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Sharkey, McErlean, Knapman to be honored by NJ-USHWA

July 18, 2007

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Go-To Guy Robert J. Sharkey, former Meadowlands vice president Chris McErlean and the late Patrick J. Knapman, DVM, will be saluted in winner’s circle ceremonies at the Meadowlands Saturday night by the New Jersey Chapter of the United States Harness Writers Association.

Sharkey will receive the Stanley Dancer Media Award and both McErlean and Mrs. Frances Knapman, on behalf of her late husband, will accept Special Recognition Awards.

The Dancer Award honors an individual whose efforts on behalf of racing and cooperation with the media are in keeping with the example set by the late Hall of Fame driver and trainer Stanley Dancer, a native of New Egypt, N.J.

Sharkey is a longtime fixture at the Meadowlands. Horse caretaker is one title he wears but he is also the go-to guy for numerous horsemen as well as track management in all areas of operations behind the scenes. But he can also handle very public roles with members of the media or visiting celebrities. 

“He is dedicated, responsible and absolutely reliable,” said Moira Fanning, president of the New Jersey Chapter of USHWA. “Whenever someone needs a horse to train a legislator or media person for an exhibition race or any other media event, Bob Sharkey can be counted on to come through. Sharkey is an absolute jewel, whose patience with newbies and inexperienced media people has made more converts to the sport of harness racing than can be counted.”

Sharkey keeps busy filling in for other horsemen. Whether it is warming up dozens of horses each night, feeding and caring for horses in the detention barn, assisting security with a loose horse or responding to any other chore in the stable area, he is available from sun-up until the last horse is tucked in each night. 

For 14 years McErlean was the dynamo behind the success of the Meadowlands Racetrack, initially as marketing director in 1992 and, through a succession of promotions through the management ranks, to vice president for racing operations from 2005 until his departure in January of 2007.

Earlier this year, McErlean joined Penn National Gaming Inc. as vice president of racing where he oversees operations for six racetracks and six off-track wagering facilities.

During McErlean’s tenure at the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority, where he was responsible for both the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park, he introduced the Big M Club, one of the first frequent player rewards programs in racing, and an industry’s leading website, www.meadowlandsracetrack.com.

McErlean was always available to respond to media inquiries and was himself an USHWA member for many years.
Dr. Knapman was the “Pied Piper of cats,” according to his widow, Fran. He was also the vet for many of the top racehorses in central New Jersey. 

While Knapman’s daily visits to Gaitway Farms in Englishtown, N.J., were to treat the training center’s equine occupants, he also provided free food, neutering and care for the many barn cats.

The 52-year-old veterinarian died in his sleep on Aug. 28 at his home in Jackson, N.J.
Knapman, who was president of the New Jersey Equine Practioners Association, served as veterinary coordinator for the Monmouth County Department of Health, Office of Emergency Management. In the past, he held the position of head veterinarian for Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and Six Flags Great Adventure and Wild Safari theme park.

Knapman provided free or discounted veterinary care to horses in the Standardbred Retirement Foundation program, and he saved the life and provided a retirement home for Netback, the only horse to survive the Thanksgiving 2000 fire at Gaitway. He also achieved some fame as the on-call veterinarian for the Tiger Lady, a Jackson area resident who operated a tiger preserve.

Previous winners of the Dancer Award, which was created in 1991, were drivers John Campbell, Herve Filion, Ray Remmen and Luc Ouellette; trainers Robbie Siegelman, Kelly Stackowicz and George Teague Jr.; the father-son team of Carl and Rod Allen; the duo of trainer Jimmy Takter and owner/amateur driver Mal Burroughs and the Meirs Family of Walnridge Farms for the Niatross Tour. (NJ-USHWA)

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