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Kenny Fowler is getting things started at Cal Expo
Thursday, January 22nd, 2015 - Mark Ratzky, publicity – Cal Expo Harness

Kenny Fowler doesn’t mind if you call him a backseat driver. In fact, he’s downright proud of the fact.
 
Fowler is plying the trade of harness starter for the first time in his career at this meeting, making sure the trotters and pacers get off to a clean and fair start to their one-mile journey.
 
Even though Kenny was born in Sacramento some 53 years ago, it wasn’t until he was in college that he truly got exposed to harness racing and realized it’s what he wanted to do with his life.
 
“I was going to Sierra College and I went to work during the summer for my brother Donnie, who owned the Winner’s Circle cafeteria at the track,” Kenny related. “I found I really liked the horses, and eventually I left college and started learning about the sport from the ground up.”
 
Originally it was Al Sleva and Dick DeSantis who took a young Fowler to Lodi and gave him the chance to get hands-on experience with the standardbreds. He eventually went to work for Chip Lackey and had the chance to go to Canada and win some races under that stable’s banner.
 
From there, Kenny went to work for the late Bob Gordon and had the chance to be around some very nice performers. He even had some thoughts about becoming a driver, but then fate intervened and he found himself on a different path.
 
“It turned out they needed someone to drive the starting car, and the qualifications were you had to speak English and have a driver’s license,” Fowler recalled. “Bobby heard about it and told me I should try it.”
 
Kenny got the job, and recalls in only his second night on the job he was guiding around the car for a stakes race at Los Alamitos. He drove for Larry Jones, John Wilson and Todd Nixon before Bill Vallandingham became the starter in 1994 and held that position for 20 years before health issues forced him to take his leave this fall.
 
Vallandingham recently underwent successful lung transplant surgery and is doing very well, and with Fowler moving to the starter’s position, Larry Dana is filling in his old s[pt as the drive.
  
As part of his job and continuing a proud California harness tradition, Fowler was the fellow in the tuxedo leading the winner into the charmed enclosure for a picture following each race.
 
“It took a little while to get used to the tuxedo, but then I got to like it,” Kenny said.
 
“I owe everything to Billy,” he continued. “I miss him being here so much. He’s been a like a father to me, helping me through my personal problems and all the time teaching me about the starting car and everything that’s involved.
 
“Billy and I have been pretty much joined at the hip for the last 20 years. It was about three years ago that I started working with schoolers and then last summer I passed the USTA starter’s test, meaning I could be the starter at any track in the country.”
 
A Real Miracle heads main event
 
A Real Miracle, who has spent the majority of the meeting in the shadow of St Lads Lotto and China King, gets the top billing in Saturday evening’s $5,000 featured Pace.
 
The headliner goes as the third event on a 10-race program that will get underway at 6:40 p.m. A reminder that through January, the guarantee on the 16% takeout Pick 4 has been raised to $30,000. The Pick 5, Jackpot 6 and Hi-5 are also come with that reduced 16% takeout.
 
Racing is being conducted this week under the Watch and Wager LLC banner on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Next week will find Friday and Saturday action, with no racing on Super Bowl Sunday, February 1.
 
Looking at Saturday’s feature, A Real Miracle should have more than his share of backers. The 5-year-old son of Real Desire races for Junior Wilkinson, Billie Schwartz and Ivan Axelrod with Wilkinson training and Luke Plano once again at the controls.
 
While A Real Miracle has had to settle for most minor awards while squaring off against a couple of very tough customers in St Lads Lotto and China King in the Open Pace, but gets away from those foes for the second time in the last three weeks.
 
On January 10 in a conditioned affair, the Wilkinson trainee proved a punctual 1-2 favorite as he made every pole a winning one and prevailed by a neck in a 1:53 tour.
He came back last weekend to finish fifth in the Open Pace behind the top performers on the grounds after being well back in the early stages.
 
Taking him on Saturday are Announcement and Bubs Desire, who are both hail from the Ray Burt shedrow; Enee Weene And Me for Tim Brown and the James Kennedy reined-and-trained Allamerican Solo.