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Best in the West
Friday, June 06, 2014 - by Frank Cotolo

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Anyone reading my harness pieces or following my harness bettors’ blogs knows that I am a fan and a player of the sport at every level. That goes for horses and horsemen. So, as I mourn the passing of Doug Ackerman, my remembrances go deeper than the average journalist because my relationship to the late, great horseman was founded upon the profuse horses under his care.

Until I went to California, I knew nothing of Doug Ackerman. I was a maturing harness handicapper from the East and Mr. Ackerman’s name was as alien to me as were the names Werner Wilke, Carlo Fisco, George Cliff and Matias Ruiz, just to mention a few in the cluttered colony of California’s horsemen. I loved the new cast of characters; they brought a freshness to the theater of Standardbreds and as a bettor, they made me feel I had reached my own Manifest Destiny.

Having no contact whatsoever with Mr. Ackerman as I wandered the aprons of Hollywood Park and Los Alamitos, I learned about him and judged his performances from a player’s point of view. My evaluation became more accurate from Ackerman’s stock of Standardbreds that would never make history, as well as they would never make him a millionaire.

His bread-and-butter overnight horses were all I had to assess the presence of Ackerman on the track. California was not, after all, a buzzing arena for the Grand Circuit in the late ‘70s. Those of us pushing dollars through the windows in those days were counting on the results of $2,600 conditioned races and $16,000 claiming races with purses of $3,900. The Invitational Handicaps were under $9,000 and to get seven in a field made for a top event.

So, thinking of my “association” with Doug Ackerman brings to the table trotters and pacers that have made history in my personal museum of wagering on Standardbreds, but which are phantoms to even veteran fans in the densely populated areas of harness racing.

So, in memory of Doug Ackerman, here is a roll call of some horses under his tutelage that played roles in my campaigns for pari-mutuel profits. Let the record show the names of Armbro Gunner, Anne’s Passin By, Lake Tahoe, New Product, Pass The Chips, Planetary Vision, Safe Hit, Sweeping Changes, Vexatious and Wrangler Hanover.

Decades later, at home again in the East, I became acquainted with the same Doug Ackerman at the Grand Circuit level, respecting the presence of his horses in the land of powerful purses and classy bloodlines. I built my respect for the man from the bottom up, so to speak. So, by the new millennium it was no surprise I was enamored by Chocolatier. I gave him a mighty shot in the 2006 Hambletonian, regardless of post 10, and his second to Glidemaster was a phenomenal effort. Following Chocolatier’s progeny continues to serve me well and I know Mr. Ackerman would be humble about my loyalty to that part of his legacy.

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The views contained in this column are that of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association.

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