by Garnet Barnsdale
Race 13 at Rosecroft last Sunday seemed like a run-of-the mill $5,000 claimer for veteran pacers. But it was a driver causing a buzz when the 11-year-old gelding Hrubys N Luck (Sir Luck out of the Western Hanover mare Hrubys N Emeralds) jogged, giving his 18-year-old teamster Declan Donoway a maiden-breaking win in his first try in a pari-mutuel race.
Donoway had a plan as he approached the gate with Hrubys N Luck, but things worked out a bit differently once they left out of there. “My step-father (trainer Brian Malone) and I discussed a few different scenarios before the race and whether we might try to come first or second-over or maybe get a two-hole trip,” he said. “He told me that I probably wouldn’t get the front because there were a couple of horses inside of me that had some good speed.”
But best-laid plans can change in an instant when the wings of the gate spring open and that’s what happened on this occasion. “I’d driven him before in a qualifier and he felt better this day, so I floated him out of there and we made front and when I saw the :26.3 first quarter, I thought, we’re really smoking here.”
Like a seasoned pro, though, Donoway got Hrubys N Luck a needed breather, slowing the pace with a :29.4 second quarter and a 29 flat third quarter. “I tried to rate him and back it down to the half and three-quarter pole and let him come on home,” he explained. “It wasn’t the game plan that I had, but it worked for what I had.”
With that :58.4 middle half in his pocket, Donoway took a peek back at the three-quarter pole and liked what he saw. “I took a look back and there wasn’t anyone coming,” he said. The rest, as they say, was history at that point and Rhubys N Luck paced a :29.1 kicker while coasting to a 6 1/2-length win that carried Donoway to his maiden-breaking score.
There was no after party on this night though as Donoway and Malone had to make a 2 1/2 hour drive home to Delmar, Delaware. “We did go out to lunch the other day and had a bit of a celebration,” Donoway said.
Donoway raced in one other race for a purse in an Excelsior series event at Goshen last July for three-year-old pacing fillies and he did manage to grab a check in finishing 5th with Ideal Ice. It was an experience that he says he’ll never forget.
“It was really exciting just being up there at Goshen,” he said. “There was a big crowd there. The thing I remember most was coming around that last turn and having Scott Zeron coming up on the outside of me. I’ve looked up to him a lot. I really like him as a driver.”
Donoway is a high-school senior who says he plans to give driving a full-time go after he graduates this year.
Curious if drivers winning their pari-mutuel debuts was a rarity, I posed the question in the Facebook group “Harness Racing History” and got a surprising number of responses. Here’s just some of them:
• Bob Boyd: “I didn’t drive much, but I made my first drive a memorable one! Winning my first lifetime drive at the OJC’s Greenwood Raceway driving our stable’s Sun Brier Skipper on December 27/1983.
• John Polvinale, the Group Administrator: “George Ramos won his first lifetime pari-mutuel race with my horse “Dining Out” at Freehold going five or six wide on the final turn from last to first (yes, that’s correct) you can watch the race on HRH’s library or just watch in on YouTube.
• Ira Smolin: “I won my first drive in 1974…at RACEWAY PARK…..the horse drove me…lol.”
• Rob Doyle: “I won my first start thought it was an easy game after that one drive. Boy was I wrong lol.”
The last word goes to veteran teamster Richard Simard, who may have had the best comment of all: “It took me a full year before I win one LOL.”