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Dan Dube is feeling good. As a result, the 45-year-old harness racing driver is doing good as well. Two years removed from back surgery to correct a sciatic nerve issue, Dube is the leading driver this season at Yonkers Raceway and entered Thursday needing only two wins to reach 8,000 for his career. Dube has won 65 races this year, with 64 coming at Yonkers, where he leads the raceway's defending driving champ, Jason Bartlett, by 22 victories. He is winning at a 24.5 percent clip at the Hilltop and is the only Yonkers regular with a win rate of better than 16 percent. He has won $771,770 in purses this year, trailing only Corey Callahan for the most in North America. "You have great drivers at Yonkers, but right now I'm just on a good run," Dube said. "I'm driving for some hot barns and driving good horses helps a lot. "So far this year everything I do seems to be right. Sometimes you can do nothing right, but this year everything is going the right way. That's fun." Dube said his success was "a little bit of both" feeling better physically and getting horse power. The Quebec native decided to have back surgery in January 2013 after winning 206 races the previous year. It was his second-lowest win total in more than two decades. He missed six weeks of action because of the surgery. "Back pain affects everything," Dube said. "It's tough to be focused. You're not comfortable. You can't sit right on the bike because you're in pain. It bothered me for a while, but I was scared of surgery because you never know what can happen. But I'm glad I did it. I'm glad it all went away." Dube received the Rising Star Award from the U.S. Harness Writers Association in 1997 and three years later was the regular driver of Horse of the Year Gallo Blue Chip. He also drove 2010 Horse of the Year Rock N Roll Heaven. Although he has no Grand Circuit-type horses on his radar now, Dube would welcome the chance to drive in some of harness racing's major stakes. "If somebody asks me to go with a good horse, for sure I'm going to go," said Dube, who among his top lifetime wins counts five Breeders Crowns. "It's fun to win races and it's always fun to win big races. It's a thrill." As he nears 8,000 career victories, Dube also is approaching $100 million in purses. He needs $4.29 million to surpass that plateau. But don't expect the soft-spoken Dube to readily know his stats. "It's good to have 8,000 (wins), but it's just a number," Dube said. "I never look at numbers, but it's good. I just hope to keep doing good." He added about his aversion to interviews, with a laugh, "I try to run away." "Even in French, I'm no good," Dube said. "I'm not a big talker. I like to keep quiet. That's just the way I am." Dube is happy racing at Yonkers, where he drives for a variety of trainers including Jimmy Takter, Scott DiDomenico, Rob Harmon and Rene Allard. "I got some good horses right away and it helps with everything," Dube said. "The trainers and owners have more confidence in you. I got off to a good start and it's kept going so far. Hopefully it keeps going." And everything keeps feeling good. by Ken Weingartner Harness Racing Communications

Columbus, OH --- In conjunction with and the 2015 World Harness Handicapping Championship, which will be held at the Meadowlands on Saturday (April 25), the United States Trotting Association announced the dates for its series of 10 free, online qualifying contests. The winner of each contest will be awarded a free entry into the WHHC final in New Jersey. Contestants can register and enter for free at starting on Tuesday (Feb. 17) at 9 a.m. The USTA qualifying series will feature racing from 10 different member tracks, with the first one scheduled for Friday (Feb. 27) with racing from WHHC host, The Meadowlands, starting at 7:15 p.m. (EST). Free Platinum Plus past performances will be provided for each contest by TrackMaster. The contest format will be the selection of one horse and an alternate, in case of a late scratch, for a $2 Win-Place wager on each race at the featured track that evening with all selections to be submitted prior to post time of the first race. There will be a limit of 1,500 players per contest. By entering, contestants agree to all the contest rules and regulations including: (1) Entries are limited to ONE (1) per person, PER HOUSEHOLD (this includes husband/wife teams--only ONE may play). Multiple entries from the same household will be disqualified upon conclusion of the contest. There are absolutely no exceptions to this policy. (2) Any activity by individuals or groups of players (e.g., group play, multiple tickets per family members, multiple tickets from the same computer, etc.) deemed to be made in an effort to gain an advantage or violate the ONE (1) entry per person/per household rule will be investigated and may result in the immediate disqualification of any or all individuals involved. Please note that IP addresses for all players are recorded. A complete listing of rules and regulations is available at Following is a schedule with featured racetracks for the 2015 USTA Free, Online WHHC Qualifying Series: Date--Track--Time (EST) Fri. (Feb. 27)--Meadowlands--7:15 p.m. Sat. (Feb. 28)--Balmoral Park--8:10 p.m. (7:10 p.m. CST) Sun. (March 1)--Cal Expo--7:50 p.m. (4:50 p.m. PST) Fri. (March 6)--Yonkers Raceway--7:10 p.m. Sat. (March 7)--Miami Valley Raceway--6:30 p.m.  Sun. (March 8)--Pompano Park--7:30 p.m. Fri. (March 13)--Maywood Park--8:10 p.m. (7:10 p.m. CST) Sat. (March 14)--Buffalo Raceway--6:35 p.m. Fri. (March 20)--Saratoga Raceway--6:45 p.m. Sat. (March 21)--Northville Downs--7:30 p.m. For more information on the 2015 World Harness Handicapping Championship at The Meadowlands on Saturday (April 25), click here. Ken Weingartner

