08/30/2016 12:12PM

Gisser: An open apology to Brian Sears

Lisa Photo
Brian Sears has won multiple Hambletonian trophies.


I am writing to apologize to you. I don’t think we have ever met. I can’t recall interviewing you on any of your infrequent forays to Northfield Park back when you were based at The Meadows, but I still need to apologize. I am abstaining on my ballot to put you into the Hall of Fame and for that I am sorry.

Make no mistake. You belong in Goshen.  9,600 wins and around $175 million in career earnings puts you in stellar company. You have won 10 of 12 Breeders Crown divisions, the Hambletonian, the Little Brown Jug, the Kentucky Futurity, Meadowlands Pace, North America Cup, Yonkers Trot, Messenger, Cane, Adios, Battle of the Brandywine, Canadian Trotting Classic, Metro, Stanley Dancer, Del Miller, Canadian Pacing Classic, and far too many more to mention. You belong in the Hall with other current stars including Dave Miller and Dave Palone, as well as the stars of the past who gained previous enshrinement.

But I must abstain. You see, even this November I have a choice. I can vote for Trump or Clinton. Or even Gary Johnson or Jill Stein. But my USHWA brethren have given me no choice this year. You are the only name on the ballot and that implies USHWA did not do its job this year.

[DRF HARNESS LIVE: Full coverage of the Messenger and Yonkers Trot + real-time insights & Live Video from Yonkers on Saturday.]

I will accept part of the blame for this. I am a long-time USHWA member and have been President and Vice President of the Ohio Chapter for multiple terms over the years. I have never been wild about how the nomination process works, but I always kept my concerns at the chapter level. I never attended the annual meeting, since my duties at Northfield simply would not allow me to. I could have spoken up there, but I did not.

USHWA managed to find two worthy contenders for the self-congratulatory Communicators Hall of Fame. Gordon Waterstone and Steve Wolf are both well-deserving of enshrinement, even after separating out their USHWA activities. I will vote yes on both.

But why just one candidate for the Harness Racing Hall of Fame? I don’t know if we are getting lazy, not paying attention or are simply getting forgetful. It seems we spend too much time looking at the high profile drivers, while forgetting many, many others. Who is not in the Hall that deserves consideration?

I was shocked to find out that Hanover Farms’ Russell Williams does not sit in the Hall. While Hanover is a very high profile operation, Russell is anything but.  The Hanover Shoe Farms Foundation does tons of good work in and out of the business.  They do it quietly and (usually) with nary a press release.  Russell Williams should at least be on the ballot.

Ron Burke is another no-brainer. How is he not in the Hall of Fame? He has 7200 training wins (more than many enshrined drivers have on their stat sheets) and multiple earnings records. Plus he has been the top-ranked trainer for a gazillion years in a row in wins and earnings.  And he has trained some great horses, too. If people want to whisper behind his back, fine, but at least put him on the ballot and give him thumbs up or down.  Thumbs down would show our organization to be out of touch.

Trainer Steve Elliott has had four horses earn $2.5 million and he did it in consecutive years (2006-2009).  Burning Point, Donato Hanover, Artistic Fella and Well Said are the four. That is a worthy achievement, but I was surprised to find he has less than 1,000 career training wins. Granted, he does not have a huge stable, but there are no specific criteria for the Hall. I do know a lot of well-respected people in this business believe he deserves enshrinement.

What about George Teague? Two great horses have come from his barn in Wiggle It Jiggleit and Rainbow Blue, and Southwind Lynx at $1.8 million comes close to making it three. His actual stats are not huge, but that is more a factor of his barn management. He is not the trainer, per se, but as a trainer, owner and breeder we are pretty close to Hall of Fame standards.

Brian, your numbers are impressive and Hall worthy.  But so are Tim Tetrick’s.  He has 9,343 wins and $171,000,000 on his card, a couple hundred wins and $4,000,000 less than you.  You are 48, but he is relatively young at age 35. His time will come, but his numbers warrant consideration now.

We can do better. I don’t have all the answers, nor is my list meant to be complete. But there are quality candidates out there. Certainly better quality than what we have to consider in November. I will be fighting to get the Ohio chapter to nominate Russell Williams and Ron Burke next time around. And the extra inductees help USHWA and the Hall, too; if for no other reason than to sell more journal ads and dinner tickets. So, Brian, congratulations on your upcoming induction into the Hall of Fame. I hope you will forgive my protest vote, and I hope to be in Goshen next summer to apologize in person.


Keith Gisser