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Trenton, NJ — Thus far, Mitch Cushing’s harness racing driving career has been shaped by singular moments that he never saw coming. One was quite painful, the other quite serendipitous. His entry into harness racing was accelerated by one play in high school football, which resulted in a torn ACL in his knee. With interest from schools like Syracuse and Maine, Cushing was hoping his next stop was the college gridiron. “I went in for a tackle, for some reason I didn’t commit to it and I got bent over and twisted it,” the 23-year-old Michigan native recalled. “I went up to catch a ball on the next play on a kick return and there was a big ole’ pop and that was the end of the story.” Thus, the son of driver Ron Cushing joined the family business four years earlier than he expected. “I’d probably be driving horses either way,” Mitch said. “But (if I didn’t get injured) this would be my first year doing it because I would just be graduating college.” As it turns out, he is sitting on 771 career wins and $5.19 million in earnings. The brunt of that was done at tracks in Maine and Plainridge Park in Massachusetts, with forays to Freehold, The Meadowlands and a few other East Coast tracks. But this past winter, what Cushing thought would be a simple phone call to order a race bike from Ohio horseman Chad Foulk has veered his career to the Midwest. He has set up shop in Ohio and is back driving for Mike Hitchcock, who he drove for at the outset of his career. “Chad and I just got to talking,” Cushing said prior to joining his parents for Sunday breakfast. “It really was nothing I had planned. He had mentioned to me coming out and wanting to try it out and if I wanted to stay he could offer me what he has for a sire stakes barn so that was a pretty good offer. “I grew up driving for Mike Hitchcock ever since I was 19, and he had moved out there. I gave him a call and told him my conversation with Chad. Mike said ‘Just tell me when you’re coming, we’ll get you set up, we’ll go from there. We’ll put you on the horses and we’ll get rolling.’” And while it’s always exciting to drive in the bright lights of The Meadowlands, it’s not always profitable for a young driver. Not to mention the difference in commute. Now living in Grove City and racing at Miami Valley, Cushing’s drive is slightly over an hour. “I was living in Saratoga and driving 2-1/2 hours to go to Plainridge, which I made a good living at,” he said. “Then I would drive three hours to Freehold on the weekend and from Freehold work my way to The Meadowlands and go home from there. “Now, no matter when I get in the car, unless I were to go to Northfield or The Meadows, I’m driving 75 miles. So, in that way it’s a breath of fresh air. It’s a quick drive, you’re racing for one of the best purse structures in the country and you’re racing 14 or 15 races a day.” Cushing had his first drives while still in high school, winning four times in 15 starts in 2014. He is coming off a three-year run in which he won 620 races and earned more than $1.3 million each season, with a high of $1.68 million in 2019. That could make a guy comfortable, but Cushing saw the opportunity for more by moving. He has gotten off to an OK start this year, with 10 wins and $102,908 in earnings through 124 drives. But Cushing knows he is, in effect, starting over in a new environment. Although he tends to get impatient when his career doesn’t progress as swiftly as he’d like, he realizes there are dues to pay. “In a competitive sense I wish it would be a little better, but I can’t complain with how it’s going,” he said. “I’m from Michigan originally, but in the sense of the industry I have spent no time out here. Besides my dad I have no one I knew back in the day from racing in Michigan or Ohio. I have no connections out here besides Mike. “So, I can’t complain, I’m getting some work, I’m doing well enough with what I have. Hitchcock’s horses are doing very well, I’m fortunate to get started with him.” And he is optimistic things will only get better moving forward. “It’ll be nice when Indiana opens up,” Cushing said. “Hopefully, things pick up a little more. You’ve got a lot of good drivers here with Hoosier being closed. There’s a lot of helmets, there’s more helmets than spots on the racetrack right now so hopefully we’ll see a little bit of a change and a little bit of a pick-up, and we’ll go from here. “Right now, in the sense of money, it’s not far off of what I’m used to getting. My results are not the same but that will get there. I talk to my dad and I’m going to stay. It’s just the best way to be. I’ve talked to Chad at times and some other people, and if you want long-term goals Grand Circuit-wise, Ohio is strong anyway. I think they’re going to make a big impact in the next couple years if not sooner.” And thanks to a seemingly innocent phone call, Cushing hopes to be in the middle of it all. by Rich Fisher, for the USTA

Trenton, NJ — After hitting career highs in wins and earnings in 2019, Austin Siegelman seemed on his way to breaking both of those marks again last year until the COVID-19 shutdown hit. He still finished with strong numbers, and has carried that momentum into this season. Racing predominantly at Yonkers during the week and Freehold on weekends, Siegelman has won 54 races in 2021, a total that ranks 10th in North America. He is the leading driver at Freehold Raceway, where his 43 victories put him 18 ahead of second-place Jim Marohn Jr. “I think it’s been a good start,” said Siegelman, who won the driving title at Freehold last year. “I wish I won a few more races at Yonkers to start, but that’s all right.” Nonetheless, he is happy with the progress he’s made over the years, which includes winning the $100,000 Potomac Pace Invitational last year with Leonidas A. “It’s getting to a point where I’m extremely confident on the racetrack,” he said. “I’m starting to get a little more finesse than I used to have and getting a little more polished than I used to be.” Siegelman, who turns 29 on Saturday, has been steadily climbing the ladder since receiving the 2013 Rising Star Award from the Monticello-Goshen chapter of the U.S. Harness Writers Association. That was his first full year of driving and he won 90 races and earned $538,079 in 752 starts. From there, he would win over $1 million each of the next four years. He cracked 300 wins and $2 million in earnings for the first time in 2018 and exploded in 2019 with career-highs in starts (2,587), wins (323), and earnings ($3.63 million). He seemed ready to surpass those marks last year before the pandemic hit. “It was pretty disappointing to finally get rolling and to get shut down like that but, it happens, so no big deal,” the laidback driver said. “I didn’t find it hard to get back in a rhythm when we started again, but it was definitely different. There was less work available, less purse money. Just a lot of less.” In 2018, Siegelman’s main track was Monticello, and he began to drive at Freehold toward the end of the year with hopes of getting steady drives at Yonkers. That schedule slowly morphed into becoming a regular at Yonkers during weeknights and at Freehold on Fridays and Saturdays. He is hoping to get some drives at The Meadowlands, and possibly The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono and Harrah’s Philadelphia. “My Saturdays just opened up; Yonkers changed its schedule, so they picked up Wednesday instead of Saturday a few weeks ago,” he said. “I’ve been throwing around the idea of racing in Pennsylvania and still doing Yonkers at night.” Siegelman will remain at Freehold, where he won 85 times in 2019 to capture the driving title. “Doing it at Freehold is a little different,” he said. “Usually, you’re driving for different people every race and it’s not just one barn, so that’s always nice.” When it comes to getting on a roll like that, Siegelman said, “You’re just thinking how to win the next one.” There is, however, some confidence that starts to build. “Oh yeah, absolutely,” he said. “Once you start to win a few, it kind of helps the train get rolling a little bit.” Siegelman began driving at Freehold since its day racing fit well with his schedule. It has turned into a nice little haven for him. “I feel very comfortable over at that track,” he said. “The atmosphere is a little more laid back.” He is now looking to conquer Yonkers the way he has at Freehold. “I like Yonkers, it’s tough,” he said. “I consider Yonkers my main track now. Even though I don’t win five a night at Yonkers, I’m there every night.” Siegelman, who lists winning the Potomac Pace last year and “just making it this far,” as some of his biggest accomplishments, says his goal this year would be to get 100 wins at every track he races regularly. But for the most part, he is taking it drive by drive. “Right now, I’m happy with where I’m at,” Siegelman said. “I drive for the overnight guys now. But when I’m ready (for stakes races), I’ll be ready for that.” Austin is the son of trainer James Siegelman, who he still goes to for advice. “We’re living in two separate places right now, but he still helps me out a lot,” Siegelman said. “I talk to him every night. He’ll criticize me every night or tell me I did good every night.” Slowly but surely, he’s earning more praise with each of those talks. by Rich Fisher, for the USTA

Trenton, NJ — Jared Cooper had been around harness racing all his life and, like most kids born into the business, he dabbled in it. He never thought about making it a career until he graduated from Florida Atlantic University with a degree in business economics last year. And now, he’s looking for a degree in the business of Standardbreds, and hopes the economics add up to a lucrative profession. “I was going to school in Rhode Island, I didn’t like it, and I came home to go to college here,” the Boca Raton resident said. “I was able to be around the horses in the wintertime down here and I kind of got into it. I wanted to learn to be more hands on. I was hoping to go up north last summer but that got canceled because of Covid.”  Cooper’s dad owns Robert Cooper Stables, a small operation with less than 10 horses. Robert Cooper has had some strong horses over the years, including Drop The Ball, Tug River Princess, and Mel Mara. Robert has certainly been an influence on his son, who has also worked closely with Jeff Webster and Ross Croghan. “I got my trainer’s license and got a few horses, I’m happy,” he said. “I’m a one-man show. The groom, trainer, everything. I definitely want to go up north this year, hopefully around mid-April. It’s just not set in stone yet. Knock on wood I’ll be able to go up north with my two (horses) and maybe get a couple more.” One of those horses, Lucky Artist A, gave the 23-year-old his first training win Feb. 9 at Pompano Park. It was the 20th career win for the 8-year-old pacing mare, who Robert Cooper purchased in January at the request of his son. “She was super competitive at Yonkers,” Cooper said. “I knew she had potential to be an upper-class mare. It’s always a crapshoot when they come down here against a whole different colony of horses. But I knew she had the potential to be an open mare down here.” Her first several starts with Jared were solid, but he noticed that she tended to get a little hot at times. “I started working with her, to get her relaxed a little bit,” he said. “I changed a little bit of her equipment coming into the start when she won. She’s a nice mare, she’s so efficient gaited and I knew she was going to be able to go with those horses.” With Mike Simons in the sulky at Pompano, Cooper provided some advice prior to the race. “I said if you get her close enough and she’s in the mix she can go with them,” Cooper said. And that is exactly what Simons did. “She got away fourth, :27 at the quarter, :55.3 at the half,” Cooper recalled. “Right past the half Mike sent her first over, they went down the backside, she went :26.4 on the backstretch. She’s just so tough, she didn’t give an inch and down the stretch she just cleared them. It’s a pretty competitive group of mares down here, there were five all about a length apart at the wire. She won by half a length. “When she won, I was really happy, obviously. It was my 10th start as a trainer, I had three seconds and a third. When it doesn’t happen it feels like it’s going to take forever, but eventually you just keep digging in. If you keep at it, your horses will do good for you and that’s where I’m at now.” Where he wants to be in another few months is New Jersey, where he hopes to stay with Webster and perhaps add to his current stable of two. “I’ve had horses with Jeff and Ross for years, I’ve known those guys forever,” Cooper said. When they moved their horses from the South Florida Training Center to Sunshine Meadows, that was literally 10 minutes from my front door. I started going there a lot more and becoming a lot more hands on. “Jeff taught me a lot, he’s like an uncle to me. Ross Croghan has helped me, I’ve learned a lot from my dad. I just try to learn something new from everyone every day, whether it’s a blacksmith, another trainer, whoever I can.” Cooper brings a kind of energetic youth that can only help the sport. He was previously a USTA Youth Delegate until he aged out. “I would guess 99 percent of the young kids in harness racing are born into it, whether it’s a grandfather or parent or aunt. I think it’s important they stay interested,” Cooper said. “Without them there’s not much of a future. I think there’s so much money in the industry there will always be a niche for it.” As for now, Cooper is trying to find his niche and hopes he can do so in New Jersey. “I want to get my feet wet and give it the best shot I can and also want to get out of Florida for the summer, it’s so brutal hot down here,” he said. “I want to break away, give it a shot and whatever happens, happens.” by Rich Fisher, for the USTA

