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Chris Lems sent Fireyourguns ($4.40) to the front and never looked back, pulling clear on the far turn and winning by a convincing 6-1/4 lengths in Saturday (April 19) evening's $10,000 Miracle Mile 2 harness racing at Vernon Downs.   The five-year-old American Ideal gelding rated a :55.3 first half mile before getting good separation on his seven rivals, opening up a six-length lead over the pocket-sitting Sheer Brilliance through three-quarters in 1:22.3. Unable to keep up, Sheer Brilliance faded through the stretch, overtaken by eventual runners-up Stonebridge Master (Aaron Byron) and Western Trademark (Fern Paquet, Jr.) while Fireyourguns held his clear margin intact for a 1:50.2 win over a fast track.   Trainer Terence McClory co-owns Fireyourguns with Jennifer and Robert Lowe.   Three $4,000 divisions of the Anthony Farina pacing series co-headlined the card, with Medusa (1:53.3), Crew Dream (1:54.4), and Stony Brook (1:53.3) claiming victory in their splits.   Live racing returns to Vernon Downs on Friday and Saturday evenings this week, with first post on both nights set for 6:45 p.m. EDT.   by James Witherite, for Vernon Downs

Tracking from the pocket before unleashing a lethal stretch kick, Kelly Hope's Rocks N Bagels ($5.10) proved a dominant 1:50.4 winner in Friday (April 18) night's $8,000 Miracle Mile 2 harness racing event for distaff pacers at Vernon Downs.   The six-year-old Rocknroll Hanover mare drafted behind the pacesetting Asset Management (Fern Paquet, Jr.) before angling out in upper stretch, drawing clear for an 8-1/2 length win over a late-gaining Got the Munchies (John Macdonald). Rocks N Bagels turned in a :26.2 final quarter as part of a :53.4 last half in rein to Aaron Byron for trainer Jordan Hope.   The featured trotting event of the evening was an $8,000 Miracle Mile 2 event as well, with Jerry Clark's Jaipur ($4.30) kicking cover for a neck win over House Money (Roman Lopez) in 1:53.4 for driver Fern Paquet, Jr. and trainer Jamie Paquet.   The Catherine Burton trotting series kicked off as well with four $4,000 first-round divisions. Ray Schnittker trainees Indira Blue Chip (1:56.1) and Corsair Hall (1:57.2) prevailed in their splits, while Driving Miss Crazy (1:55.4) and Keystone Sadie (1:57.1) also proved victorious.   Live racing returns to Vernon Downs with a thirteen-race Saturday card, and first post slated for 6:45 p.m. EDT.   by James Witherite, for Vernon Downs

Strong attendance and handle numbers marked the return of racing to Vernon Downs last weekend, doing well to set the stage for the 2014 meet.   On-track attendance was up both nights from Opening Weekend 2013, while live handle was up nearly 5% per race from last year's figures. Additionally, the simulcast market showed up in earnest, with export handle figures showing a 25% per-race increase and a 14.1% overall increase this year from the first weekend of 2013.   "We were very happy with the numbers for opening weekend all across the board but especially the response to the 50 cent minimum for trifecta tickets," said director of racing Scott Warren. "Even with the lower minimum we showed nearly a 30% per race increase compared to opening weekend last year."   Horseplayers can feel confident in their wagers with the help of the new "Handicapping Resources" page on the Vernon Downs website, featuring detailed race analysis and trip notes at http://www.vernondowns.com/racing/handicapping.php.   After a strong opening weekend, Vernon Downs hosts two late closing series starting this weekend. Trotters contest the Catherine Burton series starting on this evening (Fri., April 18), while pacers square off in the Anthony Farina series on Saturday (April 19). Both series culminate with $10,000 added finals on Saturday, May 3. Tonight's card also features a free on-track handicapping contest, where fans can vie for a $500 top prize.   Post time for both the Friday and Saturday cards this weekend at Vernon Downs is slated for 6:45 p.m. EDT.   by James Witherite, for Vernon Downs

