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Wil DuBois is the kind of kid you want to see succeed in harness racing, if only because he loves it so much. A third generation horseman along with his brother, Thomas, and sister, Samantha, Wil proudly states that the sport is in his blood. For any doubters, consider two stories to prove the point. The first came during Wil’s junior year of playing football for Biddeford High School in Maine. At the time, he was also helping out his dad, Todd, at their stable and was unable to make football weightlifting sessions. He still lifted on his own, but the coach wasn’t buying it. “He said football comes before family and stuff,” DuBois said. “I said ‘You know what, I’d rather be with the horses anyway.’” He continued to play lacrosse that year and, after early graduation in February 2015, Wil and Thomas went to New Jersey so Wil could work with trainer Linda Toscano. That’s where the second story comes in. Thomas took a job and Wil worked with Linda while both lived in a hotel room. Because Wil didn’t have a car, Thomas eventually quit his job so Wil could get to the stables every day. It was a sacrifice in the name of Standardbreds, but it eventually cost the brothers. “It was pretty cool,” said DuBois, who turns 20 in August. “But I really wasn’t making enough money to support both of us. He couldn’t find another job, so we came back up this way. I lived with my uncle (Billy DuBois) and started working for him.” That wasn’t really a problem, since Wil considers working with horses about the greatest thing on earth. He earned his first driving win last October and since getting his trainer’s license, has garnered four training victories since April. Wil’s fraternal grandparents, Gordon and Jane DuBois, and maternal grandfather, the late Raymond Sawyer, are all Standardbred veterans. Todd and his wife, Donna, fell right in line, and their kids are keeping the tradition alive. Samantha works with Todd in his barn and will attend Morrisville for horsemanship, and 23-year-old Thomas is in his fourth year at Scarborough as the youngest paddock judge in the U.S. For good measure, their cousin Jordan Derue is one of the leading drivers at Saratoga in New York. “They all seemed to gravitate toward the horses,” Todd said. “It’s almost like they’re born into it; like there was never going to be a question for any of the kids.” There’s a reason for that. “The biggest thing is they actually love the animals,” Todd said. “Even if there’s not a lot of money, if you wake up and can be around horses and enjoy your day that’s all the money you need in the world. I think they see that. “Not that you don’t need to make money and pay your bills and eat; because you do. But Wil’s out hustling. He jogs horses; he does what he needs to do. He’s not sitting around doing nothing. He helps his grandfather, he helps his uncle.” He is literally living the dream, except for the part where he has to work part-time at a bakery to pay his bills. “When I was younger I got interested in different stuff but I’ve always wanted to train horses,” he said. “Train and drive, that’s always been my dream. I’m up every day at the barn. I’d rather be there than at the bakery.” You know it’s serious. Who doesn’t want to be at a bakery? Actually, Wil would rather still be in New Jersey, which was the original hope when Todd hooked him up with Toscano. “I’d like to see him get out of Maine, and I got him the job with Linda and thought maybe he could launch from there, but it was tough with the two guys down there and just one job between them,” Todd said. “But he definitely learned some stuff with Linda. “They’ve got a higher class animal. They’re in a different league. It’s more condensed. I have 15 horses, and two or three of us take care of them. Down there, you’re only going to take care of three or four. It’s more polished.” Wil found it to be a great experience. “It was really cool,” he said. “I got to see (2012 Hambletonian winner) Market Share, ($1 million-earner) Doctor Butch. I got to see how differently New Jersey is from Maine. It’s a lot more business, where up here it’s more of a family thing. I loved every minute of it. Hard work every day. Seven days a week -- no time to get in trouble.” Asked if he tends to get in trouble, Wil laughed and said “Oh yeah, once in a while.” Fortunately, he has put trouble on the backburner, getting his provisional driving license and trainer’s license within the last seven months. At 6-foot-2, 250 pounds, DuBois’ frame is not conducive to driving. But on Oct. 3 at the Cumberland Fair he drove Real Yankee to get his first win. “It was surreal, it was the best feeling I ever had in my life,” Wil said. “It was pretty cool, too, because I was working for my uncle Billy. That day we had three in and we won all three races.” His first training win came in April, and he has amassed three more since. “That was a little different than the driving win,” DuBois said. “The horse I won with last year was my own. My uncle was the trainer, my grandfather was the owner, I didn’t have any of those licenses yet. These horses I don’t own so it’s kind of different.” Wil enjoys climbing in the sulky, but realizes his size limits what he can do. “I like messing around in the amateurs and stuff,” he said. “If I ever get down (in weight) to drive later, I’d love to drive.” “I think he’s good at both driving and training,” Todd said. “It’s his dream to be a driver, but there’s not many 6-2 guys out there. Jason Bartlett is 6-2 but he’s a beanpole. Wil’s quite capable for being a driver, not just because he’s my son, but he’s got a good set of hands and gets along with the horses. He makes good moves.” DuBois’ immediate plans are to stay in Maine for the summer, work with his family and check out the racing in Maine and Massachusetts. He feels “the fair season up here is always the best. It’s peaceful, everybody knows each other. It’s a fun atmosphere.” He and Todd also know that for Wil to advance, he will need to move elsewhere. In the winter, he will see where things stand and is hoping to go to Florida “and learn some things.” Where he ends up depends on what kind of position he gets. “It depends if I get a job offer or if we can find somebody who wants to race down there,” Wil said. “If we can find someone who wants to race I would love to go to Pompano. If not, I wouldn’t mind breaking babies somewhere.” He has at least one guy in his corner who feels he can make it. “I think that he’s going to have a good career,” Todd said. “He’s a good horseman, he’s got a good set of hands. He gets along with them. He knows what he needs to do.” More importantly, he knows what he wants to do. “It’s all about keeping the horses happy,” he said. “This has been in my blood. I don’t focus on anything else.” A high school football coach and an older brother willing to give up his job and car can both vouch for that. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent 