Harness racing driver Yannick Gingras has won numerous Grand Circuit stakes, including 23 Breeders Crown finals, in his career. That can only be done with some great horses. Thus, it's an impressive declaration when Gingras says of Tall Dark Stranger, "He's the most complete horse I've ever driven." "For pure blazing speed, maybe I've driven horses that are a bit quicker than him; not a lot, but a bit quicker," he added. "But for a horse that can absolutely do it all, I don't really think I've driven one like that and I don't think many other people have, either." Gingras will have perhaps his final chance to drive harness racing's No. 1-ranked horse Saturday in the $500,000 Breeders Crown final for 3-year-old male pacers at Harrah's Hoosier Park. In September, Hanover Shoe Farms announced that Tall Dark Stranger will join its stallion roster for the 2021 breeding season. Tall Dark Stranger will start the Breeders Crown final from post one and is the 3-5 favorite on the morning line. A Breeders Crown winner at age 2, Tall Dark Stranger is looking to become the first male pacer to add a trophy at 3 since Artiscape in 1997-98. "I don't mind the pressure," Gingras said. "If I did, I'd be in the wrong business and maybe being a driver wouldn't be the right thing to do in my life. This week, he's the horse to beat and everybody knows that. "I think that's what makes it fun. I'd rather have the pressure of having the best horse than not having any pressure." Owned by Crawford Farms Racing, Marvin Katz, Caviart Farms, and Howard Taylor, Tall Dark Stranger is trained by Nancy Takter and has been driven by Gingras in every lifetime start but one. He enters the race with 11 wins in 12 starts and $1.19 million in earnings this year; and 19 wins and one second in 21 career starts with $1.90 million in earnings. Sired by Bettor's Delight out of Precocious Beauty, Tall Dark Stranger is the only horse to ever win the Metro Pace and Breeders Crown as a 2-year-old and the Meadowlands Pace and North America Cup as a 3-year-old. He was the Dan Patch 2-Year-Old Colt Pacer of the Year in the U.S. and earned the same honor in Canada. "He's the total package," Gingras said. "It would be hard to pick just one thing I liked. He's big, he's strong, he's fast, he's got heart. He can do it all, there's really no flaws in his armor." Those qualities were not completely apparent as a baby, but Takter and Gingras have cultivated all the potential over two years. "I really loved him from the start but to say he was the most complete horse, I'd be lying if I was saying that at the beginning," Gingras said. "I think he's developed to be that. When I baby raced him I absolutely loved him. He showed then he had tremendous speed and he had a great gait to him. "But until you really test them once or twice you don't know what the heart is. You could have an idea whether they're going to be game or not. Two-year-olds, they're a little dumb in a way. They do things sometimes that they physically can't, but their brains are not telling them not to do it. That's why you have to be careful not to ask a 2-year-old to do too much really early. "We took it easy a little bit on him in the beginning, but when it was time to put the money on the line we raced him and he showed up every single time. He's proved to be a tremendous, tremendous horse." Coming off his Dan Patch-winning year, expectations were obviously high for Tall Dark Stranger. But not so great that he couldn't go even higher. "It would be hard to say he didn't surpass expectations," Gingras said. "Of course I was super confident in the horse, I thought he could win it all and he hasn't lost a race of any major importance. Every big race Nancy put him in the box, he's won them all. It would be hard to say he could do anything more than he's done so far. Now the Breeders Crown is the last little check mark." Gingras feels the colt's breakout race was last year's Metro Pace, when he got out in front and held off a late challenge from Papi Rob Hanover. "He just exploded," Gingras said. "Up until that point we really hadn't raced him too hard. We didn't have to dig until then, and that's when I actually raced him pretty hard. That's when I knew he was better than just a very good horse, he was a great horse, and he hasn't disappointed me since." As for Tall Dark Stranger's best race, Gingras opted for the Meadowlands Pace, when the horse overcame an off day. "He wasn't maybe at his best, there were other races where he's been a little sharper than that," the driver said. "That day he really had to dig deep. Papi Rob took it to him. That day he just showed all the grit I knew he had, and he showed the world how tough of a horse he was." In fact, it is emblematic of how Tall Dark Stranger likes to race. He can get out in front or come from behind, but seems content to always make it a battle. "He likes to fight," Gingras said. "He's not a horse that's going to come home at :25 flat like some of the others. He likes to race, he likes the fractions to be fair. I don't think he's quite the sprinter that many others can be. "Other than that, this week if they mix it up fast the first three-eighths, I could definitely come first up, second over or I could be in the front, and have no worries. I'm not looking to be too far back, so he's going to be put in play one way or the other." In looking at the field, Gingras feels that Cattlewash, Warrawee Vital and Captain Barbossa are among the horses that can give Tall Dark Stranger a challenge. Cattlewash, trained by Ron Burke, won the other Breeders Crown elimination in a track-record 1:47.2 and has a world-record-equaling 1:46.4 mile to his credit. "It's definitely not a one- or two-horse race," he said. "It's a complete field of horses and it goes to show how great of a horse he is because he's beaten them every time." And he will look for one more victory to cap a memorable career. "It actually got into my head about two starts ago, once I got to Lexington. I thought, you know what, there's not much left," he said. "Realistically this weekend could be his last lifetime start. There's a chance he goes to TVG, but it's not official, it depends on how this weekend goes and how he comes out of the race. "I've enjoyed the run, but I think he would be a tremendous aged horse. He's the kind of horse that keeps getting better and tougher. If he came back at 4 and 5, I think he would dominate. Selfishly, I'd love to have him for a couple more years and I think the fans would love to have him. But I understand the breeding part of the business. I totally get it. I know the horse is worth a fortune as a sire." He has already been worth fortune in memories. Harrah's Hoosier Park hosts four $600,000 Breeders Crown finals for 2-year-olds on Friday. The remaining eight finals, for 3-year-olds and older horses, are Saturday. Racing begins at 6 p.m. (EDT) both nights. The 2020 Breeders Crown, presented by the Libfeld-Katz Breeding Partnership, is the 37th edition of the $6 million event. Harrah's Hoosier Park will provide a free live high-definition streaming of the races on YouTube. Following is the field for Saturday's Breeders Crown 3-year-old colt-and-gelding pace final. PP-Horse-Driver-Trainer-ML 1-Tall Dark Stranger-Yannick Gingras-Nancy Takter-3/5 2-Manticore-Jordan Stratton-Bruce Saunders-20/1 3-Cattlewash-David Miller-Ron Burke-5/2 4-Warrawee Vital-Tim Tetrick-Robert Fellows-6/1 5-Save Me A Dance-Andrew McCarthy-Andrew Harris-20/1 6-No Lou Zing-Dexter Dunn-Nancy Takter-8/1 7-Captain Barbossa-Joe Bongiorno-Tony Alagna-20/1 8-Sandbetweenmytoes-Scott Zeron-Jim Campbell-30/1 9-The Greek Freak-Matt Kakaley-Ron Burke-30/1 10-Elver Hanover-Chris Page-Ron Burke-30/1 Elver Hanover starts from the second tier. by Rich Fisher, for the USTA    

Harness racing owner Richard Gutnick and trainer Linda Toscano enjoyed special Breeders Crown successes from 2011-2013 and hope to relive those feelings this weekend with Lady Chaos. Whether or not that happens, their special relationship will remain intact. Lady Chaos is in the $600,000 Breeders Crown final for 2-year-old filly trotters at Harrah's Hoosier Park on Friday. She has five wins in nine starts, including the Kentucky Sire Stakes championship, and was second in the Peaceful Way Stakes. It is the most talented horse owned by Gutnick - who shares ownership with partners Tom Pontone, Joseph Lozito Jr. and Enviro Stables - to enter the race since his previous Breeders Crown champs. "She's got such talent," said Gutnick, whose horse is the 5-2 morning-line favorite. "I'm just enjoying the ride. She's the best horse I've had since Chapter Seven and Market Share." Chapter Seven won the Breeders Crown 3-year-old colt-and-gelding trot in 2011 and Open Trot in 2012, while Market Share won the Open Trot in 2013. In 2012, Chapter Seven was Horse of the Year and Market Share won the Hambletonian. Toscano trained both after she and Gutnick first started working together in 2008. From there, a partnership became so much more. "She and I consider each other friends first, and then I consider her my trainer," Gutnick said. "It probably took me a year after I first started with her to earn her respect and convince her I knew what I was talking about. "At times Linda will call and ask me what I want to do. I have often said, Linda you know exactly the way I think. You didn't even have to ask me." The two often plan strategy together and, on the rare occasions they disagree, a solution is usually inevitable. "As far as I'm concerned, the person who works with the horse should have the final say 95 percent of the time," Gutnick said. "I have enough confidence in Linda. I always have." It was Toscano, a six-time Breeders Crown winner and Hall of Famer, who brought Lady Chaos to Gutnick's attention when he was looking around at some different fillies. "She didn't tell me that she loved it or anything else at that time, she just said, maybe you should go look," Gutnick said. "I went and looked, and I loved her. When I watched the video and everything else, I told Linda, OK, we're going to go up to X amount of dollars. I was standing right next to her. I always give her some leeway. I'm not always good at bidding at auctions. I'm the type that bids against myself." The purchase was made for $125,000 at the Lexington Selected Yearling Sale, when the daughter of Cantab Hall-Strong Legacy was named Tiger Mom Lindy. Before Toscano went to work, that moniker changed. "When we bought her, I told Tommy the first thing that goes is her name and he agreed," Gutnick said. Thus, Richard decided to name the horse after - his wife? What, pray tell, did Suzanne Gutnick ever do to be associated with chaos? Her husband chuckled, saying, "I told her one of these days someone is going to ask how we got that name. Let's just say my wife lacks some organizational skills. I've always seemed to have luck if I named something for my wife and I always thought that name fit her like a glove. "She's a sweetheart, don't get me wrong," he added. "The funny part is, she's always liked the name and she's laughed about it also. I always tell her when her namesake is racing and that I felt she is one of the top two 2-year-old fillies in the country. "This one is learning. She has the innate ability to be a top filly and hopefully go forward. We'll take very good care of her, needless to say." With David Miller driving, the horse flashed her potential in a qualifier at The Meadowlands. "Linda told a few people how nice the horse was, but she also had told David she didn't want to leave with the horse, she wanted to come off the pace," Gutnick said. "In Linda's words, 'After she got shuffled back to last, I said where are we going? I can't believe I told people how nice she is.' "Then, all of a sudden, she exploded on her own and went :26.4 in the last quarter and just lost by a head in that baby race to Ineffable, who was a $600,000 buy. That's when I knew, with the proper tutelage by Linda and David, that we had a top filly. "She does everything really easily. The only negative she has is, I guess she's still immature mentally in the sense that when she gets in front, she believes the race is over. That's why, to me, she's much better off the pace." After a tough early race in Kentucky, the horse rebounded and began to show her ability. "As with all horses we had some ups and downs," Gutnick said. "She had allergies. So that cost her in one race and then the last race at the Red Mile she went off