Saturday, April 19, 2014

Rocks N Bagels repeats in Vernon distaff feature; Burton series under way



Tracking from the pocket before unleashing a lethal stretch kick, Kelly Hope's Rocks N Bagels ($5.10) proved a dominant 1:50.4 winner in Friday (April 18) night's $8,000 Miracle Mile 2 event for distaff pacers at Vernon Downs.

The six-year-old Rocknroll Hanover mare drafted behind the pacesetting Asset Management (Fern Paquet, Jr.) before angling out in upper stretch, drawing clear for an 8-1/2 length win over a late-gaining Got the Munchies (John MacDonald).  Rocks N Bagels turned in a :26.2 final quarter as part of a :53.4 last half in rein to Aaron Byron for trainer Jordan Hope.

The featured trotting event of the evening was an $8,000 Miracle Mile 2 event as well, with Jerry Clark's Jaipur ($4.30) kicking cover for a neck win over House Money (Roman Lopez) in 1:53.4 for driver Fern Paquet, Jr. and trainer Jamie Paquet.

The Catherine Burton trotting series kicked off as well with four $4,000 first-round divisions.  Ray Schnittker trainees Indira Blue Chip (1:56.1) and Corsair Hall (1:57.2) prevailed in their splits, while Driving Miss Crazy (1:55.4) and Keystone Sadie (1:57.1) also proved victorious.

Live racing returns to Vernon Downs with a thirteen-race Saturday card, and first post slated for 6:45 p.m. EDT.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Vernon carries good momentum into second week



by James Witherite, Vernon Downs racing media

Strong attendance and handle numbers marked the return of racing to Vernon Downs last weekend, doing well to set the stage for the 2014 meet.

On-track attendance was up both nights from Opening Weekend 2013, while live handle was up nearly 5% per race from last year's figures.  Additionally, the simulcast market showed up in earnest, with export handle figures showing a 25% per-race increase and a 14.1% overall increase this year from the first weekend of 2013.

“We were very happy with the numbers for opening weekend all across the board but especially the response to the 50 cent minimum for trifecta tickets," said director of racing Scott Warren.  "Even with the lower minimum we showed nearly a 30% per race increase compared to opening weekend last year.”

Horseplayers can feel confident in their wagers with the help of the new "Handicapping Resources" page on the Vernon Downs website, featuring detailed race analysis and trip notes at http://www.vernondowns.com/racing/handicapping.php.

After a strong opening weekend, Vernon Downs hosts two late closing series starting this weekend.  Trotters contest the Catherine Burton series starting on this evening (Fri., April 18), while pacers square off in the Anthony Farina series on Saturday (April 19).  Both series culminate with $10,000 added finals on Saturday, May 3.
Tonight's card also features a free on-track handicapping contest, where fans can vie for a $500 top prize.

Post time for both the Friday and Saturday cards this weekend at Vernon Downs is slated for 6:45 p.m. EDT.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Lutetium resilient in Opening Night Vernon feature


by James Witherite, Vernon Downs racing media

Coming off three consecutive wins in the Open ranks at Buffalo, Lutetium ($5.30) proved a gutsy 1:52.4 winner, taking a lifetime mark in the featured $10,000 Miracle Mile 1 Trot at Vernon Downs on Opening Night, April 11.

Lutetium scores in 1:52.4. (Fotowon photo)
The seven-year-old Credit Winner gelding stayed true to his past strategy, clearing and setting a strong tempo, posting a :26.4 first quarter before facing pressure on the far turn from a first-over Mc Tiny’s Hope (John MacDonald).  Lutetium responded strongly, digging in through the stretch to stave off Mc Tiny’s Hope by 1-1/2 lengths in a dazzling 1:52.4 victory in rein to Aaron Byron.  Mc Tiny’s Hope held second, with the pocket-sitting Grey Ice (Fern Paquet, Jr.) staying on for third.

