Ontario-based Jack Darling completed the last – for now – of the award gathering done by the “Bulldog Hanover Express,” being voted the W.R. Haughton Good Guy Award winner by members of the United States Harness Writers Association (USHWA).
Joining Darling to be feted at the Dan Patch Awards Banquet, presented by Caesars Entertainment, in Orlando, Florida on Sunday, Feb. 19 will be veteran starter Mike Woebkenberg, who won the LeeAnne Pooler Unsung Hero Award. Two of the sport’s brightest young stars – trainer Lucas Wallin, who won the Rising Star Award, and New Jersey polymath Edison Hatter, who captured the Lew Barasch Breakthrough Award – will join them in the spotlight.
Jack Darling, an Ontario-based horseman elected to the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame this year, saw his lifetime earnings grow over $22 million with his handling of the 1:45.4 superstar Bulldog Hanover, who electrified the sport with his raw ability and consistency against the very best Free-For-All horses.
With a great horse comes demands on a trainer’s time, as everybody from the media to the casual fan to fellow horsepeople want to know everything about what makes the great horse tick. Darling was unstinting in his cooperation telling the Bulldog Hanover story, even as far as letting visitors into the barn with the champion and Darling’s other charges, to meet Bulldog Hanover “up close and personal.” In this respect, operating with intelligence and candor, Darling emulates the late, great Billy Haughton, after whom the award is named. It is Darling’s second Good Guy Award, joining 2014 when he was recognized for his fundraising efforts on two fronts.
Mike Woebkenberg is a starter at both pari-mutuel and fair tracks, mostly in Ohio, but extending his expertise to Indiana and West Virginia (where he once announced a race from his starting gate when the sound system went down at a fair).
Woebkenberg is a tireless promoter for the sport and he literally has the exact vehicle needed to attract people to develop a greater interest in the sport – his starting gate. Woebkenberg never turns down a request to give people the unique perspective of seeing a harness race as the horses assemble and then follow the gate to the start – a thrilling experience that has a “domino effect” as riders share their excitement with prospective fans, and on down the line.
Over the last couple of years, Lucas Wallin, who will be celebrating his 30th birthday next week, has shown himself to be a master handler of stakes trotting stock and he comes off of by far his best year – with only 135 starters, his stable earned almost $1.7 million at press time. Among the talent he has developed is Rebuff, one of his division’s top trotting males both last year and this. He also trained the two winners of their $253,000 Pennsylvania Sire Stakes Championships for three-year-old trotters, with Pour Mea Double conquering the males and Manon the females.
Edison Hatter is literally a “rocket scientist” – he works for NASA – and he has ascended in racing operational positions faster than a rocket in recent years. He announced and did several other jobs at Rosecroft, took over (and still holds) the announcing position at Freehold and has been given progressively more responsibilities at the mighty Meadowlands, including morning line maker, handicapping commentator for the program and broadcasting assignments. Somehow Hatter also finds time to host a wide-ranging harness podcast, "First Over with Edison Hatter." (We’d say “the sky’s the limit” for Hatter but we don’t want to belabor the metaphor.)
These four award-winning individuals will be recognized at the 2023 Dan Patch Awards Banquet, presented by Caesars Entertainment, which will honour the best of the best of harness racing, both human and equine. The evening culminates with the announcement of the E. Roland Harriman Harness Horse of the Year and will take place on Sunday, Feb. 19 at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort.