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Laurel, DE --- "He was good from day one." Though the pacing gelding Star Messenger has taken a new lifetime mark and earned more than $117,000 in the year and a half since he entered Gary Ewing's care, the owner and harness racing trainer takes little credit for his star pacer's success. "He likes to race," Ewing said. Star Messenger, the 7-year-old son of Jereme's Jet and the Run The Table mare Manhattan Killean, had a banner year in 2017, earning just under $80,000 and taking a lifetime mark of 1:50.2. He appears to be on track for an equally successful campaign in 2018, as he's already lowered his record to 1:50 and is now competing in the Open at Harrington Raceway. The Ontario-bred gelding first caught Ewing's attention in 2016. Star Messenger was a regular at Delaware's two racetracks, alternating between the conditioned classes and $20,000 claiming events. After seeing Star Messenger win a 5-year-old and under $20,000 claimer easily in 1:52 in November of that year, Ewing decided he wanted him in his barn. "He was racing good in claimers, kind of just hanging out, and I liked him," Ewing recalled. He claimed the gelding on Dec. 5, 2016, and has been his biggest fan ever since. In 2017, Star Messenger raced 39 times, winning eight races, finishing second five times and coming in third four times. He now has 29 lifetime wins and career earnings of more than $253,000. "Whatever's in front of him, he'll try to get by it," Ewing said. "If he gets close in the beginning I always think he's got a chance." So far this year, Star Messenger has won three of 16 starts and picked up more than $38,000. Ewing, who currently has a stable of five racehorses, says the highlight of the season thus far was the gelding's March 29 victory in the winner's over at Dover Downs. Star Messenger got off in the two hole and shadowed Sometimes Said through fractions of :26, :54.3 and 1:22.1 before making his move. Star Messenger crossed the wire first in 1:50 for regular driver Tony Morgan. "I think he could have gone around again," Ewing said. "He was good the week before and I thought he'd be sharp." The pacer, whose only noteworthy equipment change since moving to Ewing's barn is the addition of glue-on shoes at the suggestion of Morgan, certainly validates Ewing's decision to move from breeding to claiming. For decades, the Easton, Md., resident bred and raised his own horses, all christened "GE's" something or other. Ewing said that while he initially found success breeding his own horses, when it stopped being profitable he moved to claiming. "It's easier to claim one and race the next week than breed one and wait three years," he said. by Charlene Sharpe, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Aurel, DE --- In the fall of 2016, Carol Jamieson-Parker and her husband, Jack Parker Jr., certainly weren’t the only ones hoping to buy a harness racing horse at the Harrisburg Mixed Sale. They may well have been the only ones who picked a racehorse out of the sale’s broodmare entries though. The couple purchased NF Happenstance, a trotting mare in foal to Sebastian K, for longtime owner James Moore III for $42,000. “We bought her with the intention of bringing her back to the races,” Jamieson-Parker said. That probably doesn't surprise anyone who follows harness racing in the Mid-Atlantic region. It was the Parkers who campaigned the SJ's Caviar mare for much of 2014, the year in which she set multiple track records and earned more than $182,000. "Nobody gets along with her like my husband does," Jamieson-Parker said. In early 2014, the Parkers were looking for a horse for Moore. NF Happenstance, who was racing in a $15,000 claimer at Dover Downs, caught Jack Parker's eye. The owners agreed to sell her, and the mare won her first start with Parker in the sulky March 18. In just four months, she went on to win eight races, setting track records at Harrah's Philadelphia and Harrington Raceway in the process. She finished third in the Ima Lula series final at the Meadowlands behind Classic Martine and Bee A Magician. In late July 2014, Moore agreed to sell the mare to Harness Racing Hall of Famer William B. Weaver III. NF Happenstance went on to compete in New Jersey and New York, finding moderate success for her new connections as the Parkers watched each week from their home in Delaware. They noticed as the mare began to go off-stride more and more frequently. "She started making breaks and they decided to breed her," Jamieson-Parker said. The mare was bred to Sebastian K but ended up in the mixed sale at Harrisburg following Weaver's death in 2016. The Parkers were thrilled to see her in the catalog and advised Moore they'd found him a horse to buy. "The intention was she'd have the baby and we'd bring her back to the races," Jamieson-Parker said. And so they sent her to North Carolina to foal. On Feb. 12, 2017, NF Happenstance gave birth to a small bay filly, who Moore and the Parkers aptly named Pure Happenstance. Shortly after the filly was weaned, the Parkers drove down to North Carolina to pick up the mare. That was Sept. 15. On Oct. 11, Parker qualified NF Happenstance at Harrington, where she trotted a mile in 1:58.4. He qualified her again at Dover, and on Halloween, nearly two years after her last pari-mutuel start, NF Happenstance made her official return to the races. She finished second, following that up with a win the next week. She ended 2017 with two wins, one second and two thirds from eight starts. Her last start of the year, a 1:54.1 victory on Dec. 19, marked the start of what is now a four-race win streak. She's currently three-for-three in 2018. Last week, the 8-year-old triumphed in the winner's over trot at Dover, crossing the wire in 1:53.4. The mare's connections are excited about her success. "You don't know how much pleasure she's given us," Jamieson-Parker said. "Her coming back this second time is a dream." She's particularly happy to see her husband and NF Happenstance back together. Parker knows the trotter's idiosyncrasies -- her penchant for scoring down fast, her preference for little equipment -- and the two have picked up where they left off in 2014. "It just clicks between the two of them," Jamieson-Parker said. "NF Happenstance and Jack Parker are a match made in heaven."   by Charlene Sharpe, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent 

