Long before Disney, Benjamin Franklin White, the “Dean of Colt Trainers,” drew crowds of tourists to what was once the largest facility of its kind in the United States. Three tracks, a stable complex, and Pearce’s Dining Room formed the nucleus of a 120 acre trotter park that became the winter home for harness racing and their fans from 1946 until 1978. This winner of four Hamiltonians (harness racing’s highest honor) even managed to parlay a NASCAR Grand National event on the main oval, further showing that he was a man of vision. Although Ben White died in 1958, his spirit still hovers over Orlando Trotters Park and Ledesma Equestrian Center, as is evidenced by the 1100 human athletes who lined up for the start of the six races that made up this year’s Edgewater Invitational. There is, however, no substantiation of the rumor that old Ben is entombed under the finish line.
Girls 4A Varsity
After the kind of introduction that Secretariat might have received, Brittany Koziara took off like the thoroughbred that she is, and the only competitor that outran her was number 18.
“I wanted to run sub-18, like 17:30,” she said after finishing her phone calls. “It felt like it was a slow course, and it was hot.
“Sometimes I lose my focus. I want to stay consistent, but it was hard. (I’d rather) have someone pushing me, like at FL-Runners, or The Great American. At FL-Runners I had Ashley (Brasovan), Kayla (Hale), Nicole (Carpio), Stephanie (Strasser)…”
At the McDonald’s Girls Race of Champions (FL-Runners) she ran a 17:46, but “only” managed an 18:24 in winning the Girls 4A Varsity. Spruce Creeks Amanda Perkins gave chase, but at the time Koziara was passing under the finish clock, Perkins was under the clock marking three mile times. Perkins, incidentally, ran 18:29 at FL-Runners. Had she been able to stay with Koziara longer, both might have gotten the race they had hoped for.
“I have this course in two weeks for Metros (Orlando),” said Koziara. “It (Edgewater) was a good race to learn from; my mistakes, improve on my training and move on to the Metros.”
TEAM RESULTS: Lake Highland Prep ganged up (3-4-5-6, then 15-30-60) to win with 33 points over 17 other teams, including talented Lyman (7-10-13-19-42-48-56 for 91) and Spruce Creek (2-9-28-29-38-59-67 for 106). There were 123 finishers in this race.
BOYS 4A VARSITY
After Secretariat (Koziara’s win by 30 lengths), came Seabiscuit (a come-from-behind, nerves on edge, adrenalin rush). The race had any number of leaders, albeit each for a short time. Novian Middleton, however, was in the lead when the race ended.
“Before the race, my coach gave me a time to go for: 15:59,” explained Middleton. “I knew it was going to be a fast race, and I went out hard. I got behind the leader, and I decided to draft. It felt comfortable. When I felt I could pass him, that I had enough to go, I did.”
This race might have been a tad over planned, however. At each mile hung an overhead clock that gave the time as the runners passed underneath. One and two were no problem, and it allowed everyone, even from a distance, to see their time as the runners passed. But by three, some tired brains were trying to remember if three miles was a 5K.
“There’s a ‘first’ finish line that shows you your time,” that being the 3 mile mark, which is what Novian was referring to. “I thought I had finished, but they (Barry Wenhold, one of the race officials) told me to keep going. I slowed down a little bit. When I saw the time on the “other” finish clock, I realized that I couldn’t get it (the 15:59) today.”
He settled for a big win, instead, and a respectable 16:23.
TEAM RESULTS: Led by Middleton, Dr. Phillips (1-5-10-11-28-32-37 for 55 points) out placed Colonial (4-13-21-25-35 for 98 points). There were 25 teams and 169 finishers.
GIRLS 1A - 3A Varsity
Like three of the four races, the one who led did not win. Isabella Penido, a tenth grader from Okeechobee, nonetheless ran a gutsy race from the start.
“I was at 6:10 after the first mile,” said Penido. “I was still first in the second mile. I had a pretty good lead, but I knew she (Lake Powell’s Sara Ardila) was behind me. At 2 miles into it, she passed me.”
From Ardila’s perspective, “I tried to go faster my first mile because I knew it would (otherwise) be harder to catch up. In the second mile I tried to keep it up, and then take the lead in the third mile.
“I have tried many strategies. I know I can run a faster third mile, but the second mile is important…
“It’s my first win. I never thought I could win a race. Now that I know I can do it, in a bigger race I’m going to try to win, or (at least) break 20.”
The finish photo showed Ardila, by a nose--20:39.36 to 20:40.86--over Penido.
