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NY Sire Stakes

September 13, 2019 - 12:47pm

By Tim Bojarski, for Batavia Downs

When 64 of the best New York-bred trotters and pacers enter the paddock at Batavia Downs for the $1.8 million New York Sire Stakes (NYSS) Night of Champions on Saturday (Sept. 14), there will be three horsemen that will have a homecoming of sorts as their careers all got started in Batavia at the oldest lighted harness track in America.

Ray Schnittker from Tonawanda, Steve Pratt from Corfu (inset photo, right), and Chris Oakes from Akron, all mastered the trade they have excelled in so well over the years at Batavia Downs.

Schnittker got his start in 1977 racing horses owned by his father. By the late 1980’s he moved his colors to New York City and found success driving on that major circuit. His rise to prominence in the sport eventually led to his greatest career success of a Hambletonian victory with his Hall of Fame trotter, Deweycheatumnhowe (Muscles Yankee-Trolley Square) 1:50.4 ($3,155,178). 

With his base of operations in Goshen, New York now for many years now, Schnittker has been a regular on the NYSS circuit racing many great 2- and 3-year-olds over that time.

Schnittker’s lifetime stats as a driver show 2,795 wins and $42,809,617 earned and as a trainer 1,266 wins with $39,755,029 in purses. 

This year Schnittker has three starters in the finals. 3-year-old pacing colt Hickfromfrenchlick (So Surreal-My Girl’s A Star) 1:48.4 ($414,427) and 2-year-old pacing colts Splash Brother (So Surreal-Sugarcoated) 1:54.2 ($48,961) and Cigars And Port (So Surreal-Sweet On Art) 1:55.3 ($79,851).

Hickfromfrenchlick has developed into one of the best sophomore pacing colts around. He currently has the sixth fastest win time of the year (1:48.4) for a 3-year-old and is the ninth richest ($275,866) second-year pacing male in North America. He has four NYSS wins this year, but he also won the $238,200 Empire Breeders Classic at Tioga in a lifetime best effort. He comes into the finals on a four-race winning streak and looks extremely tough to beat on Saturday. 

Pratt started in the business in 1970 and had much success racing overnights, and mostly trotters, at Batavia Downs. Although he competed his own stable part-time, he eventually got into racing young horses at the fairs and made the move to the NYSS in the 1990’s. 

Over the last eight years he has been a constant in this series with a string of highly competitive trotters that all had “Barn” in their names that also went on to be accomplished overnight performers as aged horses.  

A very high percentage trainer, Pratt’s career numbers show 236 wins out of only 823 starts and $2,785,646 in earnings; the bulk of which came in the last eight years competing in the NYSS. 

Pratt’s starter in the finals this year is 2-year-old trotting colt Barn Holden (Conway Hall-Barn Babe) 1:55.3 ($126,168) and he’s as solid a performer as any Pratt’s had to date.

Barn Holden is the points (224) and earnings ($126,168) leader in his division and comes into the final with three wins, two seconds and two thirds out of eight starts. His only lifetime start at Batavia was on August 7 when went wire to wire by 8-3/4 lengths in 1:57.1 to set a new track record for 2-year-old trotting colts. 

It’s a short ship from Corfu (where Pratt still lives) to Batavia and Barn Holden will return to the scene of that record Saturday to try and repeat his performance. 

Oakes got his trainer’s license in 1984 and campaigned horses for his father in western New York for several years. He made the move to Pennsylvania and (then) Pocono Downs in 1992 and it was there his career took off. A very winning and high percentage trainer, Oakes has won multiple training titles at his home track the Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono and his horses have won a plethora of major stakes across North America. 

In his career Oakes has sent 1,875 winners to post and has earned $28,853,311 in purses. 

Oakes has two starters in the NYSS finals this year and both are in the same division. They are 3-year-old pacing colts Shake That House (American Ideal-Shake That Junk) 1:47.4 ($452,804) and Buddy Hill (Roll With Joe-Lessofit Hanover) 1:52 ($141,313). 