Laurel, DE --- With just a dozen 2-year-old pacing fillies eligible to the Massachusetts Sire Stakes in 2017, Wisconsin harness racing horseman Jesse De Long knew all along he'd send Delco Dusty to the East Coast to compete. What he wasn't sure of was whether she'd make any money. Three wins and close to $80,000 later, it's safe to say the filly exceeded his expectations. "I never thought she'd be a stakes record mare," De Long said. Delco Dusty is the daughter of longtime De Long broodmare Gypsys Good Girl and Jereme's Jet. De Long said he’d wanted to breed the mare to an East Coast stallion in 2015 and, at the urging of family friend Jimmy Nickerson, decided to let her foal in Massachusetts. “The program was building,” he said, adding that the previous year the 2-year-old pace had gone in 2:02. And so Gypsys Good Girl (Wuzzup-Expresso Gypsy) foaled in Norfolk, Mass., in May of 2015 and was bred to New York stallion Rock N Roll Heaven before heading home to Wisconsin with her young filly. It was there De Long decided to name her in honor of Dustin Deming, the doctor he credits with saving his wife Mary’s life after she was diagnosed with colon cancer. “At first they didn’t give her long to live,” he said. “She’s been clean now for almost two years.” While Delco Dusty was the offspring of one of De Long’s favorite broodmares, she didn’t particularly stand out training down early this year. De Long and his sons, who break and train about 15 head a year, followed their usual routine of giving her a few starts at Wisconsin fairs before sending her to Hoosier Park. There, De Long’s son John maintains a stable. “Actually my son said he had so many fillies he didn’t really even want her,” De Long said. “We didn’t think she was as good as some of the Indiana fillies.” He took her though and raced her several times at Hoosier Park. Though she was an impressive second in her first start, coming from ninth at the half to finish second by a neck, she struggled with sickness during the following weeks. She went on to earn three fifth-place checks before it came time for her trip east. De Long wasn’t optimistic when he sent her to Nickerson and trainer Heidi Rohr. “Her first start out there she was so far back it wasn’t funny,” he said. When Nickerson called him after the race, De Long figured it was to make arrangements to send the filly back to Wisconsin. He was pleasantly surprised by what his friend had to say. “He said she was super fast,” De Long recalled. He pointed out that she’d finished next to last and Nickerson assured him that regardless, she had speed. Delco Dusty went on to prove it, finishing third the following week before really earning some attention in the first elimination of the Massachusetts Sire Stakes. On Sept. 25, driver Greg Merton steered her to a 1:53 win at Plainridge Park, obliterating the previous track record of 1:55 for 2-year-old pacing fillies. She won in 1:54.2 in another sire stakes event the following week. After a fourth in a conditioned race at Vernon Downs and a third in an Oct. 23 sire stakes event, Delco Dusty ended her season with a 1:55 victory in the $90,000 Massachusetts Sire Stakes final for 2-year-old filly pacers last Monday (Nov. 6). De Long says the filly, who’s now on vacation for the winter, made it a memorable stakes season for he and his wife. Delco Dusty has also renewed his faith in her dam, who’s already produced several talented mares that will eventually be part of his broodmare band. “It’s a good old Illinois family,” he said. “We’ve had good luck with them.” by Charlene Sharpe, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Laurel, DE --- Clarissa Coughlin hasn’t seen Tough Love since 2005. That didn’t stop her from dropping everything to buy the 14-year-old pacer this summer. “I followed him his entire racing career,” Coughlin said. “He raced week after week, always in the money, always giving his heart. The longer he raced the more determined I was to keep my eye on him and find him a safe place to land after racing.” Tough Love, the Blissfull Hall son of Love N Touch, retired in July after an incredible 434 lifetime starts highlighted by 57 wins, 59 seconds and 59 thirds. Coughlin knew the gelding more than a decade ago. Her husband Jim broke the colt for Maryland trainer John Wagner. "We knew he was a special horse," Coughlin said. "He was easy to break, kept his mind on his work and was a pleasure to be around." She still recalls his gentle personality. "He was just so easy going and giving," she said. "He'd do whatever you asked of him." As a 2-year-old, Tough Love raced 12 times, winning five races and taking a record of 1:53 at Colonial Downs. Coughlin and her husband joined him in the winner's circle when he won at his home track, Rosecroft Raceway, and again when he won the Virginia Breeders Stake for 2-year-old pacing colts at Colonial Downs. Though he left the Wagner stable at the end of 2005, Coughlin continued to follow his career. While he found just modest success as a 3- and 4-year-old, he lowered his lifetime mark to 1:52.3 as a 5-year-old. That year, he raced an impressive 47 times, winning eight races and picking up eight seconds and 11 thirds. Tough Love really hit his peak as a 6-year-old, when he won seven races, lowered his record to 1:50.4 and earned $127,252 in the process. The pacer's success continued as he aged. As a 12-year-old, he won seven races. As a 13-year-old, he proved to be tireless. He went behind the gate 40 times, winning 10 races. He closed out his remarkable career with three wins in 2017, bringing his earnings to $589,263. While Coughlin remembers when Tough Love was a $50,000 claimer, she hadn't forgotten about him by the time he was a $2,500 claimer. "I have contacted some of his owners through the years to let them know I was interested in him after his racing career," she said. "During the past few years I have become more aware of the fate of Standardbreds after they can no longer race. New Vocations and the Standardbred Retirement Foundation have been ahead of the game in providing a second career for our horses." She'd planned all along to make sure the gelding found a good home once his years as a racehorse were over. She was crestfallen when she heard he'd been sold to a horse dealer in the Midwest this summer. She quickly began making calls, eventually locating the horse and arranging to buy him back for $1,200. New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program eagerly agreed to take him in and find him a new home. "We were thrilled we were able to get him," said Winnie Nemeth, New Vocation's Standardbred program director. She said he fit the program perfectly, as New Vocations focuses on taking in horses who have raced within the past year or so and retrains them to be riding horses. After some under saddle