Horseman John Stark Jr. and pacing mare Tye Dye will be inducted into the Saratoga Harness Hall of Fame and Museum during its annual induction ceremonies/open house on Tuesday.
Stark, a long-time owner, driver and trainer, has had a stellar career spanning over three decades at Saratoga. He came to Saratoga in 1990 with five horses, and his early years were spent learning the business from his father, John Stark Sr.
Highly regarded as a catch driver, Stark Jr. scored his 2,000th career victory in 1993, and in 1997, was voted the District 8 Driver of the Year.
The 1998 campaign was a memorable one for the Stark Stable, as three of his trainees achieved year-end honors. Teeth of the Dog was named the Two-Year-Old Pacer of the Year, Wallingford was named the Two-Year-Old Trotter of the Year and Wedding Lights was selected as the Filly-Mare Pacer of the Year.
Stark and Wedding Lights also teamed up for an historic victory on March 7, recording the 4,000th two-minute mile in the history of Saratoga Raceway.
Stark easily claimed the training title that season, with 56 victories, 13 more than his closest competitor. He also topped the trainer standings with $169,329 in earnings.
Stark also trained and drove 2001 Horse of the Year Bunny Lake, and eventually became a part-owner, with Skip and Wendy Spring of Johnstown. Bunny Lake, a $37,000 Harrisburg purchase, went on to win $2.8 million in her career, and was inducted into the Saratoga Harness Hall of Fame in 2009 and the National Harness Hall of Fame in 2010.
“She was the one you dream of having,” said Stark of Bunny Lake. “She never had a bad day. It was amazing. No matter what we’d do, she’d come back the next day, ready to race.”
Through 2012, Stark had over 4,100 career driving victories, over 1,300 training wins and purse earnings of over $21 million. He now concentrates on working with young trotters at his training center just outside the city of Saratota Springs.
Tye Dye was foaled in 1994 and raced for several owners before ending up in the hands of trainer George Merton Jr. and owners Tom St. Dennis and Frank Podlenski, who claimed her for $9,000 in 2005.
The 2005 season was a breakout campaign for the 11-year-old mare, who made 40 starts and earned just over $52,000. She made her way from $7,500 claimers and by the end of the year, was racing in $20,000 claimers. Overall, in 363
career starts, Tye Dye had 63 wins, 66 seconds and 55 thirds, hitting the board 51 percent of the time. Her lifetime earnings totaled $304,468, and she hit her lifetime mark of 1:53.4 10 times.
“She was nice in the barn, easy to handle, but as soon as you started to harness her up, she was a handful,” said St. Dennis. “When you hooked her up, you had better be ready to go. She was always game to race.”
Merton recalled Tye Dye’s habit of getting off to slow starts.
“She was a small horse with a big heart,” he said. “She couldn’t leave, but she was good first over and if she could get to the front, she was going by.”
In addition to the Hall of Fame induction, the third annual Virginia O’Brien Memorial 110% Award will be presented to Cheryl McGivern. The award honors individuals who devote their life to the pursuit of the sport of harness racing, such as a groom or backstretch worker, who might not otherwise be in the limelight. The nominees are chosen by their peers from the Saratoga Harness Horseperson’s Association.
The gates will open for the event at 5:30 p.m, with the ceremony starting at 6:30. The museum is located off the Jefferson St. Entrance to Saratoga Casino & Raceway.