Hollywood Extra

What a strange and wonderful year it was in ’89 for Park Avenue Joe

by Bob Heyden

Park Avenue Joe won the 1989 Dead Heat Hambletonian with Probe (who took home the lion’s share of the purse after going through the courts), though both horses’ names are listed on the trophy as winners.

But Park Avenue Joe’s 1989 season was unlike any other and certainly was unlike any other Hambletonian winner.

The son of Delmonica Hanover (the 1972 Hambletonian runnerup to Super Bowl), Park Avenue Joe’s record was 17 6-7-1 and he banked $666,311 for the year.

Ron Waples drove him for the very first time on Hambletonian Day.

Bill O’Donnell would have driven Park Avenue Joe for trainer Chuck Sylvester (Chuck’s main man John Campbell had Peace Corps, the favorite on a 17-race winning streak who was about to tackle the boys for the first time) but O’Donnell was committed to the undefeated Valley Victory, who was in the clinic at the time with a virus and would never again race. O’Donnell did not know that on draw day and couldn’t take the assignment on Park Avenue Joe with Valley Victory still a ‘probable.’

Park Avenue Joe had competed only once against Valley Victory and lost in a New Jersey Sires Stakes event.

Park Avenue Joe competed against the eventual divisional winner Esquire Spur and lost in the season’s final start in the Breeders Crown. Park Avenue Joe wound up losing the division to Esquire Spur in the closest loss ever — a half-vote.

Park Avenue Joe had 17 starts that year and eight qualifiers. Get this: he had 13 different drivers: Waples, Presley Moore, Jr., John Campbell, William Fahy (Yes, that is correct, the driver of Probe also drove Park Avenue Joe that year, winning a qualifier on May 26 in 1:59.3), Bill O’Donnell, Jim Doherty, Jack Moiseyev, Mike Lachance, Cat Manzi, Jerry Riordan, Chris Boring, Jeff Cameron and Chuck Sylvester.

Can we safely say that Park Avenue Joe — counting qualifiers — is the only Hambletonian winner in 91 editions to have employed seven Hall of Fame drives in the same year?

Maybe the oddest stat of all is that, in the very next start for Park Avenue Joe after his dead heat Hambletonian raceoff, he won the Zweig by a nose. It was the last time Waples won with him.

So, in retrospect, Waples drove three times to the winner’s circle with Park Avenue Joe — a neck over Probe in a heat, a dead heat in the raceoff and then a nose in the Zweig.

Just to show Waples’ flair for the dramatic wasn’t limited to trotters, three years later he subbed on Fake Left in the Jug and nosed out Western Hanover to deny him of the Triple Crown. It was the first time Waples had driven Fake Left (a son of Cam Fella), too. Did I say Cam Fella? That was the lone roadblock in 1983 to Waples winning Horse of the Year with his Triple Crown winner Ralph Hanover, who set the single season earnings record that year, but finished second in the HOY race to the Pacing Machine.