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Yesterday’s announcement about the three winning bids for casino resorts in upper New York State has had positive and negative impacts on harness racing in the Empire State. The New York State Gaming Facility Location Board announced Wednesday the selection of the one winning bid for a casino in each of three defined regions of the State:  Catskills/Hudson Valley (Region One, Zone Two), Capital (Region Two, Zone Two) and Eastern Southern Tier/Finger Lakes (Region Five, Zone Two). In the Catskills/Hudson Valley Region, The Montreign Resort Casino in Thompson, N.Y. whose developer Empire Resorts operates through a subsidiary, the nearby Monticello Casino & Raceway, was selected over eight other applicants. What this means is that Monticello Raceway will hopefully be able to survive. The new resort will be built just a couple of miles away from the track and because the parent company is already running the racing, it should remain a viable attraction to compliment the resort. No word yet on whether the casino already at Monticello Raceway will remain open once the new resorts gets finished, which is now years away. In the Eastern Southern Tier/Finger Lakes Region, the Lago Resort & Casino in Tyre, N.Y. was selected over the other two applicants in the region, Tioga Downs Casino, Racing & Entertainment in Nichols, N.Y. and Traditions Resort & Casino in Union, N.Y. This move will have major devastating effects at Vernon Downs according to owner Jeff Gural, who stated after the meeting, "they probably put Vernon Down out of business." Gural's casino bid for Tioga Downs in the Eastern Southern Tier and Finger Lakes Region was not chosen and he suggested to the Capital New York that the future of Vernon Downs could be in trouble with a casino license being considered about 80 miles away at Lago Resort and Casino. “It will hurt me at Vernon. But, I don't give a sh*t about me, I’m wealthy,” Gural was quoted as saying in the Capital New York article. “But it certainly screwed the people who live in the Southern Tier. There are five casinos where Lago is and now there are no casinos in the Southern Tier. That's—that’s shocking! “I think the Southern Tier just got wiped out economically," he continued. "Poor people, they’re going to have no jobs. Take a ride around the Southern Tier and see what it looks like. It’s about as depressed an area as there is and when you had a chance to help these people, with the fracking and the casino, they give them a doubleheader. It’s just sickening. I feel bad for the people. Don’t worry about Jeff Gural, I’m fine.” To read Gural's comments in the Capital New York, click here. Along with The Montreign Resort Casino and Lago Resort & Casino, the Rivers Casino & Resort at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady, NY from the Capital Region was the third entity that will be entitled to apply to the New York State Gaming Commission for a gaming facility license. To read the complete report, click here. By Steve Wolf, for

Columbus, OH --- The New York State Gaming Facility Location Board announced Wednesday the selection of the one winning bid for a casino in each of three defined regions of the State:  Catskills/Hudson Valley (Region One, Zone Two), Capital (Region Two, Zone Two) and Eastern Southern Tier/Finger Lakes (Region Five, Zone Two). In the Catskills/Hudson Valley Region, The Montreign Resort Casino in Thompson, N.Y. whose developer Empire Resorts operates through a subsidiary, the nearby Monticello Casino & Raceway, was selected over eight other applicants. In the Eastern Southern Tier/Finger Lakes Region, the Lago Resort & Casino in Tyre, N.Y. was selected over the other two applicants in the region, Tioga Downs Casino, Racing & Entertainment in Nichols, N.Y. and Traditions Resort & Casino in Union, N.Y. Along with The Montreign Resort Casino and Lago Resort & Casino, the Rivers Casino & Resort at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady, N.Y.  from the Capital Region was the third entity that will be entitled to apply to the New York State Gaming Commission for a gaming facility license. To read the complete report, click here. From the USTA Media Department

(Monticello, NY). Having reached a 50 year milestone working in the harness racing industry (with 34 years serving as Monticello Raceway’s publicity director), today John Manzi announced his retirement effective December 19th, 2014. Commenting on his retirement, Manzi stated, “Every race has to come to an end. And after five decades of answering the call to the post, the time is right for me to relax a little and enjoy my golf clubs and my grandchildren. "After seeing so much being at the helm of the Monticello Raceway public relations office for many years," Manzi said, "one thing remains supremely important to me. It’s all of the good people I have met and the friends I have made.”  While he is officially retiring, Monticello Raceway management and John Manzi have agreed that he will continue to write articles for the track and from time-to-time he will offer assistance to racing operations office. Laurette Pitts, Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer for Empire Resorts, Inc., owner of Monticello Raceway, stated, “John Manzi is simply an industry legend. Through good times and bad, John played a pivotal role in promoting the harness racing sport. Utilizing his unique brand of creativity, he generated an incalculable amount of good will and positive exposure for Monticello Raceway.  While his booming laugh and friendly smile will be greatly missed, we understand his desire to enter this new phase of his life.” Manzi began his harness racing career in 1958, three years before he would graduate from Monticello High School, when he began working as a trainer at the stables his family owned locally. He consequently began his racing career where he won seven out of eight of his first races at local county fairs.  In 1974, after living and racing all over the East Coast, he got a chance to come back home when he became the assistant to Monticello Raceway Racing Secretary. Two years later, after a brief stint as Racing Secretary, Manzi was assigned to Monticello Raceway’s office of publicity and public relations. In 1980 he was promoted to the position of publicity director. From racing elephants, to camels, to elephants against camels, to having a former New York Giants football player race against a horse, Manzi built an impressive legacy of garnering attention for Monticello Raceway. Monticello Casino and Raceway Assistant General Manager Shawn Wiles commented, “Everyone in our industry knows about John’s uncanny ability to generate positive publicity. What few people know is that apart from managing the big publicity events for our track, John is a universal ambassador for the entire harness racing sport.” A tireless fundraiser, Manzi has helped numerous industry organizations offset day-to -day expenses through his benevolent efforts. He has been the impetus for money raised and donated to the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame, the Goshen Historic Track, the Saratoga Harness Hall of Fame, the Standardbred Retirement Fund and the Harness Horse Youth Foundation. As a driving force in the Monticello-Goshen Chapter of the United States Harness Writers Association (“USHWA”), he runs its annual banquet that honors their local horsemen and then uses the proceeds to fund numerous other worthwhile causes throughout the year. Besides his promotional work of the sport at Monticello Raceway, he has done publicity for the New York Sire Stakes and other New York State races and worked for Bruce Hamilton when he was the executive director of the Harness Horse Breeders of New York State. He is also the publicist for the Billings Amateur Driving Series and the North American Amateur Drivers Association. He is a former national president of both USHWA and the Harness Publicist Association.   Manzi's exceptional efforts have not gone unnoticed through the years. He is a member of the Communicator's Hall of Fame in Goshen and has received the Proximity Award from USHWA, the Pinnacle Award from the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame, the Appreciation Award from Harness Horsemen International, the Laurel Award from New York City USHWA and was named USHWA's Person of the Year in 1992. “I can’t thank Monticello Raceway management enough for all the wonderful years I’ve spent here.” Manzi added. “I grew-up in the area, graduated from Monticello High School in 1961, and always had a special feeling in my heart for Monticello Raceway; like ‘it was my own race track’. Some say I’ve been good for the raceway, but I say the raceway has been good for me. I couldn’t have been more dedicated if I had owned the raceway myself.” The entire Monticello Casino and Raceway management team and employees thank John for his years of dedicated service and wish John a long and healthy retirement.  by Shawn Wiles, for Monticello Raceway

Due to the impending snow predicted for the Catskill region in southeastern New York State, Monticello Raceway is cancelling its Tuesday (Dec. 9) racing program. Also cancelled are Tuesday's day and night simulcasts. Qualifying races slated for Wednesday, December 10 will be postponed and raced on Thursday, December 11. The entry box for those qualifiers will remain open until 11:45am on Wednesday. Weather permitting, live racing will resume on Wednesday. First post slated for 12:25pm by John Manzi, for Monticello Raceway

Although qualifying races at Monticello Raceway were scheduled for Wednesday (Dec. 3) , due to a forecasted ice storm on Tuesday evening, the qualifiers will be postponed until Thursday (Dec. 4). Post time on Thursday will be at 10am. Because of the postponement the entry box will remain open until 11:45am on Wednesday. by John Manzi, for Monticello Raceway

