Horses

Merriman Wins #10,000, 13th Harness Driver To Reach Milestone

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Aaron Merriman celebrates his 10,000th driving victory at the Meadows Racetrack in Washington, Pa. Credits: Christopher Gooden
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WASHINGTON, Pa. — Aaron Merriman, whose quest for career win 10,000 suffered a temporary setback this week when an administrative ruling cost him two 2017 victories, got the milestone mile on March 17 at The Meadows when he piloted Icy Crystals to victory in Race 6. Merriman collected win 9,999 with I’m Feelin Good in Race 3 and later win 10,001 with Gee Wizz George in Race 9.

Merriman, 39, harness racing’s “winningest” driver in each of the past three years, became the 13th driver to reach the 10,000 plateau.

On Friday, Merriman thought he had 9,999 wins and needed only one victory among his assignments at Miami Valley to reach 10,000. He got that win. Earlier in the day, however, Merriman learned that the appeals of disqualifications of two horses he drove to apparent victory last October had been denied, thereby reducing his win total by two.

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“It was just one of those things,” Merriman said. “I actually laughed about it. I try to block out all those things when I’m going into a race. I just literally enjoy racing horses.”

Merriman maintains a hectic schedule, working daylight cards at The Meadows and often driving at either Northfield or Miami Valley — in his native Ohio — in the evening. He said he likely will maintain that pace for the foreseeable future.

“It’s not the racing, it’s the travel that wears on you,” he said. “But it’s the way I make my living. I am worried about my family, and I would like to spend more time with my kids.”

To create that family time, he indicated he might be more selective about accepting Grand Circuit assignments this year.

“It’s a special feeling to be part of the Grand Circuit, especially when you get an opportunity to drive a nice horse,” he said. “I might not chase the longer shots like I’ve been doing. I may evaluate things a little bit differently.”

Even as he celebrated his milestone win, Merriman said his thoughts were elsewhere — with fellow driver Matt Kakaley, who was injured in a mishap at Yonkers on March 13.

“I’d like to give Matt a shout out,” he said. “I talk to him about every day. He’s doing well, but it’s a scary thing. Here I’m enjoying this accomplishment, and he’s in the hospital. It doesn’t seem fair. My heart goes out to him.”

According to an update provided by driver Mark MacDonald at the request of Kakaley’s girlfriend, Annie Larrabee, via Yonkers Raceway:

Kakaley, who turns 30 on March 19, was thrown to the track when his horse took a bad step and went down. He was originally taken to Lawrence Hospital in nearby Bronxville, N.Y., then subsequently moved north to Westchester Medical Center (Valhalla, N.Y.), where facial plastic surgery was performed.

MacDonald, who visited Kakaley two days later, said, “Considering what he went through, he was in very good spirits, laughing and joking.”

“I don’t know if it’s the best-case scenario, but it seems to be close,” MacDonald said. “The doctors see no reason he won’t recover and get back driving, maybe within five or six weeks.”

Does Kakaley have any recollection of the accident?

“Not much,” MacDonald said.

Kakaley has won 4,169 races and more than $61.1 million in purses in a career that began in 2006.

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