Stark Leads Inductees Into the Hall of Fame After a full afternoon of rain in upstate New York on Tuesday, the sun emerged from the clouds on Tuesday evening just as the Saratoga Harness Hall of Fame’s annual induction ceremony got underway. Veteran horseman John Stark Jr led the inductees into the Hall in what was a very nice ceremony complete with a vast array of trainers, drivers, grooms and fans held at the Jefferson Street museum. Attendees enjoyed refreshments and chatted about the sport of harness racing as we awaited the inductions to be made on the back porch/patio at the historic Hall.
John Stark Jr was a well deserved inductee to the Hall after spending the last almost quarter decade at Saratoga after coming to town in 1990. Stark landed at the Spa after being a leading driver at multiple tracks and really made a home here. Thriving as a catch driver, Stark started to establish himself as a top flight trainer and wound up winning the training title at the Spa in ’95, ’96, ’98, ’04 and ‘06. For quite some time, Stark trained older horses. He had claimers and even some Open horses along the way but started to focus on training young horses just before the turn of the century. To no one’s surprise, the lifelong horseman had no difficulty becoming one of the top conditioners for babies that became two and three year old stars, ultimately enjoying his career achievement with a horse he broke as a baby that went on to make harness racing history.
Stark’s career in harness racing will forever be linked to Bunny Lake. Bunny Lake was a $37,000 purchase at the Harrisburg horse sale and as a two year old filly, finished third in a maiden race at Saratoga in her lifetime debut. At the time, she appeared to be just your average horse but wound up having a career perhaps better than any mare who ever set hoof on any track. Bunny Lake went on to earn over $2.8 million in a career that saw her win more than half of her lifetime races (47 of 93) highlighted by an historic 2001 campaign. Bunny Lake won 19 of her 21 starts that year en route to over $1.1 million in earnings. She competed in every big race there was, winning almost every single time as she battled top flight competition and wound up being named the national Horse of the Year in ’01. Bunny Lake, no doubt the most cherished horse for Stark in his illustrious career, was inducted into the Saratoga Hall of Fame in 2009 and the National Harness Hall of Fame in Goshen the following year.
Bunny Lake was clearly the top horse to ever come out of the Stark stable but she was only one of the horses responsible for the greatest night in the career of the Hall of Famer trainer/driver John Stark Jr. The annual New York Sire Stakes Night of Champions was held at Yonkers Raceway in September of 2000 and the evening was simply epic for Stark and his trainees. Stark had five freshman and sophomores competing that night in the $150,000 per division stakes Finals. Two of his freshman fillies, Bunny Lake and Ms Rome CC were in against each other so Stark had horses in four of the night’s championship races. Well, it was a clean sweep for the recent Hall of Famer as Stark piloted winners Missile Mike, Exporter and Fashionable Liv in addition to Bunny Lake. Oh, and Ms Rome CC finished second to standout stablemate Bunny Lake. Stark couldn’t have had any better of a night than the one he had. It was truly incredible to be there that night as Stark and his stable were the talk of the town after his dominant night and season as a whole in the New York Sire Stakes. The evening goes down in history as the best night for any barn in NY Sire Stakes history.
The Buffalo native John Stark Jr got to fulfill a dream that so many in harness racing have had when he competed in the $1.5 million Hambletonian in 2006 with his Algiers Hall. The three year old trotter, who later became a Saratoga Harness Hall of Famer, finished fifth in the historic Hambo with Stark in the sulky. Algiers Hall was named Horse of the Year at Saratoga in ’06 and was just another in the long list of standout Stark trainees. Stark entered the Hall of Fame last week as a winner of more than 4,100 races in the sulky and 1,300 races as a trainer collecting purses of better than $21 million along the way. Congratulations to John Stark Jr on his terrific career, which is still ongoing, and on his well deserved induction into the local Hall of Fame.
Pacing Mare Tye Dye was the lone horse inducted into the Hall on Tuesday night. The “small horse with a big heart” was a rare mare that did her best work first over at Saratoga. The hard hitter compiled 63 wins, 66 seconds and 55 thirds in her career, hitting the board more than half the time in her 363 lifetime starts en route to over $300,000 in earnings. Cheryl McGivern earned the Virginia O’Brien Memorial 110% Award. The award recognizes a backstretch worker who goes above and beyond. The classy McGivern has been involved in the sport for decades and always has a kind word. That kindness and so many other positive qualities were recognized by her peers as they voted her as the 110% Award winner. Congratulations to John Stark Jr as well as Cheryl McGivern and the connections of Tye Dye on their recognition during the terrific ceremony at the historic Hall of Fame. The Hall’s doors are open Thursday through Saturday from 11 am to 3 pm until July 21. Starting on July 24, you can view the historic museum any Tuesday through Saturday from 11-3 until Labor Day.
Live harness racing takes place this week on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday night with 6:45pm first posts and on Sunday afternoon with a matinee kicking off at 12:45pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!
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