Melady's Monet is painting a picture of success this winter at the Meadowlands and the 6-year-old trotter's connections hope his artistry continues into the upcoming stakes season. But no matter what decisions the horse's connections make in the future, they will be secondary to the choices that led to his present. Melady's Monet, who has won five of six starts since arriving at the Meadowlands in November and is the 4-5 morning line favorite in Friday's open handicap, is a son of stallion Revenue S out of the mare Keystone Melady. The mare was owned by Luca and Ester Balenzano when she suffered a career-ending fracture at Pompano Park two days before Christmas 2005. The injury was severe and veterinarians recommended euthanizing Keystone Melady, but Luca Balenzano wanted to try to save the mare. Keystone Melady underwent successful surgery and the Balenzanos decided to keep her as a broodmare. "She was special, she really was," Ester Balenzano said. "She would always give you everything she had every time she raced. We were told to put her down (following the accident) but Luca wouldn't stand for it. "It really is a miracle." The couple's first two breeding attempts resulted in one horse making it to the races, but little success. The Balenzanos were ready to give up on the idea, but friend Tom Faulhaber suggested breeding the mare to Revenue S. The result was Melady's Monet. "It was getting to the point where we said we were getting too old for this and maybe we should adopt her out, (but) we thought we'd give it one more shot," Ester said. "We were lucky enough to get (Melady's Monet). He is a blessing." Melady's Monet has won 24 of 88 career races and earned $420,183 for the Balenzanos' Melady Enterprises LLC. As a 3-year-old, then in the stable of trainer Taylor Gower, the trotter won the New Jersey Sire Stakes Green Acres championship at Freehold and in subsequent seasons found success in the open handicaps at Yonkers. In September, Melady's Monet arrived in the stable of trainer Kevin McDermott. In his first start for McDermott, the gelding finished second to Bee A Magician in a conditioned handicap at Harrah's Philadelphia, kicking off a string of 13 races in which he has finished worse than second only once. He established his career mark of 1:52 in November at the Big M. "Amy Allen at Gilcrest Training Center broke him for me," Ester said. "She did a fabulous job and from the very beginning she said to me that this is one special colt. "It's been unbelievable to see him blossom the way he has. Not that I ever had a doubt, but you never think your horse fits in with the upper open trotters. I know right now he's not racing with all the top-caliber trotters, but (driver) Tim Tetrick said he belongs with the best and we should stake him to the top races this year." The plan is to keep Melady's Monet near McDermott's base in New Jersey, but make the horse eligible to events such as the TVG Free For All Series, John Cashman Jr. Memorial and Crawford Farms Trot. "I want to keep him at home," Ester said. "I really don't want to ship him. I'm very protective of him. I don't just think of this year; I hope he's another Arch Madness. I want to race him until he's 8, 9, 10. I always tell Kevin, I want to protect this horse. "I plan on giving him a little time off in the spring. I want him to be fresh for the races that are coming up in the late spring and early summer." Melady's Monet enters Friday's open handicap off a three-length victory over Take My Picture in 1:55.1 on Jan. 30 at the Meadowlands. It was the horse's first start in 28 days, a layoff necessitated by a quarter crack. "The owners wanted to give him time and get him right," McDermott said. "He's been a different horse since. The owners deserve all the credit. They love this horse. They did right by saving the mare and they deserve what they got. "He's just an incredible horse." by Ken Weingartner, for Harness Racing Communications

Wiggle It Jiggleit has been just a little bit impressive in winning his only two career starts - beating his harness racing foes by a total of 18-1/4 lengths - but George Teague Jr. needs to see a little bit more from the 3-year-old pacer. "The horse is going to have to do more than that for me to be super impressed," Teague said with a laugh. "But he seems like a real nice horse. He's got a great set of lungs, a high rate of speed and he's a really, really intelligent horse. He's got all the qualities, he just has to stay sound, and get lucky." Teague, who owns and trains Wiggle It Jiggleit, will get a better look at the gelding in Saturday's first round of the Sonsam Series at the Meadowlands. Wiggle It Jiggleit, who was limited to one start last season because of soreness, faces a field of 4- and 5-year-olds in the event. He will start from post six with Montrell Teague handling the driving. Escort Series champion Company Man is also in the field, starting from post seven. A total of 20 horses, split into two divisions, entered the Sonsam's first round. Escort runner-up Major Uptrend is in the second division, starting from post eight. Wiggle It Jiggleit is the only 3-year-old in the first round of the event. The second leg of the Sonsam Series is scheduled for Feb. 14 and the estimated $75,000 final is Feb. 21. "It's going to be a little bit of a tall order to race against those horses, but I'm hoping it gives me an idea what I'm staking for," Teague said. "I think he's worthy of staking. He dealt with a little bit of colt soreness (last year) so I couldn't get a good gauge whether he was a top-tier colt or just a horse. So I'm starting him up a little early to try to get an idea." Wiggle It Jiggleit is a son of stallion Mr Wiggles out of the mare Mozzi Hanover. Teague owns both horses and raced both horses during their careers on the track. Mr Wiggles won the 2009 Hoosier Cup and finished second in the Breeders Crown and Adios. "I had the mom and dad, which makes it fun for me," Teague said. "Mr Wiggles to me was a very impressive racehorse. He had a couple issues that he overcame. I know he gave a hundred percent. He was always one of my favorites. Of all the horses I've had, he was one of the toughest horses that I put on the racetrack. "(Mozzi Hanover) was the favorite in her Lynch (Memorial) elimination, but she came up sick and had some issues of her own. But she was a very talented filly." Last year, Wiggle It Jiggleit won two qualifiers - by a total of 27-1/4 lengths - before capturing his debut by six lengths in 1:51.2 on Aug. 31 at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. After sitting out the remainder of the campaign, the horse returned on Jan. 25 with a 1:52 victory at Dover Downs. "His first race was a very impressive race, I will say that," Teague said. "He came first over at Pocono and never dropped the bit. The other night was virtually the same. I knew I was heading to the Meadowlands so I wanted to tighten him up a little bit. He won and did it like he's supposed to." Teague could have continued to race Wiggle It Jiggleit last year, but didn't want to push it. "I didn't want to take any chances and end up hurting him for this year," he said. "It worked out good. I was able to put him away earlier, get him sounder, and get him back together early this year to see what I've got. He seems as good as some of the better horses I've trained in the past. "The game plan is not to do too much now. I want to give him three or four starts right now and see if he's good enough to stake to some of the other races. He reminds me of his dad. He appears to be a real serious horse." Teague's longtime assistant Clyde Francis, who co-owned Mozzi Hanover during her racing days, is listed as the trainer of Wiggle It Jiggleit for Saturday's start at the Meadowlands. "Clyde told me over the summer that this horse reminded him of some of the best horses we ever had," said Teague, who trains a stable of 25 horses, focused on homebreds, in Delaware. "He called it. He liked the horse from the beginning and I'd like to see him get a little recognition." Ken Weingartner Harness Racing Communications USTA

