In voting by members of the U.S. Harness Writers Association, the Rising Star Award goes to a "younger” driver in the industry who has achieved above and beyond the norm in racing ability and this year's recipient is long overdue: Corey Callahan.
Callahan did not find his way into the harness world until 2005, but his rise has not been of the meteoric variety. Callahan began as a full-time driver at 29 and almost immediately accorded himself as a top-20 driver in both wins and earnings. From 2007-2012 he ranked 13th, 11th, 11th, seventh and eighth nationally in wins, and 21st, 14th, 19th, 18th and 13th in earnings.
While his statistics were strong, he plied his trade mostly out of the spotlight until making a decision to focus on major stakes races in 2013. That choice has paid off in leaps and bounds for Callahan, who currently (through early December) ranks fifth in wins (566) and seventh in earnings ($9.2 million). Both numbers are career bests.
Callahan picked up drives on some of the best horses in the country in 2013, including those from top trainers Jonas Czernyson and Tony Alagna. He has won the driving title at Dover Downs for four consecutive years and he ranks among the leaders at Harrah's Philadelphia . He finished second at the Meadowlands with 99 wins, behind only Yannick Gingras.
Also, the Norman Woolworth Owner of the Year award goes to the team of Burke Racing Stable, Weaver Bruscemi. Burke Racing Stable (trainer Ron Burke and his mom Sylvia) and Mark Weaver and Michael Bruscemi (Weaver Bruscemi LLC) have been racing partners for years. Together, the partnership raced more than 220 horses over the course of a year and according to the U.S. Trotting Association, they have together owned nearly 1,000 horses.
The stable reads like a "Who's Who” of harness racing with such as Foiled Again ($1.4 million earned this season), Quillen Memorial champion Clear Vision ($596,103), multiple-stakes-winner Charisma Hanover ($555,729), Pennsylvania Sire Stakes champ Southwind Silence ($375,581), American-National winner Southwind Spirit ($370,295), Monument Circle winner Dedi's Dragon ($368,342), Meadowlands Maturity champ Sweet Lou ($330,138) and Garnsey Memorial division winner Carols Desire ($260,099).
In 2013, Foiled Again became the richest Standardbred in North American history (with more than $6 million in lifetime earnings) and the oldest to win a Breeders Crown.
This group is dedicated to the sport and is invested in it for the long run. Burke, Weaver and Bruscemi – along with their many other ownership partners – have been an asset to the sport by keeping their stars at the tracks where fans are able to see, enjoy and connect with them. Burke and Weaver Bruscemi have been the leading owners in terms of both races and money won every year this decade, racing mostly overnight stock.
It is no surprise that the Breeder of the Year in 2013 is none other than White Birch Farm for the second straight year. The farm bred both three-year-old pacer Captaintreacherous and the three-year-old trotting filly Bee A Magician.
In the final month of racing in 2013, White Birch progeny have accounted for more than 390 trips to the winner's circle and $8.3 million in 2013 earnings.
Other White Birch Farm standouts in 2013 includes free for all trotter Sevruga, who earned $484,575 of his $800,000 lifetime purse money this year, $500,000 winner Wake Up Peter, and six-figure earners Ali Blue, Proclaiming April, I Fought Dalaw, She's Da Bomb and Ideal Champ.
The late Joe and Marie Parisi started building White Birch Farm's breeding operation more than 35 years ago as Jo-Mar Farm, where they stood New Jersey Sire Stakes stallion Adios Ronnie. Their son, Michael Parisi, now runs the 800-acre facility that is home to nearly 100 broodmares and also serves as one of the premier training centers in Central New Jersey, accommodating 300 horses in training.
The Lew Barasch Breakthrough Award goes to a "non-racing” individual who has excelled beyond the scope of their job profile during the year. This year's winner is Heather Wilder, who is the director of public relations and marketing for the Meadows Standardbred Owners Assocation (MSOA) at The Meadows.