With Restless Yankee and MacKenzie's Bliss tussling early, Kelly Hope's Stonebridge Master ($5.10) had a fast pace to close into, looping the field in the final quarter mile for a 1:51.2 triumph in the featured $8,000 Miracle Mile 2 Pace at Vernon Downs on Saturday (April 12) evening.   The eight-year-old Artsplace gelding was in no hurry early on, sitting well off a pressured :26.4 first quarter, and even having a 12-length deficit at race's midpoint, where JK Panache (Truman Gale) pushed past Restless Yankee (Chris Lems) to force a :55.2 half mile. Midway around the far turn,   Aaron Byron angled Stonebridge Master off the pegs, and the Jordan Hope trainee's response was instant. Moving three-wide at the top of the stretch, Stonebridge Master gobbled up ground at will, taking over the lead in upper stretch, drawing clear to win by 3-1/4 lengths, and posting a solid :26.3 last quarter en route. Unicorn Hanover (Shawn McDonough) closed from far back to take second, while Moonlight Ransom (Jimmy Whittemore) rallied from last to finish third.   by James Witherite, for Vernon Downs

Coming off three consecutive wins in the Open ranks at Buffalo, Lutetium ($5.30) proved a gutsy 1:52.4 winner, taking a lifetime mark in the featured $10,000 Miracle Mile 1 Trot at Vernon Downs on Opening Night, April 11. The seven-year-old Credit Winner gelding stayed true to his past strategy, clearing and setting a strong tempo, posting a :26.4 first quarter before facing pressure on the far turn from a first-over Mc Tiny's Hope (John Macdonald). Lutetium responded strongly, digging in through the stretch to stave off Mc Tiny's Hope by 1-1/2 lengths in a dazzling 1:52.4 victory in rein to Aaron Byron. Mc Tiny's Hope held second, with the pocket-sitting Grey Ice (Fern Paquet, Jr.) staying on for third. Mark Laidlaw trains the 24-time winner for owner Colleen Girdlestone. Byron swept the evening's featured events, scoring an 8-1 upset win with Rocks N Bagels in the $8000 Miracle Mile 2 distaff pacers. in first-over fashion, beating a re-rallying Artic Byrd (Truman Gale) and the mid-race pacesetting Asset Management (Fern Paquet, Jr.) in a lifetime best 1:53. The Opening Night card paid tribute to longtime racecaller Jim Moran, who retired after calling the first race of the 2014 season. After the first race, Moran was recognized in the winner's enclosure by staff, management, horsemen, and local dignitaries. “We thank Jim for his many years of service to harness racing at Vernon Downs,” said Jason Settlemoir, Regional Vice President of Racing at Vernon Downs.  “We wish him nothing but the best in his retirement.” by James Witherite, for Vernon Downs

Punters will have an easier time aiming for a big score in trifecta, Pick 3, and Pick 4 wagers this season at Vernon Downs, as the base wager in all three pools has been reduced to .50 cents. "Although our export handle has increased 63% over the past three years, we still look for avenues to increase revenue," commented Vernon director of racing Scott Warren. "We have received a lot of feedback from our regular fans that attend the races live asking for the 50 cent Trifecta back. After discussion in the offseason, we took it a step further by changing the Pick 3 & Pick 4 wagers as well to hopefully grow the pools in these exotic wagers and give fans more bang for their buck." In addition to the lower base wagers, handicappers will have a wealth of information at their fingertips at http://www.vernondowns.com/racing/handicapping.php, with content-driven race analysis and trip notes made available for every race through the 90-program meet. For new fans, the How to Bet section of the Vernon Downs website explains how to read and interpret the program, along with some basic wagering strategies. Follow http://www.vernondowns.com/racing/racing-college.php for more. Opening night (Friday, April 11) post time is 6:45 p.m., and fans will receive a Race Date T-Shirt and Schedule Magnet (while supplies last). Longtime racecaller Jim Moran, who will enter retirement after calling the first race of the season, will also be honored throughout the evening. After the races, a spectacular fireworks display will grace the skies above Central New York's rolling hills. Then Saturday, Vernon Downs wants to help its fans pay off their taxes. With the April 15 Tax Deadline right around the corner, fans will have a chance to enter a contest to win up to $500 towards their tax bill. by James Witherite, for Vernon Downs