Shake That House won two out of three NYSS starts this year but went on a real tear in between. He won his elimination and then the final of the Max C. Hempt Memorial at the Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono in back to back miles of 1:49 and 1:49.2. Then two weeks after that he scored his lifetime mark of 1:47.4 in his second NYSS win taken at Vernon Downs. That time annihilated the track record for 3-year-old pacing colts and was just one-fifth of a second off the all-time pacing track record there. 

After a two-week rest, Shake That House had a qualifying tightener that he won in 1:53.1 in preparation for this start and comes in fresh for the race. 

The $1.8 million New York Sire Stakes Night of Champions that are comprised of eight $225,000 races will be held at Batavia Downs on Saturday night (Sept. 14) with a first race post time of 6 o'clock.

Peter Kleinhans will be the tracks guest host and handicapper for the in-house and simulcast broadcast and Heather Wilder will be in the Purple Haze Winner’s Circle interviewing the winners and all their connections after each stake race.

There will be two $7,500 guaranteed pools in both the early and late Pick-4 wagers that night and both will be all-stake Pick-4’s (races 3-6 and races 7-10). The pools are part of the United States Trotting Association’s (USTA) Strategic Wagering Program and free program pages will be available on the USTA’s website and through links on the Batavia Downs Facebook page when they become available. 

Free full card programs are now available for download from the Daily Racing Form Harness. 

There will be a T-shirt giveaway courtesy of the NYSS on Saturday night as well. Fans attending the races live only need to swipe their Player’s Club card at guest services starting at 4:30 p.m. to receive a ticket to get their shirt after the seventh race.

(Photo courtesy of Mark Hall.)

September 13, 2019 - 12:30pm

By Tim Bojarski, for Batavia Downs

Drivers competing in the $1.8 million New York Sire Stakes Night of Champions at Batavia Downs on Saturday night (Sept. 14) will be available trackside for a meet and greet autograph session before the races get underway from 5-5:30 p.m.

They will be set up next to the Purple Haze Winner’s Circle for this event. 

Drivers who will be signing include Hall of Famer Brian Sears, Jason Bartlett, Tyler Buter, Corey Callahan, Matt Kakaley, Jim Morrill Jr. and Scott Zeron. 

"These guys have driven here multiple times this year and have developed quite a following from our fans," said Todd Haight, director/general manager of Racing. 

"We hope they take the opportunity to come down and talk face to face with some of the best drivers currently competing in North America before they hit the track for the biggest night of racing in the history of Western New York."

September 12, 2019 - 4:57pm

Press release:

New York’s richest night of racing will be contested at Batavia Downs this Saturday, Sept. 14, with the $1.8 million New York Sire Stakes “Night of Champions,” celebrating its 30th year.

Eight finals races featuring the best state-bred 2- and 3-year-olds will be contested for $225,000 purses each. Post time is 6 p.m. A full list of entries can be found here.

Batavia Downs was selected as the site of this year’s “Night of Champions” through a competitive proposal process among tracks which host NYSS events. Tracks were considered on various criteria, including the offering of a 24-hour detention barn, and the ability to promote the event and offer an exciting fan experience.

“We are thrilled to be at Batavia Downs this year, which has done an amazing job of generating excitement in the ‘Night of Champions’ being held in Western New York,” said M. Kelly Young, executive director, Agriculture and New York State Horse Breeding Development Fund. “On the track, our horses proved once again that New York State is a major player in Standardbred breeding and racing and we are excited to showcase their talents.”

“The management of Batavia Downs Gaming and Hotel was proud and excited to be named the site of the 2019 Night of Champions," said Todd Haight, director/general manager of Racing. "Western New York has been a hotbed of harness racing since pari-mutuel betting was legalized in 1940 and remains that way today.

"Western Regional OTB has put numerous improvements into this facility over the years to draw better horses and in turn, maintain a strong customer base. We look forward to hosting all the connections of these championship-caliber New York-bred horses on Saturday and putting on the best show possible for everyone."

