Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Big Thanks From Brian's Buffalo Raceway Selections

I'd like to than everyone who helped make Brian's Buffalo Raceway Selections another smashing success during the 2014 season.

Without the unbelieveable cooperation of Buffalo Raceway's Chief Operating Officer Jim Mango, Director of Operations Jon Cramer, Track Announcer Michael Carter, Track Photographer Steve Roth, Television Analyst Sam Pendolino, Printing Coordinator Marlene Becker and Video/Photo Finish Director John Hassenfratz, the Western New York Harness Horsemen's Association and others, this site would not be possible.

The site is completing its third racing season, about 20 months in total since it's down during the off-season, the hits have reached nearly 110,000, a number that I never thought would happen when I first ventured into this.

I also want to thank those who are following my on Twitter. I started this season with 202 followers and now have reached 806 as of today. Still time to follow @brianjco1

I'd like to thank everyone once again and you can be assured that the site will return in 2015 with additional information, recaps, more features and hopefully more winning selections. Any comments or suggestions are always welcome.

To all the racing fans, horsemen and anyone else who has followed Brian's Buffalo Raceway Selections, thanks and have a great remainder of the 2014 and we'll see you in 2015!!!


Monday, July 21, 2014

Looking Back And Forward At Buffalo Raceway

"I think we had a good meet with some exciting racing," Buffalo Raceway's Chief Operating Officer Jim Mango said as he reflected back on the now completed 2014 season.

"I seen a lot of positives that have occurred here and I am encouraged about the 2015 season," Mango added.

The first eight weeks of the season, which started on January 8, were hampered by an unusually harsh winter locally and throughout the Northeast which forced postponements of seven cards. "Once the winter weather cleared and spring came, we did alright," Mango said. 

Jon Cramer, Buffalo Raceway's Director of Operations said, "I think we've held our own compared to others. We've had another nice increase in our simulcast handle again. Our nightly pools were up 10 percent this year."
Kevin Cummings

On the track, Kevin Cummings took his first driving title at Buffalo Raceway since 2008 with 171 victories, easily beating out Ron Beback Jr. who had 117.

Cummings finished with a UDR of .341 and earnings of $838,902. Cummings also won the crown in 2004, 2005 and 2008.

Beback Jr. finished with a UDR of .267 and $602,109 in purse earnings while Jack Flanigen rounded out the top three with 97 wins, a .277 UDR and $522,675 in winnings.

The all-time track record of 214 wins in a season set by Jim Morrill Jr. in 2006 will remain for another year.

A total of 59 different drivers made a trip to the winner's circle.

JD Perrin continues to be a model of consistency with his second straight training title. Perrin, who won in 2013 with 78 victories, put up 76 wins this year with a .372 UTR and $346,637 in purse earnings.
JD Perrin

Ryan Swift took second place with 44 wins, having a UTR of .282 and bankrolled $208,673. John Mungillo completed the top three with 43 wins and $238,074 in purse earnings.

The track record for wins in a season by a trainer is still Sherri Holliday who conditioned 122 in 2011.

A total of 100 different trainers had at least two victories during the campaign.

The horses were definitely in high gear over th half-mile track at the Fairgrounds in Hamburg. There were a total of seven track records either broken or tied during the season.

Leading the record breakers were 3-year-old trotting colt Gural Hanover. He set his division mark and also took down the Buffalo Raceway all-aged trotting record when he covered the mile in 1:56.1 in the New York Sires Stakes on June 29th.
Gural Hanover sets all-aged trotting mark at Buffalo

The 2-year-old colt trotting mark was re-established by Royal Deceptor who went 1:59.3 while 3-year-old filly trotter Glowngold got her name with the record book with a 1:59.0 time.

The all-aged filly and mare pacing record were set twice as Majic Laughter and Cased Solved each registered a 1:54.2 clocking. Sweetnsinful also produced a new standard in her division as the 3-year-old filly pacer won in a sizzling 1:54.1.

Ophiuchus N led the way in victories on the season with 12 during the meet and had the second most earnings with $47,026. Twilight Jack and Western each were victorious nine times on the pacing side.

The top trotters were Lutetium and Kely Jo Wiz as each put up eight wins. 

But it was Lutetium who was nothing less than brilliant in winning the Open Trots. He was able to overcome the assigned outside posts time after time, going gate-to-wire to record the victories.
Lutetium cruising to another victory

The top money earner among the local horses was Ugly Betty who took in $49,183 thanks to seven wins in 22 starts, Most of her income came in the Fillies and Mares Open Pace.

Buffalo Raceway's post time favorites scored a 43.62 rate.

Looking ahead to 2015, Mango said, "We'll be racing 92 days next season and we'll go three times week from January through May. We'll add the fourth racing day in June and July. The purse structure isn't set yet but I can tell you for sure it won't go down from the 2014 levels."

The main off-season upgrade will be the track itself. "Starting on October 20th, we will be having a major track renovation," Mango disclosed. "In cooperation with the Western New York Harness Horsemen's Association, we will be re-banking the turns, fix drainage issues, especially by the finish line, and putting down 5,000 tons of material. We are looking forward to that work being done. It's a major expense. Hopefully once this is done, it will take some of the pressure off that first turn."