Harness racing driver Kevin Cummings enjoyed a career year in 2014 and shows no signs of slowing down this season as he approaches a milestone win total. The 44-year-old Cummings set lifetime bests with 334 wins and $1.55 million in purses last year and won the driving titles at both Batavia Downs and Buffalo Raceway. He has won multiple driving championships at each track, but 2014 marked the first time he captured both titles in the same year. So far this year, Cummings has 23 wins in 75 starts and leads the Buffalo Raceway standings by two victories over Billy Dobson. Cummings needs only seven victories to reach 3,000 for his career. A lifelong resident of Hamburg, N.Y., Cummings races exclusively at his hometown Buffalo Raceway and nearby Batavia Downs. He followed his father, trainer John Cummings Sr., into harness racing, as did his brothers John Jr., Anthony and Todd. Cummings recently took time to talk with Harness Racing Communications’ Ken Weingartner about his career, future and culinary talents. KW: Congratulations on all your success last year.  KC: Thank you. KW: What was the key to having such a big year? KC: I think driving live horses. I got off to a good start, and when you start out hot, people start putting you down (to drive). And it just stayed that way. I’ve never had a year like that. Three-hundred and 34 wins was a lot for as many drives as I had. I had a great year. KW: You race exclusively at Batavia and Buffalo. Have you considered going anywhere else? KC: I haven’t. I own a bunch of horses and I help train them. I have a family here (wife Rhonda and daughters Kristy, Kara, Kandice and Kali) and it’s hectic enough even with just these two places. I just don’t want to take that time away from family. For me, it just doesn’t seem like it’s worth it. If you go somewhere else, you have to break in. It would be harder for me to do that, I think. I don’t want to take that time away to try to establish something that I can’t really stay with anyway. KW: You’re seven wins from 3,000. What does that milestone mean to you? KC: It’s nice. I come from a family of drivers. My three brothers drove; two of them are still driving and the other one (Anthony) is just training. Me being the youngest and having the most wins, I kind of like that. It kind of gives me bragging rights at Thanksgiving and Christmas. KW: Do you make sure to bring it up? KC: Oh, yeah, absolutely. They don’t want to hear it, but I’m going to bring it up anyway. (Laughs.) When I was younger, they always brought stuff up to me, but now they don’t want to hear it. KW: Is driving something you always wanted to do? KC: Yeah. My dad got us all into it. It’s definitely what I wanted to do. I was probably 8 or 9 when I jogged a horse. I remember the first time I trained a horse to the bike I was 10. I went a mile in 2:09. I trained with my brother Todd, he’s a year older than I am, so it was pretty fun. KW: Do you remember your first win? KC: Yeah, it was with Orlando Otto in 1989. I had two (horses) in. My brother Anthony trained and drove those horses, but he put me on them. He was out of town. The one had the eight-hole and was like 80-1 and I finished second with him. He paid $77.20 to place; I remember that. The other one won and paid like $10 to win. Those were my second and third drives of my life. The first one I didn’t do any good with. KW: What do you most enjoy about driving? What keeps you going? KC: It’s still fun for me, even though I’ve been doing it for so long. I like the competition. I like the time with my dad, we talk about racing afterwards. It’s just in me. KW: Did you play other sports when you were growing up? KC: Baseball. I was a pretty good baseball player. I was a pretty good hitter. I played in high school and on rec teams. I’ve always been competitive. KW: You and your brothers opened a restaurant years ago. Do you still have it? KC: John and Tony originally opened it, then me and Tony owned it, then I owned it myself, and now Tony owns it with someone else. I had brought in a partner because I started getting back into the horses when the slots came into town and made the money better. I ended up selling the half that I owned back to Tony. KW: What type of restaurant is it? KC: Pizzeria. KW: Which is harder, working in the restaurant or working with horses? KC: Well, I like working with horses. I worked (at the restaurant) and I didn’t mind it. It wasn’t that bad. Obviously the restaurant is always nicer in the winter where I am. But in the summer you can’t beat jogging horses and racing horses. That’s ideal. KW: Are you a good cook? KC: I can cook a pizza for sure. KW: I think two of the most difficult things you can do are run a restaurant and run a stable, and you’ve done both. KC: They’re both time consuming. And it’s nonstop. The pizzeria closes only two or three days a year. Other than that, you’re married to it. When the opportunity came up to get back into the horses I jumped at it because my dad was still doing it. He was getting older and I wanted to help him. They say 10 years is about the limit for a guy in a pizzeria, and I was there 11 or 12 years. I was ready to move on. KW: What’s been the highlight of your career so far? KC: I would have to say, a few years back me and my dad owned an open horse together (named Arm And A Leg). For like three years he was like the best horse at the track. We had a lot of good memories from that horse. When I look back, I think of him. Also maybe the night I won the (2006) Kane Memorial with Michael Scores. He was a really good horse. KW: What do you see for the future? KC: I don’t plan on going anywhere. I don’t think the driving can get much better because I’m doing well right now. I’m happy with that because I know the business is up and down. It’s tough. You will have your downside so you’ve got to enjoy it while you’re there. The only thing that could get better is my stable of (eight) horses, but I had a decent year with them. You just have to take it all in stride. by Ken Weingartner, Harness Racing Communications

Some people win the Super Bowl and go to Disney World, or in the case of this year Disneyland. Harness racing owner Bill Dittmar Jr. is going back to the Meadowlands. Dittmar is the co-owner of 4-year-old trotter JL Cruze, who on Jan. 24 won the $50,000 Super Bowl Series final at the Big M. On Thursday the horse begins a second winter series at the Meadowlands, the Charles Singer Memorial for 3- and 4-year-old trotters. JL Cruze competes in the first of two opening-round divisions Thursday. The gelding will start from post No. 4, with driver John Campbell at the lines for trainer Eric Ell, in the seven-horse field. The second leg of the Singer is scheduled for Feb. 12 and the estimated $50,000 final is Feb. 21. Dittmar, who lives in Langhorne, Pa., and partners Stephen Iaquinta of Havertown, Pa., and Ken Wood of Denton, Md., bought JL Cruze for $37,000 at November's Standardbred Horse Sale Mixed Sale. The horse has won five of seven starts for his new owners, including three of four this year. The group purchased JL Cruze because he fit favorable non-winners conditions at Dover Downs, where the owners race frequently, and it was an added bonus the horse met the conditions for the Super Bowl, Singer Memorial, and Shiaway St Pat winter events at the Meadowlands. The Shiaway St Pat Series is in March. "He's in real good shape right now," Dittmar said about JL Cruze, who won the Super Bowl title by two lengths over Opulent Yankee in 1:54.4. "We had about 10 horses earmarked at the sale. As long as he fit into our price range, he was one of the ones we were looking for because he fit the (conditions) at Dover Downs, where we were looking for him to fit in. "It's worked out very well. We made him eligible to all three series (at the Meadowlands). We thought he would be very competitive in the Super Bowl, and we're hoping for the best in the next two." For his career, JL Cruze has won eight of 21 races and $73,847. In his five starts prior to November's sale, all at Vernon Downs, the son of Crazed-Topcat Hall posted one win, two seconds and two thirds. "He was coming on right before we got him, and John Campbell liked him," Dittmar said. "Once Eric got ahold of him, he thought he had potential." Dittmar, who works as an insurance inspector, grew up near Liberty Bell Park and started owning harness racing horses in the 1980s. "I used to go over to Liberty Bell a couple nights a week," Dittmar said. "That's how I got into it. I bought a horse with a couple guys and we had some success. It got in our blood real quick." One of Dittmar's top recent horses was Anders Bluestone, who won the 2011 Maxie Lee Memorial final over Buck I St Pat and Corleone Kosmos at Harrah's Philadelphia. Dittmar and Wood still own the horse, who now stands as a stallion in Delaware. Dittmar hopes JL Cruze can follow in Anders Bluestone's footsteps on the racetrack. JL Cruze is the 6-5 morning line favorite in his Singer division, which also includes Opulent Yankee, who is 8-5. Blocking The Way, who finished third in the Super Bowl final, is the 5-2 favorite in the second division. That split also includes Super Bowl fourth-place finisher Propulsion (3-1) and fifth-place finisher Two Hip Dip (4-1). Walk The Walk, who did not compete in the Super Bowl, is 7-2. In the Super Bowl final, JL Cruze raced on the outside through an opening quarter of :28.4 and half of :56.1 before getting the lead from Two Hip Dip. Opulent Yankee, who handed JL Cruze his only loss this year in the second round of the series, got into second place on the last turn but was unable to make up ground in the stretch. "We thought (JL Cruze) would be better racing from behind, but his last two starts it hasn't worked out," Dittmar said. "The first quarter in the final went real slow and we kind of got stuck out there, so he had to push on. We still think he would probably be better off chasing horses, but we've got to take what they give us." While the connections are focused on the Singer and Shiaway St Pat series, they will have to decide by Feb. 17 whether to nominate JL Cruze to the Graduate Series for 4-year-old trotters. The three-leg series concludes with a $250,000 final on July 11 at the Meadowlands. "We've got a couple weeks to look at that," Dittmar said. "You're going to have better horses there. That's a tough call. Now you're investing a little more money. Other than that, we haven't looked that far yet because we didn't really expect him to be where he is. You just never know sometimes." Ken Weingartner / Harness Racing Communications / USTA