Race sponsors for the event include New York-based breeders and institutions:

Race 2: Cameo Hills Farm Final for 3-Year-Old Pacing Fillies
Race 3: Allerage Farm Final for 3-Year-Old Trotting Fillies
Race 4: Winbak Farm Final for 2-Year-Old Pacing Fillies
Race 5: Crawford Farms Final for 2-Year-Old Trotting Fillies
Race 7: Genesee Valley Farm Final for 2-Year-Old Pacing Colts
Race 8: Agriculture and New York State Horse Breeding Development Fund Final for 2-Year-Old Trotting Colts
Race 9: SUNY Morrisville Equine Institute Final for 3-Year-Old Trotting Colts
Race 10: Blue Chip Farms Final for 3-Year-Old Pacing Colts

A cocktail reception for the connections of the horses in the finals, cosponsored by Purple Haze Standardbred Adoption Program, will take place prior to the event.

The NYSS Consolation Finals will be held at Vernon Downs on Sunday, Sept. 15. The finals for the NYSS Excelsior A Series are scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 21 at Saratoga Casino Hotel.

The New York Sire Stakes program promotes the breeding, buying, and racing of Standardbred horses in New York State, and is administered by the Agriculture and New York State Horse Breeding Development Fund. It was the first program of is kind, featuring 2- and 3-year-old colts and fillies, and has become the model for state-bred racing programs in North America.

About the Agriculture and New York State Horse Breeding Development Fund

The Fund is a public benefit corporation established in 1965 by the Laverne Law (Laws of New York, Chapter 567 of the Laws of 1965). The mission of the Fund is to promote agriculture through the breeding of Standardbred horses and the conduct of equine research within the State.

To carry out its legislative mission, the Fund administers the New York Sire Stakes races, Excelsior/State Fair Series races, and County Fair Races. Additionally, the Fund provides assistance to county agriculture societies and contributes to the statewide 4-H program and to the Harry M. Zweig Fund for Equine Research.

September 10, 2019 - 12:10pm

By Tim Bojarski, for Batavia Downs

Marcus Melander (inset photo, left) has come a very long way in harness racing in a very short amount of time. After making the move to North America from his home in Sweden at the age of 21 to work for Hall of Fame trainer Jimmy Takter, Melander went off on his own and hasn’t looked back. 

Over the last five years, Melander’s stable has won in excess of $7.8 million in purses, had five trotters reach the Hambletonian final and was awarded two year-end Dan Patch Awards for divisional winning horses.  

Melander himself received the 2018 Dan Patch Rising Star Award this past February in Orlando, Florida in recognition of his exceptional early career accomplishments. 

This year two of the best horses in his stable just happen to be New York-bred and both are undefeated in their New York Sire Stake (NYSS) starts this year.

They are 3-year-old trotting colt Gimpanzee and 2-year-old trotting filly Hypnotic Am and they both will be competing in the $1.8 million NYSS Night of Champions at Batavia Downs on Saturday (Sept. 14).

(Photo of Gimpanzee.)

By Tim Bojarski, for Batavia Downs​

In his freshman season, Gimpanzee was undefeated going nine for nine. He swept the NYSS to become the 2-year-old champion, won the $600,000 Breeders Crown final and amassed a total of $591,358 for the year. That earned him the 2018 Dan Patch Award for 2-year-old trotting colts.

This year Gimpanzee started out by running up his lifetime undefeated streak to 13 before joining Melander stablemates Greenshoe and Green Manalishi S in the Hambletonian final.

Gimpanzee got parked out from post seven in his elimination and finished fourth. He then drew post seven again in the final, went a similar trip and finished third. He closed very well in both starts (:26.4 and :26.2) and was only beaten a length in each race. Melander reflected on those starts as he was preparing him for the New York finals this weekend. 

“He went tremendous in both races and finished strong in both despite having the seven hole. If he had a little better post in the final I think he could win the race because he was flying home. But he raced real good that day and we could not be more happy. He showed everyone that he is fast enough,” said Melander.  

Despite the task of racing two heats in one day, Gimpanzee came out unfazed and continued his winning ways at Batavia on Saturday (Aug. 24). 

“He came out of those heats better than I thought but that doesn’t surprise me. He’s very laid back and easy on himself. It was good that there were no eliminations for the Yonkers Trot so we could bring him up to Batavia that week and get some more points and get some experience around that track. It was a great surface to race over at Batavia and he got around it very well,” said Melander.  

