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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 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

A pacing mare has never won a million dollars in a single season, but that could change in the coming weeks thanks to Shartin N. The 5-year-old Shartin N has won 17 of 22 races this season and earned $833,361. She races Saturday (Oct. 27) in the $270,000 Breeders Crown Mare Pace at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono and could surpass Dreamfair Eternal's seasonal earnings record for a pacing mare of $925,575 set in 2010 as well as move nearer the million-dollar mark. All 12 Breeders Crown championships, with $6.4 million in total purses, will be raced Saturday at Pocono. Post time is 5:30 p.m. (EDT) for the first race. Shartin N, who won her Breeders Crown elimination last weekend by a length over Twinkle in 1:52, starts the final from post two with Tim Tetrick driving for trainer Jim King Jr. and owners Richard Poillucci and Jo Ann Looney-King. "She's definitely all that," King said about Shartin N, who was supplemented to the Breeders Crown for $31,250. "She's had one hellish year. She has the opportunity to win a million this year, which I think is a pretty good feat for an older mare. "To start out the year with the Matchmaker (Series in March) and still be going and looking and feeling as good as she does, she's the one that gets the credit, not me. I'm just along for the ride. Geez, I hate the year to end." King believed Shartin N would be a nice racehorse after watching her win four of five starts prior to the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series at Yonkers, but knew there was work to be done in terms of dealing with the mare's demeanor. "I knew she had talent when we were racing her at home, but she was very hard to get along with then," King said. "It took us right to the Matchmaker final to really get to where we felt we understood her. From there it's been pretty much a good go. We made a few adjustments and she seems to thrive on work. "It's so impressive just how she can do it the way she does it. She doesn't have to have things go perfect for her, which is a good thing because it's not always easy to get her to do what you want. But she just overcomes everything and keeps going. She's a good horse. Whenever anything is wrong, she does what good horses do -- she takes it with her. She doesn't lay around and complain about it. She gets up and goes to work." King and his wife have a second horse in the Mare Pace, Newborn Sassy, who finished third behind Call Me Queen Be and Pure Country in her elimination. "She had the rail so I was pretty sure that was going to be to her benefit," Looney-King said. "I was hoping that she would sneak in and get fourth. Even better, we were third. I think it will be tough for her to beat these mares, but we're going to give it a go. It's just been a great year. I don't know why I deserve it, but I'm taking it." The 5-year-old Newborn Sassy was a Grand Circuit winner at ages 2 and 3, even winning a Breeders Crown elimination at 3 before finishing sixth in the final, but was not staked the past two seasons. "She wasn't staked last year or at all this year," Looney-King said. "We just decided to put her in the Breeders Crown this year. Her gig has been Yonkers in the mares open and it's been a good gig. Those checks are nice. She was just so consistent, man, she paid some bills." And she does so while making life easy. "It's such a great thing to have a horse like her," Looney-King added. "She's easy going, she just falls in line. She is the perfect horse, she really is. She's good to take care of, good to jog, good to drive -- just everything. She doesn't do anything wrong." Pure Country and Call Me Queen Be are both previous Breeders Crown champions and Pure Country is chasing history of her own. Pure Country is attempting to become just the fourth pacer to win three Breeders Crown titles. Jenna's Beach Boy, Eternal Camnation and My Little Dragon have also hit the trifecta. Pure Country won as a 2- and 4-year-old and is attempting to become the first repeat winner since Shelliscape in 2013-14. Owned by Diamond Creek Racing and driven by Yannick Gingras, Pure Country was sixth in the stretch in last week's elimination before rallying for second. "She closed," trainer Jimmy Takter said. "She ended up behind a horse that was in the way a little bit. When you have bad cover, second over is a bad spot here. I'd rather be first up. But she always closes that last sixteenth like a demon. She raced good." Pure Country, a three-time Dan Patch Award-winner, has a win, two seconds and two thirds in her past five starts. She was winless in her first eight races of the year but hit the board four times. "She started a little bad, but she's been racing good the last couple months of the year," Takter said. "She will be a contender in the final. It wouldn't shock me. I would not rule