Columbus, OH --- The United States Trotting Association has announced that the next meeting of its Television Committee will take place by conference call on Wednesday (Feb. 11). The committee was tasked last year with investigating the feasibility of a national broadcast campaign and delivering recommendations to the USTA Board of Directors upon completion. The harness racing group most recently met in late October. The committee is chaired by Dan Leary, the USTA's director of marketing and communications, and is composed of members Ivan Axelrod (USTA chairman of the board), Alex Dadoyan (Standardbred Owners Association of New York), Kevin Decker (The Meadows), Moira Fanning (Hambletonian Society), Sam McKee (Meadowlands), Chris Schick (Cal Expo), and Mike Tanner (USTA executive vice president). USTA President Phil Langley believes that the committee should and will be aggressive and open-minded in investigating various options that would increase harness racing's visibility. "Obviously, there are financial challenges that preclude the USTA from funding on its own a multi-race, national schedule of televised race broadcasts," said Langley. "The money just isn't there to do what The Jockey Club has sponsored for the past few years. "But all of the new research out there indicates that more people, especially the younger ones the sport would love to attract, are getting their news and entertainment via online platforms. I think that there's a real possibility there, from both a cost and exposure standpoint. It's like hockey. You don't go to where the puck was. You play where the puck is going." Nonetheless, Langley quickly points out that the USTA has funding available to assist those member racetracks that plan to televise their biggest, most prestigious races. "We, along with several other industry groups and individuals, gave money to the Meadowlands for the past several years to get the Hambletonian on television and plan to do the same in 2015. We also sent $25,000 to the Little Brown Jug last year that helped fund that race's live broadcast. But our executive committee also approved a budget line item that would have the USTA provide partial funding for other races, too. We would love to help racetracks help themselves in enabling top events like the International Trot, Meadowlands Pace, Dan Patch Invitational, or Kentucky Futurity, for example, to be broadcast." Langley asks that all such applications be received at the USTA offices by the end of February so that proper consideration of each request can be given in advance of discussion at the annual USTA Board of Directors meeting, which will take place this year from March 14-16 at the Hilton Columbus Easton hotel in Columbus, Ohio. All requests should contain details concerning the promotion of each respective broadcast, including any advertising, additional sponsors, and/or social media tie-ins. from the USTA Communications Department  

Freehold, NJ --- Harness racing trainer Erv Miller hopes Manofmanymission’s younger brother is growing ready to take on the assignment of facing stakes-level trotters. Team Six, a 5-year-old son of stallion Yankee Glide out of the mare Armbro Vanquish, has won 12 of 35 career races and earned $136,300 so far in his career. He is a full brother to Manofmanymissions, who also was trained by Miller and won the 2010 Breeders Crown for 2-year-old male trotters and the 2011 Kentucky Futurity on his way to $1.21 million in lifetime earnings. Last week, Team Six won the B1/A1 Handicap at the Meadowlands by a half-length over Lindy’s Tru Grit in 1:53.1 at odds of 50-1. Appomattox, the favorite, was third and Spider Blue Chip fourth. On Friday, Team Six and driver Marcus Miller will start from post five in the Classified/FFA Handicap at the Big M. The field also includes Modest Prince, Odds On Amethyst, Coffeecake Hanover, Take My Picture, Lindy’s Tru Grit and Melady’s Monet. “He’s in pretty good company right now, so we’ll have to see how he gets along,” Miller said about Team Six, who was purchased for $200,000 at the 2011 Lexington Selected Sale. “That’s why we kept him, because we hoped he would come on to be an aged trotter; that he could compete at the stakes level against older competition. “Off and on he shows that kind of ability. I think he’s just coming into his own a little bit right now.” Team Six was unraced at age 2 and won three of 13 starts at 3. Last season, he won seven of 19 races and established his career mark of 1:52.4. “He’s starting to come around, I hope,” Miller said. “He’s a pretty heavy horse. Hopefully as he gets a little older, he’ll get along a little better. “He stays a lot sounder now than he did as a young horse. As a younger horse we had a little trouble keeping him sound. I think (being a heavier horse) was part of it. I think that’s what kept him from being a good 2-year-old. He was just a little too immature, a little too heavy boned, to really develop good as a young horse.” Team Six is owned by Peggy Hood, Mystical Marker Farms, Paymaq Racing and Jorgen Jahre Jr., which is some of the same group that ownedManofmanymissions. “We had good luck with that horse and those guys wanted to take a shot at the same family,” Miller said. “I’m pretty optimistic that (Team Six) could come on and be a bit of a stakes horse for us. He’s not the kind of horse that has to have a perfect trip, although that’s what he got last week. But he’s a big strong horse where I think he can endure a little work.” Miller knows Team Six will have to raise his game to compete at the top level in the older trotting division, but he’s hopeful the horse can find a place among that group. “There’s room for them if you’ve got one that’s good enough,” Miller said. Now it’s up to Team Six to accept that mission. By Ken Weingartner, Harness Racing Communications

