will be all right in there."   The medley series honors Howard Beissinger, a Hall of Fame trainer-driver and the winner of three Hambletonian Stakes. Beissinger, who died in 2018, maintained his base of operations in Hamilton, Ohio, less than 10 miles from Miami Valley Raceway, throughout his career.   "I love the idea of it and like the way they have it set up," Miller said about the varied-distances event. "It's a nice thing to have. It's fun."   Racing begins at 4:05 p.m. (EST) Friday at Miami Valley. For the card's complete entries, click here.   by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA  

It might be a bit uncommon for a harness racing trainer to feel little apprehension about discovering their horse's post position, particularly on a half-mile track, where outside starting spots are typically unfavorable. So far, though, 6-year-old female pacer Demeter N has afforded Andrew Harris that luxury. Demeter N has won five of eight races since arriving from Australia last year, including five of six at half-mile Yonkers Raceway. She is 2-for-2 this season at The Hilltop, with victories from post six and post eight. Two of her losses came in her first two starts in the U.S., both at The Meadowlands. She missed by a neck in her debut and by a nose from post 10 in the next, when she closed with a :25.4 final quarter-mile. "I'm really impressed with her versatility," Harris said. "She can do it any way. She's raced from off the pace, come from off a helmet. She's done it first up, grinded it out. And when we've put her on the front, she's just as good there. "She can do it from any position on the track. The post positions never seem to really scare me with her. The race doesn't need to set up for her. She will make things happen because she wants to do it." Harris bought Demeter N and 8-year-old male trotter Deltasun A as a package in July. He owns Demeter N, a daughter of Art Major out of Weka Lass, with Martin Budkey. The mare won 10 of 40 races Down Under and is a half-sister to six-figure-earner Reciprocity. "I think she's exceeded expectations, to be honest with you," Harris said. "She's a nice mare and she's been a beast at Yonkers. Her only issue is that she will tie-up once in a while and not finish the way she should. But as long as we stay on top of that, nothing seems to slow her down." Demeter N has raced in conditioned classes since her arrival but is scheduled - weather permitting - to step up to the $30,000 open for fillies and mares on Thursday at Yonkers. Demeter N, with Jason Bartlett in the sulky, will start from post four and is 9-2 on the morning line. Alexa Skye is the 3-1 favorite. "She's got to try them at some point, so we might as well do it while she's sharp," Harris said. "I do think she is going to be that level of a horse, so this is going to be an acid test for her. I think we are going to skip the (Blue Chip Matchmaker) with her this year, but I do think this mare is going to be the real deal eventually." by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA  

Harness racing owner Tom Pollack and trainer Jeff Cullipher failed to get some of their targeted horses at last month's Tattersalls Winter Mixed Sale at The Meadowlands, but as they prepared to return home, the airport turned out to be as good as the auction ring. Cullipher received a phone call from an agent regarding the possibility of purchasing two-time Ontario Grassroots Series champion trotter Lovedbythemasses. Cullipher and Pollack, who own dozens of horses together, watched replays of the horse's races while sitting in the airport, checked his past performance lines, and decided to pursue a deal. A day later, Lovedbythemasses was part of their stable. On Saturday, the 4-year-old gelding makes his debut for his new owners in the $22,500 conditioned trot at The Meadowlands. "It was fortuitous timing," Pollack said. "The horse looked kind of dominant up (in Canada) in the Grassroots. What we liked about him is that he also raced with the big boys and his lines were more than competitive and respectable. It looked like a chance worth taking. Time will tell. We still really don't know what we have." In addition to his success in the Grassroots Series - where he won nine of 10 races at 2 and 3 combined - the horse tested the Grand Circuit in the Goodtimes Stakes and finished fourth in his elimination and fifth in the final. In both, he started from post eight and was near the rear of the field at three-quarters before rallying to get a check. For his career, Lovedbythemasses, by Muscle Mass out of Incredibility, has won 10 of 20 starts, hit the board a total of 15 times, and earned $143,729. He was trained in Canada by Ed Peconi Jr. and driven by Mike Saftic. "It looks like he likes to race and can get the job done," Cullipher said. "We've only had him a short time, so I'm not going to say we've seen a lot or any one thing that jumps out at us, but so far we like him. He qualified well. We'll race him a few times and see what we've got." Lovedbythemasses enters his seasonal bow Saturday off a 1:55.1 win in a qualifier Feb. 6 at The Meadowlands. He is 8-1 on the morning line. JL Cruze is the 3-1 favorite. "It's a tough spot, a salty bunch he's in with, making his first start as a 4-year-old," Pollack said. "But it's good to get him on the track and see how he does. We're still deciding (on staking). We're probably leaning toward putting him in at least anything 4-year-old in nature. I don't know if he's ready for the older bunch, but I think he might be competitive with the 4-year-old bunch for sure." Racing begins at 6 p.m. (EST) at The Meadowlands. The Big M and TrackMaster have teamed to regularly provide free past performances for each race card. Past performances can be found here on The Meadowlands website. by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA  