at 3-5 (odds). When she came out of it, she was very sick. Linda and I had to decide if we wanted to race her the following week or not. "She was hoping to get her ready, and then she called and said she thought the horse needed that week off. I was all for it. My philosophy is always to do what's best for the horse. That always ends up best for me in the long run." It turned out to be the right move. After a three-week break, Lady Chaos won her Breeders Crown elimination by overtaking Presto down the stretch to win by three-quarters of a length in 1:54.2 on a sloppy surface. Gutnick feels the horse should be even tighter entering the final. "I was happy that she got the five post," Gutnick said. "I didn't want the rail. I preferred the three, four or five. Even statistically the six is better than the one. That gives Dave Miller the opportunity to race her whatever way he feels is best and to avoid any type of trouble." However it turns out, Gutnick knows his filly is in good hands with his good friend. "Linda is top-notch at getting a horse ready," he said. "When you have someone like that in your corner, you can't go wrong." Harrah's Hoosier Park hosts the four $600,000 Breeders Crown finals for 2-year-olds on Friday. The remaining eight finals, for 3-year-olds and older horses, are Saturday. Racing begins at 6 p.m. (EDT) both nights. The 2020 Breeders Crown, presented by the Libfeld-Katz Breeding Partnership, is the 37th edition of the $6 million event. Harrah's Hoosier Park will provide a free live high-definition streaming of the races on YouTube. Following is the field for Friday's $600,000 Breeders Crown 2-year-old filly trot final. PP-Horse-Driver-Trainer-ML 1-Ima Diamond Babe-James Yoder-James Yoder-30/1 2-Iteration-Brian Sears-Marcus Melander-6/1 3-Splash Blue Chip-Ake Svanstedt-Ake Svanstedt-15/1 4-Mazzarati-Tim Tetrick-Lucas Wallin-5/1 5-Lady Chaos-David Miller-Linda Toscano-5/2 6-Hello I Love You-Joe Bongiorno-Tony Alagna-15/1 7-Big City Pearl-Verlin Yoder-James Yoder-30/1 8-Swift Swanda-Trace Tetrick-Erv Miller-9/2 9-Gotta Believe-Andy Miller-Julie Miller-15/1 10-Presto-Yannick Gingras-Ake Svanstedt-4/1 Presto starts from the second tier. by Rich Fisher, for the USTA    

JK She'salady was a Breeders Crown champion in 2014 and as a mom she might have two daughters equal that harness racing accomplishment by the time this weekend is over. Six years ago, JK She'salady went undefeated in 12 races and became the only 2-year-old filly pacer in history to be voted Horse of the Year. Flash forward to this weekend, when her first two foals will be in the Breeders Crown finals at Harrah's Hoosier Park Racing & Casino. JK Alwaysbalady is in Friday's $600,000 final for 2-year-old filly pacers while JK First Lady will go against Horse of the Year candidate Party Girl Hill in Saturday's $500,000 final for 3-year-old filly pacers. Both were bred and are owned by 3 Brothers Stables. "It's fantastic, we look forward to it," said Alan Katz, who with brothers Ron and Steve comprise the breeding and ownership group. "We foaled the whole family so to have two in the Breeders Crown from the same mare is unbelievable. She was a fantastic filly and her first two foals are fantastic." Adding to the close-knit environment is the fact that Nancy Takter has trained both JK She'salady and her fillies. As always, Takter provides the good vibes heading into the race. "I've known Nancy for seven years and she is super optimistic," Katz said. "Everything is wonderful, terrific, couldn't be better. She's optimistic at all times. But you need racing luck, everybody knows that. There are no locks in this business. Every week something different can happen. You've got to draw lucky, don't get sick and have a good race." JK First Lady, by Western Ideal, has had her share of good races, having won nine of 22 career starts, hitting the board a total of 19 times, and earning $623,231. She has been no worse than second in her last nine races, winning four. Her losses have come against either Party Girl Hill or returning Dan Patch Award winner Lyons Sentinel. She finished second to Lyons Sentinel in their Breeders Crown elimination. She is 10-1 on the morning line in Saturday's final, where unbeaten Party Girl Hill is the 2-5 chalk. JK Alwaysbalady, by Always B Miki, won her elimination and has two firsts, two seconds, two thirds and $79,407 in purse winnings in eight starts. She is the 7-2 second choice behind Fire Start Hanover (3-1) in Friday's final. In comparing the two, there is no comparison according to Katz. "They're completely opposite horses," he said. "Nancy explains to us that First Lady is aggressive, she's got a great attitude. "The other one is lazy. You've got to ask her to go. But she's getting better and better. The last three starts she's starting to catch it. In the beginning she was a little slow learning. She's big, she was overweight, but the hot weather, racing every week gets her in better shape. Now she's as good as we were hoping she was going to be. We're happy going into the race with both of them, but they are completely opposite." Physically, JK First Lady is not as big as her sibling, but both are well bred and will join the 3 Brothers broodmare band when they retire. Katz is careful when making comparisons between the fillies and their dam. "It's hard to do," he said. "JK She'salady won 12 out of 12, that doesn't really happen. I know Party Girl (Hill) obviously has done it, but that's a once in a lifetime horse. When do you get a horse that goes 12 for 12? It's hard to compare them. You're only going to be disappointed if you try to compare anyone to JK She'salady." When asked to compare their racing styles, Katz said, "JK She'salady could do anything. Alwaysbalady we're very careful with, to make sure we don't leave with her too much and keep her nice and quiet. In fact, we make sure to do that with both of them, and not get them too hot." As for their attitude, JK First Lady easily has more of her mother's traits. "With Alwaysbalady, you've got to make her do it," Katz said. "The other filly, she's aggressive, she's on the iron." One thing they have in common is good health. "They've both been pretty sound," Katz said. "They've gone through the whole year and they haven't really been sick and stuff like that." When it comes to who has the better chance of winning this weekend, the owner gives his 2-year-old the nod. "Truthfully, anyone could win it," Katz said. "Without (Test Of Faith) in there it's an open field. There's no standout. Some of those fillies that were good a month ago haven't been racing that well in the last two starts, so . . . "You need the luck, you need the right trip. Whoever gets the right trip and the racing luck will win. It's a very competitive field, anyone can win." As for JK First Lady, Katz said, "We know it's going to be tough to beat Party Girl Hill. Unless she has a bad day, I don't think any filly can beat her. Obviously, Party Girl Hill is in another league right now. We'll be tickled pink to get a good check in there. "But nothing's ever a lock. You never know how a horse is going to wake up that day. It's tough to stay undefeated. Like in any sport, it's tough to win them all. You've got to be really, really lucky to be undefeated." The Katz brothers hope good fortune finds them this weekend. With Takter, they have a four-time Breeders Crown winner whose stable this season ranks No. 2 in North America with a career-best $5.77 million in purses. "Nancy's having a great year," Katz said, "so we're hoping her luck continues." Harrah's Hoosier Park hosts the four $600,000 Breeders Crown finals for 2-year-olds on Friday. The remaining eight finals, for 3-year-olds and older horses, are Saturday. Racing begins at 6 p.m. (EDT) both nights. The 2020 Breeders Crown, presented by the Libfeld-Katz Breeding Partnership, is the 37th edition of the $6 million event. Harrah's Hoosier Park will provide a free live high-definition streaming of the races on YouTube. Following is the field for Friday's Breeders Crown 2-year-old filly pace final. PP-Horse-Driver-Trainer-ML 1-Continualou-Brian Sears-Ron Burke-8/1 2-JK Alwaysbalady-Yannick Gingras-Nancy Takter-7/2 3-Caviart Audrey-Andrew McCarthy-Nancy Takter-20/1 4-Paulas Bet Hanover-Chris Page-Ron Burke-20/1 5-Scarlett Hanover-Matt Kakaley-Ron Burke-4/1 6-Blue Diamond Eyes-David Miller-Ron Burke-9/2 7-Fire Start Hanover-Dexter Dunn-R. Nifty Norman-3/1 8-Nashville Elgenna-Joe Bongiorno-Tony Alagna-30/1 9-Notorious Pink-Tim Tetrick-Tony Alagna-5/1 10-Somethingbeautiful-Scott Zeron-Dylan Davis-15/1 Somethingbeautiful starts from the second tier. Following is the field for Saturday's Breeders Crown 3-year-old filly pace final. PP-Horse-Driver-Trainer-ML 1-Drama Act-Matt Kakaley-Ron Burke-15/1 2-Party Girl Hill-Dexter Dunn-Chris Ryder-2/5 3-Lyons Sentinel-Tim Tetrick-Jim King Jr.-9/2 4-Peaky Sneaky-Yannick Gingras-Nancy Takter-5/1 5-Pettycoat Business-Trace Tetrick-Brian Brown-30/1 6-Rocknificent-Scott Zeron-Linda Toscano-12/1 7-JK First Lady-David Miller-Nancy Takter-10/1 8-Lady Lou-Brett Miller-Tony Alagna-30/1 9-Hen Party-Andrew McCarthy-Tony Alagna-30/1 10-New Year-Joe Bongiorno-Chris Ryder-30/1 New Year starts from the second tier. by Rich Fisher, for the USTA    

Harness racing trainer Lucas Wallin quickly admits that having horses in the Breeders Crown eliminations for the first time is no great accomplishment since "anyone can enter." But he does feel it's an accomplishment to be training horses that have enough potential to be entered. "That's right," said Wallin, who has three entries in Friday's (Oct. 23) Breeders Crown eliminations at Harrah's Hoosier Park. "None of the horses will be the favorite but all of them have something to do there. It's not that we just put them in there to have fun. They can do pretty good in there, I think." It's another step forward for the 27-year-old, now in his fourth full year of building up a stable since coming from Sweden in 2014. His earnings and victories have risen each year, although that won't happen this season due to a COVID-19-impacted season. But his numbers still look good considering the huge drop-off in starts. In 2017, he won 18 races and $183,712 in 110 starts; followed by 29 wins and $351,877 in 164 starts in 2018, and 32 wins and $692,544 in 216 starts last year. This season, in just 87 races, Wallin has 19 wins and earned $434,155, which is roughly $250,000 less than 2019 in 129 fewer starts. "I'm happy but also I feel I'm not near where I want to be," said Wallin, who has a stable of 16 horses at Marcus Melander's farm in New Egypt, N.J. "I don't want to have many more horses. But we want to do better in the big stake races. "This year we only had two horses we raced over 2-years-old. We haven't done too many starts but when we race them we've done good. I'm happy, we have some nice babies here in the fall. But I don't want 60 or 70 horses. I want 20 or 25. I'd like to have a finger everywhere to see what's going on." Wallin already has been involved in some major stakes races, including the Hambletonian Oaks, but he still feels emotions stirring as he readies for Friday's eliminations. "It's a pretty strong feeling," he said. "It's one of the biggest events in harness racing. That's a pretty special feeling. It's the end of the year, most of the horses have raced a lot. Anything can happen. It's a good feeling to have three of them in there." Hoosier hosts $25,000 eliminations for 2-year-olds and 3-year-old fillies Friday. The top-five finishers from each elimination advance to next week's finals. Elimination winners will draw for posts one through five for the finals. Eliminations for 3-year-old male pacers, 3-year-old male trotters, and older female pacers will be held Saturday at Hoosier. Eliminations were unnecessary for the Open Pace, Open Trot, and Mare Trot. May Karp and Mazzarati will be competing for Wallin in the 2-year-old filly trot. May Karp, who will have Dexter Dunn in the sulky, is in the second of the two eliminations and is 8-1 on the morning line. Mazzarati, with Tim Tetrick, is 15-1 in the first elim. May Karp, by Cantab Hall out of Evermore, has won three of 10 races and $90,387 for owner Shermay Stables. She won two rounds of the Pennsylvania Stallion Series and the consolation for the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes. She finished second in a Bluegrass Stakes division at Red Mile and then was the favorite in her International Stallion Stakes division but went off stride and finished seventh. "She's a nice little filly," Wallin said. "We put her in good races. We tried her in the Jim Doherty (Memorial) in the summer, but she made a break in the last eighth of the final, otherwise she would have been in nice shape. "She raced good at the Red Mile and finished second in the Bluegrass, but unfortunately she made a break on the backstretch in her next race. She was getting a little aggressive when Dexter wanted to get a hold of her. We'll adjust the equipment for this race." Mazzarati, by Cantab Hall out of Falls For You, has won three of eight races and $71,285 for owners Mazza Racing Stables and Stormi and Bruiser Stable. She won her elimination for the Doherty Memorial and finished