Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Jeff Gural wins Railbird Recognition Award as Horseperson of the Year


Courtesy of the United States Harness Writers Association:

Voting for the Railbird Recognition Awards ended on New Year's Eve and the voice of the fans of harness racing have been heard. After nearly 8,000 votes were cast, Jeff Gural was named the 2011 Horseperson of the Year and Big Bad John's Little Brown Jug win was tabbed as the most memorable Racing Moment of 2011.

Jeff Gural, who owns and operates Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs in New York State and who also spearheaded major change in the racing landscape there, stepped in and took the lead role in an attempt to save Meadowlands Racetrack from being permanently shuttered after the State of New Jersey decided to cut ties with the racing industry.

A longtime owner and breeder himself, Gural knew if the Meadowlands went down, the rest of the industry would more than likely follow.

In a short time and without many options, Gural was able to broker agreements with the state of New Jersey as well as various labor unions and horsemen's groups in order to lay the foundation that would ultimately lead to the re-opening of the mecca of harness racing this Friday (January 6) and guarantee its survival with a 30-year lease.

During the negotiations, Gural stated, "I would say this is mostly about my caring about harness racing. There are a lot of people whose livelihoods depend on this."

And as a result of Gural's hard work, the livelihoods of a lot of people will be protected for the foreseeable future.

After learning of how the fans of racing felt about his efforts, Gural said, "I was very happy to hear I was chosen by the fans to receive this award; it means a great deal to me. I would like to thank them all for their support and pledge to them that I will do everything I can to make the racing product at the new Meadowlands Racetrack something we can all be proud of."

In winning Horseperson of the Year, Jeff Gural received 47 percent of the fans' votes. George Brennan, who had an outstanding year driving, finished second with 28 percent.

September in Delaware, Ohio, is always an exciting time, but the scene this year was one that (obviously) a lot of people remembered.

Ohio owned by Ed Telle, Ohio trained by Ron Potter and Ohio driven by David Miller, local hero Big Bad John became the first horse stabled year round at the Delaware County Fairgrounds to win the Little Brown Jug.

Big Bad John's win didn't come easy as Up The Credit pushed him to the half before second heat winner Roll With Joe pulled and dueled him all the way to the wire.

But the hard fought win was an epic moment as the 50,000-plus on hand roared as the colt crossed the wire first and returned to the winner's circle.

When Ed Telle learned of winning this award he said, "That race was a moment I'll never forget. It was an all Buckeye win and we must have had 300 people in the winner's circle. It was exciting to hear the fans' reaction to such a special moment then, and I am happy that by virtue of this award, it has remained such a great racing memory for them now."

Telle continued, "Big Bad John is a very special horse. He knows his business and he knows what to do when he hits the track. He is in to go at Pompano Saturday (January 7) and if he wins, he will become a millionaire and he will be retired. He will be standing at Midland Acres in Ohio as we will try to start the next generation of Ohio-bred greatness with him. It's only right that he stands in Ohio."

Voting for Racing Moment of the Year was very close as Big Bad John's Jug received 28 percent of the fans' vote. George Brennan winning both the Hambo and the Oaks was second with 25 percent and San Pail's Breeders Crown victory was third with 24 percent.

Jeff Gural and the connections of Big Bad John will be presented the fan voted Railbird Recognition Awards at the 2012 Dan Patch Awards Banquet in Orlando, Fla., on Sunday, February 12.

Tickets for the dinner will be $125 per person, and tables of ten are available.

Ticket reservations can be made by e-mailing or calling Callie Davies-Gooch at callie@hambletonian.org or 732.547.9459 or Steven Wolf at stevejw@bellsouth.net or 954.654.3757.

Anyone attending the banquet should note that the host hotel for the weekend festivities, which includes the annual USHWA national meetings, is the Doubletree Orlando by Hilton Hotel at SeaWorld. Rooms are now available for booking, either by phone or internet, and are at a special rate of $109 per night, plus tax. The hotel has extended this special rate from February 7 through February 16 for those wishing to come in early or stay later. To make hotel reservations, call 800.327.0363 and ask for the special USHWA rate using the code "C-DPA."

The 2012 Dan Patch Awards will not only honor all the leading horsemen, horsewomen, and equine stars of the 2011 season, but will also pay tribute to the peerless career of the great Stanley F. Bergstein, the only person in the harness racing industry who is a member of both the Hall of Fame and its Communicators Corner.

The Railbird Recognition fan voting was a joint effort of the United States Harness Writers Association and the United States Trotting Association.