12/01/2016 10:05PM

Giwner: Top Meadowlands drivers planning for winter hiatus

USTA Photo
Tim Tetrick is planning a vacation for the months of January and February.

As we turn the calendar to December and shortly after arriving in 2017, it will be harder and harder to find Harness Racing’s top drivers in the sport. Names like Tim Tetrick and David Miller will be absent from past performance lines altogether and others will be racing less frequently or at different locales.

Following in the path of David Miller, who took the first three months of 2016 off and still sits second on the earnings leaderboard this year, Tetrick is going to be on the sidelines as the New Year kicks in. With nearly 49,000 drives since he began his full-time career in the sulky back in 2001, Tetrick has averaged over 3,000 races per year, or about 8.5 races per day, every day!

Tetrick said he would likely drive through December 15 before going on an extended vacation with the family that will last through the end of February.

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“Since 2001 I've pretty much been racing every day. I've only taken about 100 days off and that was mostly during my (hip) surgery,” said Tetrick. “This is the last year before my daughter starts school so it is the perfect time.

“I’m going to Pinehurst (training center in North Carolina). I’ll play around with three or four horses that I have of my own and I’m basically just going to relax. I Hope to come back fresher with a clear mind.”

Of course, that is also where trainer Linda Toscano will be with top Hambletonian prospect Walner, who was driven to seven wins in eight starts by Tetrick. “I’m just going to watch Walner jog every day and keep an eye on him," joked Tetrick, who added, "Linda already told me I'm not jogging him until he is ready to qualify."

When he returns in mid March, Tetrick said a steady diet of racing at Harrah’s Philadelphia and Dover was most likely, with visits to The Meadowlands from time to time in early spring.

David Miller already confirmed he would race at The Meadowlands through the end of December before heading down to Florida for a few months. The Hall of Fame driver mentioned mid April as a likely return date.

As of November 30, the leading driver at The Meadowlands in 2016 with 93 wins is Scott Zeron. Following a career year in which horses driven by him earned more than $8.7 million, Zeron announced he would be driving regularly at Yonkers Raceway immediately and wouldn’t return to the Big M until mid April.

Yannick Gingras, who sits atop the earnings leaderboard once again as North America’s foremost driver, will not be racing at The Meadowlands this Friday but is listed to drive on Saturday. The 37-year-old will be racing in the northeast during the winter but is expected to keep a light schedule while prioritizing his children before racing in early 2017. He estimated that his attendance at The Meadowlands early in the meet would be about 50% on the weekends.

The one night when The Meadowlands will struggle to lure any of the leading drivers is Thursday. Gingras and Corey Callahan both confirmed that they won’t be attending the midweek cards that begin on December 15, with Callahan citing strong programs at Dover on that night as the main reason.

Callahan, who has 61 wins at The Meadowlands in 2016, said he would be at the New Jersey track on most weekends next year with the exception of a couple of weeks when he is planning some vacation time.

With many of the top drivers on the sidelines during the winter months, we could see a new name at the head of the driver standings when the dust settles in 2017. As a driver expected to race at The Meadowlands every night, Joe Bongiorno, who sits fifth in 2016 with 62 wins, could find himself as King of the Hill.

Regardless of which driver takes charge, The Meadowlands is highly likely to provide the most compelling wagering product in the game.