Robert Temple

New England Harness Writers Honor Greats Of The Sport

by Robert Temple

A sellout crowd of more than 200 people honored the great contributors of the sport of harness racing at the New England Harness Writers Association’s annual dinner at the Courtyard Marriot, Marlborough. It was the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Harness Writers which was founded on March 25, 1961 and the organization went all out by presenting 56 awards to worthy recipients.

There were six people and six horses inducted into the Hall of Fame who will have their names inscribed on the plaque which is on permanent display at Plainridge Racecourse. Those inducted were:

Del Cameron: Born in Harvard, Massachusetts Cameron (1920-79) won 1,358 races, beginning with his first victory at Pascoag Park, Rhode Island. His biggest wins occurred in the sport’s two most prestigious events, the Hambletonian and Little Brown Jug which he won a total of five times: the Hambletonian with Newport Dream (1954), Egyptian Candor (1965) and Speedy Streak (1967) and the Little Brown Jug with Forbes Chief 1947) and Tar Heel (1951).

Stan Gutkowski: The 68-year-old resident of Alfred, Maine has been covering the sport for several decades for many of the leading publications. In a varied career he has also been a trainer, an assistant to a veterinarian, racing secretary and public relations director at the Rutland Fair and Scarborough.

Bill Ellis : Call the 54-year-old native of Dedham, Massachusetts “Mr. Versatility ”. Bill has been a publicist, handicapper, oddsmaker, timer starter, stall superintendent, horse groomer and most favorite of all—a top notch and colorful race caller which is his labor of love.

Freeman Parker: Parker won his first race in 1961 at Hinsdale Raceway with a horse named Maryland Watts. That was just the start of something big. He was the leading driver in New England in the early 1970’s where he won races at Scarborough, Lewiston, Bangor, Presque Isle, Bay State Raceway, Rockingham Park, Suffolk Downs and Green Mountain, Vermont.

Diann Perkins: Beginning in 1959 Diann and her husband Linwood Glen Perkins served in numerous capacities promoting the sport in Maine. Diann actively lobbies for the Maine Standardbred Owners Association and most recently made sure the Sires Stakes would get its fair share of revenues from Bangor Hotel and Raceway and Hollywood slots as required by law. She now devotes much of her time to keeping the Heritage of the sport alive by her efforts in preserving historic Cornish Trotting Park.

Rondald Ralph: Ralph, a successful businessman who resides in Waldoboro, Maine, has devoted over 40 years to the sport. He is USTA (United States Trotting Association) District 9 Director, was president of Lewiston Raceway, a former Director of the Maine Harness Horsemen’s Association and Maine Harness Racing Promotional Board and Assistant Director of racing at Union Fair.

The horses entering the Hall of Fame are Best Jeffrey, Charmax, Farbro Wave, Lively Anne, Manhelm and Slim Down.

Notes and Quotes From The Dinner: Jack Ginnetti, President of the New England Harness Writers and a longtime journalist, was singled out for his continuing work in promoting the sport he loves...Freeman Parker was presented a cake in celebration of his 73rd birthday the following day…there was a History of New England Harness Racing display set up as the people entered the dining area which brought numerous favorable comments, including one from veteran driver Willard Beckwith. “Looking at the huge crowds we used to draw as shown in these historic photos reminded me of when you had to meet someone at the track. You had to point to a marker, such as a closed circuit television at the far end of the grandstand as the place to meet. Crowds were so big that you could not spot anyone you knew and it was a good location to meet.”

The Harness Writers made a donation to the charity fighting for a cure for Lou Gehrigs Disease which currently afflicts former Massachusetts Lt. Governor, Governor and Ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci. Paul, who resides in Hudson, has been a longtime member of the Harness Writers and a great supporter of the sport…Bill Ellis told the story of how he once called the races when no one else could identify even one horse in the dense fog surrounding the track. “I told the people that since I was so far up on the grandstand I could see through the fog from there and they believed me. In actuality I was making up the names of the horses from analyzing the past performance program as to where they would be during various parts of the the race. You know something, I was right a good deal of the time”…Don Marean, who was presented the President’s Award, updated everyone on the Maine harness scene. He noted the upcoming referendum which is so important for Scarborough which wants to close that track and open up a “racino” in Biddeford…Veteran driver Bill Faucher says he still has hopes of opening a harness track in New Hampshire..Sorry to report on the death at age 87 of Stan Bergstein, writer, broadcaster, historian and superb Master of Ceremonies. Stan, who called the harness races at Suffolk Downs in the 1960’s, called 17 consecutive Hambletonians and was a fixture in the broadcasting booths at Yonkers And Roosevelt Raceway, New York.

Suffolk Downs Opens For Live Racing

by: Robert Temple

     After months of contentious negotiations with horsemen and a key decision to cut down the number of racing dates, Suffolk Downs, the last remaining thoroughbred track in New England, opened its live racing season on May 21, which coincided with the simulcasting of the Preakness Stakes from Pimlico, the second jewel of racing’s Triple Crown.
     Racing will be conducted on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays with a 12:45 post time throughout the meeting which concludes on Breeder’s Cup Day, November 5.
     There will be 80 total dates, down from 100 last year. Free admission and free parking are offered every day.
     The popular pick-4 has lowered its base wager from $1.00 to 50 cents on the final four races. There also will be two Pick-3 wagers for 50 cents and 10 cent superfecta betting.
     Chip Tuttle, Suffolk’s Chief Operating Officer, said, “As we embark on our 76th year, we’re excited about the adjustments we have made to our racing program. With increased purse levels, a later start date and a three-day racing schedule, we feel we can offer a better racing product with more competitive fields which will be attractive to the fans and financially rewarding to our horsemen.”
     Tuttle’s comments came after Suffolk signed a contract with the HBPA which represents the horsemen that contains four key provisions:

     (1) There will be $8.25 million in overnight purses ($103,125 per day) for 80 days. This represents a 30% increase from the 2010 purse levels.
     (2) The HBPA will remain neutral on legislation to reduce the number of days required to simulcast.
     (3) There will be a 50-50 spilt on simulcast revenue.
     (4) The barn area will be open from late April to mid-November.

     Suffolk started its festivities a week before its opening on Kentucky Derby day with its second annual “Boston’s Biggest and Best Kentucky Derby Party.” There was an outdoor party on the grandstand apron, food and beverage options, different promotions and live music performed by Draw The Line, the premiere Aerosmith Tribute Band.

     Notes and quotes: Larry Collmus, who called the races at Suffolk Downs beginning in 1992 when he succeeded Jimmy Hannon, got his big break when he was signed on to call the Triple Crown on national television. T. D. Thornton will again call the races at Suffolk… Forty-two-year-old Kathy Ritvo, who got her trainer’s license at Suffolk Downs when she was 18, was the lead story in “U.S.A. Today” and was featured during the Kentucky Derby telecast. Kathy received a heart transplant in 2008 at a Miami hospital in 2008 after suffering from cardiomyopathy which weakens the heart muscle. She told “U.S.A. Today” she would have died within a few days without the transplant. She was hoping to become the first female trainer of a Kentucky Derby winner when she conditioned Mucho Macho Man for the big race. He put out an outstanding effort, finishing third, less than three lengths behind winning Animal Kingdom.