her out." Call Me Queen Be didn't do much wrong in her Mare Pace elimination, as Eric Carlson drove her to victory in 1:50.3 while negotiating a sloppy track. "She was tremendous," trainer Ross Croghan said. "She was extremely good last week here at this track, the best start I've seen in a long time. We didn't intend to come here until her performance last week and we changed our mind and took a shot. We drew the eight hole (for the elimination), but she's got such tactical speed that she got to the top easy and cut out a nice even mile. She was impressive." Owned by Let It Ride Stables and Dana Parham, the 5-year-old -- who won a Breeders Crown at age 3 -- seems to be one of those horses that doesn't mind the thermometer dropping in late October. "I was never a believer that weather had anything to do with it, but I'm starting to change my mind," Croghan said. "I think she might like the cooler weather a lot better. The last six weeks she's been surprising because she did struggle through the summer. The last six weeks she's picked it up and (Saturday) she was even better. The colder it gets, the faster she goes. Let's hope for cold weather." Croghan has a second horse in the final as Twinkle sat in the pocket and then came up the inside to finish a length behind Shartin N in her elimination. The horse was coming off some health issues, but improved after 10 days off. "I thought she would race good (Saturday)," Croghan said. "It was her first start in four weeks. I think (this) week she will be even better. I've always been very high on that filly. She's got great speed. She's a very talented filly. She has issues on and off, but when she's good, she's good." Another horse trying to finish strong after some tough times is Blue Moon Stride, which finished fourth in her elim. "I was very, very happy," trainer Mark Harder said. "Six weeks ago, we were struggling a little bit. She had a couple really bad races. I thought she might not get back to this level again. But her last race at Lexington and then (Saturday) I think she's coming into the final just about spot on. She paced right through the wire, very strong." Harder felt one of the biggest issues he had was working Blue Moon Stride too hard to get through her tie-up issues. He noted that when he backed off, it freshened the horse up. "Luckily I didn't completely mess her up," he said. In discussing the division, Harder said, "There are a bunch of them that take their turns. It's a tough, even group. You've got to be on your 'A' game to win. Shartin has been the 'A' one for a while, but Moon and Pure Country, Caviart Ally -- they're an even group. Maybe not Shartin right now, she's the standout." Following is the draw for the $270,000 Breeders Crown Mare Pace. Elimination winners drew for post one through five in an order determined by lot. PP-Horse-Driver-Trainer 1-Twinkle-Scott Zeron-Ross Croghan 2-Shartin N-Tim Tetrick-Jim King Jr. 3-Call Me Queen Be-Eric Carlson-Ross Croghan 4-Lakeisha Hall-Matt Kakaley-Ron Burke 5-Pure Country-Yannick Gingras-Jimmy Takter 6-Carol's Z Tam-Brian Sears-Jamie Macomber 7-Newborn Sassy-Tim Tetrick-Jim King Jr. 8-Blue Moon Stride-Corey Callahan-Mark Harder 9-Caviart Ally-Andrew McCarthy-Noel Daley by Rich Fisher, for the Breeders Crown  

Trenton, NJ --- Owner Ed Telle feels he has something special in Miso Fast, but is in no rush to prove it. The pacer will race in the second of three Graduate Series divisions for 4-year-olds at Tioga Downs in New York Sunday (June 10) after winning a Graduate division last week at Woodbine Mohawk Park. He is staked in all the major events this year, but whether he races in them will be decided as time goes on. “It’s just a matter of picking or choosing what we want to do at the time,” Telle said. “He’s got what, about $40,000 on his card, and we just started the year. “We’ll just give him some time. A lot of owners are worried about money. If I plan on keeping him for five years and we do this thing the right way, we’ll do just fine.” It has been the game plan ever since Telle went to the Tattersalls January Select Mixed Sale at the Meadowlands for the sole purpose of buying Miso Fast. He shelled out the day’s top price -- $250,000 -- for the stallion, who at that point had won seven of 36 career races and earned $647,938. “I haven’t pushed him,” Telle said. “I’ve found out over the years that a 4-year-old, when we’re racing where we’re racing right now, you’ve just got to be easy with him. You pick your spots. You can destroy him. They’re just not strong enough to go with the 5-, 6-, 7- and 8-year-olds. We can race around here at The Meadows and at invites and what not, and we should be very competitive.This year, Miso Fast has won two of six starts and earned $37,453. “He won’t really get good until he’s 6. That’s when I figure he’ll peak and I’ll have him in everything. He’ll be in a lot next year and the following year but you know what, I don’t mind racing him at Hoosier Park and The