Coming off a career-best million-dollar season, Joey Putnam is aiming for continued improvement this year. The 23-year-old driver also is hoping for another successful campaign for Putnam Stable star Rockin Nola; a campaign that could see the tandem tackle the Grand Circuit beyond its base in Indiana. Putnam, the son of trainer-driver Joe Putnam, is in his fifth year as a driver. He won 10 of 59 starts in 2017 and has seen his workload increase steadily in the ensuing seasons. Last year, he won 109 races - just six from his career best 115 in 2019 - and reached $1 million in purses for the first time. He did most of his driving at Harrah's Hoosier Park, but also was busy at the Indiana fairs, where he won 32 times and earned a circuit-best $95,640 in purses. The previous year, he topped the circuit with 65 victories. So far this year, Putnam has looked to stay busy at Miami Valley Raceway in Ohio while waiting for Hoosier Park to reopen in late March. "I'm gearing up for a big season, hopefully," Putnam said. "It's been good (at Miami Valley). We only have two horses racing right now, but I think it's important to stay driving so I don't lose my form. Also, I need to keep my name out there because I'm trying to work my way up. "It's tough sometimes, though. I'm normally only driving one or two a day and it's a two-hour drive. Some days, I don't even get a check, but it's part of the process. At the end of the day, you have to be out there doing it. That's the only way to learn. I'm learning every day." While growing up, Putnam helped his father around the farm, but it wasn't until he got closer to graduating high school that he started to get serious about driving. "When I was in high school, I thought I was going to go play college baseball," Putnam said. "But I started jogging and training a little bit more, and it just went from there. I just enjoy it, I really do. I like being at the farm, training in the morning, going to the fairs, working the track. I like to work. It's just in the blood. Some days are tough, but there is a lot of reward, too." One of the rewards is getting to drive a horse like Rockin Nola. Putnam began driving the female pacer in June 2019 at the age of 3. She is a three-time Indiana Sire Stakes champion and winner of 21 of 44 races and $564,907 lifetime. "She's been a blessing to our family, and to me, she's been huge," Putnam said about the now 5-year-old mare who is trained and co-owned by his father. "She's put me on the map, showing that I can do well at a high level with pressure. "She's put me in a lot of different race situations as well. Her 3-year-old year, I had to adapt to everyone wanting to follow the favorite every week. That was very hard. I found myself getting in bad spots, having to be first up, not controlling the race like I would have liked. That was a big learning curve. But I got used to driving a top mare and now it's normal. The whole thing has been awesome. She's so much fun to be around in the barn, to train; she's spoiled rotten. She's a dream." Last year, Rockin Nola and Putnam competed in the Breeders Crown Mare Pace, which was held at Hoosier Park. Rockin Nola finished sixth in the race, which was won by Dan Patch Award honoree Kissin In The Sand. "That was pretty cool," Putnam said. "It's the best of the best. It was a good experience all around. I wish we could have done a little better, but it was a good time. "We're hoping she carries the momentum she's had the last couple years," he added. "We're going to stake her up to a few things outside of Indiana, and if she's good enough we're going to go. So, there might be some opportunities to see some other tracks this year. If she has her 'A' game, it will be a lot of fun." Working alongside his father is another reward for Putnam. Joe Putnam has won 3,043 races as a driver and 1,289 as a trainer. "He's a huge influence," Putnam said. "I couldn't do it without him, especially letting me drive our stable and letting people see what I could do out there. Without that, it would have never happened. It's awesome. We work very well together. We have a lot of fun working together, most of the time. He takes care of me, and I try to take care of him. It just works out really well. I enjoy it." The Putnams have a 30-horse stable located not far from Hoosier Park. Among their horses are 11 2-year-olds. "We have a nice mix," Putnam said. "We're hoping we can develop something, have them step up. You never know. That's why we do it." by Ken Weingartner, for USTA

It looks like motherhood can wait for Pat Matters. The 6-year-old harness racing mare, who is this season's fastest trotter thanks to her track-record 1:51.2 mile at Dover Downs on Jan. 5, is being pointed toward a Grand Circuit campaign by owner Patricia Stable and trainer Nifty Norman rather than retirement and a career as a broodmare. "We were of two minds about what to do with her," Norman said. "There was some thought of retiring her and breeding her, but she's raced so good this year we're going to press on and stake her. The owner kind of figured she deserved a shot against those better ones." On Saturday, Pat Matters returns to The Meadowlands for the first time since her second-place finish in November's TVG Series championship for female trotters. She is the morning line's 7-2 second choice in the sixth race, a $22,500 conditioned trot. The millionaire JL Cruze is the 3-1 favorite. Pat Matters, bred by Patricia Stable, is by Explosive Matter out of Dibrizzi and a half-sister to Crazy About Pat, a 2013 New York Sire Stakes champion. Unraced