Mark Laidlaw trains the 24-time winner for owner Colleen Girdlestone.

Byron swept the evening’s featured events, scoring an 8-1 upset win with Rocks N Bagels in the $8000 Miracle Mile 2 distaff pacers.  in first-over fashion, beating a re-rallying Artic Byrd (Truman Gale) and the mid-race pacesetting Asset Management (Fern Paquet, Jr.) in a lifetime best 1:53.


Jim Moran is recognized after his 50-year career as
the "Voice of Vernon Downs". (Fotowon photo)
 The Opening Night card paid tribute to longtime racecaller Jim Moran, who retired after calling the first race of the 2014 season.  “We thank Jim for his many years of service to harness racing at Vernon Downs,” said Jason Settlemoir, Regional Vice President of Racing at Vernon Downs.  “We wish him nothing but the best in his retirement.”

After the first race, Moran was recognized in the winner’s enclosure by staff, management, horsemen, and local dignitaries.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Lower base wagers, new handicapping resources at Vernon


by James Witherite, Vernon Downs racing media

Punters will have an easier time aiming for a big score in trifecta, Pick 3, and Pick 4 wagers this season at Vernon Downs, as the base wager in all three pools has been reduced to 50¢.

“Although our export handle has increased 63% over the past three years, we still look for avenues to increase revenue,” commented Vernon director of racing Scott Warren.  “We have received a lot of feedback from our regular fans that attend the races live asking for the 50 cent Trifecta back. After discussion in the offseason, we took it a step further by changing the Pick 3 & Pick 4 wagers as well to hopefully grow the pools in these exotic wagers and give fans more bang for their buck.”

In addition to the lower base wagers, handicappers will have a wealth of information at their fingertips at http://www.vernondowns.com/racing/handicapping.php, with content-driven race analysis and trip notes made available for every race through the 90-program meet.  For new fans, the How to Bet section of the Vernon Downs website explains how to read and interpret the program, along with some basic wagering strategies.  Follow http://www.vernondowns.com/racing/racing-college.php for more.

Opening night (Friday, April 11) post time is 6:45 p.m., and fans will receive a Race Date T-Shirt and Schedule Magnet (while supplies last).  Longtime racecaller Jim Moran, who will enter retirement after calling the first race of the season, will also be honored throughout the evening.  After the races, a spectacular fireworks display will grace the skies above Central New York’s rolling hills.

Then Saturday, Vernon Downs wants to help its fans pay off their taxes. With the April 15 Tax Deadline right around the corner, fans will have a chance to enter a contest to win up to $500 towards their tax bill.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

VERNON DOWNS TO BEGIN ITS 2014 SEASON ON FRIDAY NIGHT, APRIL 11



Twenty-five Standardbred horses took part in five non-betting races on Tuesday night (April 8) as Vernon Downs conducted its third qualifying session in preparation for its 61st season.

An enthusiastic crown turned out for the track’s annual Media Night festivities and watched 17 trotters and eight pacers try to convince the judges of their abilities to compete in pari-mutuel races at the central New York harness track.

Ashton Seelster, owned by trainer/driver Gary Clark and his wife, Fay, turned in a brisk 1:58.4 performance over a “sloppy” 7/8ths-mile oval to earn fastest-mile-of-the-night honors.  The bay 7-year-old horse is a son of Camluck and out of the Astreos-mare Angelina Seelster.   

Vernon will begin its 2014 schedule with a 10-race program this Friday night (Apr. 11) that will include five trotting and a like number of pacing events.  A $10,000 Miracle Mile-1 trot will serve as Friday’s feature in race two.  First post will be at 6:45 p.m.

Veteran announcer Jim Moran will end 52 seasons at the track after calling Friday’s first race.  It will mark his 50th year as the track’s “race-caller.”

DOWNS DOINGS—Vernon will complete its opening weekend with an 11-race card at 6:45 p.m. on Saturday (Apr. 12)…Former Vernon horseman Jeff Tallarino has been named Presiding Judge for the track’s  90-card campaign…A final pre-season qualifying program is planned for Friday morning.

