11/24/2016 10:37AM

Zoccali: Five things to be thankful for in Harness Racing

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Derick Giwner
Horses driven by John Campbell have earned nearly $300 million.

Given the time of the year, I thought I would take this opportunity to list the things I am thankful for in the sport of Harness Racing in 2016.  Often we hear about things that can be done better, or improved upon; I certainly have posted columns that identify areas that require improvement.  But for this week, at least, I would like to talk about the good.

1.     Wiggle It Jiggleit

Sure, he is probably not going to be Horse of the Year this year due to the emergence in the last couple of months of a monstrous Always B Miki.  When both are at their absolute best, it is more likely than not that Always B Miki is slightly better.  But, Wiggle It Jiggleit is a public relations dynamo.  He is a gelding, who hopefully will stay sound and be able to race at the top level of the sport for years to come.  Perhaps in 2016 we saw the passing of the torch from the ageless iron-horse Foiled Again to this dynamic superstar.  As I write these words, Foiled Again’s lifetime earnings stand at $7,463,159 as he continues his 12-year-old season.  Wiggle It Jiggleit has bankrolled $3,907,557 thus far, slightly more than half the total of Foiled Again.  The significance is that Foiled Again didn’t reach $3.9 Million until the end of his 7-year-old season, so WIJI has a three-year head start.  Of course, WIJI will have to stay healthy and will have to be at the top of his game for three more years if he is to threaten Foiled Again’s record.  It will be fun to watch.

2.     John Campbell

An institution in harness racing, a living legend, John Campbell at 61 years old is wrapping up a $3.5 Million season while still showing that he can not only compete with the best of a generation that wasn’t even born when Campbell first sat in a sulky, but he can beat them too.  His biggest win this year from a purse standpoint came in the William Wellwood Final at Mohawk with Seven And Seven.  It was the only time that trainer Thomas Durand didn’t drive his freshman trotter, but one can hope that perhaps as we enter Hambletonian season 2017, maybe John will have first call on a talented 3-year-old trotter.  With Campbell less than $1 Million away from $300 Million in earnings, I look forward to the countdown to that milestone as well in 2017.

3.     The Next Generation of Drivers

Scott Zeron, Matt Kakaley, Chris Page, Marcus Miller, Ronnie Wrenn Jr., Jordan Stratton, Montrell Teague, Jim Marohn Jr., and Joe Bongiorno.  I apologize if I missed a few, but the point is there has been a massive surge of young and talented drivers in Harness Racing this year.  Some of these drivers have put up numbers that would surprise you.  For example, Chris Page, Jordan Stratton and Marcus Miller have more earnings this year than George Brennan.  In fact, all three of those drivers have over $5 Million in earnings this year.  Jim Marohn Jr. has won over 400 races in 2016 and Joe Bongiorno has won 360 thus far.  Case in point, there are plenty of rising stars in driving colonies to look forward to in 2017 and beyond. 

4.     Huntsville vs. Downbytheseaside

Let’s be honest, outside of Betting Line, the 3-year-old pacers in 2016 were widely considered to be a less than stellar group.  Sure, Racing Hill had his moments and he is a very nice horse, but the glamour division was not the best we have seen.  That can change next year.  Huntsville and Downbytheseaside look to be absolute studs.  They are both wicked-fast and right now, the sky is the limit for both.  Now, that doesn’t mean that things will shake-out favorably next year.  Both horses must stay sound and both horses must make that important transition from age 2 to age 3.  However, if both horses come back sharp, then 2017 could mirror a season like 2001, where we saw several epic duels between Bettor’s Delight and Real Desire, or dare I say a year like 1994, with Life Sign, Presidential Ball and Riyadh.  Be thankful for these two fine colts and hopeful for a sensational 2017.

5.     Hannelore Hanover

In a year that included memorable battles in many of the other divisions, Hannelore Hanover was simply dominant.  With her only losses coming when racing outside the aged mare trotting division, Hannelore Hanover had the kind of season that typically results in a Horse of the Year-type resume.  Unfortunately for Hannelore, she picked the year of Always B Miki and Wiggle It Jiggleit to have such a season, but don’t let that take anything away from what this mare accomplished.  Simply put, she was an amazon.  With so many of the 3-year-olds retiring this year, it is certainly plausible that Hannelore could contend with the Free For All trotters on a wide-spread scale next year.  With another mare in the barn named Mission Brief pointing to a return in 2017, one would imagine that one of these two mares would be given a chance against the boys often next season and considering that Mission Brief is coming back from an injury, I would think Hannelore Hanover is the favorite to fill that role.

Last but not least, we should all be thankful for the things that matter most in life.  While our industry has been filled with many debates (some spirited), arguments and disagreements, let us not forget that we should all be thankful for family, friends and the strong relationships we have with one another. Let that be our motivation to work together for a better tomorrow for all of Harness Racing…

Happy Thanksgiving!