After the New York final, Gimpanzee will be going down to the Red Mile for the Bluegrass Series and the Kentucky Futurity with his sights strongly focused on a second Breeders Crown championship. 

(Photo of Hypnotic Am.)

Stablemate Hypnotic Am hasn’t visited Batavia yet this year because she was busy winning the $310,000 James Doherty Memorial at the Meadowlands the week her division competed there.  

Hypnotic Am was bred by her owner Courant and was such an impressive yearling that they sent her to Melander to train, rather than the sale last fall. And clearly that has worked out well for all involved. 

“She trained down good and every start she seems to get better and better. She has no problem doing the work herself; she has speed, she has stamina, she has everything a good horse should have,” said Melander. “She went a big mile in the Doherty (1:53), a track record at Yonkers (1:56.1) and was a was very strong as a wrapped-up winner at Saratoga in 1:54.4 over an off track. She’s a very nice filly.”  

Her performances this year speak volumes. She is currently the fastest 2-year-old trotter overall in North America, richest 2-year-old trotting filly and the second richest overall behind Real Cool Sam, who has raced two more starts to this point and is coincidentally also undefeated at 8-8.

After the NYSS final, Melander said she may head down to Lexington for the Grand Circuit races as well, but that will be a decision he makes later. But one thing is for sure, she will compete in the Breeders Crown. 

“We may go to Kentucky, depending on how she races and comes out of the race this week. I like to be careful with the 2-year-olds because they can get sick and that can happen very easily when they travel.” 

Both Gimpanzee and Hypnotic Am are by Chapter Seven out of a granddaughter of Muscles Yankee. It's a cross Melander likes and his trotting star of two years ago Fourth Dimension, who was a four-time NYSS winner and the 2017 Dan Patch Award 2-year-old trotting colt of the year, had the same.

Melander looks to continue his success in New York in the coming years, stating the program helps develop young talent.   

“I think it’s a very good series and although there are a lot of half mile tracks, most of them have good surfaces. Many are very soft for the horses and that helps a young horse a lot. And as long as the tracks are good, that’s good for the horse’s futures then it works great to have them in this program,” said Melander. “I will be shopping for New York horses at the sales this fall and if I can find something I like I will definitely try to buy them. I like the New York circuit. It’s good money and a good program for us.” 

The $1.8 million New York Sire Stakes Night of Champions that are comprised of eight $225,000 races will be held at Batavia Downs on Saturday night (Sept. 14) with a first race post time of 6 p.m. 

The draw for that card is on Wednesday (Sept. 11) at noon and will be live streamed on the NYSS website as well as both the NYSS and Batavia Downs Facebook pages. Batavia native and New York State Assemblyman Stephen M. Hawley will serve as the honorary drawmaster. 

Peter Kleinhans will be the track’s guest host and handicapper for the in-house and simulcast broadcast and Heather Wilder will be in the Purple Haze Winner’s Circle interviewing the winners and all their connections after each stake race.

There will be two $7,500 guaranteed pools in both the early and late Pick-4 wagers that night and both will be all-stake Pick-4’s (races 3-6 and races 7-10). The pools are part of the United States Trotting Association’s (USTA) Strategic Wagering Program and free program pages will be available on the USTA’s website and through links on the Batavia Downs Facebook page when they become available. 

Free full card programs will also be available for download from the Daily Racing Form starting Thursday. 

There will be a T-shirt giveaway courtesy of the NYSS on Saturday night as well. Fans attending the races live only need to swipe their Player’s Club card at guest services starting at 4:30 p.m. to receive a ticket to get their shirt after the seventh race.

(Melander photo courtesy of Mark Hall.)

(Gimpanzee photo courtesy of Paul White.)

(Hypnotic Am photo courtesy of Fred Brown.)

July 27, 2019 - 11:54am
posted by Billie Owens in harness racing, sports, Batavia Downs, NY Sire Stakes.

