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They might not be standard for a harness racing pacer, but Jeff Cullipher has a good idea what his 3-year-old Roll With JR will need to wear in Saturday's lone Meadowlands Pace elimination. "I hope he can put his big-boy pants on," Cullipher said with a laugh. Roll With JR was among a dozen 3-year-old male pacers entered in the Meadowlands Pace. Two horses, Allywag Hanover and Chief Mate, advanced to the final courtesy of byes based on seasonal earnings. The top-eight finishers in Saturday's $50,000 elimination at The Meadowlands Racetrack will join them in the $631,650 final July 18. The elimination field includes returning Dan Patch Award-winner Tall Dark Stranger, who in his only start this year defeated older horses in 1:47.4 at the Big M. The time is tied for the fastest mile of the season. Also in the field is last season's richest 2-year-old male pacer, Papi Rob Hanover, who finished second to multiple Grand Circuit winner Capt Midnight in their only start of 2020. Roll With JR, who finished second to Meadowlands Pace hopeful Catch The Fire in last year's Kentucky Sire Stakes championship, will be making his first trip to The Meadowlands since finishing third in a 2-year-old qualifying race there on June 22, 2019. He heads to the elimination off a 1:51.2 win in his seasonal debut at Harrah's Hoosier Park. For his career, the colt has won four of 12 races and $176,516. His wins last year included a division of the Bluegrass Stakes. "He was such a green horse (last year) I never felt like he reached his full potential," the Indiana-based Cullipher said. "But he went a couple decent miles and showed that he can. He kind of grew into himself over the winter; he's developed and is kind of a nice-sized colt. "He's still the kind of colt that's only going to do what he's made to do. I know I don't have a (1):48 mile in him yet, I don't even know if he could do it. I'd like to think he could step it up with the better horses." Cullipher owns Roll With JR, a son of Roll With Joe out of No One Is Alone, with Pollack Racing. Cullipher and Tom Pollack have been increasing their presence on the Grand Circuit in recent years. "It's exciting," Cullipher said. "Me and Tom are starting to step into these races a little bit. We're just having fun right now. "This might be a one-shot deal, I don't know, but so far I'm happy." Another horse making his first trip of the season to The Meadowlands for the elimination is Major Betts. The Mark Harder-trained colt prepped with qualifiers at Gaitway Farm and Harrah's Philadelphia before winning his only 2020 start in the New York Sire Stakes at Tioga Downs on June 28. Major Betts defeated favorite Splash Brother by three lengths in 1:49.4, the fastest mile of the young season by a 3-year-old on a five-eighths-mile track. "I trained him Tuesday morning and I thought he was super," Harder said. "I couldn't be happier with him." Harder had an opportunity to accept one of the two byes for the Meadowlands Pace but decided against it. "I couldn't be off three weeks going into the final, that would not make sense at all," Harder said. "He needs the work." Major Betts, a son of Art Major out of Southwind Johanne, has won five of 12 lifetime starts and $153,390 for owners Harder, Joseph Jannuzzelli, and Deena Rachel Frost. His wins last year included divisions of the International Stallion Stakes and Tompkins-Geers. "He was just always fast, he was just beautifully gaited," said Harder, who won the 2004 Meadowlands Pace with Holborn Hanover. "He was a colt that had one of those gaits that he just didn't work at it. He did everything pretty easy. "A couple of times last year he did some silly colt things. This year, he acts more professional. He drives like an old horse. It's probably a little bit of rigging, a little bit of growing up, a little bit of everything. Hopefully it's a bit of good management. It might just be good luck." Harder wouldn't turn down any good luck in the upcoming weeks. "A lot of (the 3-year-olds) are very impressive," Harder said. "Tall Dark Stranger and Papi Rob Hanover are very good, Allywag Hanover has been very impressive. They've been racing at The Meadowlands and times there have been crazy. "We beat a horse that looked pretty impressive, Splash Brother. It's a completely different class, but it shows we're there and we're competitive. Tall Dark Stranger and Papi Rob Hanover are the two standouts for sure, but there are a lot of really, really good horses. Nothing is easy." Racing begins at 7:15 p.m. (EDT) Saturday at The Meadowlands. The 13-race card also includes $250,000 Graduate Series finals for 4-year-old pacers and trotters and divisions of the Reynolds Memorial for 3-year-old trotters. For Saturday's complete Meadowlands entries, click here. by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA 

Brian Brown is happy with what he sees from Workin Ona Mystery so far this harness racing season on the racetrack. He is even more pleased by what is not readily visible. The horse's health. Workin Ona Mystery is among the contenders in Saturday's $250,000 Graduate Series final for 4-year-old pacers at The Meadowlands. The event is part of a 13-race card at The Big M that also includes the $250,000 Graduate championship for 4-year-old trotters, a single elimination for the Meadowlands Pace, and Reynolds Memorial divisions for 3-year-old trotters. Racing begins at 7:15 p.m. (EDT). Last year, Workin Ona Mystery started his campaign with three consecutive wins and finished third in the finals of the North America Cup and Meadowlands Pace, where he was beaten by a head. But health woes slowed the horse's progress from there and he won only once in his final five starts. This year in three starts, Workin Ona Mystery has a win, a second, and a third. He captured his opening-round race in the Graduate Series by a neck over Century Farroh in 1:50 at Tioga Downs on June 21 and finished second to Bettor's Wish in last week's second round at The Meadowlands. Bettor's Wish, who skipped the first round in favor of the Roll With Joe Stakes, won by two lengths in 1:48.2. "Right now, we're in pretty good shape," Brown said. "He seems pretty healthy, very alert. He seems full of himself. Every day, he's out there playing and jumping around. I think he's coming into the race pretty good, a lot better than a lot of times last year." As far as how Workin Ona Mystery has changed from last year, Brown said, "Ninety percent of it is that he's healthy." "He did pack on some weight," Brown added. "He was not a real big horse last year. He wasn't short, like a small horse, but he wasn't a thick horse either. He has thickened up quite a bit, so he's got more strength to him. I'm hoping that will help him stay healthy." Workin Ona Mystery has won 10 of 20 career races and $469,641. The son of Captaintreacherous-Dragon's Tale is owned by Diamond Creek Racing, Stambaugh Leeman Stable, Alan Keith, and Wingfield Brothers. Brown brought the horse back slowly in the winter and does not plan to test Workin Ona Mystery against older horses on the Grand Circuit until the Dan Patch Stakes at Harrah's Hoosier Park in mid-August. "He's got to race older horses this year, and that can be hard on them, but he's got such a great attitude," Brown said. "He wants to be a winner, he loves passing horses, and he's an easy horse to drive. He's not the easiest horse to be around in the barn. He's ornery. But on the track, training and racing, he's so easy to drive. "After we struggled so much last year it's nice to just see the real horse. And he may not be the best 4-year-old or older horse, but he will hold his own against them as long as he's healthy." Both preliminary rounds of the Graduate Series had three divisions and resulted in six different winners. Joining Workin Ona Mystery as first-round winners were Dancin Lou and Hurrikane Emperor. Joining Bettor's Wish as second-round winners were Bllack Hole and Brassy Hanover. Bettor's Wish was the Dan Patch Award winner for best 3-year-old male pacer of 2019. He finished third in last month's Roll With Joe, which was his seasonal debut. His 1:48.2 score last week in the Graduate was the slowest of the three divisions; Bllack Hole won in 1:48 and Brassy Hanover in 1:48.1. A total of nine horses in last week's three divisions paced their final quarter-mile in less than 26 seconds. "There are so many horses that come home fast out there," Brown said. "Anymore, time really means nothing. It's who you beat and how much money you made, that's all that matters." For Saturday's complete Meadowlands entries, click here. by Ken Weingartner, for USTA

