A trip to Lexington for harness racing's Grand Circuit meet at The Red Mile is often enjoyable, but even more so with a rooting interest. Charles Receski and Tom Brice have a rooting interest this season. The longtime friends from Pennsylvania bred and own Major Athens, who races Friday in one of the four $101,000 Bluegrass Stakes divisions for 2-year-old male trotters.
Major Athens is in the first division and faces a field that includes American National winner Longwell, undefeated Kentucky Sires Stakes champion Mystical Dew and Pine Credit, who has a four-race win streak. Major Athens has won six of nine races and was second in the $200,000 Pennsylvania Sires Stakes championship Sept. 7 at The Meadows. Trained by Rich Gillock and driven by Brian Sears, he has earned $249,356.
"We're looking forward to coming back to Kentucky,” Receski said. "We always enjoy coming to Lexington in the fall. We come to the sale; even when we don't have horses racing, which we haven't had for a number of years, we just enjoy coming down. We're looking forward to this race. I think it's going to be a very tough race. It's a strong field and there are some different horses than which he raced against before.”
Receski and Brice are no strangers to success at The Red Mile; their Miss Nittany was a stakes winner at the oval in 1999. The dam of Miss Nittany, Classical Beth, is Major Athens' second dam and also the mother of multiple-stakes-winner Miss Wisconsin.
Major Athens is a son of Andover Hall of the mare Miss Athens, who is owned by Receski and Brice and earned $83,419 on the track. Major Athens is a full brother to Dover Miss, who was second to Honorable Daughter in the 2008 Merrie Annabelle.
"We've had the family for some time,” Receski said. "We were thinking about selling Miss Athens after she was done racing, but we didn't think we were being offered the money we thought she was worth. So we decided to breed her.”
Gillock was impressed with Major Athens as the colt prepped for his season.
"He showed me a lot of signs all winter long,” Gillock said earlier this year. "His biggest asset is his manners. He learns quickly and doesn't seem to get real upset over much.”
Receski and Brice heard the early reports, but were unwilling to get too excited too soon.
"You never get your hopes up,” Receski said, laughing. "In January, February, March – they all look good. All you do is hope everything works out. One never knows.
"Our trainer has done a tremendous job with this horse. From the beginning he liked the horse. He brought him along slowly. He was always fairly confident that the horse had some potential.”
Brice, who owns furniture stores, got involved in harness racing through his father-in-law Red Douds. Receski, who worked 45 years for Indiana University of Pennsylvania, primarily as vice president of finance and administration, was involved with show horses prior to buying a racehorse with Brice in the early 1980s.
Following the Bluegrass, Major Athens' schedule includes the International Stallion Stakes on Oct. 5 at The Red Mile and the Breeders Crown in late October at Woodbine Racetrack.
"Whether we'll go that route, we don't know,” Receski said. "The next two weeks will give us a little bit of insight into what our next move is. But so far the Lord has been good to us; probably too good. We just go day to day. We've been very fortunate.
"We have an excellent trainer, Rich Gillock; his people in his barn have been super in taking care of the animals. We've had a great driver in Brian Sears. That's where the credit goes. We guys sitting in the stands, we don't deserve too much of the credit.” (HRC)