Roger Huston, the Communicators Hall of Fame member who ended a 44-year announcing career at The Meadows racetrack last November but continues harness involvement in his native state of Ohio, has been voted the highest honour annually given by the Keystone Chapter of the United States Harness Writers Association (USHWA), the Mary Lib Miller Award, named for the lifelong helpmate of “Mr. Harness Racing,” Delvin Miller, founder of The Meadows -- a couple Roger knew quite well.
Huston got his start in broadcasting at a radio station in his native Xenia, Ohio; his uncle Don was the announcer at Lebanon Raceway and some nearby fairs, which became Roger’s introduction to going behind the microphone in the sport. Besides announcing at The Meadows, Roger will in 2020 calling at Delaware, Ohio at the Little Brown Jug for the 53rd straight year, and he has been the announcer at several western Pennsylvania fairs.
Besides his new role as “brand ambassador” for the Ohio horsemen’s association, Huston continues to serve as a Director of USHWA for the Keystone Chapter (for whom he served as founding president), and he was the Director with the most years of USHWA membership (52) at the association’s Florida annual meetings in February.
About the only harness racing “force” that has been going longer than Roger is Hanover Shoe Farms, which again was voted Pennsylvania Breeder of the Year. The Shoe Farms has been the sport’s leading breeder every year since records started to be kept in 1948, and while recording their 72nd straight win they established a single-season high for the winnings of their produce, $34 million.
Another repeat winner is George Napolitano Jr., who was voted his second straight Pennsylvania Driver of the Year award and fourth in the 12 years the award has been given. Napolitano, who recorded his 10,000th career victory at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono on October 12, won 638 Pennsylvania races between The Downs (337), where he was the top dash winner for the eighth straight year, and Harrah’s Philadelphia (301). “GNap” was third in all of North America last year with 651 driving wins.
Kim Hankins, the longtime executive director of the Meadows Standardbred Association and one of the most well-rounded and well-respected individuals in harness racing, was named a Friend of Pennsylvania Harness Racing for his leadership of his horsemen’s group in such diverse areas as racetrack negotiations, marketing, and intrastate partnerships and communications. A longtime top horseman in Illinois for many years, Hankins is currently 1st Vice President of Harness Horsemen International, and served for many years on the board of directors of the U.S. Trotting Association.
Two smaller stables raised their profiles in 2019 to a degree that they were voted awards by Keystone USHWA. Longtime Meadows horseman Bill Bercury, campaigning a five-horse stable most of the year, saw his barn earn over $590,000 for the sixth straight year (with only 123 starts), and he posted the top trainers percentage in North America for those with fewer than 300 starts, a .580 “batting average.” The constant sharpness and success shown by his stable earned Bercury Pennsylvania Trainer of the Year honors.
Bob Rougeaux III campaigns the horses of the Brocious Racing Stable of the late Harold “Lefty” Brocious, and the “Rocky Top” stable, as they style themselves, sent out four of the eight blanket-winners at the Pennsylvania Fair Banquet for having amassed the most points in their respective divisions during the twenty-stop fair season in the Keystone state. As with Bercury, ”quality” trumped “quality” here, and the Rougeaux/Brocious “team” were named the Small Stable of the Year in Pennsylvania.
Missy Rothfuss, the outrider at The Meadows, is this year’s recipient of the Keystone Unsung Hero Award. Rothfuss started her career while a senior in high school and has been at The Meadows 24 years. She is the first responder when accidents happen on the racetrack, often anticipating problems and arriving before anyone else at the site of trouble, and because of her record is well-respected by Meadows horsemen. Between races Missy is meeting fans, letting them pet her equine partner, and educating them about harness racing. She has ridden in Breeders Crown events and also is the head outrider at The Little Brown Jug in Delaware, Ohio. And after many years toiling in semi-anonymity, Missy is not only receiving this award but was also recently featured in Vicki Howard’s “Superstar Females of Harness Racing” column in the online journal Harness Racing Update.
The now-11-year-old pacer Atta Boy Dan started his season in the western part of the state, but the record he put up while operating at Pocono was the major contributor to his being named Pennsylvania Horse of the Year, for horses making more than half their starts within the borders of Pennsylvania. The winner of more than $900,000 lifetime won 19 times (earning over $200,000) during 2019, the most victories of any horse in the United States, and he set an unofficial record by being claimed in fourteen consecutive starts.
The state writers initiated a Keystone Chapter Member of the Year this past season to recognize outstanding efforts made by those within their ranks, and in this inaugural season a recognition will be given to a member in both the western and the eastern parts of the state. Chris Gooden, who has been a Smallsreed Photo award winner in the national competition for the last two years, was selected as the top Keystoner from the west; on the eastern side, the honours went to Jennifer Starr, the multi-talented and tireless Racing Marketing Manager at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono.
Ordinarily, the Keystone USHWA awardwinners would have had a moment in the spotlight as they received their awards in a trackside ceremony. But with the coronavirus throwing unprecedented uncertainty into everyone’s schedules, it was thought to send the recipients their trophies through delivery, before the shine of their 2019 accomplishments became too faded by time.