Hightstown, NJ - Harness racing driver Matt Kakaley was 16 when Rickards Ed arrived in the stable run by his parents, Linda and John, at Pompano Park. Matt was just starting to work in the barn more frequently and quickly formed a bond with the then 7-year-old pacer. Looking back, it was a time and relationship that helped propel Matt into his career in harness racing. In fact, such was his connection with Rickards Ed that four years later he and his mom bought the horse and still own the 22-year-old gelding in his retirement. "That horse was special to me," Matt said. "He came in the barn and he was the best horse my parents had. He was an open pacer at the time. I started working with him all the time and that was the turning point for me. He was just a great horse around the barn, great to work with. He was fun. "When I was a kid, that horse helped me make the decision, I'd say. That's when I felt like this is what I wanted to do." Rickards Ed won 14 races at Pompano Park that season, all with John in the sulky. The following year, Matt drove the horse to two of his seven victories. "He was just a really tough, tough horse on the racetrack," Matt said. "He was a Camluck (sired horse) and he had that toughness to him." A third-generation horseman, Matt follows in the footsteps of his grandfather, Joe, who owned horses and spurred the family's interest in harness racing, and his parents. He lived in Michigan until he was 12 and spent his teen years around Pompano Park. Matt has won 4,743 races in his career and was the youngest driver, at the time, to reach the 1,000 and 2,000-victory levels. But early on, Matt wasn't focused on becoming a driver. In fact, he only got his qualifying license because a friend was doing it. "It was weird, it wasn't something I was really pushing to do, to be a driver," Matt said. "Not at that age, anyway. But once I started qualifying horses, it was something I wanted to do." Matt mostly worked with his parents, but remembers getting to do interval training for Tom Audley, who was stabled next to his family's barn. "When I was a kid, Tom would have me go in the bike and I would be out there for a half hour or 40 minutes just going trips," Matt said. "I thought that was the greatest thing ever, to go speed in the race bike with those horses. And he paid me for it, so it was a win-win. "When I did get my qualifying license, there were a lot of people down there that helped me out and gave me chances in the qualifiers. Whatever anybody wanted me to do, I would do." Working with the horses gave Matt his greatest joy. "I just really loved being around the horses and taking care of them," Matt said. "The horses my parents had were older horses that had their issues. I would work on them. I would soak their feet, I would rub their legs, work hard on them. I just took pride in it. I took pride when they would race good. "Just working with them every day was a lot of learning. I really cared. I think I got that from my mom. She puts her heart and soul into her horses too." When he was 19, Matt accepted an offer from trainer Mickey Burke to move to Ohio and work for the Burke Stable. Soon, he was driving regularly at Northfield Park, although it did not begin smoothly. Enter another pivotal horse in teenage Matt's life, this one also with the name Matt - Matt Hershey. "Going to Northfield, I didn't know anybody; it was tough," Matt said. "I never raced on a half-mile track before and the first month or two was a little rough. I did win a few races, but there were a lot of bad mistakes and a lot of nights when I was thinking maybe it wasn't going to work out. I'm sure Ronnie (Burke) felt the same thing. He stuck with me and I stuck it out. I kept working hard and it got better. "A couple horses raced big for me. Matt Hershey, he was an open horse at Northfield, went on a really good run (with six wins and two seconds in a nine-race span) and I started picking up some live drives for other people. It just kind of turned the corner. He got good and then I started driving more and I started doing really good. It snowballed." In 2010, Matt received the Rising Star Award from the U.S. Harness Writers Association. Last summer, while in the car on his way to Buffalo Raceway for New York Sire Stakes action, Matt's thoughts returned to his early days as a driver when in a week he would travel back and forth between Northfield and Buffalo (roughly seven hours round trip) while also hitting Tioga Downs on Sundays. "When I think back, I don't know how I did that," Matt said with a laugh. "Just young, I guess. I was just excited to drive anything, anywhere, so I did it." And whenever he thinks back to Rickards Ed, he can thank him for driving him in that direction. by Ken Weingartner, USTA Media Relations Manager    

On Sept. 1, 2007, Somebeachsomewhere paced the fastest mile in history by a harness racing 2-year-old to win the Metro Pace by two lengths over Moon Beam at Mohawk Raceway in Ontario. It was the day, for all intents and purposes, when Somebeachsomewhere became The Beach. Winning driver Paul MacDonell, who earlier this week was elected to the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame, recently looked back at that memorable performance as well as the memorable career and legacy of Somebeachsomewhere. THE FIELD Somebeachsomewhere's nine rivals in the 2007 Metro Pace final were (in alphabetical order) Alard Hanover, Dali, Deuce Seelster, Its That Time, Lonestar Legend, Moon Beam, Santanna Blue Chip, Shadow Play, and Weekend Gambler. Dali, Deuce Seelster, Santanna Blue Chip, and Shadow Play all earned more than $1 million lifetime. Dali, who prior to the Metro won the Woodrow Wilson, and Shadow Play were world-record-holders during their careers. Moon Beam was the runner-up in both the Metro and Woodrow Wilson. He won his remaining four races that year. "There were some nice horses in there," MacDonell said. "There was quite a bit of hype about (Dali). He was a nice horse in his own right, no question about it. Deuce Seelster turned out to be a really nice horse in the long run. Moon Beam, I remember him as a 2-year-old, and he was a good colt. It wasn't an easy season, that's for sure." THE LEAD-IN Owned by a group from Nova Scotia, Somebeachsomewhere was trained at age 2 by co-owner Brent MacGrath and Jean Arsenault. He made his debut on July 30, 2007, in an elimination of the Battle of Waterloo and won by three lengths in a track-record 1:54.2 at half-mile-oval Grand River Raceway. He won the final by 2-1/4 lengths in 1:55. "I got to train him before the Battle of Waterloo elimination and I could tell right away he had some serious power to him," MacDonell said. "But you never know how they're going to perform in a race. His first start, he showed he was special right off the bat. He had power and that fluid gait. He stood out." It was 19 days from the Battle of Waterloo final to the Metro Pace eliminations. Despite his early success, Somebeachsomewhere was the second choice in the third of the three elims, sent off at 5-1 odds. Woodrow Wilson champ Dali was the 1-9 favorite. Somebeachsomewhere won by 3-1/2 lengths over Dali in 1:52.1, the fastest of the three divisions. It was the last time Somebeachsomewhere was not the favorite in any race in his career. After going off as the 8-5 chalk in the Metro final, he never was higher than 2-5 in his remaining 17 lifetime starts. "The punters never got another ticket on him like that again," MacDonell said with a laugh about the Metro elimination. MacDonell drove two of the three Metro elim winners. One race prior to Somebeachsomewhere's score, he guided Deuce Seelster to victory in 1:52.2. Deuce Seelster was undefeated in six career starts to that point, with MacDonell notching four of the wins in Ontario Sire Stakes action, but there was little question which horse MacDonell would drive in the Metro final. "(Somebeachsomewhere) was fresh and ready," MacDonell said. "The choice became very clear after the elimination; he was very strong. I didn't want to give Deuce Seelster up by any means, but it was kind of a no-brainer when I did have to make that choice." Moon Beam was the remaining elimination winner, also in 1:52.2. THE METRO PACE FINAL Somebeachsomewhere started the Metro Pace final from post four. MacDonell wasted no time in putting Somebeachsomewhere in front, taking the lead in the race's opening strides. Somebeachsomewhere reached the quarter in :26.3, half in :54.2, and three-quarters in 1:21.4. The colt separated himself from the field in the stretch and won in a world-record 1:49.3. The time took one-fifth of a second off the previous record for 2-year-old pacers, which was established by Rocknroll Hanover in the 2004 Metro at Woodbine. "After I watched all the eliminations and figured things out, to me it was apparent (Somebeachsomewhere) was the best horse, and I drove him that way," MacDonell said. "I didn't really expect him to pace (1):49 and change but he did it and did it quite easily. "I was probably in just as much awe as everybody else that was watching him. You look and you're like, did he really just do (1):49 and a piece? The way he came to the wire, he was strong. I think that's when the legend really began of The Beach. That was his coming-out party, no doubt." To view a replay of the race, click here. Several months after the win in the Metro, MacGrath reflected on its significance. "It was a pretty big deal for us," MacGrath said. "There's never been a Maritimer to win a million-dollar race. For us little guys in Truro to find the winner, it was a big deal. He's created an awful big stir here. It makes people feel good that a horse can be trained here on the east coast of Canada with the rough winters and go on and do what he did." EPILOGUE Following Somebeachsomewhere's win in the Metro, "beach parties" started in the Maritimes as hundreds of fans would gather to watch the colt race on simulcasts. Somebeachsomewhere started twice following the Metro, winning a division of the Champlain in a stakes-record 1:51 (with a :26 final quarter) and a division of the Nassagaweya in 1:51.4. Somebeachsomewhere was not eligible to the Breeders Crown or Governor's Cup, so MacGrath decided to bring the horse home and prepare for his 3-year-old season. "When he started doing what he was doing, then it got to be more about (the) next year," MacGrath said at the time. "Typically, the weather in the Maritimes is nice in September and October. We brought him home and it was, it was terrific. He had one day in the five weeks that he didn't get in the field. The grass was nice and green and lush. It was just what he needed. He loves that life anyway." At the end of 2007, Somebeachsomewhere was voted the best 2-year-old male pacer in both Canada and the U.S. and shared Canada's Horse of the Year honor with Tell All. His 3-year-old campaign stamped Somebeachsomewhere as one of the sport's all-time greats, with only a neck loss to Art Official in the Meadowlands Pace separating him from perfection. Ironically, many consider it The Beach's top performance. "I've had millions of people tell me it was probably his best race," MacDonell said. "He didn't disgrace himself anywhere he went." Memorable victories from 2008 included his 1:46.4 score in a division of the Bluegrass, a clocking that equaled the fastest race mile in history and established the world record for a 3-year-old pacer. He also won the North America Cup, Breeders Crown, Confederation Cup in a half-mile world-record 1:49.2, and Messenger Stakes in torrential rain. Somebeachsomewhere was the 2008 Horse of the Year in both the U.S. and Canada. He finished his career with 20 wins in 21 races and $3.22 million in purses. He was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2009 and U.S. Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 2015. "He had all the physical abilities, he had that strength and size, but I think the one thing that set him apart was his intelligence," MacDonell said. "The ones that are hard to get along with are wasting energy for no reason. You need every bit of energy these days to stay competitive. He was like driving a sports car, and when you asked him to go, he was gone. "He had that ability to show up at the racetrack and he knew what he was there for. He was just great all around in every category." Somebeachsomewhere enjoyed great success as a sire before his untimely passing in 2018 as the result of cancer. His offspring include 10 horses to receive year-end honors (Dan Patch and/or O'Brien awards) including two-time Pacer of the Year Captaintreacherous and three-time Dan Patch honoree Pure Country. The 10 award-winners are among 17 Somebeachsomewhere-sired millionaires to date. "His legend status I think is growing even more," MacDonell said. "Even as a sire, what he's done, people realize how great he was. He had that gait that was so fluid, and I see a lot of that in his stock. It brings back memories just watching those horses." Now, MacDonell will join Somebeachsomewhere in the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame. "It was pretty cool when I got the call," MacDonell said. "It was mind-blowing, really. It's something you don't even think about when you're starting out, you just go about your business. Now, here we are at 57 years old and being inducted into the Hall of Fame. I'm truly honored, truly honored." His association with The Beach will likely remain a topic of discussion forever. "Not too many weeks go by where someone doesn't come along and want me to sign a poster, or even just talk about him," MacDonell said. "He's always mentioned to me. It's been that way for the past 12 years. I'm forever grateful to him, let me tell you. "And I had the best seat in the house." by Ken Weingartner, USTA Media Relations Manager

