KEN KOCH, at 26, is among the many young trainer-drivers at Buffalo Raceway who appear to have a promising future in the sport.
"I like it a lot around here (Hamburg and Batavia Downs) but I'm looking some day to go farther, maybe The Meadowlands, or the Mohawk-Greenwood circuit," said the Lockport native, who started with Quebec veteran Camille Dupre at Batavia as a groom when he was only 15.
Koch, who has worked for other trainers, including Ron Wittenberg, Bruce Tubin and Norm Fluet (now at Yonkers), won his first start of Hamburg's winter meet with Hi Land Brenda for a hefty $51 payoff. He had about 10 wins at Batavia Downs' recent meet and 13 at Hamburg last summer.
Also in his stable are Rocky's Rhody and Rocky's Hi Hope, whom he bought from Charlie Gould of Arkport.
"When I won with Rocky's Rhody in 1:58 4/5 at Batavia, it was his lifetime mark and the fastest I've ever gone," said Koch. "I had Rocky's Rhody for about half of his $20,000 earnings.
"I'm going to upgrade my stable soon. My owners (Adam Ohol of Lockport and Robert Stanley of Medina) are going with me to sales and/or other tracks to claim some horses in the $15,000-$20,000 bracket."
Koch's career was almost ended when he was hit by a car while walking near Roosevelt Raceway in 1986.
"I had several serious injuries that caused me to be out of the sport almost two years," said Koch.
But the near-disastrous accident didn't keep him down. He vowed to return.
"It's all I ever wanted to do -- work with horses," said Koch.
Schnittker sweeps at Yonkers
North Tonawanda's Ray Schnittker won two features at Yonkers, including a $25,000 open handicap pace with Covert Action in his season's best time of 1:56. It was Covert Action's sixth win in 26 starts. Trained by Warren Schnittker, Covert Action also has six second-place finishes and $72,000 season's earnings ($290,984 lifetime). Schnittker also won an $18,000 filly-and-mares open with Kittiwake in 2:00 1/5 . It was the third win in a row and fifth in the last six starts for Kittiwake, owned by the Pegasus 85 Stable and Peter Scamurra of Kenmore. Schnittker also doubled Wednesday night, taking a $5,000 pace with Brets Royal Crown ($3) in 1:59 4/5 and an $8,500 pace with Forty Nine Lm't'd ($11.60) in 2:00.
Harness writers honor Bergstein
Stan Bergstein, executive vice president of Harness Tracks of America, was honored by the New York Chapter, U.S. Harness Writers Association, with the Laurel Award for his "unparalleled achievements in harness racing." Walter Case Jr., who leads Yonkers with 190 wins in 685 starts, was named Driver of the Year and Brett Pelling, a New Zealand native, was voted Trainer of the Year. Pelling trained Lark's Crown, who set a Yonkers record of 18 wins this year. Dorunrun Bluegrass took two awards -- Horse of the Year and Pacer of the Year -- while Reve D'Udon, the French-owned horse who set a world record (2:28 3/5 for 1 1/4 miles) when he won the $450,000 International Trot in his only start at Yonkers, was named Trotter of the Year.
Scenic Regal wins fifth in a row
Scenic Regal, an 8-year-old trotting mare, has passed the $1 million career earnings mark (with $1,024076). She won her fifth straight Yonkers feature Friday night in 2:02 3/5 . It was her 13th victory in 25 starts this year for 70-year-old trainer-driver Harold Story.
Shipps Schnoops takes Pompano final
Shipps Schnoops, driven by Tom Haughton, won the $138,490 Matron Stakes final at Pompano for 3-year-old pacing colts in 1:53 4/5 , beating Ballenger Hanover and Sea The USA. Haughton, a son of Billy Haughton, the late Hall of Famer, has concentrated on training the last few years, but has driven Shipps Schnoops to a few wins. Also at the South Florida track, Ruler's Chippie, with Joe Pavia Jr., won the $91,000 Matron Stakes final for 3-year-old filly pacers in 1:55 3/5 .
Ex-NHL goalie drives Flamboro winner
Pat Riggin, who formerly tended goal for several NHL teams, drove Battling Three, whom he co-owns, to his third win in 15 starts at Flamboro Downs in Dundas, Ont. . . . Bryan Holmes, a son of the late trainer-driver Jimmy Holmes, doubled at Flamboro with catch drives behind Bull Line Lady and Battling Time. . . . Flamboro will return to its regular dark nights (Monday and Fridays) starting Jan. 31.