TEAM RESULTS: First Academy (6-8-11-13-20 for 58 points) only had five runners, but names count for something, after all. Okeechobee was second (2-12-15-22-26-35 for 77 points), but certainly not through lack of effort. There were six teams and 38 finishers in this race.
BOYS 1A-3A VARSITY
Every time the leaders passed by the announcer on this three loop course he would identify the leader and his school. In this particular race, although the leader changed, the school didn’t.
“My teammate, Miseal Alvarado (third in 18:06), was leading for awhile,” reported Eddie Guerrero, of Okeechobee. “I believe it was on the second loop that I caught him. I ran with him for awhile, trying to help him get a PR, but he said ‘Go,’ so I started to speed up.”
Guerrero went through the mile in 5:10, and 10:12 for two, en route to a decisive 17:16 overall win.
TEAM RESULTS: The lakes swept it: Okeechobee first (1-3-6-13-14-18 for 37 points), Lake Highland Prep second (4-5-9-12-27-36-48 for 57) and Lake Howell third (2-8-20-22-26-33-39 for 78). Maybe the lakes should have their own race? There were eight teams and 64 finishers.
If it’s your first season of cross country, what better way to start than with your first win (after only four races), while also leading your team to first place? Former softballer Katie Rozar, welcome to the world of running. (I say former, Katie, because, as I understand it you didn’t read the “Track Clause” before you signed Coach Gallons contract?)
Rozar took the lead “sometime in the first mile,” and “I just kept going, focused. I knew I wanted to win it, so I just kept running.
Around the second mile the heat started getting to me, but the course wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. It’s a lot easier than Spruce Creek’s (her home) course.”
Katie was the first of four SC runners: Rozar, first in 22:59, was followed by Rainey Tyner (second in 23:20), Kacie Meredith (third in 23:22) and Nicole Maranchick (fourth in 23:24). Freshman Danielle DeMatteo (seventh in 23:40) rounded out their top 5.
I was only kidding about the “Track Clause,” right, Coach Gallon…uh, Stephon?
TEAM RESULTS: There was Spruce Creek (1-2-3-4-7-10-12 for 17), and then everyone else (A total of 14 teams, and 145 runners).
The last of six races came down to a split second decision, 528 feet (and one wrong turn) from the finish, all within sight of the finish line spectators. No one had a better point of view, however, than Barry Wenhold, who all day had worked tirelessly to sort out the thousand-plus runners that passed by him, multiple times, at the three mile mark.
“He (Colonial’s Cody Decker) was way out in front and he made a wrong turn. The kid in second place (teammate Geoffrey Sherman) had the momentum and he (Cody) couldn’t catch up. He just made the wrong turn at the wrong place.
“I was motioning the lapped runners to one side and I motioned him to go left. There were spectators and I guess he didn’t see the turn. The spectators were blocking the end panel and I guess he didn’t see it.”
Shades of Kyler Kathman at Embry Riddle.
Colonial, in any case, captured the first three places, which in turn decided the team title. Sherman was first in 18:06, Decker second in 18:09 and Jared Lopez third in 18:14. Ninth grader Miguel Osorio (ninth in 19:05) and Erik Maesta (15th in 19:25) rounded out the top five.
A SLOW COURSE?
Not to beat a dead horse--darn, did I really say that--but after hearing dozens of runners, coaches and parents describe this as a “slow” course, it must be noted that their times are more likely the result of an accurate course. As I tried to suggest in “Following the Right Course” earlier this season, the long lasting effects of a short course, here and there, do much harm to the sport.
Before the meet, Ryan Lowe, a coach at Edgewater, described the effort that he (and others) went to in order to make this the best race they could.
“It was measured by three separate individuals. I, personally, measured it twice in two days. It is a 5K, not a 3.1 mile course.”
Barry Wenhold added, “This is an old trotters course. In some places there’s old clay under the grass, which makes for good footing. In other places it is soft, but not muddy, and you’ll lose a couple of tenths. Back by the starting line, it’s harder and you’ll have to make those turns, which takes time.
“Ever since the end of school, I’ve been walking this course.”
And all this meticulous attention was quite evident. Every inch of this scenic course was marked (white lines, thousands of little flags, and endless rolls of tape). I came away with the impression that this course was accurate to within inches of 5000 meters.
Footnotes: I want to personally thank “Governor” Jeff Wentworth of Steeple Timing for his exceptional help in keeping me supplied with a steady stream of results sheets. Jon Hughes, too, was right on top of things, and his support made this a first class event. (Would I be abusing my powers as a member of the Fourth Estate by suggesting that everyone who reads this should, forthwith, visit his Track Shack store in Orlando and purchase the most expensive pair of shoes that fit? Probably, so don’t do it just because I say so.)