VERNON, NY--Twenty-five Standardbred horses took part in five non-betting races on Tuesday night (April 8) as Vernon Downs conducted its third qualifying session in preparation for its 61st season. An enthusiastic crown turned out for the track's annual Media Night festivities and watched 17 trotters and eight pacers try to convince the judges of their abilities to compete in pari-mutuel races at the central New York harness track. Ashton Seelster, owned by trainer/driver Gary Clark and his wife, Fay, turned in a brisk 1:58.4 performance over a "sloppy" 7/8ths-mile oval to earn fastest-mile-of-the-night honors. The bay 7-year-old horse is a son of Camluck and out of the Astreos-mare Angelina Seelster. Vernon will begin its 2014 schedule with a 10-race program this Friday night (Apr. 11) that will include five trotting and a like number of pacing events. A $10,000 Miracle Mile-1 trot will serve as Friday's feature in race two. First post will be at 6:45 p.m. Veteran announcer Jim Moran will end 52 seasons at the track after calling Friday's first race. It will mark his 50th year as the track's "race-caller." DOWNS DOINGS--Vernon will complete its opening weekend with an 11-race card at 6:45 p.m. on Saturday (Apr. 12)...Former Vernon horseman Jeff Tallarino has been named Presiding Judge for the track's 90-card campaign...A final pre-season qualifying program is planned for Friday morning. By Jim Moran, for Vernon Downs

In 1962, a young man named Jim Moran ventured from his home in Springfield, Massachusetts to central New York at the suggestion of his uncle Bud Hebert. Hebert, the Vernon Downs racecaller, would see his nephew assume the Clerk of Course position for that first season there. Moran then took on the role of assistant race secretary the subsequent season, and in 1964 would become the full-time announcer. Fifty years and 73,000 races later, Jim Moran will call his last race this Friday (April 11), as Vernon Downs opens for the 2014 season. In a half-century atop the Vernon Downs grandstand, Moran has seen some of the greatest horses, trainers, and drivers in the history of American harness racing through his binoculars. "We got to see Bret Hanover, who was probably my all-time favorite horse," Moran reminisced. "I didn't get to call Bret Hanover as a two-year-old, but the following year (1965) I did get to call his race. We drew 14,000 people, which was the biggest racing crowd ever at Vernon. He won the race, continued his winning ways, and came back as a four-year-old. He also had a world record time trial at Vernon." Fourteen years later, another young pacer graced the Vernon backstretch, and eventually proved himself as one of the few worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Bret Hanover. His name was Niatross. Moran continued about seeing Niatross develop as a two-year-old: "Then Niatross came along, and Clint Galbraith developed him on the Vernon backstretch. I crossed the paddock one night, saw Clint after Niatross had won a couple baby races, and said 'That's kind of a nice colt you've got there,' and he said 'Jim, he's gonna be something special.' Sure enough, he became Horse of the Year two times." Moran has seen many developments in harness racing through his time documenting the sport, namely in terms of safety and speed. "By taking out the hub rail and putting the plastic wheel discs on the racebikes, the sport became a lot safer, and in turn, faster through improvement of the breed and equipment," Moran explained. "In the first season at Vernon Downs there were only four 2:00 miles. Last year, 1,100 of the races were 2:00 miles, including two of the fastest miles ever here." In addition to calling a "Who's Who" of harness racing athletes, both human and equine, Moran has been feted for his efforts as a harness racing publicist and historian on numerous occasions. He received the North America Harness Publicists Association's Golden Pen Award in 1990, was elected to the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame in 2003, and was inducted into the Communicators' Corner of the Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 2009. While Moran looks forward to more time with his wife of 49 years Suzanne, their three children, and three grandchildren, he has every plan on capping his career at Vernon on a very high note. "There are things I'm going to miss about the sport, I'm sure, and as far as calling the last race goes, I hope I can still do the job like I used to. I've told people in recent years that I may not be as good as I once was, but I can be good once as I ever was, and hopefully I'll be as good once on Opening Night." by James Witherite, for Vernon Downs