Purchased for $250,000 at the 2012 Lexington Selected Sale, the 4-year-old trotter was unraced at age 2 because of immaturity, but has won five of his last eight starts dating back to August. He is 2-for-2 this season, with both victories coming in the preliminary rounds of the Super Bowl Series for 3- and 4-year-old trotters at the Meadowlands. Propulsion will start Saturday's $50,000 Super Bowl final from post one with driver Tim Tetrick. He is part of an entry with Blocking The Way and Opulent Yankee - a group that has been tabbed the 4-5 morning line favorite. "He's a horse we always had high hopes for, he just was really immature and needed some time," said Alagna, who trains Propulsion for owners Brittany Farms, Joe Sbrocco, Jeff Gural's Little E LLC, and the partnership of Marvin Katz, Al Libfeld and Sam Goldband. "Spending (a lot) of money doesn't guarantee they'll be good right away -- or ever -- but he's a very high-speed horse. He had some minor growing pains and it just took him a little while to put it all together. He reminds me a lot of (late stakes-winner) Modern Family as a young horse. He's got a lot of potential." Propulsion flashed that potential in October when he beat stakes-winner Odds On Amethyst by 1-1/2 lengths in 1:52.3 in a late closer at The Red Mile. A son of stallion Muscle Hill out of the 2007 Hambletonian Oaks-winning Danae, Propulsion (originally named Deyrolle) is a half-brother to stakes-winner D'Orsay and his famly also includes 1974 Horse of the Year, and successful broodmare, Delmonica Hanover. "After he won at Lexington, we knew this series was coming up, so we thought it would be a good place to get him back started on his 4-year-old career," Alagna said. "We shut him down so he would fit the series (conditions) and I think a lot of people keep these series in mind in the fall when they're deciding whether to go on or stop." Propulsion, who has won five of 10 career starts and earned $43,790, also is eligible to the Charles Singer Memorial Series and Shiaway St Pat Series at the Meadowlands. If all goes well, the horse could then head to the Graduate Series for 4-year-old trotters, which features three preliminary rounds followed by a $250,000 final. "He has the potential to be a Grand Circuit horse, he really does," Alagna said. "That's why these series are great for a horse like him because he can go through these three series at the Meadowlands and then have a little bit of a break and maybe go into that new Graduate Series. "It gives him a lot of nice starts against his own kind before he'd ever have to go against the better horses. But he'll have an opportunity and hopefully everything will go that way." Propulsion faces a tough group in the Super Bowl final. Opulent Yankee, who starts from post 10, also won both his preliminary races in the series. Other division winners JL Cruze, Two Hip Dip and Blocking The Way drew posts four through six, respectively. "I think it's a very tough series," Alagna said. "We've been tinkering with him a little, making some adjustments with him every start, and hopefully he'll be at his best for the final." Saturday's card at the Meadowlands also features the $56,000 Escort Series final for 3- and 4-year-old male pacers and the $47,600 Worldly Beauty Series final for 3- and 4-year-old female pacers. The Worldly Beauty, on paper, shapes up as a showdown between Alagna's Witch Dali and Ron Burke's Donttellruss. Last week, Witch Dali had a five-race win streak snapped by Donttellruss, who posted a one-length victory in 1:51.3. Witch Dali, a daughter of Dali out of Whitesand Gem, missed nearly all of last season because of a foot issue. She returned in December and swept the Niagara Series at Woodbine, capturing the final in a series-record 1:51.2. "She had a foot issue that wouldn't resolve itself, so we just waited on her," said Alagna, who owns the 4-year-old mare with Brad Grant. "We just took our time and did the right thing by her, and she's paying us back so far. "She's been fantastic. She cut the mile (last week) and Donttellruss sat on her back and beat her, but it was more so the fact our mare was hot the other night. It's the first time she's really been overly aggressive and we made some changes on her this week for the final and I think she'll bounce right back. She came out of the race good and we're in good shape." Donttellruss will start the Worldly Beauty final from post six with driver Corey Callahan and is the 6-5 morning line favorite. Witch Dali will leave from post 10 with Tetrick and is the 9-5 second choice. By Ken Weingartner Harness Racing Communications/USTA    

Harness racing trainer Julie Miller thought Opulent Yankee might be well suited for series racing this winter at the Meadowlands, and so far the 4-year-old trotter has made good on the trainer's beliefs. Opulent Yankee, who joined Miller's stable in November, won both of his starts in the preliminary rounds of the Super Bowl Series for 3- and 4-year-old trotters at the Big M and is likely to be among the favorites in Saturday's $50,000 final. Saturday's card at the Meadowlands also features the $56,000 Escort Series final for 3- and 4-year-old male pacers and the $47,600 Worldly Beauty Series final for 3- and 4-year-old female pacers. Opulent Yankee will start the Super Bowl from post 10 with driver Andy Miller. Propulsion, who also won two preliminary divisions in the series, will leave from post one with Tim Tetrick at the lines for trainer Tony Alagna. Other division winners JL Cruze, Two Hip Dip and Blocking The Way drew posts four through six, respectively. Jeff Gural's Little E LLC bred and co-owns Opulent Yankee with Arthur Geiger, Jason Settlemoir and David Stolz. Gural also is among the owners of Propulsion, with Brittany Farms, Joe Sbrocco and the partnership of Marvin Katz, Al Libfeld and Sam Goldband. "I've been really happy with him," Miller said about Opulent Yankee. "Mr. Gural sent him to us after Lexington and we evaluated him and we told him we really liked the horse. We thought he could be a major contender in the winter series at the Meadowlands and it's proven to be true. He's been good in the first two legs and hopefully he'll be right there for the final." Opulent Yankee (Muscles Yankee-Opulent Bluestone) was winless in eight starts at age 2, but finished third three times, including in a division of the Reynolds Memorial Stakes at Vernon Downs. He went off stride in his 2014 debut, in the Charles Smith Trot at Freehold in September, but rebounded to win in 1:51.4 in a late closer at The Red Mile two weeks later. After two more starts in October, Opulent Yankee was given time off. He was entered to sell in the November Standardbred Horse Sale's Mixed Sale, but was withdrawn. "He has a nice way of going and a great gait to him; a good attitude and nice size and conformation," Miller said. "When he was in Lexington he showed some speed, so I felt like he was definitely a horse that could be competitive at this level. If they show a little bit of talent at 2 and 3, there is something to work with from the get-go. "The first time Andy and I trained Opulent Yankee, I said to Andy that I hoped Mr. Gural didn't want to sell (Opulent Yankee) because I thought he would be something nice to hang onto for the 4-year-old year. I don't know if he can step up to being a Grand Circuit 4-year-old, but for what we're asking of him right now, I definitely think he's a major contender." Miller is no stranger to winter success at the Meadowlands. In 2013, she finished 1-2 in the Super Bowl with Windsun Galliano and Helios. Last year, she saw Perfect Alliance win the Singer Memorial Series and Bambino Glide capture two legs of the Horse & Groom Series. And in 2009, Lucky Jim won the Horse & Groom on his way to dominating the summer and fall open stakes and a Dan Patch Award as best older male trotter. Opulent Yankee's ownership group is the same partnership that raced Perfect Alliance last year. Opulent Yankee won his first round of the Super Bowl by 5-3/4 lengths over Annapolis in 1:55 and won his second round by a half-length over JL Cruze in 1:53.2. "I don't want to date myself, but when I first raced in the Super Bowl, they were going in (1):56 and (1):57 to win it," Miller said. "Now it's a whole different level of horses that are eligible to those races. It makes for competitive racing, which is what we're all looking for. There are no easy spots in these series. They've really developed a nice program for these horses. "This final should be a great race. It's going to be the draw and how the trip works out. But I have a lot of confidence in Andy and Opulent Yankee." by Ken Weingartner/Harness Racing Communications/USTA  

