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Merriman USHWA's Driver Of The Year

Published: December 27, 2018 1:13 pm ET

Last Comment: December 30, 2018 8:53 am ET | 1 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

Aaron Merriman, the first driver to win over 1,000 races in two consecutive years and set to post the second-highest one-season victory total in North American history, has been selected as Driver of the Year in a vote among members of the United States Harness Writers Association (USHWA), harness racing’s leading media group.

Merriman is only 40 years old but he is already a “veteran” of 20+ years of the sulky wars, learning from his father Lanny, mostly at Northfield Park near Cleveland. He had 182 winners in 2000, his first year of full-time exposure, but he has been gaining with every step, with 10,857 victories in the 21st century and 6,926 visits to Victory Lane in the first nine years of the this decade.

Merriman will post the second-highest win total for a driver in harness racing history, behind only Tim Tetrick’s standard of 1,189 in 2007; Aaron was at 1,118 after Wednesday’s racing. This total eclipses his personal best of 1,093 taken last year, and this year he has reached another important milestone with his mounts earning over $10.3 million – his first eight-figure season.

And the level of competition Aaron faces at the main terminals of his endless miles on the road is very high – at Northfield, he consistently races against Ron Wrenn Jr., who was the last person to dethrone him for the national title (2014, by a 847-841 count), and at The Meadows near Pittsburgh he competes against Dave Palone, the winningest driver of all-time (18,640 and counting) and the leading pilot at The Meadows.

Michelle Crawford may not keep quite as unremitting a schedule as Merriman but she comes very close. An unbridled enthusiastic voice for harness racing, Michelle is foremost the co-operator with her husband Al of Crawford Farms, a midstate New York breeding facility, and his racing component Crawford Farms Racing. The team always looks to acquire the next big star and improve the overall quality of horses associated with Crawford.

One giant step towards that goal in 2018 found Michelle in the winner's circle of the sport’s biggest race, the Hambletonian, as a partner on the filly Atlanta, who upended the boys in the classic race for three-year-old trotters and then went on to a million-dollar season, and now looms as potentially a great broodmare. Crawford Racing also is co-owner of Homicide Hunter, whose 1:48.4 mile at Lexington earned him “World’s Fastest Trotter” honours.

Michelle is aware of the “bigger picture” in harness racing, reflected in her serving as vice-president of the Harness Horse Breeders of New York and especially as a board member of the newly-formed Standardbred Transition Alliance, where she will undoubtedly put into practice on a continental level the well-established programs to take care of former racing and breeding stock that she has established at Crawford. Her knowledge and enthusiasm makes her one of the more positive forces – a real Good “Guy” -- for the sport.

Two other USHWA honourees serve the sport on a communications level, with one of them involved in the chronicling of the sport half his life – and he’s only 19! Ray Cotolo, winner of the Breakthrough Award as an up-and-comer on the non-training-driving side, started accompanying his journalist father Frank to the major races and swiftly picked up the necessary knowledge to combine with his natural communications skills to become a source of knowledge for the industry and fans in several areas: a podcast called North American Harness Update, a pioneer (2012) project which went “on the road” for the first time in 2018; freelance work, mainly writing, for such important entities as the Hambletonian Society, The Meadowlands, Standardbred Canada, the Woodbine Entertainment Group, and the Red Mile; and as a budding announcer.

And Ray is doing all this while enrolled at Elizabethtown (PA) College, as a communications major benefitting from the Harold Snyder Memorial Scholarship Fund of the late on-track television pioneer.

Chris Gooden works as the photographer for the racing at The Meadows Racetrack in addition to “regular” jobs his business picks up in his southwestern Pennsylvania area. But what is “Unsung” – and remarkable – about Gooden is the amount of work he does gratis, of his own volition, to keep The Meadows at the forefront of the new forms of “social” communications media (and beyond).

Facebook coverage of live racing? Check. Including “live-from-the-bike” camera photography? Double check. Keeping up a high profile on Twitter? Check. And there’s one above and beyond the call of duty. When illness hampered a local horseman’s finances a few months ago, Gooden posted a Facebook notice that he was selling a special photo of Foiled Again and – the Bergstein/Proximity winner and based at Gooden’s “home track” of The Meadows – would donate the money minus shipping to the beleaguered family. Over $1,500 has been raised so far. No fanfare, just results -- that’s why Chris Gooden is an Unsung Hero.

Merriman, Crawford, Cotolo, and Gooden will be honoured at USHWA’s annual Dan Patch Awards Banquet, celebrating the best and brightest of harness racing in the past year. The banquet honouring the champions of 2018 will be held on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019 at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort in Orlando FL, the climax of a weekend that also finds USHWA holding its annual national meetings.

Reservations for those attending can be made through USHWA’s website, www.ushwa.org; a link to the hotel’s computer is on the front page of the website. Those who would like to take out congratulatory ads for awardwinners in the always-popular Dan Patch Awards Journal can do so by contacting Kim Rinker at [email protected] (the 2018 journal is online at the writers’ website). Information about purchasing tickets for the dinner will become available and will be posted shortly.

(With files from USHWA)

December 30, 2018 - 8:53 amIt's remarkable that Mr.

Mike Mobley SAID...

It's remarkable that Mr. Merriman has made 4,727 starts in 2018. That averages out to 13 starts per day! Regardless of your profession, can you imagine working EVERY SINGLE DAY, for an entire year??!!


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