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Truro Raceway track photographer Kyle Burton captured Sunday's USHWA Canada #BetTruroChallenge, beating six other harness racing handicappers on the track's 2021 opening day.   "I thought I was going to win going into the 7th race, the feature of the day," he said. "I liked Imalookertoo, a lot. His lines in Ontario didn't show much, but just being fit and tight with only a 28-day layoff was a huge advantage for him. Everyone else hadn't raced since December. Garnet Barnsdale, who had the lead through race six, had #4 Dont Ask Logan and I was turned off by how he looked in last week's qualifier. I figured I had him beat before the wings opened and Imalookertoo delivered, big time."   The top handicapper's total return on investment for hypothetical $2 win/place/show bets on each race of eight races was $53.90 (five winners). Barnsdale, a top handicapper for Ontario Racing, finished second with $43.30 (four winners). In a tight battle for show, Manitoba race caller Trey Colbeck ($36.80; three winners) beat out former Yonkers Raceway publicity director Frank Drucker ($35.70, two winners). Burton said there's no substitute for watching how horses train and qualify. "My biggest strategy was watching the qualifiers closely. I took a lot of mental notes about when and how much drivers were urging in the qualifiers. I wanted to see how fit to race each were and if they were going easy during their first charted line of 2021. That gave me a sense of who was at 100% for the first program. Another strategy was looking for horses who recently shipped in from Ontario. If they were tighter than the rest of the competition, then that was a big advantage. That's how I landed on Immalookertoo (race 7) and Cliff Drummond (race 2)." His vantage point is a definite advantage. "Being a track photographer helps in handicapping. Being able to pick up subtle differences in strides or maneuvers that most miss due to lack of image equipment is something that I incorporate into my handicapping strategy."   Besides bragging rights, Burton got to select a charity to receive donations on behalf of the USHWA Canada chapter. He opted for the Ontario Standardbred Adoption Society (www.osas.ca), an organization that rehomes retired racehorses. "OSAS was an easy choice. They do great work and I was really moved by the Rambinlingamblinman story [on the OSAS site]. We need better options for retired racehorses and OSAS does a tremendous job in giving horses a new lease on life," he said.   USHWA Canada Chapter President Ryan Clements and contest organizer Melissa Keith didn't play the contest ponies with Burton's or Barnsdale's success, but they ponied up for the winner's choice of charity on behalf of the chapter.   Contest participant Mike Carter also made a donation to American racehorse adoption program New Vocations (www.horseadoption.com), to settle a friendly side bet with Barnsdale.   by Melissa Keith, for the Canadian Chapter of USHWA    

It's worth celebrating Canada's first Maritime harness racing track to launch its spring meet, so Canada's chapter of the US Harness Writers Association (USHWA) challenged a few non-member friends to a handicapping contest. Opening day at Nova Scotia's Truro Raceway is Sunday, April 25, with post time at 12:45 pm Atlantic (11:45 am Eastern).   Current USHWA Canada chapter president Ryan Clements, Manitoba fair racecaller/handicapper Trey Colbeck, plus Ontario Racing handicappers Garnet Barnsdale and Melissa Keith are representing the chapter. Northfield Park's Mike Carter (an Ohio USHWA member and Ontario Racing handicapper), Truro Raceway track photographer Kyle Burton, and former Yonkers Raceway publicity director Frank Drucker will also be making picks for the contest.   All are harness horseplayers with some serious half-mile track credentials among them, but how will they handle Truro's first card of 2021?   Each handicapper will select one horse and one back-up horse (in case of a scratch) per race, for each of the eight races Sunday. The top overall return on investment, based on hypothetical $2 win/place/show bets, wins the challenge. The USHWA Canada chapter will make a cash donation to the top ROI handicapper's charity of choice.   The Truro Raceway handicapping contest players' selections will be displayed on Twitter, via the official @USHWACanada account and the hashtag #BetTruroChallenge. Bettors can show support for Canada's only track currently racing by playing their favourite handicapper's picks--or their own--on Horseplayer Interactive or other advance deposit wagering sites.   by Melissa Keith, for Canadian Chapter USHWA            

