12/10/2015 3:51PM

Pandolfo: Under the radar harness drivers you should know

Geri Schwarz
Bruce Aldrich, Jr won his 6,000th race on December 2nd.

Recent television specials have honored the legacy of the legendary entertainer Frank Sinatra, who would have been 100 years old this month. One of Sinatra's greatest vocal performances was his rendition of an Ervin Drake folk song, It Was A Very Good Year, which was originally recorded by The Kingston Trio. This is the time of the year when we vote on who to reward as the top performers in the sport of Harness Racing. But since only a few get awards, I thought I'd highlight some harness drivers who may not win an award, certainly had a very good year in 2015.

We'll start at the top of the alphabet. His name is Bruce Aldrich, Jr. The leading driver at Monticello Raceway, Aldrich will finish the year as the fourth highest dash-winning driver in North America. Aldrich, who also excels at Saratoga Harness, is having a career year. As of December 9, Aldrich's drives have produced almost $3.3 million in earnings, which eclipses his prior best of $2.7 million. He also has 643 wins, and will easily surpass his former high win total of 645. At 47 years old, Aldrich is at the top of his game. He's a smart driver with excellent instincts and soft hands.

[DRF HARNESS EYE: Get the PPs for all the top tracks in one package with Digital Harness Eye + Analysis & Meadowlands Charts.]

In 2013, harness driver Joshua Sutton moved his tack from Chicago to Ohio. It wasn't because of slot machines, it was to be closer to his young son. The move turned out great. At 33, Sutton has put it all together to become one of the top drivers in the sport. Sutton is currently 8th in dash wins with 474 and on pace to equal his career best $3.6 million in earnings from last year, despite making about 500 fewer starts than last year.

Driver Chris Page, 33, won his 3,000th race on November 27th. Page is another harness driver who is having a career year in 2015. He already has 427 wins and is 10th in the overall standings. This is also his best year in earnings. His drives have earned $4.2 million, the first time in his career that he eclipsed $3-million. Page originally wanted to be a veterinarian and studied equine science for three years at Ohio State.

James Marohn, Jr., son of former top New York-based harness driver Jimmy Marohn, is also having the best year of his career. Marohn, who is 33 years old, is currently tied with Yannick Gingras for 11th in the dash winning standings with 417, a career best and the first time he's hit the 400 mark. He's also having the best year of his career in earnings with over $2.5 million as of this writing. Marohn is a regular at Monticello and made a key decision to drive at the Meadowlands, which netted him 41 wins against one of the toughest driving colonies in the sport. Marohn had a great year at Tioga Downs where he was the leading driver in 2014. This year, despite a decreased workload due to his Meadowlands commitment, he finished second in the standings behind Mike Simons, but he won 76 races at a phenomenal win percentage of 28.9%. 

At 30 years of age, Michigan native Tyler Buter has quietly become one of the top harness drivers in the sport. Driving in the competitive Yonkers Raceway driving colony, Buter is 5th in the Yonkers standings and 15th in North America with over $5.3 million in earnings. That was a big step up from his prior best of $3.1 million in 2012. This was truly a breakout year for Buter.

Trainer-driver Kurt Sugg started his career in the late 1980's, training and driving mostly at Northfield Park in Ohio. In 2014 his drives earned over $1 million for the first time in his career. It was a sign of things to come. This year, Sugg had a career year. As of this writing, as a driver, Sugg has 276 wins for $2.2 million in purse earnings. Sugg is also having the best year of his career as a trainer, winning 64 races with a strong 18% win percentage. Sugg, 46, is one of the top horsemen in Ohio.

Another well-rounded Ohio-based horseman who had a breakout year in 2015 is 37-year-old Kayne Kauffman. As a driver, Kauffman is closing in on 300 wins and already has won 60 more races than he did last year. Kauffman's drives have earned $2.6 million, which is the first time in his career than he went over $2 million. Kauffman has been a rising star for some time. As a driver, his earnings have gone up in eight consecutive years. As a trainer, Kauffman also had a big year, his best ever. He already has 77 wins as a this year.

To find out more about Pandy’s handicapping theories check out his www.trotpicks.com or www.handicappingwinners.com websites, his free picks at handicapping.ustrotting.com/pandycapping.cfm or write to Bob Pandolfo, 3386 Creek Road, Northampton, PA 18067.