Batavia Downs' 1996 harness racing season sloshed to a finish Saturday night. And for the second straight year, the Flanigen brothers, Jack and Dave, ruled the drivers' ranks at the 12-week meet.
Jack, 30, drove two winners -- Just A Knight ($9.20) and Free Flo ($5.10) -- on the rain-soaked program attended by 1,309. That boosted his standings-topping total to 65.
Dave, 27, won on the sloppy track with Lobro Worker ($17) for the pacer's fifth victory of the meet. The win padded his top-ranked "batting average" of slightly over .400. In addition, Dave -- who trains many of the horses he drives -- finished the meet with 31 training victories to take the dash-winning title for that category.
It was Jack's fourth straight Western New York meet as top gun in the sulky. The black-white-and-blue suited South Buffalo native also won the nine-month Buffalo Raceway driving titles in 1994-95 and 1995-96.
Jack attributed his long-running success to lessons gained from the experience of sticking almost exclusively to the local circuit.
"When you race every night here against the same horses, you get to know each individual horse and what they do. . . . You've got to know the horses you're racing against. . . . Through experience, you learn. The main thing is just give them a chance," he said.
Jack said he's thought about following some other former local drivers, such as Ed McNeight Jr. and Don Rothfuss, to out-of-state tracks which offer bigger purses. But, he decided against it, at least for the time being.
"I don't want to leave home. I'm a local boy from the First Ward," he said.
Dave, who wears the "Fighting Irish" leprechaun on the back of his green and white silks, said the meet marked a personal turning point for a career which has been marred by suspensions for various infractions, such as dangerous driving and altercations.
Dave finished the meet especially strong. He drove five winners on Oct. 10 and had a four-bagger on Oct. 17. He totaled 18 winners in October's 12 racing nights.
"The reason I've had my success is because my family has been very supportive and behind me," Dave said. "I've got a very good fiance (Danielle Roy) who works with me in taking care of the horses. . . . And Clark Siminski has helped me along with some of the problems I've had in the past. . . . If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be where I am."
Dave, who has a reputation as one of the circuit's most aggressive drivers, says he intends to remain that way. (In the third race, his heavily favored Racy Dragon was disqualified from third to eighth place for interfering with an inside horse while shooting to the top from post No. 5.)
"You have to be aggressive," Dave said before the races. "The public likes aggressive drivers. The other drivers might not like it, but the public likes it. I've been getting a lot of flack from the judges about how aggressive I've been driving. They're screaming at me to be less aggressive."
Dave said he and his brother are "very competitive" on the track, but said Jack "also helps me a lot" in giving advice.
"He's always telling me to have patience during a race," Dave said. "Like when you're locked in. Usually, I would try to get out when there might not be enough room."
Attendance for the 53-night meet averaged 1,031, down about 5.8 percent from 1,095 at last year's 56-night stand. On-track betting averaged about $77,316, down about 13 percent from last year. Betting from all sources averaged about $262,500, down about a quarter of a percent from last year's $263,205. Racing shifts to Buffalo Raceway on Wednesday.