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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The 2014 VFTRG Awards

An exciting year of racing is coming to an end.  While the major awards have been given out, there are still some awards to be handed out, in particular the first VFTRG awards.  So without further delay, here are the winners:

Most Thrilling Debut of the Year Award
 - Swedish import Sebastian K, who on May 10, 2014 in the Cutler Memorial woke up the standardbred world with a sparkling 1:50.1 victory in the Cutler Memorial Prep, his first race other than a qualifier.  To have a horse show such a line just off of one qualifier to start the season was eye opening.  He was hot through August where he won 8 out of 9 starts, including an all-time track record of 1:49 on the Pocono Down oval before he became mortal.

Thanks for Stopping By Award - Another import, Commander Crowe, whose third visit to North America was much more profitable than his prior two visits as he won the Breeders Crown Open Trot on his third attempt.  Prior to that effort, he finished second in the Yonkers International Preview, resulting in a two race earnings total of $312,500.

The Award that is Going to Get Me in Trouble Award - In my book, Ron Burke should have been trainer of the year.  No denying Jimmy Takter had a great year, but for Burke to have a year like he had on the Grand Circuit as well as with his overnight horses says a lot.  I know some people are suspicious of the Burke Stable.  I sure don't like how he seems to have cornered the market, but to run an operation like his and be so successful this year, which has to mean something.

Track with the Biggest Heart Award - A surprising winner in Red Shores Charlottetown, who for the third year in the row was a silver sponsor of HANA Harness' handicapping contest to benefit standardbred rescues.  No, they weren't a gold sponsor but considering the size of the racetrack, it was a very generous donation, putting other tracks to shame.  Other than the Meadowlands, Northfield Park, Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs who were gold sponsors, the dearth of track sponsors at any level  says a lot.

Oops, I Should Have Thought Twice Award - Goes to Jeff Gural for his short-lived banishment of Brian Sears from his tracks for choosing to race at Yonkers of the Meadowlands.  For once, Gural met overall derision for his decision which brings us to....

Never Mind Moment Award - The lifting of the Brian Sears exclusion once it was realized that the banishment of Sears was ill advised.

Rising Star Award - This year's winner is Racing Under Saddle; Racing Under Saddle Ontario to be precise.  They made it to the parimutuel state in Ontario and it was warmly received by the bettors; by certain horsemen in Ontario, not so much.  However, the public likes it and I see a future in it as more horses get trained for it and raced more frequently under saddle.

Horizon Award - Goes to RUS America.  With the USTA adopting formal rules, look for the sport to be treated more seriously by certain tracks and states allowing wagering on it.  Hey, RUS is something Jeff Gural and Joe Faraldo agree on.  That doesn't happen too often so it has the support.   Look for more RUS racing with wagering coming later in 2015 or in 2016.

Equal Opportunity Denied Award - Goes to Stacy Chiodo who could be a very good driver if other trainers and owners would give her a chance to drive.  Right now, Chiodo basically drives her own racing stock  and while she has only 9 wins out of 120 starts, she finished in the money 36 times out of those 120 starts; 30% of the time.  One thing about harness racing, while it welcomes women trainers, it is pretty hostile towards women drivers.  That has to stop.  The runners now accept women riders willingly, it is time for harness racing to welcome women on the track.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished Award - The winner is Joe Bongiorno who in a pre-race interview mentioned that he was instructed to drive a horse conservatively because he was aimed for some stakes race.  For his good deed, he got pulled from two other mounts that evening.  His crime?  Telling the truth.  How many other horses are raced conservatively in a race aiming for a future race that we don't know about?  Conservatively doesn't mean stiff; it means don't race bravely as in trying to cut the fractions.  Bongirono is okay in my book and I wish him continued success.  

It Could be Worse Award - The winner is Lou Pena who has been exiled to Pennsylvania.  No, he isn't earning the $7 million a year in his heyday but a record of 492-97-70-69 (a UTR of 0.323) with earnings of $945,347 isn't so bad.  Besides, it beats racing for the paltry purses at Cal Expo.  

Boot Baby Boot Award - Quite a few drivers were considered but the winner was David Miller who complained about a $750 fine handed down by Delaware judges for his 'nudging' of McWicked in the Progress Stake at Dover Downs.  A secondary award, the Foot in Mouth Award is also awarded to Miller for saying he would take a $750 fine every time as it is really not a deterrent.  Of course, that brings us to the....

We'll See About That Award - Goes to Jeff Gural who issued an edict that any driver at the Meadowlands who violates the kicking rule at the Meadowlands gets a 7 day suspension and any driver who gets a boot violation may find themselves banished from his three tracks.  A great rule; let's see how quick the welcome mat is pulled on a name driver.