On Sept. 23, 2010, Rock N Roll Heaven dominated the Little Brown Jug with a historic and still unparalleled harness racing performance. The colt won his first Jug heat in a world-record-equaling 1:49.2 and returned later in the afternoon to sweep the event by winning the second heat in a duplicate 1:49.2. It was the first time in history a horse won twice on the same day with sub-1:50 miles. There have been 27 Little Brown Jug miles since Rock N Roll Heaven's victory a decade ago and only twice has 1:49.2 been equaled or bettered. Wiggle It Jiggleit won his first heat in 2015 in 1:49.2; Betting Line won the second heat in 2016 in 1:49. Rock N Roll Heaven's trainer Bruce Saunders recently looked back at that memorable day and memorable year for his colt. THE FIELD Rock N Roll Heaven's seven rivals in the second, and final, heat of the 2010 Little Brown Jug were (in alphabetical order) Classic Rock Nroll, Doc's Yankee, Dreamlands Art, I'm Gorgeous, Piece Of The Rock, Razzle Dazzle, and Rockin Image. One More Laugh was scratched. "He beat a very nice bunch of horses," Saunders said. "People want to say they weren't that good, but if the race went in (1):50 and a piece or (1):51, it would have been a very competitive race. The fact Rock N Roll Heaven was up to going (1):49 and a piece, and came home as quickly as he did, dwarfed the other horses' ability that particular day. "It made the race fairly boring as far as competition was concerned, but it wasn't boring for us." THE LEAD-IN Rock N Roll Heaven won four of his first five races in 2010, including the Berry's Creek and New Jersey Sire Stakes championship before a costly blip in a division of the Burlington Stakes at Mohawk. Racing in heavy fog, Rock N Roll Heaven got the lead on the backstretch but was frightened by a light on the infield's half-mile timer and went off stride. He had to qualify three days later to compete in the North America Cup eliminations. He won his qualifier in 1:52 and four days after won his Cup elim in 1:48.4. In the North America Cup final, he finished fourth. "He scoped full of pus and mucous," Saunders said. "I think he was definitely the best horse in the North America Cup. In my mind, it was that extra (1):52 mile he had to go in the middle of the week that stressed his immune system enough that he wasn't on his game for the final. It was what it was." Rock N Roll Heaven bounced back with a win in his Meadowlands Pace elimination, then finished second by a head to One More Laugh in the final after battling for the lead through hotly contested early fractions. A second-place finish by a head to Rockin Image in the Oliver Wendell Holmes followed, but the colt would not lose again the rest of the season. He captured the Battle of the Brandywine in a stakes- and track-record 1:48.4 over a rain-soaked "good" surface at Harrah's Philadelphia and then headed to Delaware, Ohio, for the Little Brown Jug. LITTLE BROWN JUG DAY In his first heat, the first of three Jug eliminations, Rock N Roll Heaven started from post two and was third for the first quarter. On the second turn, driver Dan Dube sent Rock N Roll Heaven on his way and the colt powered to a three-length win over Razzle Dazzle in 1:49.2, equaling the world record for a 3-year-old pacing colt on a half-mile track set by Somebeachsomewhere at Flamboro Downs in the 2008 Confederation Cup final. Classic Rock Nroll won the second elim in 1:50.4 and I'm Gorgeous won the third in 1:50.2. When the field was set for the second heat, Rock N Roll Heaven again started from post two. This time, Dube only waited to come off the first turn to move Rock N Roll Heaven to the front. He was not threatened from there, winning by 2-1/4 lengths over I'm Gorgeous, again in 1:49.2. He paced the second half of the race in :53.4 and final quarter in :26.2. Rock N Roll Heaven's two-heat time of 3:38.4 established the world record, lowering the former time of 3:40.1 set by Shadow Play in the 2008 Jug. Wiggle It Jiggleit is the only Jug winner to threaten Rock N Roll Heaven's mark, missing by a fifth of a second in 2015. "Winning the Jug was an unbelievable experience; it was sensational," Saunders said. "I guess as races go, there were far more exciting ones in the Jug than Heaven's dominant win in 2010, but his performance may not be beat for a while. His last half in the last heat, home in :26.2, without being contested was pretty remarkable." To view a replay of the race, click here. Following the race, Saunders told reporters, "I've been reluctant to call him a great horse, but he is a great horse." Looking back at that comment, Saunders said, "I aspire to Tim McGraw's song, 'Humble and Kind.' I think it's best to be humble, be kind, to your competition. But once (Rock N Roll Heaven) got to that level, I think he established himself. It wasn't braggadocious, it was more just a statement of fact." The atmosphere at the Delaware County Fairgrounds, where fans visit with the horses in the Jug Barn in the days preceding the race and 48,118 showed up for Jug Day, made Rock N Roll Heaven's victory even more memorable. "The two or three days when you're there, it's kind of like an out-of-body experience," Saunders said. "You go through doing what you've got to do (to prepare) and try to accommodate all the people that come by to see the horse to make sure it's a great experience for them as well as you. "Like most horses, he loved the attention. Horses love to be looked at and spoken to, they know when they're the focus. That whole aspect of it was very rewarding. The fans there love the game, they love the horses, and love the winner. To put in that kind of effort was special." THE AFTERMATH Rock N Roll Heaven won his remaining seven starts following the Little Brown Jug on his way to U.S. Horse of the Year honors. Five of those victories were by at least three lengths and the triumphs included the Breeders Crown, Tattersalls Pace, Messenger Stakes, and Matron Stakes. For the year, he won 16 of 21 races and earned $2.15 million. He paced a record 11 sub-1:50 miles, with victories in 1:49.2 or faster on every size racetrack -- half, five-eighths, seven-eighths, and mile. The colt, a son of Rocknroll Hanover out of Artistic Vision, was owned by Frank Bellino and bred by Steve Stewart, Charles "Cotton" Nash, Julie Nash, and Francene Nash. In 2017, Rock N Roll Heaven was inducted into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame. "He was an unbelievable horse in so many regards," Saunders said. "One of the remarkable attributes he had was that he could pace away from a field of horses any time during the mile. In the middle part, the first part, from the top of the stretch home; if he was fresh, he could just sprint away from horses. And a lot of them stood on their toes trying to keep up with him. "To get a horse that is Horse of the Year is pretty spectacular. He was special." At the end of the 2010 campaign, The Meadowlands Racetrack produced a video looking at Rock N Roll Heaven's season, which can be viewed here. Ken Weingartner Media Relations Manager

