Batavia, NY — Every year since 2008 the Upstate New York Chapter of the United States Harness Writers Association and Batavia Downs have honored the top human and equine performers of the meet during the Night of Distinction which is held on the track’s final night of racing. Unfortunately the final night at Batavia Downs last year was canceled due to inclement weather.
Although these awards were announced, the actual hardware was never distributed. So on Saturday (Aug. 20) a formal presentation will be held in the Purple Haze Winner’s Circle at approximately 5:30 p.m., between qualifiers and the first race of the evening to take care of this unfinished business.
The following is a list of the 2021 award winners along with a summary describing the accomplishments of each.
President’s Award – New York State Assemblyman Steve Hawley
Always working for the betterment of the community as a local businessman, Steve Hawley took it one step further in 2006 and was successfully elected to office in the 139th New York Assembly District and has been proudly serving his constituents ever since.
Hawley has always been a friendly acquaintance of Batavia Downs and he grew to understand how integral the sport of harness racing is to the agricultural infrastructure in Genesee and surrounding counties. While in office serving on the racing and wagering committee and currently the agriculture committee, he has fought hard to protect the people that racing employs both directly and in supporting industries.
Since 2010, Hawley has sponsored his “Night At The Races” at the Downs, bringing thousands of people who otherwise might not have come to the track, and introduced them to the sport that has been a mainstay of the economic fabric of Batavia for eight decades.
I have known Steve for a long time and have witnessed first hand his passion for this community and his appreciation for the sport of harness racing. He genuinely understands the intricacies of the business and how hard our horsemen and women work to ensure the well-being of our horses while earning a living in a very difficult industry. Our organization is proud to present him with this gesture of our appreciation.
Henry Wojtaszek, President and CEO of Batavia Downs Gaming and Hotel said, “Throughout the years, Steve has been a champion not only of Batavia Downs but of the entire racing and gaming industries. He has introduced many people to our historic race track, all while supporting legislation that helps the people of New York who work for the casinos and tracks and it’s through Steve’s hard work that our industry continues to grow and prosper. We congratulate Steve on receiving this well-deserved award.”
Unsung Hero – Jami Chatt
Jami Chatt has been around horses since she could walk and was introduced to harness racing by her grandfather, western New York racing legend Fred Haslip. And although she has groomed, jogged and trained horses all her life and currently competes the pacer Mateo, she also works daily in her full time career as a special education teacher in the Sweet Home school district, so there’s not a lot of free time to be had.
Despite all her personal commitments, Chatt still goes above and beyond for anything that puts harness racing in a positive light and has been doing it for years, especially when it comes to charitable concerns.
Chatt spearheaded the 2013 fundraiser for injured driver Anthony Coletta that raised $12,835, the 2015 fundraiser for driver Brad Hanners’ family that raised more than $11,000 and several years ago, joined in to help the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester’s annual fundraiser at Batavia Downs to solicit trainers, drivers and owners, both at Batavia and then later, at other tracks, to donate a percentage of their purses the night of the event to the BCCR. Since Chatt has gotten involved, the final donation number has grown exponentially and the 2021 total was a record $19,653.
Chatt also works hard to introduce new fans to the sport. Each year she brings families and friends who are not associated with racing to the track and even holds a “field trip” for her fellow teachers, and then spends her night schooling them on the finer points of handicapping.
Rising Star – Kyle Cummings
It comes as no surprise that Kyle Cummings has been one of the best drivers in western New York despite a very brief career to this point, as he hails from a family deeply rooted in racing. His father Todd Cummings, mother Tammy Cummings, grandfathers the late John Cummings Sr. and Hugh Stevens, grandmother Cindy Stark-Casale, uncles John Cummings Jr., Tony Cummings, Kevin Cummings, John Stark Jr., and Doug Ackley and aunt Laurie Stark have all been successful trainer/drivers spanning the last 45 years. So he had a wealth of knowledge to draw from and clearly he paid attention.
