11/10/2016 11:05AM

Gisser: Our Harness Racing roots never dry up

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I missed the Breeders Crown races a couple of weeks ago. Even though my beloved Indians were playing in the World Series, they were not the reason I missed two awesome cards of racing. It was my son’s fault. You see, he and his fiancée chose Breeders Crown weekend to get married. Actually, they chose October 29 and then the Hambletonian Society chose the same weekend.

So Friday, after the rehearsal, while having a beer with my son at the rehearsal dinner, I mentioned that I was missing the Breeders Crown races and that it seemed like since parting ways with Northfield Park, it was tougher and tougher to keep interest in the sport. 

I bought my first racehorse at 18 with high school graduation gift money and was training at age 19. Back then I figured I would always be heavily involved in the sport. Don’t get me wrong. My current work with the Harness Horse Youth Foundation is rewarding, but I don’t get to travel to the big races as part of my responsibilities very often. I used to do it a lot and I thought I would always be a dyed-in-the-wool fan. But lately it seems business obligations and personal life has gotten in the way of some of that.

Kyle, my son, though, had a different opinion. “Dad, harness racing has shaped you and it has shaped me. And it’s still important, even with me in Arkansas and unable to attend any racing. Remember the first play-by-play I ever copied? It wasn’t baseball or football. It was Roger Huston.” He was right. Kyle was born in 1988, the year BJ Scoot became the only Ohio-bred to win the Little Brown Jug. I was a huge fan of the horse and had followed him to at least six different racetracks. But a couple years later, Kyle at age 4, would go tearing around the house imitating Roger’s call, “The half in 53 and 4. Unheard of!!”

Back then I was just a huge racing fan and free-lance racing writer. A few years later, with support from Northfield, we created the Keeping Pace radio show, which aired Saturday nights on a local sports station.  We broadcast live from Woodbine; from Garden State; from Freehold. And we did phone-in segments from the Little Brown Jug; the Fox Stakes and The Review at Springfield.

Then I began working at Northfield part-time. And in March of 2001, harness racing again came into play, shaping both my son and me. He wanted his Bar Mitzvah dinner and party to be at the track. And so, about 100 close friends and relatives crowded onto the mezzanine of the Northfield clubhouse, enjoyed a buffet dinner and got our picture taken with the winner of the Kyle Gisser Bar Mitzvah race. That photo still hangs on my office wall. I see it every day, but I hadn’t really looked at it recently. There is 13-year-old Kyle, with a mop of hair, with a grin from ear to ear (see what I did there). He looked like the happiest kid in the world. Everybody had a great time. So much so that my daughter decided she wanted her Bat Mitzvah reception to also be at the track a few years later. Later that year, I accepted a full-time position at Northfield Park.

As Kyle got older he would sometimes come to the track, especially for major events like the Battle of Lake Erie or Ohio Super Night. In college, he was hired by the TV department to be the winner’s circle cameraman two nights a week. He would jump on a bus from Cleveland State University, ride it to the end of the line, where I would pick him up and drive him the rest of the way to the track.  For those of you who are old enough to remember, I did my picks from the winner’s circle nearly every night, so it was a perfect me to stay close to Kyle and share my passion for harness racing. And, it was a perfect job for him, a communications major. Unfortunately the bus trips and school began taking too much time, and he stayed at the job only a few months.

We sat at Cleveland’s HofbräuHaus, reminiscing about all these things, sucking down dark wheat beer and eating sausages, watching his groomsmen put the moves on the bridesmaids, watching the Indians win and preparing for the main event on Saturday. And I don’t mean Racing Hill’s record-breaking performance.

On Saturday I got up and watched the Friday Breeders Crown replays. I planned to get up Sunday morning to watch the Saturday night replays, but well, there was an open bar at the reception and I am getting older and can’t party multiple nights in a row like I used to be able to.  I watched the replays Monday morning. The racing was great and since I had made a point of not checking results, it was like watching live. So, as I approach the start of my fifth decade of involvement in harness racing, I may be drifting a bit from live racing. However, after getting chills twice on Saturday – once watching  yet another amazing Always B Miki- Wiggle It Jiggle it battle, and then again, as Kyle and Victoria said their “I do’s,” I  realized three things. Harness racing will always be a huge part of me. But my family still does come first. And when the time comes, if my daughter wants me to pay for it, she will have a spring wedding.