Due to the impending heavy snowstorm Monticello Raceway is cancelling its live race card on Wed. Nov. 26. Also cancelled are the morning qualifiers on Wednesday as well as the evening simulcasts. However, afternoon simulcasts may be available. With no racing scheduled on Thanksgiving Day, (Nov27) the next live racing program from Monticello Raceway will be on Monday, December 1. First post is slated for 12:25pm by John Manzi, for Monticello Raceway  

Senior director of racing Eric Warner has announced that the draw schedule at Monticello Raceway during the week of Thanksgiving will be altered as follows. On Tuesday, Nov. 25 he'll draw post positions for Monday, December 1. On Wednesday, Nov. 26 he'll draw pp's for Tuesday, December 2 No draw on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day On Friday the draw will be for Wednesday, December 3 Then on Monday, December 8 the draw schedule returns to normal. by John Manzi, for Monticello Raceway

The often raced and often claimed pacing mare, Diamond Tiara notched her 20th seasonal victory at Monticello Raceway when she defeated a field of claimers in a time of 2:00.4 over a sloppy racetrack on Monday November 17. With her victory the 7-year-old daughter of McArdle now is just two wins shy of the track record of 22 victories set by another claiming pacer, Golden Storm GB, back in 1985. Once again Jimmy Taggart, Jr. handled the driving chores for trainer Mike Watson and as he's done nearly every time before, gunned Diamond Tiara to the front this time from the five-hole and they had a length and half lead when they passed the first stanza in :30.3. From there, it was catch me if you can, and nobody could as Diamond Tiara made every pole a winning one en route to an easy five-length victory over Artemis Blue Chip and driver Jimmy Devaux. "She (Diamond Tiara) has raced her heart out all season long and those miles on the front end have taken a toll on the ole gal," Taggart said after the race. "She's always been game but lately she's been tailing off at the end of a mile. Today the muddy track probably didn't sting her as much and she finished like her old self." Asked if the track record for most wins in a season is an objective, Taggart answered; " We'll take it week by week. If she wins again soon then we'll probably look to at least tie the record. But she's not the soundest horse in the world." Again owned by (Phillip) Mike Schultz after multiple claims to get her back, Diamond Tiara was sent off at odds of 4-5 and paid $3.60 for win. by John Manzi, for Monticello Raceway

The Monticello-Goshen Chapter USHWA scribes know talent when they see it and they have been on the money with their recent choices for their annual Rising Star Award recipient. In recent years they've cited Jordan Stratton, Jimmy Marohn, Jr. and Austin Siegelman but through the years they've named George Brennan, Jimmy Taggart, Jr. and Greg Merton to name a few. This year their Rising Star Award will go to 25-year-old Jason Ryan and it just so happened that he won four races on the Tuesday card(Nov. 11) here at the Mighty M. His first victory was with Tiffany Barrett's Kevin's Apple ($27.40) in 1:58.2 and he followed that with a 1:56.3 triumph behind Steven Moore's KB's Bad Boy ($15.60). With win number three he lit up the toteboard with Laurie Patistas's Jet Set Style in a 1:56.4 mile. The pacer paid $72.50, $17.20 and $13.60 across the board. Ryan capped his afternoon when he won the 12th and final race with Andrew Adamczyk's See You Smile in a time of 1:55.4 and that win was worth $17.40 for each two dollar mutuel ticket. "After the races were completed somebody called me 'longshot Ryan because all my winners paid double figures," Ryan said. "I know a couple of them had a decent chance but I was certainly surprised with Jet Set Style being 35-1 from the rail. But (trainer) Lounsbury had one (Mr Tommy Fra) in there that was odds-on and he never got untracked from the seven hole. Starting from the inside I got a two-hole trip and my horse finished strong." The transplanted Canadian began the season here at the Mighty M in early January and he opened some eyes with his driving abilities over the months that he was here. He later moved on to Saratoga Raceway and then during the late summer back Running Aces Harness Park in Columbus, Minnesota where he competed well the previous year. But this season at the Minnesota race track Ryan finished as leading driver with 90 winners. When that track closed he moved back to Monticello Raceway and he plans on being here throughout the winter. He currently had driven 148 winners thus far this season which is his best output thus far in his fledgling career. Asked what the future will bring he replied "I'd like to race at Yonkers and the Meadowlands in the future but I know I'll have to pay my dues before I'll be able to," Ryan admitted. by John Manzi, for Monticello Raceway