From Junebug to Little Brown Jug: Justin Turnbull's Racetrack Travels. Sometimes people trot out stereotypes about harness racing. They say it's a sport only enjoyed by older people, and maybe kids should just stay home. Justin Turnbull is a young racing fan who flips the script on those notions. "My parents started taking me to the track when I was two years old," says 13-year-old Justin, who lives in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. He was raised alongside a familiar name on the Maritime racing scene: "My great uncle Fraser had a mare named Carols Junebug who had a baby named Junebugs Baby, whose field is practically in my backyard, so I grew up as he did." Junebugs Baby is now 11 years old and racing for different owners, but the early connection left a lasting impression. "I went to the track with my parents, and they took me to every track that Junebug raced," recalls Justin. "There was one day my dad got me up early. We drove to PEI, as a surprise, just so I didn't miss his race; went out to eat; then drove back home." While his immediate family does not currently own horses, their presence remains strong. "My great uncle Fraser has always had horses, and he always tells me stories about all his horses he had before Junebug. There were also horses on my mom's side of the family as well," says Justin, who is often sighted at tracks in the Maritime provinces, but also well beyond. The well-travelled young fan even made an appearance in the winner's circle at the 2019 Little Brown Jug. His dad, Jason, brought Justin to Ohio last year to fulfill a promised 2018 Christmas present: a shared Jug Week vacation. Even though Justin had his arm in a sling--it had been broken in a playground accident--he proudly sported his blue-and-white checkered driving colours, plus a winning attitude. He and his father met trainer Bill MacKenzie during the week, and were later thrilled to be invited to the winner's circle with Southwind Ozzi and entourage. Southwind Ozzi winning The Little Brown Jug "I've been to all the tracks in the Maritimes, but the Delaware County Fair and the Little Brown Jug are definitely my favorite," says Justin. "I got to meet all my favorite drivers, spend time with them, while also seeing the best three-year olds compete for the Jug." Southwind Ozzi's Jug is one Turnbull will always remember: In an extraordinary gesture, trainer MacKenzie even gave his first personal Jug trophy to the young fan who had overcome early-life health struggles. Visiting racetracks has brought Justin closer to harness racing, and harness racing closer to him. "My favorite horses would have to be Junebugs Baby, Foiled Again, Wiggle It Jiggleit, and Wakizashi Hanover, all who I've had the pleasure of meeting," he shares. "My favorite drivers would be my great uncle Fraser, Montrell Teague, Bob McClure, Jody Jamieson, Ryan Campbell, and Tim Tetrick." On Twitter (Justin is @HorseFan4Life), his photos often show him alongside his favourite racing personalities. Justin Turnbull with Jody Jamieson If harness racing could use a youth movement, it can best facilitate it by welcoming fans like Justin Turnbull to the track. "I will definitely be working in this industry when I grow up," he notes. "Some days I say I'm gonna call races like Vance Cameron, handicap races like Dave Brower, and other days I think I wanna be a trainer, like Ron Burke, Tony Alagna, and Brent McGrath." Justin Turnbull with Brent McGrath In the absence of a family racehorse or relatives who are current participants in racing, barriers to entering the sport can seem overwhelming for young people. Although many tracks are closed or limiting all spectators at the moment, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the USHWA Youth Membership Committee shares Justin Turnbull's view that young people belong at the races, whenever the races return. "I think kids should be allowed at all tracks because it teaches us little things at a time, and I'm always asking questions to learn what is being done," he says. "I couldn't imagine not being allowed in. How else would I be in love with this sport and wanna grow up doing this as my job?" The 2020 Northside Downs racing season ended in November, making Justin's local track a quieter place during the winter months. For him, it's only a temporary break from the up-close experience of his chosen sport. "We don't own any horses at the moment, but my dad says we will for sure someday. I would even like to own a part of a horse as a start, to learn," he notes. Here's hoping that 2021 will bring many more racetrack visits for Justin, and for all young people who love horses and harness racing. Melissa Keith, with Justin Turnbull; photos by Jason Turnbull (This is the final article in the year-long 2020 USHWA Youth Racetrack Reviews series, circulated and created by the USHWA Youth Membership Committee Chair Melissa Keith, with contributions from USHWA Youth members, potential members, Youth Committee members, and industry supporters, and guidance from the late Bill Galvin. Sincere thanks to all contributors: Justin and Jason Turnbull; Angela Holt and Claire Halstead of the Halifax Junior Bengal Lancers; Ryan Clements; Brian Tropea and the Ontario Harness Horse Association; Trey Colbeck; Ryder Skinner and Matt Sparacino; Grady Hachey; Nicholas "Ace" Barnsdale; Lily Watson; Edison Hatter; Tony Elliott; and Nathan Bain.)  

One of Canadian horse racing's original cities has been without a racetrack since the 1980s, when Sackville Downs shut down on the outskirts of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Yet horses have always been at the heart of the largest city on Canada’s east coast, from the military-sponsored races first held on the Halifax Commons in 1768, to today. The Halifax Riding Club revived racing in 1881 after a temporary slump, and harness racing gradually replaced the runners as the preferred style of local racing, beginning in that era. Although the downtown Halifax racetracks for both breeds have been gone for considerably longer than Sackville Downs, the city's interest in horses has never died.  Angela Holt is Executive Director/Head Coach of the Halifax Junior Bengal Lancers, Canada’s only urban non-profit riding school. She says it’s a relatively-small leap between youth participation in harness racing and equine disciplines as diverse as the Bengal Lancers’ riding lessons, therapeutic riding, and musical ride. “I don’t think it's too much of a stretch, as far as the overlap goes, because everything we do here is about developing well-rounded horsepeople who are good citizens,” she explains. “The kids do go on, after leaving here, to work at racetracks, or be show grooms, or whatever they can get their hands on in the equestrian world. I don’t think it’s far-fetched, at all.” Holt says that while areas near Halifax currently offer many opportunities for youth to enjoy time with horses, they are scarcer in the busy downtown. “We’ve experienced kind of an explosion of interest in the last few years, here,” she adds. “Everybody wants to get their hands on a horse! I imagine that’s happening elsewhere, as well.” She sees social media as possibly driving the trend, because “horsepeople kind of have this opportunity to share that special kind of horse experience” with those for whom it is unfamiliar. “A lot of people share on these platforms a lot of the passion that goes behind it, you know, and I think anybody can relate to passion, even if they can’t relate to some other aspects of it.” The Lancers’ stable closed to the public November 25, when the province announced new COVID-19 restrictions. These public health protocols “had an impact in two ways,” says Holt. “One, in the number of stables that have had to change the way they operate, which has made things more limiting in many ways. On the other hand, with people losing the ability to travel, it seems to have created more of an interest for people who might have felt like they just didn't have time in their life to commit to a horse. Now, all of a sudden, they can make that commitment because they’re around all the time.”  Her brother's stable in Quebec saw an increase in the number of people looking to purchase horses, and Holt says she’s witnessed that trend in Nova Scotia, too. “Even here, I’m always keeping an eye out for useful school horses, and I’ve certainly noticed that people seem to be buying horses more than I’ve seen in the past, or putting word out there that they’re looking for a horse. I thought that was a very interesting and unexpected response to the pandemic.” The waiting list to ride at Bengal Lancers has increased dramatically during 2020.  While Nova Scotian harness racing has been able to continue at rural Truro Raceway through November into December, the urban riding school has found its own downtown location weathering new challenges this year. Fundraising has gained importance: “Lesson barns, ourself included, rely on people paying to come ride the horses, so when you can’t provide that service, you lose a way to pay for your expenses.” Holt notes that public response has been strong in support of the facility and its horses. “We were able to get through our initial [COVID-19 protocol] closure through essentially asking our current membership if they were able to consider donating whatever they would normally spend on riding lessons toward helping to feed the horses, etcetera. So we got through it, and we’re hoping this second closure is short-lived, but we don’t really know, so it’s stressful for sure.” The new COVID-19 restrictions unfortunately came during the last week of the facility’s “No Stirrups November Ride-a-Thon” fundraiser, which concludes today (November 30). Even so, supporters contributed over $31,000 towards the original goal of raising $25,000 to support the costs of care for the 27 horses who reside on site. Ongoing fundraising via the bengallancers.com website supports operations and keeping riding lessons in the city centre affordable for all.  Before the pandemic, the stable was able to preserve its riding ring from a proposed parkade that would have taken away valuable space. “We don’t actually own this land; the city owns the land and we lease it from them. Fortunately between the city and the province they were able to resolve that and find a different area for the parkade,” explains the Executive Director. “A number of years before that, at the original location, the barn extended further and was twice the size it is now. We've been around for 85 years now, and over the years, we’ve gradually had bits and pieces taken away from us. We’ve been working on a little more public education of who we are, so we do have support if anything like that were to happen again.”  Olympic show jumping riders, equine veterinarians, and professional caretakers have all had early educations at the Halifax Junior Bengal Lancers. “Our first lesson with everybody doesn't even involve getting on a horse,” shares Holt. “It’s all about how to handle the horse and groom the horse, tack up, etcetera.” Their multi-breed stable doesn’t currently contain any Standardbreds, “but mostly what we're looking for is a kind horse who is adaptable to city life. Not all horses are going to work out here or be happy here,” she notes. The skills learned from lessons with the Lancers are applicable to diverse careers with horses, which sometimes overlap in a distinctly Maritime style, observes Holt. Regional riders frequently also work with or own Standardbreds, come from racing families, or just enjoy harness races in a place where Thoroughbreds no longer take to the track. There’s no need for mutual exclusivity, adds Holt. “Even if somebody has an inclination for one [equestrian] discipline or another, I’ve known quite a few kids or young adults who really want to just experience another aspect of the sport, and spend the summer on the racetrack or something like that.”    Melissa Keith Chair, US Harness Writers Youth Membership Committee

