By Tim Bojarski, president, UNY-USHWA
As the 2020 Batavia Downs meet draws to a close on Saturday (Dec. 12), the Upstate New York Chapter of the United States Harness Writers Association has announced the top human and equine performers for this past season.
These awards would normally be presented in the winner’s circle on the final night of racing during the annual UNY-USHWA Night of Distinction.
However due to state restrictions with regard to the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic, that will not be the case this year.
The award winners will be given gift certificates in the paddock in lieu of the usual trackside ceremony because no one is allowed on the apron.
This will be the first time the Night of Distinction has not been held since its inception in 2008.
The following were the best on the track from the 2020 Batavia Downs season.
Driver of the Meet - Jim Morrill Jr.
A two-time dash title winner at Batavia Downs already, Jim Morrill Jr. (top inset photo) notched his third after winning 101 races, finishing 11 wins ahead of the second place Billy Davis Jr. who won this award last year. In 401 starts at Batavia Morrill also had 70 seconds and 51 thirds for a .391 UDR and winnings of $500,000 for the meet. Morrill, who scored his 7,500th career victory at the Downs this past November, currently sits 13th in North America for UDR among all drivers with 500 or more starts and his overall mark of .383 for the year is the highest he’s had since the 2016 season.
For all of 2020 Morrill has 742 starts, 180 wins, 133 seconds and 92 thirds and $1,267,773 in earnings.
Trainer of the Meet -- Gerry Sarama
Not only did Gerry Sarama (inset photo left) register career training win 1,000 at Batavia this year, he also won 62 races, finishing 31 ahead of his nearest competitor to claim his first training title at the Downs. Sarama also had 34 seconds and 26 thirds during the meet with total earnings of $275,112.
Sarama has had one of his best overall years training in 2020 with 87 wins, 60 seconds and 55 thirds out of 426 starts while posting a UTR of .326 and earnings of $475,635. That UTR is the highest Sarama has had in 22 years as a conditioner. Sarama also trained two of the meet’s three equine award winners.
(Above, Black Is Back.)
Pacer of the Meet -- Black Is Back (Western Terror -- Magic Moments) 1:52.1, $288,875
Black Is Back made 16 starts at the Downs and won six Open I Handicap paces while finishing second and third twice each, banking purses of $33,645 in the process. He registered his season’s best time on August 29 when he toured the facility at Batavia in a sharp 1:53.4.
This is the second consecutive year Black Is Back has been named Horse of the Meet at Batavia Downs.
Black Is Back is owned by Curtis Edholm and Mihajlo Zdjelar Sr. and is trained by Mihajlo Zdjelar Jr.
(Above, II Mago.)
Trotter of the Meet -- Il Mago (Kadabra-Northern Style) 1:52.3, $899,763
Il Mago came to western New York through a private purchase back in July and won his first two races upon arrival. Since the Batavia meet began, he has been in the Open I Handicap trot every week and has dominated that class all meet. In 14 starts Il Mago has won seven, was second twice and third once more and earned $35,390 during that time. His best win time at the Downs was 1:56.4, a mark he hit twice during the meet.
The classy 11-year-old has 55 lifetime wins and is currently just $237 short of $900,000 lifetime and has a legitimate chance to cross the $1 million dollar threshold before he retires.
Il Mago is owned by Mike Torcello and trained by Gerry Sarama.
(Above, Sir Richie N.)
Claimer of the Meet -- Sir Richie N
Sir Richie N started the year racing at the Meadowlands and found his way to Western New York through a private sale in January. Although he had moderate success earlier in the year, it was nothing like he would see when he got to Batavia. Sir Richie N raced in claimers ranging from $4,000 to $10,000 during his 18 starts and he won 10 of those along with three seconds.
His fastest win came on Oct. 3 when he paced the Genesee County oval in 1:55. His efforts earned him $30,630 in purses and a very strong following at the windows.
Sir Richie N is owned by Mike Torcello and is trained by Gerry Sarama.
Also, Batavia Downs has announced that the track will offer a guaranteed pool of $3,000 for the Pick-5 wager on Saturday (Dec. 12) with a mandatory payout as this is the final card of the meet.
The pool is part of the United States Trotting Association’s Strategic Wagering Program and as such, free program pages are available courtesy of Trackmaster on the Batavia Downs and USTA websites or by clicking here.
The Pick-5 wager begins in race one and runs through race five. It is a 50-cent base wager and if all five winners aren’t selected, the closest combination(s) will be paid out on Saturday. Post time for the first race is 5 p.m.