Mango went on to say, "Tom Agosti will be back again in 2015 as Race Secretary. He did a great job in the month he was on the job and I look forward for him to be here the entire year and really put his mark on the race office."

The Niatross and Spring Break Claiming Series look to be back on the agenda for 2015. Mango stated, "The horsemen love it." Asked if the Claiming Series might expand to trotters, Mango quickly added, "That's up to Tommy and the racing office."

Cramer said of 2015 outlook, "We'll be sitting down and looking at promotions, what worked and didn't work. We will have the $5,000 Guaranteed Pick-4 coming back along with 'Back To The Track' and Father's Day events for sure."

Mango said in closing, "We are looking forward to 2015. We will be continuing to make some general improvements, nothing major besides the track. But we do continue to get a tremendous response from a lot of people, especially from the Sire Stakes people who've come in, how pleased they are with the backstretch and barn areas. They rave about it."

And if Mother Nature can cooperate just a little more in the early part of the next season, sunny days could be ahead for Buffalo Raceway as they embark on another year in 2015.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Trainer Charles Stewart Getting Comfortable At Buffalo Raceway

Charles Stewart and his stable were looking for a place to settle down for the winter months with Hoosier Park closed during that time.
Trainer Charles Stewart

His choice? Buffalo Raceway. It's a selection that has proved to be the right and a profitable one thus far.

"I looked around and I thought the horses I had would fit very well into the conditions at Buffalo Raceway," Stewart said. "Hoosier Park is a 7/8-mile track but I have some horses with experience on a half-mile track like Buffalo so I figured it would be a good place to go. The purses are equal too, if not better, than at home (in Indiana).

Remember driver Shawn Gray when he arrived from Maine a few years back?  It took several weeks before harness racing fans locally began to sit up and take notice of Gray, North America's leading UDRS driver in 2011.

A relative unknown in Western New York at first but winning races will make make you dig into his past credentials.

The same could said about the 27-year-old Stewart. He's got a trainer's title under his belt already in Indiana and posted 365 career wins and $2.57 million in earnings through Sunday. An unknown in Western New York but now one to look for. As far as winning a trainer's title, "I don't really look at the awards but it's nice to have on the resume."

He arrived in Western New York at Batavia Downs in mid-November and showed the move was the right one.

At Batavia Downs, he started 31 horses with nine wins, five second place finishes and four shows for a 29 percent win average, a UDTS of .323 and $31,232 in earnings.

When the racing switched to Buffalo Raceway, Stewart is a win behind current leader JD Perrin by one victory. Stewart, a trainer since 2006, had sent out 35 horses this far with 13 winners, seven second place finishers and three who took the show spot. That's a gaudy .511 UDRS and a 37 percent win average and $56,189 in earnings.

Stewart has been helped by having Peter Wrenn come in and drive many of his horses."He's been driving probably 90 percent of my horses for the last four or five years. Pete told me just about everyone of my horses would fit in well here."

Wrenn is benefiting from Stewart's success as he sits in second place in the driver's standings with 19 victories, 11 behind runaway leader Billy Dobson who has 30.

But Wrenn isn't staying around all season like Stewart is. "He has a small stable he'll go back to in Indiana and I'll probably use Drew Monti and Shawn McDonough when Pete does leave. Drew and Shawn drove for me at Batavia."

Stewart added, "I love the Buffalo Raceway paddock. It's head and shoulders above most others. The heated paddock is huge and it's really user-friendly. You need probably just two people to paddock probably five horses. It's a big plus."

Right now, Stewart has 21 stabled at Buffalo Raceway and is always on the lookout for more. "I did get a horse from a local owner and would be willing to take on more." In the near future, he'll be losing five out of the barn with two going back to Indiana and three going to the Delaware Sales.

About his stable, Stewart said, "I am set up for claimers. I seem to make more money with get the money while you can."

The frigid weather has made things a bit more difficult for Stewart but one the's handled as things came along. "You just don't keep them on the track as long and you try to keep them as healthy as possible. I went into the barn and there was three-to-four inches of ice in the water buckets so that takes some extra time to change that. And I've been warned to keep the horses' shoes sharpened keep them really corked."

He added of his training routine, "I just blow them out and let them gallop. I think it's easier on their joints and you are using less equipment. I usually do one trip two or three days before a race."

Will we ever see Stewart in the sulky during a race? Probably now. "I may only drive if a need to fix a problem with a horse, but otherwise, no." He then added with a laugh, "I am in this to make money and if I was driving I probably wouldn't make much...I'm not very good at it."

As for the rest of the year, Stewart plans to stay at Buffalo until the end of the meet, journey back to Indiana, then come back for the 2015 meet at Buffalo. "That's the plan right now," he said.

And Stewart goes by the motto many in the horse racing industry go by..."People don't like you when you are doing well and you are well liked when you aren't going well." It's not in a mean-spirited way though. It's almost like a superstitious routine.