Mike Wilder was anxious to drive. He was 10 years old and already helping his stepfather David Ritter around the family's harness racing stable, doing stalls, bathing horses. But his desire to jog a horse for the first time was overwhelming and he was constantly bringing it up. Finally, Ritter relented. "He said he would let me jog," Wilder said. "He told me he was going to let me jog Yukon Knox." Wilder momentarily had second thoughts. "Yukon Knox was probably the heaviest headed horse we had in the barn," Wilder said. "He was a big puller. I had seen the men out there with him, and I thought he had to be kidding me. I told him, 'I'm not jogging him.' He said, 'Then you don't want to jog.' I thought to myself, well, I want to jog, so I'm going to do it. "The crazy thing about it, I took that horse out and he never grabbed on. It was amazing. It was like he knew a kid was behind him. I think they get a feel, maybe the way you talk to them or the way they feel the lines in your hands. He just knew. He kept me safe. "I came back in and I was laughing. (The others) were in awe and couldn't believe the horse jogged that way. It was just something crazy." Such was the unofficial start of a career that has seen Wilder go on to win 8,229 races. "I got into this sport because of my stepfather," Wilder said. "When I got to be about 8 years old, I just fell in love with the horses. It was just one of those things. All I wanted to do was race horses. All I wanted to do was be a driver. He helped me pursue that dream and got me started." The family was based at the Shelby County Fairgrounds in Sidney, Ohio, usually with a stable of 15 to 20 horses. Wilder followed Ritter and his mom, Rhonda, to the county fairs and Lebanon Raceway. "The fairs were big for them," Wilder said. "I can remember being in the center field when our horses were racing. They'd be coming off the last turn and we'd be running in the center field just screaming like crazy, running with the horses. "My parents did well around the fairs. I remember how exciting it was to get our picture taken with our parents in the winner's circle and running across the track to get there. They used to call me and my little brother Ritter's Critters. They'd say, here comes Ritter's Critters across the track. You couldn't wait to get to the next fair. You could imagine yourself being in the sulky, that being you someday." At the age of 12, Wilder trained his first horse, going a mile in 2:21 with pacer B D's Rebeck at Latonia in northern Kentucky. About the same time, he started warming up horses at Lebanon Raceway. "I was warming up horses, not only for my parents but for other stables," Wilder said. "I just wanted to be out there so bad. Just to get out there under the lights, here I am, this little 90-pound guy that looks like I'm in about the fourth grade, warming up horses for these different stables. They knew my parents and they knew how much I was involved and wanting to do it. "It's crazy that they would give me the opportunity, but it was great. I loved getting out of school and getting down there to do that." Wilder began driving in matinees at the age of 14 and got his first raceway win at 18 at Lebanon, bringing home a 39-1 shot named C H S Cress, who was trained by his parents. "I had the rail, got away second, and sat the inside," Wilder said. "In the last turn I thought I was never getting free, but I was in the fight and the adrenaline was pumping and I was excited. Then the floodgates opened, and I found room to get through. I won by like half-a-length. I thought I'd won the Little Brown Jug that day. I was on cloud nine. That win has stuck with me forever." Wilder won 13 driving titles at Lebanon and two at Scioto Downs before moving to The Meadows in western Pennsylvania in 2001. "I was blessed enough that when I graduated high school, I got tied into some pretty nice stables that gave me the opportunity to try to be a driver," Wilder said. "It worked out great. There's such a list of people that helped me along the way." Over the past 10 years, Wilder has annually ranked among the top-five drivers at The Meadows in wins and purses. Four times in the past six years he has finished second to perennial Meadows driving champ Dave Palone in wins. This season, he was second in wins at The Meadows with 86 and first in purses with $784,432 when racing was suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He also had 10 wins at Northfield Park and his 96 total victories were tied for seventh in North America. He won 380 races in 2019, the second-best season of his career. "I didn't want (2019) to end, but boy did it take off like a fireball in 2020," Wilder said. "I've got great barns to drive for, I can't ask for anything more. I can't wait to get back to it. I'm just hoping everybody stays healthy and safe and when the time is right, we can get this ball back rolling." Until it does, he's got a lot of fond memories to look back upon. "It's funny how I cannot remember much of my childhood as far as school or stuff like that," Wilder said. "But the racing, it's just like I was there yesterday. You just don't forget." by Ken Weingartner, USTA Media Relations Manager

Anderson, IN - On behalf of HHYF trustees and staff, we regret to announce that all HHYF events scheduled for May, June, July, and August have been cancelled. Possible programs may be set up for late fall; our hope is to attach "mini-camps" to existing events to continue to make that all-important hands-on connection of young people and Standardbreds. HHYF is currently working on the development of virtual learning opportunities to be used our social media outlets. Announcements and details will be made as they become available. HHYF will continue the Curt Memorial Scholarship & Sweet Karen Scholarship selection process - reminder that April 30 deadline for submission of all applications and related documents remains unchanged. The production of the 2020 edition HARNESS HEROES trading cards is also underway. Many thanks to our 2020 sponsors whose support will sustain our mission and activities. Win Level: Diamond Creek Farm, Lindy Farms, Meadows Standardbred Owners Association. Stable Sponsor Level: Blue Chip Farm, Brittany Farm, Fair Island Farm, Fair Winds Farm, Purple Haze Stable, Joe Asher, Chris McErlean, Howard Taylor. For further information about HHYF, please visit or call 317.908.0029. The Harness Horse Youth Foundation is a charitable 501(c)3 organization dedicated to providing young people and their families educational opportunities with harness horses in order to foster the next generation of participants and fans. The Foundation has been making a difference in young people's lives since 1976; its programs include interactive learning experiences with racehorses as well as offering scholarships and creating and distributing educational materials related to harness racing. Ken Weingartner Media Relations Manager

