03/31/2014 12:00PM

Jay Bergman: Driver Jim Morrill Jr. banished from Pocono Downs

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Mike Lizzi
Jim Morrill, Jr. shown winning a NYSS event at Yonkers Raceway.

If you’ve got talent, the U.S.A. is the place to be. Perhaps no country on the planet is as forgiving to those individuals who run afoul of the law yet get chance upon chance to redeem themselves.

You pick the sport and there’s a long list of those in trouble with the law that have gone from team to team, but never out of the league. Owners have a penchant for winning and for some there is no cost or limit they will go to achieve such goals.

It may have come as a surprise to some, but when the news was publicized earlier this week that Jim Morrill Jr. had been banned at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, it was hardly a shock.

HarnessRacingUpdate.com accepted a one-sided story from the driver himself without so much as reflecting on Morrill’s standing at other notable tracks in the metropolitan area.

You see, Pocono is not the first track in the area to ban Morrill from competing on a regular basis. Morrill is unwelcome for all overnight races at Yonkers Raceway and has been so for at least the last five years.

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Morrill for the moment will set up shop at the Meadowlands on weekends and most definitely will be in demand when the New York Sire Stakes season begins in a couple of months. There’s little question as to Morrill’s on-track ability and the HRU story credited him with winning at a better than a 20 percent ratio at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs.

Yet those who read statistics don’t always get the facts straight. Sometimes decisions are made that have nothing to do with winning percentages and perhaps more to do with losing percentages. Sometimes even the most successful drivers can put forth puzzling efforts that don’t allow them to win races.

Is it fair to say that a driver of Morrill’s talent could and should win at an even higher percentage given the incredible choice of talented horses he has driven and the astute knowledge of how to drive and win races?

Getting back to Yonkers, even without a direct explanation as to why they have banned Morrill, isn’t it fair to say that his banishment for an extended period of time must have a deep-rooted reason? While the track has done most of its banning under the radar and obviously as a private facility it does not need to explain itself, couldn’t one conclude that some of Jim Morrill Jr.’s activities in Westchester County didn’t sit well with management?

Now, suddenly to some, a second racetrack in close proximity has made a similar call.

In the HRU article, Morrill claimed that he hadn’t been given an explanation and essentially had no idea why he had been banned.

So if he did know why he was banned, does anyone think Jim Morrill Jr. would want to talk publicly about it?

“I like driving there and I give 150% every time I am out on the track,” Morrill said in the HRU story. I’m not sure what scale Morrill is measuring his effort level on with that statement.

Needless to say, the public is always going to be puzzled when racetrack management banishes trainers and drivers. With Pocono’s latest action, confused racing fans now have to wonder why trainer Rene Allard’s horses are allowed to race at Yonkers and Pocono on a regular basis but not at the Meadowlands. At the same time, those looking in the track programs at Pocono and Yonkers won’t find the name Jim Morrill Jr. driving any overnight events but he’ll be a regular at the Meadowlands on weekends.

The question of course is why the Meadowlands has welcomed Jim Morrill with open arms when other tracks find him distasteful? Is it because of the absence of top drivers Yannick Gingras and Tim Tetrick, or simply lack of concrete evidence against the driver?

From an ability standpoint, Morrill is up there with any currently racing at the Meadowlands. From a gambling standpoint, those wagering on his horses should get a live steer each and every race.  Yet I had trouble figuring out why in the final race this past Saturday night he didn’t sit chilly in third on the rail with On The Radar and decided to come out and be forced wide around stalled cover on the final turn. The Morrill I’ve watched over the years has always been a master of position and timing and this move, considering he’d gotten a three hole from post 10, added unnecessary extra distance to the horse’s trip and may have impacted his chances to finish in the money.

Personally I don’t know what the officials at Yonkers Raceway or Pocono Downs have concluded in the matter of excluding Jim Morrill Jr. from their racetracks. What I do believe, at least in the case of the latter track, is that they had an entire off season to perhaps look at all of the activities that Morrill was involved in both on and off the track and must have concluded from their findings that his presence would not be in their best interest in 2014.

But the good news for Morrill and fans that enjoy betting on him is that there are still many other tracks out there where he’ll be readily accepted. Even Yonkers will be glad to open its doors for him during stakes season when all drivers are welcome. With his enormous talent and list of accomplishments in the sport, it’s unlikely that Morrill won’t be able to get enough drives to qualify for his pension, as he related in the HRU story.

Whether we accept the HRU story as accurate or not matters little in the final analysis. What facts we do know say that a single driver is not allowed to race at two tracks while openly invited in to another.

Draw your own conclusions.

[UPDATE: An official from Mohegan Sun Pocono confirmed on Wednesday (4/2) that Morrill will be allowed to return to the track on May 1. No reason was given for his absence.]

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