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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 Ken Weingartner Media Relations Manager

A 4-year-old female pacer, Noone To Depend On has won four of six starts and established a harness racing track record at Hollywood Dayton Raceway since joining Kauffman's stable in November. On Friday night, she is the 4-1 morning line favorite from post 10 (in the second tier) in the Fillies & Mares Open at Miami Valley. Noone To Depend On enters the race off an eighth-place finish in the Jan. 20 F&M Open at Miami Valley, when she started from the gate's outermost post - No. 9. That loss snapped a four-race win streak, with two of the victories coming in the F&M Open at Miami Valley and another coming in her track-record 1:51.4 mile at Dayton. Stephen Herrick and Mark Bogen own Noone To Depend On, who was purchased for $25,000 at the Standardbred Horse Sale Mixed Sale in early November. For her career, the Ontario-born mare has won 12 of 44 races and earned $120,746 in purses. "She's turned out really well so far," said Kauffman, who trains and drives Noone To Depend On. "Hopefully it continues. We thought she would be a useful racehorse down this way, but she's really overachieved and exceeded our expectations, for sure. It's just been headshaking. We didn't expect anything like this." Noone To Depend On is a daughter of stallion Santanna Blue Chip out of the mare Tipsy Taters. Her family includes a number of six-figure money-earners, including past O'Brien Award winner Cupcakesnwhipcream. Last year at age 3, Noone To Depend On was competitive on the Ontario Sire Stakes Grassroots circuit, winning three times, and had a fourth-place finish in a sire stakes Gold division event won by L A Delight. "She wasn't one of the top fillies, but she showed she could go with them," Kauffman said. "She was one of the five mares we had picked out at the sale. A couple of them went for more than we thought they were worth. We were shocked that we got her for $25,000. I thought she would bring over $30,000, for what they were bringing at the sale. "We thought she would run up and down the conditions and be a nice useful race mare. So far, she's just been super good. She's got a good attitude and she's a pleasure to be around." Noone To Depend On opened eyes with her 1:51.4 victory at Dayton despite cold (26 degrees) and snowy conditions. The time established the track record for 3-year-old filly pacers. "That was the only time we raced her on the front end, and she seemed to like it," Kauffman said. Kauffman will have a difficult time getting to the front early on Friday, starting from the second tier. "I'm not a big fan of the second tier," Kauffman said. "You're at the mercy of the (post) 1 and 2 horses. If the outside horses leave you're liable to get away seventh or eighth as opposed to being halfway close. But we'll play the hand that's dealt to us. We'll just have to see how the trip works out and go from there." The connections have no plans for Noone To Depend On, other than trying to keep her at the top of her game. "I gave her a month off between Dayton and Miami Valley to freshen her up a bit," Kauffman said. "As long as she keeps racing as good as she has, I think we'll keep going forward. She'll let us know when she needs a break. It's a long year, too, and we'd definitely like to race her at Scioto this summer, so we'll just have to play it by ear. Kauffman, who set career highs last year as a driver with 315 wins and $3.37 million in purses, is the leading driver at Miami Valley, with 45 victories. "So far the first month at Miami Valley has been exceptional," Kauffman said. "Hopefully we can keep it rolling." Ken Weingartner

Dave Briggs, writing for Harness Racing Update, and the tandem of Melissa Keith and Keith McCalmont, writing for Trot magazine, were named the winners in the 2016 John Hervey Awards for excellence in harness writing journalism, the U.S. Harness Writers Association announced Thursday. In addition, Clive Cohen and Mark Hall were named the winners in the Smallsreed Awards for excellence in harness racing photography. 