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Trenton, NJ — Jessica Smith attended last year’s Standardbred Horse Sale in Harrisburg by herself for the first time. She was given a friendly reminder by husband Randy to purchase a trotter or pacing colt, since the Smiths already had several pacing fillies. So, of course, she brought home a pacing filly. “It was the first year my husband wasn’t with us picking out horses,” Jessica said. “I looked at all the babies myself. She really stuck out to me. When I first saw her, I was like, ‘Wow, oh my God.’ Just the look about her, she wasn’t too big, she wasn’t too small.” She was, however, a pacing filly named Sweet Style. “I kind of got a little bit of crap when I got her,” Smith said with a laugh. “My husband told me to come home with a trotter or a pacing colt. We already had a bunch of pacing fillies and I came home with a pacing filly sooo. . .” So, the $13,000 buy has turned out to be a pretty nice purchase if two races are any indication. On June 26, Smith’s first start as a trainer was Sweet Style’s first start behind the gate. It was an evening of sweet debuts as Mike Oosting drove the 2-year-old to a come-from-behind victory in 1:56 at Harrah’s Hoosier Park. Randy was not at the race but phoned in pre-race instructions to Oosting. “He had driven her in the qualifier, he kind of gave Mike a heads up on where she was at as far as experience wise,” Smith said. “She had one qualifier and we schooled her before. “With that he sent her off the gate, she got away real good out of the six hole. He got her in a hole, she paced along with the fillies that were leading, coming up the stretch he popped the hole. Trace Tetrick (driving Western Sierra) had a few lengths on her at the head of the stretch and she dug in and won by a neck. It was close, I didn’t even know at first that I had even won until it popped up on the screen. That was pretty exhilarating.” As it should have been, considering the circumstances surrounding the race, along with the fact that Smith absolutely loves Sweet Style, a Sweet Lou filly out of 2005 O’Brien Award winner Style. It got even better when the two made their second start together July 9, as Sweet Style won in 1:55.2. “She’s got some class in her pedigree,” Smith said. “I’m just a complete fan of Sweet Lous; I’d definitely buy another one. The work ethic, the attitude (of Sweet Style) is just amazing. She’s very tough on the track and she’s just a very, very nice filly.” And it didn’t take long for Randy to become a fan. “My husband and I have worked with her all winter,” Smith said. “We were taking things very slowly, trying to be very cautious so she doesn’t get injured or anything like that. Once we started training her down he was very happy for sure.” Just as Jessica is happy in her new career, which took root 10 years ago when she first met Randy. Prior to that, Standardbreds had always been an interest for Smith growing up in Maine. Her family owned several acres and Jessica grew up riding event horses in shows. While she enjoyed doing that, what really got her blood moving was when her mom took Smith to nearby Lewiston Raceway to watch harness racing and she fell in love with a horse. “I asked my mom about claimers, and she’s like ‘Yeah if you have the money, you put the money down and you claim the horse,’” Smith recalled. “I said ‘Well can you claim this one for me?’ I was probably 7 or 8 and I wanted a racehorse. I used to try to get her to claim that horse. It’s just one of those things that sticks with you.” Not surprisingly, her mom didn’t think claiming a horse for an 8-year-old was a good idea, and the dream drifted into hibernation. Jessica went to college and became a certified operating room nurse, and also continued to ride show horses. In 2009 she met Randy, a lifelong horseman who trained and drove Standardbreds. With horses as a common interest, the two started dating and Jessica’s urge to be part of the business resurfaced. She began helping Randy out and in 2016, the couple moved to Ohio in order to race year-round. Jessica got a per diem job at a hospital where she could select limited hours in order to help out more in the barn. Randy’s daughter Kristina — who also recently got her first training win — eventually left her dad to go out on her own. Jessica left nursing to begin working the stables full-time a year ago. It was basically a case of protecting her investments, as well as looking after her two children, ages 6 and 9. “When you own the horses, you don’t have a steady paycheck coming in and you’re more invested in trying to do well and making sure your horses are getting the right care,” Smith said. “You want to know that the overall barn management stuff is being taken care of.” Jessica got her trainer’s license last September and her driving license soon after. She finished third in her lone driving start so far, as her opportunities are limited due to managing the barn while Randy is away. The stable, under the moniker of Randy Smith Racing, is located at the Greene County Fairgrounds in Xenia, Ohio. It contains 13 racing horses, three broodmares, two babies and a yearling. And while being a trainer might seem light years away from being a nurse, Jessica feels there are some common aspects. “I think that a lot of it is time management for both of them,” she said. “You’re trying to get through your day, making sure your I’s are dotted, you’re T’s are crossed. There’s a lot of similarities in handling an operating room and managing a barn.” But surely there is more pressure when someone’s life is in your hands? “Yes and no,” Smith said. “When you’re training a horse, you have to make sure they’re trained properly. You’re really putting that driver’s life in your hands and the other drivers on the track. You’ve got to make sure the horse is safe, that you’re rigged right. You need to pay attention to what you’re doing and know your horse. “The biggest thing is knowing your horses, where to put them, where to classify them. My husband and I talk about all the horses, get the team together and plan where is the best fit for this horse this week; and honestly where the best place we can make money. We don’t have owners, it’s on us. We don’t have an income coming in other than what we’re making.” Which is one of the big differences between nursing and training. “It’s definitely stressful when you don’t have a guaranteed paycheck coming in,” Smith said. “That can be completely stressful. As a nurse I know the hours I put in I’m getting paid for.” The bright side, of course, is that Jessica loves her life in the barn. “Most definitely,” she said.   by Rich Fisher USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Trenton, NJ — A major aspect of Frank Sinatra’s famed legacy is how he nearly died at birth, won a fierce battle for his life and continued to scrap all the way through a legendary singing/acting career. Lather Up seems to be taking the same journey, only with four legs. He was nearly a breech birth before being saved by Kevin Switzer, Brenda Teague and Switzer’s wife, Denise McNitt. Ever since, he has been battling his way to success, much like Ol’ Blue Eyes. “What did he sing, ‘I Did It My Way?’” Lather Up’s co-owner Gary Iles asked. “Maybe Lather is doing the same thing. He’s doing it his way.” And what a way it is. After struggling through another near-death situation as a 2-year-old, Gary and Barbara Iles’ homebred son of stallion I'm Gorgeous out of their homebred mare Pocket Comb has been recording some real chart toppers. This past Saturday, across the bridge from New York, New York in Sinatra’s home state of New Jersey, the 4-year-old stallion won the $250,000 Graduate Series final at The Meadowlands by equaling the all-time mile record of 1:46. Always B Miki set the mark at age 5 at Red Mile three years ago. He also broke the previous 4-year-old pacer mark of 1:46.4, previously shared by Warrawee Needy and Dr J Hanover. It is a heck of a way for Lather Up, trained by Clyde Francis of the George Teague Jr. Stable and driven by Montrell Teague, to head into Saturday’s (July 13) $423,000 William R. Haughton Memorial at the Meadowlands. “I just couldn’t believe the fractions when they were coming up,” Iles said. “Especially (1):19.1 coming home. I must say I had so much confidence when I saw him tip out (from second place). He just comes home like a freight train. I thought ‘Well, we’re going to be close or we’re going to win this thing.’ “You never know what’s going to happen, anything can happen. But it was really exciting. It didn’t sink in about the (1):46 until I was talking to someone later and he was telling me what had transpired. You try to hear it over the loudspeaker sometimes, and everybody is screaming down the stretch, it’s pretty hard to understand what they were saying. It was quite a surprise. We’ve been blessed, there’s no doubt about it.” Some might say they were cursed as recently as two years ago. After surviving his harrowing entry into life, Lather Up won three times on the Ohio Sires Stakes circuit and was prepping for the series championship. But a near-fatal reaction to antibiotics sent the horse to the New Bolton Center in another dire circumstance. “That was probably the most heart-pumping situation we were in,” Iles said. “George (Teague) told me not to worry about it, and New Bolton told me if he makes it through the night, he might have a chance. I said, ‘Oh Lord,’ but it worked out, he came out of it, but it ended his 2-year-old career.” Hopefully, it ended his health woes as well. Lather Up returned with a vengeance as a 3-year-old, winning his first three races while setting a track-record of 1:50 in a division of the Ohio Sires Stakes at Miami Valley Raceway. He finished the season with 11 wins in 18 races and $893,512 after conquering some steering issues. His victories included the North America Cup and Ohio Sires Stakes championship. Lather Up and Montrell Teague winning the 2018 Pepsi North America Cup “We basically changed the bit and it made a big difference in him; a very big difference,” Iles said. “That was basically it.” This year, there have been some problems with breaks, but that hasn’t stopped Lather Up from taking five firsts and one third in eight starts. “We’re not sure exactly what’s causing it,” Iles said. “It’s something that just throws him off. Sometimes it’s hard to figure these things out, but that’s been our only problem with him. Every time you do a little bit more, you try to pinpoint it and see exactly what the problem is.” The owner will be hoping for a problem-free trip Saturday in the 12-horse, 1-1/8 mile Haughton. The field includes 2018 Horse of the Year McWicked, the 5-2 morning-line favorite. Lather Up is 3-1. Iles is happy with drawing the five post and has no concern about the race’s added distance. “That’s the least of our worries,” he said. “He was in a 12-horse field for the first leg of the Graduate (at the 1-1/8 mile distance) and he saw the tape and stormed home. He had to come across the track to come home and he handled it very well.” So, what’s the most of his worries? “You just hope nothing goes wrong, and you don’t have to stack him up somewhere and get him caught in a situation where he might make a break,” Iles said. “We don’t think so, but it’s happened in the past and hopefully it won’t happen here. We’re realistic.” He is also optimistic. Iles praised the field of horses, noting that when Lather Up made his record-setting run he “was only two ticks faster than the other group of two or three in there. This is some super racing and there are some super horses. You have to give them their due.” That said, he still feels Lather up has as good a shot as any of them to win the race. “Absolutely,” Iles said. “We’re trying to get the breaks straightened out, it’s frustrating. George has been telling me for two years, this horse can go in (1):46, I’ve never had a horse that’s ever been this fast, but you have to control their head and whatever else is going on with them. “But George would tell you he’s maturing. We’re starting to get a few things worked out, the things you thought were wrong, you’ve already discarded them moving forward so I think we are moving in the right direction. We’re very, very happy. He trained super (on Wednesday). Hopefully this can carry through until Saturday. You just cross your fingers and see what happens.” After all the obstacles Lather Up has faced in his young life, the fact he is headed in any direction at all is impressive. It’s no surprise Iles has a special spot in his heart for the horse. “I don’t know how you could not,” he said. “After everything that has happened to him, after those problems, he’s just been a real delight. The chance of having another horse like this in your lifetime is probably so small.” Sinatra’s parents probably said the same thing once he made it big. Saturday’s 13-race card at The Meadowlands also includes the Meadowlands Pace for 3-year-old pacers, the Hambletonian Maturity for 4-year-old trotters, divisions of the Stanley Dancer Memorial and Del Miller Memorial for 3-year-old male and female trotters, Mistletoe Shalee for 3-year-old female pacers, Golden Girls for older female pacers, and a leg of the Miss Versatility Series for older female trotters. Racing begins at 7:15 p.m. (EDT). For Saturday’s complete entries, click here. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Trenton, NJ — As he looks ahead to his 2,500th career driving win, harness racing driver John DeLong also took time to look back on a year of extreme highs and lows; and feels blessed to be back on a big-time high. On June 2, 2018, DeLong and fiancée Tabby Canarr had what John termed “a life changing experience,” in a good way when their baby Jessica was born. Just over five months later, DeLong was on the opposite end of the emotional scale when he suffered what could have been another life changer in a truly bad way. Fortunately, a worst-case scenario never occurred. There was a seven-week bout with pain and apprehension and, while that was certainly unpleasant, it was not life-altering enough to end the talented driver’s career. He has recovered with a vengeance and currently is tied for first place with Sam Widger in the Harrah’s Hoosier Park drivers’ standings with 113 wins. He celebrated Jessica’s first birthday 19 days ago and is just nine victories shy of getting halfway to 5,000. “Things are really good for me right now,” DeLong said. But for a seven-week stretch, an uncertain future loomed due to an incident that occurred while working in his Anderson, Ind. barn last Nov. 6. “We were putting hobbles on a yearling for the first time and I got kicked in the face,” DeLong said. “It was just kind of a freak deal. I’ve trained colts ever since I can remember. Me and my three brothers all trained colts with my dad (Jay) growing up. That’s just the risk you take, I guess. It actually caught us by surprise. Well, me anyway. I was picking up a back leg, and got cow kicked. I got hit on the left side of the face, broke my cheekbone and the orbital bone in my left eye.” With some such mishaps, the pain is so severe a person goes into shock and doesn’t feel it, or at least is knocked unconscious. DeLong had no such “luck.” “I didn’t get knocked out and I didn’t get a concussion, but the pain was unbelievable,” he said. “I had that pain all the way to the hospital. It was pretty bad.” Upon arriving at the emergency room, he was referred to an ear, nose and throat surgeon. Until that visit, 1,000 thoughts ran through John’s mind. “When I first got hurt, I was pretty down for a while,” he said. “My eye was swollen shut. But after my appointment with the doctor, I felt a lot better. I really didn’t know what was going to happen there for a while. I had quite a bit of damage.” That’s like Warren Buffett saying he has quite a bit of money — a huge understatement. DeLong underwent surgery to have two plates and eight screws inserted into his face and a very tender eye. There was ample nerve damage and he needed to have all his sinuses rebuilt (he goes back to the doctor in three weeks to see if another surgery will be needed to remove a plate). Once the operations were completed, DeLong was confined to his home for a month, “because they said I had the chance of losing my eye if it got infected.” Shortly before Christmas, John got his doctor’s clearance and the first thing he wanted to do was work on a trotting filly named GD Lone Survivor, who he had invested ample time in before the accident. Her maiden start came on the day he got kicked in the face, and her first few races were not up to DeLong’s expectations. Armed with a newly designed mud apron to help knock down some of the dirt in his face, he trained GD Lone Survivor at his farm. “I wanted to make sure if I took some dirt to the face a little bit, I would be able to take it,” he said. “I didn’t want my face to be sore or tender. Then I went to Cleveland (Northfield Park) and drove her and she finished second, trotted three seconds faster than she had been so I was pretty happy about that. It was good to get that out of my system and kind of get back on the horse.” He was not rushing into anything, however, and took it easy through the winter. Upon returning to driving, DeLong opened in Ohio. “I had a slow start when I first started back,” he said. “It probably isn’t the best stock over there but it’s OK. I wanted to ease myself back into racing so when we got to Hoosier I was ready to roll. It’s been good so far, no complaints. Stakes season is starting to get going here. Hopefully we’ll catch a couple good colts.” John DeLong drove Homicide Hunter, the future world-record-setting trotter, at ages 2 and 3.      (Linscott Photography). In 639 driving starts this year, DeLong has won 116, placed in 93 and finished third in 82. In 55 training starts he has nine firsts, seven seconds and seven thirds. There have been few remnants to remind him of his misfortune. “To be honest, it’s a lot better than I thought,” he said. “I had a very good doctor; he was very confident in what could be done.” As for his impending milestone, John was low key when asked if they mean something. “The big ones do,” he said. “I’m the first person in our family to race horses professionally as a full-time career. These are something that probably down the road I’ll sit back and be pretty proud of what I’ve done. Right now it’s just kind of day by day and night by night. You just have to do the best you can. Every night you get in the truck and go to the track. If things are going good and you’re doing things right, those things will come.” They have been coming in bunches since he made the move to Hoosier Park four years ago. A Wisconsin native who grew up learning the ropes under his dad, DeLong got his first win in 2005 driving Fox Valley Bono, a horse trained by his uncle “Bo” (William). He won the driving title at Running Aces during its inaugural 2008 season at the ripe old age of 19. After making a name for himself at the Chicago area tracks, John moved to Indiana in 2015 and built a 36-stall barn and a half-mile racetrack on 35 acres that sits just two miles from Hoosier Park. He and Jay owned two stellar horses that encouraged him to make the move. “Homicide Hunter was a 3-year-old and he was one of the driving forces in getting me to do it,” said DeLong, who drove the future world-record-setting trotter at ages 2 and 3. “I knew if I had a good horse to follow and get me going I should do it. Seventimesavirgin was a 2-year-old then, and when Seven was a 3-year-old, it just launched.” Seventimesavirgin, a DeLong family homebred, won the Indiana Sire Stakes championship as a 3-year-old and was a Breeders Crown starter at age 4. (Dean Gillette photo). Seventimesavirgin, a DeLong family homebred, won the Indiana Sire Stakes championship as a 3-year-old and was a Breeders Crown starter at age 4. She is racing this year and will then begin breeding. Since driving predominantly at Hoosier Park, DeLong has won more than 1,200 races and $14 million. Needless to say, he’s happy to have made the move. “Absolutely,” DeLong said. “I honestly don’t know what I’d be doing at this point if I hadn’t moved down here. I bought a farm, built a track and a barn and I live right on the farm. It’s kind of everything coming full circle. When I was a kid, I always wanted my own farm and wanted to catch drive and stuff like that, and now I’m doing it all.” Can it get any better? Sure it can. On Nov. 16, the Saturday after he is done racing for the season, DeLong and Tabby will be getting hitched. Which will be a lot more fun than it was getting kicked just one year earlier. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Trenton, NJ — On June 28, 2011, popular horse owner and breeder Mike Sorentino Sr. — whose good friends included former Yonkers Raceway General Manager Bob Galterio and Yonkers Racing Secretary Steve Starr — passed away at age 74. His spirit, though, lives on in the winner’s circle to this day. Miss U Big Mike, a horse bred and owned by Irwin “Cookie” Kaplan, a close friend of Sorentino, has picked up 17 victories in 59 career races since making his debut at the Indiana fairs in 2017. The 4-year-old pacer’s most recent triumph came May 26 at Harrah’s Philadelphia. He races again Sunday (June 9) at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. Cookie, who was tagged with that nickname because he weighed just two pounds at birth, is also an owner who sends his quality retired racehorses to Indiana for Alvin Schwartz to breed. He has been in the Standardbred business for 40 years, starting with Rolls Royce Stables, a successful operation at Yonkers. The name had to be changed when the auto company sued him, and evolved into Cookie N Mo Stables, and is now Mo Coo Inc. Stables. Mo is his wife Ellie, who picked up her nickname from a cousin who used to call her Elmo. Kaplan began shipping horses from New York to Indiana for breeding purposes several years ago. When the first foal arrived in 2014, he was stuck for a name. His daughter inspired the South Bronx, N.Y., native to call it Pops Pool Room, a popular hangout in his hometown. When Sorentino died, Cookie paid tribute to his friend with the moniker Miss U Big Mike, a 2015 foal by He’s Gorgeous out of Ready To Rumba. “We met at Yonkers,” said Kaplan, who will turn 80 in October. “His son (Michael Jr.) trained for me and drove for me at the time and we became friends. We still stay in contact with his wife Sadie. I talk to Michael every few months. Little Mike is like my own son. He and his dad were very close and we became like family. “Mike Sorentino was old school. We are the same way. We’ll give you the shirt off our back — just don’t take it.” Kaplan illustrated just what he meant by that when he would visit Yonkers with his wife. “He was a real big shot at Yonkers,” Cookie said. “He would send someone over with a bottle of Dom Perignon, and I would send it back. He was like that; and people took advantage of him because of his good nature. I can’t do that. I can’t sponge off anybody. So, whatever he did, I did. If he gave me something, I gave it back.” Those were the days when Cookie went to the track. He has given that up, however, preferring to watch races from home. For him, it is basically about the bottom line. “I don’t make too much of this,” he said. “To me, it’s a job, that’s how I look at it. I don’t want to socialize. It’s a business, I just want to do my job to the best of my ability. “I don’t even know how I got to know what I know. Growing up in the South Bronx there wasn’t a horse in sight. I just did a lot of research through trainers.” And he leaves the betting window for others to use. Miss U Big Mike paid $44.80 in his first pari-mutuel win at Hoosier Park. Asked if he bet on him, Cookie said, “I don’t gamble. All I want to do is win and get purse money.” Asked what Big Mike would have thought of the horse, Kaplan laughed and said, “He might bet on him.” While Kaplan did not collect any wagering winnings from that victory, he does have the win photo on his wall. Miss U Big Mike’s career wins include last season’s Indiana Sired Fair Circuit Championship. The horse shipped east following that victory last August. “He’s just a horse that wants to win,” Kaplan said about the gelding, who has earned $97,582. “He’s like his mother. They’re athletes, they’re racehorses, they just want to win. He’s up in class now, he paced the fastest of his whole life the past two starts; he paced in 1:51.2. He’s a special horse to me because I bred him and because he’s named after our close friend.” A friend with which he accumulated plenty of memories with over the years. But don’t get too curious, as they will remain private recollections. “There’s a lot of stories,” Kaplan said. “But I couldn’t tell you them because if you put them in print, forget about it.”   by Rich Fisher USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Trenton, NJ — At this year’s U.S. Harness Writers Association’s Dan Patch Awards banquet, retired trainer Jerry Silverman was recognized for his upcoming induction into the harness racing "Hall of Fame". He concluded his