training, Tough Love is now up for adoption. He's advertised online ( as "charming" and "unflappable." "He's a typical warhorse," Nemeth said. "He's been there, done that. He was very easy to break to ride and he's remarkably sound for a horse that's raced as long as he has." She says New Vocations aims to "stand in the gap" to make sure horses like Tough Love end up in good situations after their careers on the racetrack have ended. "A horse like this is so deserving of a different career," she said. "We always like the warhorses. They have so much training and knowledge to offer. That's typically what adopters want, a safe, seen-it-all horse. We've had a lot of interest in him already." by Charlene Sharpe, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Laurel, DE --- In the summer of 1969, 16-year-old Doug Ballinger was at the Champaign County Fair in Urbana, Ill., to watch 3-year-old pacer Katfish race. Nearly 50 years later, it's still a race he remembers. Why? Roger Huston's voice. It was Huston's race call Ballinger heard as he replayed the tape of the race over and over. What started as imitating Huston as he called bike races at his hometown fairgrounds quickly turned into a passion. Ballinger is now wrapping up his 48th year announcing harness races. "Roger Huston was my big influence," said Ballinger, a Celina, Ohio resident. "Just hearing his call. I patterned myself after Roger." Ballinger says his first real attempt at calling horse races came at Scioto Downs when Dennis Nolan gave him the chance to announce during qualifiers one day. It just so happened Huston was at the track that day. "One thing led to another and he had me come to some county fairs," Ballinger said. In those days, Huston was calling races at more than 16 fairs a summer. As he began to accept announcing jobs throughout the country, however, he found himself unable to fit some of the Ohio fairs into his schedule. "I got my big break through him," Ballinger recalled. Huston asked him to call the races at the Darke County Fair in Greenville in 1974. Ballinger has done it every year since. "Greenville is a big tradition in Ohio," he said. Since taking over the announcing duties at the Darke County Fair, Ballinger has added numerous others to his list of annual racing calling events. These days he calls races 50 nights a year at usually 14 county fairs. He also fills in as needed at Hoosier Park and Hollywood Dayton Raceway. Photos courtesy of Doug Ballinger Parshall night at the 1975 Darke County Fair. Doug Ballinger is on the far right; Roger Huston is beside him. While he enjoys his summers on the fair circuit, Ballinger never wanted to announce full-time. "I don't know how these guys do it night in and night out," he said. "It's a strain on your mind." Since retiring from a career at Reynolds and Reynolds Printing Co. two years ago, however, Ballinger has plenty of time to enjoy his part-time announcing duties. He and his wife Nancy spend their winters in Florida and their summers traveling the fair circuit. Ballinger says the most enjoyable part of calling races has been forming friendships with people throughout the racing industry. As a young Sam McKee started his career, he'd cover for Ballinger when fairs overlapped. Ballinger also watched Steve Cross and Barry Vicroy, the announcers he helps fill in for, in their first attempts at calling races. "You meet so many great people," he said. He's also witnessed some exciting races. Ballinger -- who still remembers watching Gene Riegle trainee Jay Time compete in the early 1970s -- says the Riegle Memorial in Greenville is always a good show. This year's event, which resulted in a 1:53.4 victory by Sports Sinner, occurred the same evening Swing City set a 1:51.4 track record at the Greenville fairgrounds. This summer Ballinger also had the opportunity to call his first sub-1:50 mile. He was thrilled to be behind the microphone at Hoosier Park July 8 when Au D Lox Bluegrass stopped the timer in 1:49.2 in the Fillies and Mares Invitational. "I feel fortunate Steve Cross gave me that opportunity and fortunate for Roger Huston giving me my start," Ballinger said. by Charlene Sharpe, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Seaford, DE --- In late January, Delaware harness racing trainer Kyle Moore picked out a $15,000 claimer for his grandfather. A month later, that one-time claimer won the $27,500 Delaware Special at Dover Downs in an eye-catching 1:50. The pacer now boasts three wins in a row against some of the First State’s best horses. While the move to the top might seem sudden, it’s a return to former glory for 7-year-old pacing stallion Emeritus Maximus. The one time Little Brown Jug contender and Tattersalls January Select Mixed Sale topper has now won seven out of 10 starts in 2017. “He’ll probably be the nicest horse I’ll ever have,” Moore said. Moore, 29, trains Emeritus Maximus for his grandfather, Donald Marine, and Brent Hall. When Marine told Moore to find him a horse at Dover early this year, it was Emeritus Maximus (Rocknroll Hanover-Eternity's Delight) that caught the trainer’s eye. “I remembered him from when he was a 2- and 3-year-old,” Moore said. In those days, Emeritus Maximus, who sold for $20,000 as a yearling, traveled the stakes circuit, competing against the likes of Captaintreacherous, Vegas Vacation and Sunshine Beach. At the start of his 4-year-old season, Emeritus Maximus made headlines when he sold for $248,000 at the Tattersalls January Select Mixed Sale. While he went on to make $107,200 as a 4-year-old, taking a record of 1:49.3 at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, Emeritus Maximus raced just three times as a 5-year-old and just 13 times as a 6-year-old. He won two races during that time. Nevertheless, Moore knew the pacer represented class when he saw him among the $10,000 claiming ranks at Dover. When Emeritus Maximus made it to the winner’s circle with a come-from-behind victory in 1:52.3, Moore knew he wanted him. Marine, undeterred by an increased $15,000 price tag the following week, claimed Emeritus Maximus on Thursday (Jan. 19). “I gave him off Friday and jogged him Saturday. I was expecting him to be lame,” Moore said, pointing out a scar on the pacer’s knee and recalling rumors of a broken coffin bone. “It turns out he’s the soundest horse in the barn.” Whatever injuries the horse may have sustained in the past, Moore says they’re not bothering him now. Opting not to put Emeritus Maximus back in a claimer, Moore moved him to a non-winners class at Dover in late January. After a third place finish in his first start for the