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Charters, Gural, Popfinger, Tetrick named to HOF ballot

July 10, 2019
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Tom Charters, Jeff Gural, Bill Popfinger, and Tim Tetrick have been selected by the Hall of Fame Screening Committee of the United States Harness Writers Association (USHWA) as ballot candidates for this summer’s election vote toward harness racing’s highest honor, membership in the sport’s Hall of Fame.

Charters worked his way through the ranks in harness racing, starting out as a caretaker (among his charges was Horse of the Year Delmonica Hanover) before becoming a racing secretary. In 1984, the Hambletonian Society hired Charters as executive director of the Breeders Crown, a newly-created series of season-end championship races, and his work in establishing the Crowns as signature events led to his being named executive director of the Society in 1994, then being promoted in 1998 to president and chief executive officer. Charters’ tireless work in such diverse fields as increasing racing handle, simulcasting and television production, international racing, and brand name establishment, plus the temperament to juggle all of these jobs along with dealing the wide range of personalities at the highest levels of the sport, firmly established him as one of the captains of the industry.

Gural was a longtime racing fan, owner, and breeder, associated with Allerage Farms, Little E LLC, and other equine partnerships, along with proprietorship of New York’s Vernon Downs and Tioga Downs racetracks, when he undertook the monumental task of leading the privatization of the sport’s flagship track in North America, the Meadowlands, away from a state-run operation of New Jersey. Enlisting the aid of many of the sport’s top figures in addition to large investments of his own money, time, and expertise, Gural has been the directing force of the revitalization of the mile oval, with a new grandstand built on the old backstretch side of the track, a facility and the parallel racing program aimed squarely at maximizing revenue for all of racing’s interlinked parties in today’s changing, challenging gaming environment.

Popfinger has been a horseman for over 50 years, going from success at smaller tracks to operating a powerful Grand Circuit stable. Popfinger first hit the harness limelight 50 years when he guided Lady B Fast to an upset win over the great trotters Fresh Yankee and Nevele Pride at Yonkers, and he cemented his stardom with his famous daring early move to the lead with Happy Escort, “the lights on, the horn honking, and the pedal to the metal,” to defeat heavy favorites Falcon Almahurst and Flight Director in the 1978 Little Brown Jug raceoff. That quote also cemented Popfinger’s nickname of “Showbiz,” and over the years he campaigned such marquee horses as Happy Motoring, Praised Dignity, Spellbound Hanover, Say Hello, and Spicy Charlie.

Tetrick, at age 37, has already become one of only four drivers to have driven the winners of over $200 million in his career, and few doubt he will contend for the top spot, John Campbell’s $299 million-plus career total, before all is done–after all, any possible mishaps may not slow a man who already has two “bionic hips” after replacement surgery. Also the single-season money record holder for a driver with $19.7 million in 2008, Tetrick also produces quantity with quality, driving his 11,000th winner earlier this year, putting him ninth all-time, fifth among active drivers, and second in the 2019 dash-winning standings. The list of top horses associated with Tetrick is too long to mention here, but it is fairly safe to say that when it comes to Breeders Crown time and the selection of year-end award winners, the name “Tetrick” will be associated with several of the champions.

Charters, Gural, Popfinger, and Tetrick will be joined on the ballot by Phil Pikelny, former author and publicist, and Ken Weingartner, media relations manager for the USTA, the two ballot candidates for the Communicators Hall of Fame selected by USHWA directors at their annual meetings this past February.

The chapters of USHWA, the sport’s leading media organization, nominate deserving candidates based on prepared biographical information and discussion within the chapters. This list of names is then considered by the USHWA Screening Committee, with consultation with several Hall of Fame members, on Hall of Fame Day, the first Sunday in July at Goshen, and they then select the candidates for that year’s balloting, with the provision that anyone connected to a candidate is excluded from the discussion of and vote on that candidate’s viability. A person must receive 75 percent of the yes-no votes of the USHWAns eligible to vote and the current Hall of Fame members in order to join the Goshen pantheon. (USHWA)

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