By Tim Bojarski, for Batavia Downs

A total of $104,598 in purses will be up for grabs at Batavia Downs on Sunday (July 29) when the New York Sire Stakes (NYSS) rolls into town for the second of nine 2019 stops at the oldest lighted race track in America. 

This leg will feature the 2-year-old colt and gelding pacers who will vie in three $34,866 divisions carded as race three, five and seven. 

In the third race the undefeated Groovy Joe (Roll With Joe-Chotat Milk) puts his four-race win streak on the line against a truly loaded field. 

Groovy Joe had been having his way with the competition and posted a lifetime mark of 1:54.3 at Buffalo. However last week although he still won, it was in a dead heat at Saratoga with American Rebel with Freedom Warrior just a half length behind in third. But he gets another start on a half, which he obviously handles well, and catches a short field, too. 

Matt Kakaley is driving again for trainer Blake MacIntosh and will leave from post five at 9-5.

It would seem his closest competitor will be the horse he dead-heated with last week, American Rebel (American Ideal-Restive Hanover). 

After winning an elimination of the L. B. Sheppard at Yonkers on July 6, American Rebel finished a close fifth in the $120,250 final and then posted a lifetime best at Saratoga of 1:55 the following week (in the dead heat with Groovy Joe). This one is certainly in top form and will look to make some noise here. 

American Rebel will be driven by Tyler Buter from post three for trainer Rob Harmon. 

The fifth race has Ray Schnittker’s Cigars And Port (So Surreal-Sweet On Art) listed as the morning line choice at 2-1. 

After winning his first lifetime start in 1:56.3 in a NYSS event at Yonkers, Cigars And Port got parked half the mile the following week and finished fifth. In his last start he tripped-out behind Hurrikanekingjames but couldn’t catch him in the lane. 

Schnittker will be in the bike this week and leaves from post five. 

Roll With JR (Roll With Joe-No One Is Alone) is winless in the NYSS this year but did just post a solid 1:54.3 career best effort in an overnight event at Harrah’s Philadelphia in his last start. Now back in the series, he looks like he’s ready to move forward. 

Kevin Cummings drives for trainer Jeff Cullipher and is 3-1 early line. 

Hurrikanekingjames (So Surreal-Luxury Goods) looked much the best going gate to wire at Saratoga in 1:55.1, beating Cigars And Port by 2-1/2 lengths. That was from post one; he drew post six here. 

Daniel Dube drives for trainer John Mc Dermott. 

The third division in race seven is a very close event. Oreo Dream Xtreme (American Ideal-Spotlight On) is the 2-1 choice and is one of only two horses in the race with a win. He got that in NYSS action at Buffalo and hasn’t missed a check in the series yet. 

Level Up (Art Major-Apogee Hanover) got away poorly at Saratoga last week but rallied well to close sharply, just running out of stretch to finish second. He did not draw inside but it is a short field. 

Jason Bartlett drives Oreo Dream Xtreme from post three for trainer John Butenschoen and Jim Morrill Jr. drives Level Up for trainer Ed Hart from post five. 

There are also three $15,000 divisions of the Excelsior “A” series that are carded as races one, six and eight. Post time for the first race is 1:15 p.m.

May 13, 2019 - 4:10pm
posted by Billie Owens in sports, Batavia Downs, NY Sire Stakes.

By Tim Bojarski, for Batavia Downs

Batavia, NY --- Batavia Downs has announced that they have retained the services of Heather Wilder and Peter Kleinhans as their on-air personalities for the broadcast of the $1.8 million New York Sire Stakes (NYSS) Night of Champions which will be held at the track on Saturday (Sept. 14).

Wilder will be doing pre and post-race interviews and Kleinhans will provide analysis and handicapping insight.


Heather Wilder, above, grew up with solid roots in harness racing  being the daughter of Dan and Ruth Altmeyer and later marrying Meadows leading driver Mike Wilder. Her knowledge of every aspect of the sport is extensive as is her relationships with all its participants. 

Besides being actively involved in racing everyday, Wilder currently handles talent management for the Delaware County Fair during the live TV broadcast of the Little Brown Jug. She has also been a regular part of the United States Harness Writers Association’s (USHWA) Dan Patch Awards Banquet both as an onstage host and Facebook live interviewer and producer for many years. 