Backtrack, a USTA newsroom feature that will look back at memorable races and harness racing performances, will appear Tuesdays and Fridays in April. Hightstown, NJ — On Oct. 19, 2013, Foiled Again held off all challengers in a furious stretch drive to win the Breeders Crown Open Pace by a nose over Pet Rock in the slop at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. With the victory, the then 9-year-old gelding became the oldest horse ever to capture a Breeders Crown. Winning driver Yannick Gingras recently looked back at that memorable performance and the memorable Foiled Again. THE FIELD Foiled Again’s eight rivals in the 2013 Breeders Crown Open Pace were (in alphabetical order) Bolt The Duer, Clear Vision, Golden Receiver, Michael’s Power, Modern Legend, Pet Rock, Sweet Lou, and Warrawee Needy. In January, Sweet Lou was named among this year’s horses elected to the Harness Racing Hall of Fame. Michael’s Power was Canada’s Horse of the Year in 2012 and Warrawee Needy and Modern Legend both also received an O’Brien Award during their careers. Every horse with the exceptions of Modern Legend and Golden Receiver set or equaled world records in their careers. Golden Receiver earned $2.21 million lifetime. “The group he beat in the Breeders Crown, you had great horses in there,” Gingras said. “I think it was as good a group as ever. He was beating very quality fields every time out. There were so many good ones. “That win in the Breeders Crown, he took on all comers. He had Pet Rock on his back and Warrawee Needy second over; those are tremendous horses that had the right trips. It’s not like he beat them because they had bad trips. He beat them because he was better. He didn’t luck into that win or anything like that.” THE LEAD-IN Foiled Again, trained by Ron Burke, was already the richest pacer in history in the fall of 2013. He began that year in the Levy Memorial Series, winning three preliminary rounds and finishing second in the final. Other early-season Grand Circuit action saw him third in the Molson Pace and second in the Roll With Joe before — in what proved to be a bit of foreshadowing — winning the Ben Franklin Pace by a nose over Pet Rock in the slop at Pocono on June 29. Following the Franklin, Foiled Again, who often went through difficult stretches in the summer, endured an eight-race losing streak. He snapped the skid with a victory in an elimination for the Quillen Memorial on Sept. 9 at Harrington Raceway and finished second in the final. He then won the Kane Memorial Invitational at Batavia and his elimination for the Breeders Crown. “Every year in the summer he would fall off a little bit,” Gingras said. “That year, the part where he wasn’t quite as sharp wasn’t as long as other years. He definitely was on top of his game (for the Breeders Crown). “I had confidence in the horse, I thought he had a great chance to win it. With Foiled, he could do it the rough way, but you had to have a good post to be able to be first over, to be able to get to the front. He liked to take on challengers and fight them off. I just had to make sure I could get in a spot where he could fight. He didn’t care if he was chasing or being chased, he just liked being in contention and being able to show his grit.” THE RACE Foiled Again started from post two. Bolt The Duer, Golden Receiver, and Pet Rock rocketed off the gate and battled for the lead in an opening quarter of :25.3. Foiled Again got away fourth and before the dust had time to settle was on the move. He took the lead from Pet Rock on the second turn but was unable to clear his rival and drop to the inside until just prior to the halfway point. Once in front, Foiled Again faced pressure up the backstretch from Modern Legend. Foiled Again prevailed in the tightest of photo finishes in a time of 1:49.2. USTA/Mark Hall photo. “After getting away fourth, I was committed,” Gingras said. “You have to make your move to the front and hope you make it there because they were really pacing, they were going so fast. If you don’t make it, you’re going to be first up and now you’re carrying the back group into the race. I was happy when I was able to make the front, it was a little bit of a relief. “But then there was somebody coming right at me right away. (Modern Legend) took it to me too. It wasn’t like he was just riding first over, he was taking a shot. We were pacing, that’s for sure.” Coming around the final turn, Foiled Again still had Modern Legend to his outside and Warrawee Needy was three wide. As the group turned for home, Pet Rock edged toward the inside passing lane and it looked as though Foiled Again would be swallowed by a sea of horses. “That’s the way it felt on the track, too,” Gingras said. “Here comes the cavalry, they were coming from everywhere. (Foiled Again) was going all out from start to finish. At the top of the stretch, you start wondering if it was going to be too much, at some point he’s going to stop. But he was just so game.” Foiled Again prevailed in the tightest of photo finishes in a time of 1:49.2. To view a replay of the race, click here. To view exclusive USTA race footage and interviews, click here. “I knew Pet Rock was coming on the inside and he was fairly fresh,” Gingras said. “He got used during the first quarter, but he sat on my back the rest of the way. I really thought he would be the one beating me but Foiled just refused to lose. “Neither one of us knew who won, it was just that close,” Gingras added, referring to Pet Rock’s driver David Miller. “Of course, you’re hoping, but I’d be lying if I told you I knew I had it.” THE AFTERMATH Foiled Again raced four times following the Breeders Crown, finishing second to Pet Rock in both the Hoosier Park Pacing Derby and American-National before closing his campaign with wins in the last preliminary round of the TVG Series and the TVG Series Open Pace championship, which included 3-year-old Captaintreacherous in the field. Over his final nine starts of 2013, he posted six wins and three seconds. “If I had to pinpoint one part of his career when he was the best, I think it would have been around that time,” Gingras said. “It might have been the time he was sharpest and most dominant. Not dominant in terms of beating them by a lot, but he was getting the job done. It was a great ride.” For the year, Foiled Again won 11 of 29 races and $1.40 million. He received the Dan Patch Award for best older male pacer, marking the third consecutive year he earned the honor, equaling the record set by Rambling Willie in the mid-1970s. He finished second to Captaintreacherous in balloting for Pacer of the Year. By the end of his career, Foiled Again had won 109 races and $7.63 million in purses. His earnings are the most in the history of harness racing and his win total ranks eighth among all pacers. He was inducted into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 2019. And of all his wins, Gingras puts the Breeders Crown at the top. “That race is my favorite because of the horse, of course, and the way he did it,” Gingras said. “I’ve won maybe bigger races and there were other races with him that were special to me, like the (2012) Canadian Pacing Derby, but if I had to pick one that was my favorite, it’s definitely that race. It’s just a special race for me.” by Ken Weingartner, USTA Media Relations Manager

A little more than a decade ago, Amateur harness racing driver Dave Yarock decided it was time to give up playing basketball. He had played throughout his life; in high school and college and was still going full court two or three times a week into his mid-50s. After putting hoops on hold, he needed a way to satisfy his competitive nature. That is when he discovered harness racing. Yarock was introduced to the sport by a friend and was captivated by the opportunity to drive in races. He soon became a mainstay on the amateur circuits, winning 67 races over the years, and co-founded the GSY Amateur Club. "Here was something I could do competitively and combine it with my love of the horses," Yarock said. "That's what drew me to it, and still draws me to the sport." But his involvement in the harness racing community has extended beyond the track. Since 2008, Yarock has coordinated an educational scholarship fund to assist the children of horsemen and horsewomen pursue careers in equine fields. The fund has given out more than $200,000 in aid since its inception, Yarock said. Ordinarily, the GSY club uses membership dues, driver commissions, and individual donations to support the Edward Weiner & Edward Yarock Scholarship Fund, but this year the club will use its funds to assist horsemen and horsewomen in need because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Its first donation was to the Fusco family, which last month lost four family members to the virus, including trainers Carmine and Vincent. "I'm trying to do my best, whatever I can do," Yarock said. "It's for the industry, it's for the people. Basic needs are going to be pretty profound. People are going to need to feed their horses, feed themselves. A lot of people don't really have a safety net. I'm trying to address that in my own small way. "If people have any particular needs, they should let us know and we'll try to help as best we can. We have limited resources and we want to try to stretch them out and do the best we can to help as many people as we can. I would love to be able to broaden it out, make it bigger, but everyone has their own issues right now. We're all trying to do what we can do." Anyone wanting to make a tax-deductible donation to the "EWEY Scholarship Fund" for distribution to those in need can send contributions to Dave Yarock, 70 Sherwood Road, Tenafly, NJ 07670. Requests for assistance, with a brief explanation of the circumstances, can be emailed to "We're here to help the horsemen," Yarock said. "We'll take whatever help we can get. We're all in this together." Ken Weingartner Media Relations Manager