Considering the Major League Baseball season is two days away, harness racing trainer Scott Mogan chose the appropriate analogy for Feelin Lika Winner. “He’s not the best hitter in the lineup but he always seems to come through in the clutch times,” said Mogan, who trains and co-owns the horse with Diamond Chip Stable, AWS Stables and Charles Guiler. “If it’s a 7-1 game, he’ll strike out. But if it’s a 2-2 ballgame in the bottom of the ninth, he’s the guy you want coming up to the plate.” He also sounds like he could steal a base or two. “He’s a very fast horse,” Mogan added. “Off the right trip for an eighth-mile or quarter-mile, he’s probably got as quick a burst of speed as any horse I ever trained.” As Mogan noted, he doesn’t hit for average, having won 11 of 62 career races. But he was a power hitter early in his career, blasting tape measure home runs each of his first two seasons. The 6-year-old gelding pacer was the Ohio Sire Stakes champion as both a 2- and 3-year-old, beating favorite That Friske Feelin both times. After being purchased at the 2011 Blooded Horse Sale for $16,000, Feelin Lika Winner has earned $278,796. “The sale was kind of short on the yearlings, both number wise and quality wise that year, but he was one of my top three picks,” said Mogan, who has a stable of 26 horses at Scioto Downs in Columbus. “I got outbid on the first two, luckily I snagged him for $16,000. I knew the family, and also conformation wise he was probably one of my top three picks that I looked at that year for pacing colts.” Feelin Lika Winner makes his season’s debut Saturday in the $20,000 Open at Miami Valley Raceway in Ohio. Kayne Kauffman will be in the sulky, as he has been for all but three of Feelin Lika Winner’s career starts. “He’s training down real well,” Mogan said. “He had an issue with a bone bruise and ankle as a 4-year-old. It was kind of a disappointing season. Last year he started off a little slow. He actually was as good at the end of the year as he was at any time.” The horse was shut down in December, however, as the trainer is not a big fan of winter racing. In fact, he limits most of his horses’ races, as 25 races in a season would be considered a lot. “I usually shut down from December to the first of March,” Mogan said. “I probably should have kept him racing, but he’s trained down very well.” The Lockbourne, Ohio, resident isn’t looking for big things on opening night, mainly because of Feelin Lika Winner’s mindset on the track. He’s pleasant in the barn, but cantankerous upon seeing a starting gate. “He’s a nice horse, a very fast horse, but he’s kind of a tough horse to drive,” Mogan said. “If he was a good horse to drive and you could leave with him and get position I still believe he’d be an open type pacer. You could turn somebody loose and know he would settle in and relax. He’d be a lot better horse. But to leave with him a few times, he’s a handful. “He can grab into you so bad. When he decides to grab into you, he can feel like he’s just going to run over the top. When you leave with him he gets really fired up. We duck him four out of every five starts off the gate.” For that reason, Mogan would rather have started him a little lower in class this season. “Unfortunately we have to go right into the Open our first start,” he said. “I’m not expecting a whole lot this week. But you never know. We’re always racing to win. We’re going to race him off the pace. And if they go fast fractions you never know, he might pick them up at the end of it.” Feelin Lika Winner always has the potential to surprise, just as he did by beating That Friske Feelin in two straight Sire Stakes finals. He got a second-over trip near the stretch as a 2-year-old and a pocket trip the following year. Kauffman was the driver both times, as he has shown a knack for handling a horse that’s hard to handle. “He’s a great handler,” Mogan said. “He can get a horse to relax pretty good. He’s done a really amazing job, not just with him but the rest of my horses. He’s been driving everything for three years.” Kauffman took over for the late Chip Noble, who was Mogan’s main driver for 15 years. The 56-year-old Mogan has been in the business since age 15 and has had a public stable since 1983. Until recently, he mostly dealt with younger horses and made it a point to try and have the same driver for every race. He and Noble teamed up on K F Pro Sam, Ohio's 2- and 3-year-old Horse of the Year in 1999-2000. The pacing male was typical of Mogan’s aversion to over-working his horses, as he raced just 60 times in five years and earned $635,578. “K F Pro Sam kind of set the bar for me,” Mogan said. “He built my house and everything else. But J J Hall is still my favorite. He’s still in my barn and will probably be in my backyard when he’s done racing.” J J Hall was Ohio’s 2011 Horse of the Year, also driven by Noble. Not long afterward Chip, who died of cancer in 2014, had some young horses with a lot of potential that he wanted to drive. He gave his friend some advance notice and suggested he might start looking for another driver. Mogan began to check out the talent in Ohio and found what he was looking for in Kauffman. “I tried to look for somebody a little conservative, like Chip was,” Mogan said. “Kayne kind of impressed me as much as anybody, as far as being as close to Chip as I could go and get. He started driving him (Feelin Lika Winner) as a 2-year-old and of course it worked out. “Kayne has been driving for me as much as he can. He trains a stable of his own so we have a few conflicts, but he’s always going to be the first choice for my horses. I guess the biggest thing is his loyalty. He stays pretty loyal to me. It’s kind of a working relationship.” As for how the relationship will work between the racetrack and Feelin Lika Winner this year, Mogan is staying fairly confident. “We’re just taking things as they come,” he said. “I have great partners, they’re very loyal. They love their horses, they like to come to races. We’re just hoping he has a good year. “Like I said, I don’t really think he’s an open type pacer. If he was more controllable, maybe. But we’re just hoping for a nice Saturday night, conditioned racehorse that they can come watch. Hopefully we’ll have a little luck, make a little money.” So there you have it. Play ball! by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent 

Harness racing driver Brady Brown had just discovered, very much to his surprise, that he was receiving the inaugural Walter “Boots” Dunn Rising Star Award. As he walked up to accept the honor, from Boots himself no less, during the annual Pennsylvania Fair Harness Horsemen’s Association banquet on Jan. 23, one thought ran through his head. Was it of fame and fortune? Was it of how many Hambletonian wins he might eventually pocket? “I thought about falling over, actually,” Brown said. “I’m like ‘Did they say the right name?’ It meant a lot, it was a good surprise. I didn’t know anything about the award going up there; that was their first one. “It was pretty cool. It’s a great thing, especially having Boots there presenting it to me; it was pretty great. But I was pretty shocked.” Unfortunately, Dunn passed away at the age of 85 a little more than a week after the banquet. Dunn was a horseman since the late 1940s and a U.S. Trotting Association director since 1987. He trained and drove his own horses, maintaining his amateur status and competing across eight different decades. He is believed to be the leading amateur driver of all time, with 1,152 wins to his credit. The 22-year-old Brown was named the first winner of the inaugural Walter “Boots” Dunn Rising Star Award after finishing fourth in the Pennsylvania fair driving standings last year. The Slippery Rock, Pa., resident won 72 of 584 races -- including 25 scores at The Meadows -- and $468,631 in purses. So far this season he has three firsts at The Meadows and his goal is to win more than 100 races between The Meadows and his fair drives. “I think that would be pretty cool,” said Brown, who has collected numerous seconds and thirds this year. Brady’s grandfather Robert “Brownie” Brown and father, Terry Brown, owned and trained horses so he grew up in the sport. He would do chores around the barn and jogged his first horse at age 10. “I went as much as I could to the barn; if I could get out of school to go, I went,” Brown said. “It’s just what I wanted to do.” He eventually hooked up with trainer Steve Schoeffel, who had a stable at the opposite end of the barn. Schoeffel had nearly 20 horses at the Butler Fairgrounds at the time. “I started going over to Steve’s side and helping him jog horses,” Brown said. “He had a lot of horses that were easy to jog, I started jogging for him and it went on from there.” Brady got his qualifying-and-fair license at age 16 but did not have a sterling debut. “Oh boy,” he said with a laugh. “My first drive, I think it was at the Butler Fair. I forget the horse’s name but no, I did not do any good with it.” Later that year, Brown got his first win --- in a dead heat --- with 2-year-old filly pacer Camerosa at Hughesville. After his junior year of high school, Brady caused a temporary rift in the family when he decided to drop out and focus all his energies on harness racing. He made the decision that summer, as he did not want to give up driving at fairs to return to school. “Neither of my parents were too thrilled about it,” Brown said. “But they’ve kind of gotten over it, through the years.” That’s because, as Brown said, his career has been “so far, so good...knock on wood.” Brown’s first win at The Meadows came in 2013 when he drove Luminosity to victory. “That one I definitely remember,” Brown said. “He was probably the best horse in the whole field. I left out of there, got the front in like :28.4, went a little fast to the quarter. Once I got him settled in and everything, he was fine. He was the best horse that day. I think it was a maiden trot actually; I went in 2:00 with him.” When he came across the finish line first, the feeling was more of relief than elation. “Just trying to get there, I was so close, I just couldn’t get it,” he said. “I finally got it on this one and I was like ‘Whew! It’s about time.’” Things have just kept getting better, resulting in a career season in 2015. Brady has gotten a big boost from Schoeffel. “Steve is a big part of the reason I’m where I’m at right now,” Brown said. “I’m driving and everything because of him. He cut me loose on some decent horses he knew, made me look good and helped me get drives down there at The Meadows. (Trainer) Rich Gillock has also been helping.” Brady called last year a “great year, a fun year” but he knows there is still much to learn. He feels that being at The Meadows is a tremendous classroom, considering 2015 national dash champion Aaron Merriman is a regular there. “He’s a helluva driver,” Brown said. “He’s a very nice guy, the greatest guy in the world to talk to, but he’s very aggressive on the race track, he can get a horse to go. He is very good. He can keep one alive. I just pay attention to him to see what he does with one.” Merriman is not the only guy that Brown watches. At the ripe old age of 22, he’s smart enough to realize he doesn’t know it all. And when there are guys like Dave Palone, the sport's all-time winningest driver, in the same race, Brady pays attention. “It helps out a lot, especially when you’re sitting there and you’re in the race with them, you get to see what those guys do with the horse,” Brown said. “You go down to The Meadows, it’s just totally different from the fairs. It’s amazing and it’s pretty cool you’re in there competing with them. “They’re tough on us. To be catch drivers down there, they’re really good drivers.” And Brown understands that despite his success last year, he still needs to soak up everything he can from everyone he can. “I’m not a person who says ‘This is my way, this is the only way it’s going to work,’” Brown said. “I watch everybody. I try picking it up and learning and see how things go. I’m not going to be a know it all.” One thing he knows is that he would like to get as many drives at The Meadows as possible. The only other track he currently has an eye on is Pocono. “I think that place is absolutely awesome,” he said. “They go some wicked miles out there.” Brown is not making any long-range plans. At the moment, he works for Schoeffel in the morning and then heads for the track. “Right now, I just like to drive and if things went the right direction for me being a driver, I’d stick with it,” Brown said. “I’m driving Steve’s whole stable. One day I’ll slow down and just go back to training horses.” The good news is, if he continues to garner more driving success, he already knows he won’t fall down if he has to accept another award. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent 

