There were a lot of memorable moments during the 2017 harness racing season. As we prepare to turn the calendar to 2018, let's look back at some of the newsmakers of this campaign.
Dragon Roars (June 17)
Fear The Dragon won the Pepsi North America Cup at Mohawk Racetrack, giving trainer Brian Brown his first win in the event and driver David Miller his second victory in the race, in back-to-back years no less.
Brown also trained the race’s third-place finisher, Downbytheseaside.
"It’s unexplainable; you would have to ask the guys that win these races regularly," Brown said following the race. "This is my first time; I don’t know what to say. It’s incredible that we're even here with two horses and to come away with a win is just something that is unexplainable."
Campbell’s Final Big Night at Big M (June 30)
John Campbell, the leading money-winning driver in harness racing history and winningest driver in the history of the Meadowlands, raced at the Big M for the final time.
He capped his career at the North Jersey oval in storybook fashion, winning his final two starts in front of numerous family members, friends, and appreciative fans.
"This is just special," said Campbell, who retired to become president and CEO of the Hambletonian Society. "To win the last two races is just incredible. The whole night everyone has been so supportive and the fans have been great. All my family and friends are here and it’s just a wonderful evening for me."
Palone Keeps Adding On (July 12)
No one in the world has won more harness races than driver Dave Palone and he reached another milestone, his 18,000th triumph, when he guided Outburst to victory at his home track, The Meadows.
"I don’t really have any plans except to show up and race every day," Palone said. "I just hope to stay healthy and able to compete at the top level and win races. I’m still having fun with it. It’s like any other sport: when you fail to produce, you’ll know when it’s time to go."
Huntsville Takes Pace (July 15)
The heated rivalry between Huntsville and Downbytheseaside reached a fever pitch in the Crawford Farms Meadowlands Pace, with Huntsville holding off his rival by a head.
It was the fifth Pace victory for driver Tim Tetrick, trailing only the recently retired Hall of Famer John Campbell, who had seven wins in the Meadowlands Racetrack’s signature event for 3-year-olds. Trainer Ray Schnittker improved his Pace record to 2-for-2. He combined with Tetrick to win in 2010 with One More Laugh.
"My horse was tired late," Tetrick said. "He kept pushing all the way to the wire."
Hectic Hambo (August 5)
Perfect Spirit, with trainer Ake Svanstedt in the sulky, was declared the winner of the Hambletonian after What The Hill, the first horse across the finish line, was disqualified for interference in the stretch.
It was the first time a Hambletonian winner was disqualified in 92 editions of the $1 million trotting classic for 3-year-olds.
"I know you have to be very lucky like we were today," winning owner Lennart Agren said. "It can end very quickly, so you have to live in the moment right now."
Four! (August 5)
Ariana G won the Hambletonian Oaks by 4-3/4 lengths, giving the tandem of trainer Jimmy Takter and driver Yannick Gingras their fourth consecutive win in the prestigious race for 3-year-old female trotters. It also was Takter’s record-setting seventh Oaks victory as a trainer.
"She is just in a class of her own," Takter said about Ariana G.
Say Cheese (September 18)
Manchego extended her career-opening win streak to eight with a stakes-record 1:52.4 win in the Peaceful Way. She finished the year a perfect 12-for-12 and became the first undefeated 2-year-old female trotter to receive a Dan Patch Award since the category for fillies was created in 1978.
"She’s a very special filly," driver Yannick Gingras said. "She’s not the biggest thing, but she’s got a long, long gait to her. She doesn’t trot like a little filly. She’s very efficient in her gait."
Time to Rock (September 23)
In less than a month, Lost In Time went from winning at an Ohio fair to capturing the $660,960 Metro Pace at Mohawk Racetrack. Lost In Time’s only victory prior to the Metro was a 2:03.4 score in a $750 race at the Hicksville, Ohio, fair on Aug. 25. The victory was extra special for trainer Jim Mulinix as he finished second in the 2011 Metro Pace with Lost In Time’s sire, A Rocknroll Dance.
"(This) makes up for Rock," Mulinix said. "With Rock I didn’t have the experience then and he (gave) me the experience to do it with this horse. I had never raced at this level much in my life, but this was really exciting.
"I bought this horse just to show them that Rock could do it and it worked out and I’m really thankful and actually quite humbled by the whole thing."
Fast & Furious (October 7)
Hannelore Hanover became the fastest female trotter in history when she won the Allerage Farms Open Trot in 1:49.2 at Lexington’s Red Mile. The time lowered the previous record for a female trotter, 1:50.1 by Giant Diablo, and was only two-fifths of a second off Sebastian K’s all-time mark of 1:49.
"Coming to the wire, I knew I was going under (1):50," driver Yannick Gingras said. "I was just waiting to see where the clock was going to stop, but (1):49.2 is definitely a great achievement for this mare; she definitely deserves it."
Fast & Furious 2 (October 7)
Two races after Hannelore Hanover’s record mile, Youaremycandygirl became the fastest 2-year-old female pacer in history by winning a division of the International Stallion Stakes in 1:50.
"I think she’s proven herself to be one of the best 2-year-old fillies ever," trainer Ron Burke said later in the year.
Twister Blows Through Yonkers (October 14)
Italian representative Twister Bi took control from defending champion Resolve, then put on a trotting showcase in the $1 million Yonkers International Trot. The 5-year-old stallion stopped the clock in a world record 2:22.1 at Yonkers Raceway, 5-1/2 lengths in front of the field in the 1-1/4 mile event.
