Harness racing returned to the northwest corner of Pennsylvania on Saturday and Sunday, with the Erie County Fairgrounds in this borough hosting a two-day Sire Stakes meet, which resulted in the track trotting record being lowered for a second straight year.
Going into 2022, Smokey Crown’s 2:04 standard on the trot had lasted for 34 years, tied by Major Matter in 2016 and New Heaven in 2017. Bigly then came along to lower the mark to 2:03.2, and then on Sunday, that record was reduced by a tick to 2:03.1 in the very first race by the International Moni sophomore filly Smooth As Silk. A winner at Butler Fair, Smooth As Silk was piloted in the record mile by Aaron Johnston for trainer Susan Callihan, co-owner with Gregory Callahan and Nicole Buchleitner. This is the third lowering of an all-age track record in three seasonal fair stops, following the pacing record being reduced to 1:59.2 by Louie Hanover and then 1:59.1 by Four Wide N Flyin at the two Butler meets.
On the trotting colt side, the dominant forces were driver Brady Brown, trainer Steve Schoeffel and owners Virginia and Kathy Schoeffel, whose trotters won both “A” cuts: Open Bar (2:04.2) is co-owned by Marion Schilling and Daniel Goehle, while Big Baller Beane (2:05.2) is also owned by James Reuther and Roger Romesser.
The fastest three-year-old pacer was the Betting Line filly Texas Dolly, driven to a 2:01 triumph by Cory Kreiser for trainer Amanda Shaw and owner Mason Shaw.
But that pacing clocking had been bettered the day before in the two-year-old racing, when the If I Can Dream-Designed To See gelding Dry Ridge Eddie toured the twicearound in 2:00.4, though short of a track record – the fast freshman Venier Hanover had posted a 2:00.1 all-age track record in 2017 that still stands, tied the day after by sophomore Midway Island. Dry Ridge Eddie’s time had its closest competition from his stablemate in the Gary Johnson barn and another gelded son of If I Can Dream, Dry Ridge Erie (dam Manhattan Design, 2:03.3). Steven Fedokowitz, winning for the second time in his career, piloted Dry Ridge Eddie, while Shawn Johnston handled Dry Ridge Erie.
Owner Randy Ringer and trainer Gary Johnston then went on to sweep the “A” freshman pacing action when Dry Ridge Ellen (If I Can Dream–Sanctity Hanover) won the lone Sires Stakes cut for baby fillies in 2:09.2 with Shawn Johnston.
Dominating divisions was a theme at Wattsburg, with trainer/driver Aaron Johnston winning both cuts of the freshman colt trot, with the Cantab Hall-Smoke And Mirrors colt Hall Of Flame in 2:07.4 and then coming back with the International Moni-Keepsake Hanover colt Kickstart Hanover in 2:09.1. Jennifer Johnston co-owns both winners, the former with Brian Taylor and the latter with Richard Hess. (And then just for good measure, trainer/driver Johnston took the lone “B” cut with the Father Patrick-Handover Belle colt Cameheretoforget, owned by Richard Hess.)
Aaron Johnston won six races over the weekend at Wattsburg and tops the fair circuit overall with 13 successes; he also shared top training honours at Wattsburg with Gary Johnston and Steve Schoeffel at three.
The circuit shifts to the northcentral part of the state and the Lycoming County Fair in Hughesville for 4 p.m. racing on Wednesday and Thursday.
(Pennsylvania Fair Harness Horsemen’s Association, Meadows Standardbred Owners Association and Pennsylvania Harness Horsemen’s Association)