Trenton, NJ --- For those who don’t enjoy tears in their eyes or a lump in their throat, find another story. In providing full disclosure, the saga of harness racing owner Bob Tourangeau and his horse, Terrys Star Dragon, will pull at the heartstrings of anyone who understands a human-animal relationship. In a nutshell, Tourangeau successfully urged one of his mares to remain in labor for an extra 15 minutes in order to have a colt born on his daughter’s birthday. This obviously special horse had tremendous success his first two years and, for his own good, the owner sadly sold Terrys Star Dragon at age 3. Further triumphs and an emotional one-day reunion between Tourangeau and Terrys Star Dragon followed, until the horse fell off the radar. His former owner tracked him down, recently re-purchased him, brought him back to Maine and will spend a year getting the 11-year-old in shape before he returns to try and reach $500,000 in career earnings. It’s the kind of stuff old-time after-school kids specials were made of. It all began at 11:45 p.m. on April 7, 2005. Tourangeau’s mare My Radiant Star was in labor and there were 15 minutes remaining until the calendar turned to April 8. That happened to be the birthday of Tourangeau’s late daughter, Terri, who passed away in 1984. “I sat there with my mare and I said ‘Don’t you dare,’” said Tourangeau, now 77. “I was standing outside the stall and I’m saying ‘Hold on, hold on, you can’t do this thing until after 12 o’clock,’ because it had to foaled on the 8th. “I suppose I didn’t have to be melodramatic about it, but I didn’t want to be caught in the situation of him not being born on the 8th. That would have been the first time we would have had a horse born at the same time as one of the family members.” My Radiant Star and her colt obliged as he came out at 12:08 a.m. on April 8. Bob then had the pleasant duty of telling his three teenage granddaughters that they had a simple chore to perform. “We had them try to name horses for us,” Tourangeau said. “I said ‘This one will be easy for you, the horse was born on Terri’s birthday.’ They came back the next day and said ‘That was easy.’” They changed the I to Y in order to avoid gender confusion. Star came from his mare’s name, while Sweet Dragon was his father. Terry not only shared Terri’s birthday, he showed all the characteristics of a future star. “He was described by a trainer when he came out for his first qualifier as A-Rod,” said Tourangeau. “That’s because he’s such an athletic specimen. It was a great way to compare him to Alex Rodriguez because he was the perfect specimen of muscle, size, great conformation. He just looked the part.” Terrys Star Dragon wasted little time setting the tracks of New England ablaze. Trained and driven by Mike Graffam, he won six of nine races and $37,530 at age 2, and won 13 of 14 races and $96,514 at age 3, when he was the Maine Standardbred Breeders Stakes champion. Tourangeau attended every race and displayed his love and devotion by enrolling the horse in the Full Circle program, which provides contact information to the USTA to be shared in the event the horse can no longer be cared for by its owner or is in imminent need of assistance. But after Terrys Star Dragon’s second season, Tourangeau had to make the toughest decision of his Standardbred career. He and Graffam sold the horse in order to get him better races. “We wanted to give him an opportunity to race at a level we thought he could handle,” Tourangeau said. “He was only going to get better. He was a big, strong athletic horse who never missed a start. The most difficult aspect for me is that I’m on the board of the Maine (Standardbred) Breeders and Owners Association, and we want to keep the best horses in the state of Maine.” Part of true love, however, is giving the one you love what is best for them, regardless of how badly it hurts. “That was a very tough decision,” Tourangeau said. “It was probably the toughest decision of all.” It was the right decision for the horse’s sake, as Terrys Star Dragon raced 196 times after being sold. He has currently won 56 of 219 races and earned $496,599. After selling the horse, Tourangeau watched every one of Terrys Star Dragon’s races on the Internet. Last April, Bob went down to see his grandson, Benjamin, in Florida and decided to drop in and see Terrys Star Dragon at Pompano Park. He had not seen the horse in seven years and, since he left Maine, Tourangeau believes no one called him Terry. “They had a nickname for him,” Tourangeau said. “I didn’t realize it. It never occurred to me.” When Bob and his wife entered the stable, the horse had his back to the entrance. Suddenly, a voice he had not heard was calling him a name he had not been called in seven years. How strong was the bond? “He came right over,” Tourangeau said. “That was the first time I’d seen him since we sold him in 2008. I was crying when he came over. I have a lump in my throat right now just talking about it. The fact that he responded to that name is, well, they say they never forget. He was an imprinted foal. I did the imprinting.” Saying goodbye was excruciating, as Bob wondered if he would ever see him again. He almost wanted to buy him back that day but thought better of it. Shortly thereafter, he did not see Terrys Star Dragon racing anywhere. It turned out the gelding had dropped a suspensory, which was the first injury of his career and led to a layoff. Tourangeau tracked down the owners, brokered a deal and bought his old friend. A network of folks then jumped in to help shuttle the horse back to Maine, where he arrived on Dec. 12. “I have to thank everyone who made this possible,” Tourangeau said. “Our horse community is genuinely a large family.” Graffam will return to train the horse as they take aim on the half-million dollar mark. “I put him back in his old stall,” Tourangeau said. “For the next half hour, the horse never looked at me, all he did was eat. I just talked to him, rubbed his neck and just watched him relax in his old home.” A very special couple reunited once more. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent 

Trenton, NJ --- One year after having to pull out of the Breeders Crown as the harness racing favorite because of injury, 4-year-old male pacer Always B Miki heads into Saturday’s eliminations at Woodbine for the Breeders Crown Open Pace looking healthy once more. It was a long road back, but not once has anyone tried to rush the horse back. It all started at last year’s post parade for the 3-year-old pacers, when Always B Miki was scratched after coming up lame. Considering he was the favorite, one would think there would be major disappointment in the horse’s camp. Think again. “You’re dealing with experienced horsemen, so our first thoughts were the health of the horse,” said owner Mitchel Skolnick, whose Bluewood Stable owns Always B Miki along with breeder Joe Hurley’s Roll The Dice Stable and Christina Takter. “There was no disappointment that we weren’t going to race that day, we were just concerned about the horse’s health. That’s not a cliché, that’s just how it was.” They proved their concern during the past year. Always B Miki had suffered a P-1 (long pastern) fracture and underwent successful surgery by Dr. Patty Hogan. But then, around four months later, after Jimmy Takter had taken over as trainer from Joe Holloway in February, Always B Miki fractured the opposite pastern while going out to train at the Meadowlands. “Dr. Hogan simply put four screws in each pastern bone,” Skolnick said. “Horsemen will tell you if you have any injury on a horse that’s the one you want to have. It’s repairable and when you mend, it’s as strong as before. You just need time.” Time and patience, which the owners had. Through it all, no one was worried about further return on investment from a horse that had earned $926,866 through 2014. “Not at all,” Skolnick said. “I’m fortunate to have partners who understand patience and that time helps a horse. We all would like to see the horse return, but nobody got anxious, nobody pushed him. “We waited for Jimmy to tell us when he thought he’d be ready. We have very experienced horse people involved with him. Dr. Hogan to Bob Boni to Joe Hurley; people steeped in Standardbred races. If you listen to horses they’ll tell you when they’re ready.” After making sure everything was working right, Takter gave the go-ahead two weeks ago and Always B Miki did not disappoint. On Oct. 3, with Takter driving, he dominated the field in a $20,000 Indiana Sires Stakes elimination for older pacers at Hoosier Park. He won by 5-1/4 lengths in 1:49 under wraps. After the race, Takter called him “scary good,” but at least one owner wasn’t going to let that affect his thinking going into Saturday. “I think sometimes we let ourselves get ahead of ourselves,” Skolnick said. “For me, I subscribe to what I’ve been told, let’s celebrate after we’ve done something, not before. Right now he’s headed to the Breeders Crown, and let’s see what happens after that.” The Open Pace features 14 horses divided into two eliminations. Always B Miki is in the second group, along with State Treasurer, who leads all older pacers this season with $857,607, Haughton Memorial winner Mach It So, and Doo Wop Hanover. The top five finishers from each elimination return for the final. Saturday's post time is 7:25 p.m. and the elimination winners draw for inside post positions 1-5 for the final. “We’re going into it very reserved,” Skolnick said. “When a horse breaks down like Miki did, or has an injury like that, every start you’re worried. It’s only natural you’re worried how he’ll go and how he’ll come out.” Always B Miki has shown enough talent over the years that his owners paid the $62,500 to supplement him to last season’s Breeders Crown. Skolnick said the price was worth it considering the horse’s ability. “I think that true horsemen all have a very high respect for Always B Miki and his ability,” Skolnick said. “I’ve heard from all the horsemen I respect and admire, who talk highly about his speed, how he presents himself, and that he’s a very exciting horse. When you hear that from people you admire in the business, it gives you confidence that you probably have something special.” Thus, Skolnick is looking for a good effort, not just from his horse, but all involved. “My expectations are that he races well, the field is competitive and he shows himself to be the best he can be,” the owner said. “I hope it’s a successful Breeders Crown for everybody. I hope it’s exciting, we get a big crowd and everybody talks about it all winter.” by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent   