Monticello Raceway's award winning track photographer, Geri Schwarz, has a knack for getting a unique photograph. Here she caught JB Rose acting ornery in the winner's circle on November 10th after she won her contest in a time of 1:56.1 for driver Bruce Aldrich, Jr. Trainer Danny Gill (left) is seen trying to settle her down while the children look on in amazement. "She did it again ( reared and stood on her hind legs)," Schwarz said after snapping the photograph. " She did the same thing last week after she won. The horse is a messugenah (crazy)!" For the record JB Rose settled down and had her picture taken and no one was hurt. by John Manzi, for Monticello Raceway

On November 16 at the 56th Annual Monticello Goshen Chapter Awards Banquet racetrack harness racing photographer Geri Schwarz will finally step in front of the cameras and be photographed when she receives the chapter's Award of Appreciation. For many years now Geri Schwarz has been the track photographer at Monticello Raceway and an award winning one at that. She has also been the track photographer at Goshen Historic Track since 1998 and her abilities are legendary. First, and foremost, her finish line photographs are spot-on as are her winners circle photographs. Not only is her work first rate but she has an eye for the unusual and many times she captures shots that others wouldn't even notice. A few years ago while waiting to photograph the race finish at the Mighty M a cat was crossing the racetrack at the top of the homestretch nearly in front of a racing field of horses. Obviously with guidance From Above, the cat cleared and the lead horses didn't notice but Geri Schwarz did and photographed the cat with the horses in the background. An unusual photograph for sure. Geri is so quick with her camera that many a time she has taken a winner's circle photograph of a horse rearing up which is certainly an unusual shot. It's not to say that Geri looks for these oddities she just has a knack with a camera. "When I see something that is unusual I'm often ready to photograph it," Schwarz acknowledges. It's precisely that instinct that caught the photo that won for her the prestigious George Smallsreed Award for harness racing photography a few years ago. That day rain was falling like it was being poured from a spout and water lay on the racetrack; even inside the pylons. It was raining so hard that the drivers had a tough time seeing and when they were and in the homestretch three horses came close to colliding so one went inside the pylons spraying water as he went. It was certainly an unusual shot and it got noticed on the internet and in the press. But for Schwarz photography is a labor of love. "I certainly don't make a lot of money photographing but I just love being around the horses," she says. It was just that love of the animals that Geri decided to take the USTA Driving course. Not once but twice; first in Columbus, Ohio and then in Goshen, NY. "I enjoyed the school so much in Columbus that when it was offered at Historic Track I couldn't pass it up, " she said. "I 'll probably never drive a horse in a race but I did earn a certificate and had a blast in doing so." Originally from the Bronx and raised on Long Island Geri matriculated at the community colleges of Nassau, Queens and later Sullivan. While at Sullivan County Community College -now SUNY-Sullivan- Schwarz moved to the Catskills and has been here ever since except for the time she spent in Israel living in a Kabbutz. "I lived in a Kibbutz for about six months and it was great to experience the simplicity of that lifestyle but the modern conveniences of America make life a whole lot easier," Schwarz acknowledged. Perhaps it was there in the Kibbutz with her love of the outdoors that Geri gained a great appreciation for animals. A few years after she returned home she purchased five acres of land in Bethel. "I had a house and a barn on the property so I made fences and boarded a few horses. I even took in a horse that had a broken bone in its foot and nursed him back and I used to ride him all the time. His name was Belle Gay Jigger and I had him for 25 years. He died recently and I'm still heart-broken," Schwarz said. I had to work two jobs to make ends meet. I was a paralegal and worked for various lawyers and in 1980 I got a chance to pursue my love for photography when I went to work for Earle Tunick photographing at Monticello Raceway and Goshen Historic Track. In 1998 Schwarz became the track photographer at Historic Track where she still enjoys that relationship. Five years ago she became the track photographer at Monticello Raceway. "I still have to supplement my income by working as a paralegal because at both Goshen and Monticello the only money I make is from the pictures I sell. And let me tell you that those sales are extremely lean during the cold winter months," she said. John Manzi

