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COSA TV: Roger Reminisces; A Look Ahead

Published: May 3, 2020 5:33 pm ET

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Sunday night's (May 3) edition of COSA TV featured further discussion on how the harness racing industry is preparing for a return to action, as well as a look back to some of legendary race announcer Roger Huston's favourite memories.

In addition to Huston, Jason Settlemoir, chief operating officer of The Meadowlands and vice president of racing at Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs, and Greg Gangle, raceway manager at The Raceway at the Western Fair District, joined presenter Greg Blanchard for a roundtable that quickly turned reminiscent.

Before the stroll down the Delaware County Fair memory lane, Settlemoir and Gangle weighed in on how their tracks are preparing to return to action as government restrictions begin to be eased.

"I think we're starting to see some signs of optimism," said Settlemoir, who indicated there is potential for all three of his tracks to open later this month. "Last week, the governor of New Jersey opened the state parks back up, and a couple smaller items to see how we can handle it and go from there. There is some optimism; it's just a new world that we're living in right now."

"It's pretty consistent," Settlemoir said about his experience dealing with government officials in both New Jersey and New York since racing was halted at The Meadowlands on March 13. "Everybody wants what's best for the public, and that's safety. Working with both sets of regulators, they've both been amenable in working with us."

Gangle indicated that a province-wide initiative — along with experience operating with physical distancing protocol and no spectators — could fast-track the return of racing in Ontario when the threat of the novel coronavirus subsides:

"The one benefit that we had was our good friends at Woodbine Mohawk Park and Flamboro Downs to talk about what they were doing, follow suit with implications, and make it suitable for our track," said Gangle. "We're looking to come back without spectators and limit the amount of people inside our facility."

While racing will hopefully return before too long, the landscape of the sport's marquee events remains hanging in the balance. Many of this year's top races have been postponed or shelved altogether, and track operators and horsepeople alike have had to adjust their expectations as a result.

"Hopefully we can get back to some normalcy, and obviously our expectations won't be full strength," continued Gangle. "When you get that sunshine on you, you start to think about the Camluck, but that won't happen. For the greater good of the industry, we're going to do everything we can. Once we get the green light, we'll be ready."

After touching on the current situation and a look at the immediate future — including the potential of the Little Brown Jug taking place before an empty grandstand, Huston shared some stories about past editions of the Jug and a few memories from his decades-long tenure as the announcer at The Meadows, where he hung up the headset in the fall of 2019.

"Stanley (Dancer, with Albatross) actually got booed in the post parade," said Huston, recalling the storied Albatross-Nansemond rivalry that came to a head in the 1971 Little Brown Jug. "Stanley won one heat, Nansemond (and Hervé Filion) came back, and they both came back for a three-horse race-off, and Nansemond won. Stanley said he wouldn't come back until he would win the Little Brown Jug, and he did in 1976 when he won with Keystone Ore."

Thirteen years later, Huston provided the soundtrack to one of Delaware's most memorable performances from a three-year-old pacer ... one that was not in the Little Brown Jug.

"Tommy Harmer and Charlie Day wanted to upstage Nihilator," Huston recounted. "Falcon Seelster wasn't eligible to the Jug, and they contacted Delaware and wanted to come and go for the world record."

In a race etched in the memory of many, Falcon Seelster drew away from his competition through the final five-sixteenths of a 1:51 mile, which at the time was a world record on a half-mile track.

"It made the Little Brown Jug take second seat that year. It was all Falcon Seelster that particular day."

When asked about the best Jug performance he ever witnessed in over 50 years of calling the late-summer classic, Huston only needs to look back as far as 2015, when Wiggle It Jiggleit overcame trouble on the first turn to surge past Lost For Words in the last stride of the final heat.

"Life Sign had a great performance (in 1993), but Wiggle It Jiggleit on that day ... nose for nose, stride for stride with Lost For Words. Top of the stretch, David Miller opens up with Lost For Words; Wiggle It Jiggleit falls back 1-1/4 lengths off the turn, and some how, some way, Wiggle It Jiggleit gets up at the wire. I still think this is the greatest horse race in the history of harness racing. It was a super performance, a great race. Lost For Words just didn't quite have enough to get there."

Settlemoir, a native Ohioan like Huston, had nothing but praise for his mentor and their time thus far working together at the Delaware County Fair:

"He's pushed me along the way, and it's always an honour to sit next to Roger anywhere and work with him," said Settlemoir. "When I was growing up, 'The Voice' was always the one I was emulating. Roger's meant quite a bit to me over the years and done quite a bit for me."

And while Settlemoir has clearly taken a shine to the bright lights and big-city atmosphere of The Meadowlands, his fondness for the county fair atmosphere — and calling races at Delaware in particular — hasn't faded one bit.

"Of all the places that I've called races, Delaware from the inside is the easiest ... simply because it puts you closer to the action," said Settlemoir. "For two minutes, it's the best time for me because it's all I'm focused on at that point in time. Calling races at Delaware is fun, especially when you hear the crowd down the stretch. That gets me really fired up."

The full episode of COSA TV appears below, and is also available on the Central Ontario Standardbred Association's Facebook page.

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