Harness racing trainer/driver Verlin Yoder and Natural Herbie return this weekend to the site of their biggest win, hoping to come away with an even bigger score. Last year, Natural Herbie - owned, trained and driven by Yoder - prevailed over a talented field in the $250,000 International Trot Preview at Yonkers Raceway. On Saturday, the Indiana-based duo returns for the $1 million International Trot at the Hilltop. The International Trot features horses from six different countries, with Natural Herbie joining Creatine as the U.S. representatives. Canada's Bee A Magician is the 3-1 morning line favorite in the invitational event, which will be raced at 1-1/4 miles rather than the traditional one-mile distance. Post time is 2 p.m. for Saturday's first race at Yonkers, with the International Trot set for 3:10 p.m. approximately. "It is a big honor," Yoder said. "Two U.S. horses were picked and you are one of them, it is very humbling." Natural Herbie drew post No. 7 and is 8-1 on the International Trot morning line, but can't be overlooked in the race after having won last year's International Trot Preview in a world-record 2:24.4 for 1-1/4 miles. He is, according to Yoder, "a horse that loves distance racing." The 5-year-old gelding has won 27 of 63 lifetime races and earned $899,161. In September, he won his elimination for the Maple Leaf Trot at Mohawk and finished third in the final. Following an eighth-place finish in the Centaur Trotting Classic, he prepped for the International Trot with a 1:55.1 qualifier win on Sept. 30 at Hoosier Park, trotting his last quarter-mile in :26.3 to pull away from the field by 20-1/2 lengths. "We had a little problem after Mohawk, but we found it," Yoder said. "He had a little sickness. I was shipping from Indiana to Mohawk - that's 7-1/2 hours. But he had a good week, so I hope we're on the right track. We take him out and grass him. He likes to go out on the grass. He's feeling good and everything." While Yoder looks upon Saturday's race as challenging, he feels he is going in with a horse that has a good attitude, especially when it comes to going extra distance. "If he's good, he doesn't mind it," Yoder said. "He always trains two miles without stopping, and he's the only horse I ever had that liked it. It's a matter of having him healthy and sound and as far as soundness, he's been very good. We had some little health issues but he seems to be on the right page right now." How that confidence translates into results is anybody's guess, so Yoder is keeping his predictions low key. Actually, they are non-existent, as he will just let things play out. "You always have big expectations but you also don't want to embarrass yourself," Yoder said. "All the horses have the right to be here, so you don't know what is going to happen until the gate opens." Following is the field in post order for the International Trot with listed drivers, trainers and morning line odds: 1. Creatine, Johnny Takter, Jimmy Takter, 4-1 2. Papagayo E, Ulf Ohlsson, Jan Waaler, 5-1 3. Rod Stewart, Enrico Bellei, Jerry Riordan, 12-1 4. Timoko, Bjorn Goop, Richard Westerink, 6-1 5. Bee A Magician, Brian Sears, R. Nifty Norman, 3-1 6. On Track Piraten, Erik Adielsson, Hans Stromberg, 10-1 7. Natural Herbie, Verlin Yoder, Verlin Yoder, 8-1 8. Mosaique Face, Adrian Kolgjini, Adrian Kolgjini, 6-1 9. BBS Sugarlight, Johan Untersteiner, Fredrik Solberg, 6-1 10. Oasis Bi, Orjan Kihlstrom, Stefan Pettersson, 8-1 Note: BBS Sugarlight and Oasis Bi start from the second tier. by Rich Fisher

Trenton, NJ --- As youngsters growing up in Clinton, Miss., cousins Jordan Patton and Barak Patton would talk about harness racing in excited terms. Actually, they are still youngsters, as Jordan is 17 and Barak is 15. They’re even more enthused about harness racing these days as each got their first career driving win this past summer. And suddenly, the “sibling rivalry” competition is officially on! “Barak and I consider each other as brothers,” Jordan said. “Growing up, all Barak would talk about is him becoming the best driver in the world, so that made me want to see how it felt to go that fast. Barak and I work so hard together, so everything is basically a competition.” The competition started on make-believe horses that ended up taking a beating. “I can remember the days where we messed up race bikes acting as if we were driving horses,” Barak said. “I look at him as a big brother, he is my only brother. We both grew up wanting to be drivers.” As the son of trainer Freddie Patton Jr., Jordan was born into a family of horse trainers and drivers. As a kid he would clean stalls and harness horses, “but very rarely did I ever want to sit in the bike.” With his dad serving as his mentor and through his talks with Barak, however, Jordan got the driving bug. He plays football and runs track at Clinton High School, but horses are his main focus as he serves as second trainer to his dad. He has his fair and qualifying license and plans on getting his provisional license next year. Aside from talks with Barak, Jordan’s other big push into the sulky came from getting some success. “My first driving win wasn’t actually an official race, but it gave me a whole new look on driving at a whole different level,” he said. “That win made me want to become a catch driver and hopefully one day drive against the best. The first horse I drove was Shady Maple Fiesty, and at the time she belonged to Barak.” Jordan’s first official win came on July 13 at the Fairfield Fair behind the Calvin Harris-trained Cam Majic Shooter. Up to that point, Jordan had driven 28 times and finished in the money in 10 of those races. On the monumental day, Jordan had the second post and his initial thought was to leave and try to get the two-hole trip. “But as we were leaving, the horse inside of me never made it to the gate so that forced me to leave,” Patton explained. “As I was leaving my horse put in a few extra steps because I held her snuggly, so this forced me to loosen up on her. Once I did that she paced away from the field to put a good gap in between me and the horse that was second.” After the quarter, Jordan backed his horse down to let the field settle in his back, but driver Frank Affrunti quickly pulled his horse. “This made my filly pick the bits back up,” he said. “As Frank and I raced to the half I could see that his horse was getting weak so I asked my filly to go on a little bit more. After Frank faded away I called on my horse and she pulled away and we never saw the field again.” As he came across the wire, Jordan was surprised at the exhilaration he felt. “It wasn’t what I expected,” he said. “At first I thought I would (feel) normal, but once I had done it, it felt amazing.” Since then, one of his big highlights was driving in a four-horse race in which every driver was related to him. He is quick to thank Roshun Trigg and Harris “for putting me on their horses and I would like to thank all of my family for being so supportive and Marcus Miller for the tips he has given me on driving.” Patton hopes the win at Fairfield is only the start. He plans on making harness racing a career but will attend college classes in the afternoon so he will be able to drive at night. “I want to be one of Chicago’s top drivers in the next couple of years,” he said. And he hopes that Barak -- who yes, is often referred to as “Obama” or “Mr. President” -- is right there with him. Barak was introduced to the sport by his and Jordan’s grandfather, Freddie Patton Sr. “When I was only three years old my grandfather had race horses and I would sit in his lap and he would let me jog,” Barak recalled. “When I reached the age of ten he put me on the cart by myself. When I was 13 I started breaking horses and training them.” Barak’s aunt has him being home schooled online, so he has been able to help his grandfather train horses. It only took him two drives to notch his first amateur win. He drove in his first race last year, and in his first race this year (on July 29) he took first with Bad Girlfriend -- also trained by Harris -- at the Charleston Fair. In getting the win, he used some advice he got from Jordan’s dad. “I had the three hole and I went to the front so I didn't check up,” he said. “As my uncle, Freddie Patton, Jr. taught me, if I get to the front make them chase me and I did. After the half I saw a horse coming so I pulled my horse’s ear plugs so she could hear. In the last turn, a horse rushed beside her and she took back off as if she didn't like horses beside her.” That’s probably not a bad mindset for a racehorse. As he came across the line, Barak said “I was happy for myself, but more for the horse.” Like Jordan, Barak’s goal is to become a successful driver in Illinois. If both cousins get their wish, it could be a fun family rivalry to watch for in the future. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Trenton, NJ --- As a senior at Chrisman (Ill.) High School in 2014, Wyatt Avenatti finished second in the state in the 800 meters and also earned The Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette’s Athlete of the Week for winning the Danville Open Indoor Invitational. In his interview with the N-G, Avenatti said that in five years he will “hopefully be an assistant basketball coach in college.” A year later, those dreams have been slightly altered. “I’d like to be,” he said, “one of the top drivers in the nation.” The 19-year-old isn’t being boastful when he says that. He is, in fact, quite humble. He didn’t even reveal his impressive success in the 800 during an interview, prompting his dad, David, to take the phone and say ‘He’s way too modest to ever tell you this, but he was second in the state of Illinois in the 800 meters.” What Wyatt did note about his track background, which included running cross country, is that it has helped him working with horses. “It’s so crazy how similar they are -- running cross country and track, and training and driving horses,” Avenatti said. “With a lot of the training, what you want to do with the horse is the same thing as when you’re running yourself.” Whatever he’s doing, it’s working. Avenatti got his provisional license in the early spring and gained his first career driving win on June 14, piloting 8-year-old trotting mare Fox Valley Sienna to victory at Kentucky’s Players Bluegrass Downs. Wyatt had 11 drives before hitting the winner’s circle, which included a trio of third-place finishes. “It was a little frustrating,” he said. “I’ve always been an athlete and been pretty decent, so, taking (12) races to get my first win was frustrating but it taught me a lot on how to drive and how to race a horse.” Wyatt upheld a family tradition when he won with Fox Valley Sienna. The horse was trained by David, who also won a number of races behind her. Two years ago, older brother Matthew (now 22) got his first win driving the mare. “That was a pretty special experience, getting it with the mare that my dad and older brother both won with,” Avenatti said. “The fact my brother and I both got our first win on her really made it special. She’s been doing a great job for us. My dad won an Illinois stakes elimination a few times, he’s had some good success with her.” In his win at Bluegrass Downs, Wyatt went to the front at the half-mile marker and never looked back. “I knew my mare had a little more gate speed,” he said. “So I just leaped off the gate, got out front, and timed it out to just outspin everybody.” The Avenattis own a stable in Chrisman with more than 10 horses. It was a family business that started with Wyatt’s grandfather, Tony. “When he was a little kid he went to a county fair and decided he would race horses,” Wyatt said. “He waited until he was out of college, got a job, bought some horses and had some good success with them. He quit his job and started training.” David followed suit, as he graduated from the University of Illinois and then decided to work with horses full time in order to spend time with his four children. Needless to say, they got caught up in it. “It would definitely be odd not to have horses in my life,” Avenatti said. “No matter what, I always had a horse in the barn. My dad and brother and older sister would spend time out in the barn together, it’s always been a special place for us.” Wyatt began helping train horses at age 13 and even then he loved the excitement of being in the sulky. “I think I always wanted to be a driver,” he said. “I love breaking babies and training horses. But I really love driving.” He got his fair license two years ago and started driving fairs frequently the following year. Since getting his provisional license, he has won two more times since that first victory, all with Fox Valley Sienna. He has driven several other family horses, including one that his little brother, Lane, helps train. While he has mostly driven Avenatti horses, Wyatt is looking to expand. “I’m always hoping to drive horses,” he said. “I’m waiting for an opportunity to catch a break, get a couple good drives. Until then, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.” David Avenatti noted that both Wyatt and Matthew shoe their own horses and “do a real good job. They shoe them, train them, drive them. He’s a pretty complete horseman.” Which is a big reason why Wyatt, who also played high school basketball, has given up dreams of being the next Rick Pitino. “It would have been cool,” he said. “But I would rather drive horses!” by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent   