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. Results of the broadcast division will be announced at a later date. Briggs won in the news/commentary category for his story titled "Wallace slowly starting to rebuild after being decimated by Classy Lane fire," which appeared in the Jan. 8 issue of Harness Racing Update. It is Briggs' ninth Hervey Award, which is a record, and his third in the news/commentary division. Click here to read the story. Keith and McCalmont won in the feature writing category for their story titled "Remember those lost," which appeared in the February issue of Trot and presented memories of horses lost in the Classy Lane fire from horsemen and horsewomen affected by the tragedy. It is Keith's second Hervey honor and the first for McCalmont. Honorable mention in the news/commentary category went to Gordon Waterstone, writing for The Horseman And Fair World magazine, for his story "Suspicious texts cause Jug controversy," which appeared in the Sept. 28 issue. Feature writing honorable mentions went to Marvin Pave and Beverley Smith. Pave was recognized for his story "Have cause, will travel," which appeared in the November issue of Hoof Beats magazine and detailed how a racing family inspired the industry to help in the fight against multiple sclerosis. Smith was recognized for her story "Ron Waples: Just a win away from happiness," which appeared on the Woodbine Entertainment website on May 30. The writing categories were judged by a panel consisting of past Hervey winner Brad Schmaltz, freelance writer Lou Monaco, and Philadelphia Inquirer Sports Editor John Quinn. Cohen's photo "October Racing," which first appeared on the WEG Standardbred Instagram page on Oct. 1 received the Smallsreed Award for feature photography. It is Cohen's second Smallsreed honor. Cohen also received honorable mention in the action category for his photo of three horses in the snow at Woodbine. Hall was recognized in the Smallsreed action category for his photo "Hey there," which appeared in the September issue of Hoof Beats. It is Hall's sixth Smallsreed Award. Michael Burns received honorable mention in the feature category for his photo of horses behind the starting gate at Mohawk. Ann MacNeill received honorable mention in the action division for her photo of a horse on the track at Pinette Raceway. Judges for the photography categories were racetrack and newspaper photographer Bill Denver, multiple Eclipse Award-winning photographer Barbara Livingston, and former harness racing groom and longtime newspaper/magazine photographer Phil McAuliffe. 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 Ken Weingartner

Justin Parker has a long way to go to equal his father's win total when it comes to harness racing, but that's not a priority at the moment. The son of renowned harness racing driver Billy "Zeke" Parker Jr. has a more modest goal than approaching dad's 11,288 career victories. "Right now I'm just focused on 100 (wins)," said a laughing Parker, who has 55 triumphs. "I'd like to see if I could get enough drives to get 45 more this year and try to build from there." The 34-year-old Parker, a native of Maine, has driven sporadically for the last 17 years. On Thursday night, he will drive Post Time Terror for trainer Lisa Zabielski in the seventh race at the Meadowlands. The race will be the first of three Thursday to be aired on "Meadowlands Harness Live" from 9:30-10:30 p.m. on SNY. Parker enjoyed his best year in the sulky in 2008, when he raced at Pompano Park in Florida and won 10 of 93 starts. He returned home to Maine soon thereafter, taking a track job at Bangor while continuing to drive a modest schedule on the side. Parker also was on the track crew at Pompano and has spent the last year as the lead track superintendent at Harrah's Philadelphia. He hopes to drive as often as his schedule permits. "I'd like to try to break in around here (in Pennsylvania and New Jersey) and make a name for myself," said Parker, who also had a business shoeing horses while in Maine. "I've worked for some class-act horsemen over the years and they helped me as much as they could. I've had some opportunities, but never got a lot of power. "I love driving. I've always had to work, but it's what I've always wanted to do. I'd like to be able to get four, five, six drives a night. Or maybe I could get to the point where I could start my own little stable. Hopefully something might come my way." * * * * * * * * Mark Wasserman is usually one to buy pacers, but one of his earliest yearling purchases when he returned to owning horses in the mid-2000s was trotter Stonebridge Idol. And Stonebridge Idol, now a 9-year-old, is still on the track and still picking up paychecks. The winner of 19 of 134 career races and $205,837 in purses, Stonebridge Idol is in Thursday's eighth race at the Meadowlands, a Dash for the "G" Notes event for trotters. Stonebridge Idol, trained by Travis Alexander, is 4-1 on the morning