Thursday, August 19, 2010

Gural, Schnittker, Howard named to UNY Hall


The Upstate New York Chapter of the United States Harness Writers Association has announced that Jeff Gural, Ray Schnittker and Guy Howard will be inducted into their Hall of Fame representing Tioga Downs.

These three gentlemen finalize the initial class of 2010.

The crystal keepsakes will be presented to them at Tioga on Sunday, August 29, during the Zweig Memorial Trot night of racing.

Jeff Gural’s love of harness racing has led him to become the driving force behind the resurgence of the Standardbred sport in New York.

Through his efforts and determination, legislation has been introduced and passed that has proven to be the catalyst that brought fair and equitable cuts from slots revenue to all the racetracks in the Empire State.

His actions have not only stabilized this industry in the state, they have helped to secure its future.

The Binghamton, N.Y. native is Chairman of American Racing and Entertainment, L.L.C., which owns both Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs racinos.

These facilities conduct full harness meets which provide racing opportunities and jobs for hundreds of people from April through November. They also offer business for many other farmers and retailers in and around each location which in turn drives their local economies.

Tioga was a long abandoned quarter horse track when Gural resurrected it, and now it’s the showplace of racing for the New York State Standardbred community.

Vernon Downs was in bankruptcy and as good as done when Gural took it over, brought it back and made it vital once more.

Gural’s support of harness racing is seemingly endless. He is extremely “hands on” at the tracks he owns. He is always in the crowd, talking to the patrons; finding out what they like and don’t like. Asking how they can improve the product.

Jeff Gural is a visionary in the true sense of the word. His ability to put things into perspective for others has put harness racing in New York on very solid ground.

And through that success, those in the industry and the communities where racing takes place have benefited greatly.

Ray Schnittker truly found success the hard way; he earned it. Starting out in 1977 when his father owned just two horses, Ray battled among the overnighters for years mostly at Buffalo and Batavia, improving his stock as he went along. His early success was found with horses like Dave Hanover and Keystone Tort.

Ray eventually took the leap and relocated to the Big Apple where he campaigned the likes of $1.2 million winner Covert Action. His aggressive driving style caught many of the regulars off guard as the new kid on the block made his presence known. But it was that same attitude that pushed Ray to the top.

Since then, Schnittker has been on a roll, making national headlines every year with champions like 2008 Hambletonian winner Deweycheatumnhowe, 2010 Meadowlands Pace winner One More Laugh, Jezzy, Cassis, Make It Happen, Chippewa Street, Last Call At Dem’s, Riggins, Twin B Senorita and Munis Blue Chip.

Although his name is no stranger to the Grand Circuit, he remains based in New York State, and in the process, supports the breeding that makes the Sire Stake program there so successful.

Ray has been a regular at Tioga Downs since they opened in overnights, sire stakes, and the many late closing series offered there.

Rather than pursuing catch drives, Schnittker has primarily concentrated his efforts on his own stable and developing young talent during his career. This strategy has paid off as his lifetime numbers will attest.

To date he has posted 2,431 driving wins and $34 million in purse money. In just the last four years, horses he has trained have won in excess of $16 million.

Guy Howard is a 26-year veteran of racing and has his roots firmly planted in south central New York.

While he has had success with the charges he trains, his biggest contribution to this sport at Tioga is his forward thinking and leadership as president of the Southern Tier Harness Horsemen’s Association.

In his capacity, Howard has guided the membership of the group into an amicable relationship with racetrack management and afforded the latter the opportunity to install programs and promotions that have made Tioga Downs what it is today.

With his leadership and the help of the members of the STHHA, the racing project in Nichols, New York has progressed farther and faster then anyone could have imagined.

This threesome will join the representatives from Buffalo Raceway, Batavia Downs and Vernon Downs for the Hall of Fame induction banquet which will be held on Sunday, September 12, at 4 p.m. at Tioga Downs, where the permanent Hall will be housed.

Details on the induction banquet will be released later this week.