fifth in the final. Her other wins came in a division of the Pennsylvania All-Stars and a leg of the Kindergarten Classic Series. "I was pretty high on her very, very early but then she struggled with a couple issues in the summer that took time to fix," Wallin said. "I'm a little disappointed with the season but not the horse. I trained her (Tuesday) and it feels like she's going into this race in good shape. So, I'm going into the Breeders Crown with a good feeling but also a realistic feeling. It's good to race with the best fillies and hopefully she can learn from that." Competing in the 3-year-old filly trot is Ab'sattitudexpress, who is 10-1 in the second of two eliminations and will have Brian Sears in the sulky. She has won five of 10 races this season including the New Jersey Sire Stakes championship and a division of the Bluegrass Stakes, where she defeated Hambletonian winner Ramona Hill. The daughter of Trixton-Abbie'sgotattitude has earned $171,700 this year for breeder/owner Stop The Jade Farm. "We took our time with her as a 2-year-old," Wallin said, referring to her two wins and a second in three starts. "She did some nice things in overnights at (Harrah's Philadelphia) and we felt she could go a little. "Overall, she's had a very good season and she looked absolutely perfect over at the Red Mile when she won over Ramona Hill. Tetrick drove a perfect race; it worked out 100 percent, the filly looked really good. I go in with a very good feeling with her for this race. We drew good, post three, and I think she's going to have a very good race as well." Wallin began driving ponies at age 8 and, a few years after that, began helping at his uncle Joakim Wallin's stable. When childhood friend Oskar Florhed told Wallin about an opportunity to work in the U.S. for Ake Svanstedt in 2014, he jumped at it. Those two years proved invaluable, in getting both an education and important contacts as a second trainer. "I have a lot to thank Ake for," Wallin said. "I had a good time at his place. He gave me so much responsibility with everything. He let me drive a lot of races. Without him I would probably not be here. It's tough to get owners, but a lot of owners throw my name out there because he let me drive his horses. "He's for sure one of the best horsemen in the world, his resume speaks for itself. I learned a lot of things from him. We still talk a lot when we see each other on the racetracks." While Wallin would like to start making inroads on the Grand Circuit, he is smart enough and patient enough to realize he is still young with plenty of time to hit it big. "I just want to get better and better each year," he said. "I want to stay here in America and build my stable. I'm happy with where I'm located with the farm. It's a very nice place, it's nice and quiet. The horses like it. There's a lot of harmony. "I just really want to get going in the big ones. But that takes time. I learn something every day and every season I feel more and more comfortable in what I'm doing. I'm very confident in myself and my team. We're getting better and better and I'm sure we'll get where we want to be." Racing begins at 6:30 p.m. (EDT) Friday at Hoosier Park. For complete entries, click here. by Rich Fisher, for the USTA         Ken Weingartner   Media Relations Manager   U.S. Trotting Association   www.ustrotting.com      

Trenton, NJ — For the time being, Tyler Angus plans on majoring in engineering while wrestling in college, and hopefully become a part-time harness racing Standardbred driver if he can squeeze it in. There is, however, a disclaimer to that thought process. “If I become the next David Miller or something, I’ll make a career out of it,” the 18-year-old Ohio resident said with a laugh. “But I’ve got a very long road ahead of me before I’m there.” His road was well paved at the start, as Angus drove his first official race Aug. 24 and guided Ruffy’s Desire to victory at the Canfield Fair. After driving four qualifiers at Northfield Park, where his dad Ryan trains, Tyler got his chance thanks to trainer Billy Rhoades. “Him and my dad are pretty good friends,” Angus said. “Billy just saw my dad one day and said, ‘Hey ask your kid if he wants to go up to the fair and drive Ruffy’s Desire; he’s two fingers, he’s safe.’ Dad asked me, Billy and I talked and went to the fair and did what we did.” He did it well, thanks to receiving the sagest advice a trainer can give to a first-time driver. “One thing that really helped is Billy told me there’s no pressure,” Angus said. “He said ‘If you get beat, you get beat, just take it like a man.’ It was actually a lot of pressure off my back.” But a driver wouldn’t be human if they didn’t feel some type of anxiety in their maiden voyage. “I was a little bit nervous,” he said. “You want to look good, show people you’re safe and you can handle a horse.” Angus displayed all of that by getting out quick from post two and never yielding the lead. “The horse didn’t have that much gate speed; so Billy told me to put him right on the front and enjoy the ride and that’s what I did and got the dub (W),” Angus said. As his victory became apparent, Angus began to happily check an item off his bucket list. “I just couldn’t believe it,” he said. “Coming around the last turn, I kept looking back and I opened up and it was just a dream come true, something I’ve been wanting to do my whole life. I got the opportunity and got the job done.” Since then, Angus has driven in some qualifiers and one other race in which he said of himself and the horse, “We both had a rough day.” Since beginning his senior year at Nordonia High School, Angus has been focusing on his studies and playing linebacker for the football team. He will concentrate on his main sport in the winter when they roll out the wrestling mats. Apparently, colliding with other bodies on the gridiron is his way to relax. “Honestly, I just use football to get a break from wrestling,” he said. “I love football; I enjoy it, but I don’t take it as serious as wrestling. It’s just a break for me.” Angus wrestles year-round except for football season; and has been a state and national place-winner in club wrestling. At the prestigious Virginia Beach Dual Meet Tournament, he went 5-1 and beat several state champions. “It was a good experience for me,” said Angus, who will look to wrestle at 152 pounds this year. “I’m hoping to wrestle in college. I’ve got a bunch of Division Two offers and a couple of small D-One schools, but I’m not going to decide until the end of wrestling season.” While sports make it tough for Angus to drive, it doesn’t keep him away from the horses. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, he only attends classes at school two days a week, giving him five days to help his dad. “Working with animals is something I enjoy,” he said. “Just helping them; getting them better, watching them win a race.” Angus caught the bug when he started helping his dad as a pre-teen. When he turned 10, Ryan let him jog his first horse. “I liked it and started jogging more,” Angus said. “He got me into training, I didn’t do so hot training at first. Then I started doing it more; got the hang of it, started cutting miles and babies and all that.” Soon, the undeniable urge to climb in the sulky surfaced. “I asked him, ‘Hey what are the chances you would let me drive?’” Angus said. “He wasn’t all for it at first. He just didn’t want to see me take a chance and get hurt. I understood. I was only 15 at the time. “We started getting more babies, training more miles, training off the gate. I asked him again when I was 16 or 17. He said, ‘If that’s what you want to do, I’m going to support you.’ I got my fair license, passed the test and that’s pretty much it.” Angus hopes to resume driving next spring, after high school wrestling concludes. He has managed to use some grappling experiences to help with driving. “When you’re in the race bike, you just lay back, it feels comfortable to you,” Angus said. “It kind of feels like a position in wrestling, when a kid is on your leg or something. And wrestling helped with my nerves and confidence level in driving.” Whether he is on the mat or in the bike, Angus gets the same rush. “I love competing, that’s just me,” he said. “I think racing and competing in wrestling or football are two of the same things. It’s fun going fast, it’s fun going against another guy in wrestling.” And if he ever gets as good as David Miller, that would be fun too. by Rich Fisher, for the USTA

Trenton, NJ – Karl-Johan Blank has built a business empire in Europe and is now looking to create a harness racing legacy in the United States. The 57-year-old is owner and CEO of Jula Holding AB, which features a highly successful chain of 103 department stores throughout Sweden, Norway and Poland. He has also started or purchased numerous other companies over the years, including real estate and financial institutions, hotels, and Hööks, which has 53 stores selling equestrian accessories in northern Europe. At age 10, Karl-Johan’s parents began with trotting horses on their small farm named Jultorp, which became the inspiration for the company’s business moniker. In 2008, Blank met Tommy B. Andersson, a respected trainer/horseman who hailed from the same area of Sweden. The two went in on the first horse Blank ever purchased and an ownership career blossomed. “After that I bought some horses almost every year; more like a hobby,” Blank said. Since Andersson had years of experience in America, it was only natural the duo gravitated to the States. Then it became more than a hobby. “I decided in 2018 to go to the Lexington Sale and the Red Mile,” Blank said. “That had been my dream and goal for a long time, but I was always busy with my purchasing work at the hardware fairs at that time of year. “Together with Tommy I bought four horses and one more in Harrisburg. This time they were horses that I really liked, with very good pedigree and at a little bit higher level.” Included in that group was the Susanne Kerwood-trained Jula Shes Magic, who won the Ontario Sire Stakes Super Final for 2-year-old filly trotters. In fact, “all five were racing as 2-year-olds and did OK.” Another of those was a colt trotter Jula Trix Treasure – most of Blank’s horses are named after his business – who has his final Hambletonian prep in Saturday’s $89,100 Tompkins-Geers Stakes at The Meadowlands. Jula Trix Treasure, trained and driven by Ake Svanstedt, is the 5-2 second choice on the morning line behind 2-1 Real Cool Sam. A half-brother to millionaire Uncle Peter, Jula Trix Treasure won a division of the Reynolds Memorial on July 11 and finished second in the New Jersey Sire Stakes championship one start earlier. The son of Trixton-Victory Treasure sold for $145,000 under the name Trixton’s Treasure at the 2018 Lexington Selected Sale. “I really liked the pedigree on the horse especially with the mother producing a horse like the fantastic Uncle Peter,” Blank said. “I also really liked the way he moved with his star-like charisma. He was a very good-looking horse. I liked the size and Tommy B could not find anything wrong with him.” Last year, while trained by Per Engblom, the colt had two wins and two thirds in five starts, earning $15,685. “We realized last year that he was not an early horse because of his size so we gave him a lot time with Per,” Blank said. After winter training in Florida with Andersson at Sunshine Meadows, Svanstedt began training Jula Trix Treasure in April. “I have had horses with Ake over the years and thought that he would fit in very well with Ake’s good training and driving methods,” Blank said. “We thought that he should be better and better with every race but of course you never know. So far, it’s been very positive, and I am very happy with what he has done.” In four starts this year, Jula Trix Treasure has two wins, a second and a third, and $69,575. The plan is to enter him in the Hambletonian, but Blank and Svanstedt will make the final decision after Saturday’s race. Eliminations for the Hambletonian, the sport’s premier race for 3-year-old trotters, will be Aug. 1 at The Meadowlands and the final is Aug. 8. “I hope he will be one of the best (Saturday), and that it’s a fast race because he’s always strong in the finish,” Blank said. If the horse does enter the Hambletonian, how might he stack up against the sport’s best 3-year-old trotters? The owner won’t predict a win but thinks Jula Trix Treasure can be among the leaders. “There are some very good horses, but he is getting better and better for every start,” Blank said. “He is strong and tough. I think he can be a (contender).” Jula Trix Treasure is one of nine horses in the U.S. now owned by Blank, who is building himself up in harness racing the same way he did in the business world. Following the oil crisis in 1979 his father, Lars-Göran Blank, founded Jula Industri AB in the family barn to produce a device that was a combined log saw and log splitter. The idea came from his grandfather, Otto, who made circular saws to produce firewood for gas cars during World War II. The business name evolved from farm’s Jultorp title. Lars-Göran’s wife, Irene, was also part of the operation and 16-year-old