Since 2011 Jimmy Taggart has won plenty of races here at Monticello Raceway but it's been nearly three years since he has driven five winners on one card. However, on the 11-race Tuesday (Nov. 4) card the talented reinsman added another milestone to his resume when he drove five winners. Taggart, who passed the 3000 career win plateau last season, began his afternoon with a 1:56.3 victory with Luanne Case's pacer, Shark Income ($16.40) and followed that with a 1:59 triumph with Jimmy Doherty Jr. and Jodie Doherty's trotter, Tobell ($4.10). Taggart's next victory was behind Flirting With Disaster Stable's, Myra's Hiho ($3.10) in a time of 1:58.1 and then Jimmy proceeded to win the final two races on the card. He won the afternoon's pacing feature with Phillip Schultz's pacer Ideal Bid ($3.20) in a time of 1:54 and then copped the 11th and final race with Gerald Decker's Kennanskingwilliam ($3.00) in a time of 1:56.1. Taggart, with his even temperament, just takes his winning in stride and he's not very vocal about it, and for that matter, or anything else he does. He did however say that he had some horses in the right place and that they raced real good for him. The 44 year old catch-driver who gets first call from top trainer Gary Messenger, has already driven 201 winners this season and this season marks the fourth consecutive year that Taggart has won 200 or more races. His mounts thus far this season have earned nearly $750,000. Currently Taggart is fourth in wins on the local leaderboard. A product of the amateur ranks here at the Mighty M in the late 1980's when he turned professional during the 1988 season Taggart now has 3303 driving victories to his credit. by John Manzi, for Monticello Raceway

Monticello, N.Y.: After an impasse of over one year, the Monticello Harness Horsemen's Association is pleased to announce that it has secured a long term horsemen's agreement with the management at Monticello Raceway. Assuming that Monticello or any subsidiary of its parent company, Empire Resorts, is granted one of the potentially two casino licenses soon to be awarded in the Catskill's region, the contract ensures nine full years of harness racing at the 56 year old oval, which offers a barn area and training track at the current site. Just as important, the contract provides for monetary payments which are millions of dollars in excess of that which the horsemen will receive via the hastily drafted statutory formula. When the casino enabling bill was debated, it was hoped that the legislature would continue the renaissance its carefully crafted VLT program brought to the harness industry. Rather than allow the horsemen a share of the huge profits anticipated to be generated by the new slot machines and table games, however, the law excluded the horsemen from receiving any casino revenue, even if the casino facility was operated by its management. Worse, the legislation left all horsemen throughout the state in stagnation by capping VLT revenues at 2013 levels. The future harm wrecked upon New York's racing and breeding industries is apparent, as the casinos will surely draw revenue from the dollars wagered on racing without allowing the racing and breeding industries to participate in the casino's growth. The racing and breeding industries in this state are a 4.4 billion dollar economic engine, and are responsible for the employment of 32,000 individuals in the largely overlooked agricultural aspect of our state. The horsemen at Monticello refused to accept the fate state government handed them, and fought hard to obtain the type of relief that would not simply ensure racing, but also purses sufficient to sustain racing. In addition to live racing, simulcasting and the forced cap amount grounded on 2013 VLT revenue, the horsemen were able to secure stock in Monticello's publicly traded parent company, along with a type of stock derivative called warrants. These investment vehicles, and the Association's right to sell stock as well as exercise warrants during the term of the horsemen's agreement, ensure millions of more dollars to the purse account. Moreover, the horsemen are guaranteed a certain floor amount from stock sales, thus ensuring several millions of dollars more in purse money than current law provides. Association President Alan Schwartz, who lead his Board during every stage of the arduous negotiations, declared the new agreement a victory for Monticello horsemen, "I want to thank each and every member of the Association for the sacrifices they made during the several long months of pain, when it wasn't clear if we would live to see another day of racing." Schwartz said. " Because of the courage the Monticello horsemen displayed in overwhelmingly supporting the Board, we have achieved a much better future than Albany provided us. In addition to our legal and accounting team, special thanks go out to Peter Gerry, who volunteered his time, effort and expertise during the delicate and extremely complex negotiations involving the acquisition of the stock and warrants, so as to ensure that a genuine economic benefit was actually realized. "While we were sometimes criticized for the stances we took," Schwartz added, "the financial reward now finally achieved for our horsemen was our only goal. It would not have been necessary if legislation was more thoughtfully considered in the first instance. "Now, however, Schwartz explained, "we are optimistic that Monticello Management and its horsemen will move forward and enjoy economic growth as partners, and that racing will continue to thrive here. As president of the Monticello Harness Horsemen's Association, I am extremely proud of the role our resilient group of horsemen took to ensure the continuation of harness racing as an integral part of New York State's agriculture industry." From the Monticello Harness Horsemen's Association