Sacramento, CA — Velocity McSweets made it two in a row at Cal Expo, winning Tuesday’s (March 31) harness racing fillies-and-mares open pace by a half-length over Alwaysalittlemore in 1:53.1. Sent off as the 4-5 favorite, Velocity McSweets and driver James Kennedy left from post six and sat second behind Alwaysalittlemore through three successive quarters of :28.1 before kicking home in the stretch for the victory. Dancingonthesand finished third. Velocity McSweets is a 5-year-old daughter of McArdle out of Playful Sweetheart. She has won two of three races this season, including the fillies-and-mares open pace in her previous start, for owner/trainer Jennifer Sabot. For her career, the mare has won 18 of 69 races and $178,047. The win was one of two for Kennedy on the 10-race card. He also won with 4-year-old gelding Hi Ho Julio at odds of 33-1 in the sixth race conditioned pace, helping ignite $1 payouts of $1,654.10 for the trifecta and $5,708.40 for the superfecta. Joining Kennedy with driving doubles were Luke Plano, Nick Roland, and Braxten Boyd. Plano is the leading driver at Cal Expo, with 73 wins. Roland is second with 55, followed by Kennedy with 53. The $50,000 guaranteed Pick-4, races seven through 10, produced a pool of $92,228 and $1 payout of $414.10. Winning horses in the Pick-4 were Velocity McSweets (No. 6), Vicious Aloicious (2), Senga Nitro (1), and Sweet One (5). Racing at Cal Expo resumes today (April 1) at 3:30 p.m. Pacific/6:30 p.m. Eastern. For free TrackMaster past performances, click here. For Tuesday’s complete Cal Expo results click here. by Ken Weingartner, USTA Media Relations Manager

Hanover, PA - Pick your catastrophe. We face a world health crisis worse than any we've seen for over a century. Meanwhile, the Governor of Pennsylvania is engaging in some state budget buccaneering that would, if the General Assembly permits it, destroy a two-century-old, native horse racing industry that brings $1.6 billion in economic impact and 20,000 jobs to the state. If this succeeds, what will happen in other states? And, finally, a long list of Thoroughbred and Standardbred industry participants face a reckoning that, looking at their conduct as alleged, you would think they never expected. This last situation is in the forefront of the minds of our Board of Directors as we work through our "annual meeting from home" this week and next. We all abhor the allegations in the indictments and criminal complaints, and we roundly condemn all conduct of the kind. At the USTA, however, there is an obligation to forego the luxury of performative outrage and, instead, to concentrate on what concrete steps our mandate requires us to take. Our record in dealing as an association with cheating and horse abuse is excellent. Now I write to call for concrete action that will move us forward in the right direction. In this editorial, I offer some recommendations. Others will join in, I hope, offering additions and corrections. At last, I hope, everyone of good will in harness racing will contribute time and money to the work that must be done. We can resolve to embrace change and to bear its cost, because we know that only then can our racing sport thrive in the modern era. The Narrative We love horses. This is our narrative, its beginning and its end, and it consists of countless stories of courage, hope, and love for horses that totally contradict the acts of a criminal few. Perhaps our very survival as a sport requires us now to make sure that the world learns about our true selves. When a horse puts its nose ahead of another horse's nose, evolution is at work. Taking the lead is part of a horse's social nature, so (unlike dog racing, for example) horse racing is entirely natural, and horses thrive on it. Horsepersons can tell inspiring stories of horses that found a way to win against unplanned-for adversity, just as we must overcome adversity now. Caring well for horses, and we do care well for them, involves trying to understand these beautiful creatures that cannot communicate with us in human terms. But those of us who employ their intelligence to understand and communicate in something like horse terms become better people for it. There are wonderful stories of lives that have been transformed, not merely economically, but in a deeper way, by the bond with the horse, an animal that evolved along an entirely different strand of the net of creation from humans. Horses can teach us things about courage and beauty, even love, that we would otherwise never learn. Some people do not know that our award-winning writers and photographers have been telling the story of harness racing in Hoof Beats since before the USTA was founded. But today the USTA has more powerful resources for telling the story of harness racing than it has ever had: our website is the most visited in harness racing and is closely watched by other breeds, and our social media presence is a serious force on the internet. Our Communications Department is unrivaled among breed associations, and our ability to put these resources to use is limited only by the cooperation of our membership. Finally, the USTA Board of Directors is meeting as I write, by means of a series of teleconferences, and advanced communications is under discussion. As the USTA and the membership find new and more effective ways to tell the true story of harness racing, we can correct the cultural narrative and propel our sport into its rightful place in the future. "The Feds" In the United States, the federal level provides the services that a central government should provide, while the states retain authority over every other matter. Federal prosecutions are usually the best way to address criminal activity occurring in multiple states. Although the conduct alleged took place in several states, the indictments and criminal complaints under discussion issue from the Southern District of New York, one of the most sophisticated offices within the United States Justice Department. We must not fall prey to the ignorant notion that there is any magical connection between the Justice Department and the Horseracing Integrity Act which, if it ever were to see passage, would be governed by the Commerce Department. As Ed Martin, president of the Association of Racing Commissioners International (representing state authority), has pointed out: nobody needed a Horseracing Integrity bill to make these prosecutions happen. The laws that make the allegations in the indictments illegal, and the federal, state, and private agencies that built these cases already exist, and we should build on the existing system to prevent cheating and horse abuse, and to incentivize best practices in our sport. The serious problems that the Horseracing Integrity Act poses for harness racing have been explained elsewhere. Yes, we have problems of our own to solve, but instead of throwing this poorly-considered federal Hail Mary, instead of ignoring the states' established knowledge and experience in regulating horse racing, and instead of relying on some unspecifiable federal magic to solve our problems, our effort must be to support and extend the growing cooperation among state racing commissions. The state racing commissions themselves called for this over a year ago, by proposing a dedicated unit among key federal and state agencies to investigate racing matters and, where appropriate, to refer them for prosecution. This call was ignored by those proposing so-called racing integrity bills at the federal level, but individual state racing commissions are continuing nevertheless to strengthen their ties with state and federal enforcement agencies. An even more significant development is taking place. "Interstate compacts" provide a contractual structure that enhances cooperation among states regarding regulations and enforcement. This is not a new concept: for years an interstate licensing compact has existed, simplifying licensing for owners, trainers, drivers, jockeys, and other licensees across the country. In a similar but more important way, an interstate medication compact would bring about consistent medication regulation nationwide. (We don't use the word "uniform," because Standardbred and Thoroughbred medication rules can't be uniform. They must differ in a few areas because the two breeds have different performance models.) Interstate medication compacts are working their way through several state legislatures, and we may be approaching passage of a multi-breed medication compact in one of the leading racing states. If this happens, I believe that the other racing states will quickly follow suit. Reading legislative bills (and enacted statutes) can be extremely tedious for most people. But someone has to do it. And if you read the Horseracing Integrity draft bill, you will discover something very surprising: recognition in the bill's own language of the primacy and importance of interstate compacts and, by implication, state authority. It's almost as if the federalization special interests felt compelled to acknowledge that the states have already done all the work and already have all the know-how regarding medication regulation. Section 4(e) of the draft bill says that the whole federal house of cards collapses if, "after the expiration of five years following [the effective date of the Act]," an interstate compact is established. Amazingly, the draft then goes on, in subsection 4(e)(2), to recite important steps that we should take to develop an interstate medication compact. Let us not wait five years enduring some sort of expensive and pointless federal intermission before we do what should have been done in the first place: to fully establish the breed-specific medication compact that is presently evolving in the states. The Ethical Climate We can achieve a radically new regulatory process that will render extinct the criminal activity of a few horsepersons and veterinarians, and we can do it without having to purchase any expensive federal snake oil. The type of criminal activity under discussion was, in the past, often veiled by certain legal concepts and, to some extent, aided by a certain "don't ask don't tell" attitude within the industry. We now have the opportunity, maybe our last, to change this permanently. First, the days of turning a blind eye to suspicious activity are over. They never should have existed. I offer, as a good counterexample to horsepersons who failed, in the past, to report suspicious activity, the American bar. If a lawyer becomes aware of an ethical infraction and fails to report it, he or she becomes guilty in turn of another serious ethical infraction. In other words, the legal community has a self-policing system that can be expected to work much better than the "don't ask don't tell' system that we have tolerated in racing. In grade school, if you told on someone, you were a "rat." Unfortunately, this way of thinking persisted into adulthood among some horsepersons. It was never valid. We must police ourselves, because our obligation is not to be a "stand-up guy." Our obligation is to ensure the health and welfare of our horses, and to preserve the integrity of our industry. Second, we must recalibrate our internal affairs. No longer can we be excused for leaving investigation and enforcement up to our chronically underfunded racing commissions. But rather than pouring more of our money into the state commissions, we should develop private investigative capabilities that support the regulators' powers and we should demand the commissions' formalized cooperation with the investigations that must be carried out. Much of the investigative work that went into the current prosecutions was carried out not by the FBI, but rather by a private firm called "5 Stones intelligence" or "5Si." We have contracted with investigative firms in past years, but never did we make the sort of commitment that was made to 5Si. Maybe this should be the model going forward: use the power of private investigations wherever necessary to support the work of the racing commissions. Indeed, as Ed Martin pointed out, the current prosecution demonstrates the way to protect racing. No federal Hail Mary is necessary. Third, all licensees in racing should be required to consent to investigation by any racing authority, in any public or private place, at any time, and also to consent to all appropriate, effective corrective action pending a hearing. If you want to participate in our industry, this comes with the territory. I'm aware of a case in which a trainer was caught doing something blatantly wrong to a horse, behaved extremely guiltily when caught, and then influenced a veterinarian to lie about the matter. The USTA suspended this individual and never looked back, but the state racing commission did nothing about it, because it thought that its hands were tied. Let us untie the hands of the racing commissions and other racing authorities, including the USTA, which has always been a powerful investigative force in harness racing. Where are the large sums of money going to come from that will be needed for all of this? This is something that we will have to figure out, and now the discussion has begun. But I can tell you this: the funding we come up with to make effective the work of the state regulators is sure to be less than what the Horseracing Integrity Act would cost us. According to the testimony of a Thoroughbred witness before the Congressional subcommittee that is presently considering the Horseracing Integrity Act, the cost to the Standardbred industry would be about $13.8 million. Even if we had to put that much into the existing system to make it work effectively, at least we would know where the money was going. Conclusion and Invitation Times of peril are also times of opportunity. We're aware, we're outraged, we're worried. But we're also energized as perhaps never before. Now is our chance to do things that probably could not have been done before. The USTA will act. I invite industry stakeholders to join the USTA in developing a comprehensive template that will protect real integrity, support the health and welfare of our horses, and permit the beautiful narrative of horse racing to continue uninterrupted. Ken Weingartner Media Relations Manager U.S. Trotting Association