Trenton, NJ --- Sometimes it’s pretty amazing what an extra $1,000 can buy. William “Don” Cantrell has discovered that over the past five months after purchasing Classic Belisima at the harness racing Blooded Horse Sale in November. With trainer John Cabot surveying the horses, Cantrell called a friend who was there and asked him to bid up to $15,000. Cabot saw several pacers he really liked, but the more he looked at Classic Belisima, the more he liked her. “I called back and said ‘Go $16,000 because a lot of people stop at 15,” Cantrell said. “I was sitting in my living room watching the sale and the board rolled up at $17,000 and I said ‘Well we didn’t get her.’ And about that time the phone rang and he said ‘We got her, the board rolled back to $16,000.’ “So that extra thousand I told him to bid ended up getting us the horse.” And what a horse she has been. Classic Belisima enters Wednesday night’s (April 22) $30,000 Bobby Weiss Series final for 3- and 4-year-old female trotters at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono as the 2-1 morning line favorite. She has won eight of her 10 races this year and has won four straight, including all three Weiss Series preliminary rounds in which she competed. “There was just something about her we liked,” Cantrell said. “We’ve had a lot of luck racing fillies over the years; I’ve raced a lot of fillies. Before (Cabot) even looked at her, he knew the guy that had her and he was a real good horseman, so you knew you didn’t have to worry about anything and we decided to take a shot on her.” In her first race for her new connections at Dover Downs, Classic Belisima was driven by Corey Callahan, who sat in the back of the pack until the three-quarters mark and got beat by a nose. “That first night I knew we had a good horse,” Cantrell said. “She can race any way,” he added. “She’s been on the front end up there, and Corey Callahan says she’s awesome off a helmet. If you want to race her from behind, you can race her anyway you want to and you can drive her with two fingers.” David Miller will drive her in the Weiss final, where she will face off against Dress For Success, who has also won four straight. “That’s amazing,” Cantrell said. “We’ve been there three times, they’ve been there four, we never drew in the same heat. But we’re in it together (Wednesday). We feel good about it and I’m sure they feel good about it. We’ll just see what happens.” The owner feels Dress For Success will not be Classic Belisima’s biggest test of the year, if only because she has been predominantly racing against males at Dover. “It’s tough when girls race against boys,” Cantrell said. “That’s the bad thing about racing trotting fillies on the East Coast; you never get a race against the girls. All the races we won in Dover were against big, strong boys. “You never know about a horse race. It looks like a two-horse race (Wednesday) and somebody else may come out of the woodwork. That’s why a horse race is the way it is.” And Cantrell loves every minute of it. A retired basketball/football coach and athletic director from Johnson Central High School in Eastern Kentucky, Don got started “about 15, 20 years ago buying cheap claimers.” “It’s just a hobby for me,” he said. “I love a nice horse. I’m a retired teacher, I’m not looking to get rich. I just love to play with a nice horse.” He has a nice filly trotter named Golden Big Stick, who he owns with Mike Hollenback. Last season as a 2-year-old, Golden Big Stick won $172,120 on the Indiana Sire Stakes circuit. But of the eight horses he owns, Cantrell considers Classic Belisima the best so far. “I’ve had some nice horses, but I’ve never had one trot 1:53.3 before,” he said. “I really think this is the best horse I’ve ever owned.” He and Cabot have no solid schedule for Classic Belisima for the upcoming months. “Nah, we’re just going to sit down and take a look at it,” Cantrell said. “If there are some nice races out there we’ll give it a shot. We don’t have anything planned now, maybe take a couple weeks off after this. We’re just going to race through the summer.” And he hopes to watch that extra $1,000 investment continue to grow. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent 

Trenton, NJ --- In 2008, veterinarians Randy Hutchison and his dad, Robert, visited the Standardbred Horse Sale. It was the first time the father and son went to inspect and actually purchase a harness racing yearling on their own. Call it instinct, good horse sense or just plain beginner’s luck, but the Hutchisons were about to go on a nice little seven-year ride that ended last Friday night (March 13). They purchased a female pacer named Keystone Linda for $4,000, renamed her Holiday Shopper at the urging of Randy’s daughter Anna, and the mare proceeded to win 30 times and earned $403,649. That’s a pretty good bang for the buck, and it concluded at Miami Valley Raceway in Ohio with a second-place finish on Friday. “She raced well and she gave it her best, she didn’t embarrass herself,” Randy Hutchison said. “We decided that would be her last race because over the last two to three months we just started to see the number of races and miles she raced over the last six years starting to catch up a little bit. “We always said she’s been too good of a horse to just watch her go around the track. We were going to let her go out with some dignity.” The laid-back daughter of Camluck carried herself with dignity throughout her racing career, first under the training of Ivan and Duke Sugg, and for the last four years under Jeff Brewer. Ivan Sugg was with the Hutchisons at Harrisburg when the filly entered the auction ring. She was sitting at $3,000 and Sugg felt she was definitely worth that much. Randy and Robert bid $4,000 and had themselves a horse. “She had a good video and was put together well,” Randy said. “Some thought she was too small, but we have never really found that to be a huge problem. “We kind of have a certain standard we look for. Are they anatomically correct so they have the chance of holding up to the rigors of racing? We watched hundreds and hundreds of yearling videos. She just had something about her, she had the anatomy and athleticism we liked, and her breeding.” After the name change -- because Anna liked the name Holiday -- the horse began racing as a 2-year-old, started out decently and remained consistent up until her finale. “She’s gone strong,” Randy said. “Even last year she won 11 times. That first year, she had some races in the stakes program in Ontario. There were a few races where she really started to show her heart and competitiveness and we realized we did have something more than a regular horse. We thought she was just something that might be a little better than what we expected.” Actually, she was a lot better than expected. Some of her highlights were finishing second as a 2-year-old in the $92,000 Ontario Sire Stakes Grassroots final and racing in the Jugette in the Hutchisons’ home state of Ohio. “We like to race pacing fillies. That’s our goal to get to that race, and she got us in that race,” Randy said. “She didn’t do anything in it (finishing sixth in her opening heat). But just to be in there and being in that barn and being part of that was fabulous. All her sire stakes races in Ontario were great. Just really the whole thing over all seven years. And because she’s the first one we picked out ourselves it made it even more special.” Robert, who lives in North Ridgeville, Ohio, had been an owner for nearly 30 years before he and Randy (of Avon Lake, Ohio) teamed up for the purchase. They have bought several others on their own and have parts of six horses now. Holiday Shopper is the most successful of them all, and is also a friend of the family. “My whole family knew her, knew who she was,” Randy said. “For my dad for Christmas we had a painting of her done. She was the best horse (results-wise) we’ve had and she provided not only excitement, but a lot of great family moments with my dad and myself, my wife and my family.” Holiday Shopper raced primarily in Canada before finishing up in Ohio the past two years. She will now be a broodmare and the Hutchisons are hoping they might be able to race one of her offspring. One thing is certain, if she does as well giving birth as she did on the track, some good horses are on the way. Asked if they ever expected to earn 10 times as much as they paid for Holiday Shopper, Randy said, “No, never. It’s kind of one of those things, it just happened. You look at her winnings, she’s won almost the same every year, we never would have thought that. “I mean, she hasn’t won $2 million. But to us, she’s special.” by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent 

