12/30/2016 11:11AM

Giwner: Continuing injustice in the Owner of the Year category

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USTA Photo
Devin Keeling and Marion Jean Wellwood were all smiles after Marion Marauder won the Hambletonian.

Last week we learned that Marion Jean Wellwood and Devin Keeling were the winners of the 2016 Owner of the year Award issued by USHWA. This left a bad taste in my mouth due to the fact that the pair own only one horse, albeit a Champion, in Triple Crown winner and Trotter of the Year Marion Marauder.

I was left wondering, how is it possible to be the top owner in the sport with but one horse? What makes the winning pair stand out over owners with multiple champions this year like Christina Takter and Marvin Katz? Did Wellwood and Keeling do something out of the ordinary to warrant the award?

Clearly voters were compelled by the ‘Cinderella Story’ of Marion Marauder besting the big stables of Ron Burke (Southwind Frank) and Jimmy Takter (Bar Hopping) to capture many of the sport’s major trotting events including the Hambletonian. The group behind Marion Marauder certainly deserves credit for managing the horse nicely and gets the most props from me for electing to supplement to the Kentucky Futurity to pursue the Triple Crown. That type of selflessness, similar to how George Teague, Jr put up his cash to place Wiggle It Jiggleit into the Breeders Crown this year against Always B Miki, makes them worthy of at least being on the ballot.

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But that is just one side of the story. Facts must play a major role in deciding who wins awards that have to do with on-track performance. Perhaps one of the main problems is the lack of statistics provided to voters on the top owners. When making selections for the Eclipse awards on the Thoroughbred side, voters can view the top owners ranked by earnings, wins, Grade I wins and Graded wins. No such statistical information is provided on the Standardbred front. We are left with just a bio of achievements as of late November.

The USTA graciously provided us some ownership data. Unfortunately the Top 150 list ranked by earnings is segregated by ownership group rather than individual owners, so it is very difficult to elicit which individual owners topped the leaderboard in 2016. Just considering the 150 on the list, which includes any ownership group earning more than $365,000, here are the owners with earnings above $2.5 million:

Owner

# of starters

Total Earnings

Average $ per starter

Burke Racing Stable

214

$12,856,945

$60,079

Weaver Bruscemi

157

$5,830,436

$37,136

Christina Takter

9

$3,749,993

$416,665

Marvin Katz

10

$3,708,301

$370,830

Al Libfeld

9

$3,060,623

$340,069

Robert Key

102

$2,772,404

$27,180

J&T Silva

15

$2,631,620

$175,441

Tom Hill

12

$2,510,529

$209,210

 

While Burke Racing Stable dominates in total earnings, it is plain to see that Takter and Katz have a huge edge in average earnings per horse. One name you don’t see posted is Wellwood and Keeling, who come in at $1,484,532 from their one starter.

The way voting works for top owner is that each chapter makes nominations and three are placed on the ballot. If more than three are nominated, Past Presidents and Officers must reduce the number via a vote. There were three owners on the ballot in 2016—Ed Mullinax, Christina Takter and Marion Jean Wellwood/Devin Keeling.  Marvin Katz/Al Libfeld and Howard Taylor were the other owners nominated, each by one chapter.

Interestingly enough, the combination of Wellwood/Keeling were nominated only by the Keystone Chapter and Mulliniax by Ohio, while Takter was thought worthy by Delaware Valley, Florida, Monticello-Goshen, New Jersey, New York City and Upstate New York.

So, since according to my math six is greater than one, how is it possible that Takter failed to come out ahead? The only logical answer I can come up with is that the participation at the chapter level for nominations must be low and not truly represent the feelings of individual members. Along those lines, I freely admit that I didn’t argue for Yannick Gingras to be the driving nominee of our chapter and just went along with Scott Zeron. If I would have known that Gingras would have been completely left off the ballot, I would have argued a case for him. He led the nation in earnings and should have at least been eligible to win the award.

Getting back to the Owners category, after much prodding, USHWA did finally release totals for the award and as you can see the vote was very close: Marion Jean Wellwood / Devin Keeling (50), Christina Takter (47), Ed Mullinax (31).

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A very interesting aspect of the voting, and perhaps something that needs to be addressed, is that only 128 ballots were returned for the human awards from 212 eligible voters versus 155 of 198 on the equine side. One of the differences in the totals (212 vs. 198) is because some USHWANs have lost their right to vote for equine awards and have not requested reinstatement. Perhaps everyone casting votes on the equine side should be forced to include human choices or their entire ballot will be void. That should increase participation.

With respect to Christina Takter, I truly believe that she is hurt by the success of her Hall of Fame husband, trainer Jimmy Takter. I also believe many writers think she has won it already and they want to look for a ‘fresh’ face.

It is without a doubt one of the biggest injustices that Christina Takter has yet to win Owner of the Year. She typically owns multiple year-end award winners, multiple Breeders crown winners and has won the Hambletonian on more than one occasion. She invests huge amounts of money in the sport every year, attends more stakes races at varied tracks than any owner in the sport, and also works in the barn keeping the books for the Takter stable.

I’m not saying that the “little guy” doesn’t deserve a chance to win an award, but I just can’t justify the top owner in the sport owning one horse. Tell me they own one star and one or two other minor stakes winners and maybe I can get on board. But one horse? I’m sorry, I just don’t see it.