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PA Writers’ Chapter's Award Winners

Published: February 27, 2015 11:43 am ET

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The Keystone Chapter of the United States Harness Writers Association has announced the harness racing humans and equines that it will honour for outstanding performance in 2014 – and in one notable case, for many, many years before that.

Aime Choquette, 100 years young this past Halloween, is being honoured with the chapter’s highest prize, the Mary Lib Miller Award, for longtime outstanding service to harness racing. The designation is especially appropriate in Choquette’s case, as for over 40 years he was the ‘right-hand man’ for Mary Lib’s husband, the immortal Delvin Miller, serving as second trainer for the likes of Arndon, Tarport Hap, and Horse of the Year Delmonica Hanover, who won the famous Prix d’Amerique while under Choquette’s daily supervision in France.

Choquette was also a pretty good ‘trainer’ of harness executives, too – those who worked with him in the Miller barn include Hall of Famers Andy Grant and John Cashman Jr., along with Breeders Crown executive Tom Charters and many others in various fields of the sport.

For sheer impact on 2014, few can be mentioned in the same breath with trainer Ron Burke and his principal ownership partnership of Mark Weaver and Mike Bruscemi. Burke again smashed the earnings record for harness trainers last year, and even surpassed the previous Thoroughbred mark for North America, by harnessing the winners of over $28.3-million, most of them owned by Burke Racing (Ron and his mother, Sylvia) along with Weaver-Bruscemi. The trainer and the double partnership are being honoured, not the least of reasons being that on many of their top horses they add ‘outside partners,’ giving people, often newcomers to the game, a taste of stakes success in very short order.

Burke leads the trainers’ standings at his home track, the Meadows, just as the leading driver there is Keystone honouree Dave Palone. Palone got the nod over Pocono/Philly driving champ George Napolitano Jr. because Palone now leads the entire world in career victories, eclipsing the old mark of German Heinz Wewering late in 2014, and now standing at a count of 16,870 – and growing every week.

It’s hard to overlook the breeder who has topped the money-winning charts of each of the 66 years the stat has been kept in North America, and Hanover Shoe Farms more than deserves another honour for 2014, as the horses it has produced won $29.2 million at the races, trailing only their own $30-million total of 2012.

For top Pennsylvania Sire Stakes performer, there was a ‘dead-heat to win’ between freshman pacing filly Southwind Roulette and her sidewheeling counterpart, sophomore colt McWicked. The filly had the richest single-season ever for a pacer in the sire stakes, going undefeated in four prelims and the championship to bankroll $269,293, while McWicked became the fastest-ever championship winner by streaking to a 1:48.4 triumph.

Top Pennsylvania-sired horse, combining both state and national-calibre starts, was the five-year-old horse Sweet Lou, the sport’s Pacer of the Year in 2014 on the strength of 11 wins, $1.36 million in earnings, and a 1:47 victory at Pocono – the fastest mile ever on a five-eighth-mile track, and only a tick above the all-time racing standard.

To be honoured as the state’s top performers on the weekly Invitational level are the pacer Dancin Yankee and the trotter Cowgirl Hall. Dancin Yankee won six of his seven top-class starts at Pocono, fastest in 1:47.2, while the mare Cowgirl Hall came to the Meadows in June and then won 11 races the rest of the year, including a five-race win streak facing not only females but also ‘the boys.’

The Keystone writers’ choices will be honoured in trackside presentations on their ‘home turf’ over the next few months – except for Choquette, who understandably at 100 is not much of a traveller now. But if he could take a mare to France and win one of the world’s toughest harness races, surely a way will be found to get his trophy to his home in la belle province of Quebec.


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