line with Marcus Miller driving. Detroit Rapper, from the stable of Patti and Rob Harmon, is the 9-5 choice. "He's meant a lot to us," said Wasserman, who races as Fiddler's Creek Stables. "He's been a nice honest horse, and he's pretty good right now." Stonebridge Idol reached the invitational level in 2013 at Hoosier Park, where he finished a dead-heat third behind Fusion Man and Appomattox. Wasserman was looking at pacers when Alexander spotted Stonebridge Idol at the Forest City Sale. Wasserman, who was involved in harness racing in the late 1970s before taking time away from the sport, thinks Stonebridge Idol is one of only three or four trotters he's ever owned. "I'm mostly a pacer guy, but sometimes you get attached to horses," Wasserman said. "I'd say he's one of those horses." * * * * * * * * May Day will be looking for his first career win at the Meadowlands, but co-owner/trainer Randy Ingrassia thinks the 7-year-old gelding is in good form heading into his start in Thursday's ninth race at the Big M. May Day, with Drew Monti in the bike, competes in the third of three Dash for the "G" Notes Series races for $7,500-claiming pacers. The race's morning line favorite is Alexandra Howard's I Do Hanover, at 4-5. May Day is 9-1. "We've had our ups and downs with him, but right now he's pretty good," said Ingrassia, who owns May Day with Dan Gagliardi and Stuart Feintuck. "I like him. I think he's in a class where he could be good. We'll just hope for the best." May Day has won 24 of 118 career races and earned $244,660. He is 0-for-8 lifetime at the Meadowlands, but as a 3-year-old was timed in 1:50 there in a race won by stakes-winner Dovuto Hanover. May Day has won four of his last six starts dating back to November and heads to the Big M off a victory on Jan. 10 at Monticello. "He's a tough horse," Ingrassia said. "He's all heart and he tries every race." May Day was trained previously by Ingrassia's father, Ron, who passed away in August. May Day provided Ron with his final win two days earlier. Randy spends time with the stable's three horses in the mornings and evenings while maintaining a fulltime job in New York City with the iron-workers union. "It's more of a hobby now," Ingrassia said about harness racing. "I'm just trying to keep it going." Ken Weingartner

Freehold, NJ --- Emile Johnson Jr. was looking for a young, up-and-coming harness racing trainer to condition horses for him in New England. Jim Mattison was looking to re-establish himself as a trainer and driver following a stint in the Army. That was 45 years ago. The two men were introduced to each other, hit it off, and have remained partners in racing ever since. And they are continuing to reap the rewards of their long-lasting friendship with top open-class pacer Panocchio. A 7-year-old son of No Pan Intended-Panitarium, Panocchio has won 51 of 111 career races and earned $415,368 in purses. He is 3-for-3 this year, with all his victories coming in the open handicap division at his winter home of Pompano Park. In fact, Panocchio has won nine of 10 starts since returning to Pompano in October. “That’s a once in a lifetime,” Johnson said about getting a horse like Panocchio, who was purchased by Johnson and Mattison for $23,000 at the Standardbred Horse Sale Mixed Sale following his 2-year-old season with Bob McIntosh. “You can’t get spoiled, and Panocchio is the kind of horse that could spoil you, because they’re not all like him. He’s the very best that I ever had.” That’s not to say the 79-year-old Johnson and 67-year-old Mattison haven’t enjoyed their share of success over the years. One of their earliest top horses was Mar Con Cadet, who was a standout on the New Hampshire Sire Stakes circuit in the mid-1970s and earned $105,062 in his career. “We went on from there,” Mattison said. “We’ve had some dry spells, but we’ve had some pretty good racehorses over the years. I don’t really want to fool with the yearlings anymore. I try to buy 2-year-olds coming 3. That’s how we bought Panocchio.” Johnson, a retired schoolteacher and baseball and soccer coach, lives in Athol, Mass., and has been involved in harness racing since the early 1970s. While looking for a trainer during those early years, he asked owner Paul Welcome for suggestions because he respected Welcome’s opinion. “He said there was a young man that had just gotten out of the service and his name is Jim Mattison,” Johnson said. “He told me, ‘I think you would like him. He’s aggressive, he’s young.’ We were introduced and I recognized immediately that he knew what he was doing. He’d been brought up around horses and he certainly knew his way around the racetrack. We’ve had a great relationship from that time on. Over the years we’ve had close to 80 or 90 horses together. “He is a true horseman and gentleman, and a friend. We’ve been very, very good friends.” Mattison, from Bennington, Vt., got his start in harness racing at the age of 12 when his parents bought him a racehorse. He had numerous relatives in the business and was ready to return to the sport after getting out of the Army in 1971. He met Johnson and the rest is history. “We’ve really had no arguments or disagreements over the years,” said Mattison, who spends the winters in Pompano Park and summers in Saratoga. “It’s been great.” Johnson often visits Mattison and his wife Vicki once a year in Florida and then spends many of his summer weekends driving three hours from Athol to Saratoga to enjoy the races with the Mattisons. “I look forward to it,” Johnson said, adding with a laugh, “It’s a short drive home when the horses do well.” Panocchio helps make Johnson and Mattison feel good no matter where they are located at the time. The gelding has been particularly strong at Pompano Park, winning 30 of 43 lifetime races at the track while hitting the board a total of 39 times. In 2015, Panocchio paced the fastest mile in the history of the venue, winning in 1:48.3. “That was exciting,” Mattison said. “When we walked in the paddock after the race people came out of the stalls and were giving high fives and slapping him on the butt. It kind of brought tears to your eyes. I’ve never seen that happen. “He likes Pompano. I think he likes the weather and the five-eighths-(mile track). He’s done well at (half-mile oval) Saratoga, he’s won a lot of races there, but the bigger track is easier on him because there is a little more time getting to the first turn.” Panocchio didn’t show Mattison much desire to go fast when the trainer first started working with the horse at age 3. But as soon as Mattison put the race bike on Panocchio and put him in a field of horses “it was like turning on a switch.” That remains the case to this day as the gelding is still not fond of training. “If you go a mile in less than (2):20 you’re doing pretty good,” Mattison said about Panocchio’s workouts. “But when he’s behind the gate and the light turns on he’s pretty gritty. Even when he’s tired and they come to him they have quite a chore to get by him. Not that they don’t, but they have quite a chore. “It doesn’t matter where he gets away, he’s going to try. He’s a real joy.” Johnson and Mattison have three horses at the moment. Two were purchased at last fall’s Standardbred Horse Sale Mixed Sale and are being prepped to race this season. But having Panocchio gives Johnson and Mattison something to look forward to on a regular basis. When Johnson can’t be at the track, he is glued to his computer to watch the horse. “There’s only one place I’m going to be, and that’s there,” Johnson said. “I don’t miss it.” by Ken Weingartner, Harness Racing Communications

East Rutherford, NJ ---Harness racing trainer Tony Alagna signed the ticket for the sales topper at Monday's Tattersalls January Select Mixed Sale at the Meadowlands, and it won't take the trainer much time to get familiar with the horse. Alagna purchased Dr J Hanover for $280,000. Dr J Hanover, a 4-year-old gelded pacer, spent his first two years in Alagna's stable, winning eight of 19 races and earning $326,773. The majority of Dr J Hanover's success came last year at Yonkers Raceway, where he won six times. On the Grand Circuit, he finished third in the Messenger Stakes, Little Brown Jug, and a division of the Tattersalls Pace. In addition, Alagna bought 4-year-old pacing stallion American Passport for $135,000. American Passport also raced in Alagna's stable at ages 2 and 3, winning five of 27 races and earning $314,656. The two horses were sold as part of dissolving partnerships. "Some partners wanted out, some wanted to stay in; we'll wait until the dust settles and see who's staying in," Alagna said. "It will be new partnerships put together for both horses." One of the new partners on both horses will be Canada's Brad Grant. "Brad and I have had great luck," Alagna said. "He bought Wake Up Peter from me, he bought Sandbetweenurtoes, Revenge Shark, Witch Dali; he's had a great run with horses that we've had. These fit what Brad is looking for. They'll be nice horses for the 4-year-old year." Dr J Hanover, named in honor of Dr. Bridgette Jablonsky, the farm manager