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Monday, June 17, 2013

A Winner No Matter How You Look at It

You may not have met Richard Scott  Truth is until I went looking for handicappers for HANA Harness' 2013 Grand Circuit Challenge which is sponsored by The Hambletonian Society, Chicago Harness, IHHA, Meadowlands, Tioga Downs, and Vernon Downs, I really didn't know of him as well

Richard was one of the first handicappers who volunteered to participate so we were happy to have him  While Scott comes across as a nice guy, he really didn't stand out from the other handicappers personality-wise.  That was until this past weekend

For the Tioga Downs leg, he gave me an exacta part wheel of 4/2,4,5.  This seemed out of character for him but being his selections were submitted far enough in time I asked him what he was trying to bet because there was time to change it  Richard wrote back that he meant it to be 3/2,4,5 as Maven was his favorite horse racing.  He mentioned he was thinking of going to win bets for the rest of the contest so he didn't mess up  The reason for this?  To put it in his words "I guess too much on my mind with the upcoming chemo/radiation treatments".

Being somewhat concerned I asked Richard, if he didn't mind sharing, what kind of cancer was it?"  Truth be told, cancer has become all so common I expected to hear something routine.  Was I wrong, big time

But before we go any further, let me set the story up the best way I can with this column which appeared on the USTA's website on October 5, 2011 which is being reprinted in its entirety, courtesy of the USTA.

Richard Scott’s greatest victory
Wednesday, October 05, 2011 - by Dean A. Hoffman


Dean Hoffman

Columbus, OH --- It was almost 30 years ago when I first met Richard Scott. He was then a second trainer for Howard Beissinger and I was doing an article on a pacing filly named Bardot Lobell. The chestnut filly became the first 1:55 freshman filly in the summer of 1982.

Richard talked to me at length about the filly’s training and I could immediately see that he was an intelligent, articulate young horseman.

Fast forward to today and Richard Scott isn’t celebrating a horse’s accomplishments on the track but instead celebrating his own victory on a personal health issue. We’ll return to that later.

Scott attended Miami University, a prestigious college in southwest Ohio, and majored in math, but his thoughts weren’t always on the classroom.

“I sometimes skipped the second half of my Western Civilization class to go to Lebanon Raceway,” says Scott.

After college was over, he got a job in a quality control lab at a nearby meat plant, but started to helping a friend who had horses at Lebanon. Ricke enjoyed it so much that he began to contemplate a career with horses. A friend who lived in Hamilton, Ohio put him in touch with Beissinger and they met in Lexington. Scott was hired on the spot despite his limited experience.

Dean A. Hoffman photo
Rick Scott (right) with Howard Beissinger at The Red Mile.

“The first day I was bitten by a horse very hard the first time I walked into the stall,” he says. “The next day I was stepped on. I started getting battle scars early.

“Howard and his assistants -- Mike Zeller, Jim Bowman, and Pete Wilkins -- really helped me the first year,” recalls Scott. “I asked a million questions and everyone was willing to help.”

The next summer Scott went on the road with a pacing filly named Bret’s Nicki and he found many people willing to help him wherever he shipped. Alas, Bret’s Nicki often found herself facing rivals like Silk Stockings and Tarport Hap and that made life miserable for her.

At the end of Scott’s first season, Zeller, a consummate horseman himself, told Scott he won the “rookie of the year” award.

Scott stayed with Beissinger a decade and savored the many trainers that trotted and paced through the stable and also savored the excellent horsemanship he learned from his colleagues. At times the stable had as many as 120 horses in its winter base in Florida.

Scott recalls the stable’s Temujin breaking Niatross’ world record when he won a heat in the 1982 Jug and Dance Spell winning the Hambo Oaks the same year.

The following year the Beissinger Stable had four horses in the Hambletonian and Beissinger chose not to drive any of them, giving John Campbell, Herve Filion and Bill O’Donnell their first drives in the Hambletonian.

After leaving Beissinger, Scott trained for Jerry Silverman for several years and also worked for Steve and Dave Elliott. Interspersed with the good times were a serious automobile accident and a marriage that didn’t last.

“Even though a great multi-tasker, I wasn’t able to concentrate fully on horses and a marriage,” he admits. “I lost focus and it all ended.”

He got out of the horse game and began working for Unisys in Trenton, New Jersey, handling records for Medicaid in the Garden State.

Then came the worst news of all. Rick was diagnosed with cancer and a tumor was found growing along his tongue toward the back of his throat. He underwent surgery, then radiation and chemotherapy.

When he seemed to be recovering, the cancer had returned. More surgeries. The cancer returned again.

“The only situation was the removal of my tongue, right jaw, bottom of my mouth, and part of my throat,” says Scott.

He’s managed to make the most of the rotten hand he was dealt and even finds time to help others in a similar predicament.

“I give occasional talks at the hospital to new cancer patients and tell them, ‘Never give up!’,” he says.

With the gameness that any horseman would admire, Scott says, “I would love to get stronger and maybe drive in a few amateur races and get involved in harness racing in some capacity.”

Rick’s friends all hope that happens.