at age 2, Pat Matters has won 17 of 50 career starts and $370,282. Since adding Lasix last October, she has won three of nine races and $91,610. She was fourth in last year's Breeders Crown Mare Trot. "She's been a lot better ever since (Lasix)," Norman said. "She's a very sound horse; a big strong healthy thing." Andy McCarthy will drive Pat Matters on Saturday. McCarthy has driven the mare in six of her past eight races, including the track-record mile at Dover. Pat Matter's 1:51.2 shattered the previous track standard for a trotting mare, 1:53, established by Buck I St Pat in 2008. "Dover is like that, you can be surprised by a time there," Norman said. "But I was surprised by how easily she did it. That was nice to see. I was shocked by how old that record was. That amazes me." Pat Matters will get time off to freshen up for the Grand Circuit, with Norman starting to map out a schedule for the mare. "We just have to put a plan together and see where we're going to start her off," Norman said. "There are some good horses in that division, but we have confidence in her so we're going to take a shot. If you're running in the top three, she can make a good living." Racing begins at 6 p.m. (EST) at The Meadowlands. The Big M and TrackMaster have teamed to regularly provide free past performances for each race card. Past performances can be found here on The Meadowlands website. by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA    

Family and friends play a big part in the Krasnican clan's enjoyment of harness racing, even if only in name. John Krasnican Jr. and his mom Mary have been breeding and owning horses together for a couple decades. Often, they name horses after family members or friends. The most successful of those -- My Buddy Ninkster -- competes in Saturday's $20,000 Open I Handicap for male pacers at Miami Valley Raceway. My Buddy Ninkster, a homebred 9-year-old gelding, enters the event with 45 wins in 231 career starts and $585,781 in earnings. He's accumulated that money the old-fashioned way; he's earned it. None of his 159 check-collecting finishes have come in a race with a purse greater than $25,000. "To do what he's done is impressive," John Krasnican Jr. said. "He's a special horse. He's been the bread-and-butter of everything. He's the type you dream of having." My Buddy Ninkster spent his first two seasons in Indiana, where his competition included stars Wiggle It Jiggleit, the 2015 Horse of the Year, and Freaky Feet Pete, the 2015 Breeders Crown champion. At age 4, My Buddy Ninkster headed first to Chicago and then to Ohio. In his first start at Miami Valley Raceway in 2016, he opened eyes with a last-to-first rally to capture the Open I Handicap. My Buddy Ninkster was eighth, six lengths off the lead, at three-quarters but used a three-wide move around the final turn to win going away by 1-3/4 lengths. "It looked like he had no prayer," Krasnican said. "I still have it on video at home and watch it quite often. It's my favorite race of all time to watch. It was pretty special." My Buddy Ninkster, named after one of Krasnican's friends, is not the family's only success. The horse's dam, the homebred Sporty Ellie, was named after Krasnican's daughter and visited the winner's circle 13 times in her career.   Another homebred, Johns My Buddy, named after Krasnican's oldest son, earned $119,061 lifetime. Big Brad, an $11,000 yearling purchase renamed after Krasnican's youngest son, set the track record of 1:51.1 for a 2-year-old colt pacer at Balmoral Park in 2012, erasing a mark established 10 years earlier by Yankee Cruiser, and earned more than $300,000 for the family before he was claimed away. "We name the horses after family and friends and try to get other people interested in the business," Krasnican said. "It's kind of a way to promote it a little bit. If people are unfamiliar with racing, you name a horse after them and all of a sudden they're interested and watching." Krasnican became interested in racing as a teenager through trips to the track with his dad. "I was always interested in the sport, it was always fun to watch," he said. "We liked to bet the horses. We don't bet as much now. We figure what we've got invested is our bet." Krasnican at one time considered becoming a trainer but decided the best way for him to be hands-on in the sport was as a breeder. "My parents got involved as owners in the mid-1980s and I got involved in '96 with them," the 48-year-old Krasnican said. "I told dad that if you want a horse to race for a lot of money, you need young ones. I thought the easiest way to do that was breeding them." He added with a laugh, "After doing it for 20-some years, I don't believe that's true anymore." Krasnican, who works full time, has scaled back on breeding in recent years, keeping three broodmares at his 20-acre farm in Streator, Ill., where he gets assistance from his dad and brother Chuck. "It's kind of a family affair," Krasnican said. "I couldn't do it without my dad and my brother. They help a lot on the farm. "Three (broodmares) is a comfortable number where you can still have fun with it. I always want to be in the business. I just want to make it so it's enjoyable. We've had some success for being a small stable." Racing begins at 4:05 p.m. (EST) Saturday at Miami Valley. For complete entries, click here. by Ken Weingartner,  for the USTA