at Hanover Shoe Farms, was purchased as a yearling under the name Stepenwolf Hanover for $300,000 at the 2014 Standardbred Horse Sale. He is a son of stallion Somebeachsomewhere out of the stakes-winning mare So Perfect and his family includes stakes-winners Perfectionist, Lifetime Member and Copywriter as well as millionaire Image Of Dawn. Alagna will target the George Morton Levy Memorial Pacing Series at Yonkers for Dr J Hanover's first test. "He's back training," Alagna said. "We gave him a nice proper break, so he'll be ready for the Levy if everything goes well. We'll play it by ear. If he's getting beat up in the Levy we won't continue and we'll get him freshened up and get him ready for the 4-year-old restricted races. "With the way the races are, and the money they're going for at Yonkers, and if you have a horse that's a half-mile track specialist, why not? Dr J Hanover got so good on the half, and that made him a horse. You normally don't find that. He learned to leave the gate fast." American Passport is a son of American Ideal out of the mare Star Of The Show. He sold as a yearling for $29,000 under the name Rose Run Rascal at the 2014 Standardbred Horse Sale. His mother is a half-sister to both Ideal Treasure, who is the dam of 2015 Canadian Horse of the Year State Treasurer, and stakes-winner Ideal Matters. The family also includes world champion Hit Parade. "I like his speed," Grant said. "He's a very fast horse. I think he's got a lot of upside ahead of him. He's lightly raced. I really think he's got a lot of racing ahead of him." Grant purchased last year's top seller at the January sale, trotter Lindy's Tru Grit, for $125,000. He also purchased then 3-year-old Easy Lover Hanover, who capped last season by winning the Progress Pace, for $70,000. "Brad's already got Easy Lover (Hanover)," Alagna said. "He's got (multiple) opportunities to race for good money in the 4-year-old restricted (races). We'll do the right thing and get American Passport ready for the 4-year-old year. I'm not going to rush him to be ready for the Levy because I don't think he's ready to do that yet. But he's got a lot of upside. "There are a lot of 4-year-old restricted races and then by midseason hopefully he can step up. There's no (Horse of the Year) Always B Miki, no Racing Hill, no Betting Line. You take a lot of horses out of the mix, so he's got a shot to make some serious money." A total of eight horses sold for at least $100,000 at this year's sale, compared to two horses last year. Following Dr J Hanover on the list was 4-year-old pacing stallion Gerries Sport, who was purchased for $145,000 by trainer Josh Green as agent. Last year, Gerries Sport won five of 20 races and earned $187,978 while racing for trainer Richard Moreau. He finished second to Betting Line in the Ontario Sire Stakes championship. Multiple-stakes-winner Katies Rocker, a 4-year-old gelded pacer with $405,069 in career purses, sold for $140,000 to Howard Taylor. The horse raced for trainer Jim Campbell at ages 2 and 3. In addition to the eight horses to top $100,000 this year, 4-year-old pacer Western Fame and 4-year-old trotter Lagerfeld were each hammered down for more than $200,000, but neither reached his reserve price. Cinamony, a 6-year-old mare pacer, was the top seller among the ladies, going for $90,000 to Mark Mullen of Fair Winds Farm. Mullen plans to breed the mare, who won 25 of 89 races and earned $532,404 in her career. Cinamony is a half-sister to stakes-winner Fear The Dragon and her second dam is Dan Patch Award-winner Mattaroni. "She had a good record and she was racy looking," Mullen said. "Mattaroni is a pretty nice family." Below are the top sellers from Monday's sale. Horse--Sire-Dam--Buyer--Consignor--Price Dr J Hanover (4gp) - Somebeachsomewhere-So Perfect-Tony Alagna-Preferred Equine, agent-$280,000 Gerries Sport (4hp) - Mach Three-Perfect Sport-Josh Green, agent-Northwood Bloodstock-$145,000 Katies Rocker (4gp) - Rocknroll Hanover-Just Wait Kate-Howard Taylor-Peninsula Farm, agent-$140,000 American Passport (4hp) - American Ideal-Star Of The Show-Tony Alagna-Preferred Equine, agent-$135,000 Bentley Spur (5gt) - SJ's Caviar-Sweetie Spur-Richard Banca-Northwood Bloodstock-$135,000 Missile J (4gp) - American Ideal-Cantor's Daughter-Scott DiDomenico-Preferred Equine, agent-$115,000 Rodeo Romeo (5hp) - Rocknroll Hanover-Southwind Vanna-Chris Ryder, agent-Preferred Equine, agent-$110,000 Voracity (4gp) - Sportswriter-Lu Lu Q-Burke Racing-Preferred Equine, agent-$105,000 Cinamony (6mp) - Art Official-Armbro Cinnamon-Mark Mullen-Preferred Equine, agent-$90,000 Latest Desire (7gp) - Real Desire-Latest Design-Virgil Morgan Jr.