The US Harness Writers Association (USHWA) Canada chapter held its annual meeting via Zoom call November 18, with a change of leadership highlighting the well-attended virtual session. Garnet Barnsdale, the incumbent chapter president, opted not to reoffer for 2020/21, meaning that first-time nominee Ryan Clements was the only person offering for the position of president. Clements received unanimous support and accepted his nomination. Incumbents Dave Briggs and Sydney Weaver were both acclaimed for another year in their respective positions of chapter vice-president and chapter secretary. Melissa Keith was unanimously voted the chapter director for upcoming USHWA National meetings, scheduled for the upcoming Dan Patch Awards Banquet weekend, February 21, 2021 at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort in Orlando, Florida. Barnsdale helped the Canadian USHWA chapter organize popular initiatives like the Leamington Raceway Youth Handicapping Challenge and the "Miami Madness" betting challenge to break a Manitoba fair track's record handle; he also hosted live prize draws for 2020 USHWA National handicapping contests with son (and USHWA Youth member) Nick "Ace" Barnsdale on Facebook Live. His decision to step back from the leadership position was due to work: "Due to the increasing demands at my full-time job due mainly to the pandemic, I feel I don't have the available time to fulfill the president role to the best of my ability. I am happy that someone like Ryan stepped forward to assume the role of chapter president. He has already shown that he has many fresh and innovative ideas, and it's easy to see the passion that he holds for the industry. I have no doubt whatsoever that he will do an outstanding job." Ryan Clements is well-known as the developer of harness and Thoroughbred racing games Off and Pacing, Catch Driver, Turf Dynasty, and Top Jockey. He is active as a Standardbred owner, trainer, horseplayer, and member of the USHWA Youth Membership Committee. "I am honoured to take on the role as president of USHWA's Canadian chapter," he said. "As someone who has grown up in this industry and having straddled the lines between technology, media, and horse racing industries throughout my career, I value the significant role USHWA will play in the future success of the sport that I love. Our chapter is full of bright and energetic minds, all working towards that same goal of the sport's ultimate success, and I am beyond excited to be a part of the effort."   by Melissa Keith for the USHWA Canada Chapter  