April 6, 2014 - HANA Harness is pleased to announce additional sponsors (one new and one returning) to the 2014 HANA Harness Grand Circuit 'Shoot-Out' Handicapping Contest presented by The Hambletonian Society, DRF Harness, Meadowlands Racing & Entertainment, Northfield Park, Tioga Downs, and Vernon Downs. New as a Silver Sponsor this year is the Central Ontario Standardbred Association (COSA) which presently represents horsemen at WEG tracks. Returning for a third year of sponsorship at the Silver level is Red Shores Racetrack and Casino at Charlottetown Driving Park. As Canadian sponsors, their donations will be used to benefit Canadian Standardbred rescues. We encourage all followers of the handicapping challenge to visit our sponsors' websites by visiting the contest website and clicking on their logos. Sponsorship opportunities remain available. Tracks, horsemen associations, racing stables, and those vendors who market to the harness racing industry and/or fans are welcome to become sponsors. For additional information regarding sponsorship, click here. HANA is also pleased to announce the roster of handicappers has been finalized with the addition of Brian McEvoy. McEvoy, works for Harnesslink in various capacities. This will be his first appearance in a HANA handicapping contest and he will be playing for Horse Rescue United. The first leg of the 2014 Grand Circuit 'Shoot-Out' is scheduled for April 26, 2014 when the finals of the George Morton Levy Memorial Pace and the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series will be contested at Yonkers Raceway. A complete list of contest days may be found here. by Al Schott, for HANA

A trio of Truman Gale trainees sparkled in Saturday (Apr. 5) morning's qualifying session at Vernon Downs, with Ocean Mist turning in a dominant 1:56.2 effort.   The five-year-old Artiscape gelding registered a 19-length win in the morning's second qualifier, pulling well clear of pocket-sitting Newyrorkstateofmind in a sparkling :27.3 third quarter with Gale in tow before maintaining a wide margin on the rest of the field through a stretch headwind. Gale trainee Painite (2:00) turned in the fastest trotting mile in the eight-race session, with Artic Byrd (1:58.2) rounding out the "New York Night Train"'s dynamite trio.   Of 43 horses to face starter Mark Phillips in the morning's session, 36 met qualifying standards. Opening Night for the 2014 Vernon Downs season is slated for Friday, April 11, with first post at 6:45 p.m.   by James Witherite, for Vernon Downs

Trainer Chris Ryder is wagering that Road Bet is a good bet to be ready for the start of Friday's Artistic Vision Series at Meadowlands Racetrack. The 4-year-old pacing mare finished third in Monday's $63,000 Petticoat Series final at Yonkers Raceway and is getting ready to return to action in four days in the first leg of the Artistic Vision at the Big M. Road Bet races in the second of two $22,500 divisions in the opening round. JK Letitgo and American In Paris, both undefeated this year, headline the first division along with another Petticoat finalist, Hobe Sound. JK Letitgo, trained by Joshua Parker, is unbeaten in seven starts this season while American In Paris, trained by Ron Burke, is unscathed in four. Round two of the series is scheduled April 11 and the $75,000 estimated final is April 19. "There's always a little bit of a concern (coming back quickly) but she's doing well," Ryder said about Road Bet's turnaround time for the Artistic Vision. "I think she's going to go pretty good. I'm looking forward to getting her on the mile track and seeing how fast she can go." Road Bet has raced five times this year, all at half-mile Yonkers, winning three races and finishing on the board in the other two. She was purchased by owner Bill Donovan for $60,000 at November's Standardbred Horse Sale's Mixed Sale after winning two of 27 starts and $155,914 while racing predominately on the New York Sire Stakes circuit. Only twice has she raced on a track larger than five-eighths of a mile, with both those starts coming at seven-eighths Vernon Downs. A daughter of stallion Bettor's Delight out of the mare Road To Pandalay, Road Bet is a half-sister to stakes-winners Mypanmar and Pang Shui. Her half-sister, Pandalay Bay, produced 2008 Pennsylvania Sire Stakes champion Panmunjom. "Mr. Donovan picked her out," Ryder said. "She's been perfect since I got her. She's got no quirks - she doesn't eat Fruit Loops or anything like that. Nothing bothers her; she's got a real good attitude." In the Petticoat final, Road Bet finished a hard-charging third from post six despite being stuck on the outside for the entire mile. She was beaten by 1-1/2 lengths by Macharoundtheclock in 1:57. "It was kind of a funny race," Ryder said. "She was a little grabby, but she raced well. She just ran out of racetrack." by Ken Weingartner, for Harness Racing Communications  