-Preferred Equine, agent-$90,000 Bettor Rock On N (8gp) - Bettor's Delight-Jingle Belle Rock-William Hartt-Preferred Equine, agent-$85,000 Fine Diamond (4hp) - Rock N Roll Heaven-Yellow Diamond-S. Descheneaut-Preferred Equine, agent-$82,000 Newcastle (5gt) - Cantab Hall-Blushed-Cad Gregory-Preferred Equine, agent-$82,000 Elliesjet N (7mp) - Jereme's Jet-Elle Mary Rose-Chad Foulk-Northwood Bloodstock-$70,000 Tipitina (7mp) - Rocknroll Hanover-Hi Ho Molly-Rene Allard-Preferred Equine, agent-$70,000 The Rock (5gp) - Sportswriter-Shy Ticket-Tyler Buter-Preferred Equine, agent-$70,000 Complete results of the sale are available at Ken Weingartner

Aaron Merriman led all harness racing drivers in wins for the second consecutive year, setting career highs for victories and purses in the process, but his favorite sports-related moment of 2016 came away from the track. It came when Merriman's beloved Cleveland Cavaliers won their first NBA title and brought the city of Cleveland its first championship in 52 years. "It's not even a contest," said the 38-year-old Merriman, a northern Ohio native and lifelong Cleveland sports fan. "It was phenomenal, for the city and our state and the franchise. Cleveland is actually on a big resurgence; it's getting to be a place to go and to travel to. "Everybody in my family likes sports," he continued. "This is something I grew up with. It's just like racing to me. Sports are something to bring people together. That's one of the main reasons I think I like it. There's some rivalry involved, and there are friendly arguments and friendly competition. It's just enjoyable to be a part of it." Merriman is a Browns season-ticket holder and gets ticket packages for the Cavaliers. He also is a big fan of the Indians and manager Terry Francona (who spent his early childhood in Cleveland while his father Tito played for the Indians) and was proud of the team's run to the World Series, even though it ended with a seven-game loss to the Chicago Cubs. "One thing about me, I bleed my city," Merriman said. "I love the Browns, as bad as we are, it doesn't even bother me too much. I don't give up on my teams. That's for sure." He doesn't give up on much. In 2016 Merriman led all drivers in starts for the third consecutive year - he was the only driver to surpass 4,000 in any of those seasons - and he joined Tony Morgan as the only other driver in history to win at least 800 races in three consecutive years. Merriman won a career-best 891 races last year, on the heels of posting 874 victories in 2015 and 841 in 2014. Horses driven by Merriman earned $7.67 million in purses, topping his previous high of $7.42 million set in 2015. Not that Merriman would know, unless told. "I know it's hard to believe, and no one wants to believe it, but I don't look," Merriman said. "If you start thinking you have to be at (a certain number) you start psyching yourself out for no reason. There becomes this imaginary pressure and sometimes it can get to you. I don't care who you are, you begin to press. "I try to take it, not even day by day, but card by card. Even race by race, if possible, but that's sometimes tough when you have a bad day. I just try to maximize my performance by race card." Merriman drives regularly at Northfield Park, near Cleveland, and at The Meadows, near Pittsburgh. Three times a week, he drives at both tracks --- The Meadows in the afternoon and Northfield in the evening. "Physically it's tough," Merriman said. "But mentally, to me, it's a lot easier to turn the page when I don't have to wait three days for another race. If I have a couple days off, I'm happy, but a lot of times I've got 20 horses to drive. I've got the opportunity to put a bad day behind me and fix it immediately." On Jan. 21, Merriman will be honored by the Ohio chapter of the U.S. Harness Writers Association with the Winner's Circle Award, given for outstanding accomplishments in the previous year. In February, Merriman will be honored in Las Vegas by the national USHWA organization for leading all drivers in North America in wins. While Merriman can easily identify his favorite sports moments away from the racetrack, he has difficulty picking favorite accomplishments resulting from his work. Each day at the track produces its own moments. "Just being able to stay healthy and race all year, to me, is an accomplishment," said Merriman, who missed several months of action in 2010 after an