Karl-Johan would work there after school as the device began selling well. Before there was ever Amazon or eBay, the Blanks expanded their business by selling accessories to their invention to farmers in small, mail-order leaflets. Karl-Johan eventually began working for his dad fulltime. “The business expanded fast with a bigger catalog, so in 1984 we started Jula Mail Order AB and had some very good years,” Blank said. Father and son became co-owners in the early 1990s, building a chain of DIY stores and changing the name to Jula AB. Rapid expansion of the stores began in 1995 and, a year later, G&K Blanks real estate firm was established. Business sky-rocketed from there. The Blanks won Sweden’s Businessman of the Year award in 2005 and purchased a company plane one year later. The Jula Hotel was inaugurated in 2007 and the company went international in 2008. Lars-Göran passed away in 2014 and Karl-Johan became owner under the title Jula Holding AB. While still maintaining its department store empire, the company has diversified into numerous fields in creating a billion-dollar business. On the company website, Blank says “Different business areas have developed and created new business opportunities as the business has grown. Some of these have developed into independent companies that are now part of the Jula Holding Group. With this arrangement we see excellent opportunities for the businesses to support each other.” As Blank’s professional operation expands, so too, does his Standardbred world. After his 2018 foray at Lexington, he followed up by purchasing five more horses in Lexington and Harrisburg last year. Four of them qualified, giving Blank nine horses that are actively racing. Seven of them have, or will, race this week at Yonkers, Mohawk and the Meadowlands. Karl-Johan also owns eight horses in Sweden and breeds in his homeland “on a hobby level.” “There have been some really good times,” he said. “I had a part in Good As Gold; he won the (1995) Swedish Derby and was the best colt in Sweden at 3 and 4 years old. I also owed his son, Filled Gold, that won the Danish Kriterium.” He is hoping for some more good times in America, and is happy with his arrangement with Andersson, who trains the horses at Sunshine Meadows from sale until the end of April. Blank becomes an interested observer during that period. “I like to spend a couple of weeks in Florida then, to take time to watch the training and be with the horses,” Blank said. “After April we like to place the horses with the best trainers that we think will be good for the horses. After the season some of the horses go back to Tommy for winter training. I am very happy with the way it’s working out just now.” Saturday’s card at The Meadowlands also includes two Tompkins-Geers divisions for 3-year-old filly trotters. Next Level Stuff is the 3-5 morning-line favorite in the first, Sister Sledge is the 7-5 favorite in the second. For complete entries, click here. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Trenton, NJ — Harness racing driver Jason Bartlett clearly remembers the first time he trained a horse. The pre-teen thought he was going much faster than instructed, discovered he was going much slower, and came up with a number somewhere in between. “My grandfather (trainer Dick Bartlett) told me to go in (2):15 and I think I went in, like, (2):40, and I thought I was flying,” Bartlett said. “I missed that mark by a lot. I had to come back and lie to him a little bit and told him I went in (2):25 so I wasn’t too far off.” Since that day Bartlett has learned to go fast for real in becoming one of harness racing’s top drivers. He has ranked among the Top 10 in North American harness racing in wins nine times overall and among the Top 10 for purses also nine times. Bartlett has enjoyed great success at his home track, winning nine driving titles at Yonkers Raceway. He has 8,431 career wins and $114 million in earnings. It all started on his family’s farm in Windsor, Maine, where Jason would wile away the hours in the stable when not excelling at football and basketball. “As a kid I was always drawn to it, it was never a chore for me to go to the barn and work and help out,” Bartlett said. “I always loved it. Loved going to the races. It was very easy for me. I kind of knew I wanted to do that. But my grandfather told me to ‘Go to school, get a degree, and this will always be here when you get back.’” Dick had a stable that ranged between 20 and 30 horses, “so on the weekends and school vacations it was almost kind of mandatory I was there at the barn helping.” Aside from performing his duties, Bartlett showed an eye for horses at a young age. One of the favorites among his grandfather’s stable was Pay Or Play, for good reason. “I actually picked him out at a sale,” Bartlett said. “He showed a lot of speed, but he showed a ton of breaks and my grandfather always loved that. I had to drag him to the barn to look at him. He was in one of those far barns and he was like ‘Nah I don’t want to go see this thing.’ I ran over myself and looked at it and I dragged him over and he ended up buying him.” Another special horse from Bartlett’s youth was Geri’s Beauty, with which he won his first race at the Windsor Fair in 1998. “I don’t remember that much,” he said. “I just remember it was at a fair and it actually worked out pretty good. I came second over to three-wide down the backside. I started driving three weeks before that. I think I was a junior in high school. We started out two fairs before that and I finally got my first win at our hometown fair.” Jason Bartlett has enjoyed great success at his home track, winning nine driving titles at Yonkers Raceway. Mike Lizzi Photo. During that period, Bartlett was splitting his time between the stables and the gym. As a standout two-sport athlete in middle school, he needed to decide between basketball and football in high school. He would have opted for the gridiron, but his school did not have a football team, so he chose hoops. That turned out to be a pretty good choice as Bartlett became an explosive backcourt scorer. Heeding his grandfather’s wishes about attending college, Jason took his talents to the University of Southern Maine in Portland, where he became the NCAA Division III scoring champion one year with a 28-point average. Despite those numbers, he never harbored illusions of playing at the next level. “Division III is a whole different beast,” he said. “I’m fast, I’m quick, I can jump, but I was too small, didn’t have enough muscle.” After graduating with a degree in industrial electricity, Bartlett headed straight back to the barn to get started on his “real” career. Asked if that major ever came in handy, Jason laughed. “For the most part if I look at a tool I draw blood,” he said. “If I had to, yes. But I wouldn’t get rich on it. My uncle did that sort of work, that’s why I jumped into that field. But I just got the degree to have it in case racing didn’t work out.” Bartlett worked with his grandfather for the next five years. In 2009, owner Scott Dillon — who owned most of the horses Bartlett trained at the time — encouraged him to go out on his own. Dillon helped him financially in making the move to New York. “I knew some trainers in New York that were originally from Maine,” Bartlett said. “Bobby Sumner and Timmy Case were doing really well at Yonkers at the time. I used to take horses from Bobby Sumner if they weren’t right, he would send them to me so I could race them in New England. “Bobby always had a stable of 40 or 50 horses, he was one of the leading trainers at Yonkers. When I came down, he asked me to drive some of his horses at Yonkers, so I started catch driving for him. We started doing really well and it just took off from there.” Bartlett also trained 25 of his own horses when arriving in New York. But when he started having driving success, he sold them in order to focus on just one aspect of the sport. “Driving was always the one thing I was trying to strive for,” he said. “To be a catch driver, and that was it.” Bartlett points to Dillon, Sumner, and Maine Hall of Famer Don Richards as playing big parts in his success. Richards allowed Jason to live with him during college so he needn’t incur any housing bills. His biggest influence, of course, is Dick, who is still going strong at 80. “Tough love would be one of the big things I took from him,” Bartlett said. “He critiqued me a lot. I always say he was my biggest fan but my biggest critic. Even if we had a great day he was always pushing me to be better. Don’t be satisfied. Don’t be complacent. Just because you’re doing good now doesn’t mean you’ll be doing good in a month. Work hard.” Jason Bartlett and his family celebrated his 8,000th career win in 2019. Katy Gazzini Photo. Bartlett and his wife Kristen are trying to pass along those qualities to their children, who inherited the athletic gene of both parents. Kristen is a former field hockey, basketball and softball player. The Bartletts run their local CYO basketball program and also coach their sons’ teams. Kobe, 13, and Karter, 9, are more into playing sports than working the stables at the moment. Jason speaks with pride at how Kobe’s team finally won New York’s Orange County CYO championship along with the regional title after several years of near misses. “They focus a lot on sports,” Bartlett said. “They play soccer, lacrosse, football. They’ll watch me on TV. I guess Karter is a little more intrigued by it, he loves to go jog. It’s a tough business, a tough way to make a living. They might get into it later but they’re going to have to go to school and stuff, just like my grandfather made me do.” And that seems to have worked out pretty well. Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Trenton, NJ — Much like George Bailey in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” harness racing owner / trainer Alex Urbanski knows exactly what she wants to do at a young age. Unlike poor George, who needed divine intervention just to survive, the 19-year-old dynamo is actually doing it. “For my age I feel like I’m ahead of the game,” Urbanski said. “I’m in a pretty good situation.” Alex and her brother John are third generation harness horsemen and work with their dad, John, on their Jackson, N.J., farm. Alex runs her own stable, the Alex Urbanski Racing Stables and is 100 percent owner of two that she trains — Uilleann and Mister Love. She also trains her brother’s horse, Lunatic Fringe, while helping her dad with some of his. After a third-place finish at Freehold in her farewell race on Feb. 28, the 10-year-old Uilleann was retired by Urbanski and bred to Sunfire Blue Chip. She will continue to race the 11-year-old Mister Love and is in the market to buy two more horses when she finds ones that she likes. And while she is taking it week by week with Mister Love’s racing schedule this year, she has already set a long-range career goal. “I’d like to have a stable of at least 30 horses eventually for myself,” Urbanski said. “At the farm we have 18, not all of them are racing. We have the broodmares and the babies. I’d like to have 30 of my own and my parents have plans of moving to a bigger farm so we can expand and keep all our retired horses.” Alex Urbanski works with her dad and brother on their Jackson, N.J., farm Does Alex plan on training all 30? “Eventually I’d like to hire some employees so I don’t have to clean all the stalls myself,” she said. “But between me, my father or brother, we would be the trainers.” Urbanski’s exuberance for the sport is a result of it being in her life from the time she busted out of her playpen. She was born in Bayville where her dad stabled a few horses and moved to Jackson at age 4 as the family wanted to live on its own farm. Alex immediately got her first pony and began riding lessons. There was an ever-so-brief moment when she quit riding in order to pursue club ice hockey, but that was just a whim even though her team reached the nationals in Vermont her last year of playing. After approximately six weeks of high school, Urbanski left in her freshman year to be home schooled in order to work with horses. Aside from her ice hockey fling, Alex said, “I’ve always known this is where I wanted to be. I’ve known some of the horsemen since I was 2 years old just going to the farm while my dad was shoeing.” Along with helping her dad, Urbanski attended the Harness Horse Youth Foundation’s summer camp and was one of four youths chosen to give a driving demonstration on Hambletonian Day in 2015. Once the home-schooling started at age 14, Alex worked every day cleaning stalls for her dad before going off to her job at a pizza parlor. She was trying to make money to buy a horse and when Uilleann came up for sale, John bought her for $6,000. “I worked that whole summer for my father and made $2,000,” Urbanski said. “I owned a third of her until I was 16, and that Christmas my father signed her over to me as full owner.” Urbanski got her trainer’s license in March 2019 and began racing Uilleann last season. But the horse needed surgery and was unable to race much, leaving Alex still searching for her first training win in September. It was then that she purchased Mister Love from Maryland owner Marjorie Kazmaier.   