Trenton, NJ --- Jodee Sparks was just one race away from getting his harness racing driving license. And then it took him nearly 20 years to get his first driving win. But that’s the tale of the 43-year-old Linden, Mich., resident. Sparks left his life as a trainer to go off and make a living in his early 20s and returned to harness racing in his early 40s. After training 16 winners before his sabbatical, Sparks got his first win in the sulky by driving E W Fisher across the finish line on Dec. 13 at Sports Creek Raceway in Swartz Creek, Mich. “That was cool,” Sparks said. “You could hear the crowd cheering. It was exciting.” It was also a long time coming. As a kid, Sparks was tight with high school classmate Matt Maynard, whose father owned horses. “We were best friends,” he said. “And that’s what we did. If we wanted to go anywhere or do anything, first we had to go feed the horses or whatever.” Sparks eventually got a groom’s license and did all his qualifying drives by the time he was 22, but... “Back then you had to have a lot more drives, and when you got all those done, you had to rate a mile,” Sparks said. “I rated my mile and I was off four seconds. All I had to do was race the mile and they would have given it to me, so they said ‘Come back and do it again in a week.’ But I didn’t come back.” There’s a good reason for that. Jodee’s name had been put in a pool at the nearby General Motors in Flint. Just before he was scheduled to go back to race the mile, he got hired by GM. He hated to leave the horses, but really had no choice. “It was tough, but my parents and grandparents...nobody had a lot of faith in the horses,” he said. “It was kind of one of those sayings, feast or famine. They wanted me to go to a secure, good-paying job with benefits. “Sometimes I look back and wonder, ‘What if I hadn’t done that, could I have made a lot of money?’ But also, when I came back, I saw a lot of the same faces as when I left and they didn’t really go anywhere. Some did, but a lot of them didn’t.” Jodee started at GM on Jan. 26, 1995, and for the next 15 years didn’t think much about the horse business. “I never even went to the track or did any gambling,” he said. “Back in the day the Detroit papers put the results and entries in there, so I kind of looked at them, it was in the back of my mind for a while.” Instead, he embarked on a racquetball career and was club champion just before returning to racing. One day Jodee ran into Matt Maynard’s wife at the grocery store, the two re-connected “and it fired me back up.” “Matt had a lot to do with me getting back in it,” Sparks said. “He had a farm at his house. I was laid off, I (bought) a horse (Imadragon) and I was able to go to his farm all the time and hang out with him. It was cool doing that, I dug it.” A year later, Maynard gave Imadragon to another trainer but she withdrew after a year. Jodee then moved the horse to trainer Joe Cirasuola’s farm and began training Imadragon himself. “Joe’s one of the best trainers in Michigan, he’s like a horse genius,” Sparks said. “It was kind of like a horse apprenticeship working there.” It was also the start of a great friendship. Cirasuola hired Jodee’s wife Amanda as a groom, and the two are at the farm every day. “It’s a lot of fun and a great experience,” Sparks said. “Joe has really played a big role in getting me on the track. He said he was going to buy me a set of winter colors for Christmas and he surprised me with the winter colors, a winter training suit and a set of summer colors. “He also gave me qualifying drives and deserves a lot of credit. He’s been very good to me and my family and I’m very grateful to be part of his program.” Sparks completed his drives to get his license at the end of the 2013 meet at Sports Creek. He was unable to use it at first and wanted to get some drives in for fear he would lose it if he remained idle. It should come as no surprise that Cirasuola provided Sparks with his first winning mount. “E W Fisher was a really nice horse, just coming back off a layoff,” Sparks said. “He made a lot of money the year before. He’s a classy old horse (whose last three starts have been at Woodbine -- all wins).” The horse entered the race at Sports Creek as the favorite, which put a little pressure on the driver. “More than anything I didn’t want to mess up,” Sparks said. “A lot happens out there, it’s pretty intense when all the horses are around you. “They just let me go to the front and no one really challenged me. They came at me the last turn, one guy got up to my wheel, but the horse turned it on and drew off on him and we won by seven. I had a two length lead the whole race, kind of hung in there and more than anything worried about not screwing it up.” He didn’t screw it up, and his return to harness racing is heating up. He is currently training one horse owned by his mother-in-law and is hoping to pick up some more drives if possible (he had eight in 2014). “I don’t know who’s going to put me up,” he said. “I’m kind of old to start a driving career, but I’ll take whatever comes my way. There is no pressure on me to drive to make a living. I make a pretty good living.” His seniority date at GM is on Jan. 26 and he is hoping to retire from there after 10 more years and spend more time with the horses. “I never thought I would get this involved again,” he said. “If I could financially do this I would do it every day. It’s more exciting than building trucks. GM is a pressure cooker in there anymore. I come out here to the farm and I enjoy it around all the horses. It’s like a big playground for me.” by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent    Courtesy of the USTA news website

Trenton, NJ --- For Caleb Uhrig, Turtle Gone Wild was a project worth working on. Just 22, Uhrig watched his 2-year-old pace to victory at the Darke County Fair in Greenville, Ohio, on Aug. 21. It was the first win for Caleb and the first for Turtle Gone Wild. Uhrig has watched two other horses he trains visit the winner’s circle four times since then, but that first one will always have a distinctive joy to it. “That was a pretty special day,” Uhrig said. “I had broke that horse as a baby, he was kind of my little project. We bought him and we got him real cheap ($1,000) out of the (Blooded Horse) sale and he was super easy and automatic all through, from breaking him and training him down. “He had raced a couple times at the big tracks, and was racing really well, but never had much racing luck. We decided they were having a maiden pace (at Greenville) for 2-year-olds, we might as well try him there and it worked out great. That was my first training win and his first lifetime win. It’s kind of special taking my first real horse from square one to his first win and my first win.” Caleb got his second win two races later with Hoosier Shooter, and has added three more victories with Mantaculater. The most recent came Dec. 11 at Hollywood Gaming Dayton Raceway, but the pacer's Nov. 6 triumph at Northfield Park also had special meaning because it was Uhrig’s first pari-mutuel win. “It was exciting,” he said. “I guess you could call him another project. We got him pretty cheap, we worked hard with him.” The original plan was to race Mantaculater at Dayton, since it was only an hour away from Uhrig’s stable in Frankfort. But he was not quite ready for the speed at Dayton, so Caleb decided to make the three-hour trip to Northfield. “He fit with a lot of conditions at Northfield, so we took him up there and it worked out pretty well for him,” Uhrig said. “We raced him there three or four times. We got a check there every other time, it helped pay for the trip I guess. “It was an exciting win because we had worked pretty hard on him and that made the work worthwhile.” Uhrig is hoping there will be more wins in his future as he plans on making harness racing his career. In just 21 starts as a trainer, he has five wins, two seconds and four thirds, good for $7,030 in purses. He has no intentions of driving. “Nah,” he said. “I have all these good drivers to choose from. I might as well stick with what I’m good at.” Growing up in Chillicothe, Ohio, his family had Quarter horses and was big into barrel racing. There would be constant weekends of competition and, while in high school, Caleb met trainer Steve Carter and worked with him part-time. Once he graduated, the job went to full-time and things began to escalate. “I learned a lot from Steve; I’ve always tried to watch different trainers and what they do,” Uhrig said. “I was fortunate, I started out grooming horses for Steve and in a sense got promoted and the last year I was training. “I got to break a lot of babies and train down a lot of good racehorses and learned the things that didn’t work and did work.” Uhrig was a quick study, and now runs a stable with his dad, Todd. He also works during the day with trainer Dan Ater, who has a stable 10 miles away in Clarksburg. “I’ve known him for years,” Uhrig said. “I was always begging him to let me stop in and watch the horses.” The Uhrig father-son team owns Mantaculater, Turtle Gone Wild and one other horse, but only Mantaculater is racing in the winter. Turtle Gone Wild is resting for his upcoming 3-year-old season and Hoosier Shooter was sold a few months ago. “I think Turtle Gone Wild is going to be a pretty solid racehorse,” Uhrig said. “He’s got a lot of class to him, he takes good care of himself, he’s pretty good gaited. We’ll take him through the ranks and see where he gets us. “He’s got a pretty cool personality to him, he wants to please you. He works hard, always wants to be around you and he enjoys his job. I hope that good attitude pays off.” Caleb makes no bones about what he wants. He is looking to expand and have a large stable and said, “I guess you can say I’m kind of impatient, I want it all right now, of course.” He feels fortunate to have a strong support system that includes his friends, his family and girlfriend Kristin McQuiniff. Despite his impatience, he’s happy with where he is so far. “I’m sure there are people out there who have been training for years and still want what I want,” he said. “I’m just going to continue to work hard. I’m blessed to be able to make a living with something I’m so passionate about. I guess I’ll just keep working hard and keep my eye on the prize and keep reaching for my goals, and hopefully that gets me going.” Sounds like a man with plenty of projects in the works.  by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent Courtesy of the USTA web newsroom