For the fourth time in his Hall of Fame career, Jimmy Takter is the Trainer of the Year as voted upon by the members of the U.S. Harness Writers Association (USHWA). Also voted a Dan Patch Award, as Driver of the Year, was Yannick Gingras, who led all drivers in purses this season with more than $17 million. Takter received 84 of 140 votes for Trainer of the Year, finishing ahead of Ron Burke, who got 56 votes. Gingras was the only driver nominated for Driver of the Year by USHWA's chapters. Despite starting horses only 729 times through Dec. 21, Takter's stable earned a career-best $13.35 million, for an average of more than $18,300 per start. Takter, 54, won this year's Hambletonian with Trixton, a horse he also drove to the victory, and the Hambletonian Oaks with Lifetime Pursuit. Takter became only the second trainer to win both races in the same year, joining Jan Johnson from 1988. The Hambletonian was the first jewel in the Trotting Triple Crown and Takter-trained Nuncio swept the remaining two legs, the Kentucky Futurity and Yonkers Trot. In addition, Takter won three Breeders Crown trophies, with 2-year-old male trotter Pinkman, 3-year-old male trotter Father Patrick, and 3-year-old female trotter Shake It Cerry. Shake It Cerry was named the Dan Patch Award Trotter of the Year while Pinkman and Father Patrick received divisional honors. Takter dominated the 3-year-old trotting ranks, as he had the top three money-earning colts (Father Patrick, $1.69 million, Nuncio, $1.45 million and Trixton, $893,370) and the top two money-earning fillies (Shake It Cerry, $1.23 million and Lifetime Pursuit, $795,216). Father Patrick and Nuncio made Takter the first trainer in history to have two million-dollar trotters in the same division in the same year. Among Takter's top pacers were 3-year-old male stakes-winners Lyonssomewhere, who captured the Cane Pace, Somewhere In L A and Tellitlikeitis, along with 3-year-old filly stakes-winner Uffizi Hanover. Takter's previous Trainer of the Year honors came in 2010, 2000 and 1996. The 35-year-old Gingras has established career highs in purses, with $17.29 million, and wins, with 555. His earnings led all drivers in North America and were more than $5 million ahead of second place. Never in history has a driver finished at least $5 million in front of his nearest competitor. In addition, Gingras' purses were fourth highest in history for a driver. Gingras won four Breeders Crown titles, victories that were among 15 triumphs worth more than $300,000 this year. Those 15 lucrative wins came with nine different horses and included the Canadian Trotting Classic, Hambletonian Oaks, Little Brown Jug and Cane Pace. A native of Quebec, Gingras was USHWA's 2003 Rising Star Award winner. Takter and Gingras will receive their awards at USHWA's annual Dan Patch Awards banquet, to be held Sunday, Feb. 22, at the Doubletree Hilton Orlando at Sea World. by Ken Weingartner, for the US Harness Writers Association    

Aaron Merriman and Ronnie Wrenn Jr. are rivals when it comes to racing, but friends away from the track. The two are battling for the No. 1 spot in wins among all harness racing drivers in North America, with Merriman holding a 28-victory advantage, 799-771, heading into Friday's action. Wrenn won last year's dash title with 714 wins. He is the leading driver at Northfield Park, with 597 triumphs, and Merriman is second there with 447. Merriman also competes regularly at The Meadows, where he is fourth in the standings with 318 wins. The 36-year-old Merriman was the leading driver in North America in June 2010 when he broke both wrists and his left elbow in a racing accident that sidelined him for much of the remainder of the year. He was sixth in wins last year, with 568, and fifth in 2012, with 605. This year, Merriman is on pace to become the first driver since Tony Morgan in 2008 to win more than 800 races in a season. Merriman, who has won 6,923 races in his career, has set a career high with $6.31 million in purses this year. The 28-year-old Wrenn was sidelined for much of January because of wrist surgery and also endured the loss of his father to cancer in May. Wrenn changed his colors to his father's black and maroon in tribute to his dad. Despite the hardships, Wrenn this season joined a small group of drivers to win at least 700 races in back-to-back years. The others are Tim Tetrick, Tony Morgan, Dave Palone, Walter Case Jr., Jack Moiseyev, Herve Filion, and Mike Lachance. Tetrick and Morgan are the only drivers to do it more than once and Morgan is the only one to extend the streak beyond two years -- winning at least 700 races from 2005-08 and also 1995-97. Merriman and Wrenn recently spoke separately to Harness Racing Communications' Ken Weingartner about their campaigns, their friendship, and the chase for No. 1. Their remarks are combined in the following "conversation." KW: Aaron, how do you feel heading into the last few weeks? Is winning the dash title something you think about? AM: I'm one that doesn't even want to look at it. I just like to do my everyday thing. It's definitely not over until the last day. Ronnie has the opportunity to win races in bunches. When you have a guy that can win six or eight or 10 races, you never think it's over. There are a lot of race days left. We're both going to have to be on our toes, that's for sure. That's one thing about this, there are no days off. KW: Ronnie, can you catch him? RW: There's always the chance, but it's going to be hard because not only am I down (28) wins but he's racing doubleheaders so I have to win double every day to what he does. But there's always a shot. It's in the back of my mind. Aaron is definitely on top of his game this year. He's having a great year. I'm happy with finishing second if that's the way it ends up. KW: How do you look at your season overall? AM: It's been a very successful year. I got to race in some of the signature races in the sport, and that really means more to me than winning a lot of races. Just being able to participate and be competitive against the best horses and best drivers -- and really make a good showing for the state of Ohio and myself and the drivers at Northfield Park that I feel I represent. RW: I'm very fortunate. When I moved to Ohio I was given the opportunity to drive at Northfield and drive for some well-respected trainers. Then Virgil (Morgan Jr.) gave me the opportunity to drive most of his horses at Scioto and that helped me break through there. I'm always aiming to do better. Next year I hope I have an even better year than this year. Maybe I can get a nice Grand Circuit horse or some nice sire stakes horses. I'm very happy with where I am. It's definitely been a rough year. A lot happened to me this year in my life with my dad passing away in the spring. It was definitely tough. But that makes you stronger. KW: With the passing of your dad, how did it affect you and your focus? RW: It was pretty difficult, I'm not going to lie. Some days it still is; it's still pretty fresh. As the year has gone on, I've gotten stronger. I feel like it's made me a better driver in a way because it's given me some perspective. There are way more important things in life than racing and sometimes you get caught up in winning races. It's our livelihood, but there are more important things. It helps me to relax and not take things too seriously. I think it helps me perform better on the racetrack. KW: Has it inspired you? RW: Definitely. I made the switch to his colors and I think that helps give me some motivation too. I've had a lot of starts this year and I was lucky enough to have a good year. Hopefully I can continue; I don't plan on slowing down. Hopefully I can compete on this level for many years. Things are really looking up in Ohio, so it seems like a pretty good place to be racing right now. KW: Aaron, what does it mean to you to be in this position after coming back from the accident in 2010? AM: It's a blessing to be in this position again. At one point when I was getting ready to go into surgery, I didn't even know if I was going to drive again. That's the truth. It might have taken a few years, but it's just a blessing to be back in this position. It's something I always wanted, to win the dash title. I hope it happens. (In 2010) I felt really confident and I was just on an unbelievable roll. It felt like I could do no wrong. God had other plans, but it's made me a better person and made me stronger. It's made me really appreciate things, that's for sure. KW: What has been the highlight of your season? AM: Driving in the Hambletonian, for sure. (Merriman finished fourth with Il Sogno Dream.) It was just a surreal experience for me. And the support I received. Not many people get to drive in the Hambletonian, it's one race a year. I've won a lot of races and gotten recognition, but that was my defining moment this year. RW: I think probably my favorite race was when I set the world record with Victory Is Coming. She trotted in (1):51 at Scioto. That's pretty cool to be able to set a world record. I never imagined I would be able to, and she's just an amazing horse. I was just thankful to be able to drive her. I have to thank the trainer (Ammon Hershberger) and owners (Betty and John Shaw) for giving me a shot with her. She had a great year and set track records at Northfield, Dayton and Scioto. Just being able to drive her made the year a little more special. KW: How would you describe your relationship with each other? RW: We're very good friends. Racing against each other almost every night, we're able to get to know one another, and when we raced at Scioto we roadtripped together from Northfield, which gave us a chance to get to know each other more. It's pretty cool that we're Nos. 1 and 2 in the country and we race at the same track. I know racing against him makes me a better driver because he's an amazing driver. I have to be on my 'A' game to even keep up with him. I think it helps us get the best out of each other. He always aims to beat me, and I always aim to beat him. I think it kind of makes us better drivers. AM: I think so too, especially when you can kind of needle each other a little bit. Over this last year, or year and a half, we've gotten to be pretty close. I consider him one of my best friends. He's just a great kid. It makes it more competitive, but it might make it easier if the other wins (the dash title). I'm sure we'll be happy for each other. He did it last year and, like I said, this kid can win races in bunches. He's very, very consistent. I'm just happy that he came here. He's been a good friend, he's been a true friend, and I wouldn't want to be in it with anybody else. by Ken Weingartner, for Harness Racing Communications  