While she worked as public relations and marketing director for the Meadows Standardbred Owners Association (MSOA) she became a pioneer of reporting on racing on Facebook Live and coordinated the promotion of countless on-track events. In recognition of her fine work she was the recipient of USHWA's Lew Barasch Memorial Breakthrough Award for industry career achievements in 2013. 

Wilder’s lifelong involvement with the sport and its players will make for interesting trackside and winner’s circle interviews throughout the night.

Peter Kleinhans started going to Roosevelt Raceway as a teenager and his passion for the sport grew from there. Eventually he started training and driving his own stable and reached the top of the game. 

Kleinhans was training a stable of 20 horses led by Enough Talk who was the first trotter in the world to break the 1:50 barrier when he won by over eight lengths in 1:49.3 at Colonial Downs in 2008. Enough Talk also won the Breeders Crown in 2010 and received the Dan Patch older trotter of the year trophy from USHWA in each of those two seasons.  

Although he still competes as an amateur driver, Kleinhans has expanded his role in the sport to announcer, analyst and host and has recently filled in at the Meadowlands in those capacities. His knowledge and expertise of the sport and articulate delivery of same will provide an informative and entertaining look at the night’s races for all who are watching.  

“We are very excited to add such accomplished and professional talents to our production of the Night of Champions” said Todd Haight, Director/General Manager of Live Racing at Batavia Downs. “Heather and Peter have performed at the highest levels of the sport both on and off the track and will bring a unique perspective to the show for our fans.” 

The Batavia Downs live racing meet kicks off on Wednesday (July 24) and runs through Saturday (Dec. 14). For more information on the upcoming racing season log on to www.bataviadownsgaming.com/live-racing.

(Wilder photo credit: USTA. Kleinhans photo credit: Meadowlands)

July 9, 2014 - 3:05pm
posted by Billie Owens in Batavia Downs, sports, harness racing, NY Sire Stakes.

Press release:

On Thursday, July 10, Batavia Downs will become the newest stop on the New York Sire Stakes (NYSS) fair circuit when the Genesee County leg of that series convenes for the first time.

It's been a long and circuitious route for this to occur.

The Genesee County Agricultural Society has held an annual fair in Batavia, NY, since 1839. And from 1890 through 1946 they called the current site of Batavia Downs their home. The track was known as Exposition Park and every year harness racing was one of the most anticipated events on the fair schedule.

But in 1947 when Batavia Downs founder Pat Provenzano bought the property he had originally leased from the society to expand his growing pari-mutuel empire, the fair relocated to another site and fair racing in Genesee County ceased.

Since the inception of the New York Sire Stake in 1961, there has never been a fair date contest in Genesee County until now and the addition became a reality because of a natural disaster that occurred last year.

Todd Haight, Batavia Downs director/general manager of live racing said “Last year we held the Caledonia Fair races at Batavia Downs when their track in Livingston County was washed out by heavy rain. And it was a great success. We had a large crowd here and the racing was great. So we thought, why not host fair racing here every year?”

Haight contacted the NYSS and the Genesee County Agricultural Society and the groups came together with a plan. The result of that collaboration is the return of fair racing to the track they left  seven decades ago.

“We’re happy to be partnering with the Genesee County Fair folks on hosting the races and all the activities that go along with them. I see no reason why the fair races couldn’t become an annual event here at Batavia Downs,” Haight concluded.

Nick O'Geen, Genesee County Agricultural Society Board member said “This is a unique opportunity for the Genesee County Fair to partner with Batavia Downs to bring harness racing to back the fair.”

Post time for the first race is 1:15 p.m.

In addition to the races, there will be events for the whole family on the track apron including carnival games, a bounce house, a juggler and a balloon artist. Also available will be a $3 lunch special for kids 12 and younger as well as $1 ice cream cones, snow cones and cotton candy. Fair events at Batavia Downs run from 11 until 4.

Batavia Downs will also be offering discounted advance sale tickets for other fair events and with the purchase of any ticket, will provide a $10 free-play voucher redeemable on their gaming floor.

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