02/25/2015 12:44PM

Giwner: The human side of Harness Racing

Derick Giwner
Yannick Gingras won his first Driver of the Year title in 2014.

While the annual United States Harness Writers Dan Patch Award Banquet on Sunday was hardly chockfull of surprises, attendees got to see something that many bettors, fans and hands-off owners rarely get to witness—those behind the scenes taking care of the horses or driving are indeed people! They love the sport and are passionate about what they do.

Take Yannick Gingras, who took the stage multiple times to receive personal awards as well as part of the team behind some of the best horses to race in 2014. He was often on stage with his kids, embracing them, speaking from the heart.

Gingras, who had many spectacular years in the past and has certainly made a fine living during the last decade or so, appeared touched by the moment of finally winning Driver of the Year. He welled up as he thanked his family for their patience as he travelled around from track to track to earn a living. The 35-year-old not only gave thanks to trainers Jimmy Takter and Ron Burke for their help in achieving his recent goals, but paid homage to trainer Mark Ford for giving him opportunities at the start of his career and going through the growing pains that molded the Quebec native into the driver he is today.

[DRF HARNESS: LIKE us on Facebook and get timely updates on the latest harness news]

From trainers Jimmy Takter and Nancy Johansson to owners Larry Karr and Bruce Trogdon, you could feel a genuine love for the sport and the horses as they spoke about the various achievements from 2014.

From the other side of the fence on the track apron and spewed via social media, verbal shots are often fired at industry types. Accusations of cheating or drugging are made toward horsemen and track officials are doused with negative comments about the way they handle operations. With few facts or personal contact, opinions are tossed into the ring.

In the midst of posting tweets about the awards dinner I even got a tweet from someone commenting that one of the trainers accepting an award was a drug trainer. I’m all for criticism, but there is a time and a place for everything. We are honoring the best in our sport. Can’t we put our personal opinions aside for a few hours?

Also, while I’m not suggesting you show up and ruin every award winner’s night with negative comments, the USHWA awards are open to anyone who wants to buy a ticket. I’d suggest fans/bettors attend the 2016 banquet and meet some of the people behind the scenes. Learn something about them face to face and make a true determination of what type of character you think they possess. I’m pretty sure most people in harness racing are not the demons they are made out to be.

Odds and Ends from Florida

The older trotting division sure appears like it could be loaded for bear in 2015. The 2014 champion Sebastian K will return along with Market Share, Natural Herbie, and Father Patrick joins the fray.

Trainer/driver Verlin Yoder reported that he hopes to have Natural Herbie ready for the A.J. Cutler Memorial at the Meadowlands in May and is looking at stops at Scioto (Charlie Hill—June 6) and Northfield (Cleveland Trotting Classic—July 3).

When I threw out an August return for Father Patrick, trainer Jimmy Takter relayed that he thought the current 3-year-old Trotting Colt of the Year would be back “way before that”. While no timeframe was mentioned, perhaps the $450K Hambletonian Maturity on July 18 is a very realistic possibility.

Brian Brown, trainer of 3-year-old filly pacing champion Color’s A Virgin, and one of the nicest guys on the backstretch, is aiming for a May 3 return in the Miami Valley Distaff. Now racing against older mares, Color’s A Virgin is expected to test the waters against the likes of four-time Older Pacing Mare of the Year Anndrovette in 2015 and hopefully race as a 5-year-old as well.

Jason Settlemoir said he was hopeful to have a legitimate chance of unseating Phil Langley as President of the USTA at the organizations March board meeting. While the Meadowlands CEO added he has plenty of respect for Langley, who has been President since 2003, he welcomed the potential opportunity to bring a fresh approach to the position.

Win or lose, you have to give credit to Settlemoir for continuing to work hard at improving the sport. He is always looking to chip in and get his hands dirty to make progress. To this day, he is the only CEO I’ve ever seen standing outside shaking customers’ hands at the entrance to the track. 

[DRF HARNESS: Check out our Harness Eye PPs and see our discount packages]