March 23, 2014 - HANA Harness is pleased to announce the initial Gold Sponsors of this year's handicapping contest along with the handicappers and rescues they are representing in this year's event. This year's Grand Circuit 'Shoot-Out Handicapping Contest is being sponsored by prior year sponsors, The Hambletonian Society, Meadowlands Racing & Entertainment, Tioga Downs, and Vernon Downs. New this year to the Gold Level Sponsorship level is DRF Harness and Northfield Park. Thanks to the sponsors which have already committed, at least $3,000 will be distributed to Standardbred rescues as a result of this year's contest. Additional sponsorships, primarily at the Silver and Bronze levels. are still available. Whether a racetrack, horsemen's group, or a provider of services related to harness racing, HANA Harness welcomes your sponsorship of this contest. 100% of all funds are directed to approved standardbred rescues. For further information regarding sponsorship opportunities, you may send an email to allan@hanaweb.org. In addition to the initial gold level sponsors, the contestants for the 2014 HANA Harness Grand Circuit 'Shoot-Out' Handicapping Contest presented by The Hambletonian Society, DRF Harness, Meadowlands Racing & Entertainment, Northfield Park, Tioga Downs, and Vernon Downs have been named. This year we have a mix of handicappers of all age groups, from teens and up; some returning and first time contestants. Along with the names of the handicappers is their primary relationship to racing, how they finished in their last HANA Harness Contest (if competed before), and the standardbred equine rescue they are playing for in this year's contest. For complete biographies of the handicappers, you may visit the contest website for additional information. Garnet Barnsdale - Harness Racing Writer; Finished 6th in 2013, Rescue: TROTR; Therapeutic Riding and Off-Track Rehabilitation) Ray Cotolo - Internet Harness Racing Analyst and Writer; Did Not Compete, Rescue: Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals Ray Garnett -Handicapper; Finished 10th in 2013, Rescue: Rockin T Equine Rescue Derick Giwner - Editor, DRF Harness; Did Not Compete, Rescue: New Vocations Sally Hinckley - On-air Handicapping Personality; Finished 9th in 2013, Rescue: Sunshine Horse Rescue. Mark McKelvie - Handicapper; Finished 8th in 2013, Rescue: Rainhill Sanctuary. Rusty Nash - Trackmaster Handicapper; Finished 2nd in 2013, Rescue: Central Virginia Horse Rescue Dennis O'Hara - Handicapper, Former Asst Race Secretary; Finished 5th in 2013, Rescue: Standardbred Retirement Foundation Earl Paulson - Handicapper, Yahoo Harness Racing Forum Director; Finished 3rd in 2013, Rescue: Heading for Home Anne Stepien - Handicapper, Former Trainer; Finished 4th in 2013, Rescue: Heart of Phoenix Gordon Waterstone - Associate Editor, Horseman and Fair World; Finished 7th in 2013, Rescue: Racer Placers Brandon Valvo - Handicapper, Writer; Did Not Compete, Rescue: Changing Fates Equine Rescue Josi Verlingieri - Handicapper; Did Not Compete, Rescue: Helping Hearts Equine Rescue. Bob Zanakis - Ocean Downs Handicapper; Finished 3rd in 2012, Rescue: Horse Lovers United. The first leg of the 2014 Grand Circuit 'Shoot-Out' is scheduled for April 26, 2014 when the finals of the George Morton Levy Memorial Pace and the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series will be contested at Yonkers Raceway. A complete list of bcontest days may be found here. by Allan Schott, for HANA

