Xenia, OH native defeats fellow Buckeye to take the top prize.
by Jay Wolf
Driver Dan Noble has visited the winner’s circle at Miami Valley Raceway 535 times since its opening in 2014. His latest trip to the enclosure came Jan. 8 without a horse as he hoisted the trophy and oversized check as champion of the 3rd Annual $25,000 North America Drivers Championship.
The native of nearby Xenia, OH used consistent efforts in the final round to edge Brett Miller to win the $10,000 first-place prize.
Eight preliminary rounds were held on Sunday and Monday, narrowing the field of 30 to the final 10. Points were awarded 30-20-14-11-9-7-5-3-1 for first through ninth place finishes. Scratched horses gained eight points.
Miller led fellow Ohioan Randy Tharps by three points after the first day. The eventual winner was in a tie for 12th.
“I had to regroup myself after the first day,” said Noble. “I was really irritated at myself.”
Noble won his first race on Monday with a pacer named Fudge and gained a valuable 30 points towards his second day total of 68.
After Monday’s action, Miller (144 points) used three runner-up finishes from his four drives to retain the point’s lead of the preliminary rounds, topping Jeremy Smith (136), Randy Tharps (122), Joe Bonjiorno (115), Dan Noble (114), Drew Monti (113), Aaron Merriman (106), Dexter Dunn (98), Anthony Napolitano (91) and Travis Henry (86).
Henry survived a random draw to get the final spot as there was five-way tie for 10th. Henry was tied with Simon Allard, Pat Berry, Shawn Gray and Chris Page.
The scores from the first two days were erased and the drivers all started with a clean scoring slate for Tuesday’s championship round.
Miller strengthened his hold on the lead after romping to a 10 ¼ length win in the first race of the final round with The Optimist.
Noble scored his only final round win the next race, when Desire’s Lady scored in 1:57.2 for trainer Art Gregory, Jr.
“I was just going off of what the trainer said,” said Noble. “He said ‘the filly should be good. She was trapped in her last two starts. Absolutely nowhere to go her last two starts.’ The trainer said that if she gets out her last quarter, there is no reason she shouldn’t win. That gave me some confidence.”
In the fourth and seventh race of the event, Noble found himself in a unique position – competing against horses that he trains. Thanks to the blind draw, Drew Monti was given the duty to drive Cool Like That and Rusty Carter. Monti used Cook Like That to win a $10,000 claiming event.
“It was a little awkward not driving my own horse,” admitted Noble. “I had to keep them in good form to race. If they were short, you don’t want to hurt yourself twice.”
As the championship headed into the 8th and final event, Miller led Noble by eight points and the top five drivers all had a mathematical shot at the title.
Noble drew Rockin Hot Lady from post #2. Miller was given Johnsbadgirl with the outside post #9.
“I already knew that horse. It was kind of ‘do or die,’” said Noble. “I knew she really likes the front and I was hoping that I could keep Brett behind me.”
When the field of 10 was sent away, Noble fired off the gates wings and grabbed the early lead. They controlled the pace and led until mid-stretch when Randy Tharps and Northernflightlady pulled away to win by 4 1/4 lengths. The win gave Tharps four wins during the competition.
With the second-place finish, Noble amassed 112 points to Miller’s 100. Miller earned $5,000 for his efforts.
“It’s the luck of the draw,” said Noble. “I feel I had better horses this year than last two or three years.”
Noble is the son of Ohio Hall of Famer, Sam Noble III.
“My father always told me ‘drive for a check and you’ll win more races by accident.’ I hope I can keep it rolling. It could be another good year for me.”
The winner’s share was equivalent of winning a $400,000 stakes race.
So does the 35-year-old have any plans for the money?
“Nothing really,” said Noble. “I really don’t.”
The annual event was also a challenge for the bettors. Of the 32 races in the NADC, only 7 (21.9 per cent) of the winners were betting favorites. The average win ticket for the event was $16.80. Henry steered Townlinedaliscard to a 4 ½ length victory in the fourth race on Monday, paying $67.90 to win.