Harrisburg, PA — Michelle Crawford may not keep quite as unremitting a schedule as Driver of the Year Aaron Merriman, but she comes very close. An unbridled enthusiastic voice for harness racing, Michelle is foremost the co-operator with her husband Al of Crawford Farms, a Midstate New York breeding facility, and his racing component Crawford Farms Racing, always looking to acquire the next big star and improve the overall quality of horses associated with Crawford.
One giant step towards that goal in 2018 found Michelle in the winners circle of the sport’s biggest race, the Hambletonian, as a partner on three-year-old filly Atlanta, who upended the boys in the classic race for three-year-old trotters and then went on to a $1 million season, and now looms as potentially a great broodmare. Crawford Racing also is co-owner of Homicide Hunter, whose 1:48.4 mile at Lexington earned him “World’s Fastest Trotter” honors.
Michelle is aware of the “bigger picture” in harness racing, reflected in her serving as vice-president of the Harness Horse Breeders of New York, and especially as a board member of the newly-formed Standardbred Transition Alliance, where she will undoubtedly put into practice on a continental level the well-established programs to take care of former racing and breeding stock. Her knowledge and enthusiasm make her one of the more positive forces – a real Good “Guy” — for the sport.
Two other USHWA honorees serve the sport on a communications level, with one of them involved in the chronicling of the sport half his life – and he’s only 19!
Ray Cotolo, winner of the Breakthrough Award as an up-and-comer on the non-training-driving side, started accompanying his journalist father Frank to the major races. Cotolo swiftly picked up the necessary knowledge to combine with his natural communications skills to become a source of knowledge for the industry and fans in several areas: a podcast called North American Harness Update, a pioneer (2012) project which went “on the road” for the first time in 2018; freelance work, mainly writing, for entities as the Hambletonian Society, The Meadowlands, Standardbred Canada, the Woodbine Entertainment Group, and the Red Mile; and as a budding announcer.
And Ray is doing all this while enrolled at Elizabethtown (PA) College, as a communications major benefitting from the Harold Snyder Memorial Scholarship Fund of the late on-track television pioneer.
Chris Gooden works as the photographer for the racing at The Meadows Racetrack, in addition to “regular” jobs his business picks up in his southwestern Pennsylvania area. But what is “Unsung” – and remarkable – about Gooden is the amount of work he does gratis, of his own volition, to keep The Meadows at the forefront of the new forms of “social” communications media.
Facebook coverage of live racing? Check. Including “live-from-the-bike” camera photography? Double check. Keeping up a high profile on Twitter? Check. And there’s one above and beyond the call of duty. When illness hampered a local horseman’s finances a few months ago, Gooden posted a Facebook notice that he was selling a special photo of Foiled Again – the Bergstein/Proximity winner, and based at Gooden’s “home track” of The Meadows – and would donate the money minus shipping to the beleaguered family, with over $1,500 having been raised so far. No fanfare, just results — that’s why Chris Gooden is an Unsung Hero.
Merriman, Crawford, Cotolo, and Gooden will be honored at USHWA’s annual Dan Patch Awards Banquet, celebrating the best and brightest of harness racing in the past year. The banquet honoring the champions of 2018 will be held on Sunday, February 24, 2019, at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort in Orlando FL, the climax of a weekend that also finds USHWA holding its annual national meetings.