accident in which he broke both wrists and an elbow. "To stay at a high level and stay as fresh as possible throughout the year. "I don't pride myself on what I've won. I'd rather just be known as a guy that works hard, stays focused, and is determined to do the best I can. I have more pride in showing up and giving maximum effort every day." Merriman got 2017 off to a fast start, winning eight races at Northfield Park on New Year's Day. He leads North America in wins with 41. "New Year's Day, a few guys didn't show up and I had the opportunity to drive some good horses," said Merriman, who has won 8,771 races in his career, which is good for 21st place among all drivers in history. "When you have the opportunity to drive nice horses in good spots, you're going to win races. It's opportunity, opportunity, opportunity." And while Merriman focuses his energy on racing at The Meadows and Northfield, he also has picked up Grand Circuit stakes drives at tracks around the country. He would like to possibly expand his Grand Circuit schedule this year, but it's not a priority. "We'll see what opportunities come along," Merriman said. "Everybody wants to follow a great horse. But I've driven a lot of good horses. I've never had 'The One,' but I'm blessed to drive any horse in any race that has desire to do good. Hopefully I do, but if I don't, I'll take advantage of every other opportunity I get. "It's not necessary for me to be at any certain place at any certain time --- except the winner's circle, ideally." Ken Weingartner

Dave Brickell trains and drives his own horses, but Chris Shaw got the first chance to sit behind the then harness racing 2-year-old pacing filly Camera Lady in a qualifier last May because Brickell was driving another of his horses. Shaw guided Camera Lady to a 1:58.4 winning mile at The Meadows that day and when he got off the track he told Brickell, "The only person that's going to beat her is you." Adds Brickell with a laugh, "And that's exactly what happened." Maybe, but not often. Camera Lady won 15 of 20 starts last year and earned $42,640 for Brickell and co-owner Mitchell York. Her 15 victories were the most by any 2-year-old in North American harness racing last year. "A blind pig finds an acorn every once in a while," said Brickell, who raced Camera Lady primarily on the Pennsylvania fair circuit. "She just wanted to do it; she always wanted to do it. She was eager to please. You could do whatever you wanted with her. She was nice to work around in the barn too." Brickell bought Camera Lady for $5,000 at the 2015 Goshen Yearling Sale. She is a daughter of stallion Dragon Again out of the mare Ann Van Go. She was Ann Van Go's first foal. "I've never had a Dragon Again (sired) horse," Brickell said. "Everybody says they're tough. The price was right and she looked good, so I got her. I like to buy first foals, too; a lot of them. "I take chances on them." In this case, the chance paid off, although it took a little time to see Camera Lady develop. York, who is Brickell's son-in-law, liked a Crazed-sired trotter named HS Miss Nutcracker the best of three 2-year-olds he owned with Brickell. "He said the trotter was going to be our No. 1 horse; I said he was writing (Camera Lady) off," Brickell said. "When I broke her and first started going with her, she was kind of flaky. She was nice to be with and work around, but she just shied at everything. But I said I'll take her. She's going to be No. 1; she's going to be our diamond in the rough." Camera Lady proved to be the best of the bunch, although all three won multiple races and earned at least $16,000. The three were purchased for a total of $17,700. "I was very fortunate," said Brickell, who lives in Smicksburg, Pa., about 15 miles southwest of Punxsutawney. Camera Lady won 15 of her first 16 races, with her only setback coming when she stepped up to the top-level of the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes at The Meadows. She finished second in the Pennsylvania Fair championship, beaten by Gemalous, driven by none other than Shaw. As for Camera Lady's schedule for this season, Brickell said it was "up in the air," although it will include the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes, Stallion Series, and fairs. He also might consider an early-closer at The Meadows. "I just started back with her, she's been jogging about three weeks now," said Brickell, who has 475 wins as a driver and 314 victories as a trainer. "As soon as the weather starts cooperating she'll start training a little bit. She grew a little bit; she got a little longer and a little stronger. "If I would let the professional drivers drive, I guess she would be a little quicker, but I haven't given into that urge yet. I like to be able to (drive). I think she'll be a (1):52 or (1):53 pacer. I don't have a problem with that. She'll do fine, I think. But I don't like to make predictions because then you get in trouble." So Brickell certainly will not predict whether Camera Lady can lead her age group in wins again. But he is going to try to get her there. "I'll definitely give it a whirl," Brickell said. "That's for sure." Ken Weingartner