Although its 2020 harness racing season concluded September 6, Clinton Raceway instantly comes to mind when Ryan Clements is asked about the most youth- and family-friendly tracks he's visited. Known for developing games like Off and Pacing, Catch Driver, and Top Jockey, he's also a Standardbred owner/trainer who enjoys harness racing as a betting/spectator sport. Introducing his nearly-four-year-old daughter, Charlotte, to the game he loves is important to him.   And the ideal track for that is Clinton Raceway, an Ontario half-mile landmark that conducted its first extended pari-mutuel meet back in 1970. This COVID-19-impacted year, Clinton was able to accomodate a limited number (100) of fans each race day, starting in July. The Huron County track still hit an all-time-high handle on closing day, as bettors sent $118,041 through the actual and virtual windows.   "I guess for me, the best time for family racing is summer, weekend, daytime racing," says a slightly-nostalgic Clements. "That's truly the best chance to get out as a family, because weeknights after school and after work, we're not going out to the track as a family. Maybe on a special occasion, once a year or something, but really, summertime weekends are when we plan it: 'Hey, let's drive out to Clinton and watch the races!'" Recalling previous years' visits to the small-town track, he describes what makes it special: "I just love their environment. You can sit on the grass and pull out lawn chairs. It just makes for a great atmosphere with the young kids."   Hopefully 2021 will bring opportunities for Clements and family to get back to Clinton Raceway, alongside many others who share their high opinion of the venue. "It's a very casual experience," says the member of the US Harness Writers Association (USHWA) Youth Membership Committee. "We go there to spend the day, just being able to get the food from the food truck or whatever they've got there and enjoy the weather. For my daughter, she loves the horses, but they won't keep her attention all day. The fact that she can run around on the grass and play and have a fun day outside keeps her entertained. She'll see the horses a little bit, get a high-five from a driver, but it's a part of keeping her happy for the day."   Clements' photos from Clinton trips in 2017-2018 illustrate what makes the track a welcoming attraction for fans old and new. "As far as young kids go, one day we were there, [well-known harness racing artist] Michelle Hogan was there with her twins," he notes. "There's a lot of families in that situation, enjoying it. A lot of times, it's three generations: The grandparents are there in their lawn chairs, and everybody's just out for a casual day at the races."   Charlotte shares her dad's enthusiasm: "She's always loved the horses. We were living on a horse farm when she was born, so we'd always walk out, see the horses, see the baby horses in the springtime. [...] When we go to the track, she's pretty happy to watch the horses run by."   Why bring children to the racetrack, when it's become a challenging or even forbidden practice at some, even pre-pandemic? Clements is clear: "I've always taken the stance that you can't introduce someone to horse racing through the gambling; they have to have an interest in the sport first. I think that's true whether people are betting on the NFL or any other sport; the interest in the sport comes first, or they'll end up betting on something they enjoy more. It's true of really any sport: You go to a hockey game, it's at a totally different level than experiencing it on TV. But our sport in particular, with these majestic animals... When you can stand right beside a 1000-pound animal running down the stretch, and you can hear it and feel it, it really is totally different in real life than watching it on TV."   The technologically-minded horseman admits that accommodating youth in grandstands is "a difficult problem to solve" in fall and winter, when some of the sport's most family-/youth-oriented locations have concluded their annual meets, and those that remain open must designate some indoor space as off-limits to the under-19. "I don't think a lot of the tracks are trying to solve the problem right now. I don't think it's at the forefront of their minds," he observes, noting the reality that COVID-19-era restrictions mean limiting even the number of wagering-aged customers permitted indoors during colder months.   "I think that once we get back to some sense of normal, and you can be at the track and in the grandstand, it's just about making it somewhere that can be fun for families and can feel welcoming for them, not jammed in a corner, feeling like you're out of place there," continues Clements. "These kids, they don't want to be in the simulcast area. That's not going to appeal to them at all, so it definitely is harder when the weather gets bad, but [it's possible to make] it something fun, like the dining room giving them a place where they can actually enjoy it. We brought my daughter to the dining room at Mohawk and she really enjoyed watching the horses from up there."   He sees the business case for not excluding kids, or fans in general, from racetracks--even racinos. "The primary purpose of casino companies is to run casinos, and they have to run racetracks in order to operate their casinos, so that's obviously going to be their focus," says Clements. "It's unfortunate the way that the situation is right now, we're sort of put at odds with each other rather than being able to help each other in a lot of different places. So it's definitely an unfortunate situation, and I don't think it's in anyone's best interest to be restricting who can be at the races. A lot of times it's not just the restriction, it's the fact that it becomes very clear whether kids are wanted there or not; whether or not they are banned is a different story, but you can tell when you're at a track that has no interest in having them. And it goes beyond kids. You can tell when you're at a track that has no interest in people being there to watch the races. You can tell by the way you are treated and what's available for you, if they want to make it compelling to bring people out or not."   Harness racing's most compelling places could be called "destination" racetracks. Clements names another favourite that's well worth the drive: "Hanover [Raceway] in the summer, for example. Prior to COVID, they had plans this year for putting in a patio-level spot for young adults to go and have some beers and have live music. Tracks in Ontario can make a lot of revenue from casual racing fans." With colder weather settling in, tracks with ongoing race dates can still make their dining rooms as appealing, inclusive, and socially-distanced as possible to draw present-day revenue and create customers for the better years ahead. "I think there's opportunities all over in that area," he says, describing how a good grandstand restaurant can be a successful business- within-a-business. "People are looking for entertainment options right now, while they are limited, and I really thought that this was an opportunity, when [tracks] re-opened."   Do you know a harness track that's open to children and young adults attending live races in the late fall/winter, at least in a regular year? What are some of the ways it provides a comfortable and memorable afternoon or evening at the races? Please contact USHWA Youth Committee Chair Melissa Keith with your recommendations: mkeith71@gmail.com.   by Melissa Keith with Ryan Clements, for the USHWA            