Meadows because they’re going for good money.” So, what was it about a single horse that brought Telle to New Jersey in January? “You look at the horses that went to stud, Downbytheseaside and Fear The Dragon, this horse was third to them and he beat Fear The Dragon at Pocono (in an elimination of the Hempt Memorial),” the owner said. “I just thought he’s a nice horse, he’s built; he’s just a gorgeous horse. He’s got that move you don’t see in many horses. That’s what I saw in him.” On Sunday, Miso Fast is the 9-5 morning-line favorite in his Graduate division and will have Tim Tetrick in the sulky for trainer Virgil Morgan Jr. The Ron Burke-trained entry of Rock N Tony and Lawrencetown Beach is 2-1. “He’s in there with two of Ronnie Burke’s horses, and you know Ronnie sends them to the gate fit, they’re ready to rock,” Telle said. “But I think he’s getting better each week. It just depends on how Tim takes him. He’s getting to know him and he’s going where he is to drive him. “He’s got an eighth move that nobody has. When he moves him, that boy flies. Last week he went from fourth to first in what, 100 yards? That’s the move he has, so if Tetrick works with him and doesn’t press him too bad, he should finish really good. He’s proven that.” In the first Graduate division for the male pacers, Filibuster Hanover, unbeaten in four starts this year, is the 9-5 morning-line favorite for trainer Burke. In the third division, Burke’s entry of Maroma Beach and Eddard Hanover is also the 9-5 choice. There also are two Graduate Series divisions for trotters. Ake Svanstedt’s Yes Mickey is the 2-1 favorite in the first division and Julie Miller’s Top Flight Angel is the 2-1 choice in the second. Racing begins at 1 p.m. (EDT). For complete entries, click here. by Rich Fisher, USTA Senior Correspondent

Trenton, NJ --- For the first time in her life, Barn Bella will experience the thrill of crossing a state border. And her connections hope she continues to give them thrills while mixing with harness racing “open” company. After tearing through the competition for two years on her home turf of New York, the 4-year-old mare will compete in her first race outside the Empire State when she makes her season's debut Monday (May 7) in the $81,600 Miami Valley Distaff for female trotters ages 4 and up. The Distaff, part of a Miami Valley Raceway card that also features the $102,200 Sam “Chip” Noble III Memorial for older female pacers, attracted a field that includes defending champion and millionaire Charmed Life, multiple O’Brien Award-winner Caprice Hill, last year’s Kentucky Filly Futurity winner Ice Attraction, Ohio Sire Stakes champ Rose Run Sydney, and Indiana Sire Stakes champ Churita. “You’re excited about it,” Barn Bella’s co-owner/trainer Steven Pratt said. “I would have liked to have a couple starts to have an idea of where she’s at instead of going in blind. There’s a bunch of good ones in this race, that’s for sure. But she’s a good mare.” Good does not really cover it. In 24 career races, most against only New York-bred horses, Barn Bella has won 18 (with all her losses coming in races in which she went off stride) and earned $688,725. She was the New York Sire Stakes champion for filly trotters at ages 2 and 3. The horse has been so outstanding, Pratt is abandoning his usual practice of racing a horse at ages 2 and 3 and then selling it. As part-owner with wife Nancy and Wanda Polisseni’s Purple Haze Stables, the trainer will take a horse out of state for the first time since he began working with young ones 12 years ago. “Wanda was going to have to make a decision whether to sell or buy me out to race her,” Pratt said. “We talked about it. For her, she enjoys watching the race, so I’m good with that.” So, Barn Bella will take on the Grand Circuit against some of the best female competition in the land. She came close to going out of state last year when Pratt wrote a $62,500 check to supplement to the Breeders Crown before ultimately deciding not to go to the event. “You had to be third to break even, or even lose about $10,000 if you were third,” he said. “We decided enough’s enough. And rather than breed her this year we would give her a chance to race against the Grand Circuit horses and see what happens.” This year, she is staked to nearly a dozen races, including the Miami Valley Distaff, Graduate Series, Miss Versatility Series, Armbro Flight, Hambletonian Maturity, Dr. John R. Steele Memorial, Joie De Vie, Allerage Farms for mares, Breeders Crown and TVG championship. Pratt feels his horse is ready to meet the challenge. “She went last year in (1):51(.3) pretty handy,” he said. “She’s never been beat that she hasn’t made a break. With all the rest we’ve won. “She’s matured this year. She’s heavier; I hope she’s not too fat. But she’s matured a lot. She has a very nice temperament. She’s a nice horse to race; Jeff (Gregory) and Claude (Huckabone Jr.) have done a great job driving her.” A daughter of Conway Hall