speech with a little old-fashioned, grandfatherly pride. “Watch out for a new one on the market, a young fella named Brett Beckwith,” Silverman said. “Watch out. He’s here to stay.” When Silverman’s grandson got a look at the speech, it took him aback, but in a good way. “When I saw that I was actually pretty shocked,” Beckwith said. “It was really nice of him to say that. He definitely didn’t have to. So, I guess I’ve got to just live up to what he said now.” He started doing just that in a May 16 North American Amateur Drivers Association trotting event at Yonkers Raceway. The 16-year-old guided Dark Pool to an 8-1/2 length win in 1:56 for his first victory in just three tries. After sitting third through the first quarter, Beckwith took the lead by the halfway point and never looked back. “I pulled right around the three-eighths and my plan was to wait a little longer,” he explained. “The longer I could sit and not have to use him the better. But he apparently wanted to go and the field was starting to slow down, so I wanted to pressure the guy on the top. I went to the front and he drove himself pretty much. He’s a good horse. “I was pretty happy (going across the line) just because it was only my third amateur drive. Before that I only had 19 qualifiers.” It was an impressive win considering he defeated three former National Amateur Driver of the Year winners in the race. “I definitely knew there was some good competition in that race,” Beckwith said. “Not only the drivers but there were some other legit horses as well.” Dark Pool is trained by family friend Paul Fusco, who put Beckwith down after he drove him to a second place finish two weeks earlier. “He was really solid,” said Beckwith, who is engagingly well-spoken at such a young age. “I knew he was good enough to win those races because he was around 13 lengths from the field last week. I got stuck behind two breakers and he finished a charging second. We don’t have many trotters that fit that race (at Yonkers) and his horse seemed to fit the race pretty well.” Although he’s just 16, he’s wise enough to know the key to driving a sulky. “Good horses,” he said. “Good horses make you look good.” Brett Beckwith turned 16 in January and quickly got his qualifying license. Beckwith’s simple wisdom comes from a family steeped in knowledge. Along with his granddad, there’s his dad, Mark, who has more than 5,600 driving wins; his mom, Melissa (Silverman’s daughter), who has more than 1,700 training wins and is currently Saratoga’s leading trainer in both wins and purses; and his uncle, trainer/driver Richie Silverman, who has nearly 2,000 driving wins. Yet with all this heritage behind him, Brett spent the first 14-1/2 years of his life dismissing harness racing as a passing fancy. It wasn’t until a trip to The Meadowlands that things changed. “I definitely grew up around it, but I really didn’t start getting into it until around June of last year,” he said. “For some reason it kind of clicked when I watched this one race. It wasn’t actually the race itself. I was with my grandfather at the Meadowlands that day for a horse that my uncle was racing and something about just watching those guys drive there, it clicked something in my brain. That’s when I realized I definitely wanted to do this. “I’d been to the Meadowlands before, so it wasn’t that. I don’t really know. It was just watching that one race I guess. My outlook changed and I wanted to learn a lot more about it.” Brett spent last summer learning all he could. He went from just puttering around the stable for fun during weekends, to immersing himself into jogging, training, warming up horses and eventually training in the race bike. A former basketball player, he gave up the sport in this, his sophomore year at Saratoga Springs High School, in order to work out at the gym six days a week. “It definitely helps,” Beckwith said. “There’s really no way to work out the muscles you use when you drive. It’s a completely different muscle group and you can only get stronger by doing it more. But it definitely helps to be in athletic shape. And trainers like a guy with strength.” Brett turned 16 in January and quickly got his qualifying license. His first qualifying race was in February and he immediately knew he made the right choice. “There’s really nothing to compare to the adrenaline rush you get driving,” he said. “Once I realized that when I was out there for the first time, it definitely clicked.” Asked what Mark and Melissa thought, Brett said, “They’d probably rather see me do something else, but they still respect my decisions. They’re not going to discourage me from doing it.” Now that he’s on a mission, Brett taps Mark and Richie for all the info he can get. “My dad gives me a lot of tips and tricks for what to do and what not to do when you’re out there,” he said. “I talk to my Uncle Richie a lot. He’s definitely been a huge help as well. He comes to support me, calls me after races. He always gives me the positive side of things. “My dad helps my mom with the horses too, training-wise. Between her and him, I have a lot of opportunities because of the amount of horses we have. It helps a lot. It’s not like I have one qualifier every month, I’m able to almost qualify a horse a week and drive a lot of different horses to learn off of. Every horse is different.” And while Melissa’s driving input is limited since she strictly trains, she does help with another form of driving. A harness racing soccer mom, so to speak. “If we go to Yonkers, she’s the one getting us there,” Brett said. “She’s the one who’s taking me places. That’s a pretty important role.” And then, of course, there is the Hall of Famer. He also doesn’t drive, but still has an impact. “My grandfather is definitely an important role model,” Beckwith said. “Even if I forget to tell him that I’m qualifying or that I’m driving in a race, he always knows how I did and he’s always asking me what I did right and what I did wrong; and what he thought. He’s always giving me the positive side of things as well.” With so much experience to draw from, it’s no surprise that Brett has received an accelerated education in the business. “I definitely feel like I’ve learned a lot,” he said. “All the little things that there are. So many little things that helped. I definitely learned a lot in that respect. I wouldn’t have it any other way.” He also realizes that no matter what he learns from his family, his greatest lessons will come from his own experiences. “I’ve made some errors but you’ve got to fail to succeed anyway,” he said. “You’re going to make mistakes, it’s more about owning up and knowing what you did wrong, versus trying to just push it past. You’ve got to know what you did wrong and then move forward. But it helps having my dad, that’s for sure. Anything he tells me I always definitely listen up.” Brett also credits his high school buddies for firmly supporting him and showing interest in his career. He lauded four drivers who he looks up to — Hall of Famer Wally Hennessey, Jordan Stratton, Billy Dobson, and Mark MacDonald. The Beckwiths live in Wilton and are stabled at Saratoga. And while Brett already has a career goal, he is thinking about attending Hudson Valley Community College after high school. “I would be able to pick my hours,” he said, “so I could manage to drive full time at Saratoga and still go to college those two years just to have something to fall back on.” Brett’s long-range plans are to strictly catch drive. As for the immediate future, he wants to continue qualifying in order to keep learning. He hopes to drive in a June 8 amateur race at Saratoga and is scheduled for a June 13 race at Yonkers. And then there is July 7, when he plans on driving at Historic Track in Goshen, N.Y., also the home of the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame. It’s a day three generations will all come together, as Jerry Silverman’s Hall of Fame induction is that night. “I’m going to the dinner and earlier that day I’m going to drive in the fair races so he can see me drive,” Brett said. “He’s never seen me drive in person before so this will be the first time. He’s a big supporter. It means a lot.” It also raises the question — does Beckwith feel pressure to succeed coming from such a distinguished harness racing family? “I just think of it as a challenge to achieve,” he said. “I mean, I try not to stress myself out or put pressure on myself, just because you’re going to make more mistakes if you do that. The biggest thing I try to do is keep a level head and be humble.” Listening to his next statement, he certainly is achieving that goal. “It’s kind of just, you put a plan in place, and try to achieve it,” he said. “But I know I wouldn’t be anywhere right now if it wasn’t for the people behind me.” Hopefully they will be behind him for a long time. According to one knowledgeable source, he’s here to stay. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Trenton, NJ — It is safe to say emotions have run the gamut for 18-year-old Zack Gray over the past year. On June 10, 2018, his dad, popular trainer/driver Bobby Gray, passed away at age 56 — shortly before Father’s Day. Flash forward to this past Saturday (May 11) at Saratoga Casino Hotel, the night before Mother’s Day. As sad as things were 11 months earlier, they were that joyous for the family when Zack earned his first harness racing driving win in his 36th start. Making it more special is that he won driving Cool Jack, a pacer that his his mom, Sheryl, co-owns with Joe Facin Jr. and David Faile. “It was pretty good because I figured that’s what (my dad) wanted me to do,” Gray said. “It felt good, but it was a little sad too. I know my mom was pretty happy.” That’s an understatement. “It was the best Mother’s Day present,” Sheryl said. “But it was exciting because it has been Zack’s dream since he was a little boy. Friday was a rough day for us as it was (exactly) 11 months since my husband’s passing. Zack’s Nana Gray and uncle had just drove from Florida and were there for the weekend. Zack is very well-liked and everyone was cheering for him at the home stretch.” Zack nearly got his first win last November with Cool Jack, missing by a neck in a third-place finish. On Saturday, the tandem had to come from behind, with Zack coolly taking advantage of fast early fractions as the leaders reached the opening quarter-mile in :27.1 and the half in :55.1. “I was sitting last at the quarter pole,” Gray said. “I saw the fractions and I thought, this is going to work out good because my horse absolutely flies home. I took the lead around the last turn and I won by three (and a half lengths). I was pretty happy. It was pretty good.” As he crossed the finish line in 1:54.3, Zack looked up and pointed his whip skyward in a salute to his dad who, like his son, was also well-liked and respected. “It took my dad a long time to win his first race and I think he’d be proud of me to accomplish it earlier than he did,” Zack said. “I knew mine would come at some point. You’ve just got to be patient.” Bobby Gray was licensed in 1982 and was a career amateur driver. He competed in the C.K.G. Billings Series and in amateur races predominantly in Maine. He also ran a small stable and amassed 189 wins, 183 seconds and 169 thirds in 1,412 lifetime starts. Those finishes pocketed $564,166 in purses. Perhaps his biggest legacy was doing all he could to care for his horses, and always being there to help his colleagues at the track. He apparently passed that trait on to family members, who were his number-one priority. “He was also well liked in the harness world,” Sheryl said. “Zack sure follows his footsteps in that aspect.” Bobby took his son under his wing and Zack remembers jogging his first horse at age 5. “I loved it right away,” he said. The family sold its stable in 2012 and soon moved from Maine to Saratoga. Bobby went to work for Jimmy Nickerson and Zack tagged along. “I didn’t really start working for somebody until two years ago,” he said. “I always helped my dad. I started working for Dave Spagnola and I worked there for a while.” Bobby became a huge supporter when Zack started driving, and early on some more emotions churned up. “He was always there when I started qualifying,” Gray said. “When I qualified a week after he died, it was kind of different. But I know that’s where he wanted me to be.” Zack Gray earned his first driving win in his 36th start on May 11 with Cool Jack. Melissa Simser-Iovino photo. Zack has driven Cool Jack in all but two of his starts since last November. He is trained by Amanda Facin, Joe’s daughter. “He’s been a good little horse for me; he’s a cool little horse,” Gray said. “And the people who help me out in the barn are just wonderful people. The Facin family helped me out with buying the horse and they’ve been there ever since.” Gray does not do any catch driving, and as far as helping out in stables he said, “I just kind of freelance,” mostly at Saratoga. He is trying to make his way in the business and has full support from Sheryl and sisters Dawn and Mikayla. “My mom is always there to root me on,” Gray said. “Good or bad, she says ‘You did a great job.’ And my two sisters are excellent, they cheer me on and give me support.” As far as driving goes, Zack will continue to do it for now, but has other plans. “If I can get some more wins now driving, I’ll do it,” he said. “But I like training too. I think I could go a little ways as a driver, but I’d like to be a trainer and drive my own stable.” Whatever he decides, his family will be right behind him with support, as will Bobby from up above.   by Rich Fisher USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Trenton, NJ — MacKenzie Kiel owns a horse named Going The Distance but calls him Finn. She has an uncle named Edwin Gannon Jr. but calls him Uncle Jay. The one moniker she prefers to keep the same is “winner,” which is what Kiel became for the first time in harness racing on April 24. The 22-year-old from Maryland garnered her first training victory that day at Rosecroft Raceway when Going The Distance started from post six and went wire-to-wire in winning by two lengths in 1:56. Prior to the win driver John Wagner, a wily veteran with more than 5,300 victories to his credit, plotted with the young trainer before changing tactics when the gate opened. “I asked him what he thought,” Kiel said. “He said ‘I’ll probably just take back and ride the rail.’ I said ‘OK that’s fine with me.’ Next thing I know I see John leaving and I got really scared. I thought to myself ‘I don’t think this horse is ready to win wire-to-wire,’ but he proved me wrong.” It was one of those wonderful moments where wrong feels so right. “I was overwhelmed with joy,” she said as her horse crossed what became known that night as the Finn-ish Line. “I’m not really sure why I call him that, it just seems to fit him,” Kiel said, adding with a laugh, “It’s kind of like the brand Finn Tack…minus the tack.” Wagner, who Kiel actually calls John Wagner, has driven Going The Distance in four of his five starts since MacKenzie bought him in March. Prior to his win he finished ninth, second and fourth, and after the victory he garnered another second. It has been a nice upgrade from the first horse Kiel purchased, “who I only had for about three months, and she never won.” When she bought “Finn,” a 4-year-old pacing gelding, it was all about the personality. “What I liked most is that he’s spunky,” MacKenzie said. “He acts like he’s going to bite you, but when you get close to him, he loves to be rubbed on and is actually very sweet.” Going The Distance is the latest in a long line of horses Kiel has developed a nice relationship with. Growing up in Church Hill, Md., she became involved with the animals at a very young age. “I grew up right next to my granny (Barbara Gannon) and pop pop’s (Edwin Gannon) horse farm,” she said. “My pop pop passed away a few years ago, but my granny and him owned and trained many racehorses, as well as my Uncle Jay (Edwin Gannon Jr.). We also have riding horses, mostly retired Standardbreds.” Kiel has long been interested in harness racing. Although her parents are not involved in the business, they would take MacKenzie to the track to watch the family’s horses race. During that time she had numerous horses and ponies that she would ride through trails or show. “I knew I always wanted to do something with horses,” she said. “I just wasn’t sure about the racing part, since there’s so much that goes on with it. I pretty much decided that I wanted to do this career-wise last year.” Kiel got her trainer’s license late last summer. She trains her own horse, has helped her Uncle Jay at Windswept Farm for the past two years, and works part-time in the afternoons at her mom’s business, Serenity Enhancement Center. MacKenzie Kiel got her trainer’s license late last summer. Photo courtesy of MacKenzie Kiel. MacKenzie’s biggest influences have been her grandparents and Uncle Jay, along with her mom (Susan Gannon) and dad (Timmy Kiel). “Although my parents aren’t involved in the racing aspect, they have always supported me and always watch my horse race when they can,” Kiel said. “My grandparents and my uncle have definitely taught me the most. They’ve been in the business for years, and they are always trying to help me when they can.” Her uncle’s stable is small, around 10 horses, but it keeps Mackenzie busy enough helping out with those horses while training her Finn, that she has stepped away from showing horses. Now that she has that first win under her belt, Kiel wants to continue to progress as a trainer and perhaps get a few more Standardbreds to call her own. “I’m very happy with where I’m at now,” she said. “I still feel like I have a lot to learn. I’d eventually like to have a couple more of my own horses. Right now, one is enough for me.” Especially when it goes by two names.   by Rich Fisher USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Trenton, NJ — Survey says…Final Claim! It was a one-man survey given to harness racing driver Yannick Gingras, who has driven both Final Claim and Goes Down Smooth in the Walner Series for 3-year-old male trotters at The Meadowlands, but who had to make a choice between them for Saturday’s (April 27) $54,500 final. They are two of three Ron Burke-trained horses in the final (along with Cheap Tricks) and both are eligible to the Hambletonian. Final Claim is the 5-2 morning-line favorite, starting from post one. Goes Down Smooth, with Tim Tetrick in the sulky, is 3-1 from post two. Asked how he came to his decision, Gingras said, “I mean, I think they’re both really good, I think (Final Claim) right now is maybe a little stronger. But on the other hand, I wouldn’t be surprised if the other horse wins it too. It was not an easy decision. Sometimes you’ve just got to go with what one you think, but it’s not always right. We’ll see how that works out.” Either way, it was a nice choice to have. “No doubt about that,” Gingras said. “It’s easier to pick from the two favorites than the two longest shots.” One thing that tipped the decision Final Claim’s way was his April 19 victory in his second of two Walner Series starts. He won by 6-3/4 lengths in 1:52.4, with a snappy last quarter-mile of :26.2. His win time is the fastest mile of the year by a 3-year-old trotter. “He was very good, he won fairly easy, he did what he had to do, so I’ve got to be happy with that,” Gingras said. “And he had some left, so that’s the good part. It definitely made a difference and was part of the reason I did pick him. “I do think both of them had something left. Goes Down Smooth wasn’t tired either the last time I raced him. But Final Claim was very good in that series. A couple starts before that I picked the other one, but changed my mind and decided Final Claim was the way to go.” Both horses had disappointing 2-year-old seasons for Burke, who was expecting strong years from each. They came back having to prove themselves and are doing just that. Last year, Final Claim had just one win but has gone 3-for-3 this season. Gingras drove Final Claim only three times last season, all in qualifiers before making his debut, and the horse went off stride each time. Once his campaign began, Final Claim went off stride six times in 10 starts, often when on the lead. “He was always fast last year,” Gingras said. “If you look at his lines, he was making breaks, but he was making breaks in the stretch. He wasn’t making breaks because he was tired, it was immaturity. He wasn’t ready to handle the speed he was going. He was a little dicey at times, a couple little issues. It’s mostly the reason why he was making those breaks. It’s not like he was sitting in the back and didn’t have the ability to do it. He just wasn’t ready for it. “This year he’s a little bit more mature and he’s able to handle it a little bit better. Sometimes that’s all they need.” There are still a few issues, but Final Claim is getting there. “If you watch him go you can tell he’s not 100 percent perfect yet either,” Gingras said. “He’s not bullet proof, he’s not exactly where we want him to be. But so far this year he’s able to behave enough to not make breaks. You just have to watch him; but he’s able to do it.” One of the nicer aspects of Final Claim is that Gingras has his choice of how to drive him, depending on the competition and situation. “It really doesn’t matter with him,” he said. “He’s been on the front the first couple weeks. Last time he sat third, he was really nice and easy, and let me do what I wanted to do. I pulled him around the five-eighths (point) and it was no worry at all. He doesn’t have a certain trip he needs, or nothing like that. I think he can race any which way.” Much like Final Claim, Goes Down Smooth has emerged after a tough rookie year. The horse was 0-for-9 last season but has won two out of three starts thus far in 2019. “He had ability too,” Gingras said. “A lot of time that’s what it is with these trotters, he just wasn’t really fully mature yet. I don’t think he has the ceiling that Final Claim has. Final Claim is bigger and stronger, and I think he does have maybe a higher ceiling than Goes Down Smooth. “But Goes Down Smooth was a little easier to handle last year. So far this year he’s been good as well. The time he made a break was more my fault than his. I got him to the gate a little too quick and that’s what really hurt him. But I think he’ll be just fine Saturday night.” Although he has been good to drive, Goes Down Smooth can also be a bit challenging at this juncture. Goes Down Smooth was 0-for-9 last season but has won two out of three starts thus far in 2019.  “He was a little harder to handle last week, he was a little grabby,” Gingras said. “I wish he relaxed a little more for me, but he didn’t. He might need a certain trip. I definitely think he can sit in a hole, but I think if he gets jammed up too much I’m not sure how he’ll like that. Final Claim right now might be a little easier to drive.” In looking at the two horses’ prospects for scaling the stakes ladder to Hambletonian Heaven, Gingras feels the horse he’s driving Saturday may have the better chance. “It’s big shoes to fill and let’s be honest, I think it’s not going to be that easy to go up and stuff,” he said. “Yes, it’s impressive the miles that they’re going right now; but some of these 3-year-olds did that last year. I do think Final Claim is the one that has a shot. He has that tremendous ability. I believe if one of the two does it, he’s the one who has a shot to go further. “But then again, horses make liars out of you. You never know how that goes.” Saturday’s card at the Meadowlands also includes the $58,500 Wiggle It Jiggleit Series final for 3-year-old male pacers. Respect Our Flag is the 3-1 morning-line favorite for driver Joe Bongiorno and trainer Jennifer Bongiorno. In addition, the Mr Muscleman Series for trotters gets underway with a field that includes 2015 Trotter of the Year Pinkman, Trolley, Ice Attraction, Yes Mickey, and Top Flight Angel as well as the opener of the Golden Receiver Series for pacers, where Donttellmeagain and Dealt A Winner make their seasonal debuts. Racing begins at 7:15 p.m (EDT). For complete entries, click here. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Trenton, NJ — American Admiral may not know it, but he is in the midst of trying to prove if he’s ready to fight some bigger harness racing battles down the road. The 3-year-old colt pacer is the 2-1 morning-line favorite in a $15,000 division of Saturday’s (April 20) Bobby Weiss Series at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. Since he has only been working with the horse since January, trainer Andrew Harris is unsure of how extensively he will stake him this year. “We’re playing it by ear,” said Harris, who made American Admiral eligible for the Reynolds and Art Rooney Pace. “It all depends on how he continues to mature. If he goes through this series and shows he can go with those type of horses like Turbo Hill, then yeah, we’re going to go that route. As of right now we’re going to play it by ear. We don’t know what we’ve got, we don’t know what the bottom is yet. If he continues to improve maybe we’ve got ourselves a New York Sires Stakes horse that’s got some possibilities. Or maybe we just have an Excelsior Series type horse. We’re kind of using this series to tell us what we’ve got.” The early reviews have been positive. At the recommendation of Harris, American Admiral was purchased by the Flemings (William, Ian and James) for $34,000 at the Standardbred Mixed Sale at Harrisburg in November. He was trained by Tony Alagna last year and had a first, second and third while earning $19,890 in 10 starts. Harris knew nothing about the horse, but thought he would provide the most bang for the buck among those up for sale. “They called me up and said they wanted to have a nice little horse to race for next year,” the trainer said. “There were a lot of horses I thought we might have to over-pay for. This one kind of came in under the radar. I saw he raced at Yonkers and Yonkers is primarily where I race anyway so I thought he might just be in the price range. He ended up going a little cheaper than what I thought I’d have to give for him.” As for what he liked about American Admiral, Harris said, “His breeding was impeccable. He wasn’t overly-sized but he was a little muscle horse and those are the types of horses I kind of like for Yonkers. I didn’t know what to expect. We just kind of got lucky. So far it’s all working out.” It is indeed. American Admiral has hit the board four times in five races, having taken two firsts, a second and third for $19,640 in purse money. After the purchase, Harris put the horse out in the field and never looked at him for six weeks. “I didn’t even jog him,” he said. “I needed to let him grow up and let him mature. If he did have any aches and pains they would heal out in the field. I just let him get freshened up. We just started fresh and started off the chalkboard. We made adjustments to his training as he needed something, but we started with (knowing) nothing. We slowly added certain things here or there but I didn’t know what he had before. I never looked or asked.” Harris brought the horse back on Jan. 1 and began working on him, and then eased him back into racing. He is fairly well behaved in the barn, but “He’s a little stud colt so he lets you know that he’s there. He’s not over rambunctious or anything like that but you have to watch him a little bit. He wants to play but his play is a little aggressive. He’s a nice horse, but you don’t want to get caught sleeping around him.” He is keeping folks wide awake on the track as of late. As American Admiral’s confidence grew, Harris began putting him into play a bit more. The strategy seems to be working, as the horse has won his last two races. “He’s just developing into kind of a nice little horse that I don’t know where his bottom is quite just yet,” he said. “I don’t have super high expectations for the horse but I think he’s going to be a nice little horse. He’s got a big engine and he wants to go. But you have to race him the right way.” Just what way is that? “We try to teach him to stay off the helmet a little bit until it’s time to press the go button,” Harris continued. “He’s just come to the point where we can use him now. He’s ready, he’s tight now. He wasn’t tight when we were starting. I brought him back a little bit slower than I usually do. Now his confidence is right and he looks like a totally different animal. He’s happy and strong. “And every driver that sat on him likes him. George (Napolitano Jr.) sat on him the other night and said ‘Wow, can this thing fly for a piece.’ That’s the type of horse you want. He takes care of himself for the mile right now as long as we don’t over-drive him too early in the race. He’s got as good of a move as anyone in that series.” Harris feels American Admiral is the best horse in his division in the Bobby Weiss, but knows that the final will be a different story. “I think Sports Legend and Turbo Hill are the two horses to beat in the whole series,” Harris said. “We kind of got lucky, we avoided them this week, so it will be interesting to see how we face up against them.” However it comes out will go a long way in determining where the American Admiral fleet ends up next. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Trenton, NJ — Megan Foster loves her horse, loves her driver and loves her profession. It’s the kind of love that can help a woman overcome the misconception that watching a Standardbred being jogged is akin to being a tourist in Pennsylvania Dutch Country. In 2010, Foster (then with the maiden name Price) was involved with show horses when her mom helped get her a job working for trainer Arty Foster Sr. All she knew is that it involved racehorses and the 19-year-old assumed it was Thoroughbreds with jockeys. “I had no idea about the sulky end of it or anything like that,” Foster said. “I’m not even joking. I talked to my mom on the phone, I said ‘Mom, what is this? Is this Amish?’ She said, ‘Oh God, you need to get out more.’ She totally threw me out there and I had no idea what it was going to be like.” Once Megan realized she had not been transported to Lancaster, Pa., her numerous love affairs began. She started by helping Foster Sr. around the barn, doing whatever jobs were necessary. During that time, she became friendly with driver Russell Foster — Arty’s grandson. Upon her arrival, Megan and Russell were each dating other people but those relationships fell by the wayside. The two had already become friends and, once they were both free agents, they began dating in 2011 and got married in October 2014. “Russell actually is the one who taught me everything about harness racing,” Megan said. “He took me to the track and I started off as a groom. If he drove the horse I would paddock the horse. So it started off as a friendship.” In 2013, Russell claimed a 5-year-old pacer named Hi Sir. Megan immediately began working with him and suddenly she was in love with Russell and Hi Sir, and would soon love becoming a trainer after she got her license earlier this year. Those three special things combined for the perfect storm on March 31. Just 21 days after her 28th birthday, Foster scored her first training win when Russell drove Hi Sir to victory at Rosecroft Raceway in Maryland. The horse led from gate to wire and won by four lengths. “It sounds kind of corny but Hi Sir has always been my favorite horse, he’s like my pet, so that’s why it kind of means so much (to get her first win with him),” Megan said. “I’ve been working him since Russell got him. He’s a special horse.” Why? “I don’t really know, honestly,” she said. “He’s just a little gentleman at the barn. It’s mainly because he’s just a sweetheart. You can go and rub on him, he loves to be rubbed on and I’ve always said manners go a long way with me. And he’s done really well for me and Russell. He’s made us quite a bit of money.” Hi Sir is her favorite among five horses owned by the couple. Four are currently racing and they are breaking a 2-year-old they hope to have on the track this summer. It is a comfortable situation for the two, who reside in Cordova, Md., with 3-year-old son, Blake, and 1-year-old daughter, Mia. Megan trains all the horses and Russell drives them all, as well as some for other owners. While many married couples would consider working together a horror, the Fosters embrace it. “All our friends always say ‘Oh my God how do you work together? I would kill my husband, or I would kill my wife if I had to see them all the time,’” Megan said. “I’m not trying to say we don’t have arguments. When we’re really busy that’s when we’ll have a confrontation, but both of us will knuckle down together and get it done. If we have a lot to train or it’s just a busy day or we have so much going on, you just get it done. We both seem to love it. “Who else are you going to trust beside your spouse? He asks me to do something, I ask him to do something, you know it’s going to get done.” Foster has been around horses most of her life. Growing up in East New Market, Md., Megan did some show jumping as a teenager. She went to college to become a physical therapist and in her freshman year began to grow weary of show horses. “I kind of did the riding horse thing for fun,” she said. “I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy it, but it just seemed like a hobby more so than a lifestyle kind of thing.” Thus, a friend of her mom’s connected her with Arty Foster. She literally had no idea what harness racing was, but quickly embraced working with Standardbreds. After a while she quit her waitress job in order to be at the barn more frequently but it still wasn’t enough. One day, as she sat in class, Megan had an epiphany. “I was so miserable because I just wanted to be on the farm,” she said. “I loved the horse racing so much.” So, she quit school and never looked back. “I don’t regret my decision at all,” Foster said. “I don’t think I would have been happy doing (physical therapy). Don’t get me wrong, I think it had a lot to do with wanting to be with my (future) husband a lot. I’m not denying that. But I think a lot of it had to do with being outside a lot. Mom had gotten me the job halfway through one of my semesters. I guess it ruined me for school because I just didn’t want to do it anymore.” Once Blake and Mia came along, Megan could no longer get to the track to help her husband. With Russell getting an increasing amount of drives, he was unable to train as much. Since Megan was home, Russell figured why not take her to the next level. “It was his idea for me to become a trainer,” she said. “I never expected to do the training thing at all. I just kind of helped Russell with whatever and whenever he needed my help at home. I was just kind of the back-up, I never thought I’d actually do it. “He basically told me ‘With me being gone a lot you’re the one always there anyway so it would make more sense.’ I was nervous about taking the test, I’m not a very good test-taker. But he helped me kind of prepare for it. I had gotten the study guide book, Russell tried to prep me as much as he could.” Megan nailed it on the first try and her training career was officially underway. She is still unable to go to the track much but says when Ocean Downs opens she can take the kids and “it’s warm down there so they can run around while I’m watching the races.” Now that she is firmly entrenched in her profession, Foster has no grand plans as she is content with where she is at. “I just mainly want to do the family thing with Russell,” she said. “Maybe we’ll get one or two more. It’s just basically me and him, we’re not looking to expand to 50-some horses or anything like that. If there was a friend that needed help, like ‘Hey could you take this horse for a little while for me?’ maybe I’d do that. But I can’t really see me actually training other people’s horses. I’m not saying never, but not now.” For now, she has found a niche that she never saw coming nine years ago. “When I came across Standardbred horses I was actually in college,” she said. “I had no idea that this is what I was going to do. I didn’t know I was going to marry my boss’s grandson. I had no idea, honestly. I went into it totally blind sided. But I believe this is it. We just love it; this is what we want to do as far as a career choice.” And why not? Once she figured out the sulky was more than just a horse-drawn buggy, the rest was easy. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Trenton, NJ — Jim Thompson’s family has been involved in harness racing for nearly 70 years and Delaware Standardbred Breeders Fund finalist Go Jetem can trace his roots back to the start. Go Jetem, a homebred 3-year-old male trotter, hails from a maternal line that has been bred by the Thompsons dating back to the early 1950s, when dairy farmer Ralph Thompson purchased his first horse, Almeda Maud. Following her racing career, Ralph bred Almeda Maud and many of her line’s subsequent offspring. Five generations later Go Jetem carries on the family’s success. “He always had an interest in the horses,” Jim Thompson said of Ralph, who was his grandfather. “My father (Carl) was a lifelong horseman too. Saturday afternoons and Sundays were for going to the matinee races and that kind of stuff. When grandpop got somewhat successful, he bought this horse and had become friends with Luthor Lyons of Adios Harry fame. That’s who had this first horse for him. “After her, they started training at home (in Delaware). A couple of my father’s brothers were involved. It was in 1950 or ’51, they had their first horses ready to go to the racetrack. My father was the only one that wasn’t married, he was the horseman, so he went to Rosecroft with the stable.” Go Jetem is a son of He’s Spooky out of the Thompsons’ Special Mist, who herself was a DSBF champion in 2004. The family also includes DSBF champ Twilight Mist as well as Velvet Mist, who was a standout on the New Jersey fairs circuit, and former world-record-holder Calyjaba. “That whole family has been pretty prolific,” Thompson said. “You always hit the dud in there but there’s a bunch of $200,000 and $300,000 winners in that family.” Go Jetem was bred and races under the Thompsons’ Mist Stable banner. While Jim and his parents run the show, Jim’s son Jason is also involved. After Jim trained Go Jetem last year, he turned him over to Jason this season. The horse had some lameness issues as a 2-year-old but managed to win a DSBF elimination at both Harrington Raceway and Dover Downs. This year he won both his DSBF elims at Dover with Art Stafford Jr. driving. For his career, Go Jetem has won four of nine races and earned $59,600. “He’s little bit peculiar,” Thompson said. “I’ve got to give a lot of the credit for what success he has had to Art Stafford Jr. We get tremendous feedback from him as a driver and that’s extremely important with these young horses. “In the barn he’s just a normal horse, just goes about his work, so far so good. That’s about all I can say there. (On the track) he doesn’t have a lot of gate speed; he’s cut a couple miles but the fractions weren’t real strong at the beginning. He’s better off if he can see a horse during the mile.” Go Jetem will start Monday’s (April 1) $100,000 DSBF final at Dover Downs from post eight. Embrace The Grind, also a two-time elimination winner, will leave from post one with Jonathan Roberts driving for trainer Bobby Glassmeyer. It is one of two DSBF finals on the Monday card at Dover, along with the $100,000 event for 3-year-old filly trotters. “He’s racing good, he’s racing strong,” Thompson said about Go Jetem. “He hasn’t run into a couple of the best ones yet. They’ve been in the other divisions both times so that’s still somewhat of an unknown there, as to how he’ll be able to handle them.” One thing is certain. Being from the Almeda Maud family line, he will give it his all. “It seems like they can all trot,” Thompson said. “Some of them are just a bit faster than the other ones. We never had the ones that were just no good, they’ve always left something.”   by Rich Fisher USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent  

Trenton, NJ — What’s in a name? A whole lot of pop culture references if you’re Steve Jones. While harness racing breeding is a serious business, it doesn’t stop Jones from having a good time. Particularly in naming his horses. Since 1982 when he and his dad opened Cameo Hills Farm in New York, Jones has named horses after famous athletes, movie lines, catch phrases and fictional characters. Many have stuck, some were changed upon sale, but all featured that trademark Jones whimsy. “You gotta have a little fun, right?” he said. Jones has had more than a little. Consider when a foal was produced by Presidential Ball and Miss Easy, he had no choice but to name her Lewinsky. “I thought that was one of my better names,” he said proudly.  It’s not the kind of out-of-the-box behavior one might expect from someone so steeped in Standardbred tradition. Steve’s father, the late Hall of Fame breeder Hal Jones, worked at numerous farms including Blue Chip Farm, Hanover Shoe Farm, and Lana Lobell Farm. Thus, Steve grew up in the business around some great horses. When he graduated from Delaware Valley College in Doylestown, Pa., in 1982, his family purchased Cameo Hills Farm in Montgomery, N.Y. The farm has bred and raised some of the top horses in New York State and the country. It would be easy to become full of one’s self owning one of nation’s premiere farms, but Jones finds a way to keep it loose and light when assigning names. When Johnny Carson died in 2005, he sold horses named after Carson sketch characters Carnac (a psychic), Aunt Blabby (a grumpy senior citizen), Floyd R Turbo (an editorial rebutter) and one of his favorites, Deweycheatumnhowe (a crooked law firm). Deweycheatumnhowe, a Hall of Famer, won the 2008 Hambletonian and was Trotter of the Year. Deweycheatumnhowe won the 2008 Hambletonian and was Trotter of the Year.  “The mother I bought from an attorney,” Jones said, referring to Ted Gewertz. “He was buying all of her foals. That was the year I was using all the Johnny Carson names. I said ‘OK that horse is getting the name of the law firm.’ He ended up buying part of Dewey and he was certainly the most successful one.” Jones is also partial to some of the movie lines he has turned into monikers. One is from The Sting, the 1973 film with Paul Newman and Robert Redford that won the Academy Award for Best Picture. In setting up their mark, the con men told him via a phone call “Place it on Lucky Dan,” which turned into a Jones name. Then there was the scene from Planes, Trains and Automobiles when John Candy and Steve Martin were forced to share a bed together and Del Griffith (played by Candy) tells Neal Page (played by Martin) his hand is between two pillows, and Page yells out “Those aren’t pillows!” “So,” Jones said, laughing heartily while recalling it, “I named one Betweentwopillows. I kind of liked that one.” In selling a crop of Dewey-named horses, Jones named one Deweydefeatstruman, which was the erroneous headline posted in a newspaper after Harry S. Truman actually won the 1948 presidential election. The majority of the horses have been named after sports stars and sports nobodies, some who are still playing and many from the past. “I had a client of mine many years ago who named horses Gehrig and Musial, and I worked with a guy a long, long time ago who named a horse Willie Mays,” Jones said. “So I don’t know if it came from them, or what. But with as many as we have to name each year I’m always trying to figure out a name. I don’t mind naming them after sports figures.” Through his family’s friendship with the Rooney family, Jones is a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. As far as football names go, he not only named one Broadway Joe (after Namath), but another one Bachelors Three, which was the bar (Bachelors III) Namath owned that got NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle upset enough that Namath temporarily retired. Jones has long been a San Antonio Spurs fan after watching Tim Duncan play for Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament and then go on to lead the Spurs to five NBA titles, and named a yearling Too Much Duncan. “When the Spurs would beat a team, whoever the team was, I would say to my kids ‘You know why they lost…too much Duncan,’” Jones said. “I really didn’t know too much about him until I got to see him in college. I followed him from afar, I guess you’d say.” Other basketball names refer to legends such as Wilt Chamberlain (Wilt The Stilt), Jerry West (Zekefromcabincreek), Larry Bird (Hickfromfrenchlick) and Shaquille O’Neal (Shaq Is Back, Hack A Shaq, Baby Shaq). Jones also pays homage to current stars like the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greek Freak), Steph Curry and Klay Thompson (Splash Brother). “It’s funny,” Jones said. “I sold three at Goshen two years ago — Zekefromcabincreek, Wilt The Stilt and Hickfromfrenchlick — and they were the three highest priced horses in the sale. They went one, two, and three. I don’t think it had anything to do with the names, but they went well.” Hickfromfrenchlick won four of seven races in 2018 and earned $138,541 Hickfromfrenchlick had a solid 2-year-old season in 2018, winning four of seven races and earning $138,541 for co-owner/trainer Ray Schnittker. “He was a pretty good one in New York,” Jones said. “He won the (Lawrence) Sheppard (Pace) and won a few of the races in the Sire Stakes. I know they’ve got high hopes for him.” Jones is selling one this year with another basketball reference — Send It In Jerome — which is named after former University of Pittsburgh star Jerome Allen. “He went in for a dunk and tore the backboard down,” Jones said. “Bill Raftery was the announcer and he’s screaming ‘Send it in Jerome!’” Jones’ allegiances have changed in baseball through the years, depending on where he lived. He started as a Mets fan, switched to the Orioles and is now a Yankees fan, thanks to his son’s rooting interest in the Bronx Bombers along with his friendship with Charlie “Chaz” Keller of the now-defunct Yankeeland Farms in Maryland. Keller is the grandson of former Yankee great Charlie “King Kong” Keller. Some of the baseball names include Giambi, Ruth And Gehrig, Murderers Row (the 1927 Yankees) and Rizzuto. “We named one A Rod many years ago, before he fell into disgrace,” Jones said with a laugh. He named a filly Front Row Amy in honor of a Brewers season-ticket holder always in the front row, and he has also bestowed some obscure or fictional names. One horse was tagged with Suitcase Simpson, named after journeyman Harry “Suitcase” Simpson, who played for five different teams in the 1950s. “I was having dinner with Charlie Iannazzo, who was one of the owners of Dewey, and (Standardbred public relations legend) John Manzi and they were talking baseball from the ’50s,” Jones said. “Somehow this guy’s name came up, so I said ‘I gotta name a horse after him.’” Then there was Sidd Finch, the fictitious Mets pitcher who could throw 168 miles per hour according to an April Fool’s hoax story by Sports Illustrated. And who can forget Carl Spackler, the groundskeeper played by Bill Murray who battled gophers in the movie Caddyshack. Several TV characters have also been honored, such as Paulie Walnuts (The Sopranos) and Stretch Cunningham (All In The Family). One name that needs explaining is Big Game James. Contrary to popular opinion, this does not refer to LeBron James, but James Karinchak, a pitcher in the Cleveland Indians minor league system. “He played baseball with my son in high school,” Jones said. “James was kind of a superstar in our area, he went to Bryant College, he was drafted and now he’s an aspiring pitcher with the Indians.” Fillies are not immune to the name game as Jones recently named one Sherry Cervi, a female barrel racer. With so many colorful names, one must wonder what the buyers think upon purchase. “Some of them are looked at with a little bit of skepticism,” Jones said. “It’s like ‘Where did you get that from?’ We’re selling Sidd Finch this year, I’m sure some people won’t know where that came from. I’ll be explaining it was a pitcher who throws 200 miles per hour.” Jones noted some owners keep the names and others change them. The one he liked the most that kept getting changed was Grits N Hard Toast. “I named it four times until it stuck,” he said. “Ray Schnittker’s wife Janet said ‘Oh my God you named another one that.’ I said I’m using that until it sticks.’” Of course, Jones had to name a horse after one of his closest friends and best customers. “Ray Schnittker has bought several horses from us,” Jones said. “I named a horse many years ago Angry Dwarf. Angry Dwarf is named after Ray. I say it to his face, so it can be put in print. I don’t know where that term came from, but somehow it kind of stuck.” by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Trenton, NJ — For harness racing driver Dakota Jackson, ignorance may not have been bliss, but it sure was advantageous. On Nov. 21, the 20-year-old recorded his first driving win when he guided Dontcallme Dude to victory at Ohio’s Northfield Park. What Jackson did not know when the race started, is that his horse went off at odds of 6-5, making him the favorite for the first time in his young career. “If I knew I was the favorite, I probably would have found some way to mess up the race and mess up my drive,” Jackson said with a laugh. “I thought I expected to be maybe third or fourth choice. I didn’t expect to be 6-5 and have everybody putting their money on me.” Sitting in third after the opening quarter-mile, Jackson decided to make his move.   Dakota Jackson recorded his first driving win when he guided Dontcallme Dude to victory on Nov. 21 at Northfield Park. JJ Zamaiko photo.   “I was kind of hesitant to pull,” he said. “I thought, ‘I’m going to pull this horse too early and I’m going to get beat.’ I looked over and thought ‘If I don’t get out now I don’t know if I’ll ever get out.’ At about the half-mile pole I kicked the plugs on him and going past the paddock, my dad and my brother and everyone was standing there, and I just let out the biggest holler I could let off. As soon as I did that the horse pinned his ears back and just went. It was exciting.” Dontcallme Dude won by 3-1/2 lengths, leading to a feeling Jackson never had before. “When I came across the line I was shaking,” Jackson said. “I didn’t really think I had it won. I could still hear everyone behind me so I wasn’t going to count it until I got across the line. When I did I thought ‘Aw gee, this is nice.’” Jackson has not won since then, although he has barely raced since he does not have winter colors. He is anxiously awaiting the start of the season while he works as a trainer for James Stiltner in Ohio. Dakota and his twin brother, Zachary, have wanted to drive and train ever since they were boys growing up in Monroe, Mich. Their parents, Kelly and Charles, met at the Indiana State fairgrounds in Indianapolis. Charles is also in the business, which is one of the reasons he wanted his boys to stay out of it. “My dad wanted me and my brother to go into the military,” Jackson said. “He knew how hard it was. He wanted us boys to have good financial stability. My mom was kind of a little hesitant, but if we wanted to drive or train horses or be a blacksmith, my mom was always kind of ‘Go ahead do what you want, I’ll be supporting you the whole way.’” Pretty much everyone in Monroe who knew the Jackson twins knew where their hearts lied. “A lot of people will tell you, when Raceway Park was opening up, every morning and every afternoon before the races, me and my brother would actually hook race bikes to the fence at Raceway Park and we’d actually pretend we were driving,” Dakota said. “We kind of had a gist that we wanted to be drivers and trainers for a long time.” Jackson jogged his first horse at age 6 and trained his first at age 12. “My dad was jogging one on the track, he told me not to go do it; I went ahead and did it anyway,” he said. “It was at the Red Mile where I trained my first horse. We didn’t go very fast, it was like 2:45 or something.” At age 12, the boys moved with their mom to Mentor On The Lake, Ohio, a town on Lake Erie just northeast of Cleveland. Jackson continued to learn the business and at age 18 he got his driving license. He also bought his first horse — which he still owns — an 11-year-old by the name of Milliondollardad. He purchased him for $2,500 from David McNeight III and feels it was a successful purchase despite limited monetary success. “He hasn’t made me a whole lot of money but he’s taught me how to drive, he’s taught me patience and taught me a lot of respect for a horse,” Jackson said. “I would never have had the chance to even start driving without him. I owe big things to Davey McNeight and that horse.” Asked how the horse helped him so much, Jackson said Milliondollardad did things he never thought a horse could teach a person. “At first a lot of people said he was dangerous,” Dakota said. “In my eyes he was never really dangerous. He was more or less a real finicky horse. You can’t fight with him, you can’t be hard on his mouth. You’ve got to learn patience with him, you’ve got to do it his way. You’ve got to work with him instead of against him. “Me being 18 years old, I was eager to drive, I wanted to have a horse with a lot of gate speed. He could leave a little but he could never really leave a whole bunch. The guys here (at Northfield) are seasoned drivers, they want you to earn your respect as much as they want to give you your respect. So I kind of got stuck toward the back a little bit and picked up a lot of thirds, fourths and fifths with him. Aaron Merriman drove him on Jug Week in Delaware. He ended up fifth. That was my first Jug Week as a trainer so the horse raced huge, I thought.” With the support of his girlfriend, Lexi Chadbourne, Jackson plans on claiming a horse or two, and also wants to start driving Milliondollardad more frequently. “Lexi really gives me confidence,” Dakota said. “She has a horse too and I drove her horse (Three New Dawns). She does a lot for me when it comes to getting confidence. If I have a bad race, she’ll still come up and tell me ‘Hey, you drove him fine.’” While he is both a trainer and driver, Jackson’s ultimate goal is to be a catch driver. “I want to have a couple horses on my own and I want to be able to catch drive for other people,” he said. “I’m just not getting a lot of chances. But my mom said ‘Sooner or later it will come, you’ve just got to wait.’” Jackson is willing to wait for as long as it takes, considering he never wanted anything else. “My sister, Hillary Miller, will tell you she doesn’t know why we want to do it, she just knows we want to do it and she’ll support us 100 percent,” Jackson said. “My brother and I have always wanted to be in this business our whole life. There was never a question about it.” by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Trenton, NJ — Pretty much everyone who knows Ken Weingartner in the harness racing business likes and respects him. At the same time, pretty much no one knows of the hidden talent he has been harboring for these many years. Weingartner, the award-winning Media Relations Manager at the United States Trotting Association, works tirelessly at publicizing and writing about Standardbred racing in his trademark easy-going, humble manner. He’s not the kind of guy one would ever expect to get on stage in front of a theatre full of people for an entire month. Yet that is exactly where Weingartner can be found throughout December as a member of the ensemble in the highly acclaimed version of “A Christmas Carol” at McCarter Theatre in Princeton, N.J. The production has drawn Tony-award winning actors to play the lead characters and gets rave reviews from media outlets stretching from Philadelphia to New York. In the middle of it all this year is Weingartner in the dual role of a poor townsperson and the baker at Mr. Fezziwig’s Christmas party. On stage for an approximate total of 15 minutes, he sings and dances in several feel-good numbers that have the audience clapping their hands and smiling. And he dances good. The man has rhythm! It doesn’t end there, as Weingartner also performs, in-character, in a pre-show engagement in the lobby helping to lead family activities. He is also part of the bell choir in the audience that opens the second act. This is so far from interviewing Jimmy Takter or taking photos of Hannelore Hanover that it just blows people’s minds. Including Weingartner’s. “I would say most people are definitely stunned,” he said. “I can’t say I blame them. When I found out I would be part of the ensemble I was stunned myself. “I never once thought about it. I never thought it was possible.” With good reason. Weingartner had never attended a performance at McCarter despite living within 20 minutes of it his entire life. Not to mention, his acting resume consisted of playing a traveling salesman as a 4th-grader in a production of “The Music Man” at Hightstown’s Walter C. Black Elementary School. But as the old saying goes, behind every successful man lies a woman. Ken had always been a huge fan of “A Christmas Carol,” Charles Dickens’ classic tale of redemption on Christmas Eve. So, last year his wife, Lana, took him to see the performance in Princeton. “I’ve always liked the story and it’s something I’ve turned to, either in movies, audio books, or the novella, every year at Christmastime,” he said. “When we were at the show and I heard about the Community Ensemble, I joked with Lana, ‘I should do that.’ And she said, ‘You should.’” Lana began watching for audition information and coaxed her husband into it. He attended a workshop to learn more about the ensemble and the process. “It was fun, and everyone from McCarter was so encouraging, that I decided to continue and audition,” Weingartner said. “I was thrilled when I got a call-back. I figured anything that happened after that was a bonus. I knew they were going to only select 23 adults for the ensemble, so I didn’t go into it with any grand expectations. I was hoping to be selected, but I really just wanted to have fun with it and try something outside my comfort zone. As it turned out, I felt comfortable rather quickly, which I think is a credit to the people from McCarter and the other people that auditioned. The auditioning alone was a remarkable experience.” Greg Wood (center) with members of the 2018 cast and community ensemble of A Christmas Carol. McCarter Theatre Center photo. That’s not surprising, as this is much more than just a community theatre play. Greg Wood, who plays Scrooge, has appeared in such films as “The Sixth Sense” and “Signs” and popular TV shows “Law & Order” and “How to Get Away with Murder.” Steve Rattazzi, who plays Fezziwig, was in Broadway’s “Indecent.” Numerous others have performed in off-Broadway shows and in highly respected venues throughout the country. No one acted big time, however, as they embraced the Standardbred Kid as one of their own. “Every person associated with the show has been wonderful to work with,” Weingartner said. “From day one, it was really about bonding and becoming a family. Especially with the amount of time you spend together for two months. People have been nothing but friendly, helpful, encouraging — simply positive. And it really has been a collaborative effort.” That collaboration is what made it more comfortable for Ken to ease into it all. “It didn’t matter if you had no experience, the director (Adam Immerwahr) and the entire team putting the production together wanted to see what you could bring to your characters, telling little stories within the larger story,” Weingartner said. “I think that’s what makes the community ensemble work. I think the idea is to assemble a group that is representative of the community, not to put together a group to simply represent a community. You can see the result, on stage and off.” Rehearsals started on Nov. 9 and were held all day on Saturdays and Sundays before they increased to weeknights during the final week leading up to the actual performances, which run Dec. 4-29. There are 33 shows in all, running for two hours with a 20-minute intermission. When the curtain rose for Weingartner’s first performance, he handled it as calmly as writing up Friday night results at The Meadowlands. “I was more excited than nervous,” he said. “Of course, there was some anxiousness because I’d never done a show before, but you’re so well prepared that it really fills you with confidence and helps you focus. I think doing the pre-show activities also helps because you get to interact with the audience before getting on stage. Walking out on stage for the first time was definitely a special moment. It still is special each time I do it.” What makes it special is not just his participation, but watching the professionals around him. Weingartner has gained a whole new appreciation for actors and their craft. “Absolutely,” he said. “Not only from the standpoint of preparation, but from bringing energy to each performance day after day, often times twice a day. It really is demanding.” And, much like a harness race, where that perfect trip is so hard to obtain, live theatre is filled with potential pitfalls. Thus the drivers, er, actors, must overcome adversity on the fly. “It is live and not everything will go as planned every time,” Weingartner continued. “To see their ability to adjust, and do it so it goes unnoticed by the audience, is quite remarkable. And that extends beyond the actors to everyone involved with the production. There is so much that goes on behind the scenes that is amazing and it’s all vital to the success of the show.” What does not surprise most of Weingartner’s friends and colleagues is that he is a man with absolutely no ego. Not the kind of person one would find in the limelight. He feels, however, that he is just one cog in the machine. “My focus was on the experience itself,” he said. “I think the fact I’m part of an ensemble is part of it. It’s not about bringing attention to any one person, it’s a collaborative effort between the group as a whole.” Ken is unsure if he will try it again next year, noting that the time constraints are exhaustive. He is quick to note, however, that this has truly been one of the great experiences of his life. “From the moment it began at the workshop I attended, this has been a blast,” he said. “It’s something a year ago that I never even imagined doing and I’m so glad I took the opportunity to give it a try. Honestly, had I not gotten in the show it still would have been a terrific experience, just getting the chance to do something new and meet the people from McCarter. But to be a part of this show, especially when you get feedback from people about how much they enjoy it, is an honor. I truly love this production and the people involved in it, so being any part of it is the thrill of a lifetime. I’ll never forget these moments, these people, and I’ll be forever grateful for getting this chance.” In a way, Weingartner’s stage career mirrors that of his day job. If he is not entertaining fans of harness racing with informative stories and photos, he is entertaining a holiday audience with his choreography. And still a harness guy at heart, he is able to merge the two with one line from the play. “Actually,” he said, “I do like that Bob Cratchit says ‘I was (Tiny) Tim’s trotter all the way from church.’” by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