On Nov. 30, Vinny Ginsburg gave Alex Urbanski her first career win by driving Mister Love to a four-length victory in 1:57.2 at Freehold. Freehold Raceway photo.   Two months later, on Nov. 30, Vinny Ginsburg gave Urbanski her first career win by driving Mister Love to a four-length victory in 1:57.2 at Freehold. “I was over on the grandstand side of Freehold and watching him race with my friends,” Urbanski said. “I knew coming out of the last turn there was no shot he wouldn’t win. Immediately I got teared up and choked up and emotional. All I kept saying to Vinny was ‘Thank you so much, this means so much.’” By season’s end, racing predominantly at Freehold, Ocean Downs, Yonkers and Harrah’s Philadelphia, Urbanski had two wins, four seconds and nine thirds in 60 starts, good for $18,700. In her first 20 starts this year, many with Mister Love, she has one win, one second and three thirds for $7,258 in winnings. She also made her Meadowlands debut on Feb. 29. “It was awesome,” she said. “When you go to The Meadowlands, you’re around top trainers and very high-class, high-caliber horses and it just is a good feeling to race top people like that.” Aside from her training, Urbanski is also a part-time student at Ocean County College, where she is majoring in business. It’s probably a good choice for someone who plans on being in on all aspects of her operation, as Alex’s plan is to only train horses that she owns. “I had an offer over the past summer from someone at Ocean Downs that asked me to train some horses for them at Freehold,” she said. “I turned it down. I want to run my own thing and just own and train my own. I don’t want to have to deal with other opinions and stuff like that, I like to keep it in the family.” So far, she has dealt with a lot of older horses, including family favorite Beau Rivage N, who she grew up jogging. Beau Rivage N is now retired but was still successful at age 14 four years ago. “He’s our little baby-sitter now for our babies, they grow attached to him,” Urbanski said. “I like the older horses, they’re just classier. They have good manners.” And yet, Alex will break her fourth baby with her dad this year and plans on breaking more as she wants to train the horses she breeds. “I feel like the future with racing is with the babies,” she said. “I want to breed and train. I was thinking about getting my (qualifying driver’s) license sometime this year if possible. If not this year than next year, just so I have it.” It is all part of the rapid progress being made by a woman who feels she is way ahead of the game. “My parents do nothing but help me and want to see me succeed,” Urbanski said. “They’re willing to help me with anything I ask of them and it’s been great. I thought by now that I’d still be struggling with Uilleann and trying to get my little checks here and there.” Instead, it really is turning into a wonderful life. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Trenton, NJ — Apparently, there is one chink in the amazing Wanda Polisseni’s armor. Ask her what it means to receive this year’s harness racing Unsung Hero Award from the U.S. Harness Writers Association, and you discover the kryptonite. “I’m speechless,” the 80-year-old philanthropist said. “I don’t do well in these instances. I’m blown away. I don’t know what to say.” After that, of course, the woman who defines class knew exactly what to say; and she said it with the dignity that has made her a beloved figure in harness racing this century. “I never even think of receiving anything like this,” Polisseni said. “I don’t go about my days doing the things I do, thinking that it’s going to be rewarded with recognition. I know people appreciate what I do. I know my babies (her horses) all appreciate what I do. That in itself is enough for me. That’s what it’s all about.” Lest one think that is false humility, Wanda is honest enough to admit that while she doesn’t expect awards, she does enjoy receiving them. “I would say this one is probably one of my favorites, right near the top or at the top,” she said. “This is a great organization, a large organization. This ranks with getting a doctorate of humane letters from Keuka College. But every one of them is important. Each and every one. I don’t care if it’s from the local boy scouts or whatever. I’m appreciative of everything, although I don’t strive for that. I’d rather be under the radar.” Polisseni was informed of her award by longtime friend Betty Holt, a former Unsung Hero Award recipient and the executive director of Wanda’s newest endeavor, the Purple Haze Standardbred Adoption Program in Oxford, N.Y. Their relationship dates back to 2004, when Polisseni first got into the racing game as an owner. Her 2-year-old gelding, Smoky Bonz, won at Saratoga. Holt was involved in the breeding of the horse and visited the winner’s circle after the race. A friendship was born. “Whoever called Betty (from the U.S. Harness Writers Association), said it would mean more to me coming from her, and they were right,” Polisseni said. “Smoky Bonz is one of my all-time favorites, I have a huge oil painting of him in my living room and she foaled him. I worked along with her with the breeders and horsemen’s association and I knew without a doubt when I started talking about (the adoption center) that she would be the best one for the executive director. She’s doing a terrific job. So yes, hearing the news from her meant a lot.” The adoption center got underway in earnest last fall and recently placed its first two horses with new owners. There are seven more waiting for new homes in the 20-stall facility and funding has been provided by Polisseni and numerous private donations, “some of which came from people I wouldn’t have expected.” The center must wait between one and two years to petition for grants, but the face lift has been a typical Polisseni operation — first class. “I wanted to freshen it up and add stalls so we’d have more babies available for adoption,” she said. “If I ever wanted to live on a farm again (which is where she grew up), I would love to live on this farm, it’s so beautiful. But that’s not my aspiration. I just want a lot of babies there and a lot of babies to be adopted out.” Polisseni’s other babies can be found in her family-owned Purple Haze Stables, which houses 100 horses. Many have been successful over the years and she feels somewhat chagrined about that but, at the same time, unashamed. “I started in 2004,” she said. “That’s not many years compared to some of these people, these trainers and owners that have been in it for 50 years. I feel a little guilty for the success I’ve had, because they are due. They are long overdue. “But it is what it is. I’m going to take the wins and I’m going to take the losses. I’m happy if my baby comes in fourth or fifth and he’s done the best he can and he’s safe and healthy.” Tending to her babies and overseeing the adoption center is just a fraction of what makes Polisseni special. Showing an unheard of amount of energy for an 80-year-old, the upstate New York icon currently sits on eight different boards, including The Finger Lakes Horsemen Benevolent Protective Association, the Finger Lakes Thoroughbred Adoption Program, and the Harness Horse Breeders of New York. Beyond the business, she is involved with the New York State Trooper Foundation, Thompson Health, St. John Fisher College and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. She refuses to be on any board in name only and makes a firm commitment to each one. Polisseni is the epitome of someone who feels blessed with what they have been given, and truly wants to give back. She is unsung, because she will never sing her own praises. That will be especially true when she receives her honor at the Feb. 23 Dan Patch Awards banquet in Orlando, Fla., where the speech will be short and sweet. “Whenever anything like this comes along with all these organizations and galas, and it has many times in my years, they don’t want to sit there and listen to speeches; they don’t want to be inundated with speech after speech after speech,” Polisseni said. “Some people in the audience can’t relate to those experiences, so why make them have to listen to it? “I might just say a few words. I’ve always done that. I always get up and tell the audience ‘I’m going to make your night. I’m only going to say thank you very much and that’s it.’” She then added with a touch of whimsy, “That’s gone over very well at many of the galas I’ve attended.” For more information about the Dan Patch Awards banquet, visit the U.S. Harness Writers Association’s website. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Trenton, NJ — Just three years shy of age 70, Jim King Jr. is coming off a 2019 harness racing season that could make him the subject of an AARP magazine cover story. The popular trainer conditioned two Dan Patch Award winners in pacing mare Shartin N and 2-year-old female pacer Lyons Sentinel, and Shartin N is one of the favorites for Horse of the Year, which will be announced Feb. 23 at the Dan Patch Awards banquet in Orlando, Fla. The King Stable, where Jim trains alongside wife Jo Ann Looney-King, won a career-record $4.27 million in purses last year, smashing its previous mark of $2.88 million set just one year earlier. He also had a career-best 168 victories and notched career triumph 1,000 in early December at Dover Downs. And in late December, King was named winner of the U.S. Harness Association’s Good Guy Award, which his wife had won previously in 2015. Again, this all happened at age 67. “It’s almost unbelievable,” King said. “These things don’t usually happen to old men; I’ll be 68 next month. Usually that’s on a downwind. And heck, outside of the age number, it doesn’t look to be like it’s going to be anything any different for a time to come.” The reason he’s sticking around is not just because of his recent good fortune. King will be in the barn as long as it’s feasible, no matter how few or many wins he collects. “This is what I always wanted to do to start with,” King said. “(Success) doesn’t want to make me do it any more or less. It doesn’t change anything about me, except I probably smile a lot more.” And this from a guy who is known for smiling a lot. He’s a good-natured, good-hearted soul who people enjoy being around, and he is proud to be known as a Good Guy. “That’s one of those awards that I don’t think the name suits the award,” King said. “It doesn’t sound like as much as it really is. It’s quite a thing to win that award for what it means. Of all the people that could possibly be chosen, I was, and my wife was in the past. I think that’s kind of special. “It’s a lot more than talking to reporters. The reporters get info from other people as well. It’s more than just I took the time. It’s that that other people in the business had good things to say about us. I think that plays into it. We always care about that sort of thing.” They also care about the sport itself, which is why King feels it’s important to serve as an ambassador. Then again, his general character make-up is being nice to those beyond the Standardbred business. He likes people in general. “Absolutely,” he said. “Sometimes my wife teases me about talking to total strangers about the business. She says, ‘They don’t know what you’re talking about.’ I say, ‘That’s OK, some day they will maybe.’ But anything that will catch a person’s ear and make them pay attention to it helps. I think it’s important to be a person that’s approachable, to be outgoing to people in and out of the business. It kind of lays out the way I like my lead my life. It’s not always about the gain. Sometimes it tends to be, but it’s not about the personal gain.” If the gain comes along, however, King won’t argue. With his dynamic duo of Dan Patch Award winners, opportunity knocked with a couple of heavy hooves. “Those are really nice horses, top quality, no doubt,” he said. “I don’t know if it took a genius to get the accomplishments done with them. Fortunately, I got to go along for the ride. They’re just really good horses. With a little luck, maybe we’ll do it again.” He had a known commodity with Shartin N, who had another outstanding season on the heels of her 2018 Dan Patch Award-winning campaign. Shartin N won 15 of 19 races last year at age 6 and earned $982,177 on her way to her second honor as the sport’s top older female pacer. She finished second to pacing stallion McWicked in the voting for 2018 Pacer of the Year and Horse of the Year and is in the hunt for both awards again for 2019. “I was kind of disappointed she didn’t get it last year for whatever it’s worth, but she didn’t,” King said. “It’s hard for a mare to do; it’s got to be even harder for a foreign mare to do. Statistically I felt she had it last year, statistically I feel like she had it this year. I guess it’s not all about the numbers. I’ve never had anything like her before. There’s nothing like having something like her and owning part of a horse like her.” Then there was the newcomer, Lyons Sentinel, who surpassed expectations according to her trainer. She won nine of 14 races, was never off the board, and earned $801,809 to lead all 2-year-olds. “She didn’t just jump out as being the big dog, or being the best,” King said. “But each time I’d race her I would see traits that are very likeable. She liked to race, she’s not necessarily a run-off-and-leave-them type of girl, but she likes to win. Her will was just tremendous along with her ability.” And while that’s all in the recent past, it’s enough to keep King fired up for the immediate future as he is looking for another big year from the two of them and, hopefully, a few other horses who could make names for themselves. “They’re both a year older,” he said. “I’m hoping they both come back just somewhere close to where they were. At present time they both look real good. I’ve started them both back up and they’re very likeable. They kind of put themselves back together after a long year. “I don’t feel like I have any other horse the caliber of those two, but I’ve got a pretty nice bunch of horses as far as the stable goes. It’s exciting.” To hear King talk, last season’s excitement bordered on the sublime. “Things happened you just never felt could possibly happen,” he said. “It’s almost like the sky’s the limit. It’s amazing what you can do in this business. My wife and I lived in a tack room some years ago and then we go and win the Breeders Crown. I like to say I’ve walked every street.” Whether it’s another smooth street or a rocky road this year, King will continue to be a good guy and Jo Ann will remain a good gal. In fact, maybe the two of them should be the AARP cover story. They can safely be termed the “Good Couple” of harness racing. “I guess we are,” King said. “We’ve been together for 44 years now. It’s a real team at the stable. I’ve got quite a crew around here, and the support of my family (including Standardbred TV luminary Heather Vitale). It’s just kind of special. There is no such thing as Jim anymore. It’s Jim and Jo Ann. That’s the way it’s written, and it is definitely by choice.” A choice made by two good people. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent  

In discussing his horse, Sister Sledge, trainer Ron Burke gave a simple but accurate assessment of Friday's $600,000 Breeders Crown 2-year-old filly harness racing trot final at Woodbine Mohawk Park. "Moving forward, I think she's as good as any filly out there, but there are a couple real good ones," Burke said. "The 2-year-old trotting fillies are very solid - a bunch of them actually." This past Friday, Yannick Gingras showed just how deep the field is by driving horses to victory over undefeated opponents in both elimination races. Gingras guided Sister Sledge past previously perfect Hypnotic AM, a 1-5 favorite, in the first elim. He followed by driving Ms Savannah Belle to victory and keeping Ramona Hill out of the winner's circle for the first time. Hypnotic AM was second while Ramona Hill finished third. Gingras will drive Sister Sledge, a daughter of Father Patrick-Behindclosedoors, in the final. The horse, who drew the two-post, has eight wins and has hit the board in all 10 starts this year, winning C$308,852. She will go off right next to Hypnotic AM, who drew post one. A repeat of their exciting elimination battle would be interesting, as Gingras went outside in the homestretch to pass the favorite and win by 1-1/4 lengths. "When I got alongside of her I could tell I had more trot," Gingras said. "It was just a matter of getting to the wire. But I was definitely confident, throughout really. She's a nice filly. The other one is nice too, but I had all the confidence in the world in my filly. With the trip, I thought she would give her a really good run anyway." It was the first setback in eight starts for Hypnotic AM, who has won C$394,582 this season with Brian Sears in the sulky. "She raced good (in the elim)," trainer Marcus Melander said. "She got a little fresh on the lead and Brian had to hold her a little too much. Maybe we need to do some changes for this week, but I think she raced good. You always want to win so you know you're going to draw (post) one to five. She just got a little too fresh on the lead. It was just too much." Hypnotic AM had last raced Sept. 14 in winning the New York Sire Stakes championship. The Chapter Seven-Daydream AM S miss qualified in 1:54.2 in advance of her Crown elimination. "She was very good in her qualifier and I thought she was going to be ready," Melander said. "Maybe this will put her a little bit forward. I still think we have a great filly even if she got beat, and (Sister Sledge) is a good horse. I really like my horse and think she will have a big chance in the final. She gets over the ground so easy. She can do anything; race on any sized track, she's got speed, she's got stamina. She's got everything that a good horse has got to have." In the second elim, not winning proved costly for Ramona Hill, who drew post 10 in the final. Driven by Andy McCarthy, the Muscle Hill-Lock Down Lindy freshman lost for the first time in six starts. "I didn't think she was tracking as good as she has been, so we're going to make a couple of adjustments for the final, but she went a monster trip after Andy got her settled," said trainer Tony Alagna, whose filly has earned C$106,300 this year. "He tried to press out of there a little bit with her, but she wasn't as comfortable, so he just waited on her. She was parked the entire mile first over, so she went a huge mile just to be third. "We'll regroup, but we're very pleased with her. She's a filly we were very high on, but she was very immature and we didn't even know if we'd make it to the Breeders Crown with her at one stage. To be here, and to be in the final, speaks volumes to her quality. She just needed some time. As the year's gotten longer, she's gotten better. We gave her a nice break after the Kindergarten (leg on July 19) and that really seemed to help her. All those things helped her for sure." Winning for the fourth time in eight starts allowed Ms Savannah Belle to earn a post five Friday, setting up what could be a fierce final. As he did with Sister Sledge, Gingras rallied his horse down the homestretch. The filly has hit the board in seven races and won C$216,658 this year. "She was super down in Lexington; we only raced her the first week there, we skipped the second week just to aim her for this and I think she'll be even sharper (in the final)," trainer Per Engblom said of the daughter of Muscle Hill-Stubborn Belle. "I think my filly will do good. She hadn't raced in three weeks; she'll be a little sharper next week. "She's a darling. She's good every time. She had a couple (1:52 miles) in a row. I worried she might be a little short, but Yannick worked out the perfect trip for her, so it was no problem." Engblom has two horses in the final, as Shishito (Father Patrick-Yoga) will go off from the eight hole. "She was third in the first elimination and I think she'll step up and be a little better this week too," the trainer said. "She was very good. She was leaning in the turn a little bit so (driver Dexter Dunn) lost a little ground in the last turn, but then she finished really good in the stretch. We'll try to change her bridle up a little bit to keep her a little straighter. She's such an honest little filly, I just love her. She's nice." Rounding out the final are May Baby (post three), Dip Me Hanover (four), Wine Rack Hanover (six), Madame Sherry (seven) and Violet Stride (nine). Trainer Nifty Norman feels Wine Rack Hanover may be calming down at just the right time. "She's got a big motor, she's just had trouble with her manners all year," Norman said of the Kadabra-Winbak Maya miss. "But she's getting better and better all the time. She was really tough to hang on to; she was really hot. She's starting to work it out. She's got a great attitude. She never gives in. I'm pretty happy with her." Trainer Jim Campbell felt Madame Sherry, a daughter of Father Patrick-Celebrity Angel, "raced OK" in her elimination but echoed most everyone's thoughts about the final. "It's a tough group," Campbell said. "It's a real tough group. She's going to have to step her game up to be better for next week to get money in there, but she's got a chance to go for it, which is better than not being in it." Below is the field for the Breeders Crown 2-year-old filly trot final. PP-Horse-Driver-Trainer 1-Hypnotic AM-Brian Sears-Marcus Melander 2-Sister Sledge-Yannick Gingras-Ron Burke 3-May Baby-James Yoder-James Yoder 4-Dip Me Hanover-David Miller-Linda Toscano 5-Ms Savannah Belle-TBA-Per Engblom 6-Wine Rack Hanover-Sylvain Filion-R. Nifty Norman 7-Madame Sherry-Tim Tetrick-Jim Campbell 8-Shishito-Dexter Dunn-Per Engblom 9-Violet Stride-Tyler Buter-Mark Harder 10-Ramona Hill-Andy McCarthy-Tony Alagna By Rich Fisher, for the Breeders Crown

Trenton, NJ -- David Miller may not be driving one of the more well-known horses in Saturday's (Aug. 3) Hambletonian at The Meadowlands, but he will be driving for one of the more high-profile owners in the race. Miller will be in the sulky behind Reign Of Honor, who has two wins in 21 lifetime races along with four seconds and three thirds. He has won a total of $294,550. This year, Reign Of Honor has one win in the second leg of the New Jersey Sire Stakes in a lifetime best of 1:54.2. He is a son of Father Patrick out of Margarita Momma. While those figures may appear modest when compared to much of the field, the horse will have a pretty famous rooting section at The Meadowlands, as one of his owners is Jennifer Dalton. Fans of Bravo Network will remember Dalton appearing in Pregnant in Heels in 2012 and one year later she was a season-long guest star in The Real Housewives of New Jersey. A friend of Teresa Giudice, one of the show's top stars, Jennifer is also a Sotheby's realtor who appeared on the show while trying to sell a home for Melissa and Joe Gorga, and she counts Lil' Kim as one of her best friends. And when the gate goes up Saturday, Reign Of Honor will have the Housewives on hand to lend vocal support. "All the Housewives crew are going to be there," Dalton said. "The producer wants to do a show with the horses." It's a show that no one would have thought possible just five years ago. Dalton had no interest in horses for most of her life until one day she went to a race at Yonkers, where John Campbell drove her girlfriend's horse. As they were stuck in traffic while leaving, she saw the horse trailers and became obsessed. Rolling down the window she yelled out to a trainer, who happened to be Pat Lachance. He invited her to see the horses and the two became friends. Soon after, she entered the Meadowlands' "Own a Horse" promotion and "won" 10 percent of UF Fast Feelin. Her first race as an owner was Jan. 2, 2016 and she never looked back. In fact, once the contest ended, she claimed the horse. The horse was eventually claimed from Dalton, which broke her heart. "I never owned a claimer again," she said. "I cried." Once Jennifer got involved in Standardbreds, she discovered a different kind of tension than that which occurred amidst the Housewives controversies. "There's drama in both," she said. "But Housewives of New Jersey I got paid. This one, I pay so much money for horses and training, and you just hope you get paid back." Dalton now has a stable of 19 horses at trainer Richard "Nifty" Norman's New Jersey barn. Most of them have something in common -- they honor Jennifer's 5-year-old daughter. "All my horses are named after her," she said. "When you see a 'Reign' somewhere, it comes from us," Dalton's boyfriend Mike Herrera added. Several years ago, Dalton actually brought a horse to Reign's school for show-and-tell. "She had me driving around in a tractor and trailer in Edgewater, N.J., right under the George Washington Bridge," Herrera recalled. Jennifer has completely immersed herself into harness racing. A striking, stylish woman who always looks her best, she surprises folks when they see her cleaning out the stalls. After attending several Hambletonians it became a dream for her to enter a horse in the race. She and Norman staked Reign Of Honor and made the call to enter him. "I'm so happy," said Dalton, who owns the horse with Deo Volente Farms, Tom Pontone, and Kentuckiana Racing Stable. "This horse is so good, he really is. I love this horse." The Hambo is a great morale lifter for Dalton, who suffered a serious stroke at the beginning of last year. She is able to walk and live an everyday life, but is still undergoing speech therapy, and her memory has issues at times. "It was serious, but I'm OK now," she said. Jennifer thinks her horse, who is coming off a sixth-place finish in the Reynolds Memorial and drew the four hole in the second elimination, is pretty OK as well. She and Mike playfully joke about his chances in the Hambo. "You know what, he's a real nice horse, but he's been second to Greenshoe (in the New Jersey Sire Stakes final)," Herrera said. "I don't think we can beat that horse right now. To be honest, I think we're racing for second place." He then directed his conversation to Dalton, saying with a laugh, "You know that; you're a professional, you know that. "A couple of years ago she would have been like 'My horse is the best,' but she realizes