The announcements of the 2014 Pacer of the Year, Trotter of the Year, and Horse of the Year will be made in a special live webstream on Thursday afternoon, Dec. 18. The announcements will be made at Victory Sports Bar at the Meadowlands and streamed live on the racetrack's website Voting for the 2014 Dan Patch Awards, which honor the champion harness horses of the year as voted by members of the U.S. Harness Writers Association (USHWA) and the American Harness Racing Secretaries, will close on Tuesday morning, Dec. 16. The six trotting divisional Dan Patch winners will be announced via a press release at noon on Dec. 16, with the six pacing divisional Dan Patch winners announced at noon on Wednesday, Dec. 17. The final three awards will be announced at 1 p.m. at the press luncheon. USHWA will also announce in the coming weeks its human award winners, including the Proximity Award, which is second only to induction into the Hall of Fame. While Yannick Gingras has already been named the unanimous winner as the 2014 Driver of the Year, other awards still to be announced include Trainer of the Year, Owner of the Year, Breeder of the Year, Good Guy, Unsung Hero, Rising Star and Breakthrough. If attending the announcement luncheon, please RSVP to Jenn Bongiorno at If not, watch the live stream at All honorees will be recognized at USHWA's annual awards dinner scheduled for Sunday night, Feb. 22, 2015, at the Doubletree Hilton at Sea World in Orlando, Fla. For more information, including directions on making hotel reservations, please go to by Ken Weingartner, for USHWA  

Horse owner Ed James figures it's best to do a lot of listening and limit his talking. So James listened when he was advised that McWicked was the best horse in the 2013 Standardbred Horse Sale's Mixed Sale. And his response was succinct. "I said, OK I'll buy him," James recalled, laughing. "I make it simple." James, who races as S S G Stables, bought McWicked for $210,000. He put the 3-year-old pacer in the care of trainer Casie Coleman and the colt has won 11 of 22 races, hit the board a total of 20 times, and earned $1.32 million. His victories include the Breeders Crown, Max C. Hempt Memorial, Delvin Miller Adios, and Pennsylvania Sire Stakes championship. On Sunday, McWicked will start from post four with driver David Miller in the $301,560 Progress Pace at Dover Downs in Delaware. McWicked is the 2-1 second choice on the morning line behind 7-5 favorite JK Endofanera, who drew post two with driver Yannick Gingras. The six-horse Progress Pace field also includes Big Boy Dreams, National Debt, Somewhere In L A, and All Bets Off. McWicked, who was supplemented to the race for $25,000, won this past Sunday's $35,000 Progress Pace Preview by two lengths over JK Endofanera in 1:48.4. The stakes record for the Progress Pace is 1:49, set in 2012 by Heston Blue Chip. "I've been in this business for 58 years and never had a horse this good," the 83-year-old James said about McWicked. "I have no concern at all with him. I trust in the ability he has to be as good as the next best one. I think David gave him a great drive the other night. Hopefully he can do it again." James, who is the president of SSG Gloves, purchased McWicked following a 2-year-old campaign in which the colt won three of 10 starts and $179,617 while in the stable of trainer Julie Miller. He turned over the horse to trainer Jim McDonald, who prepped McWicked for his 3-year-old season, and then to Coleman. "Casie said, 'This is a real good horse. I can make him a great horse.' So she did," James said. "I'm not that smart as far as horses go. But I'm smart as far as people go. And I'm fortunate enough to know good people and I'm fortunate enough that they'll take my horses. I've had very good luck. "I don't say much of anything to my trainers, which they appreciate," he added. "My trainers never hear from me, unless they call me." McWicked leads all 3-year-old pacers in earnings, followed by North America Cup winner JK Endofanera, who has banked $1.02 million. Messenger Stakes winner All Bets Off is third on the list, with $911,425. McWicked's only off-the-board finishes were a fourth in the North America Cup final, after winning his elimination, and a fifth in the Little Brown Jug final. "He had a little bit of road trouble in the North America Cup, but that's OK," James said. "I never did drive, I have no intentions of learning to drive, so I don't tell anybody how to drive." McWicked won seven of eight starts between June 21 and Sept. 7, then was winless in his next seven races before capturing the Breeders Crown on Nov. 22 at the Meadowlands. He has raced on Lasix his three most recent starts, picking up two wins and a second. "The horse came back to where he was and he's doing exactly the same thing he used to," said James, whose other top horses include millionaire Hyperion Hanover. "I thought when we started out the year he'd end up one of the top horses of the year. Now with the slump he had, it may not come out that way. That's up to the judges. "I'll appreciate (divisional honors) if it comes, but mainly for the benefit of the trainers." One more stakes event, the Cleveland Classic on Dec. 12 at Northfield Park, remains on the schedule for the 3-year-old male pacers following the Progress Pace. McWicked is not eligible to the race, but could be supplemented for $15,000. "Casie hasn't decided if he's going to race," James said. "If she wants to race him again after this one, I don't particularly like half-mile tracks, but that doesn't mean she can't race him there if she thinks he's the best." by Ken Weingartner, for Harness Racing Communications  