Like many who grew up around harness racing, Iowa native Nick Roland began jogging horses before he was a teenager. It was as a teenager, though, that a horse named Indian Folklore came to him and ignited his passion for the sport. Indian Folklore, a pacer owned by Roland’s grandfather Roger, raced on the Chicago circuit for several years early in his career before returning to Iowa at the age of 5 in 1999. “Grandpa told me to take him and I could have whatever he made,” said Roland, who at the time had just turned 17. “That horse really got me going, got me hooked. “I was just starting driving, so I didn’t really know what I was doing. There were a couple times I got parked for the mile and he just would grind it out. He was the gutsiest racehorse that you could ever imagine.” In his first two full seasons back in Iowa, Indian Folklore won 20 of 34 races, hit the board a total of 27 times, and earned $13,552. “Being young, that was a lot of money,” Roland said. “That was how I really got started.” Roland continued driving and training part time while in high school and college, and, after graduating from college, for a year while working as an insurance agent. When the track Running Aces opened in Minnesota in 2008, he decided to race on a fulltime basis. Today, he is the all-time winningest driver at Running Aces, with more than 800 victories. For his career, he has won 1,839 races as a driver and 773 as a trainer. “My parents wanted me to get a regular job and (race) during the summer on the side,” Roland said. “I tried it for a year when I got out of college, but I was miserable. I raced all through school; I had the bug. I couldn’t sit in an office anymore, so I quit. When Running Aces opened, it was five hours from home, I decided that was what I was going to do.” Nick Roland           --Dee Leftwich photo          Roland enjoyed a record-setting 2020 season. He set career highs for starts with 830, wins with 186, and purses with $990,728. Among the highlights, he was the leading driver at Running Aces and set a record by winning five of the 12 divisional championships for Minnesota-sired horses. He also finished third in wins last year at Cal Expo, where he has competed since 2017. “It was kind of the first year that I raced pretty much the whole year,” Roland said. “And we were really fortunate, we had a lot of good young horses and I got to drive a lot of good young horses in Minnesota, especially in the finals. It was a very good year.” Currently, Roland is second in the driver standings at Cal Expo’s winter/spring meet, which concludes in late April, and ranks third in the trainer standings. He is planning a schedule similar to 2020, alternating between California and Minnesota with a stable of 30 horses. Eight horses in the stable are 2-year-olds. “I always enjoy the young horses the most,” Roland said. “I really appreciate our old warhorses, but it’s just really rewarding to raise or buy a yearling and develop it and have it turn into, maybe not even a champion, but a good horse that is 1-2-3 and can compete at the highest level in their class every week. That’s the most rewarding thing for me.”   Ken Weingartner Media Relations Manager U.S. Trotting Association

Hightstown, NJ — Anoka Hanover might not have been the hardest working horse in harness racing last season, but as far as Dan Patch Award winning 2-year-old trotters over a span of almost 25 years, she was nearly at the top. The Noel Daley-trained Anoka Hanover won 10 of 14 starts in 2020 and captured the Dan Patch Award for best 2-year-old female trotter. Going back to 1997 only one 2-year-old Dan Patch Award winning trotter — female or male — exceeded 13 races, the filly Check Me Out, who won 14 of 16 in 2011. The most recent 2-year-old male trotter to surpass 13 starts was Malabar Man, who won 13 of 15 races in 1996. “Fourteen starts are a lot to give a 2-year-old, but she was as good or better at the end than she was early,” Daley said. “She was never the prettiest gaited horse. But she had a good attitude, a good head on her. I was very happy with the way her year progressed.” The Noel Daley-trained Anoka Hanover won 10 of 14 starts in 2020 and captured the Dan Patch Award for best 2-year-old female trotter. Lisa photo. Anoka Hanover won the final seven races of her campaign, capping it with a triumph in the Goldsmith Maid on Nov. 21 at The Meadowlands. Other victories during that span included the Kindergarten Classic Series championship and divisions of the Bluegrass, International Stallion, and Simpson stakes. Anoka Hanover winning the Goldsmith Maid She was the richest 2-year-old filly trotter, with $587,758 in purses, and the fastest, with a mark of 1:52.3 set in November’s Kindergarten final at The Meadowlands. “I think she rose to the top at the end of it, but there was plenty of depth in that division,” Daley said. “I think she stepped it up and, which they often do, a few of the others had sort of had enough. She just seemed to have the physical attributes and mental attributes to. She always showed plenty of talent. She’s a strong filly. She’s not overly big, she’s medium sized but well built. “They all change from (age) 2 to 3. Sometimes, they only have one good season in them. But she ended her year good and, to me, that’s always a healthy sign. I expect her to come back and have a good year.” Todd McCarthy, a 27-year-old Australia native who was in his first season of racing in North America, picked up the drive behind Anoka Hanover for her last seven starts. McCarthy’s brother, Andy, had been driving the filly but had other commitments. “I was a little worried about putting Todd on,” Daley said. “Obviously, I knew he’s a very good driver, but he really didn’t have any experience with young trotters. He aced it with her. He was really patient with her. In his first start, she put in a step and he didn’t panic and steadied her up. He did a great job with her.” Daley purchased Anoka Hanover, a daughter of Donato Hanover out of Aunt Mel, for $35,000 at the 2019 Standardbred Horse Sale. During the racing season, he owned the filly with L.A. Express Stable and Caviart Farms. At the completion of the campaign, Crawford Farms Racing joined the ownership group. As part of her offseason, Anoka Hanover had chips removed from both hind ankles. “They might have been there all year, I don’t know,” Daley said. “Hopefully, she comes back even better.” Anoka Hanover was not eligible to the Breeders Crown at age 2 but is eligible this year. “People ask me if I was upset not being in the Breeders Crown, but I couldn’t be in everything,” Daley said. “I would have had to miss something else somewhere. Basically, she made more than $300,000 in her last two starts. It worked out OK.” by Ken Weingartner, USTA Media Relations Manager