"I just wanted everyone to see how good he really is," trainer Jerry Riordan said.
Home cooking (October 28)
Indiana-sired Hannelore Hanover, Fiftydallarbill and Beckhams Z Tam all won Breeders Crown finals at Indiana’s Hoosier Park Racing & Casino.
Beckhams Z Tam’s win over favorite Downbytheseaside was particularly emotional, with the wife-and-husband team of trainer Jamie Macomber and driver Ricky Macomber Jr. pulling off the upset. It was Jamie Macomber’s first year with her own stable.
"I never dreamed anything like this," a teary-eyed Macomber said as she made her way to the trophy presentation. "This is (Beckhams Z Tam’s) home track. Turning for home I knew he was the winner. I don’t know what to say. My husband did it. It’s amazing."
Feels Like the First Time (October 28)
Ricky Macomber Jr. won his first Breeders Crown final with Beckhams Z Tam. Driver Doug McNair also got his first Crown, guiding Stay Hungry to victory in the race for 2-year-old male pacers.
"It’s exciting," McNair said. "I think I’ve driven in five or six of these Breeders Crowns and never won so it’s a big thrill for me."
Tetrick Keeps Breaking Records (November 3)
Tim Tetrick won with Earl Variera at Harrah’s Philadelphia and shattered the record for youngest driver to reach 10,000 career victories, which was set previously by a 40-year-old Walter Case Jr. in 2001. Tetrick was still two weeks from turning 36.
Tetrick was the 12th driver in history to reach 10,000 wins.
"It’s a great accomplishment," Tetrick said at the time. "We’ve been racing horses forever and there have only been 12 who have ever done it, so that’s pretty cool. I’ve been able to have a great career. I’m 35 years old and I’m honored to get to do something that I love to do and get to win races."
A ‘Hill’ of an Accomplishment (November 25)
What The Hill became the first 3-year-old trotter in a decade to defeat older horses in a final worth at least $100,000 when he won the TVG Open Trot at the Meadowlands.
Seaside Stroll (November 30)
Downbytheseaside wrapped up his career with a win in the Hap Hansen Progress Pace at Dover Downs and propelled himself to divisional honors over stablemate Fear The Dragon.
"He had some tough spots where things weren’t going his way and we could have easily lost him, but he recovered," trainer Brian Brown said earlier in the month about Downbytheseaside. "I think it speaks to his guts and his durability. I just wish he would have been this good a couple months ago."
Ain’t Winning Grand? (December 2)
Aaron Merriman became only the fourth driver to win at least 1,000 races in a year when he guided Official Kisser to victory at Northfield Park. The other three drivers to accomplish the feat were Tim Tetrick, Walter Case Jr., and Tony Morgan.
"It’s pretty crazy," Merriman said. "To join the three other men that I have is just unbelievable. A lot of things have to go right to even win that many races in a year. It’s tough. It’s just very special in a sport that’s so old. When I got it, it was just very surreal. It was a very special moment, a very special accomplishment. I’m just very proud."
Yannick Gingras led all drivers in purses for the fourth consecutive year and topped $12 million for the sixth consecutive season.
David Miller extended his record for most years with at least $10 million in purses to 15.
Tim Tetrick extended his record for consecutive years with at least $10 million in purses to 11.
Ron Burke led all trainers in purses for the ninth consecutive year and topped $20 million for the fifth consecutive season.
"There are so many good people who have helped me and given me direction. Not only is it them, it’s the people who work on the farm back home. I’m just a cog. There are a lot of people on the farm who have been with me for over 20 years. I’ve got an extended family. It’s a great feeling. I just hope it continues for a while." – Owner/breeder Jules Siegel, who will be inducted into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame in July 2018.
"It’s a big surprise. I don’t usually win that many races in a year, let alone with one horse." – Ohio-based trainer Joe Paver, whose homebred 2-year-old male pacer Carmensdaleyapple won his first 16 starts of the year.
"That would be phenomenal. Then it would be two redheads at the top. People might want to start dying their hair." – Driver Aaron Merriman on the prospects of ending the year with the second-most seasonal wins in harness racing history, behind only Tim Tetrick.
"I wanted to work there around six years ago, but since I wasn’t good enough I didn’t get to drive anything but the wheelbarrow. So the return is definitely something I’m going to enjoy." – Swedish driver Kim Eriksson on returning to the U.S. to drive Oasis Bi in the Yonkers International Trot.
"To this day it doesn’t seem right to me that I have the record. There’s only one Herve." – Driver Dave Palone, who in 2012 succeeded Herve Filion as the winningest driver in North American harness racing history, after Filion’s passing in June.
"I don’t want it to be like I’m an owner, I’ll bring the donuts. I always feel like I’m just standing around. I want to help out. This has been awesome." – Owner Bobby Dubovec on learning stable care at the U.S. Trotting Association’s annual Driving School.
"It might have been little races for nothing, but those are the big moments." – Illinois-based trainer/driver Cathy Rutherford on winning races with her small stable of horses.
"We were so fortunate that Sam chose harness racing. With his talent, personality and knowledge, he could have been an announcer in any sport, whether it was NASCAR, football, or whatever. We were very fortunate that he turned his talents and abilities toward harness racing. He was such a shining light." – John Campbell on the passing of Meadowlands announcer Sam McKee in March.
"He knew what winning was, and he liked to do it." – Trainer/driver Kurt Sugg on the induction of trotter Dunkster to the Ohio Standardbred Hall of Fame. (Ken Weingartner/HRC)