the business now, she understands the numbers. I'm just keeping it real." And what is Dalton's version of real? "I want to go for it all!" she said. Either way, it's a big day for the couple. "Imagine," Herrera said, "going from a 10 claimer to a Hambo horse." Sounds like a made-for-TV saga. Mr. Vicktor deserves shot at Hambletonian Tyler Buter doesn't know if his horse can win the Hambletonian, but he knows darn well that he deserves the opportunity to try. Buter will be driving Mr Vicktor out of the five hole in the first elimination Saturday, and he is certain the horse belongs in the field of outstanding competitors. "I thought so early on in the year," Buter said. "They sold him to (trainer) Jennifer Lappe and (husband) John Kokinos and that was the main reason they bought him, to have a horse with the potential to race in the Hambletonian. The only time other than last week that he's been beat was against Gimpanzee, who is one of the top two to win the Hambo in my eyes. When you can keep up and race well against one of the top trotters in the country, there's no reason to believe that he doesn't belong in the Hambletonian." In nine starts this year, Mr Vicktor (RC Royalty-Hawaiian Vicky) has won six and finished second twice. His two seconds were both to Gimpanzee. He made his first Meadowlands start -- in fact, his first start outside of New York -- on July 27 and finished 12th after making a break in the Reynolds. He has rebounded from an abbreviated 2-year-old season, in which he was shut down after breathing issues surfaced. There have been no such issues this season, and Buter felt the Reynolds clunker was an aberration. "He's had a great year; his start last week, I would just throw it out," he said. "It was unfortunate. It was a 12-horse field, two trailers, horses going everywhere in the first turn. It didn't work out. I would not even take that start into consideration and look forward to this week. "He's really good gaited and he has a desire to race. As soon as you turn him to the gate, he wants to go. He's a very willing horse. He's always showed up every week to race." The horse is also owned by Robert Santagata, Diamond Pride LLC (baseball legend Joe Torre) and Joe Lee, and Lee praises the way Buter handles the horse. This will be the driver's Hambletonian debut, although he won the Townsend Ackerman Stakes with Two AM on Hambletonian Day in 2017. "This is something you always look forward to growing up," he said. "It's what you work for. For the trotters, it's the biggest race. It's what you strive for, what you work for all your life. The chance to drive in it at (age) 33 is pretty cool, I think." Forbidden Trade ready for the Hambletonian  Bob McClure won the Dr. John R. Steele Memorial with Dream Together on Hambletonian Day last year, so it was jokingly suggested to him it should be no problem to win his Hambo debut this year. "I wouldn't say that," McClure said with a laugh. "It takes a lot of horsepower and good luck. But it's fun when it does come together." McClure will try and have his fun driving Forbidden Trade out of the one hole in the second elimination. The horse has four wins and two seconds in six starts this year, good for $122,956 in earnings. Last year he won seven of 11 starts and earned $236,244 in winning the O'Brien Award as the top 2-year-old trotting colt of the Year in Canada. The son of Kadabra-Pure Ivory is trained by Luc Blais for owner Serge Godin's Determination Stable. "I don't think he's disappointed anybody yet," McClure said. "He's only been beaten twice. The first time he was on a half (-mile track) and the next time he got locked in. He almost got out to beat Pilot Discretion (in the $185,250 Goodtimes final at Woodbine Mohawk Park). I think every race he's had, he's improved and couldn't be going into the Hambo any better. "I think the sky is the limit for him. He's been a professional from day one. He's made my job easy. If he's in any position to win he usually gets the job done. He's been fun to drive all year. I think he has the potential to be a top Grand Circuit horse." McClure likes Forbidden Trade's versatility, nothing that as a 2-year-old "he just chased horses," and that this year, "out of nowhere in the Goodtimes elim, I left with him. He's very handy either way. He doesn't have a preferred style." On April 25, McClure suffered a broken pelvis in an accident during qualifiers at Woodbine Mohawk Park, and returned to the sulky May 23 using a hyperbaric chamber three to four times a week to aid his recovery. After all that, needless to say Saturday is a big day for the 28-year-old. "It's exciting," he said. "I definitely never would have thought this two years ago. But I wouldn't be here without Determination Stable. That's a big contribution to it all. I owe it all to them." As for whether last year's Steele victory can help him, McClure said, "It doesn't hurt. Last year we went into it kind of green, but came out OK. I think as long as you've got some good horses and some confidence, you'll be OK." ​by Rich Fisher, for the USTA  

Trenton, NJ — Harness racing driver Kiara Morgan’s biggest problem wasn’t winning her first race, but what to do after she won. “I pulled around and I was like ‘I don’t even know what to do. Where’s the winner’s circle? Where do I go?’ Morgan said. “So, I finally pulled around and got our picture and it was cool. I was happy.” This all occurred July 17 at the Washington Court House Fair in Ohio, when the daughter of renowned trainer Virgil Morgan Jr. drove Action Metro Max to victory. It was only her third start and she had taken second in her first two. It didn’t take long to get her second win, which came later in the day with Tail Gunner Hall. Morgan wasn’t too surprised at winning the second, but taking first with Action Metro Max was a bit unexpected. “Max was a little bit lazier and you have to get after him,” she said. “The second one, he’s just a little bit classier of a horse. He’s older too but he wants to race, whereas Metro Max is more of a surprise. But Tail Gunner is really good.” Which might say something about Morgan’s driving skills in that she brought Actin Metro Max from behind and got him to win easily. “He’s 9, so as you would imagine he’s pretty laid back, he’s not going to do anything more than he has to,” Kiara noted. “He wasn’t real quick off the gate. I got away fourth or fifth, it wasn’t a big field and I was pretty far back there. “A little bit after the half, someone right in front of me kind of pulled out to pull up a little bit. I was pulling out at the same exact time. They pulled back in and I went around him. I had qualified that horse at Scioto, I really think after he realized it was a half-mile track instead of a mile, he liked it. He literally just took off. After I pulled him he just said ‘Hey wait a minute’ and he just took off.” From there, Morgan could smell the victory. “I got up next to the person leading,” she said. “I kind of grabbed him up a little, by that time we were almost up to the three-quarter pole and I just let it go. He was real good. After I pulled away, he was just cruising. I was kind of grabbing him up a little because I don’t really like to win by that much, I don’t like to blow him out more than I have to. I remember I got done I was kind of like ‘I didn’t mean to win by that much, but I didn’t want to walk him either.’ I just kind of grabbed him up and let him go at a comfortable pace and he was ahead by quite a bit.” And just like that, the newbie was the winner. It was 20-year-old Kiara Morgans’s first driving win as she took a condition pace with Ken Sommer’s 9-year-old gelding by Metropolitan Action Metro Max in 2:01h for her dad, trainer Virgil Morgan Jr. Our RWTS winner Bill Holley of WCH joined them for the photo. Ohio Harness Horseman Association Photo “Before last year I’d been in a jog cart a handful of times growing up helping my dad,” she said. “Other than that, it’s all really new to me. So, it all happened quick.” It was an eventful day for the 20-year-old, who only began working with dad in December. Virgil Morgan Jr. is No. 2 in training history with 6,411 wins, trailing only Ron Burke. He is No. 8 in purses with $56 million. Despite Virgil’s success and notoriety in Ohio, Kiara wasn’t immediately sold on the harness racing game. But she got her first horse at age 7. “I always had a huge passion,” she said. “I’d ridden and shown horses my whole life, so I’ve always been around them, but I’ve always been riding and showing them and going to all kind of shows and stuff. I would come out maybe in the summer, my dad would jog with me and my brother (Trey). His training center is 12 minutes from the house and I’d maybe been there a handful of times.” By last November, however, she began to feel the urge to see what harness racing was all about. Virgil was reluctant at first but when he got a few more horses he relented in December. “I just started jogging, gradually he would put me on the training sheets,” Kiara said. “Every day I got more experience. It happened really quick. The reason I decided to try to get my license was we had heard about the (Ladies Driving Series); I thought that would be cool with all girls. I qualified a few and now I’m doing the lady pace thing. That’s where that all started.” Once again, Morgan was back in the world of racing. Only this time, someone else was doing the running. As a student at Grove City High School, Kiara was a standout on a formidable track and field team that was Southwest Ohio’s top team during her time there. She ran the 100, 200 and 400 and had success, but is modest about it. “I’m not going to say too much about that,” she said. “I won some races, but I don’t remember the specifics.” Kiara just knew she was having fun, because she was competing. “I’ve always loved to race,” she said. “I remember being a little kid, we’d get all the neighborhood kids together, and my dad would literally have a race around the house. Ever since I was little I liked to race. Track became a big part of my life in high school.” Upon graduation she attended Columbus State College and this summer she transferred to Fortis College in order to study radiology. While she would love to make a career of harness racing, Virgil has made her understand she needs something to fall back on just in case. But rest assured, racing is in her blood at the moment. When asked to equate the thrill of running a 400-meter event or driving a horse on a fairgrounds track, Kiara said there’s no comparison. She came to that realization after her Ladies Driving Series debut race at the Wilmington (Clinton County) Fair on July 9. “When I got off the track from my first race, I didn’t win, I got beat by a neck,” she said. “Those girls are extremely competitive. I remember I got off the track and I was so happy. It’s like a high you don’t get from anything else. I was parked the whole mile and I still came out and I was smiling from ear to ear. It’s a feeling like really no other I ever felt before. You’re controlling an animal, you’ve got to make decisions in split seconds and stuff. It’s really a different feeling.” As much as she loves it, Morgan knows she has to get that college degree in order to have security. “I’m going to be honest, I don’t really like school and I have to force myself to do it,” she said. “I thought about not doing it before and just trying to do the horses. But school’s really important to my dad so I always have a safety net. It takes a lot to be extremely successful with the horses, I want to have a fallback, a definite career income. “But racing pulls my heart a lot. Everyone’s always like “Aww you’ll find something that you want to do, what you love.’ I tell them ‘I know exactly what I want to do!’ I’ve known this all while I was growing up, but it’s just the fact you never really know how successful you’re going to be. I don’t want to jump into horses and end up having nothing.” So instead of diving into the pool, she is wading into it slowly. Her mindset is that she will see where driving takes her, but always have an alternate plan. In the meantime, Morgan has one of the best tutors a girl can find in her father. “Oh gosh, everything I know, it all comes from him,” she said. “He says every time I go on the track just learn something new. Obviously I’m going to make a lot of mistakes. He says every time you’re out there, learn from my mistakes, learn something new especially. Me and my brother claimed one ourselves, I’m learning all about what to do to help the horse itself. He’s always telling me to watch the grooms and ask questions. We have the greatest help in the world, they’ve all made an impact on me and are teaching me new things.” And while Virgil is a little cautious about throwing his girl right into the fire, that hasn’t stopped him from enjoying her early successes in the sulky. “It’s funny, after my first win somebody said ‘How many pictures are you going to get,’” Kiara said. “My dad never gets pictures of himself, but he got four win pictures that day just to make sure everybody had one.” Thank goodness she found out where to go. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

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