out of Bravissima, Barn Bella was purchased for $32,000 at the 2015 SUNY Morrisville Sale. Barn Bella has lived up to Pratt’s expectations, and has turned a tidy profit despite staying local. “It’s just limiting her starts and if they’re good enough, they’re going to win the Empire Breeders and the (NYSS) finals,” Pratt said. “Half a million’s enough without leaving the state. “I’m just small, I buy and race two or three of them. The simpler the better. I’m getting near the end of the tunnel. I’ve maintained that if they’re good enough, if they’re the best in New York, you’ll make enough. You don’t have to run around. A lot of times you’re just giving it back between stakes fees and shipping, stuff like that.” Pratt’s biggest concern with this season is time constraints due to travel, but that cannot offset his anticipation to see what his mare can do on the big stages. “The most exciting thing is that she won’t see a half-mile track except for Delaware,” he said. “She’ll be on the big track and that’s where she belongs, away from the half-mile. So we’ll give her a couple starts and we’ll see where she’s at. "She’s been a good one for us. They had some real nice fillies last year at 3 but she just was dominant. She can race on the front or she can race from behind. She’s just a nice horse. It’s always nice to be lucky enough to have a real nice one. It really is. We’ll see if she’s a real nice horse against the good competition.” Racing begins at 2:05 p.m. (EDT) Monday at Miami Valley. The Distaff is race eight and the Noble, which honors the late Ohio Hall of Fame horseman Chip Noble, is race 10. For the complete Miami Valley Distaff field, click here. For the complete Sam “Chip” Noble III Memorial field, click here. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent 

Trenton, NJ --- McGwire Sowers showed at an early age that he knew how to make something out of nothing on a racetrack. Driving his first harness racing matinee at Cornish Trotting Park in Maine, Sowers was 12 years old and drew the two-hole in a five-horse field. “It didn’t go very good,” he recalled. “I got behind the gate and the horse got quite rammy, and it was kind of overwhelming for me; I didn’t know how to handle it. I was kind of scared. Before that I had never been behind a starting car.” So, a wild guess here. It was a fifth-place finish? “Oh yeah,” Sowers said with a laugh. But instead of falling apart and just mailing it in, the pre-teen decided to take a positive from it. “I took him back and just got a feel for it,” he said. “Just to see how it felt to drive in a race.” It is that sort of wherewithal that has launched the now 18-year-old Sowers to a solid rookie campaign in his first pari-mutuel season. His first win at a pari-mutuel track came March 11 at Maryland’s Rosecroft Raceway, but it was opening day at Scarborough Downs on March 31 that was downright amazing. Sowers won not just one race, but five, including four in a row starting in the third race. Gwire, as his friends call him -- except for Jason Bartlett, who tagged him Big Mac -- drove Falcon’s Luke to a winning time of 1:57.1 to get the big day started. “I had the five hole and I looked over behind the gate, nobody was getting after their horse to leave, so I lucked out and went right to the lead,” Sowers said. “I rated him a good mile and stepped on the gas down the backside and it was game on.” That was followed by victories behind Jus’ Like A Virgin, Keystone Camaro, and Bliss And Luck. He capped the day by taking Northern Ideal first across the line in the finale. On the 10-race card, Sowers owned half the wins. All five came behind horses trained by his dad, Bo, who runs Bo Sowers Stable in Windsor, Maine. “I was a little worried at the start of Scarborough, putting him in a spot of driving our whole barn of 30 horses,” Bo said. “We talked about it and he said, ‘Let me do it the first weekend and I will prove to you dad.’ Which he did.” Once again, Gwire showed his maturity. Just as he didn’t get too low in his first fair start, he never got too high on his big day. “I was really surprised; I was doing a lot better than I thought I would,” Gwire said. “After I won the third one, I kept turning the page, race after race. I kept looking for the next one. I didn’t keep dwelling on the last win. “It was real emotional. The biggest thing was my family was there from Canada. I wanted to be able to put on a show for them and it turned out to be a great day.” It did not stop there. He has won five more races since then, and continues to make pop smile. “I am very proud of him and his accomplishments so far,” Bo said. “I really did not put much thought to his talent until last year when Heath Campbell, another very good driver and trainer, said to me, ‘The kid has a good set of hands.’ “Winning five on opening day was a surprise. I thought he had a couple of chances but not five. He held his composure well as the first two drives were a bust. It couldn’t have happened on a better day with his top supporters, uncle Rich, his aunt Atheline and uncle Larry showing up from Canada.” Sowers grew up in Woodstock, New Brunswick, but found his love of Standardbreds in Maine. When he was 7, his father had a decision to make. “My father used to be a truck driver, and in 2007 it was either be a trucker or go fulltime into racing,” Sowers said. “He made the right choice.” Gwire began making summer trips to his dad’s barn around age 8. “I would always go sit in there on my dad’s lap and he’d say, ‘We’ll see what we can do,’” Gwire recalled. “I jogged a few horses with him at first, on his lap. Finally I had a horse easy enough to jog myself. He waited for everyone else to jog theirs; he helped me off and that’s the way it went. I fell in love with it. Just sitting behind the horse, moving along. I just loved it.” Bo could immediately see potential. “When we started training together he was competitive from the start and could create speed from a very young age,” he said. Sowers remained in Canada to finish his schooling, but soon began spending summers in Maine to be around the horses. In his first training trip he went 2:15 at age 11. After getting his Q/F license (for matinees, fairs and qualifiers) he won eight of 60 races in 2016 and 25 of 163 last year. Interestingly, Sowers got his first Q/F win with Terem Up Louie (Aug. 20, 2016 at Skowhegan) and got his first pari-mutuel win with the same horse at Rosecroft in March. The past two years were not easy at the start and finish of seasons, as Sowers had to make six-hour round trips each weekend. “It was three hours to where the stables were in Maine,” he said. “I would leave school early on a Friday afternoon, at lunch time; and try to be there 10 minutes before the race. I would race Friday, Saturday and Sunday and then make the trip back Sunday night to get back to school.” Needless to say, it was a grind. “I loved the racing part, but the traveling part, it got a little tiring,” he said. “It burned you out pretty quick. At one point I actually thought about going to school in Maine. Then I thought, nah, I want to finish with my friends and the people I went to school with all my life.” His work ethic isn’t too shabby either. Prior to getting his P license, Sowers would work in a tire shop before heading over to the stables, saying “I got to know all the ins and outs of changing a tire.” While still in school, he played ice hockey from grades 5 through 11, but gave it up as a senior in order to focus on racing. “I was a defenseman; I had a lot of sore parts on the body from taking that puck off of me,” he said. “I was a hundred times more sore after a hockey game than I am after a night of racing.” In order to save himself from another weekend commute this spring, Sowers took a bunch of courses that enabled him to earn his high school degree in December, which has freed him to completely focus on his driving career. Gwire is obviously encouraged by his start and hopes to make it his career. He is not, however, going after it at all costs. “I never went through the thought process of going to college,” he said. “I’m doing good right now, I’m not thinking about it. But if I can’t start driving at some of the bigger tracks, if I don’t start driving places like Yonkers and the Meadowlands, I’m going to think about college. I would take online courses; I wouldn’t be into the whole going to classes. “I’m thinking I’ll do it for maybe a year or two just to see how it’s going. You always have to have a Plan B, so college would be my Plan B if the driving thing doesn’t work out. I may try to do both at the same time, but I would have to see.” At the moment, however, things are working out just fine. “I’m more than happy,” Gwire said. “I didn’t expect it to go this way right at first. I thought I would have to work my way up to do as well as I’ve been doing.” And he is impressing the folks who count the most. “My owners are all standing behind him especially Irwin Kaplan with Mo Coo Inc.,” Bo noted. “I really don’t know what else I can say other than I’m very happy and proud of him.” That sounds like the perfect thing to say. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent 

Trenton, NJ --- The sound of a 2006 Chevy Malibu can be heard roaring along the drive and, suddenly, a bevy of cats emerge from seemingly everywhere to greet the driver. It’s meal time for the felines at harness racing's training center Gaitway Farm in New Jersey. The vehicle’s passengers are Marion Sumpf and Liz Horvath, both known for their work as caretakers, who have been guardian angels for feral cats at the farm for the past eight years, as well as the now defunct Showplace Farms. Marion has retired recently and Liz is on disability. The two are currently feeding 28 cats that have either been dumped off or just appeared at the farm. Rather than take them to a shelter, where they would perish if not adopted, they look out for them. Since ferals do not get along with humans, most of the cats hide in the trees and brush at the end of the back barn. But they wait for the humming of that specific engine.   