"I love that so I keep hoping people don't like me because that means I am doing well," he added jokingly.

But thus far, Stewart and driver Wrenn have brought in some good horses that have made many people take notice of them and of Buffalo Raceway itself.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Michael Carter Ready For Announcer's Role At Buffalo Raceway

Michael Carter was a bit hesitant at first when he first applied for the announcer's job at Buffalo Raceway for 2014.

The 25-year-old was living with his wife Jessica in the warm Gulf Coast state of Mississippi. Hattiesburg to be exact. But a choice had to be made. Another season in the warm south or hoping for your first full-time announcing job of your career at Buffalo the middle of winter.

But when the job offer was made around Thanksgiving to take over for previous race caller and Pompano Park bound Gabe Prewitt, Carter eagerly accepted the post. He now anxiously awaits the season opener at the Hamburg half-mile track on Wednesday, January 8th with a 5 p.m. post.

Carter does have harness race calling experience as he was a fill-in at Colonial Downs in Virginia, Rosecroft Raceway in Maryland and was the voice of the four-day meet at the Shendandoah County Fair in Virginia. But this job at Buffalo Raceway will be totally different. It's his first full-time job and the elements (snow, rain, fog, sleet, freezing rain, etc.) will be a factor.

"I've never called races in adverse conditions," Carter said. "I've heard from Gabe Prewitt about it..the cold, the heavy snow, wind. But I am actually looking forward to it."

He added, "This is the start of my career and I know Buffalo Raceway gets a lot of exposure in the winter. It's exciting to be starting here. I heard there are a lot of great people at Buffalo and heard a lot of good things."

Carter and his wife arrived in Western New York just before New Year's Eve and were greeted with bitter cold temperatures, a fresh six inches of snow and wind. "It was a challenge to get to the track," he chuckled about his trip to the Hamburg half-mile oval. "I got to look around a bit and it looks great. The backstretch was amazing but really didn't get a good look at the track as it was covered with snow. But the whole facility looks nice."

I mentioned a few races to Carter that he could watch from Buffalo Raceway over the past two season where the weather was much more suitable to the sled dog races in Alaska than harness racing in Western New York in mid-January. He watched them and later said, "Wow...I can't believe how the weather was and what a great job Gabe Prewitt did in calling. I can't believe how the drivers handled it either."

While Carter isn't afraid of the adverse weather conditions, he has one fear most announcers do and that's calling the wrong horse in front. "I've never done it but that's my biggest fear."

About uprooting his St. Louis-raised wife and Mississippi-settled Jessica to Buffalo, Carter said, "She's behind me 1,000 percent. She didn't know much about harness racing until she met me...she's gotten into it now. She's all for it."

Chief Operating Officer at Buffalo Raceway Jim Mango said of the hiring of Carter, "I've been in this business over 30 years and I think he's got the potential to be a great announcer. He's already a good announcer but he can become a great announcer."

Some might wonder why Buffalo Raceway would go with a race caller who hasn't had a full-time job in the field before. Mango hopes lightning strikes twice as he quickly quelled all concerns. "If you remember, Gabe Prewitt was never a full-time caller when we hired him and he turned out to be a great one. Michael Carter is very excited about his first opportunity and has a very pleasing voice. He's going to do a good job for us."

Carter said his strong point in his announcing is "picking up horses that are closing late." The long stretch at Buffalo Raceway will be a perfect place for him to utilize his strength.

But don't expect Carter to use any snappy lines during his calls, at least not yet. "I don't think I've really developed a style or catch phrase...not yet at least," he stated.

His race calling career started out in the like many in the family living room. "I was like 14 or 15 and I started calling races in front of our television. I was always interested in the race announcers. My dad heard me doing it and told me 'you know, you might have something there'." He admits that the Meadowlands was 'his track' and driver John Campbell was 'his favorite' as he started his journey to become an announcer.

Carter moved from the living room and started practice calling at Colonial Downs and according to him, "It was terrible." But his hard work and never give-up attitude did allow him to fill in at Colonial Downs. He also announced at Rosecroft where track announcer Pete Methurst, as Carter put it, "Was my coach and my mentor."

But Carter admits his first call of his Buffalo Raceway career might give him a few butterflies. "It might be a little nerve-wracking...but once I get the headset on, I think I will be fine."

Learning the horse's names, driver's colors, pronunciations and such will also be on Carter's priority list along with Buffalo Raceway in-between race procedures.

Raised in New Hampshire for the first seven years of his life, Carter had become a New England Patriots fan. He laughingly admitted, "I walked into a store our first day in Buffalo and I had New England Patriots stuff on. I got a lot of strange looks." He now realized he was in Bills' country, especially after the Patriots beat the Bills 34-20 in the 2013 season finale.

Carter said on his list of things to get before the move to Buffalo was to get a snow shovel. Good call.

So if his preparation is as good as his race calling, Carter's first year as Buffalo Raceway track announcer should be a start of a long career.

Welcome to Western New York.

You can follow Michael Carter and his first season at Buffalo Raceway on twitter @mcarte1

Buffalo Raceway 2014 Live Racing Schedule