The 2016 U.S. Harness Writers Association’s Dan Patch Awards dinner, presented by Hoosier Park, was held on Sunday night (February 26) at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.
Older pacer Always B Miki was named U.S. harness racing’s Pacer of the Year and Horse of the Year.
"'Miki' will pass in the annals of Standardbred racing for his own accomplishments," said co-owner Mitchel Skolnick of Bluewood Stable. "Of 800,000 horses registered over the years, Miki will join a class of just 70 to be named Horse of the Year. Maybe one day, when the best horses of all time are talked about, somebody might chime in, 'What about Miki? He was so fine.'"
Always B Miki, author of the sport’s fastest-ever mile of 1:46, was campaigned by Jimmy Takter and David Miller, who were repeat winners in their respective categories as Trainer and Driver of the Year.
Of course, to earn top yearly accolades over their talented peers, both men accomplished much more than their successful collaboration with Always B Miki. Takter collected year-end honours not only with Always B Miki, but with a repeat champion, the three-year-old pacing filly Pure Country, and a pair of two-year-old fillies, pacer Idyllic Beach and trotter Ariana G.
Takter also guided Ariana G’s successful sophomore sister All The Time, and the two fillies’ combined exploits earned breeders/owners Al Libfeld and Marvin Katz honours as the season’s Breeders of the Year in the U.S., as well as Canada.
"This is a great honour," said Takter. "It's not just me. We have a great staff with everyone that works for us. [My wife] Christina is my backbone. I'm really happy for Al and Marvin winning Breeder of the Year."
"It's a team effort," commented Libfeld. "Because we put together the best team in the business, we're successful."
In his best season ever for earnings with more than $13.2 million bankrolled, Miller also had a large hand in the racetrack guidance of two other divisional award winners: three-year-old trotting filly Broadway Donna, a repeat champion, and the multi-major stakes-winning three-year-old pacing colt Betting Line, who was named Canada's Horse of the Year.
"I get a lot of opportunities to drive a lot of talented horses, but there are three of them that probably got me here today: Donna, B-Line and Miki," acknowledged Miller during the awards presentation.
Triple Crown champion Marion Marauder was named U.S. Trotter of the Year in the closest vote in the 46-year history of the award, edging out older mare Hannelore Hanover in the voting, 73-72. The colt is owned by Ontario's Devin Keeling along with his grandmother Marion Jean Wellwood, who were voted Owners of the Year.
"What an honour to win this award, something I never expected in my racing career," said Wellwood. "Devin and I are so happy."
"It's been the ride of a lifetime," said Mike Keeling, who trains Marion Marauder with his wife, Paula Wellwood. "He earned it and we appreciate it."
Lady Shadow, a three-time O’Brien Award winner in Canada, was voted her first Dan Patch Award as best older female pacer for trainer Ron Adams.
Two-year-old Huntsville is also a divisional champion pacer while the remaining divisional champion trotters are Walner (two-year-old male) and Obrigado (older male).
George Teague Jr. won the Good Guy Award and the team behind his charismatic pacer and defending U.S. Horse of the Year Wiggle It Jiggleit were also winners of the Stan Bergstein Proximity Award, presented annually to those who have made outstanding contributions to harness racing.
Marcus Miller, who will be representing the U.S. at the World Driving Championship this summer, was named the Rising Star Award winner.
The tandem of Melissa Keith and Keith McCalmont, writing for TROT Magazine, and Dave Briggs, writing for ‘Harness Racing Update,’ are winners in of the John Hervey Award for excellence in harness writing journalism.
Keith accepted the Hervey on behalf of co-winner McCalmont for their story titled ‘Remembering those lost,’ which appeared in the February issue of TROT and presented memories of horses lost in the Classy Lane fire from horsemen and horsewomen affected by the tragedy.
"It was very generous of Ben Wallace and Dan Legace (and everyone) for speaking to us," she said. "Thank you to everyone at Classy Lane for their courage, and the people at TROT Magazine, including Darryl Kaplan, Sue Longley, and everyone else."
In addition, Clive Cohen and Mark Hall are winners of the Smallsreed Award for excellence in harness racing photography.
Let’s Go Racing LLC’s feature ‘Always B Miki’s Miraculous Return,’ which aired during the Breeders Crown telecast on SNY (SportsNet New York) on October 28, was named the winner of the John Hervey Award for excellence in harness racing broadcasting.
The awards show will be available to watch tomorrow morning (Monday, Feb. 27) on the U.S. Trotting Association YouTube page.
Click here to view the entire list of award winners.
(With files from USHWA)