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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

How Are The Drivers Doing In Comparison To Last Year?

About 17% of the 2014 calendar remains, but this is not particularly rich territory for stakes money; the sire stakes programs have run dry and the Grand Circuit is winding down. Yes, there are more than a few stakes races in November but December is practically barren.

Some drivers have already earned more than they did last year, while others are falling short. The leading driver is Yannick Gingras, who has parlayed his first call affiliation with Ron Burke and Jimmy Takter into a substantial $3.9 million lead. As of this moment he has earned $13.7 million, which will be $14 million in no time. This is almost 97% of what his horses earned in 2013. By the weekend Gingras will have eclipsed that number.

Last year’s leading money winning driver, Tim Tetrick, is hurting—relatively speaking—from Gingra’s monopoly on the best drives. At this point Tetrick has earned 61% of what he did last year. Earning $6.2 million—the amount it would take to get back to last year’s level—between now and New Year’s Day would be a Herculean task. One must keep in mind that he missed several weeks at the start of the year when he had his hip replaced. Recent stakes wins with Burke’s Big Boy Dreams, Sayitall BB and Clear Vision may signal a shift to getting more drives for the Burke Barn in the future.

Brian Sears, who has done a masterful job balancing his regular gig at Yonkers with lucrative drives on the Grand Circuit, is in the same boat as Tetrick: Sears has earned 60% of what he did last year. He would need $5.4 million during the final two months of the year to get back to his 2013 total. Bee A Magician and Royalty For Life were a pair of money trees for him in 2013. As he closes in on 9,000 career wins, Sears is setting himself up for next year: Kelvin Harrison’s freshman pacer In The Arsenal should prove to be a lucrative mount for the White Knight in 2015.

Ron Pierce has benefited from driving Takter’s Shake It Cerry and Uncle Lasse and Burke’s Sweet Lou, but he is still close to 27% short of last year’s total, while David Miller, chauffeur of 2014 millionaire McWicked, is almost 34% short of his 2013 total. Burke and Takter have consumed so much of the oxygen that any driver who is not one of their regulars is suffering the consequences.

Brett Miller, who drives for both, and had the top sire stakes trotter Billy Flynn for Steffan Lind, has already earned 25% more than he did in all of 2013--$1.7 million. The other night he drove Not Afraid, Yoga and Lyonssomewhere for Takter in the stakes races at Yonkers. He has also earned lots of money with Burke’s Clear Vision. Brett is having a career year.

Matt Kakaley, another Burke regular, has earned 95% of last year’s $7.5 million total and will surely be well past it by season’s end. Matt won the $500,000 Messenger Saturday night with Burke’s All Bets Off. The winner of the 2010 Rising Star Award is still in his mid- twenties and has been a regular for Burke from Yonkers to Hoosier Downs to Pocono—wherever he is needed. Kakaley is number seven on the money list right now.

Chris Christoforou is another one having a terrific year; he’s already more than 25% ahead of last year’s earnings thanks in large part to his affiliation with Casie Coleman and her stable full of OSS stars by first crop stallion Sportswriter.

Aaron Merriman and Ronnie Wrenn Jr, both best known for their impressive dash winning totals, are making some serious money this year. Merriman, who leads the race for the dash title, is 13th overall on the money list and has already surpassed last year’s earnings by more than 25%. And Wrenn, who is second on the dash list, has already topped his 2013 bankroll by almost 28%. Winning lots of races is swell, but lots of money is better.

Younger drivers aren’t feeling the impact of Yannick cornering the market on dominant stakes horses the way the stars like Tim Tetrick, Sears, Pierce and David Miller are. The 21-year-old Buckeye Tyler Smith, who was the youngest driver to get to 1,000 wins, has already earned 91% of last year’s total and is assured another fine year.

Yonkers regular Jason Bartlett is 8th on the earnings list and is the leading driver at Yonkers Raceway—almost a million dollars ahead of second place Brian Sears.  Right now he’s within $50,000 of last year’s total, so he’s obviously having an excellent year. His colleague George Brennan is a couple of spots behind him on the overall money list and third at Yonkers. Brennan is still 28% short of what his stock earned in 2013.

James MacDonald, who missed three months due to injury last year, has almost doubled his earnings to this point in the season. He’s jumped from nowhere to the top 25.

Eric Carlson, who ranks fourth at Yonkers, is ten spots ahead of last year’s finish on the earnings list and his drives have already netted almost 15% more than he earned in all of 2013.

Trace Tetrick, the leading driver at Hoosier Park, who won three ISS Super Finals, with Color’s A Virgin, Churita and Freaky Feet Pete, has already topped last year’s earnings by almost 12% and has moved into the top 20. Winning the Allerage Trot with Creatine at The Red Mile was a major breakthrough for him. The infusion of casino dollars into purses in Ohio and Indiana is giving a boost to Midwestern drivers like Wrenn, Trace Tetrick and Tyler Smith.

Nuncio’s million dollar bankroll has lifted John Campbell 14% above what he earned in all of last year. And Scott Zeron has solidified his role as a regular in the Northeast as well as on the Grand Circuit. His alliance with Tony Alagna, which has led to drives on the likes of Artspeak, has raised his profile considerably. Zeron is already 3% ahead of what he earned in 2013.

Jim Morrill led the NYSS once again, but Yannick grabbed some of the high dollar Burke action and Morrill is at 68% of last year’s total. Mark MacDonald, who was number two in the NYSS, is at about 80% of last year’s total, which is very good considering that he missed time at the beginning of the season after a surgical procedure.

So, while Gingras is hoarding the frosting on top of the cake, a number of journeyman drivers like Brett Miller and younger ones like Tyler Smith are having outstanding years.

Joe FitzGerald

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