12/29/2014 1:55PM

Harness: USHWA Rising Star to Johansson; Breakthrough to Gaskin

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Harness Racing 2014 emerged as “The Year of the Filly,” with Horse of the Year honors going to the 2-year-old pacer JK She’salady and the Trotter of the Year nod to 3-year-old Shake It Cerry. Thus, it seems appropriate that two young women who have shown the talents to mark them as top-level players for years to come would be voted Dan Patch Awards by the United States Harness Writers Association (USHWA) – Nancy Johansson winning the Rising Star Award, for a trainer and/or driver 35 or younger, and Emily Gaskin the Breakthrough Award, for non-trainers/drivers in the same age bracket.

It was Horse of the Year JK She’salady that helped Johansson, garner most of the spotlight – a spotlight they both handled well. To keep a filly undefeated for 12 starts, over a campaign spanning almost five months, a world record, six racetracks, and two countries, is a difficult job, as well as to handle the success maturely and respond to many media requests and inquiries accommodatingly. The combination of those talents shows abilities far beyond the reach of most youthful trainers. The fact that “The Lady” is the first 2-year-old filly ever to be Horse of the Year only burnishes Nancy’s credentials.

But JK She’salady was not the only stakes-winner for Johansson, married to horseman Marcus Johansson. Other stakes-winners from her barn included Cruzado Dela Noche, Western Pioneer, Freedomformysoul, and the catchy-named Iluvmyjimmychoos.

Johansson herself has as good a harness “pedigree” as one could hope – her father is Hall of Famer Jimmy Takter, Trainer of the Year in 2014, and her mother Christina is part-owner of a number of standout horses.

Emily Gaskin, the Breakthrough winner, also shows a solid line of parentage – her father is Ernie Gaskin, a longtime top trainer and a major player in the growing Indiana racing scene who met his wife Darla while they traveled the Grand Circuit, as Darla cared for the top pacing filly Amneris.

And Emily has “backstretch credentials,” too – she purchased a pacer named Jammin Joshua for all of $300, and the 5-year-old has bankrolled almost $590,000 to date.

But it is in the business area of harness racing where Emily has made her major mark. Emily brought experience with the Horseman and Fair World and Harness Racing Update, as well as a stint in USHWA’s hands-on Clyde Hirt Journalism Workshop during Hambletonian Week, to Indiana in 2012 when she joined the progressive management team at Hoosier Park, which has recently been awarded hosting privileges for the prestigious Breeders Crown series in 2017.

For Hoosier, Gaskin handles publicity and marketing, duties on the in-horse television show including a pre-races show called “Night Drive,” as well as promotional work. She also gets to see “the other side” of gaming in Hoosier’s dark period while working as a casino host – a large resume plus in an era of synergistic, cross-promotional opportunities. No task seems too big, too small, or too daunting to the tireless Gaskin.

The Rising Star and Breakthrough Awards will be presented to Johansson and Gaskin, along with the Dan Patch Horse of the Year and additional human and equine award trophies, on Sunday, February 22, 2015 in Orlando, Florida. 

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