Dunkster never wanted to be caught. Not in his stall, not in a field, not on the racetrack. It was on the racetrack that this trait proved most valuable. Dunkster won 89 lifetime races - which puts him in a tie for eighth place among all trotters in North American harness racing history - and earned $894,320 in a career that spanned from 2001 through 2011. On Jan. 21, Dunkster will be inducted into Ohio's Standardbred Hall of Fame at the Ohio Harness Horsemen's Association banquet at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Columbus (Worthington). "He knew what winning was," said Kurt Sugg, who trained and drove Dunkster in the majority of the horse's 287 races, "and he liked to do it." Dunkster's most lucrative victory came in the 2006 Dygert Memorial at Hawthorne Race Course for a purse of $105,000. Sugg and Dunkster made a three-wide move at the three-quarter pole and then held off hard-charging Dink Adoo in a stretch battle to win by a head in 1:54. "Ryan Anderson was driving Dink Adoo and they were coming at (Dunkster) so fast it looked like they were going to go right by," Sugg said. "When that horse got up to Dunkster's withers, he wore an open bridle, he turned his head and he fought that horse off. Hawthorne is a very long stretch and he fought him off the whole way. He never got any closer than that. He just had a willingness to win." Sugg never expected Dunkster to enjoy such a successful and lengthy career. Dean Davis, who passed away at the age of 82 in September, bought five-month-old Dunkster and his mom, Rosemary T, for $5,000 at a sale in Ohio in 1999. When Sugg went to pick up Dunkster as a yearling at Spring Run Farm, he had a good deal of difficulty catching the young horse. It was the start of a trend that continued throughout Dunkster's career. "There were quite a few times the night before his race I'd have about 10 people out in the pasture field trying to catch him so he could go race the next day," Sugg said. "I think he enjoyed the pasture life. Even though he was a very good racehorse, he liked to be outside with the rest of the horses. He got plenty of extra exercise out there running from me. He never did train very often. When he was racing, he would go on the (exerciser) in the morning and then be in the field the rest of the day." At ages 2 and 3, Dunkster often went off stride because he hit his knees. Sugg tried knee boots, then knee spreaders, only to discover by chance that the trotter preferred to go without either. "I think I had him over-equipped for 2-1/2 years of his life," Sugg said, laughing. "As a 4-year-old I was racing him at Northfield. I was by myself, taking care of him and racing him. I had the knee spreaders and they were such a pain to put on and take off by yourself, so I decided to leave them off that night. He raced unbelievable, maybe the best he ever raced. "From then on, he was a really good horse. It's like I finally let him be what he wanted to be, and he said, 'OK, I'm going to go good now.' He totally changed." Dunkster won seven of 12 races the remainder of the year, and then won 50 times in the ensuing four seasons, including a world-record 1:54.2 triumph at Northfield in 2004. He was an Ohio Sire Stakes champion at age 4, a four-time Scarlet and Gray champion, and finished second to Dan Patch Award-winner Sand Vic in the 2006 American-National Stakes. He finished his career with victories at 21 different racetracks and competed in nine different states plus Ontario. "He was an iron horse," Sugg said. "I've never had a horse in the Hall of Fame, so that's pretty special to get him there, to know that I had a little something to do with it. He was an all-around good horse." Dunkster has enjoyed his retirement days at Spring Run Farm, and the horse was still on his toes in the field the last time Sugg visited. "You couldn't catch him," Sugg said. Ken Weingartner

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