Cummings got his first pari-mutuel win in April 2019 with a pacer named Jude Hall and his production at the track took off from there, but to say he had a breakout season in 2021 would be an understatement. In only his third year in the bike, the now 22-year-old doubled his win and earnings output posted over the first two years of his career. In 2021 overall he drove 727 races with 107 wins, 107 seconds and 102 thirds and bankrolled $680,123 in purses.
Cummings was also the leading dash driver on the New York Sire Stake fair circuit and was named the NYSS County Fair Driver of the Year during their awards ceremony last November. During that competition he had 50 starts with 26 wins, 19 seconds and one third and earnings of $60,942 while racing across the state. That equates to a phenomenal UDR of .738 for that series. He also won two of the finals held at Goshen Historic Track in September.
Driver of the Meet – Jim Morrill Jr.
Jim Morrill Jr. had the driving title all but wrapped up halfway through the meet last year as he got off to a hot start in July and burned his way through November. Morrill finished the meet with 365 starts, 116 wins, 72 seconds and 45 thirds to post a stellar .468 UDR. Those 64 percent in-the-money finishes garnered his connections $716,607 in earnings, making him the top earner as well.
Kevin Cummings finished second with 68 wins and $501,663 in purses and Kyle Cummings was third with 48 wins and $380,999 banked.
Trainer of the Meet – Jennifer Giuliani
Jennifer Giuliani was in a tight trainer race all last year but came out on top with 41 wins, 25 seconds and 21 thirds out of 146 starts that produced $208,757 in earnings and a UTR of .424. Her horses hit the board 60 percent of the time and she also trained the Batavia Downs claimer of the meet, Raksmach N.
Maria Rice finished second with 40 wins and $312,757 in purses (which made her barn the highest earning stable on the grounds) and Gerry Sarama was third with 36 wins and $235,060 earned.
Trotter of the Meet – Barn Hall
It’s not too often a 3-year-old trotter can come in and not only compete with, but beat older Open campaigners, but Barn Hall proved it can be done. After racing successfully on the New York Sire Stake Excelsior A circuit all summer, Barn Hall settled in at Batavia and became a powerful top class performer for the entire meet. He hit the board 12 out of 14 starts, winning four times and earning $42,092, which was the most won by any trotter at the meet. Plus he took his lifetime mark of 1:55 at Batavia after winning an Open trot in October.
Barn Hall was owned by Steve and Nancy Pratt, Wanda Polisseni’s Purple Haze Stable and the Out In The Country Stable and was trained by Steve Pratt.
Pacer of the Meet – Art Scene
Art Scene was a relatively new acquisition for trainer Maria Rice when he came to Batavia, after being claimed at Yonkers Raceway last June for $25,000. But his new home track suited him just fine as he went on to have the winningest year of his career. While racing at Batavia, Art Scene won six Open paces and finished second twice out of his 13 starts at Batavia and put $43,765 in the bank, making him the richest pacer on the grounds last year. He won his first start and last start at the track and took his seasonal mark of 1:53.3 in between.
Mare of the Meet – Protect Blue Chip
Protect Blue Chip surpassed all her previous career numbers in 2021 and excelled in her 11 starts at Batavia Downs. She hit the board eight times, winning four Opens while finishing second and third twice each, netting her $35,142 in purses. Her best win time of 2021 was 1:54 taken at the Downs in September and it was also her fastest career win over any half-mile track. Plus it was the third consecutive year she took her seasonal mark at Batavia Downs.
Art Scene and Protect Blue Chip are both owned by Vogel & Wags Nags and Team Rice Racing and are trained by Maria Rice.
Claimer of the Meet – Raksmach N
Raksmach N also had the best year of his career in North America since landing here in 2018 from New Zealand and the bulk of his success came at Batavia Downs. During the meet he had six wins in only nine starts and earned $29,150 in purses. But he also paced the fastest mile of his life over a half-mile track on Sept. 18 at the Downs when he scorched the oval in 1:52.3, winning by 5-1/4 lengths for driver Jim Morrill Jr. Five of Raksmach N’s six wins came in claiming races of $15,000 or higher.
Raksmach N was owned by Jeffrey Savidge and trained by Jennifer Giuliani.