Racinos provide slots gaming for adult customers, an offering which can be difficult to balance with the family/youth-oriented sport of harness racing when both take place at the same venue. In recent years, some tracks with on-site gaming have restricted people under the legal gambling age from entering grandstands, a decision Brian Tropea says stems from the presence of the machines: "It really doesn't have anything to do with banning them from a racetrack--it's banning them from a casino." This year, in which COVID-19 has seriously impacted the number of people that can be safely allowed to attend live racing at certain tracks, the question of how to provide young families and fans with a chance to watch fall and winter races is on hold. But the Ontario Harness Horse Association (OHHA) general manager considers the issue essential for racino operators and those who oversee the sport to address. He doesn't view an outdoor observation "hut" as an acceptable way to shelter kids and families when racino tracks re-open to the public. "How do you replace the grandstand, where you can sit in the clubhouse and overlook the finish line, and build a facility somewhere down in the first turn for people to watch races?" he asks. Tropea says that smaller tracks around Ontario did an impressive job of safely hosting summer races with on-track audiences. He mentions Dredsen Raceway, Hanover Raceway, Leamington Raceway, and Kawartha Downs as examples of how all-age groups stayed connected to the sport, even during the pandemic. "They did it on a reservation basis, first come, first served," he explains. "If you had a husband and a wife and two kids, that was four spots. Those tracks didn't say you have to be of legal betting age to be here," even with a limited number of spots for spectators available on race days. Why the emphasis on keeping young people and families engaged in harness racing? "Unless you can expose people to the live product, they're never going to become a customer of betting horse races. One hundred percent, that's the value," he says. "You can put horse races on in a bar, and people might decide to play a couple of races on a betting terminal at the bar, while they have a few beers or something. But they certainly aren't going to become loyal fans of the sport based on that experience." While no longer active, OHHA's Hands On Horse program helped promote Standardbreds and racing to a near-limitless audience. "It all starts with the live experience, and that was where the Hands On Horses program was so valuable, I believe, because we gave people an experience they won't forget," shares the OHHA GM.   "I carried one-year-old kids around the racetrack, and I had 95-year-old men and women on the cart. What we did is we created a lifetime memory, similar to someone who's a hockey fan being allowed to go and skate on the ice with the Maple Leafs. I always said to people, it's one thing to get a casual fan to the racetrack, and they may enjoy the races while they're there and make a few bets while having a hotdog and a drink. But if you can get them to actually touch a horse, interact with the horse..." The lifelong horseman names another Ontario track where lasting impressions were made with Hands On Horses: "Western Fair was a great situation for us. The grandstand was right beside where we would keep the horses in between the races, so we would get the next group of people that were going out for a [jog cart] ride and bring them back over. We'd have 15 minutes in between races to get those people suited up with their helmet and stuff, pet the horses, take selfies, and really spend 15 intimate minutes with somebody who understands the industry, in a very comfortable setting." Up to 65-70 participants would commonly sign up for what has become an increasingly-rare opportunity, says Tropea.   "I felt so privileged to share with people that feeling of how I felt when I first sat in a jog cart, with the thousands of people I've had a chance to share that with over the years." He grew up in racing, and would ride along with his dad until he was old enough to jog a horse on his own, "at six or seven years old." Harness racing's future depends on the sport's lesser-known venues, where young people can build interest and skills with horses, and in racing media roles like publicity and racecalling. "With the smaller racetracks, to me, they're an integral part of any racing jurisdiction," notes Tropea.   "The fair circuit in Ohio is a great example. Where is the next generation of trainers and drivers and potential owners going to come from, if we lose them? [...] The vast majority of our participants are second-, third-, fourth-, fifth-generation horsepeople. It's not an industry that's easily infiltrated. If I'm a young kid and I decide that I want to be a driver, but when I start out, I have no connections to the industry, how do I go about doing that?" Programs like those offered by Hands On Horses and the Harness Horse Youth Foundation serve an essential role, and so do the small tracks where handle doesn't necessarily reflect the racing product's true value.   Tropea says "most of the smaller racetracks in Ontario go out of their way" to accomodate youth and special events like Childcan's "Horsin' Around for Cancer" fundraising barbeque for families affected by childhood cancer, held in the recent past at Clinton Raceway. He also shares a particularly moving message he received about one former Hands On Horses participant, showing the lasting impact that a small but welcoming track can have on the lives of at-risk youth:   "Hi Brian, I just wanted to send along a little conversation I had with one of the young grooms at Hanover Raceway a few weeks ago. He was only about 16 years old and was volunteering his services paddocking a couple of horses in Hanover. I don't remember his name, but he was a great kid. I asked how he liked being around the horses and how he got into it. What he said, I was not prepared for and really took me back.   He began to tell me he was in Clinton about three years ago, and he and a few of the friends he hung with were getting into some trouble and decided to go to the track and cause a stir over there. He said at [age] 13, his parents were alcoholics and didn't care what he was doing. He was at the track and decided to go for a ride on the jogger with some guy named Brian.   As he trotted around, he thought he was going to be a bit of hotdog and show off a bit with his friends watching. He said this Brian guy explained to him the racehorse is a powerful animal and needs to be respected. He was instantly drawn to the power this horse was able to exude and was sort of intimidated. As he jogged around, this Brian guy explained to him how many kids get involved in racing and how he could. As he got off the jogger and returned to his friends, he said it was those words Brian said that sort of changed him that day. He told his friends to leave the track and they did, and they went on to cause problems somewhere else. He went home.   The next day, he went to Clinton [Raceway] and immediately started volunteering with a few of the trainers there. A month or two later, his parents moved to outside Hanover. He still, to this day, hitchhikes into town on race nights and helps paddock. He has had a few part-time jobs with local trainers, and beams when he says he doesn't get into trouble like he used to. His grades have improved and he always has a bit of pocket cash. He said he owes a lot to that guy named Brian."   by Melissa Keith, for the USHWA Youth Membership Committee                

Looking to show support for grassroots Canadian harness racing? Pledge to wager on the season's final day of live racing at Miami Fair, Manitoba!   Local fans have been able to attend the races safely during summer 2020 at Miami, where all of the provincial fair dates were moved during the COVID_19-impacted season. They have been able to bet on track, while people outside the region are able to place their bets on Horseplayer Interactive (HPI) in most markets across Canada.   Handicappers/bettors in the USHWA Canada chapter had been helping Miami gain some added publicity this summer, writing articles and doing public handicapping. Track announcer Trey Colbeck was an enthusiastic and helpful collaborator with Canadian members of the sport's oldest organization for media professionals, so USHWA Canadians Garnet Barnsdale (Chapter President) and Melissa Keith (past Chapter President) each pledged to dedicate $100 to wagering on Miami's 8-race closing day card this Saturday, September 12.   Colbeck says the top 2020 handle at Miami is $12,715 to date, and he is promoting #MiamiMadness as a day when friends and fans can help send the handle over the top. He's pledged to wager himself, and has attracted betting commitments from university friends who might not ordinarily wager on the horses at all.   And the racecaller/lifetime harness racing fan makes another pledge: "#MiamiMadness is the quest to break our current season handle record of $1275, but I know the harness racing community is better then that! So I'm going to raise the stakes. If Miami Fair's handle hits $15000, I'll get a horseshoe tattoo! AND if we can really blow it up and hit $25000, I personally will get #MiamiMadness tattooed on me. I really think we can do this! LETS GO!"   #MiamiMadness isn't a fundraiser, a charity, or a handicapping contest--although Trey invites bettors to tweet their picks using the hashtag today and tomorrow. It's a grassroots gesture to grow the pools, ideally breaking that handle and driving the local tradition forward for many years to come.   Programs and live video stream are available on HPI. Race 1 post time is 1:30 pm CST (2:30 pm EST). Help yourself to an enjoyable afternoon of online racing and wagering...and maybe help a track announcer to a memorable tattoo.   by Melissa Keith for USHWA Canada and Miami Fair 