Which brings us to today.  Obviously, with the news that a new round of chemo and radiation coming up, Scott has suffered another set back.  Seven years after his initial diagnosis and 24 surgeries, it turns out back in April, the doctors discovered the cancer had returned which necessitates the additional treatment.  He is unable to swallow so there is no eating or drinking for him; he gets nourishment through a feeding tube.  After going through all this, I guess he would have every reason to be concerned about his upcoming treatments.  His major concern?  That he will have recovered enough to spend another fall in Lexington to watch the races and meet up with some old friends.  Not a surprising attitude from someone who is a self-described fighter 

You would think he wouldn't want this article written.  Well you would be wrong.  "I like people to see that if you keep fighting that you can survive", said Richard.
As of today, Richard is in fifth place.  There is plenty of time left in this contest to come out on top but wherever he finishes, Scott is a winner to me.

So having had this conversation with Richard, we got into his experiences and opinions regarding harness racing; after all, a person whose primary concern is getting down to Lexington in the fall has harness racing in his blood.  So I asked this Tennessee native for his view on some issues.   Here is the interview:

Q:  How many years were you active in the industry?

A:  Twenty-one years from 1972 to1993.

Q:  Who was the best horse you took care of?

A:   My favorite was the 2 YO trotting filly of the year Ahhhh.  However, I took care of Speedy Somolli for a short time as well. 

Q:  Who is the best horse you have ever seen race and why were they the best?

A:   Niatross clearly was the best I have seen. He was just an amazing horse in all aspects.  That being said, I have many favorites and they usually are trotting mares.  I loved watching Buck I St Pat and now my favorite is Maven. These mares are so tough, you can just see the ears go back and they refuse to lose.

Q:  Did you train horses?  If so, who was the first horse to give you a training win and who was the best?

 A:  I never was an official trainer, but I was an assistant trainer for Howard Beissinger and also trained some for Jerry Silverman and David Elliott.  Some of the best horses for Beissinger were Speedy Somolli, Joie De Vie, Temujin, Dance Spell, Astro Hill, Bardot Lobell, Crowns Star, and Lindy Crown.


Q: Where did you first get involved in racing?

A:  Lebanon Raceway back in 1972.

Q:  Over the years, what are the best changes you have seen occur in harness racing?

A:  The breed is faster and the equipment is better.  Many of the old training methods have changed in response to the new faster breed.

There are lots of good young trainers and drivers coming along so the benefits everyone.


Q:  What is the worst thing you have seen in racing during this time?

A:   A lot of people say drugs but that isn't my opinion. It has always been around so the testing must be improved to handle the issue.  Almost every sport has a drug problem so new tests must constantly be found and each state needs to get on the same page.  For allowable medications there shouldn't be different medication limits and withdrawal times.  Make everything the same.

In my opinion, many of track surfaces just get harder and harder. It's tough enough to keep horses sound without having to pound on an unfavorable surface.  I know it's tough on track management because of cost but some solution must be found to the benefit of everyone.


Q:   If you were a commissioner of racing, what would be the first three things you would do?

A:   For a commissioner and committee to be effective, they must have some control over every track in every state.  I don't see a lot of states and tracks working together much at present and it will take a lot for them to fall in line.  The most important first step is to get everyone on the same page with the same goals in mind.  A successful business model will not work without a clearly defined mission statement and a list of objectives.   There has to be a specific goal in mind and the industry must work towards achieving them in unison.   We have to try to find the best people for what is needed. Not the richest, not the most favorite, not somebody’s relative; but the best candidate for the job.

Q:   What trainer do you admire the most these days and why?  What driver do you admire the most these days and why?

A:   My favorite trainer is Jonas Czernyson followed by Ron Burke.  Jonas is a quiet, consummate professional who does an outstanding job and his horses always look great on the track.  Ron Burke races everywhere with a huge stable and his horses stay sharp race after race. His organization is phenomenal.

Q:   I admire a lot of drivers.  John Campbell has been a huge part of racing and is a great ambassador for the sport. Mike Lachance and Cat Manzi have great hands when it comes to a trotter. Jim Morrill, Jr. and Andy Miller can spring an upset win at any time while Brian Sears, Tim Tetrick and George Brennan can win on any track; cut the mile or come from behind, it doesn’t matter. But the one driver I would choose to drive in a big race would be David Miller.   He is just an all around great driver and has been on top for many years.  

Each track has a top driver and many have been winning for many years. Dave Palone at The Meadows is unbeatable. Billy Parker Jr. has always been a winner and had to battle through cancer. I feel Billy Parker Jr. should be in the Hall of Fame. To win 11,000 races is a great feat and not many have been able to do it.

There always seems to be new top trainers and drivers in the sport.  Part of the fun is seeing the new ones come along.

Q:  Is whipping an issue that hurts racing?

A:  I don't believe it is. I have raced many, many horses and only a couple of times did I ever see a mark on the horse.

Q:  Do you think the problem of unwanted race horses ending up in slaughterhouses is a problem for racing?  Do you think the industry on the whole should do something about it?  Do you have any suggestions?

A:  It bothers me a lot but I don't have a solution. There are many organizations that take what unwanted horses they can and try to find homes for them. I wish they could be more visible attention-wise and could acquire funding somehow because they do a tremendous job on limited available funds. Funds somehow need to be set aside for this purpose.

Q:  Do you think racing can survive without slots?  What does it need to do in order to survive long term?

A:  Racing has survived without slots for a long time so I think in some sense it could survive; just not as many tracks or horses participating. I don't have the answer for survival but ways to draw new fans must be found. Bettors must be rewarded and smaller track takeouts would certainly help.

Q:  Thank you for your time.

A:   You are welcome.

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