Vernon, NY - Vernon Downs has named Michael Chamberlain their lead racecaller, as legendary announcer Jim Moran will retire after a half century in the broadcast box. Announcer Emeritus Moran, a member of the Harness Racing Hall of Fame's Communicators' Corner, will call his final race at Vernon Downs to kick off the Opening Night program on Friday, April 11. The evening, capping a 50-year legacy of Moran's describing the races at Vernon, will be a celebration of what Moran brought to the Central New York track, with a poster giveaway, tributes, and a meet-and-greet throughout the card. Moran's successor, Michael Chamberlain, is a 43-year-old New Jersey native who has established himself well as a sports broadcaster-in horse racing and otherwise-since earning a degree in broadcasting from Arizona State University in 1994. After a stint as the color commentator for the IHL Phoenix Roadrunners, Chamberlain served as the track announcer at Sam Houston Race Park for twelve years before assuming a similar role at Turf Paradise in Phoenix in 2009. He has also called races at Lincoln Race Course in Nebraska and Fair Meadows in Oklahoma. "I am incredibly excited to be coming to Vernon Downs," said Chamberlain, who will assume the microphone in early May after Turf Paradise concludes their season. "Succeeding a legend like Jim Moran will be difficult, but it will be an honor for me to follow in his footsteps."   With Chamberlain maintaining his winter base in the Valley of the Sun and returning to Turf Paradise for their fall opening, Tioga racecaller James Witherite and Vernon director of racing Scott Warren will describe the beginning and end of the Vernon meet in his stead. While he may be new to calling harness racing, Chamberlain has long been a fan of the trotters and pacers, and looks forward to bellowing his signature "They Are Off!" sendoff at the central New York oval.   "Coming to Vernon will bring me back to my eastern roots," continued Chamberlain. "As a Northern New Jersey native, I have always enjoyed harness racing and look forward to being part of it from now on."   Post time for the first of 90 cards at Vernon Downs is slated for 6:45 p.m. (Eastern time).   by James Witherite, for Vernon Downs  

The Meadowlands wishes to remind horsemen that a number of Meadowlands stakes have sustaining payments due by March 15. However, since the 15th falls on a Saturday this year, payments postmarked by Monday (March 17) will be accepted.   Also, The Meadowlands Pace for foals of 2012 requires a two year old nomination payment of $400 due by March 15 to make those horses eligible to race in the 2015 Pace. This two year old payment will permit a 30% reduction to the sustaining payments required next year at age three to continue eligibility to the Pace.   Please visit The Meadowlands website for forms and further information.   Tioga & Vernon Downs remind horsemen that stakes administered by those tracks have nomination and sustaining payments due by March 15. However, since the 15th falls on a Saturday this year, payments postmarked by Monday (March 17) will be accepted.   Those payments include the Empire Breeders Classic sustaining payments on the foals of 2012 that will race as three year olds this year, nomination payment for this year's two year olds to race in the 2105 edition and stallions that bred mares in New York during the 2012 season to make their foals of 2013 eligible to the 2016 race.   The Kindergarten Trotting Classic for freshman in 2014 and the complete slate of stakes for older horses also have a March 15 nomination.   Please visit the websites for forms and further information.   Submitted by the Meadowlands, Tioga and Vernon Downs    