Leamington track announcer Nathan Bain exploded with a huge handicapping day to open up his lead on Ontario Racing handicapper Nicholas "Ace" Barnsdale in the $500 Leamington Raceway Handicapping Challenge on Sunday, August 30. Bain rode the hot hand of leading driver Mark St. Louis Jr., as he correctly forecasted all five of that reinsman's winners along with two others, making it a seven-winner day for Bain on the 10-race card. His Best Bet Validus Deo won, so Bain totaled a whopping 80 points on the day out of a possible 100. Barnsdale's handicapping wasn't too shabby either, as he selected four winners including his Best Bet, Better Fly Boy in race 5. Barnsdale tallied 60 points for the day. Bain now leads the challenge 295 to 272, but there is plenty of time for Barnsdale to close the gap with nine race dates remaining at the meet. The Handicapping Challenge is co-sponsored by the Canadian chapter of the United States Harness Writers Association (USHWA) and online Standardbred marketplace HoofBid. It is contested every Sunday to the final day of the 2020 Leamington Raceway meet on October 25, with $300 awarded to the winner and $200 to the runner-up. Check out Nick's selections at Picks from the Pros" at ontarioracing.com and Nathan's on the Leamington Raceway website, lakeshorehorseraceway.com. Leamington is now open to up to 100 spectators who contact the track ahead of time to reserve their spot. The live races can be viewed on the website, with online wagering available via HorseplayerInteractive.com and also TwinSpires.com, which recently added Leamington.   by Melissa Keith, for Canadian Chapter USHWA

August’s USHWA Youth Racetrack Review: Miami Fairgrounds At age 24, Trey Colbeck isn’t a “youth” anymore, but he’s been a harness racing fan from his early years, and wants a wider audience to know about family-friendly Miami Fair racetrack. (Not to be confused with Miami, Florida or Miami Valley Gaming, Ohio.) Colbeck calls the Saturday afternoon races at Manitoba’s lone fair track racing this summer, and has been promoting the local product on social media. “I was mostly just a fan. Then as a teenager, I started working at the fairs,” says the University of Winnipeg student. His great-uncle Doug Sexsmith owned many Standardbreds who raced in Manitoba and sometimes Alberta. From a young age, Trey enjoyed watching them in action. “My grandparents are pretty big fans. They always took me to the fairs as a kid.” Fortunately, Miami has been able to host Manitoba fair dates and stake races that would have been shared by other provincial tracks in a normal, non-pandemic year. “Not many things can keep going through tough times like this,” says Colbeck, reflecting on the 2020 season and the longevity of the half-mile venue in a region where Thoroughbreds have greater popularity. “I’m always open to expand our fan base and talk horses,” he notes, adding that spectators who might be considered too young to attend at some tracks are welcome to visit Miami. There is a $5 admission fee for adults, with free admission for accompanied children. Pari-mutuel wagering is offered on-track and via Canada’s Horseplayer Interactive ADW site, for fans of legal age to bet, but there’s no age restriction for the simple pleasure of enjoying the rural races in person. Up to fifty people can watch from the historic grandstand, while maintaining physical distance in the uncrowded outdoor setting. “It’s a great track for kids, because it’s in a small town,” says the father of two. “You don’t have to worry about anything. You can let them run around. It’s a great place for kids to learn about horses and racing.” Trey’s sons Mason (5 years old) and Jackson (2 years old) are following the family tradition. While Jackson is interested in running around, “Mason likes to pick which horse is going to win. That’s the first thing he tells me when I see him: how many horses he picked who win,” notes a proud Colbeck. “He’s better than his dad!” The Miami meet ends Saturday, September 12, unless a replacement date (September 19) is required. “When it’s plus-40 [degrees Celsius], the rain can come at any time,” observes the announcer, on the verge of wrapping up his first season, but almost certainly not his last.  Know a young harness racing fan and/or participant who would like to share their story about the youth-friendly elements of their favourite track? The USHWA Youth Membership Committee welcomes submissions from young people who would like to share what makes their favourite track a great place to enjoy live racing, whether now or before COVID-19 restrictions (in provinces/states where attendance is currently restricted). Please contact USHWA Youth Membership Committee Chair Melissa Keith (mkeith71@gmail.com) if interested in taking part in this project.   Melissa Keith, chair, USHWA Youth Membership Committee

Nathan Bain took the lead on day two of the $500 Leamington Raceway Youth Handicapping Challenge, scoring 90 points to Nicholas Barnsdale's 75. Bain, who selected six top-pick harnesss racing winners on the 10-race card and scratched into two others, leads the standings with 183 points to Barnsdale's 168. Barnsdale correctly forecasted six winners on top. Both contestants once again clicked with their Best Bet, as both chose Why So Serious in race 1 and he was an easy 3 1/2-length winner for perennial leading driver Marc St. Louis Jr. On a day marred with scratches, race 6 was deemed void for this contest because all of Bain's top three choices scratched. The Handicapping Challenge, co-sponsored by the Canadian Chapter of the United States Harness Writers Association (USHWA) and Standardbred sales site HoofBid, will be contested every Sunday to the final day of the Leamington Raceway meet on October 25th, with $300 awarded to the winner and $200 to the runner-up.   Follow the action and the Challenge as live races resume Sunday, August 23 at Leamington Raceway, via the track's site (lakeshorehorseraceway.com) and Horseplayer Interactive.   by Melissa Keith, for the Canadian Chapter USHWA      

Coral Springs, FL - The United States Harness Writers Association (USHWA) will host the next free harness racing handicapping contest on Scott Alberg's Facebook page on Saturday, July 18 at the Red Shores Charlottetown Driving Park on Prince Edward Island, Canada. One special race will be selected from the Red Shores Charlottetown Saturday program and contestants can enter free of charge. All you have to do is select the correct exacta (first two official finishers in the race, either by their starting post position number or by the name of the horse). Red Shores Casino and Racing, Truro Raceway's Hubtown Horse Owners Club and USHWA Canada's Maritime member Melissa Keith have arranged for the three "Maritime Prize Packs" that will be given away in this week's contest. If more than three correct answers are submitted, then a drawing will take place with all the correct winners and the first three names drawn will win a Maritime Prize Pack. This week's prizes include T-shirts and caps from Red Shores; Hubtown Horse Owners Club ball caps and "Harness the Action" stickers from Truro Raceway; Melissa Keith's contributions of Nova Scotia-made Tuffy's Totes bags and Bluenose orange pekoe tea, named after the famous Nova Scotian racing schooner; and other surprises in all 3 prize packs. Scott Alberg, the 2006 National Harness Handicapping Champion, who also has numerous other handicapping titles, has been a Standardbred owner in the past, and has agreed to partner with USHWA as the contests new title sponsor. To enter the contest, fans must go to Scott Alberg's Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/scott.alberg.3,, where the contest will be prominently displayed. Alberg, as he has done in the past, will run the contests. All contest winners will have their name posted after the event and the ranking they finished in from the prize drawings. As soon as the draw takes place at the Red Shores Charlottetown Driving Park this week, the program proof page for the race selected will be posted for race fans to handicap from. For more information check out Scott Alberg's Facebook Page, USHWA's Facebook Page, Twitter and Instagram accounts or the new USHWA website at www.usharnesswriters.com. A list of prizes winners are available anytime from either Scott Alberg's Facebook or from USHWA via email at ushwainfo@gmail.com. By Steve Wolf, for USHWA  