Moore stable, Emeritus Maximus made it to the winner’s circle on Feb. 2 when Yannick Gingras steered him to a 1:52.3 win. He followed that up with an impressive first-over victory in 1:51.4 the next week. Moore says the pacer’s confidence has increased each week. In his first appearance in the Delaware Special, Emeritus Maximus cut the mile but got edged out in the final strides, finishing second to Sweet Rock. The following week, Gingras opted to return to the first-over move the horse handled so well two weeks prior. As Mustang Art cut the mile, hitting fractions of :26.1, :54.2 and 1:21.3, Emeritus Maximus gradually made up ground along the outside. He won the race by a half-length in 1:50. Moore was ecstatic, particularly once he realized the win had been shared on YouTube. "After he won in 1:50, I said I don't care if he wins another race," Moore said. Of course he wasn't complaining when Emeritus Maximus overcame the eight hole and made it back to the winner's circle after another first-over mile, this time reaching the wire in 1:50.3, on March 2. The pacer made it three in a row with a 1:49.3 win last week. In his most recent victory Emeritus Maximus, again assigned the eight hole, left hard. Gingras, not content to settle in third, pushed the horse on, making the lead just after a :25.4 first quarter. Emeritus Maximus went on to set fractions of :54 and 1:21.2 before crossing the wire first in 1:49.3. "I think he's better first-up but last week he was gung-ho the whole mile," Moore said. "He never got a breather." While he admires the horse's talent, it's not the only aspect of Emeritus Maximus that Moore appreciates. Though the stud can be a handful during his daily jog -- kicking sporadically and coming to a halt abruptly whenever the mood strikes him -- Moore enjoys the playful personality the stud brings to the barn. "He's honestly like a big kid," Moore said. "He'll try biting but he's had plenty of opportunities to bite a finger off and never has." Emeritus Maximus will finish out the spring meet at Dover Downs but Moore hasn't yet decided what track he'll visit next. While he hopes the pacer's success on the racetrack will continue, he says Emeritus Maximus has already secured a future on the family farm. Marine, who has several broodmares of his own, plans to stand the horse at stud when his racing days are over. "He's got a home for life," Moore said. by Charlene Sharpe, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent 

Seaford, DE --- With lifetime earnings of more than $100,000 and a record of 1:51.2f last year, 5-year-old pacer Star Messenger looked like a good claim to harness racing trainer Gary Ewing. That is, until he brought the horse home and hooked him to a jog cart. “I thought I’d made a bad claim,” said Ewing, who has a small stable in Easton, Md. “All he would do was run around the track.” Ewing, who generally keeps a stable of four or five Standardbreds, was looking for a new horse toward the end of 2016. After watching Star Messenger, then trained by Jim King Jr., win a $20,000 claimer for horses under the age of five on Nov. 28 at Dover Downs, he decided that was the one he wanted. The gelding had left from post eight to cut the mile, winning easily in 1:52. “He was racing real good and I just liked him,” Ewing said. While $20,000 wasn’t a particularly cheap price tag, Ewing says he doesn’t mind the cost if he’s confident what he’s getting is worth it. After three decades of breeding his own racehorses, he’s come to the conclusion that it’s faster and easier to play the claiming game. “I’d spend $20,000 in a minute,” he said. “It just depends what they look like.” And so when Star Messenger was entered in the same $20,000 claiming race Dec. 5, Ewing went to Dover and officially entered a claim. The pacer left from post six to cut the mile again, tiring slightly in the stretch to finish third in 1:52.1. Ewing was pleased with the performance, however, and eagerly brought his new horse home. It was a couple days later when he first sat behind the pacer he started to question his decision. “He wouldn’t pace at all,” Ewing said. He was quickly reassured, however, after a conversation with the horse’s former trainer. “Jim King told me he jogs like that all the time,” Ewing said. “So I just kept jogging him.” He entered Star Messenger back in the $20,000 claimer the following week, putting Tony Morgan down to drive. Morgan pulled the gelding first over and he finished the mile fifth, pacing in 1:52.3. Ewing was encouraged by the fact that Morgan was impressed with the horse. “Tony Morgan said he’s a pretty nice horse,” he said. Morgan pulled Star Messenger first over again the following week. He got within a length of the race leader but was outperformed in the stretch, again finishing fifth. Ewing was just pleased his new charge was bringing home checks. An official year older on Jan. 1, Star Messenger was forced to move from the $20,000 claimer for young horses to the basic $20,000 event in his next start. Apparently he wasn’t intimidated by the more seasoned competition, as he earned his first win for Ewing on a snowy Jan. 5. Leaving from the rail, Star Messenger settled in third as race favorite Montana Pablo A led the field to the half-mile mark in :55.1. Morgan then pulled the right line and Star Messenger flew to the front, quickly going by Montana Pablo A to take the lead. He won the race by more than five lengths in 1:50.2, a new lifetime mark. He followed that up with a victory against conditioned pacers in a race for non-winners of $17,001 last six starts. Star Messenger made his regular first-over move to take the lead just past the three-quarter pole, crossing the wire first in 1:51.1. He missed his first check for Ewing this past week after facing stiff competition in the Open pace at Dover. “He’s been first over every week,” Ewing said, adding that the horse would drop back down in class soon enough. Ewing says the pacer couldn’t be any easier to care for, as all he requires is regular jogging and turnout between starts. He’s looking forward to seeing what the gelding can do the rest of the Dover meet. “He’s a real nice horse,” Ewing said. “He’s nice to be around and was well worth the money.” by Charlene Sharpe, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent 