Western Joe continues to bring joy to breeder/owner Anthony Ruggeri. The 7-year-old pacer, named Joe to honor a late uncle who introduced Ruggeri to harness racing when he was a kid, is looking at a reduced Grand Circuit schedule this season but will receive no less admiration from his connections. The 2018 Sam McKee Memorial champion has won 30 of 97 career races and $712,908 as he prepares for Saturday's start in a $22,500 conditioned pace at The Meadowlands. Western Joe, who leaves from post nine, is the 3-1 morning-line favorite in the 10-horse field. "He's obviously been my best horse ever," said Ruggeri, who shares ownership of the Chris Choate-trained gelding with Richard Tosies. "He can race every week; I think that's the most impressive thing about him. He just never seems to get tired. I think he races better that way. He doesn't really like time off. He loves to race. "If he gets his trip, I think he really can win any race. He's got the speed. He really hasn't shown much decline. He's 7 now and still comes up with some pretty good miles. But I don't even care about winning money with him. I just like to see him win and get the respect that he deserves." Western Joe is a son of Western Ideal out of Ante Fay, who raced for Ruggeri in the mid-2000s. His best season came at the age of 4 in 2018, when he bested McWicked in the McKee and also captured the Great Northeast Open Series championship. He finished second in two preliminary rounds of the Graduate Series and third in the final. He was second-placed-third in the Confederation Cup. Last year, Western Joe was fifth in the William R. Haughton Memorial and sixth in the Breeders Crown Open Pace and TVG Series Open Pace final. His top victory came in a preferred handicap at The Meadowlands, which was sandwiched between his starts in the Breeders Crown and TVG. For the season, he won five of 21 races and $99,285. "He's been pretty consistent," Ruggeri said. "He's gone against the best horses and he's been maybe just one notch under stakes level. But as far as racing (in classes) from that point down, he's been very competitive. "We'll do a few stakes at The Meadowlands this year, that's where he likes to race, but not as many as last year. If he were racing only in overnights, I think he would have made a lot more money last year. But you've got to try. He deserves the chance to compete against those horses. It's nice to see him race with the big boys and put in a good effort here and there." Western Joe enters Saturday's start off a victory Jan. 9 at The Meadowlands. He has won two of his past three races dating back to last year. "His last couple starts he's been dynamite," Ruggeri said. "Hopefully, he'll be good on Saturday. He's training good. I'm expecting a pretty solid try." Racing begins at 6 p.m. (EST) Saturday at The Meadowlands. For free full card TrackMaster past performances, click here. by Ken Weingartner, USTA Media Relations Manager

Hightstown, NJ — Pinske Stables did not race as many times as most of the harness racing owners in last year’s earnings Top 50, but it made the most of the opportunities. The stable — made up of Marlys Pinske, her son Karl and her grandson Carter — ranked 30th in starts among that group in 2020, with 217. It ranked seventh in purses, with $3.50 million. The six owners ahead of Pinske Stables in earnings all had at least 174 more starts and five had a total of at least 920. Among the Pinske Stable’s 29 starters last season were three Dan Patch Award winners: 2-year-old female pacer Fire Start Hanover, 2-year-old male trotter Venerate, and 3-year-old male trotter Amigo Volo. All the numbers added up to Pinske Stables being named Owner of the Year earlier this month by the U.S. Harness Writers Association. The Pinskes were finalists with Caviart Farms and Crawford Farms Racing. “My hopes were high, but you never know,” Karl Pinske said. “It’s not easy to do. But I was hoping because it’s really hard for a smaller stable like us to ever repeat that (kind of year) again. The other stables had very good years as well. They had nice horses, for sure. They’re excellent people and have a lot of money invested.” The Pinskes have been involved in harness racing since the mid-1950s when Karl’s grandfather Robert began competing at the Minnesota county fairs. Karl’s father, Tim, followed in Robert’s footsteps and the family’s participation continued from there. Tim Pinske passed away in July 2018. “It’s a bit bittersweet since my dad was gone just a short time before,” Karl said. “I’m excited for my mom, she’s put a lot into this.” Carter Pinske, 25, has worked with trainer Nifty Norman since graduating from college. Carter got his first training win in 2019 with Amigo Volo. “I’m proud and excited for Carter,” Karl said. “I’ve been around it a long time and it’s great, it’s fun, but nothing is better than seeing your son do well with it.” Fire Start Hanover was the Dan Patch Award winner for 2-year-old