Grady Hachey is one of the youngest racecallers in the game, having started at age 11 and making Canadian news when he called a harness racing non-wagering card in 2017 at age 12. He also assists trainer Charlie Miles at their hometown racetrack when his school schedule allows. This year, with COVID-19 shutting down both schools and harness racing in recent months, Grady has been spending more time helping out around the barn, and was recently named a 2020/21 US Harness Writers Association (USHWA) Youth member. He originally wanted to review the well-known track where he had his first-ever experience of live harness racing, but instead chose to use this platform to promote a track closer to home, where he gained early experience as both racecaller and horseman. While he is not from a family steeped in harness racing history, Grady Hachey is part of the newest generation in a community where the sport has been contested at three different venues since 1820.  Canada’s oldest, through the eyes of its youngest. Sometimes a racetrack is more than just a place where horses run. Sometimes it’s history. For some people, it’s a second home. (I am one of those people). It can even be something people live for. Fredericton Raceway is one of those tracks. USTA records show that Fredericton Raceway opened in 1870, making it arguably Canada’s oldest racetrack. The track surface itself is loaded with history. A great deal of amazing races have taken place at the track, such as one race where the track record was broken: the 2012 Walter Dale Memorial Pace. It was won by Mcapolco (p, 6, 1:51.2s; $345,150) and driver Brodie MacPhee for trainer Jackie Matheson, in the time of 1:54.2! Fredericton Raceway is a place for people young and old to come watch races. With two big open grandstands, little kids can have a great view of the racetrack to watch the horses race, or they can go down to the fence and have the horses go by them, just feet away. I will tell you, there is something special about the racetrack. It is a gathering place at the barn area for older gentlemen who reminisce about “the good old days” and tease each other about who knows what. So many tremendous horses have come out of Fredericton Raceway, such as Flying Cowboy (p, 4, 1:50.3f; $201,937), who was developed by Charlie Miles before being sold to American owners, for whom he went on to take his record south of the border. There was also 2009 Walter Dale Memorial Pace champion All Star Dragon (p, 6, 1:50.3f; $252,835), who was developed by Stacey Gay and Everett Hansen. He went on to race in the United States and took his record there.  Despite the track not racing this year, there are still horses training down to race at fellow New Brunswick racetrack, Exhibition Park Raceway in Saint John. (Note: An exhibition card was raced at Fredericton Raceway September 8, 2019, the last date the track has hosted live competition.) No matter what happens to the Fredericton racetrack, the provincial capital will always be known as “Canada’s oldest” harness racing site.  Know a young harness racing fan and/or participant who would like to share their story about the youth-friendly elements of their favourite track? The USHWA Youth Membership Committee welcomes submissions from young people (aged 21 or younger) who would like to let others know about what makes their favourite track a great place to enjoy live racing, whether now or before Coronavirus restrictions (in provinces/states where attendance is currently restricted). Please contact USHWA Youth Membership Committee Chair Melissa Keith (mkeith71@gmail.com) if interested in taking part in this project.  Fredericton Raceway, by Melissa Keith

It's a talented triple dead-heat at the finish of the 2020/21 harness racing USHWA Youth Membership drive.    Tony Elliott (Twitter: @elliottracing99; shown leading horse ) was recently hired as assistant to the general manager at Hanover Raceway, Ontario. The 20-year-old University of Western Ontario student is a writer, handicapper, Standardbred owner, and harness racing promoter. Tony is also Hanover's on-track analyst, and was profiled on the Ontario Racing website earlier this season.     Grady Hachey (Twitter: @grady_hachey; in Blue Jays cap ) made headlines in the Fredericton Gleaner newspaper in 2017, when he called matinee races at Fredericton Exhibition Raceway in his New Brunswick hometown. He was 12 years old at the time. Grady continues to develop his racecalling and writing skills, while also assisting a local trainer.      Edison Hatter (Twitter: Edison_1999_ ) is a 20-year-old University of Maryland student who is Rosecroft Raceway's Wednesday-night announcer. His skills also include writing, handicapping, and promoting the sport. Look for an upcoming article about Hatter, written by USHWA Youth Committee Chair Melissa Keith for a major harness racing publication.      Nominations ended June 1 for this year's Youth Memberships, which have been generously sponsored by Tim Konkle, editor of Midwest Harness Report, since they were introduced in 2018. Konkle has covered the first year of new USHWA Youth members' dues ($20) for the past three years, encouraging talented young participants in harness racing and its media side.    The three latest USHWA Youth members join Nathan Bain, Jessica Hallett, Nicholas Barnsdale, and Ryder Skinner as the next generation of emerging talent to join the world's oldest organization for harness racing communicators.    The USHWA Youth Membership category was founded to help youth (under age 21) with a demonstrated interest in Standardbred media participate in their local USHWA chapter meetings and activities, and connect with resources like the Clyde Hirt Journalism Workshop, USHWA chapter scholarships, and relevant networking opportunities. Please contact the committee chair if interested in finding out more, or in offering opportunities for USHWA Youth to further their skills in harness racing media.    (Photos: Tony Elliott and Grady Hachey photos from their personal Twitter accounts; Edison Hatter image provided by Hatter)   Melissa Keith, Chair, USHWA Youth Membership Committee  