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime Award - Goes to the racetrack duo of Balmoral Park and Maywood Raceway who find themselves on the verge of filing for bankruptcy as a result of a lawsuit victory by the casinos who had to support thoroughbred and standardbred tracks via legislation supported by Blago after attempting to secure a bribe (which never was paid).  Couple this attempt to reclaim the funds with the state continuing to refuse to support alternative gaming which may spell the end of racing in Illinois after 2015.

We Hardly Knew Ye Award - Goes to Colonial Downs which ceased operations after failing to come to agreement with the Virginia Thoroughbred Horsemen.  To the track's credit, they allowed the standardbred meet to finish before ceasing operations.

Can't Wait to See You Go Award - Goes to Thunder Ridge Raceway which will cease operations after the 2015 meet as the tracks has been sold to Keenland which will move the track and switch over to quarter horse racing.  The question is how many fans will be attending the final race card at Prestonburg?  The over/under is five.  Expect the handle for the entire meet to be around $125.

Enjoy Retirement Award - Goes to Cat Manzi who finally decided to retire after long career.  One accident too many was the cause of Cat's retirement, most likely the starting car mishap at Freehold was the straw which broke the camel's back.

Worst Drive Award - Actually goes to a starting gate; the starting gate at Freehold Raceway which on January 10 went into a horrifying spin during the race wiping out 6 out of 7 starters by sliding into the horses on the first turn.  Undetected ice was the suspected cause.

Unfortunate to be Stabled Together Award - Goes to the horse who had the misfortune of being stablemates with a star and it goes to Nuncio, who had the misfortune of being in the same stable as Father Patrick.  If the two were in different stables, Nuncio may have had more opportunities to race against Father Patrick and sink or swim.  If in different stables, we may have had a different 3 year old trotter of the year.

Hatfield/McCoy Award - This is a joint award and goes to both Jimmy Takter and Ake Svanstedt for Takter's objection to Svanstedt's driving ability.  Thanks to this dispute, it will be interesting whenever these two drive together.  If nothing else, a new word has been added to the racing vernacular, so look for the term 'pricked' in the comment line.  

Cowtown Rodeo Award - If you think Takter's description of Svandstedt was bad, could you imagine the words Joe Bongiorno and Jack Baggitt Jr. were thinking of each other after the 10th race on June 14th at the Meadowlands where Bongiorno held his ground against Baggitt by not giving him a tuck after being locked in a speed duel.  In the days of Dan Patch and Greyhound, it would have been called schooling and standing your ground.  These days it is called a trip to the stewards.

Experiment of the Year Award - Goes to Yonkers Raceway and PMU for Sunday morning simulcasting of 5 races to Europe via the French Hub.  The horsemen at Yonkers agreed to 1 1/4 mile races and 12 horse fields and it was well received with between $1.2 and $1.75 million dollars wagered on the five races in Europe.  The experiment will be expanded in 2015 but the next step is to co-mingle the pools.

Come South Young Man Award - Well 43 may not be young, but the award goes to Trevor Henry anyway who plies his trade primarily at The Raceway at Western Fair District and on the WEG circuit.  This year, Henry has a 0.358 UDR with 463 victories out of 1960 pari-mutuel starts.  This man can drive and it would certainly be interesting to see him try his luck south of the border in the States.  

Biggest Stiff of the Year Award - Goes to the site selection team of the NYSGC for denying the real Southern Tier of New York State a casino, Tioga Downs specifically.  While the Southern Tier can use the business and the expansion of gaming at a racetrack makes sense, they decided to award the casino license in the Finger Lakes area where they cannibalize the existing (Indian) casinos.  Clearly Jeff Gural's $1.8 million ($1 million filing fee, $800,000 towards the campaign to get casino gaming legalized) gamble was merely a donation to the state and never had a chance.  Of course, the joke may yet be on the state because the Seneca tribe has announced plans to build another casino 14 miles from Syracuse which will allow them to cannibalize the new state-approved casino (as long as on Indian land, the native Americans need no approvals from the state).

Sticking It Out Award - Goes to Penn National Gaming for remaining committed to Rosecroft despite losing its bid to open a casino at Rosecroft.  Many expected Rosecroft to shut down ala Suffolk Downs once Rosecroft was denied a gaming license, but they are committed to racing at Rosecroft for at least five years.  Hopefully, they will be rewarded for it.

What Just Happened Award - The winner is Hazel Park and Northville Downs.  Both tracks committed to the runners and gave the standardbreds an eviction notice; seemingly a victory for the HBPA.  Lo and behold, the trotters will be back next year despite the fact the runners will still be at Hazel Park.  Not exactly sure what happened but at least the trotters will be racing next year somewhere else besides Sports Creek Raceway (no offense meant).

Tough as Nails Award - Goes to Cal Expo.  Harness racing in California has been down and out so many times but it refuses to die.  This coming weekend, Cal Expo finally returns to a three night a week schedule, the first time in a long time.  Now if they can get purses up and improve the racing stock, it could be a nice meet.

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