Freehold, NJ --- Undefeated 2-year-old female pacer JK She’salady is the No. 1-ranked horse in the final Hambletonian Society/Breeders Crown poll for 2014. She is followed by 3-year-old female trotter Shake It Cerry and 3-year-old male trotters Father Patrick and Nuncio. Shake It Cerry, Father Patrick and Nuncio are from the stable of trainer Jimmy Takter; JK She’salady is from the stable of trainer Nancy Johansson, who is Takter’s daughter. Eight-year-old male trotter Sebastian K completes the top five. Sweet Lou won last weekend’s TVG Free For All Series Championship for pacers and received four first-place votes. The 5-year-old male pacer moved up a spot to sixth in the poll. Also winning was 3-year-old male pacer McWicked, who captured the Progress Pace Preview. The Hambletonian Society/Breeders Crown poll does not determine Horse of the Year. The U.S. Harness Writers Association votes this month on all divisional winners plus Trotter of the Year, Pacer of the Year and Horse of the Year. All winners will be announced on Dec. 18. Hambletonian/Breeders Crown Standardbred Poll: Week 29 – 12/2/2014 Rank Name (1st Place Votes) A/G/S Record Earnings Points Pvs 1 JK She’salady (26) 2pf 12-12-0-0 $883,330 330 1 2 Shake It Cerry (3) 3tf 17-15-0-1 $1,230,411 293 2 3 Father Patrick (2) 3tc 17-12-3-0 $1,693,081 249 4 4 Nuncio 3tc 17-11-5-1 $1,458,071 198 5 5 Sebastian K 8th 13-8-2-0 $663,853 194 3 6 Sweet Lou (4) 5ph 19-11-3-1 $1,361,433 185 7 7 Mission Brief 2tf 13-9-0-0 $591,070 157 6 8 McWicked 3pc 22-11-5-4 $1,322,157 81 8 9 Trixton 3tc 11-8-1-1 $893,370 52 10 10 Always B Miki 3pc 19-12-4-0 $791,482 50 9 Also: Artspeak (39), Commander Crowe, Pinkman (25), JK Endofanera (11), Limelight Beach, Maven (10), Intimidate (3), Color’s A Virgin, In The Arsenal, Modern Family, Wild Honey (2), Creatine, E L Titan, Freaky Feet Pete, Lifetime Pursuit, Natural Herbie (1). by Ken Weingartner, for Harness Racing Communications

From afar, he might not appear the easiest to love. But it didn't take him long to steal Ida Nilsen's heart. Archie is just that way. For the last five years, Nilsen has been the caretaker of world renowned trotter Arch Madness, aka Archie, in the stable of trainer Trond Smedshammer. On Saturday night, Nilsen and Arch Madness went to the races together for the final time. On Monday, Nilsen said an emotional goodbye. Nilsen's work visa expires this week and the 29-year-old native of Norway returned to her homeland Tuesday. She was undecided if she would remain there or come back to the U.S. sometime in the future. "I don't know what I'm going to do," Nilsen said Monday afternoon. "I'm just going to go home and see what kinds of opportunities are thrown at me." Her opportunity to work and travel with Arch Madness, she added, was "truly a fairytale." Nilsen arrived at Smedshammer's stable seven years ago after deciding to leave Norway when friend Maria Kristensen - Arch Madness' previous caretaker - told her how much she enjoyed working in the States. "I always wanted to come here and when she told me how great it was I made up my mind," Nilsen said. "It was the best decision I ever made." When Kristensen left the stable in 2009, Nilsen took over as Arch Madness' caretaker. But it wasn't love at first sight. "I didn't really care much for him because I saw him in the barn with Maria and he was very spoiled," Nilsen said, adding with a laugh, "Kind of like the way he is with me now - and everyone else probably sees it, but now I don't see it. "It didn't take me long before I fell in love with him. It's just the way he is. When he lets you get close to him, he's got a great personality. There's just no one like him. To everyone else, he just seems like an old grump, but he is very great, not only on the racetrack, but to be around in the barn as a horse. "He knows people. He's very smart like that. The way he acts when he sees me, I fell in love with that." Arch Madness won his first start, an elimination of the Maple Leaf Trot, with Nilsen by his side and finished second in the Maple Leaf Trot final. During their ensuing time together, Nilsen saw Arch Madness win numerous races, but none more emotional than his triumph in the 2011 Oslo Grand Prix. Smedshammer, also from Norway, was unable to travel home for the race because of paperwork delays for his visa. "It was a lot of pressure to race a horse in that race," Nilsen said. "Everyone dreams of racing in that race, and I got to race in it - and we won it. Then I cried. I cried until after the winner's circle. "To bring a horse like him to my home country, that was really very special. Everyone expected us to do well, and he did great." For his career, Arch Madness has won 36 races and $4.28 million in purses for owners Marc Goldberg and Willow Pond LLC. The gelded son of Balanced Image-Armbro Archer ranks No. 6 in earnings among all trotters in history, and second to only Moni Maker among trotters that raced the majority of their careers in North America. His top triumphs came in the 2007 Breeders Crown for 3-year-olds, 2008 Maple Leaf Trot, 2011 Oslo Grand Prix, 2010 Cutler Memorial, 2009 Credit Winner, and 2013 Allerage Open Trot. He finished second in Sweden's Elitloppet in 2012 and 2013. He also finished second twice in the Breeders Crown Open, in 2008 and 2009, and twice in the Maple Leaf Trot, in 2009 and 2011. "Not everyone gets the chance to take care of a horse like this," Nilsen said. "I was really lucky. Thanks to him, I've seen so much and been to so many places. "To see how special it is for Trond and the owners, and the way other people love him, is great. I love reading the comments on his Facebook page and seeing that people care about him too. He deserves that. He hasn't been the best one every year, but he's showed up for so many years. They don't do that, the other ones. He's just a really great horse and I love that people love him for it and see him that way." But probably no one sees him the same way as Nilsen. As she prepared for Arch Madness' start in last weekend's TVG Free For All Series Championship for trotters at the Meadowlands, she posted the following on her own Facebook page: "All fairytales have an ending, and this is ours! On our way to the Meadowlands for our last race together! Thank you for everything Arch, you have given me the time of my life and I have so many great memories. You will always be the love of my life and my everything." by Ken Weingartner, for Harness Racing Communications  

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