Driver Bob McClure was voted by the membership of the United States Harness Writers Association (USHWA) as the year's Rising Star Award winner, as announced by the organization on Tuesday, December 31.
Attention came to McClure in a big way during 2019, when he won the most prestigious harness race in North America, the Hambletonian, with Forbidden Trade. The victory was the culmination of a decade of continuous growth for the graduate of smaller raceways to the Grand River-Georgian Downs-Western Fair circuit and then right to the “A” class of his province’s racing at Woodbine Mohawk Park, where he ranks among the colony’s top drivers. He earned over $5 million in purses for the first time in 2019, despite suffering a broken pelvis on April 25. Remarkably, he was back racing in less than a month, using the cutting-edge technology of a hyperbaric chamber to aid his recovery.
McClure, whose Rising Star Award acknowledges his success among young trainers and drivers, is joined by a trio of other award winners.
The Good Guy Award, which is given to an individual who thinks and speaks positively about the sport and has a good relationship with the media, will go to Jim King Jr.; the Breakthrough Award, for an up-and-coming star who is not a trainer or driver, goes to Dawnelle Mock; and the Unsung Hero Award for an individual who performs important tasks for the sport out of the spotlight will go to Wanda Polisseni.
King has a reputation as a “ladies’ man,” but only in the best sense. In addition to having in his family two of the sport’s best spokespeople – wife Jo Ann Looney-King, a former winner of the Good Guy Award, and the self-proclaimed “harness racing firecracker,” award-winning communicator Heather Vitale – King seems to have a particular touch with the pacing ladies, as evidenced by his two 2019 stars: the free-for-all Shartin N, who won over $2 million in 2018-19, and the precocious two-year-old Lyons Sentinel, North America’s biggest earner as a freshman while banking over $800,000. In keeping with winning the Good Guy Award, King will give honest and thoughtful answers to the media’s questions, never assuring success, but conscious of the power of the stable that his talents has built.
Mock is the director of marketing for the Meadows Standardbred Owners Association. In her three years at the western Pennsylvania track, she has been the spearhead for the MSOA onto multiple digital platforms. She has shepherded several successful charity events; she has reached out to form a partnership with the Pittsburgh Penguins, a project with a large crossover potential; and she has been the MSOA liaison with the operators of The Meadows racetrack for a number of successful promotions, which contributed to a 6 per cent year-over-year rise in handle at the track. Mock “works well with others,” but much of her success has been born of her own initiative and vision.
Polisseni has long campaigned harness horses under the name Purple Haze Stable with success, mostly in her home state of New York. She has founded a humanitarian organization to improve the standard of living – education, human services, civic improvement – in upstate New York. Long an advocate for the after-track lives of racehorses, on both the Standardbred and the Thoroughbred side of racing, Polisseni has now undertaken to buy a farm in New York that will serve as a home and a base for the Purple Haze Standardbred Adoption Program, for state-bred horses, that will also be the headquarters of the Harness Horse Breeders of New York State.
The above individuals 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 2019 will be held on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020 at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort in Orlando, Fla., the climax of a weekend that also finds USHWA holding its annual national meetings. The Trotter of the Year, Pacer of the Year, and Horse of the Year will be revealed for the first time at the Banquet.
Tickets for the Dan Patch Awards Banquet are $180, with a filet mignon dinner featured. “Post times” on Feb. 23 are cocktails at 5:30 p.m. with dinner to follow. Tickets and other banquet-related information can be obtained through Dinner Planning Committee Chair Judy Davis-Wilson at [email protected] or 302.359.3630.
Hotel reservations for those attending can be made through USHWA’s website, www.ushwa.net; a link to the hotel’s reservation system is on the front page of the website. Those who would like to take out congratulatory ads for award winners in the Dan Patch Awards Journal can do so by contacting Kim Rinker at [email protected].
(with files from USHWA)