Trenton, NJ --- For most of her life, the extent of Shelley Johnson’s photography featured holiday and vacation photos, much like the rest of the world. About 10 years ago, her husband Jeff surprised Shelley with a point-and-shoot camera for Christmas, in hopes that nine months later she would be able to take sharp action photographs at the Little Brown Jug at the Delaware County Fair in Ohio. “I’m not sure what Jeff was thinking,” said Johnson, who lives 35 miles east of Columbus, Ohio. “I had never taken action shots. I took it as a challenge.” Jeff must have known something no one else did, because the challenge has been well met. A decade later, most of the cover photos on Scioto Downs programs are taken by Shelley, who has developed an eye for action and just this week enjoyed shooting another Little Brown Jug. But her efforts in photography go beyond the racetrack. She also shoots photographs for the New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program, which has Standardbred facilities in Ohio and Michigan. “I find great joy shooting photos of Standardbred horses retiring from the track and moving on to other careers,” she said. “New Vocations retrains Standardbred racehorses for various occupations under saddle and places them in new, caring homes. Each month I photograph these great horses going up for adoption. This is my way of promoting harness racing and helping the Standardbred horse adoption program.” While Jeff is the big horseman in the family, he did provide Shelley with a birthday present when he bought her a horse for her birthday named Master Chip in 2005. But it wasn’t like she just had to unwrap the horse at the stable. “I had to do all of my own bidding at the (Ohio Selected Jug) sale,” she said. “I had never been to an auction, let alone bid on anything. It was quite stressful. He didn't do much on the track, but I sure loved him. He has a good home now and enjoys life.” The Johnsons have also partnered with other owners on trotting fillies She’s Not Red and ML Cupcake, who are both broodmares now. They still have ML Cupcake, who was Ohio’s 2-year-old filly Trotter of the Year in 2010. “I can't wait until next spring to see her baby,” Shelley said. They also have a 2-year-old filly trotter, Carolina Charm, who has won four of six starts this season. “The racing was always Jeff's thing,” Shelley noted. “He knows horses, stallions, etc. I only enjoyed watching the races if it was a horse I knew. That's when I started taking pictures. It gave me something to do, and he was able to stay for the entire card without me wanting to go home!” It has led to a long, steady climb for the Ohio retiree who is technically a professional photographer by virtue of her sales, but still considers it a hobby. After receiving that first camera, she experimented on her feathered friends before horses, taking photos of birds at the feeder outside the dining room window. When she and Jeff bought their first horse, Shelley would try to capture him in action at the track. When she shot the Jug, it became a bit tougher as horses trying to win races traveled a lot faster than those being jogged and trained. “I took pictures, but they didn’t really turn out,” she said. Johnson kept plugging away. She took online classes for nature photography and equine photography. Neither dealt with shooting actual race action, but did help in the process. “I learned a lot about headshots and conformation shots in the equine class,” she said. “Also the proper distance to avoid distortion in the photos.” She also put in countless hours practicing at the farm of her friend Doris, who jogged and trained her own horses and taught Shelley a lot about the animals. But all the practice and all the talent in the world can only get a photographer so far without the right equipment. As her interest increased, so too did the quality of Shelley’s cameras. The big turnaround in her photos came several years ago when Jeff bought his wife a professional grade lens. “That’s made a huge difference,” Johnson said. “He even said if he had known the lens would make that much difference, he would have gotten it for me sooner.” She knew she arrived as a photographer when Scioto Downs made her a cover girl two years ago. “At that point,” she said, “I guess I thought, hey, I got this!” The monumental first cover came on June 21, 2012, with a photo of the entire field of a race on the starting gate, and an Ohio Lottery billboard behind them proclaiming “Winners Are Everywhere.” “It felt amazing to see it,” Johnson said. Aside from the program covers, she has had several photos in magazines by virtue of New Vocations using them. A week ago, Johnson was thrilled to see that one of her photos was used on the Scioto Downs billboard out front. She has discovered that she gets her finest results when not focusing on anything in particular. “I do my best when I just shoot random, with no pressure,” she said. “If I get it, OK. If I don't, OK. I will try to focus on a certain horse in a race if someone wants me to get a picture of their horse. That's hard though. The horse isn't always in view.” And as good as she has become, Johnson still feels the biggest key to her success “is probably just good luck.” “Most of the time I single-shoot the pictures,” she explained. “My camera doesn't shoot enough frames per second to use continuous mode. If I try to shoot in continuous mode and the horse has its foot planted on the track, it usually ends up planted in all of the shots. I like to try for shots with all four off the ground.” As for attempting to choose her favorite photo, Shelley said it’s like trying to pick a favorite child. She notes that when so many photos do not come out, “whenever I get one that I think looks good, I’m happy.” Judging by her success in recent years, Shelley Johnson has had quite a bit of happiness lately. To view Shelly Johnson’s work, check out her website at by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent  Courtesy of the US Trotting Association Web Newsroom    

