When Bit Of A Legend returns to Saratoga Raceway Saturday night to defend his title in the $260,000 Joe Gerrity Jr. Memorial Pace, he will do so under the ownership of Von Knoblauch Stable. While the Von Knoblauch name is familiar to harness racing fans and is the same name Bit Of A Legend has raced under since arriving in the U.S. in 2016, it now carries a new meaning.
Just 18 days after Bit Of A Legend recorded his unforgettable off-the-pace victory in the Gerrity Pace July 22, 2017, the Von Knoblauch patriarch and horseman of 50 years, Harry Von Knoblauch, passed away at age 90. Von Knoblauch was a self-taught horseman who trained in the Midwest for decades but reached the pinnacle of the sport in recent years at Yonkers Raceway with stakes winners Bit Of A Legend, Mackenzie and Sell A Bit.
Determined to carry on their father’s legacy, Von Knoblauch’s three surviving children, Ellen Kinser, Susan Gassman and Harry Von Knoblauch Jr. committed to keeping the stable intact and continuing to support their father’s longtime trainer Pete Tritton, whose stable is primarily comprised of Von Knoblauch’s New Zealand-bred imports.
“That was definitely my dad’s desire. I took care of my father the last four years of his life and that was one of his main concerns, that Pete had done good by him and he wanted to do good by Pete,” Kinser said. “He didn’t want to leave Pete in a bind and put Pete out of business. We as a family honored that.”
Although Kinser learned the business from her father over the last several years, her siblings were new to the world of harness racing. While Kinser began as the bookkeeper and decision-maker, Gassman caught on quickly and soon assumed the task of tracking the stable’s finances, handling licensing requirements, and even purchasing new racing prospects.
“I’m a horrible bookkeeper. I basically paid the bills and put the rest in the bank,” Kinser said. “Now that my sister’s taken over all that. She has spreadsheets and this and that. She’s doing the lion’s share of the work. We just try to keep track of it all and just try and enjoy it.”
Gassman spent her life in New York real estate. At age 21, she started her own firm in her neighborhood in Long Island and spent the last 45 years building a successful practice. Although real estate and horses seem different on the surface, the business aspect of the racing industry piqued Gassman’s interest. Soon, she was hooked on the sport.
“Not that real estate and horses go hand-in-hand, but business is business if you know how to do a set of books and keep track of everything,” Gassman said. “It just seemed like second nature. Before my dad passed away, the last year he was alive, I was helping him with his banking and financing and helping him with bills for the horses and whatnot, so I had a little bit of exposure to what was going on and I love horses on top of it, so that helped a lot.”
Although Harry Von Knoblauch couldn’t attend the races regularly or train his own horses during the last years of his life, he didn’t let it stop him from enjoying the sport. When his children came to visit, they always tried to take him out for dinner or a night on the town, but he refused. While they didn’t fully understand at the time, Gassman said it’s come full circle.
“He would be in his living room and we’d say, ‘dad, let’s go out to dinner tonight,’ and he’d say, ‘no, I can’t go out tonight, my race is on.’ He would park himself in his chair and wait for his race to come on,” Gassman said. “We watch every week and now we say, ‘we have to go home and watch our race.’ We’re right back to where our dad ended up. We’re really enjoying it.”
The stable Harry Von Knoblauch left behind provides plenty for his children to enjoy. While the stable is full of stakes-winning pacers and solid overnight horses who compete for the rich purses at Yonkers Raceway, Bit Of A Legend is the stable standout. The 9-year-old stallion by Bettor’s Delight out of the Sokys Atom mare Sokys Legend is 44-for-130 with $2,273,641 in the bank. In addition to his Gerrity win last year, Bit Of A Legend’s resume sports victories in the George Morton Levy Series Final, the Molson Pace and the Quillen Memorial.
“We love Bit Of A Legend, he’s the star of the family,” Kinser said. “He’s got a lot of desire. It’s funny to watch, learning about the different personalities of the different horses. We have a couple horses that if they get behind, they lose all their desire. ‘Little Bit’ is the full package. He can leave, he can end strong. He does love to win.”
Bit Of A Legend’s most recent stakes victory came in the $200,000 Battle Of Lake Erie at Northfield Park June 2. While rival and 1-5 favorite Rockin Ron worked his way to the lead in a :27 opening quarter, Bit Of A Legend, with regular driver Jordan Stratton in the sulky, mounted a first-over bid. Flushed to the outside early by All Bets Off, Bit Of A Legend raced on the rim the final 5-furlongs.
“It just amazes me how he can come from behind and Jordan is just so strategic, waiting it out and waiting until the end,” Kinser said. “In the Battle of Lake Erie, he moved a little sooner than I thought he would, because that last half-mile, he was out two-wide. If anybody can do it, ‘Little Bit’ can do it.”
Bit Of A Legend hounded Rockin Ron through a :54.4 half-mile. While Matt Kakaley had the whip on Rockin Ron’s tail through three-quarters in 1:21.4, Stratton went to work on Bit Of A Legend. He raised the lines high and urged the stallion right-handed around the final turn. In the stretch, Rockin Ron tired while Bit Of A Legend stayed on, drawing away to post a length win in 1:49.4, the fastest mile of the 9-year-old’s life.
“That horse just flew. It was amazing,” Gassman said. “We were so happy for Pete and we were really happy for Jordan. They’ve worked so hard. We’re a little spoiled because we’re sort of sitting back and watching and they’re doing the hard work. Jordan knows that horse really well and he’s an incredible driver and we’re just so lucky that my dad had such a wonderful relationship with Pete. We’re just really lucky that we have these people on our team, and it is, it’s a team.”
Bit Of A Legend will start from post 2 in the Gerrity Pace Saturday night and with Stratton in the sulky, he is the 5-2 morning line favorite. He will again face Rockin Ron, who drew post six for Yannick Gingras and trainer Ron Burke and is the 3-1 second choice. Evenin of Pleasure drew post four for the brother/sister duo of driver Joe Bongiorno and conditioner Jenn Bongiorno. Evenin of Pleasure is 4-1 off an impressive win in the Open Handicap Pace at Yonkers July 7.
Missile J, Killer Martini, Somewhere In L A, Rodeo Romeo and Mach It So complete the lineup of challengers who will try to prevent Bit Of A Legend from becoming the first horse to repeat in the Gerrity Pace in the race’s 10-year history. Kinser believes Bit Of A Legend will get the job done.
“I do, absolutely,” she said. “He’s feeling good right now, he’s in good shape, so I hope for that one. He’s feeling good, so that’s a good sign. They don’t over race him, he gets plenty of rest, he’s doing good.”
Saturday night’s card is also highlighted by Foiled Again’s return to Saratoga. The 14-year-old pacer is the richest horse in harness racing history with $7,622,397 in earnings. In his most recent start July 8 at Harrah’s Philadelphia, the son of Dragon Again won his 100th race in his 315th start. Foiled Again is the 9-5 second choice in a $9,500 overnight preceding the Gerrity Pace.