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USHWA Award Winners Announced

Published: December 10, 2009 11:51 am ET

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The United States Harness Writers Association recently announced some of their year-end award winners.

Trainer Greg Peck and driver Brian Sears, the brains and hands behind the impressive campaign of three-year-old sensation Muscle Hill, have been elected Glen Garnsey Trainer of the Year and Driver of the Year, respectively, in balloting among active members of the United States Harness Writers Association.

Peck, a native of Nova Scotia in Maritime Canada, will quite probably be the first trainer to guide an undefeated trotter to Harness Horse of the Year honours. The three-year-old Muscle Hill won all 12 of his starts this year, earned $2,501,381, and set a record of 1:50.1 while winning the Hambletonian, which joined the Breeders Crown, World Trotting Derby, Canadian Trotting Classic and Kentucky Futurity on the horse’s scorecard.

It could be that Peck’s 'other job' gave him just the perspective to polish Muscle Hill to race at his best against the sport’s best and in front of its biggest crowds: president of Fine Line Inc., a media training firm which instructs executives how to communicate effectively with the public, often in difficult situations.

Peck turned the driving lines on Muscle Hill over to Brian Sears for virtually all of this season’s starts, and Sears did his usual masterful job, guiding the champion home first and then into the winner’s circle each time he raced him.

Winning, of course, is nothing new to Sears, who this season took his fifth straight 'big meet' title at the Meadowlands, and tenth in a row overall. Besides winning with Muscle Hill on Breeders Crown night, Sears also guided Broadway Schooner and Fancy Filly to Crown victories at Woodbine Racetrack. Another big day was Hambletonian Day, where Muscle Hill, his first Hambo winner, contributed almost half of the $1,555,674.50 in purses taken down by the man in white and brown, which also included guiding Peter Haughton winner Holiday Road, trained by Peck.

Jordan Stratton and Adam Bowden, two young individuals fast making an impact at the topmost reaches of the sport of harness racing, have been honoured with the Rising Star Award and the Lew Barasch Breakthrough Award, respectively, in voting by active members of the United States Harness Writes Association.

Stratton, the 22-year-old son of veteran horseman David Stratton who is often known by the nickname 'The Kid,' will come close to 500 wins this season (a wicked December is not out of the question), with his purse totals reaching $6 million dollars. Yonkers and Monticello are his two main ports of driving call, so it is not surprising that Stratton has worked his way to the top ranks of the lucrative New York Sire Stakes circuit, with half-a-dozen NYSS winners.

His richest victory came behind Pancleefandarpels, a fast mare who won the $229,000 Blue Chip Matchmaker Finals at Yonkers. But it was two other Yonkers victories that were Stratton’s most memorable – wins in the Levy Series with King Cat Anvil N, a horse trained by his dad, whom he has called “the biggest and greatest influence on my life and my career.”

Bowden, 28, started out far from racing’s main street, graduating from the University of Southern Maine with a degree in biology. But Bowden then picked up valuable standardbred experience working in the bluegrass of Kentucky, and eventually he and his father Chris purchased the old ACL Farm in Paris, Kentucky and renamed it Diamond Creek Farm.

Fully in charge of the farm, Bowden has led it into a position of prominence in just a few short years. Soon to grow from 181 acres to 438, Diamond Creek has purchased such outstanding broodmares as three-time Dan Patch winner Loyal Opposition, and Breeders Crown champions Shes A Great Lady and Restive Hanover. And as would befit such a collection of equine queens, Diamond Creek is also involved in the syndicates hosting several prominent stallions.

Gail Cunard, the acclaimed director of the well-respected Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame, has been selected as this year’s recipient of the Proximity Award, the second-highest honour in harness racing – behind only election into the Hall of Fame – in a vote conducted among active members of the United States Harness Writers Association.

A native of Liverpool, England – where she went to school with a young man named John Lennon – Cunard continues to make her mark on one of the most all-American of sports, through her planning, creativity, fundraising skills, and an indefinable quality that charms all sectors in the sport and makes them contributors to the important historical and preservational work that the Museum and Hall do.

Her stewardship has led to a host of popular and informative exhibits in the Hall: a collection from the history of Castleton Farms; the '3-D' race simulator, which gives fans an idea of what it is like to guide a horse during a race; and the recent gathering of memorabilia from the former 'World Capital of Harness Raceway,' Roosevelt Raceway.

Two other popular exhibits, an extensive collection of harness-themed Currier and Ives prints and the collection of profiles of talented but unsung heroes of harness racing called 'A Drive To Win,' have been adapted by Cunard and her staff to become traveling exhibits, serving as emissaries for the sport and the Hall at racetracks, art museums, and other appropriate gatherings.

Cunard is also responsible for overseeing all the events produced by the Museum during its showcase weekend annually held over the Fourth of July, which culminates in a dinner honoring the newest inductees into the Hall of Fame.

The trotting broodmare Yankee Blondie, dam of Horse of the Year contender Muscle Hill, and Must See, dam of likely Pacer of the Year Well Said, have been elected Broodmares of the Year as unanimous choices of a blue-ribbon panel of the United States Harness Writers Association.

Yankee Blondie, a daughter of American Winner--Yankee Bambi (a full sister to the memorable TV Yankee) bred by Yankeeland Farms and owned by fellow Marylanders Winbak Farm, had a 'so-so' career on the racetrack, but has stamped herself in harness immortality by producing the Muscles Yankee colt Muscle Hill.

The 'cheapest' $55,000 the TLP Stable and Jerry Silva ever spent on a yearling, Muscle Hill was 8-for-9 as a baby, and then this year, adding Southwind Farm and Muscle Hill Racing LLC as partners with an eye towards stud syndication, Muscle Hill was perfect in 12 starts, earning over $2.5 million and won virtually every major sophomore colt trotting stake, such as the Hambletonian (in a Hambo fastest-ever 1:50.1), Canadian Trotting Classic, Kentucky Futurity and Breeders Crown.

Muscle Hill, likely to become the first trotter to be unbeaten in his Horse of the Year season, will start his stud career next season at Southwind Farm.

Must See, a daughter of Artsplace out of the grand mare Grand Lady, who is still co-owned by breeders Fair Winds Farm, Inc. with Steve Jones, was no slouch on the track, winning almost $500,000. But she was outdone in 2009 by the iron-tough Well Said, who completed the rare North America Cup – Meadowlands Pace – Little Brown Jug 'triple' among his 10 victories, which netted him just shy of $2 million.

Well Said’s exploits caught the eye of many people – he will stand at stud at Hanover in 2009, and his Rocknroll Hanover sister, Look And Listen, fetched a $300,000 bid at Harrisburg.

The award winners will be honored at the writers’ annual awards banquet, to be held Sunday, February 28, 2010 at Yonkers Raceway, north of New York City. Tickets for the event are obtainable from Dave Little at 212-210-1691.

Still to be announced are the winners for Owner of the Year, Good Guy and Unsung Hero.


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