Sire Stakes featured on closing night
By Mark Ratzky, publicity – Cal Expo Harness
A quartet of California Sire Stakes for the 3 and 4-year-old pacers and will be showcased on closing night of the Watch and Wager LLC harness meet Saturday, with first post for the 12-race card set for 6:15 p.m.
The team of owner/breeders Wayne and Rod Knittel, trainer Bob Johnson and driver Mooney Svendsen should be tough in both the stakes for the males, with Army Of One heading the 3-year-old contest and Allymx’sliventexas strictly the one to beat in the event for the 4-year-olds.
A Hi Ho Silverheels’ homebred, Army Of One has accounted for five of the six added-money contests for this group. Allmyx’sliventexas has dominated his division all season, establishing his lifetime mark of 1:51 4/5 while romping home by double digits in the February 4 stakes clash.
In last week’s score, Army Of One changed his tactics from front-end performances to coming from last in the compact cast for Svendsen and prevailing in the final strides with the 1:56 3/5 clocking, a second off the career standard he set in the February 25 Sire Stakes.
Final figures at this Watch and Wager LLC meet will be encouraging all the way around, including an average nightly handle of over $802,000, representing a 4.5 percent increase over the previous meet.
Field size also went up from 7.6 starters per race to 7.9, while there will have been 666 races run here this season compared to 612 at the last session.
This being closing night of the meet, there will be mandatory payouts in all wagers. Harness racing is scheduled to return to Cal Expo on Saturday, October 2
Wayne Oke retiring following Saturday card
Best wishes to Wayne Oke, who will be retiring from the steward’s stand following the final race here at Cal Expo on Saturday night.
“I would like to thank the CHRB for the opportunity afforded me,” said Oke. “Also to express my thanks to all those I have worked with the past 10 years. Most importantly, the many friends I have made over those same years, I will never forget you.”
“The town was, and still is, a hotbed for harness,” he related. “As with all youngsters growing up in small communities in Canada, though, my attention turned to hockey and was the focus of my young life.”
That dream ended for Wayne at the age of 18, when he blew out his knee while playing in the Boston Bruins farm system, thus ending those aspirations. He turned back to harness racing and is happy he did.
“I actually worked in the business world for 12 years before I got into harness racing on a full-time basis,” Oke explained. “Over the last 30-plus years I’ve probably worked at every major racetrack in North America. When I settled in Kentucky, I met and became friends with Marc Guilfoil, who was then the presiding judge at all tracks in the state.”
It was at Guilfoil’s suggestion that Wayne took the judge’s exam and began working with Marc in various capacities. In addition to working as a steward (or judge as they are referred to in the Bluegrass State), he has also been a racing secretary and a starter. It was after attending an accreditation course at Los Alamitos that he was approached concerning an opening for state steward by the CHRB and took up residence in the stand at Cal Expo.
“The difficulties of converting from a long-time participant in racing to an official can be many,” Oke said. “I’ve found that as long as you treat everyone with respect and are consistent and use common sense in your application of the rules, everything will work out fine.”
Of course, being a steward for harness racing and holding the same job with Thoroughbreds can be very different.
“We have to be conscious of the horse’s gait, their position relative to the pylons, as well as obvious concerns over interference and the drivers' adherence to the rules.
“The function of the stewards in harness racing also varies greatly relative to the interaction with the racing office and other racing officials. The staffs tend to be smaller, requiring a more hands-on approach from the stewards.”