The USHWA Youth Membership Committee's series of monthly 2020 Racetrack Reviews keeps rolling, as more and more North American harness racing tracks are themselves resuming racing after precautionary COVID-19 closures.   Nicholas Barnsdale of Toronto, Ontario wrote the May Youth Racetrack Review about his favourite track, Woodbine Mohawk Park.   The son of Canadian USHWA chapter president Garnet Barnsdale is a lifelong racing fan.   He's a Humber College Bachelor of Journalism student who participates in the sport at many levels, from fractional racehorse ownership with TheStable.ca, to helping his USHWA chapter host a Somebeachsomewhere film fundraiser for Equine Guelph.   Last year, the 19-year-old writer, handicapper, and photographer was one of the students who took part in the Clyde Hirt Journalism Workshop at The Meadowlands. He is also an USHWA Youth member.  The USHWA Youth Membership Committee welcomes inquiries from young racing fans and participants who would like to review their favourite or local harness track, focusing on what makes the track a youth- and family-friendly place.   We will be circulating a Racetrack Review every month of 2020.   Please contact USHWA Youth Membership Committee chair Melissa Keith for additional details and/or to apply to review a racetrack this year.   Melissa Keith

With a very light schedule of harness racing taking place throughout the world, right now, it was easy to catch up with lifelong harness racing fan and bettor Melissa Keith. A recent winner of the 2019 John Hervey Award (for feature writing) at the Annual Dan Patch Awards - Keith, of Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia, had been a recent addition to the Bettors’ Corner - featured on the Ontario Racing website. Keith’s Friday night in-depth analysis, for The Raceway, was just starting to heat up - when all of a sudden - Ontario harness racing came to a halt due to the corona-virus. “My favourite win of the season was Rubber Knows beating Dan Dar Mal on that final Friday night card (March 13). She was my Ontario Racing ‘Spot Play’ of the night on the Bettors’ Corner and she’d return $50.90 to win!” Keith’s interest in harness racing goes back to the days of Sackville Downs, in Halifax, N.S., attending the races with her Dad and brothers. “I can remember my elementary school class getting a tour of the backstretch, back in the day, as well. I became fascinated by these amazing animals and the unique world of the racetrack.” “Sackville Downs had incredible crowds and handle - up until it closed in the 1980’s, so simply attending the races was enough to cultivate a strong interest in harness racing. There were several stars, at the time, who captured everyone’s imagination: Winners Accolade, Waveore and Angels Shadow were the ‘big three’. When my Dad signed me up for riding lessons, naturally I was paired up with a retired standardbred pacer (Starshot Lobell). I took some heat for occasionally letting him pace fast under saddle on the farm’s training track!” After many years of watching and wagering on the horses around the Maritimes – Keith was bound to find a few favourites along the way… “My favourite racehorses, past & present, is a long list! The first horse that I really followed closely was a pacer who came to Sackville Downs, from Sudbury Downs, in the 1980’s - a good-looking pacing stallion named Syd Grattan. Carl Jamieson trained and drove him - many years later I learned Syd Grattan was the horse Carl credited with really getting his career moving forward. There was also a trotting stallion by the name of Sunbound who was driven and also trained, I believe, by Ken Arsenault (not the Kenny Arsenault still active in P.E.I.). I cheered for him trackside every race and he was the first horse I ever got out for a winner’s circle photo with. They weren’t the winningest or fastest horses, at Sackville Downs, but they were charismatic and exciting to watch. My Dad’s friend Charlie Piper bought a grey gelding by Smog - named Irish Fog and I became a fan of this pacer as well.”  It’s years later now and after learning to play the horses, growing up around Sackville Downs, we asked - when was it that Keith would actually stumble upon The Raceway as a betting option? “My earliest memory of The Raceway is watching and wagering, with my Dad, at the Sackville Superbowl OTB and finding out that it was a tough track to handicap! And then I wasn’t following racing so much, during my university years, because there was no track around and no online wagering yet, but I got drawn back into it immediately in the Moni Maker era. I remember going to Champions OTB on Bloor Street, on a Sunday morning, to watch her in the Prix d’Amerique. She was one of a kind!” “This year is tough - with horses sidelined now - right as the Grand Circuit races were scheduled to start with the MGM Borgata (formerly George Morton Levy) and Blue Chip Matchmakers Series at Yonkers. It was disappointing, but understandable when The Raceway closed as a corona-virus precaution back on March 19… So my favourite ‘active’ horses, right now, are hopefully going to come back strong: Gimpanzee, Shartin N and hopefully Bold Eagle makes it back to North America.”  Looking back on some favourites, at The Raceway, Keith says she really enjoyed the 2014 edition of the Molson Pace. “That race featured such a gutsy effort by State Treasurer. He had a rough start and had to close from last for a three-horse photo finish with Foiled Again and Apprentice Hanover. He got there just in time! Scott Coulter is probably my favourite driver at The Raceway; he seems to get the best from any horse and rates horses so well on the front end. From past Western Fair drivers - Dave Wall & Trevor Ritchie both obviously went on to have great careers with great trotters… I associate them with Goodtimes and Peaceful Way - two of the best trotters I’ve ever seen race.” “Past performers Button Up and Lady Latte were a couple of my Raceway favourites as well. Before the COVID-19 hiatus, I was enjoying the emerging rivalry among Windsong Ophelia, Warrawee Usain and Super T - three talented young trotters who were ready to duke it out again on March 20 - which ended up being cancelled. Talbot Eh Plus has probably been my favourite horse this season. She’s won half her starts, racing respectably at Woodbine Mohawk Park and dominating at the mile distance on a half.” And one last bit from Keith on handicapping The Raceway… “Handicapping The Raceway, for Ontario Racing, has really highlighted the quality winter racing at Western Fair. Wagering is up - which reflects that as well. Favourites often win, but there is value to be found and that last turn is always full of suspense. I’ll be looking forward to another Camluck Classic, but more than that, I’ll be looking forward to the return of the regular London races that keep the sport rolling.”  *To read Melissa’s two-part award-winning story from 2019 - click on the following Harness Racing Update links… Part 1) The tragic and mysterious death of a harness horseman https://harnessracingupdate.com/2019/04/14/the-tragic-and-mysterious-dea… Part 2) A wanderer with an incredible heart https://harnessracingupdate.com/2019/05/24/a-wanderer-with-an-incredible… Shannon ‘Sugar’ Doyle Announcer - The Raceway

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