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"Winning Never Gets Old"

Published: January 27, 2017 10:15 am ET

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Rick Zeron can boast a streak of success that predates the black tie gala he'll be attending Saturday night as the longtime trainer-driver is a finalist in three categories at the 2016 O'Brien Awards.

The Oakville, Ont. resident is one of 12 past O’Brien Award winners looking to add to their trophy collections on Saturday as Standardbred Canada presents the 28th annual O’Brien Awards at the Hilton Mississauga / Meadowvale Hotel in Mississauga, Ont. Zeron is a finalist for the O'Brien Award of Horsemanship, an award he won for his 2010 campaign. He is a finalist along with 2013 Future Star winner and 2015 Horsemanship finalist Travis Cullen.

Zeron boasts 29 consecutive million-dollar driving seasons, dating back to his time as the top horseman in Quebec and the perennial leader at Hippodrome Blue Bonnets. He continues to successfully compete as a trainer and driver now on the Woodbine Entertainment circuit. In 2016 drove 116 winners and horses to $2.6 million in purse earnings, while training 49 winners and horses to $1.7 million in earnings. Two of his trainees are O’Brien Award finalists -- two-year-old trotting colt Mass Production, and Older Pacing Horse Shamballa.

"Winning never gets old," Zeron told Trot Insider, crediting the "hard work and dedication of Team Zeron" for the successful 2016 campaign.

A large portion of that on-track success came courtesy pacing horse Shamballa, who blossomed from mainly a Preferred class competitor in 2015 to a Grand Circuit threat in 2016 against an extremely talented group of older pacers. Shamballa boasted 11 top-three finishes in 19 starts for almost $440,000 in purse money. He took a mark of 1:47.1 in winning the US Pacing Championship -- defeating 2016 U.S. Horse of the Year Always B Miki -- and also picked up cheques in many stakes engagements. He's a finalist with another horse defeated in this aforementioned stakes event, 2015 U.S. Horse of the Year Wiggle It Jiggleit.

Zeron's other equine finalist is Muscle Mass colt Mass Production, who won five of nine races and more than $285,000 during his rookie campaign to earn a nomination in the two-year-old trotting colt division. His victories included four Ontario Sires Stakes wins highlighted by a season’s best 1:54.4 stakes record effort in the OSS Super Final. The award will go to Mass Production or Wellwood Memorial winner Seven And Seven.

With such a scope of highlights to choose from, Zeron couldn't choose just one event as a standout from 2016. Nor did he choose ones that he was physically involved with either.

"I can narrow it down to three: winning the super final with Mass Production, Shamballa winning the U.S. Pacing Championship and watching my son [Scott] win the Hambletonian."

Those 2016 highlights were punctuated by the December phone call from Standardbred Canada's Kathy Wade Vlaar with the news that he was a finalist in three categories.

"It was a great honour, I was hoping that Mass Production would be nominated but to receive the horsemanship nomination and to have Shamballa nominated really crowned a great year."

Zeron is looking forward to Saturday night's event, eschewing his traditional blue-and-white driving suit for something more black-tie and formal to celebrate the successful season enjoyed by those on his team and those in the harness racing industry.

"It is an opportunity to reflect on all the hard work that went into the year. The awards are so well run, it's always a fantastic evening to enjoy with family, friends and your racing colleagues."

For a full list of 2016 O'Brien Award finalists, click here. For details about the Black Tie Gala, click here.

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