For Immediate Release, May 01, 2014

Category Award Winners - by Steve Anderson

"Get-away weekend" has finally arrived at Fonner Park. Strike up a chorus of "Happy Trails" as only two live-racing days remain. In short order, this three month journey will disappear like a cloud of smoke-but, oh, what a ride!

From the famous "goose" race, that went viral, to Diamond Joe's classic front-end "meltdown" with Joy Boy to close out a quarter century of what has evolved into Nebraska's signature race, the $75,000 Bosselman-Pump and Pantry/Gus Fonner Stakes, and everything before and after.....the 2014 thoroughbred meet may be nothing more than a layover spot in the history books-but from this vantage point-it will never be forgotten.

Earlier this week, Fonner Chief Operations Officer Bruce Swihart sent out official Champion's ballots to the working media and a host of racing personnel to vote on this year's top horses. Remember, this is just one man's opinion:

1) Horse & Race of the Year--Leadem In Ken destroys a field of seven in the Bosselman. A nine-length margin over runnerup Midnight Pappa was the most dominating performance in race history. Nobody could see this happening, but then who could have predicted that Diamond Joe-the defending champion- would beat the speedy Joy Boy out of the gate (into the first of three turns) and both would battle, head and head, for three-quarters of a mile, having nothing left in the tank with over two furlongs still to travel? Joy Boy was a tired fourth, 19 lengths behind the winner. "Joe" finished sixth, 21 lengths off the pace.

2) Older Horse--still have to side with Diamond Joe, winner of the Ogataul and Budweiser-Tondi Stakes. Yes, he was beaten by Unsaddled Glory (by a head) in the Dowd Mile; the latter finishing third in the Bosselman. "Glory" rates an Attaboy Award for a solid three-race campaign; however, nobody took the demanding road asked by "Joe" who ground out four tough appearances in less than two and a half months.

3) Top Claimer--Epigraph, competing at the $5000 level, who won four consecutive Fonner races, following a disappointing season debut, a second place finish-beaten by a head. Trainer Joe Hawley rates an Attaboy Award as well. He had a barn full of horses just like Epigraph. Shimai, Oh Gee She's Gold, Hi Prim and Tanabata won multiple races, as well. Hawley has burst onto the Fonner scene, winning 15 of 31 starts (48%). Unbelievable!

4) Sprinter--La Sorta, a four-year-old gelding who showed up under the care of trainer Gregorio Rivera. La Sorta, who broke his maiden as a two-year-old on the Northern California Circuit, looked like a half- mile "specialist", toying with a couple of allowance fields early on. Then stretched out to six furlongs and "first call-that's all." Only a second to Nic A Jack at season's end kept La Sorta from sweeping multiple honors.

5) Older filly or mare--still up for grabs, but if Lady Contender takes down the $25,000 Al Swihart Memorial this weekend, she's a shoe-in. Terice, second to Lady Contender in the Runza Stakes, is the main contender.

6) Three-year-old Colt & Gelding--Offlee Royal, trained by Chuck Turco (handler of Diamond Joe). Lifetime, a perfect three for three, breaking his maiden, beating allowance horses, then following up with a win in the Baxter Stakes-all here at Fonner. Owner Jody Jackson, who lives in Montana, found Turco while networking on the internet. Her maiden voyage to Nebraska has been sweet. Would have loved to see Offlee Royal take on Super Charley, an unbeaten Nebraska-bred trained by Jim Cranwell.

7) Three-year-old filly--(toughest category) finally settled on Fast Maggie who ran second (rough trip) to Habitually Golden in the Pepsi stakes. Fast Maggie, trained by Jerry Gourneau, came back to beat older allowance horses while Habitually Golden finished tenth in the Runza. Stellar field in Runza. Owner Don Hoover and trainer Nancy Sheehan, both from Minnesota, have every right to disagree.

May the "horse" be with you race fans. The "racing gods" willing, let's do it all over again, come late February, in 2015.
Feb. 21 - May 3, 2014

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