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Unique Sense Of Home At 'Mighty M'

Published: January 28, 2021 9:28 am ET

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Journeyman horseman Philip 'Bo' Sowers may hail from New Brunswick, but he and his family have, by all counts, found themselves every bit as at home on the backstretch at Monticello Raceway as lifelong residents of New York's Sullivan and Orange Counties.

The 49-year-old native of Fredericton, N.B., was born into the sport like many others and harnessed his first starter three decades ago, but didn't start to find his groove until 2008, which was the first season where his starters amassed over $100,000 in earnings — quite the accomplishment considering the paltry purses his stable competed for in New Brunswick and Maine. Ever since, Sowers has steadily gained momentum, racing primarily in Maine through the 2010s and relocating his stable to Monticello in November 2018.

"Coming to a new place, new people, I can't say enough about Monticello Raceway," Sowers said in a recent feature published by the Narrowsburg, N.Y., River Reporter. "The people here have been phenomenal."

Just as Sowers learned the ropes of harness racing from his family, his wife, Tammy, and his two adult children have taken on active roles in the operation as well. In fact was Tammy who convinced Bo to take the plunge into harness racing full-time after competing solely for the love of the sport in his early years.

"She made the call one day and said, 'Let's get back into horses,'" Sowers recounted.

"My dad was in it all his life, and I started driving with him when I was five or six years old," said Sowers, whose 80 wins during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season gave him top honours among all Monticello-based trainers. McGwire, 20, has quickly established himself as one of the most sought-after drivers at the 'Mighty M,' finishing 2020 in fifth place in the local standings.

"My son drives all my horses," Sowers continued. "It’s a thrill to watch him, from first to last. I just enjoy watching my son drive."

"When people say, 'Bo Sowers this and Bo Sowers that,' I give my son, wife and my help all the credit."

Just as Bo Sowers and his family found themselves at home at Monticello Raceway despite being relative outsiders, New York native Murray Bassen shares a similar sentiment.

"I love it here," said Bassen. "I think Monticello is a great track, the people here are great.

The 70-year-old owner and trainer cleaned stalls for 50 cents an hour while vacationing in the Catskills with his family as a teenager, took out his training license in 1978, and has witnessed many changes in the landscape of racing at Monticello in the passing decades — particularly as the region fell from prominence as a resort destination, and more recently as the industry weathered a months-long shutdown during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

"We used to have 20 or 30 thousand fans, and it took you two weeks to get a dinner reservation," Bassen said, describing the "golden era" of harness racing in Monticello. "It was back when the Catskills and the Concord were going, and things were really good."

Since then, Bassen drove and trained horses in Hinsdale, N.H., as well as at The Meadowlands and Freehold Raceway before ultimately returning to the track he calls his "alma mater."

"We’ve suffered through everything together, and there’s a lot of camaraderie," he continued. "In the paddock, we’ve known each other for years, sometimes decades, some of us for 50 years."

(with files from River Reporter)

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