pacing fillies. Lisa photo. Amigo Volo and Fire Start Hanover, both in Norman’s stable, were the leading money-winners in their respective divisions and were Breeders Crown champions. Venerate, trained by Julie Miller and co-owned with the Andy Miller Stable, won the inaugural Mohawk Million and sat atop his division in purses as well. “For me, having Carter work with Nifty and having horses with Andy and Julie is great,” Karl said. “Our friendship goes back a long way. That’s a great feeling too, just having those guys and knowing we can trust them and work with them. “Every time we went to the track last year, we felt like we had a chance. That’s more than you can ask for.” In addition to winning a second Breeders Crown, Amigo Volo’s victories in 2020 included the Kentucky Futurity. Pinske Stables also won the Kentucky Filly Futurity that same afternoon with Love A Good Story. “That kind of stuff just doesn’t happen,” Karl said in amazement of the day’s results. Venerate won the inaugural Mohawk Million and sat atop his division in purses. New Image Media photo. Pinske Stables shares ownership of Amigo Volo with David J. Miller and Love A Good Story with Daniel Plouffe and Kentuckiana Farms. It shares ownership of Fire Start Hanover with David Hoese and Lawrence Means. “Our owner group has stuck with us through thin and thick,” Karl said. “I say it in that order for a reason because there were some not great years. To see the smiles on their faces at the Breeders Crown was pretty special. “But all the races are special. All the wins are special. Doing it with our family and those guys was the best part.” As for 2021, Karl said Pinske Stables will continue to operate with around two dozen horses. Among the group returning from last season are two male trotters that banked six figures at age 2 in 2020: Jack Fire, who was a Grand Circuit stakes winner, and Steel, who won the New York Sire Stakes championship. “We bought more (yearlings) on the trotting side, that seems to be Carter’s passion, but our horse numbers in Florida are identical to last year,” Karl said. “There were plenty of opportunities to be bigger, but we chose the other way. You don’t want to change the formula too much right now.” by Ken Weingartner, USTA Media Relations Manager

After picking up his second Driver of the Year Award and becoming the first harness racing driver not named Tetrick or Gingras to lead North America in purses since 2006, Dexter Dunn will attempt this year to accomplish the same goal he sets every season -- do better. He knows it might be difficult. To briefly recap Dunn's 2020 campaign, he was the regular driver of six Dan Patch Award winners, led all drivers in Breeders Crown wins with four, and set world records behind Manchego and Party Girl Hill. Dunn's $11.1 million in purses was North America's best. The last time neither Tim Tetrick nor Yannick Gingras ended the year on top came 15 years earlier when Ron Pierce occupied the No. 1 spot. "It's a new season and we'll start all over again," Dunn said. "I always want to do better. It will be hard, but I'm going to try. I'm always up for a challenge. I love a challenge." Dunn only arrived in the U.S. from New Zealand in August 2018. In his first two full seasons in North America, he won 855 races and $23.2 million in purses. Those earnings ranked second and the wins seventh among all drivers in North America. "It's been a pretty crazy couple of years, really," Dunn said. "I just got to drive so many good horses. It's made my job a lot easier, but it's also exciting for me, so it's been very good. "I got behind some really good horses last year and they performed, and all year too. It wasn't like one race here, one race there, they really did it for the majority of the year. It was a different year for everybody involved, but the horses performed outstanding. The trainers had them ready and really had some good runs." The six Dan Patch Award winners driven regularly by Dunn were 2-year-old female pacer Fire Start Hanover, 3-year-old male trotter Amigo Volo, 3-year-old female pacer Party Girl Hill, older male pacer Bettor's Wish, older female trotter Manchego, and older female pacer Kissin In The Sand. He also drove Horse of the Year Tall Dark Stranger once, winning a Kentucky Sire Stakes division. In addition to his four Breeders Crowns, Dunn's highlights included winning his first Triple Crown event, with Amigo Volo in the Kentucky Futurity, and winning a division of the Tattersalls Pace with Party Girl Hill, who became only the second female pacer in 30 years to defeat males in a race worth at least $100,000. He also won a Jugette elimination with Party Girl Hill in 1:49.3, the first sub-1:50 mile by a female pacer on a half-mile track and drove Manchego to victory in 1:49.3 in the Spirit of Massachusetts at Plainridge Park, the fastest time ever for a female trotter on a five-eighths-mile track. Dunn put an exclamation point on his season Nov. 21 at The Meadowlands, when he won the Governor's Cup with Always A Miki and three TVG Series championships, with Bettor's Wish, Kissin In The Sand, and Manchego. The victory with Bettor's Wish was particularly satisfying. Bettor's Wish was Dunn's first Dan Patch Award winner in 2019 and was making the final start in a career that saw him win 24 of 44 races and $2.6 million. Bettor's Wish final start As Bettor's Wish completed his 2-3/4 length win in the TVG, Dunn thrust his fist in the air as they crossed the finish line. "It was just one of those in-the-moment things, with it being his last race and the way he won it," Dunn said. "It wasn't planned at all, it just happened. "He's been so good to me and had such a great career; it was nice to see him go