When Kurt Sugg looks back on his childhood, some of his fondest early memories of harness racing involved climbing into the family's Ford Ranchero and accompanying his father, Ivan, on trips to the county fairs in Ohio. Sometimes, they would stop on the way to pick up driver Jeff Fout, then continue on their journey to the races. One horse in particular at that time, a pacer named On Bret, was the center of Kurt's attention. The reason was simple. On Bret found his way to the winner's circle on a regular basis. The colt won 13 of 19 starts as a 2-year-old in 1978, just as the then 9-year-old Kurt was becoming immersed in the sport. "I remember going to the fairs and (On Bret) would win all the time; at least it seemed that way when I was there," Kurt said, adding with a laugh, "I guess I got to thinking it was pretty easy back at that time. Being a kid, you don't realize it's not as easy as it appears. But from a child's eyes, that's the way it appeared to me." Kurt jogged his first horse that same year. "My toes just barely could touch the stirrups and my butt was just on the edge of the seat," he said. "This is kind of all I ever really wanted to do. After school, we were always down at the barn helping dad when we got old enough to clean stalls and harness horses and things like that. That's kind of where it started. "And I always liked the competitiveness. That really got me into it. I like being competitive." Eight years after On Bret's rookie season, Kurt won his first race as a driver. In the ensuing 34 years, he has added 4,319 more, plus 1,067 as a trainer. Not surprisingly, he has cited his father as the biggest influence on his career. Ivan was the 2003 Trainer of the Year after guiding No Pan Intended to the Pacing Triple Crown and was inducted into the Ohio Hall of Fame in 2006. "I didn't work for my dad back then (when No Pan Intended raced) so it was kind of different, but I was happy to see my dad have that success in the business, which I think he deserved," Kurt said. "He did this his whole life. "When I was a kid, we went to the horse sales and dad would buy some yearlings, but they were always on the cheaper side, and he developed them into good stakes horses. When he got some little better horses, he proved what he could do with his training ability. That was a thrill for me to watch." Last year as a driver, Kurt won 361 races, the second-highest total of his career and not far from the 375 victories he posted in 2016. His $2.78 million in purses in 2019, though, were a lifetime best. He was off to a strong start this season, with his 96 triumphs tied for seventh among all drivers in North America, before racing was halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He was second in the driver standings at Northfield Park, trailing only five-time national dash champ Aaron Merriman. "This was by far the best start to a year I've ever had," Kurt said. "Everything was going along very nicely for me. I'm anxious to get back to racing, but I understand we need to do what we need to do to protect ourselves and the whole nation as far as this goes. "We have a big farm here, so we can get out and move around. But, still, not being able to go and do anything is really tough." Kurt has 10 horses at the Wayne County Fairgrounds in Wooster and another five horses at home. "We can sit in the living room and look out the window and see the horses in the field, so we really enjoy that a lot," he said. Although the sport faces an uncertain time, Kurt said people in the industry will work together to come through it. "We're pretty competitive on the track but when it comes down to somebody needing something and the welfare of the horses, people are going to band together to help them out," Kurt said. "That's good to see." Ken Weingartner Media Relations Manager U.S. Trotting Association

