Harrington’s Vitale honored for harness racing coverage

Heather Vitale accepts the Member of the Year award at the annual Dan Patch Awards banquet in Orlando, Florida Feb. 24. (Submitted photo)

HARRINGTON — When Heather Vitale received the phone call, she couldn’t help but run around her house screaming.

For the first time, Ms. Vitale had been awarded the United States Harness Writers Association’s annual Member of the Year award for the work she had done covering the sport of harness racing throughout the 2018 calendar year.

“When I got the phone call from the president, whose name is Shawn Wiles, he called me and he said, ‘Are you sitting down?’ and I said ‘Yes’. He said I had been chosen, and I screamed and jumped up out of my seat and began running around the house screaming,” Ms. Vitale explained with a laugh.

Ms. Vitale, a Harrington resident, serves as the secretary of the Delaware Valley Chapter of the United States Harness Writers Association (USHWA), having covered horse racing for over 20 years.

She grew up around horses and racing, so for her it was an easy decision to get into the harness racing world when she graduated from Monmouth University with a focus on public relations/journalism.

Her parents, Jim King Jr. and Jo Ann Looney-King, own and train horses on their farm in Harrington.

“It’s an honor,” Ms. Vitale said. “The United States Harness Writers is a group of people that are harness writers or publishers all over the country, and there’s a committee each year that picks a different member to be the Member of the Year.

Ms. Vitale has been around horses and harness racing her whole life, and has turned it into a successful media career. Above, she stands with the now-retired pacer, Foiled Again.

“They pick a member who has gone above and beyond with their job and really publicizes the sport in a huge way, and they chose me.”

Ms. Vitale hosts two weekly television shows centered around harness racing. She’s also active with her coverage on social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook.

Her show “Post Time,” which she s has hosted since July of 1998, airs on WBOC every Sunday morning at 11:30. It is produced by the Delaware Standardbred Owners Association.

She also co-hosts a seasonal show called “PA Harness Week,” which airs in the spring and summer on NBC Sports Philadelphia. She’s had that show for nearly a decade.

Ms. Vitale accepted her award in front of her family and friends at the annual Dan Patch Awards banquet in Orlando, Florida on Feb. 24.

“I go to the banquet every year, but being able to go this year and be the Member of the Year was over the top,” she said.

Ms. Vitale wasn’t the only member of her family to accept an award at the banquet.

Her parents own and train the mare Shartin N, the winner of the Outstanding Pacing Mare of the Year Award.

“I try to explain it, and I can only think of three words that I tell people: dream come true,” said Ms. Vitale of the family’s two awards.

“It’s amazing when you grow up in the sport and you see these stables that have these incredible horses and you’re going to this national awards event every year.

“My family actually has been going for several years as well and has not been getting awards. So, they’ve gone, I’ve gone, and then this year we all get to go up and give speeches because we’re getting awards. That’s just unimaginable still. I still can’t grasp that it happened.”

Throughout the 2018 racing season, Ms. Vitale covered many fun and memorable races, but she believes her most memorable events from the year include covering her family’s mare Shartin N and following the legendary Foiled Again on his farewell tour.

“All of Foiled Again and his final year of racing was a huge memory for me,” she said. “The fact that he did that farewell tour and it came to Harrington Raceway, I will never forget that, and I am so appreciative of his connections for having him there.”

Heather Vitale interviews harness racing driver and fellow Harrington resident Montrell Teague for her show “PA Harness Week.” Ms. Vitale also hosts the television show “Post Time” on WBOC every Sunday morning. (Submitted photo/Norm Files)

Foiled Again, the 14-year-old pacer with over $7.6 million career earnings, finished the final race of his career Dec. 31, 2018. And Ms. Vitale was there to cover it.

“Foiled Again, one of the all-time greats and one of my favorite horses of all time, to get to see his last performance and see his retirement ceremony right in front of me, there’s no way I could have topped off the year any better,” she said.

Prior to that, she was there when he won his final race at Harrington Raceway Oct. 22. He’s the only horse to win Harrington’s signature race, the Bobby Quillen Memorial, three times.

“In my acceptance speech [at the Dan Patch awards], I thanked both Shartin N and Foiled Again,” said Ms. Vitale. “Those two horses really stand out. It’s because of horses like those two that I love my job so much, and it’s because of them that I won the award.”

During the racing season, Ms. Vitale’s harness racing coverage also made its way outside of the United States.

She made stops in Ireland and New Zealand, spreading her harness racing coverage to a global scale.

Although Ms. Vitale is still reeling from the 2018 win, she’s already focused on what the 2019 racing schedule and harness racing coverage will bring her and where she’ll cover races.

“I’m a calendar girl, so as soon as the grand circuit schedule comes out, I have my calendar marked with races,” she said. “I mark it all up and I try to get to as many big races as I can.”

Although 2018 was a banner year for Ms. Vitale’s coverage, she’s just as excited for this year.

“The year 2018 was a year that dreams came true,” she said. “Not only for myself, but for my family’s stable. But I would like to think that 2019 is going to be even better. I don’t want to believe that 2018 was the greatest year of my career.

 

Reach staff writer Ben Heck at bheck@newszap.com

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