out the way he did. He was the first good one I got on when I got here. He never let me down. I let him down a few times, but he never let me down. I was just really happy for all the owners for him to go out like that." Prior to arriving in North America, Dunn was the leading driver in New Zealand, leading the premiership in wins for 10 consecutive years from 2008 through 2017. He won the World Driving Championship in 2015. Dunn was encouraged to move to the U.S. by longtime family friend Chris Ryder, a fellow New Zealand native who has trained in the States for decades and counted Bettor's Wish and Party Girl Hill among his stable's stars in 2020. "I've had a lot of help from good friends," Dunn said. "I love it here. I love America and the opportunities. I've been really enjoying it." Editor's Note: To read more on the North American career of Dexter Dunn, check out the cover story in the February 2021 issue of Hoof Beats magazine. For more information, or to subscribe, go to by Ken Weingartner, USTA Media Relations Manager  

Tall Dark Stranger will go down in history as the winner of the 2020 Horse of the Year Award handed out by the U.S. Harness Writers Association. For the members of his ownership group, he might be remembered as the horse of a lifetime. Michelle and Al Crawford's Crawford Farms Racing, Marvin Katz, Judy and Buck Chaffee's Caviart Farms, and Howard Taylor shared ownership of Tall Dark Stranger throughout his harness racing career, which concluded last fall with 19 wins and two second-place finishes among 22 starts. He earned $2.02 million lifetime. As a 3-year-old, Tall Dark Stranger won 11 of 13 races and $1.30 million. He was harness racing's only millionaire in the COVID-19 impacted season and his triumphs included the Meadowlands Pace, North America Cup, Cane Pace, and Kentucky Sire Stakes final. He is the only horse to ever win the Metro Pace and a Breeders Crown as a 2-year-old and the Meadowlands Pace and North America Cup as a 3-year-old. Tall Dark Stranger established his career-best win time of 1:47.1 in a stakes-record Cane Pace performance at The Meadowlands last August. Only six 3-year-old pacers in history have gone faster. He also won twice in 1:47.2 last season, making him the only 3-year-old pacer in history with more than two victories in 1:47.2 or faster. One of the 1:47.2 triumphs came in the Meadowlands Pace, which he won in dramatic fashion, giving up the lead to Papi Rob Hanover in the stretch before fighting back to win by a neck. He became well known for fighting his rivals in the stretch and winning tight finishes -- six of his 11 victories at 3 came by a half-length or less. One of Tall Dark Stranger‘s 1:47.2 triumphs came in the Meadowlands Pace, which he won in dramatic fashion, giving up the lead to Papi Rob Hanover in the stretch before fighting back to win by a neck.     --Lisa photo. Even in defeat, Tall Dark Stranger gained admiration. His second-place finish in last year's Breeders Crown colt-and-gelding pace came after he set a stakes record with a :52.3 half and battled nearly the entire field as he came down the stretch. He held them all off except Sandbetweenmytoes, who rallied on the far outside to win in the final strides. "Many people think that may have been his greatest race, and I wouldn't argue with that," co-owner Katz said. "But there are a lot of memories. Winning the Metro as a 2-year-old, winning the North America Cup. His victory in the Meadowlands Pace was so dramatic and his performance in the Cane was beyond spectacular. "How do you pick one highlight? He had half-a-dozen races of a lifetime." Tall Dark Stranger is the seventh male pacer in history to receive a Dan Patch Award at age 2 and be named Horse of the Year at 3. The others were Somebeachsomewhere, Nihilator, Niatross, Albatross, Bret Hanover, and Torpid. A son of Bettor's Delight out of Dan Patch Award winner Precocious Beauty, Tall Dark Stranger was bred by Jim Avritt Sr. and sold for $330,000 as a yearling at the Lexington Selected Sale. He was trained by Nancy Takter and driven by Yannick Gingras. Tall Dark Stranger concluded his career last fall with 19 wins and two second-place finishes among 22 starts. He earned $2.02 million lifetime.     --New Image Media photo. Following is a compilation of comments by Tall Dark Stranger's owners, reflecting on the horse's career. Judy Chaffee: When he was a yearling, he looked the part. He was very impressive. I said to Buck at the sale, is there any such thing as being too perfect? He already looked like he owned the world, and he hadn't even sold yet. He came to know it himself. Al Crawford: Going into his first qualifier, Nancy said that he was a special colt. Then he was lights out in his qualifier, especially with his last quarter (:26.1). That's when we started to think, wow, maybe he is special. By the time he made his second or third start, you could see he had tremendous ability. Buck Chaffee: When you get into horseracing, you dream of, not even a Horse of the Year, but just a top horse. For that horse to go on and be so fantastic and end up being Horse of the Year is beyond our wildest dreams. It's like a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing. Howard Taylor: I'm hoping I do, but I'm expecting to never have another one like him. I've had a lot of good ones, but I've never had one like him. I've never seen a horse that just says, "I'm not losing." He's just an unbelievable horse. Michelle Crawford: I don't know if there is a horse that brought more excitement to every single race. That excitement of watching him in the stretch, almost every race, there's no other horse like him. I don't know if my heart could take another year of