Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Stark and Gibson to Upstate NY Hall Representing Vernon Downs

The Upstate New York Chapter of the United States Harness Writers Association is proud to announce that John Stark, Jr. and the late Gary Gibson will be inducted to their Upstate New York Harness Racing Hall of Fame representing Vernon Downs.

John Stark, Jr. comes from a harness racing family. His late father, John, and sisters Cindy, Laurie and Jodi have all had successful careers in the sport. He started working in the barn when he was only 4 years old and began his driving career in 1977 when he was 18. Stark was synonymous with Vernon Downs through the mid-1980s. He was the top provisional driver in both 1977 and 1978. He later won both the dash-winning (124) and percentage (.350) driving titles in 1985. He added dash titles in 1986 (158), 1987 (127) and 1988 (188), as well as additional percentage championships in 1987 (.307), 1988 (.358), 1997 (.472), 2001 (.471) and 2003 (.449). He was also the track’s top trainer for wins in 1987 (64) and 1988 (76), and percentage in 1987 (.362) and 1988 (.365).

Stark raced at several tracks after leaving Vernon in 1989 and was equally successful wherever he went. He captured a dash title at Muskegon and both dash and earnings titles at Fairmount Park and Saratoga Raceway.

Stark achieved his greatest success in the sport training and driving the remarkable pacing filly Bunny Lake. At two, the daughter of Precious Bunny was flawless in NYSS action, capturing four legs and then going wire-to-wire in 1:58.3 in the $150,000 final.

In her 3-year-old campaign Bunny Lake scored 18 consecutive victories and earned $1,146,219, the most money (at the time) ever banked by a pacing female in a single season. Stark drove her to victories in the $150,000 New York Sire Stakes Final and the $812,292 Breeders Crown Final. Bunny Lake was selected as the 2001 Horse of the Year, as well as Pacer of the Year and 3-year-old filly pacer of the year.

Bunny Lake retired with 47 career wins and $2,843,476 in purse money. Her lifetime mark was 1:49.

Other top horses over the years for Stark include Total Composure, Commanche N, Battle Front, Teeth Of The Dog, Getting Personal, Adadot, Mimz, Hamilton White and Algiers Hall.

To date, John Stark, Jr. has amassed 4,088 driving wins and $20,961,807 in purse money, as well as 1,328 training wins and $15,675,191 in purse money. He is the consummate horseman and is still going strong.

Gary Gibson followed his uncle, Avery, into the Standardbred sport. After working for both the Fred Haslip Stable and the Webster Farms training facilities in western New York, Gibson began his driving career on the Buffalo Raceway/Batavia Downs circuit. Following success at those half-mile tracks, the young trainer/driver made a seamless transition to Vernon Downs’ chute-attached three-quarter-mile oval in the early 1970s with the stated goal of becoming a Grand Circuit reinsman.

Developing into one of Vernon’s most sought after catch-drivers, Gibson went on to capture four race-winning titles at the Downs (1979-1981 and 1997). He also ranks among the central New York track’s all-time leaders in total victories and 2:00 driving credits. In 1991, his best year statistically, “Gibby’s” black, gold and green colors visited the winner’s circle 125 times and he earned $396,469 in purses.

Gibson achieved both his Grand Circuit goal and his ambition to drive in harness racing’s top trotting race, the Hambletonian, when he piloted JD’s Tryst in the second division of the 1982 edition. He also achieved notoriety and success in the New York Sires Stakes program.

Gibson’s quiet personality translated well to his driving style. He had a natural ability to sit patiently with a trotter, but he was equally adept with pacers. Respected and well-liked by his fellow horsemen, Gibson’s motto was “You’re only as good as your last drive.” He was noted for his pleasant, easy-going personality, quick wit and his unique laugh.

Some of the many recognizable horses that Gibson drove include Honest Hobby Horse, Romy The Governor, Midnight Occasion, White Rock Fella, JJ’s Apollo and Rapunzel’s Star.

During his career, he amassed 2,999 wins and $7,279,567 in purse money.

Gary Gibson died Oct. 6, 2006, at the Veteran’s Hospital in Syracuse following a courageous battle with cancer. He was 62.

The ceremony for John Stark, Jr. and the family of Gary Gibson will be held trackside at Vernon Downs on Saturday (Nov. 19).

You can view pictures and biographies of all 21 inductees of the Upstate New York Harness Racing Hall of Fame by clicking this link.