Well-known Delaware harness racing stallion Tune Town, 24, died Nov. 18, 2016, due to the complications of old age. Tune Town, who was retired from breeding in 2013, lived out his final days at Safe Haven Farms in Ellendale, Del. "Everybody remembers him as the incredible racehorse he was," said his owner, Rhonda Owens-Whitehouse. Tune Town (Big Towner-Paris Song-Colt Fortysix) won 25 races in his six-year career on the track. He was the Dan Patch Award Older Pacing Horse of the Year and Nova Award Older Pacer of the Year in 1997. In a decade in the breeding shed, he sired 120 foals, 74 of whom made it to the races. Standout performers include Dina's Gamble p,1:50.3f ($521,507), Fine-Tuner p,1:50.1 ($184,814) and Tuneariffic p,1:50.2 ($277,511) among others. Owens-Whitehouse, who managed Tune Town's breeding career, said that while he was initially one of the most difficult stallions she'd ever worked with, they came to understand each other. She discovered the subtleties -- his interest in entering the breeding shed only after seeing a favorite paint mare, his penchant for strawberry Pop-tarts -- that made him easier to work with and came to appreciate his character. "He became part of the family," she said. "We spoiled him rotten." And she didn't even know Tune Town in his days as a champion pacer. Through the years, however, she's heard various horsemen recount his victories on the track. She said driver Ron Pierce even called to offer his condolences when the horse died. Tune Town, who was trained by Andrew Kovath for Anthony Cotroneo (they were also the co-breeders), raced 115 times and earned more than $1 million in his career. Though he didn't race as a 2-year-old and made just one start as a 3-year-old, between 1996 and 2000 Tune Town won 25 races and earned $1,097,390. Four years in a row he exceeded $100,000 in earnings, racing against horses like Western Dreamer, Red Bow Tie and Pacific Fella in the U.S. Pacing Championship, the Canadian Pacing Derby, the American-National and other events for older pacers. "He made a million the hard way," Owens-Whitehouse said. "He went sub-1:50 miles before it was hardly heard of." by Charlene Sharpe, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent  

In September 2015, Leonard "Buddy" Jones III and Kevin Fitzgerald were thrilled when the auctioneer called "Sold!" after their $1,400 bid for one of the harness racing horses going through the Chick's Sale ring. "We liked the way he looked," Fitzgerald explained. "Did we know what we were looking at? No. We didn't have a clue what we were buying." He's not exaggerating. Three weeks before the sale, the idea of owning a racehorse hadn't crossed either of their minds. Jones, however, received a call from a coach who wanted his daughter to join a particular softball team. Jones agreed to meet with him to talk it over. "I met him at Ocean Downs and we were betting on the horses," Jones said. "He had horses. He told me there was more money on that end than betting on it." That was all the encouragement it took for Jones to rally the support of Fitzgerald and head for the September 2015 Chick's Sale in Harrington, Del. Lucky for them, the horse they happened to bid on was Walton Shaw A (2002, p,10,1:53.1h, $301,884). Though he was nearing the end of a winless season, Walton Shaw A had what they lacked -- experience. "Everybody said he was classy," Fitzgerald said. The 14-year-old pacer proved it to them in 2016, winning five races and earning just under $20,000 for Fitzgerald and Jones under the guidance of conditioner Jay Shores this year. Though they initially sent Walton Shaw A to a trainer in Delaware, as that's where he'd been racing before the sale, Jones and Fitzgerald quickly realized they wanted to be hands-on owners. “It was too far away for us to go and see our horse,” Jones said. It was just a matter of weeks before they moved the pacer to a training center in Salisbury, Md., a short drive from both of their homes. Walton Shaw A earned a few checks at Rosecroft Raceway before the track closed in December. When the five-eighths-mile oval reopened in March, Walton Shaw A proved all he’d needed was some time off. Jones and Fitzgerald made their first trip to the winner's circle March 8 after Walton Shaw A made a huge three-wide move from the back of the pack to win easily by five lengths in 1:56.1. The older pacer continued to earn checks just about every week for his eager owners before earning a second victory May 3 in a $5,000 claiming race. He again came from behind to make a big move at the three-quarter pole, drawing off to win by more than seven lengths in 1:55. In June, Jones and Fitzgerald excitedly began racing Walton Shaw A at their local track, Ocean Downs. Classified as a C-2 pacer, Walton Shaw A put in a game effort every week but faced some stiff competition. His owners were pleased to see him drop down to the C-3 level in July. After a solid third-place finish July 22, driver Roger Plante Jr. put Walton Shaw A right on the front the following week. He stayed there, winning by nearly a length in 1:57. "We were tickled," Fitgerald said. Nevertheless, he and Jones didn't have high hopes the following week when Walton Shaw A was moved back up to the C-2 level. The pacer surprised them though, coming first over to win by 1-3/4 lengths in 1:56.1. "I didn't expect him to win," Fitzgerald recalled. "He went off at 22-1." Walton Shaw A returned to Rosecroft this fall and earned his 44th lifetime win Nov. 1, coming from behind as he so often does to win in 1:55.2 for Plante. He's earned a second and third since, and his connections are hoping to race him once more before he retires. They credit Walton Shaw A's success with getting them hooked on harness racing. They've already got two other horses and can be found at the barn more often than not. Fitzgerald, a school bus driver and mechanic who'd never interacted with horses, says he never pictured himself working with the animals. "I never thought I'd be into the horse thing," he said, "but I really enjoy it." He says other horsemen have proven helpful, providing pointers and advice when needed. He also credits Walton Shaw A with being the perfect first horse. "He made it look easy," Fitzgerald said, adding that even when the horse got loose at the farm he went right to his stall. And while the potential purses might have sparked Jones’ initial interest in harness racing, you wouldn’t know it listening to him now. When asked what he considers Walton Shaw A’s best race, it’s not one of the horse’s wins he mentions. “I thought it was when he went in 1:53 and finished eighth at Rosecroft,” Jones said. “That is impressive for a 14-year-old horse.” Though sorry to see his career coming to an end, Jones and Fitzgerald know they have Walton Shaw A to thank for getting to experience the thrill of harness racing. They say they have no plans of parting with the old pacer. "He's the family