TRACK USE BY HORSEMEN NOW LIMITED

There is a “grass roots” movement currently going on in harness racing, which is being led by two prominent horse owners, Richard and Joanne Young of South Florida. They have been owners in the Standardbred industry for 20 plus years. Joanne has been riding and showing Arabian horses for 30 years. Over the years they have had the pleasure of owning not one, but two world champion performers, Put On A Show (31 wins in 50 starts with earnings of $2.4 million) and I Luv The Nitelife (17 wins in 25 stars with earnings of $1.9 million) in addition to other stakes winners over the years. I Luv The Nitelife was recently announced as the Three-Year-Old Pacing Filly of the Year for 2013. They travel throughout the country to watch their horse’s race and are big supporters of the industry. Now the Young’s are on a different mission, one that has been involved in a series of hotly debated discussions for years but solutions have been far from being solved. The Young’s want every track and state racing commission that has harness racing to put a stop to drivers who over use the whip in races and take their feet and touch or kick their horse during a race. This all came about because someone did a blog on the internet last Fall, regarding the non compliance with the rules regarding kicking and whipping that woke Joanne Young up. The Young’s took the initiative and started asking and inquiring about the rules and regulations of various states. They sent letters and emails to major race and industry officials throughout the country and learned quite a bit. “I couldn’t tell you how many emails, letters and calls we made,” Joanne said. “ We got back some calls and about a half dozen emails and some of them were so encouraging. Most states have rules but track management and the judges need to enforce them and in some cases increase the fines and suspensions significantly so drivers will not abuse the horses as many do.” “Tracks and judges make their own rules and maybe give a fine after a couple of offenses.” Young said. “It’s like a slap on the wrist and some drivers may say it’s worth the fine to win the race because of the purse. Personally I don’t see why either method is used.  These horses are bred to race and I don’t believe that a whip or a “kick” does anything to make the horse perform better.  To those people that say the “kick” is nothing and does not hurt the horse, I say all you have to do is watch what happens to the driver’s leg when he comes into contact with the hock.  The leg is forcefully pushed back and looks like kicking.  So whatever you want to call it, it looks horrible and the public perceives it as abuse.  For that reason alone it needs to be banned.”  According The United States Trotting Association’s penalties that are suggestions as guidelines to pari-mutuel state gaming commission and racetracks are:  “The penalty for kicking as defined herein shall not be less than 9 days suspension.”  For excessive whipping the suggestion is, “The mandatory minimum penalty for a whipping violation shall be a fine in the amount of $100 and a 3 day suspension from driving for the first offense and for each subsequent violation the mandatory minimum penalty shall increase in the amount of $100 and 3 days (e.g. $200 and 6 days for the 2nd offense, $300 and 9 days for the 3rd offense, etc.)”  “These rules are a joke and everyone in the harness racing business knows it, because either they are not enforced or the penalty is too lenient.” Joanne Young said. “ We want to see a cohesive rule that states that the right hand remain on the right line and the left hand remain on the left line during the race and that the feet must have no contact with the horse.    “The penalty for not following these rules will be suspension for 2 months and a $5,000 fine,” Young continued, “or placement of the horse. We need to make the punishment harsh enough to stop the actions.  Of course an easier fix is just to ban both practices immediately. Other countries have rules in place and no kicking or one handing whipping is allowed or tolerated. If the owners/drivers/trainers lose money you can bet that the drivers will stop immediately. We need to bring some credibility back to this sport.” Jeff Gural, the prominent owner and CEO of three racetracks, the Meadowlands, Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs, wrote back and also talked with the Young’s about their quest and encouraged them with this scenario. “I met with the drivers before the start of the meet,” Gural said, “and told them anyone kicking a horse would not be allowed to drive at our tracks, period. No one complained. The whipping is tricky because to change the rule in NJ you need public hearings, etc. The drivers are opposed to this but we have implemented a temporary rule which has cut it way down, but I will back any effort to make the rules stricter.” Joanne has been in touch with the Ohio and Kentucky Racing Commission in regards to their recent rule changes.  She is also in the midst of trying to get a rule change on the agenda with the New Jersey Racing Commission. The Young’s also have had encouraging conversations with prominent owners, drivers and trainers who are on board with rule changes and harsher penalties.  Not everyone though wants to publicly share his or her personal views.  According to Joanne, this is due to the fact that the  “old school” of racing sees nothing wrong with the status quo and some fear repercussions.  “We had one judge,” Richard Young said, “Who actually said he had no problem with a driver touching the hock or flank of a horse when racing and that as long as a driver did not slash a horse with a whip, it was okay. He said horses are tough and can take it. That just infuriated us to no end. How can anyone, especially, a racing judge, say something like that?  “We want this movement to be in a positive light,” Joanne Young explained. “There is a public perception of abuse and we can and should stop it. It is an easy fix for the harness racing commissions to all agree to a cohesive and enforceable rule. I also believe the drivers would like the same rule for all the harness tracks making their job easier.  The USTA is going to be meeting this March. If you a proponent of banning the kicking and one handed whipping please voice your opinion with them or contact me. All we need is for the racing commissions to agree, and we can finally put this controversial subject to rest.” By Steve Wolf for Harnesslink.com

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