him racing on the track. (Laughs.) But he never gave up. It was unbelievable to watch. Buck Chaffee: His races were always tense; he just never let you relax. He wouldn't get out there and blow the field away, he was wanting to duke it out with them all the time. He made your heart skip a few beats, that's for sure. Howard Taylor: My cardiologist is very happy that he's retired. He didn't want to lose, but he sure as heck didn't want to win by much. I really think that he was toying with them. In the Meadowlands Pace, I was sure he was beaten. I was counting how many others were coming to see if we could still get a check. But then he just did what he always does. It was an unbelievable race. Al Crawford: That is probably one of my favorite races of all time. The other race that stands out is the North America Cup. He just destroyed them. They just weren't able to pace with him. Marvin Katz: You lose sight of the fact he had incredible high speed and could carry it for a very long distance, which is a trait of great champions. Of course, his courage and determination, that is the unique quality everyone looks for that separates the great ones from the rest of them. But he had everything. He was the whole package. Al Crawford: He did what he needed to do to win. He's a very smart horse. Yannick didn't just send him every week, he drove him intelligently, and the colt always got home. I think he was brilliantly fast, but he also had more heart and determination than any horse I've ever seen. Buck Chaffee: Just unbelievable character. Now we're hoping he passes that along to his offspring because we're breeding a lot of mares to him, as you could imagine. We're hoping for them to carry that on. Michelle Crawford: I think he will have every chance to produce any kind of champion. Marvin Katz: I think the market considers him one of the great horses we've seen in a long time. I certainly do. It's been a magical ride. I've been fortunate to enjoy great horses and you really appreciate their brilliance after you have a chance to reflect on it. When you look at what he accomplished, he's in the most elite company possible. I think he's a horse for the ages.   Ken Weingartner Media Relations Manager U.S. Trotting Association

Greg Luther's million-dollar experiment has increased in size and scope. After spending seven figures at last fall's harness racing yearling sales in what he called his "million-dollar experiment" to find and develop Grand Circuit talent, the Ohio resident has continued to add to his stable with the recent purchases of several veteran performers. On Monday (Jan. 18), Luther bought the top-selling horses at the Tattersalls Winter Mixed Sale at The Meadowlands - Chief Mate for $220,000 and Captain Kirk for $215,000. Both are 4-year-old male pacers trained formerly by Tony Alagna. Those buys came on the heels of privately purchasing 2020 Adios winner Catch The Fire as well as Catch The Fire's now 3-year-old full brother Captains Place. "I ended up spending about $1.1 million on yearlings and spent about another million dollars on older racehorses in the past 30 days," Luther said, adding with a laugh. "So, I guess it's a two-million-dollar experiment now." Luther has a 51-horse stable trained by his brother Todd, who is based at Winner's Circle Training Center in central Ohio. Luther, who competes as Black Magic Racing, is the sole owner of all the horses except Catch The Fire; original owner Charles Taylor retained an interest in the 4-year-old stallion. "This is new for both of us, my brother and myself, to be into the higher-end horses," Luther said. "We've been definitely putting it out there to try and make 2021 a huge year for us. I've got an online marketing business and things have been good here in the past year-and-a-half. I've always wanted to get into the big leagues and it just seemed like good timing. We're trying to get onto the Grand Circuit scene." As for Monday's purchases, Luther said, "Those were the two horses I was looking for." Chief Mate, a stallion by Captaintreacherous out of Heaven Forbid, has won six of 23 career starts and $226,619. He finished second by a head to Catch The Fire in last year's Adios and at age 2 won the Kentucky Sire Stakes consolation as well as three preliminary divisions of the Kindergarten Classic Series. He won a qualifier in 1:53.2 last weekend at The Meadowlands. Captain Kirk, a stallion by Captaintreacherous out of Aria Hanover, has won three of 24 lifetime starts and $265,880. Last year, he won the Tompkins-Geers Stakes and an elimination of the North America Cup. He is a full brother to Grand Circuit stakes winner Blue Diamond Eyes. Both horses were consigned by Preferred Equine. "They're both nice horses," Luther said. "Chief Mate just qualified so he's ready to race. The other horse is going to be about 90 days out yet. This is all new for me, but we're going to try to hit all the big dances with both of them. I think they'll both do well as they mature into older horses. "Everything seems to be lined up well. I think we're going to have a phenomenal year. It should be a lot of fun." King Alphonso was the top-selling trotter in Monday's sale, going for $145,000 to Matt Morrison. The 4-year-old stallion, by Muscle Hill out of Amour Heiress, was trained previously by Ake Svanstedt. He is 1-for-1 this year and has won four of 20 races in his career, totaling $241,465. He was a Grand Circuit stakes winner at age 2. He also was consigned by Preferred Equine. A total of 119 horses and stallion shares sold Monday for a gross of $3.74 million. For complete results, click here. by Ken Weingartner, USTA Media Relations Manager

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