When announcer Howard Oil gave his last call in Monticello Raceway's ninth race on Thursday (Oct.30) he shouted "bombs away" to describe Edgar's trotting victory whose odds on the board were 99-1, which are the biggest numbers that are abled be posted on the Mighty M tote board. However, after the mutuel room computations were completed the horse's actual odds were 146-1 which produced a $294.50 payoff for every two dollar wager. Driven by Jimmy Marohn, Jr. , Edgar was third at the top of the stretch and rallied to a one length victory over 27-1 Montana Steel (Jim Taggart, Jr.) in the 2:02.1 mile. That 6-1 exacta combination paid a whopping $1374.00. Of course, odds of that magnitude aren't normal. In this case they were precipitated by the failure of 1-9 shot, Catman Dude's inability to get away trotting. Owned by Robert Dineman and trained by Delores Basilone, it marked Edgar's first victory of the season after 18 previous starts. As big as the payoff was it still was the biggest ever here at the Mighty M. That honor belongs to Cam Can Kadandy and driver Greg Annaloro when they won and paid $377.00 on September 26, 2012. by John Manzi, for Monticello Raceway

MONTICELLO NY---Beginning Monday, November 3 and continuing throughout the remainder of the year all post times at Monticello Raceway will be at 12:25p.m. "With the change to Daylight Savings Time we will begin our racing programs one-half hour earlier the before," noted assistant general manager of racing and facilities, Shawn Wiles. "We annually set post times earlier during this time of the year in an effort to get our races completed during the daylight hours." The Sullivan County oval offers live harness racing on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. However, on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 27 there will be no racing. by John Manzi, for Monticello Raceway

Bruce Aldrich, Jr. and Jimmy Marohn, Jr. have been tough to beat on the racetrack and not leaving much for their competitors thus far this week at Monticello Raceway. Yesterday (Oct. 22) Aldrich won five races on the 10 race card which was just what Marohn did on the Tuesday program. And checking the Monday results one will find Aldrich's name atop four winners that day, too. "I'm a lucky guy getting first call to drive for trainer Bob Lounsbury," Aldrich said after Wednesdays card was completed. "When I get up behind a horse that he trains I know I have a chance to win." Aldrich began the soggy afternoon by winning the first race with Move Blue Chip ($2.60) in 1:59.3 for Bob, John, and James Dill. Then Aldrich didn't get his picture taken again until he won the sixth race with Go Go Buckeye ($7.10) for owner Woody Hoblitzell in time of 1:59.3. Aldrich came right back to cop the seventh with the Philip Schultz-owned and Bob Lounsbury-trained Vincent Fra ($3.60) in 1:58.1 which marked the claiming pacer's 15 seasonal triumph. After finishing third in the eight race Aldrich then proceeded to win the final two on the card. He won the ninth with Gray Thunder Stable's, The Perfect Dream ($6.50) in 2:02.3 and then romped to victory in the finale with Phillip Schultz's trotter Scottish Cross ($2.30) in 1:59.2, another Lounsbury pupil. Both Aldrich and Marohn have the luxury of driving for the top stables on the grounds, the former for Bob Lounsbury and the latter for Danny Gill. Jimmy Marohn, Jr. did win a race on the card with the Gill-trained Talldarknhandsome ($3.70) in 1:59.3 for owners Ed and James Hall. And speaking of Gill, the next win from his barn will be his 1000th as a trainer. Aldrich leads the local driving colony currently with 294 winners while Marohn is third best with 167. And both rank nationally; Aldrich's 493 wins places him sixth on the North American leaderboard while Marohn's 290 ranks him 25th. by John Manzi, for Monticello Raceway

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