Hallett, Hochstetler And Toscano USHWA Award Winners

Hallett-Hochstetler-Toscano-Ushwa Awards
Published: December 28, 2023 02:30 pm EST

Jessica Hallett doubled-up with a pair of USHWA honours, taking home both the Breakthrough and Unsung Hero awards while trainers Jay Hochstetler and Linda Toscano were awarded the Rising Star and Good Guy awards, respectively. 

Hallett double winner in USHWA's Dan Patch Awards balloting

Some people were familiar with the early career accomplishments of Jessica Hallett: a youth member of USHWA, a talented photographer and an honours graduate in pre-med in Florida, then moving with her parents to the Saratoga, New York environs, where she became the track photographer and also contributed stories to the oval’s publicity efforts.

Some became aware of her in the wake of the awful barn fire at Tioga Downs, after which Hallett emerged as the chief voice for the deceased horses and the grieving families badly affected by the blaze, with praiseworthy sketches, poems and other writings, and retail items quickly emerging from her fertile imagination, quickly catching the attention of the media, including the New York Times.

Those two paragraphs explain why Hallett was nominated in both the Breakthrough (for those not yet 30 years old and working in a non-backstretch promising career) and Unsung Hero (an outside source providing great relief) categories during awards balloting by the United States Harness Writers Association (USHWA), and those signs of resource and talent convinced “both groups” and enabled her to win both categories in the voting.

After the amount of work she did on Tioga while fulfilling her regular duties, while also contributing to the Standardbred Canada website, a veteran journalist commented on more than the quantity of her output: “Her material is getting better every day.” An innovative boldness through a terrible ordeal and a steady output in the workaday world mark Jessica Hallett – just 24 years old – as a harness racing force to watch for many years to come.

Hochstetler voted Rising Star

Jay Hochstetler, bringing a faultless pedigree to training harness horses, continued to move forward in quantity and quality so that he could capture USHWA’s Rising Star Award, though his winning margin over multi-track driving phenomenon Brett Beckwith was as tight as could be at 51-50.

A son of veteran talented horsepeople Homer and Connie Hochstetler (her father is the Hall Of Fame trainer Doug Ackerman), young Hochstetler made his mark on both gaits during 2023, only his third full year in charge of a barn. His seasonal earnings have progressed from $548,624 in 2021 to $972,069 in 2022 to $1,536,028 this past year, largely with his “Team Ponda” horses.

On the pace, Hochstetler conditioned Ponda Warrior, winner of the $300,000 Dan Patch Pace at his base of Hoosier Park. On the trot, two dominant performers were freshman filly Ponda Title, Indiana Super Final winner and second in the Doherty and the Kentuckiana open stakes, and sophomore colt Ponda Jet, multiple Indiana Sire Stakes prelim winner and third in the final, and stakes-placed in many open-class starts.

Toscano gets nod as USHWA's Good "Guy"

Trainer Linda Toscano is no stranger to receiving accolades for her long and successful career – named in 2018 to the Harness Racing Hall of Fame, she was also USHWA’s Trainer of the Year in 2012. This year, Toscano adds another award to her collection – USHWA’s Good “Guy” Award, for cooperation with the communications arm of harness racing. (Toscano is the fourth woman to be so honoured, joining Dottie Haughton, Jo Ann Looney-King and Michelle Crawford.)

The Toscano barn earned just over $4 million in 2023, her second-best season ever, which raised her lifetime total to $69.3 million, 10th on the all-time list. Her star was the seven-figure earner this campaign, Its My Show, who won the North America Cup and then the Little Brown Jug – the latter win capping a thrilling two days for Toscano at Delaware, Ohio, as the previous day she won the Jugette with Ucandoit Blue Chip. Joining Ucandoit Blue Chip as a major three-year-old pacing filly star was Odds On Hail Mary, the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes champion.

Whether in victory or defeat, Toscano was as always cooperative and forthcoming with the press, giving insightful answers that presented harness racing in a positive light, much in the spirit of the great Billy Haughton, for whom the award was named (and whose wife Dottie was the first female Good Guy winner.)

Jessica Hallett, Jay Hochstetler and Linda Toscano are to be honoured at the annual Dan Patch Awards Banquet, presented by Caesars Entertainment, to be held Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024 at the Rosen Centre in Orlando, Florida.


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