Hightstown, NJ — Mark Ford was a guest on the ESPN “In the Gate” podcast produced and hosted by Barry Abrams. Ford discussed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on harness racing, particularly the deaths of John Brennan and four members of the Fusco family, including trainers Carmine and Vincent. Ford, a trainer with more than 3,900 wins, is on the U.S. Trotting Association Board of Directors and president of the Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association of New Jersey. He was a close friend of Brennan and the Fuscos and shared his thoughts about their passing as a result of COVID-19. Followed are excerpted comments, edited for clarity and length, from the podcast. Ford said he talked with Brennan in the hospital the day before his passing on March 10. Brennan also was a USTA director and on the board of the Standardbred Owners Association of New York. He was the horsemen’s representative at Yonkers Raceway. “It really put things into perspective and it really shook me up because he was such a dear friend,” Ford said. “He was such a dear friend to the industry, too. John was always there to fight for the horsemen. He was not only a real good friend, but a really, really good guy. We’ll certainly miss him. “He didn’t have a big family, he didn’t have any kids, but he spent a lot of time with the horsemen and more or less adopted a lot of their kids. He had lots and lots of friends around. “When I first came to New York, he was one of the first people that you met on the backstretch. He always had, not a big stable, but 10 or 12 (horses) all the time and was always there. He was just a good guy and it’s a terrible shock.” Ford said the passing of Carmine Fusco as well as Vincent, their mother Grace and sister Rita, was a devasting blow for a family that was almost synonymous with Freehold, N.J. “You can’t imagine Freehold, N.J., without the Fusco family,” Ford said. “It’s one thing to lose a member of their family, they’re very tight-knit … (but) now, you lose Carmine and his mother and sister and it just keeps going. Vinny was another one. They’re New Jersey horse people that have been around forever, you don’t ever expect them to be anywhere else. “You look around, it’s hard to believe that Carmine Fusco is not going to be here anymore, or five or six of the people we deal with, literally on a daily basis, aren’t going to be here anymore. It’s just devastating. “How do you understand this? It wipes out a big part of your population and they’re all good friends too. Personally, it’s been a terrible week. Life must go on, but it’s not going to be near as easy as it was.” He added about the impact to the harness racing community, “This has happened so fast. I know that it’s been two weeks now since it’s happened, but people are walking around in a daze. It’s just rocked our whole world. It’s one thing to cancel the racing, where none of us have any income, but this is real. “With this stuff, it could be one of us tomorrow. People I’m sure didn’t take this very seriously at all, or maybe they’re still not taking it seriously enough, but these are things we have to deal with. This is a tremendously big deal because it could be anyone of us tomorrow or the next day. It’s serious stuff and I don’t think we’ve seen the end of it yet.” To listen to the “In the Gate” podcast in its entirety, click here. by Ken Weingartner, USTA Media Relations Manager  

James Witherite is known to harness racing fans for his years of race calling and occasional performances as a bugler for major stakes events. Away from the track, though, Witherite's musical talents extend far beyond, most notably as an accomplished composer and jazz musician. This past Monday, Witherite opened that world to an audience on Facebook with the first in a series of streaming concerts, "Live from the Jazz Bunker." Witherite hopes the concerts, which will be 1-2 p.m. (EDT) every Monday and Thursday, can provide a welcomed diversion for people asked to stay at home as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic. "It's said that in times of trouble and pain that art is a great uniter and healer, and hopefully that's the case here," Witherite said. "Being that we're all kind of left in the lurch, this is the new normal for right now. I'm not doing anything monumental or earth-shattering, but I hope these little windows of live music, which are intended to be in the background admittedly, can bring some light into an otherwise murky and uncertain situation for all of us." This past Monday, James Witherite hosted the first in a series of streaming concerts, “Live from the Jazz Bunker.” USTA/Mark Hall photo. Witherite has released four jazz albums in his career, ranging in scope from big band to organ trio. His streaming concerts on Facebook Live will feature solo jazz organ. "Everything that you will hear is either written by me, written by one of my friends who has said to go ahead and use the song, or is in the public domain," Witherite said. "I'm a big stickler when it comes to copyright law, so I'm following it to the letter." The 33-year-old Witherite graduated from Duquesne University in 2007 with a degree in composition. He was first drawn to music at the age of 3, when he found his way to his grandmother's Wurlitzer organ. He taught himself to read music, picked up the trumpet in the third grade, and soon added the piano to his repertoire. He recently set up a studio in his home, in part to provide online lessons to students. Once the studio was functional, he decided to offer his twice-a-week concerts. James Witherite recently set up a studio in his home, in part to provide online lessons to students. Photo courtesy of James Witherite. "I saw other musician friends were streaming live music at various times, so I thought why not join in," Witherite said. "I was really happy with the first (concert). I had a good turnout, I thought, and a nice cross section of my very diverse world. "Even though I know jazz isn't everybody's cup of tea, I hope it does put a few smiles on faces and help people get a little bit of a respite from the new day-to-day life. You can listen actively if you want, or you can listen passively if you want. You can have it in the background and it's there. Hopefully it's a pleasant wallpaper for those 120 minutes a week. "A little bit of happiness, a little bit of light, I think can go a long way." To watch a replay of Monday's concert on Witherite's Facebook page, click here.   Ken Weingartner Media Relations Manager U.S. Trotting Association

Amy and Stacy Butewicz have been around horses for nearly their entire lives. Amy began riding at the age of 4 and Stacy followed in her older sister's footsteps. Several years ago, they were introduced to harness racing and fell in love with the Standardbred, the sport, and the people. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closing of New Jersey's racetracks earlier this month, Amy and Stacy knew there would be people in the harness racing industry in need of assistance because of the loss of income. Last week, with cooperation from the Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association of New Jersey, they announced a food assistance program for those in the industry in the state. The program allows an individual or family to obtain a food assistance bag, every other week. The bags will include non-perishables, canned goods, household products and more. As of Tuesday morning, 13 individuals/families were enrolled in the program. "We expect that number to grow as people find out about the program and we will continue to accept anyone in need from the industry within New Jersey," Amy said. "Just in the days that we've rolled out this program, it's really been a tremendous help. We're going to have our first deliveries go out this week and we will keep it going every other week until live racing resumes." Amy and Stacy, who work together at Butewicz Equestrian Lifestyle Real Estate - Keller Williams Princeton, have received support from others in harness racing, including trainers and veterinarians, in the form of donations or supermarket gift cards. The sisters are no strangers to helping others. Among their philanthropic endeavors, they volunteer at a food pantry in central New Jersey. "I think our experience definitely made us feel more capable in taking this on, but Amy and I are always looking for ways to help people," Stacy said. "The opportunity to be able to help people one-on-one is what we love the most. Once we realized what was going on with the industry and how many people could be affected, we realized some of those people would be struggling. We thought of those people and jumped into it." Stacy and Amy hope the program reduces the financial impact on people, who must feed not only themselves and their families, but their horses. "The horse people we know care so much about those animals that they're willing to give up a meal for themselves," Stacy said. "We are thinking about the horses, too, and wanted to do whatever we could to lighten the burden on what is coming out of people's pockets in their personal situation." To register for the program, please use either following method, and include your name, address and training center/stable location. Requests will be kept confidential. TEXT "ASSIST" to 732.887.5649. EMAIL "ASSIST" to Items will be delivered directly to individuals/families or placed in a secure location for pick up. Arrangements also can be made for anyone wanting to donate dry goods or supermarket gift cards by contacting the above number or email address. "Both of us in the past three or four years have absolutely grown to love the Standardbred as a horse," Amy said. "Horses have always been in our blood. We got into this fairly late in our equestrian careers, but we absolutely love it. "The other thing we have seen is this is an industry that is so much like a family. One person really and truly cares about another; one stable is friendly with another. With what is going on right now, we've seen people really uniting and working together. It's been great." Ken Weingartner Media Relations Manager U.S. Trotting Association

Hightstown, NJ — The new editions of DRF Harness Digest, Harness Racing Update, and HarnessRacing Weekend Preview feature stories related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and harness racing. Among the stories available from those outlets, DRF’s Derick Giwner wrote Thursday about the lasting impact COVID-19 could have on the industry. “By the time Spring rolls around the harness racing world is usually enjoying the start of stakes racing at Yonkers Raceway where the top older pacers gather for the Borgata (nee Levy) and Matchmaker series,” Giwner wrote. “Yet as the seasons change on March 20 we are left in limbo due to the coronavirus, not just in terms of when we’ll see the best the Standardbred sport has to offer but also when it comes to the normalcy of a steady racing schedule.” To read the full story, click here. Note that several tracks have suspended operations in the time since the story was published, such as Miami Valley, Northfield, Rosecroft, and Rideau Carleton. HRU’s Dave Briggs talked to Hambletonian Society President John Campbell. “I think there’s a certain segment of the public that’s not taking it as seriously as they should,” Campbell said Wednesday. “I think everybody has to…be diligent in this social distancing and limiting what you do when you’re out in public. Just be out in public the least amount that you possibly can.” To read the full story, click here. by Ken Weingartner, USTA Media Relations Manager

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