Jim Moran: Celebrating 50 years at Vernon



by James Witherite, Vernon Downs racing media



In 1962, a young man named Jim Moran ventured from his home in Springfield, Massachusetts to central New York at the suggestion of his uncle Bud Hebert. Hebert, the Vernon Downs racecaller, would see his nephew assume the Clerk of Course position for that first season there. Moran then took on the role of assistant race secretary the subsequent season, and in 1964 would become the full-time announcer.



Fifty years and 73,000 races later, Jim Moran will call his last race this Friday (April 11), as Vernon Downs opens for the 2014 season.



In a half-century atop the Vernon Downs grandstand, Moran has seen some of the greatest horses, trainers, and drivers in the history of American harness racing through his binoculars.  “We got to see Bret Hanover, who was probably my all-time favorite horse,” Moran reminisced.  “I didn’t get to call Bret Hanover as a two-year-old, but the following year (1965) I did get to call his race.  We drew 14,000 people, which was the biggest racing crowd ever at Vernon.  He won the race, continued his winning ways, and came back as a four-year-old.  He also had a world record time trial at Vernon.”



Fourteen years later, another young pacer graced the Vernon backstretch, and eventually proved himself as one of the few worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Bret Hanover.  His name was Niatross.  Moran continued about seeing Niatross develop as a two-year-old:  “Then Niatross came along, and Clint Galbraith developed him on the Vernon backstretch.  I crossed the paddock one night, saw Clint after Niatross had won a couple baby races, and said ‘That’s kind of a nice colt you’ve got there,’ and he said ‘Jim, he’s gonna be something special.’  Sure enough, he became Horse of the Year two times.”



Moran has seen many developments in harness racing through his time documenting the sport, namely in terms of safety and speed.  “By taking out the hub rail and putting the plastic wheel discs on the racebikes, the sport became a lot safer, and in turn, faster through improvement of the breed and equipment,” Moran explained.  “In the first season at Vernon Downs there were only four 2:00 miles.  Last year, 1,100 of the races were 2:00 miles, including two of the fastest miles ever here.”



In addition to calling a “Who’s Who” of harness racing athletes, both human and equine, Moran has been feted for his efforts as a harness racing publicist and historian on numerous occasions.  He received the North America Harness Publicists Association’s Golden Pen Award in 1990, was elected to the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame in 2003, and was inducted into the Communicators’ Corner of the Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 2009.



While Moran looks forward to more time with his wife of 49 years Suzanne, their three children, and three grandchildren, he has every plan on capping his career at Vernon on a very high note.  “There are things I’m going to miss about the sport, I’m sure, and as far as calling the last race goes, I hope I can still do the job like I used to.  I’ve told people in recent years that I may not be as good as I once was, but I can be good once as I ever was, and hopefully I’ll be as good once on Opening Night.”

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Truman Gale trio leads Vernon qualifiers


by James Witherite, Vernon Downs racing media

A trio of Truman Gale trainees sparkled in Saturday (Apr. 5) morning's qualifying session at Vernon Downs, with Ocean Mist turning in a dominant 1:56.2 effort.

The five-year-old Artiscape gelding registered a 19-length win in the morning's second qualifier, pulling well clear of pocket-sitting Newyrorkstateofmind in a sparkling :27.3 third quarter with Gale in tow before maintaining a wide margin on the rest of the field through a stretch headwind.  Gale trainee Painite (2:00) 
turned in the fastest trotting mile in the eight-race session, with Artic Byrd (1:58.2) rounding out the "New York Night Train"'s dynamite trio.

Of 43 horses to face starter Mark Phillips in the morning's session, 36 met qualifying standards.  Opening Night for the 2014 Vernon Downs season is slated for Friday, April 11, with first post at 6:45 p.m.