Trenton, NJ --- When the Career Day recruiters show up at Westfall High School in Ohio during the next two years, Hunter Myers probably won’t need to pay them a visit. He has had his future mapped out for quite a while now. Myers, a 16-year-old rising junior at Westfall, drove his first Standardbred horse at age 5 and immediately fell in love. The Williamsport, Ohio, native is busy on the Ohio fair circuit and got his first win July 11 at the Jackson County Fair in Wellston. He added two more victories later the same day. After going winless in his first seven starts, Hunter entered Monday with nine wins, 11 seconds and 10 thirds in 55 races. His horses have earned $21,313 in purses, and he hopes this is only the start of a nice, long driving career. “I started off driving my first horse at around 5 or 6,” he said. “As soon as I started to grow up I said ‘I’m going to start driving horses. That’s what I want to do.’ “I’ve grown up in it, my dad is in it, my grandpa is in it. My dad owns some horses and trains some horses for his brother, Mark. I’d like to have a couple horses of my own but as I’m growing up driving I want to stick with the driving for a while. But I’d like to have one or two horses to tinker around with.” Myers still remembers his first time behind a horse, which came while he was jogging a horse with his dad, Michael. “We had this one horse, she was a nice trotter and easy,” Hunter recalled. “He took me around until the last two laps and stopped her. He said ‘She’s yours.’ I drove the last two laps and ever since then I’ve been going up. I jogged that horse, he bumped me up to another horse, then another. “My first training trip was in a cart, a 2:40 mile. It was nothing extreme. My first bike training trip was a pacer when I was around 8. I was little nervous to get on the bike for the first time and get behind the horse. You’re sitting in a jog cart and jumping to a bike. There’s a big difference, but I kept my cool and as soon as I turned I said ‘This ain’t bad. It’s like a jog in the park.’” Myers played baseball until the fifth grade and then decided to focus completely on driving. He is smart enough to use each stepping stone as a learning experience, starting with the matinees. He is also humble enough to let a horse show the way when necessary. “The matinees gave me a lot of gate experience,” he said. “I had an old horse, (11-year-old) Singapore Gambler. He was my first matinee horse, he knew what he was doing. “So it gave me the experience of being with a horse down inside of me, grouped up. And my horse more or less trained me. The horse told me, ‘We’re staying right here, and then we’re going back here.’ I could let the horse go.” Once he got his qualifying/fair license, Myers could not wait to start racing at the fairs. And while he did not win in his first seven races, he finished second four times. That led to a mixture of frustration and optimism. “I had to say I’m right up there, and I need a half a second and I’ll be all right,” he said. “At the same time, it bugged me sometimes when I thought about it. I’m right there, a little bit more oomph and he or she should win it. But I was happy with where I was.” It finally came together while driving Uptown Dreamer, a horse his dad is leasing. In looking at the program, Myers thought he might finish second. The horse quickly got to the front and remained there, although a challenge emerged from the outside on the last turn. “I was chasing (Uptown Dreamer) and tapping her, I was yelling at her, trying to get her faster,” Myers said. “I was doing everything in my willpower to get her faster.” Once he got across the line, Hunter said “I was hootin’ and hollerin.’ I had a big old smile on my face. It took a while to get the smile off my face, I was so excited.” He managed to refocus in time to win two more races on the day. “I just knew I couldn’t have a big head when I went back out there,” he said. “I just said ‘Calm down, it’s a new horse, I don’t know what’s going to happen.’ That’s what I did, and sure enough I won again.” As his career starts to build steam, Hunter credits his dad and veteran driver Jack Dailey as two of his biggest influences. “Jack always told me ‘I can’t wait to get you on the track to race against you,’” Myers said. “He’s a big ball of fun out there when you’re racing against him. I always tell Jack if he sees something wrong to tell me. “My dad is the one pulling me up and down these fairs. He’s taking me all over and helping me out. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be here where I’m at.” And he’s exactly where he wants to be -- taking dead aim on a career in harness racing. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent Courtesy of the United States Trotting Association Web Newsroom

Trenton, NJ --- If Sweet Rock were a businessman instead of a harness racing horse, he would probably be Warren Buffett or Bill Gates. He sure doesn’t take long to turn a profit. “You have a horse less than a week and it pays for itself,” said the horse’s new trainer, Wayne Givens. “That’s unbelievable.” This past Saturday, it was time to believe. Purchased by Vicki Givens' Legacy Racing of DE Inc., Reginald Hazzard II and Gary Calloway for $63,000 at the Tattersalls Summer Mixed Sale on July 27, the 3-year-old male pacer was thrown right into the fray on Hambletonian Day. With just one win in 20 lifetime starts, Sweet Rock went off at 92-1 odds and promptly won the $225,000 Anthony Abbatiello SBOA New Jersey Classic at the Meadowlands. Not a bad return on the $63,000 purchase just six days earlier. He had been trained by Larry Remmen, one of the top trainers at the Big M. “At the sale was the first time I saw him,” Wayne Givens said. “I went and looked at him, he seemed like a good solid horse. I went over and talked to Larry, and he said there was nothing wrong. “He was a good bred horse. He looked good in his last start at the Meadowlands and paced at (1:)50 and a piece. He’s only 3 years old and pacing in (1:)50 and he’s a (gelded) son of Rocknroll Hanover.” The fact Remmen had worked with Sweet Rock also made Givens feel pretty secure with the purchase. “They’re good trainers,” he said. “I knew the horse would be in shape and health wise he was probably good. When you buy good horses off good trainers, sometimes all you have to do is get lucky, and that’s kind of what happened. “There were no issues at all when I started to work with him. He was racing fine at the Meadowlands. Hooking up with his harness I already knew what the horse wore. He’s perfect; a nice horse on the track and a nice horse to go out and train. With him it’s all in the trip.” Despite going off as the second biggest longshot in the NJ Classic (Card Shock was 102-1), Givens had faith in the horse. “I can tell you the truth, I was hoping he’d get a check,” the trainer said. “I told my partners it’s not every day you’re in a race for $200,000. “I think the odds were so long because he had just changed hands. The Remmens had him until a few days ago. Plus there were a couple horses in there that people didn’t think anybody could beat. But it worked out perfect.” Givens handed the reins to Brett Miller, who admitted after the race he knew nothing about Sweet Rock. But he managed to take him from behind and worked his way through a crowded stretch as Sweet Rock won by a nose over Beat The Drum in 1:49.4. “Miller did an outstanding job driving him,” Givens said. “I think that’s what the horse needed, was a trip. He needed a real good trip and luck went our way. Things opened up right before the wall and he came on.” Although Givens has no solid plans for the horse, he said his next race will probably be the Tompkins-Geers at Tioga Downs on Aug. 17. He is also eligible for several other races but the trainer said, “I’m not sure about any of them right now. But we’ll show up at Tioga.” By then, Givens will have had more time to work with the horse, although he obviously didn’t need much time to turn a profit. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

The fact that trainer Nancy Johansson will make her Hambletonian debut against her dad, Hall of Fame trainer Jimmy Takter, is one of the big storylines entering Saturday's race. And while Johansson understands and appreciates the interest, it's not something that's really on her mind. Especially since, hey, there will be other trainers there too! "It's no different to race against him than anybody else," said Johansson, who trains Hambletonian starter Resolve, adding with a laugh. "It's a horserace, there has to be other horses in there. He's one of the top trainers with one of the biggest barns, so I expect him to be there." The two have teamed up for previous Hambletonian success, as Nancy was the caretaker for Takter's 2010 winner, Muscle Massive. She grew up learning the trade under Jimmy, who also won the 1997 Hambletonian with Malabar Man, having said in the past "I tell people that from going to my dad's 'school' I got a PhD in training." But neither wants to mix business with pleasure, especially when it comes to head-to-head competition. "We don't talk about it," Nancy said. "When we have family time, we talk about grandkids or other stuff. "But we're both very competitive. I think deep down inside, if somebody beats him he would want it to be me. But it's really deep down because he really wants to win first himself." And Takter has a good chance this year with favorite Father Patrick, along with two other highly regarded horses in the race - Trixton and Nuncio. This won't be the first time father and daughter pitted their Hambletonian horses against each other. On July 19, Resolve finished second to Nuncio in the Reynolds Stakes. Resolve has won two of seven races this year and hit the board six times. He has four wins in 19 career starts, earning $45,950. The horse is owned by Hans Enggren, who won the 1985 Hambletonian with Prakas. Enggren is looking for another shot at Hambletonian glory, which is why he bought Resolve just a few weeks ago. "He was pretty much purchased with the idea he was going to race in the Hambletonian," Johansson said. "Hans is getting up in age and he wants another go at the Hambletonian. He had seen the horse last year and liked him." Enggren saw him again early in the spring and liked him just as much, if not more, but Resolve was not for sale. When he was put on the market, Hans made his move. "We knew that if he raced good in the Reynolds he was going to the Hambletonian," Johansson said. "I didn't really expect him to race that good, so that was a good surprise. He's been solid all year. "He's a nice horse. I think he's going to mature into a nice older horse. He's not staked to a lot this year, so he's going to have a kind of low-key 3-year-old season." Winning the Hambletonian would certainly turn the key up a notch, and Johansson is happy with drawing the No. 1 post. But she was unhappy to see her dad's top horse get stuck in the difficult 10 hole. "The draw helped us, but I didn't like to see Father Patrick draw bad," Johansson said. "He deserves to win the Hambletonian because he's just such an extremely fine animal. With post 10, anything can happen. "I wouldn't be surprised if things shake out differently than expected, too." One of Takter's trademarks is trying new things with a horse entering a final. Nancy is unsure if that will be necessary with Resolve. "I don't know yet. We'll see," she said. "We changed a lot on the horse already. I think you have to be careful how much you change in a short amount of time. "I feel pretty confident we have him the way we want him. He trained absolutely fantastic (Wednesday) morning. I couldn't ask for a better training session than he had (that) morning. I don't really feel like there is anything we need to take care of. Everything feels very even keel right now. It's a good situation." And, as far as Johansson is concerned, a situation like any other when it comes to the trainers she will be facing in this race. Story by Rich Fisher for the Hambletonian Notes Team Ken Weingartner Harness Racing Communications  

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