pet," Fitzgerald said. by Charlene Sharpe, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Seaford, DE --- One of the first people Roger Huston met when he arrived at the new harness racing Shenandoah Downs last week was 8-year-old Morgan Marston. “She looked up at me and said ‘I want to be an announcer too,’” he said. Little did she know Huston would make it happen -- the very next day. On Saturday (Oct. 1), Marston, with Huston’s help, announced her very first race, a qualifier at Shenandoah Downs. “For a first effort from an 8-year-old I thought it was unbelievable,” Huston said this week. Huston, who was a guest announcer at Shenandoah Downs this past weekend, was introduced to Marston by longtime trainer Betsy Brown. For roughly 20 years Brown has been training horses for owner Terry Kibler, who has a farm in Woodstock. Young Marston is Kibler’s cousin and has shown a strong interest in horses for years. “Morgan comes after school every day to help with the horses,” Brown said. “She is very hands-on. She jogs and trains on my lap.” Marston was eager to meet the legendary Huston and jumped at the chance to call a qualifier under his guidance. She showed up at the track Saturday with the qualifying list in hand. Huston gave her some initial pointers, advising her to say “they’re off and racing” because it was a mixed field of trotters and pacers, and handed her the microphone. Marston was nervous, and Huston fed her the horses’ names throughout the race. She announced the entire mile, however, even throwing in some phrases of her own toward the end. What impressed Huston the most was the fact that the echo of the P.A. system didn’t faze Marston. “I’ve never met anybody that didn’t have problems hearing themselves on the P.A. system,” he said. “They get that echo effect. Most people will hear themselves and stop talking. She went right on.” Huston says Marston is probably the world’s youngest race caller. Prior to her, the youngest person he helped was 14. And that person went on to become announcer at The Meadowlands. “Sam McKee started writing me letters when he was nine,” Huston said. He met him in 1976 and helped him call some qualifiers at The Meadows before connecting him with an announcing job at a fair. “The rest of his career is history,” Huston said. He strongly believes that adults should encourage and support young people who want their help. “You never do anything to put a road block up for them,” he said. “You help them as much as you can. You never know who you’re talking to -- it could be the next John Campbell or Tony Alagna.” As for Marston, Huston says she could have a bright future as an announcer. He’s looking forward to seeing her progress when racing returns to Shenandoah Downs next fall. “There’s no question in my mind she could be an announcer,” he said. by Charlene Sharpe, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent 

Seaford, DE --- The days of $500 purses and open pacers winning in 2:00 at Harrington Raceway are long gone. While much has changed at the First State harness racing oval, now home to a casino, there is at least one thing that has remained the same. You’ll still find Kathleen Cain manning the phone at the switchboard. Cain, 88, has answered phones at the racetrack for 45 years. “They’ve been good to me,” she said. “When you have a good relationship with the people you work with that makes it better.” Cain has been working at the track since her brother-in-law told her of the switchboard opening in 1971. “They needed somebody and he thought of me,” she said. Familiar with harness racing -- her husband Herbert had horses as did several other family members -- she took the job and has been there ever since. In the early days, she managed the track’s three phone lines and inserted the plugs in the proper places when calls came in. “We used that until they couldn’t get any more parts,” she said. Cain answered phones, distributed checks and even helped take entries when the race office was busy. She was there when the casino was built and has watched change after change come since. Horsemen have come and gone, purses have increased and race times have dropped. “It used to be if you had a horse go in 2:00 you had a good one,” she said. She remembers when purses averaged $500 a race and the track didn’t have a dime to spare. The only reason the track even got a fax machine, she said, was so that it could send a bill to an out of state horseman. “He was from New Jersey,” she said. “That’s why we got our first fax machine.” After more than four decades on the job, Cain said she hadn’t planned to come back this year but had been encouraged by her employer. Patricia Key, the racetrack’s CEO and president, praised Cain for her commitment to the facility. “Mrs. Cain has been a faithful employee here for many years,” Key said. “She has set the bar for dedication and reliability and her efforts are most genuinely appreciated.” She’s a favorite among the horsemen as well. “It’s so nice to go into the office and see a familiar face,” said trainer Pam Polk, who’s been racing at Harrington since the 1970s. “She’s always so pleasant and helpful.” Cain, who can see the racetrack’s lights from her porch, says in spite of the changes technology has brought to the switchboard she still enjoys her job. That’s because it’s the people she likes most. “The horsemen have always treated me with respect,” she said. “I like to be around them.” by Charlene Sharpe, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent 

Chris Sharpe and Alex Hawes' Quotable Quotes ($9.80, Montrell Teague) scored a wire-to-wire 1:52.3 win in the harness racing featured $16,000 Mares Open Tuesday at Harrington Raceway. The Charlene Sharpe-trainee and 5-year-old daughter of Well Said had control over the pace on the lead throughout the mile and held off Springforth and Hostess Lisa, who rounded out the trifecta, en route for her 12th career win. After winning just one race in 2015, Quotable Quotes has six victories already this year. Tony Morgan had three winners on the program. Ross Wolfenden and Montrell Teague each had a double. Matthew Sparacino      

When Matinee Dragon won the $20,000 Fillies and Mares Open Handicap at Dover Downs last month, the harness racing bettors who overlooked her at 56-1 odds weren’t the only ones who were surprised. Louis “Bill” Catana, who owns the mare with trainer Vincent Bradley, was shocked. Naturally he had faith in Matinee Dragon, but even he didn’t think she could go first over against the best mares in the state and win. “She really surprised me,” Catana said. “I was watching it on my computer at home. I was screaming so loud I woke up the neighborhood.” The Feb. 16 victory was just one of many for Matinee Dragon (Dragon Again-Play Ball) since she moved to the Bradley stable last year. The 6-year-old mare now boasts a lifetime mark of 1:52.4f and career earnings of more than $145,000. Bradley, who with his son Bart trains a stable of Standardbreds in southern Delaware, says the mare caught his eye last spring. “I liked her breeding and her build,” he said. "Dragon Again mares seem to get better with age and I decided to give her a try.” Catana didn’t hesitate to partner with him. “Vincent is very good at picking out horses,” he said. “He’s picked out a number of horses we’ve done well with.” Though he had his trainer’s license for some time, Catana, 76, leaves the barn work to Bradley these days. It was the trainer, he said, who encouraged him to get back into the business when he moved to Delaware from New Jersey. “Now we have seven horses,” he said. Matinee Dragon is proving to be the best of them. “She’s won 11 races for us,” Catana said. When he and Bradley purchased the mare, she was picking up checks in the Fillies and Mares $15,000 claimer at Harrington Raceway. Bradley wasted no time in dropping her in a race designed to boost her confidence. On June 9 of last year, Matinee Dragon made her first start for the Bradley stable a winning one, easily besting the competition in a Fillies and Mares non-winners of $1,501 at Harrington Raceway. She moved up the ranks from there, winning a Fillies and Mares non-winners of $3,001 the following week and a non-winners of $80,001 lifetime event for fillies and mares after that. Forced to move into the Fillies and Mares Open from there, just three weeks after her first race for Bradley, she proved she was a contender, finishing third and pacing a mile in 1:53.2 on Harrington’s half-mile track. Matinee Dragon went on to win six more races in 2015, competing against some of the best mares in the First State. She ended the season with $61,465 in earnings and a new mark of 1:53h. Bradley says she’s no trouble in the barn. “She’s a laid back mare,” he said. “Nothing fazes her. A child could jog her.” Since kicking off 2016 at Dover Downs, Matinee Dragon has again worked her way up through the conditioned races to the Fillies and Mares Open. Since moving into the top class in early February, the mare has missed just one check for driver Jonathan Roberts. In nine starts in 2016, Matinee Dragon has earned $25,065 and established a new lifetime best of 1:52.4f. “She’s done very well,” Catana said. “She’s probably the best horse I’ve ever had. I just hope she keeps going.” He credits Bradley with the mare’s success, and with convincing him to get back into a business he’s enjoyed since the 1980s, when he first started watching races at Liberty Bell and Freehold. “I love it,” Catana said. “It’s something that gets in your blood.” by Charlene Sharpe, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Seaford, DE --- Double harness racing millionaire and 64-time winner Golden Receiver is seeking success of a different kind this year as he embarks on his career as a riding horse. The renowned pacer, who came back to the races briefly last year after a first attempt at retirement following the 2014 season, is now an ambassador for the Starting Gaits Standardbred Transition Program. Mandi Cool, founder of the program, is excited about the interest a horse of his caliber will bring to the organization. "For us, having a horse in the program as well known as Golden Receiver grows attention to our program and what we are doing," she said. "A lot of owners are willing to send their horses to a program like ours when they are done racing, but not everyone knows about us and what we do." Golden Receiver, known throughout the country for his prowess on the racetrack, earned more than $2.2 million between 2008 and 2015. From 177 starts he won 64 races, finished second 25 times and third 28 times. Although he retired in early 2015, his connections brought him back to the races last summer. He went on to earn just under $8,000, racing for charity. The pacer, trained by Alexandra Berube, called it quits for good in September. When Cool got to know Berube, she began helping her find homes for several retired Standardbreds. "We have placed 26 horses for her farm and the owners affiliated with her," Cool said, "and still continue to place around five horses a month from this farm. Allie and I quickly became friends and I met one of Golden Receiver's owners, Nina Simmonds, through her." Simmonds knew she wanted to start riding Golden Receiver, as the gelding was clearly bored just sitting in the field. When Cool expressed interest in borrowing him to serve as an ambassador -- with plans to break him to ride in the process -- Simmonds was quick to agree. “It’s a win win,” she said. “She’s trail riding him and is going to show him to be an excellent example of the breed. Eventually he’ll come back and be my riding horse.” Though Cool won't be finding a new home for him as she does with most of the horses in her program, Golden Receiver will spend the coming year with her as an ambassador. She and volunteer Amy Buchert began working with him under saddle during the fall. Like most Standardbreds, she said he took to the new form of exercise as if he'd been doing it all his life. Because Cool's facility doesn't yet have an arena, Golden Receiver has done most of his training on the trail. "We are fortunate that our facility is located less than 10 minutes from a state park with lovely bridle trails," she said. "They have water crossings, hills, bridges, and all the major obstacles we like to break our horses to before placing up for adoption." For his first trail ride Golden Receiver was paired up with a more experienced horse. "Because horses are such herd animals, they are hugely influenced by the horses around them," Cool explained. "Taking a calm, experienced horse makes a lot of 'firsts' less scary under saddle and quickly builds their confidence." Though he followed his partner for a few minutes, it wasn't long before Golden Receiver took over the lead that first trail ride. Cool said he loved every minute of exploring the woods. She sent Simmonds photos and videos along the way. “The first time they put a saddle on him he went through streams and rivers,” Simmonds said. “He’s a tremendously smart horse and he loves having a job.” While he's getting in plenty of trail rides, Cool also plans to show the multimillionaire pacer in the coming year. He'll compete in a local show in March and later in