USTA/Ken Weingartner photo Marion Sumpf and Liz Horvath have been guardian angels for feral cats at Gaitway Farm for the past eight years. “It’s amazing, they know the sound of my car and they all come running like a herd of elephants,” Sumpf said. “It’s pretty cool. “They learn to know who feeds them. It’s not me that they like. There’s a few I can pick up and pet, but the majority are pretty scared. They’ll come when the food is down but as soon as you try to pet them or something, they’re gone. They come right back when I back off. They’re associated with the sound of this car. ‘Oh, here comes the food person, it’s time to eat, let’s rock.’ They come from every corner.” But as much as they like the food, most don’t care to show thanks. “You’re not going to grab them and play with them,” said Sumpf, who worked as a groom at Ron Burke’s stable before retiring. “We may have a few like that, but the majority you can’t pet them and carry on or you’re liable to have cut marks.” Sumpf and Horvath don’t do it to be loved. They do it because they feel it’s the right thing to keep these animals alive and healthy. Part of that is to make sure they don’t multiply and, over the years, have paid out of their own pockets to have them neutered and spayed. Fortunately, they have had help. A few years ago Gaitway paid to have a dozen fixed. Trainers and grooms at the farm have supplied food; remnants of grocery store rotisserie chickens are a favorite with the feline set. Several grooms and trainers on the farm have donated money; Dr. Patty Hogan ran a youth clinic at her clinic and in lieu of tuition, each attendee was asked to bring cat food that was donated to the cause; and an equine veterinarian who requests anonymity helps out by neutering male cats free of charge. But with so many animals, ranging from kittens on up, a big financial burden still falls on Sumpf and Horvath, who refuse to let the cats suffer or perish. “We’ve been doing it just because somebody needs to do it,” Sumpf said. “There’s always the people that say, ‘Phooey on them, just drown them or whatever.’ That’s just normal, sadly. But they don’t go a day without getting fed. They get canned food and dry cat food every day.” While at Showplace, the farm manager kept tabs on the cats and would let the women know whenever a new one came along. At Gaitway it has been more of a team effort, which it needed, as the farm was over-run with cats when Sumpf and Horvath arrived. They managed to track them and get them fixed to put a hold on reproduction; but cats still show up out of nowhere. “A lot of the grooms and some of the trainers will let us know if there’s a cat we don’t recognize that has appeared,” said Sumpf, who has four of the cats from Showplace living with her. While traps are their preferred method of capture, both Horvath and Sumpf have had to resort to netting cats that refuse to come out of barn rafters. “We’ll round them up and get them fixed,” she says. “Sometimes they’ll help us pay for it. What happens is, if you don’t get a handle on it, you can have one female have four or five litters a year. If you multiply that and they have five kittens, that’s a lot of cats. “A lot of it has been our money. Gaitway did help us fix a bunch, and different clinics have helped us. But we still have to take them to people, pay the gas and tolls, pay for the food.” One would think Sumpf would wish to find homes for all the cats to defer her costs; and she has indeed given some away to folks who want them for their farms. But Marion would rather a person’s first choice be to adopt from a shelter, which euthanizes animals if they do not find homes for them after a certain amount of time. “We ourselves will not take any to be euthanized,” Sumpf said. “There are so many in shelters that are so inexpensive, I would almost rather them go there if they want to adopt one. It’s not that I’m against them adopting from us, but I feel so bad when I look online how many get killed at shelters every year. It drives me nuts.” Sumpf noted there are several groups in the Millstone, N.J. area -- where she lives -- that do this sort of thing. “We’re not trying to make an occupation out of this,” she said. “There are just so many of them, it’s just sad. People should just do the right thing; they’d really put a kink in it. At least try to keep them from having more, that’s the whole thing. “I just think it’s a necessity. If we don’t do it, who’s going to? We’ll keep doing it for as long as we’re around here.” Anyone wishing to donate funding for spaying and neutering as needed, cat food or gift cards to Tractor Supply, Petco, or any store selling cat food, to this worthy cause can do so by emailing Sumpf and Horvath at by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

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