If Jack Parker Jr. was ever getting back to the Breeders Crown finals, it was going to be with the best horse he ever had. And that's exactly how it has played out, as Parker's NF Happenstance has brought him to Saturday's $250,000 Breeders Crown Mare Trot championship at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. "She's really changed my life for the better, in all kinds of ways," said Parker, who has the mare in his barn for a second stint. "She got me out of debt the first time and paid off my mortgage the second time. And helped me put some money in the bank." So, this one is at the top of his list? "I think so, yes," the 63-year-old said. "I've had some nice horses before, but she made $300,000 this year and that's the most I've ever made with a horse. I've made in the hundreds sometimes but never the 300s." The 8-year-old won her elimination after going off at 9-1 and battling both horses and birds. In doing so, she put Parker in the Breeders Crown finals for the first time since 1985, when he drove Dangarvon to a third-place finish at the now-defunct Garden State Park in New Jersey. Asked if, after several years, he thought that might be his only trip to the finals, Parker said, "I was hoping not, but you never know about this business." After surviving a serious injury from a Meadowlands crash in March 1984 -- which left him in a coma for 19 days and had doctors thinking he might not survive -- Parker returned in August of that year and promptly won his first race back. A year later he was in the Breeders Crown finals. He has been going strong ever since and has 1,769 career driving victories. After facing what he did 34 years ago, Parker wasn't going to be bothered by a 33-year drought between Breeders Crown appearances. "It's nice to be back there, but I'm just out there having fun," Parker said. "I don't get hung up on (the major races). I'm 63; I've been doing this all my life. You have a lot of ups and downs in this business. There's no expectations (for Saturday). I just kind of have a lot of hope and we'll see what happens. You have to have luck in this business for sure." Parker drives fewer than 100 races per year these days, but makes them count. In 29 races with NF Happenstance this year, the duo has won 11, taken second in 10, and earned $301,895. It's like the old Sinatra song, love is lovelier the second time around. In this case, it was pretty good the first time as well. In early 2014, Parker and his wife, trainer Carol Jamieson-Parker, bought the horse for Jack's long-time friend James "Chip" Moore, a former classmate at Lake Forest High School in Delaware. Beginning in mid-March, she won eight races over the next four months and set track records at Harrah's Philadelphia and Harrington Raceway. A month later the mare was sold to harness racing Hall of Famer Bill Weaver. After NF Happenstance started making some breaks, the decision was made to breed her to Sebastian K, which was a success. But when Weaver passed away in 2016, NF Happenstance was put in the mixed sale at Harrisburg. The Parkers could not wait to buy her back, and Jack took a playful jab at his buddy. "I just want to thank Chip's wife (Mitzi) for buying her both times," Parker said, adding with a laugh, "You know, the wives have to OK the husbands to do anything. I'm pretty sure it was a group effort there. But we've had horses before with not much success. This one changed our life." The purchase was made with the idea of racing NF Happenstance again once she gave birth to her filly, which was named Pure Happenstance. "We bought her in November, she had the baby in February, and she had to raise the baby," Parker said. "The first of September they weaned her. I started to race her the first of October (2017) until now." It marked the second time Parker purchased a pregnant mare with the intention of returning her to the track. "The first time she came back just as good as when she left off," he said. "I was hoping it would work out that way with this one, and I think she might be stronger now. She grew an inch taller and about four inches wider. I thought at 4 years old they probably stop growing, but she didn't. She's had a great year. After she got weaned, she's been an amazing athlete. After 30 days, she qualified." Jamieson-Parker told ustrotting.com in January that "Nobody gets along with her like my husband does," and Parker has proven that this year as he understands all the little nuances. "She likes to work," he said. "She likes to do it briskly and if you fight with her you're not going to get anything done. She's not going to race good for you." When it comes time to racing, she likes to get out in front, which is what happened in the Breeders Crown eliminations. "It was a muddy night and my mare likes to leave out of there," Parker said. "I left out, Tim Tetrick circled me with Pink Pistol. I was on the outside going around the first turn, there were three geese right in our pathway. Pink Pistol looked at them, and my mare looked at them, but we got through all right. The next time we came around they were gone. "I got to the top and it seemed like the other two mares, the two favorites (Dream Together and Broadway Donna), couldn't handle the track. The mud doesn't seem to bother her. A couple horses made breaks and I got a nice lucky trip." Parker conceded he had an easier division, and realizes the competition is about to go up drastically in the final. NF Happenstance will be going against three previous Breeders Crown champions -- Ariana G, Broadway Donna and Emoticon Hanover. "It's going to be real tough," he said. "Those other two horses (Emoticon Hanover and Ariana G) drew off in (1):52.4. But it's a horserace. You can't hit the ball unless you swing the bat." And Parker is going up to the plate with the best bat he has ever had. For Saturday's complete entries, click here. by Rich Fisher, for the Breeders Crown  

Trainer Paula Wellwood doesn't mind Smart As Hill's playful streak. His speed more than makes up for it. "He is improving," Wellwood said. "He's still very coltish. He does little colt things. He doesn't really have a care in the world, he's like that. But that's OK -- if they can go fast." "And," she added with a laugh, "he can do that." That speed has gotten Smart As Hill into Saturday's $600,000 Breeders Crown final for 2-year-old male trotters, where he drew post No. 4 at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. All 12 Breeders Crown championships, with $6.4 million in total purses, will be raced Saturday at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. Post time is 5:30 p.m. (EDT) for the first race. Smart As Hill, another in a long line of quality Muscle Hill offspring, out of Smarty Pants, has hit the board in all but one of his nine starts, taking three firsts, three seconds and two thirds for $105,491 in earnings. Owned by the Wellwood family's Dreamville Stable and Steve Organ, the horse was a surprise winner in his elimination, rallying from fifth in the stretch in a lifetime-best 1:53.4 to return $36.80. He was driven by Bob McClure, who had never participated in a Breeders Crown until last weekend. Bettors were surprised, but did Smart As Hill surprise Wellwood? "Yes. Yes he did," she said. "In the last turn I thought, uh oh, we're not too good. Then he got clear sailing. But he's done that before. He did that in the Wellwood too (finishing second). He was just a little far back but he was flying at the end." His effort in the elimination was typical of how the season has gone, as Smart As Hill continues to do the unexpected. "He's been a nice surprise," Wellwood said. "He always was a good training colt, but we didn't know he was going to come to this level. He's just an all-around nice horse. He's got a lot of good attributes -- size, strength, speed, all those things you need." The trainer noted that Smart As Hill was on the small side upon purchase, but had a rapid growth spurt that had to be accounted for. "It took a lot of months to get him to finally fill out and grow up," Wellwood said. "Once he did, he just got stronger and stronger. If you look at his lines, we raced him in (the Define The World Series) and brought him along very slowly. He's typical of what we do, where two or three weeks between races is not an issue. That's just how we're going to approach it." New York Sire Stakes champion Gimpanzee won the division's other elimination to remain unbeaten in eight career starts, and drew post five in the final. He overcame a four-week absence and the difficult tuck-then-first-over trip to finish in 1:54.4. Trainer Marcus Melander was not surprised at how his horse, who has earned $291,358 this year, handled the first-over situation with Brian Sears in the sulky. "He has a lot of stamina, he's a very strong horse," Melander said. "He can do a lot of work in the races. The eight hole (in the elimination) is never good, so that was a little concern because you never know what kind of trip you will get. But it worked out good." As it has all season. "I'm very happy with him," the trainer continued. "He's got a great attitude. He goes out there like an older horse. You can leave with him and then you can just sit with him two fingers and he never gets overanxious. His technique is amazing. If you look at those half-mile tracks in New York, he just lays down in the turns like a car. I like everything about him. He's just a very nice horse." The son of Chapter Seven out of Steamy Windows, Gimpanzee served notice of his abilities with a track-record 1:55.4 win in a New York Sires Stakes event at Saratoga's half-mile track July 31. "If you go (1):55 at Saratoga as a 2-year-old, it's a special horse," Melander said. "Of course, like always, the New York horses don't get as much credit as the other ones. But I've been feeling he's a very nice horse. He just does it very easy out there. He's very strong, he's got a lot of speed, he's got a great attitude, and he's been fresh and sound all year." Gimpanzee is owned by Courant Inc. and S R F Stable. "He feels very sharp," Melander said. "I'm very confident in my horse. The final will be tougher, of course, but I'm very confident in him." Melander has a second horse in the final with Green Manalishi S, a Swedish-bred colt that Anders Strom purchased for a Swedish auction-record 3 million kroner ($265,000 U.S.). Named after a Fleetwood Mac song, Green Manalishi S has five firsts and four seconds in his nine starts, earning $372,557. Tim Tetrick drove him to a second behind Smart As Hill in his elimination. "He was very good," Melander said. "I was very happy with him. He was a little grabby, so we went a little fast on the backside there, but I was very happy with him." He hopes to be just as happy on Saturday. "I think he will be much sharper (this) week," Melander said. "He had some sickness problem when he got home from Lexington, so I was very happy with how he raced. We could have drawn a little better (post eight for the final). But he's a very good horse. It will make things more difficult, of course, but he's good enough to win anyway." For Saturday's complete card, click here. Following is the draw for the Breeders Crown final for 2-year-old male trotters. PP-Horse-Driver-Trainer 1-Hudson River-Yannick Gingras-Jimmy Takter 2-Chin Chin Hall-Peter Wrenn-Melanie Wrenn 3-Prospect Hill-Andy Miller-Julie Miller 4-Smart As Hill-Bob McClure-Paula Wellwood 5-Gimpanzee-Brian Sears-Marcus Melander 6-Super Schissel-Yannick Gingras-Jimmy Takter 7-Trix And Stones-Scott Zeron-Carl Jamieson 8-Green Manalishi S-Tim Tetrick-Marcus Melander 9-Kings County-Brian Sears-Domenico Cecere by Rich Fisher, for the Breeders Crown

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