By Tim Bojarski, for Batavia Downs
Maryann Sarama-Luce was a pioneer in harness racing in Western New York as one of only a handful of female drivers who raced full time at Batavia Downs. And despite beating the odds more than just in a race, she not only met the challenges she faced in her role, she exceeded them and excelled in the sport for decades.
As a result of her place in the history of harness racing, the Upstate New York Chapter of the United States Harness Writers Association (USHWA) will posthumously present her with their Lifetime Achievement Award on Saturday (Dec. 14) at Batavia Downs during the Night of Distinction awards ceremony.
Sarama-Luce passed away in July of 2011 at 73 years of age after a long battle with leukemia. She was introduced to the business when she met Danny Sarama in the late 1960s and from that point on, the two formed the successful Mardan Stable.
Their most memorable performer was the pacer You Devil You, who won 10 races in a row in 1976 while rising from a lowly claimer to an Open class pacer. In the early 1980s after separating from Danny, she continued on her own as both a trainer and a driver and had her best year in the bike in 1983 when she won 21 races.
She ended her driving career in 1990 with 109 wins and $201,435 in earnings, but at that point she started training full time and continued to do so until her passing. As a conditioner she sent 107 horses to the winner’s circle and their efforts produced $334,835 in earnings. Some of the best horses she trained included Gold Bandit N, Top Dog Alex, Top Dog Nicholas, Easy L Bar and Guy Lee Debbie.
After her passing, her son Carl and husband Richard have carried on with her stable.
“Harness racing was her number one priority and passion,” her daughter Lynette McGiveron said. “Her horses were the driving force behind her battle to recover. Even in her final days she worried more about her horses than herself.”
McGiveron continued “A passion of Maryann's was to have her mares bred and to raise the foals to race. She named them after her kids and grandchildren and had planned on doing so until every child and grandchild was named.
"The last foal to be born on her farm was 'Top Dog Morgan' named after her grandson. Unfortunately Mary Ann never got to see it in person. He was born the night she went into the hospital for her final stay.”
Sarama-Luce will join previous Lifetime Achievement award recipients Gaston Guindon, Fred Haslip, Ken Ball and Gerry Sarama in this honor.
Sarama-Luce's family will be presented the award in the Purple Haze Winner’s Circle at Batavia Downs between races on Saturday evening (Dec. 14). Post time for the first race is 6 p.m.