Wilder had background doing publicity and racing support work in the Columbus area (Scioto, Delaware) while still in her teens. After staying home with two children in her 20s, Wilder decided to pursue training horses. It was because of this unique marriage of talents that she was thought to be an ideal person by the board of the MSOA to fill their newly-created role of director of public relations and marketing.
With her extensive backstretch knowledge, Wilder has been the liaison to introducing countless area fans, both individuals and groups, to the "hands-on” side of racing, through backstretch tours, time in the jog cart and the starting gate, and even reaching out to the local business community through the area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism.
A big night of racing always finds the MSOA and Wilder with several outreach programs for fans and casino patrons. Wilder also promotes The Meadows and MSOA through social media efforts which help extend their reach.
While wearing her BET HELP button and walking the grandstand assisting patrons with any questions about making wagers on the races, Wilder is dynamic and approachable. Always willing to support harness racing and USHWA, she is slated to be one of the emcees for the national awards dinner in 2014.
There is no more legitimate "Good Guy” in the sport than trainer George Ducharme, who will be honored with the W. R. Haughton Good Guy Award.
He totally embraced the spotlight this year with his outstanding three-year-old colt trotter, Royalty For Life, while always representing the sport in a classy manner to the media and to the public.
The hard working 51-year-old native of Norfolk, Mass., was catapulted into the spotlight in 2013 after a 25-plus year racing career that saw him toil mostly in anonymity in New England. But Ducharme's work ethic and commitment to his trade and his great attitude towards both the fans and media have always been there despite the immensely rocky road to his Hambletonian victory with the horse of a lifetime.
Along with all the glory of guiding the career of a Hambletonian champion, Ducharme also faced a lot of difficult situations during the year. An early year quarantine at his home base, a tiring off-track at Lexington, hard trips from difficult draws and a season-ending scratch from the Breeders Crown all had to be dealt with.
Through the tough times, Ducharme never ducked the media and took the good with the bad while offering the best analysis of any situation he could. He looked for his next positive move forward and remained accessible while dealing with every twist and turn with class and dignity.
Ducharme was asked to be part of the autograph session on Hambletonian Day (clearly the biggest day of his career) and never hesitated to accept. He even arrived early to spend as much time with the fans as possible. And all year long he did every interview and answered every question from anyone who approached him.
Ducharme is universally liked. From his days in New England to campaigning his first "good horse” Donttellmywife to his Grand Circuit success this year; you would be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn't respect the man. And through it all, he has always been affable and approachable to any media member and fan alike.
Dedicated to the industry, Ducharme also toils as a USTA Director for District 9. He is truly one of harness racing's good guys in many ways.
The 2013 Leeanne Pooler Unsung Hero award goes annually to someone who has gone beyond the scope of helping the harness racing industry that that person is Sam Landy.
In 2012 horse owner Sam Landy and a committee of volunteers created an event called the Open Space Pace Day at Freehold Raceway.
The concept arose from Landy's determination to find a way to illustrate the importance of harness racing to the state and local economy in New Jersey's horse country.
The inaugural event included a parade, celebrity appearances, under saddle races, a Southside Johnny concert - but primarily showcased harness racing in one of the most populous counties (Monmouth) in New Jersey.
The event was valuable as a public relations vehicle, both raising the awareness of harness racing as well as bringing out legislators and public officials to see the importance of racing to the county and state economy.
In September of 2013, despite the expense (much of it personal) and countless hours of work involved, Landy and his Open Space Pace committee presented the second annual festival, employing it as a tool to connect the agri-business of harness racing in the minds of legislators and the public.
Several thousand people were drawn to the borough of Freehold and the raceway within its borders for the renewal of the event. Grants totaling $10,000 were distributed to harness racing and agricultural-related charities and programs.
All the award winners will be recognized at USHWA's annual awards banquet on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, at Dover Downs. (HRC)