the year she hopes to take him to the National Standardbred Show in New Jersey as well as the World Standardbred Show in Ohio. In his role as Standardbred ambassador, Cool says Golden Receiver will also make several public appearances throughout the year. Though the weather halted plans to bring him to the Maryland Horse Expo last weekend, he is scheduled to attend the Hoosier Horse Fair in Indiana April 1-3. Cool says she's also working with several tracks to set up visits. "We would love to travel as much as we can and bring him out," she said, "so we are taking inquiries and invitations from anyone that is interested." Showcasing Golden Receiver in his career off the track is expected to bring attention to the Standardbred's versatility as well as Cool's program. She said Starting Gaits has about 12 horses at any one time on its leased 30-acre farm. The nonprofit organization, which was founded in 2013, has placed more than 135 horses since then. “Our primary focus is providing off-the-track Standardbreds with new, marketable skills as riding and pleasure horses with the end goal of preventing the need for a rescue situation in the future,” Cool said. “We all know too well some of the alternative outlets for ex-racehorses; we just want to provide new skills and careers to as many as we can.” For more information look up Starting Gaits on Facebook or visit by Charlene Sharpe, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Seaford, DE --- While the holiday technically isn’t until Friday, it’s felt like Christmas all year long to the harness racing connections of Jingle Bell Rocker. The 5-year-old pacer is wrapping up the most successful year of his career with earnings of just under $40,000 and 16 wins in 2015. The son of Rocknroll Hanover-Blissard Of Oz took a new lifetime mark of 1:52.2 and nearly doubled his earnings from the previous year. “He just likes to win,” said Orlando Greene of the Les Givens stable. Greene, Givens’ second trainer, has handled the care of Jingle Bell Rocker since the gelding arrived at the Seaford, Del., farm. The pacer, who is owned by Tina Clark, is ending the year with a four-race win streak at Dover Downs. He kicked off the first week of the fall season at the five-eighths-mile oval with a convincing win in 1:53.1 and equaled that time in his most recent start. Members of the Givens Stable were particularly impressed with his latest victory on Dec. 10. “He won in 1:53.1 after coming first over against Rocknroll Jim,” Greene said. But was he surprised? “No. I expected him to win,” Greene said. “He felt good that week. He’ll let you know when he’s off.” Though the pacer found a fair amount of success in 2014, winning six races and earning slightly more than $21,000, Jingle Bell Rocker is a name that in 2015 has become synonymous with winning in Delaware. The pacer has spent more time in the winner’s circle than not this year, with 16 wins from 27 starts. In fact, he came full circle, winning his first start of 2015 back on Jan. 7 at Dover Downs and ending the 2015 season with a victory at the same track. He had plenty of success at Harrington Raceway in between. Greene says Givens made a shoeing change when Jingle Bell Rocker first arrived, replacing his aluminum shoes with steel ones, and that aside from that the pacer has required little special care. He jogs and trains him between starts and makes sure he gets plenty of time to himself in the field. The basic regimen appears to be working, as Jingle Bell Rocker -- a $5,000 claimer in 2014 -- is now beating $10,000 claimers at Dover. Greene says the pacer’s best race was his Nov. 30 victory. He started from post four and was eventually moved first over by regular driver Ross Wolfenden. He took the lead at the top of the stretch and won by a length in a new lifetime best of 1:52.2. Greene says the pacer has proven himself versatile, often winning regardless of the trip he receives. “You can drive him any way,” he said. His only complaint about Jingle Bell Rocker is the gelding’s tendency to occasionally make breaks. He recalls one race this spring when the pacer looked like a sure winner until a miscue at the head of the stretch. “It seems like it’s either a win or nothing with him,” Greene said, referencing the less than a handful of times the pacer hit the board but didn’t win. Nevertheless he and the rest of the horse’s connections are hopeful he’ll keep doing what he’s been doing in the new year. “He’s one of the most consistent horses in the barn,” Greene said. by Charlene Sharpe, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent 

Charlene Sharpe is doing what she loves to do   The full time reporter who works for the Dispatch newspaper of Berlin, Maryland is moonlighting, by showing and racing horses and is having a great time along with being successful.   The hardworking journalist also has written articles for HoofBeats and the USTA.   Charlene acquired "Don't Fool Me Now" an 11 year old by Camotion out of Philly Fantasy a Abercrombie mare last year when the owners gave up on her and turned her over to Charlene.   She rested the horse for a year converting the 11 year old gelding over to being a pleasure horse.   Along the way she found out that the gelding loves watermelon.   It is her secret weapon.   "Don't Fool Me Now's" attitude and disposition changed so much that Charlene decided to drop him in the entry box for a race at the Pocomoke Fair, Pocomoke City, Md.   On August 1st the 11 year old gelding won his race at the Pocomoke Fair.   The following week she entered him in four events at the National Standardbred Show scheduled for August 9th in New Jersey and he would ribbon in all four events.   The next night (August 10th) he was off to the races at Ocean Downs where he won his race wire to wire in 1:57.3 with the veteran Frank Milby at the reins.   Her other horse "Wynnfield Flash" that she also owns and trains won his race at Ocean Downs on August 7th also with Milby in the bike.   Both horses are in to go for Monday night August 17th at Ocean Downs.   "Don't Fool Me Now" is scheduled to compete in the Clarissa Coughlin organized Maryland National Standardbred Horse Show at the Timonium State Fair on Monday August 31st.   I also hear that her mother Pam Polk who at one time worked at Roosevelt Raceway for Frank Popfinger and is currently a USTA tattoo technician will also be completing along Charlene's good friend Cate Carrick Nellans.   A big thank you to Charlene, Clarissa, Pam and Cate for promoting harness racing and the versatile Standardbred.   Fred Hudson

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