by Bob Heyden
Wally Hennessey: “I show up. All I ever wanted to do was to make a living. The Grand Circuit, that’s not for me. Too much going on behind the scenes. I like it at home. When I was going good on the New York Sires Stakes, that was something that just happened. I had taken off of Moni Maker for Monet Blue Chip — she was all over the racetrack that day — and Moni Maker won. Geoff Stein wanted me to drive Moni Maker and I committed to the end of the year with her. It was the only time I EVER committed to a horse. She was just a winner. I don’t think anyone was thinking 19-for-20 at that point (at 3 in 1996).
“I was second to Malabar Man with Take Chances in the Hambletonian. I remember that year winning the Kentucky Futurity with him. It was the first time they held that race under the lights. The year before, I was driving Running Sea for Chuck Sylvester and that colt was third in the Hambletonian won by Continentalvictory with Lindy Lane second.
“I’ve been driving since I was 18. I’m 62 now.”
Hennessey said the secret to performing at a high level is to never, “lose your passion for the sport. We are a dying breed-those of us who care as much as we do and do this every day. I’m passionate. I love what I do.”
Ask about the 1992 Woodrow Wilson winner Americas Pastime, who was the richest maiden winner ($800,000 purse) in the sport’s history to that point, Hennessey said, “He was in the right spot at the right time. I would have been happy getting to the fence and picking up fifth going in. They wound up battling up front pretty good and he got there in time.”
Asked for other career highlights, Hennessey was quick to mention the big event in his hometown of Charlottetown, PEI.
“I won the Gold Cup & Saucer TWICE. I’m Happy,” Hennessey said.
The book on some of this year’s Hall of Famers
Blair Burgess is the only trainer to have a trotter and a pacer in the 21st century named Horse of the Year — pacer Real Desire in 2002, followed by Glidemaster in 2006. Burgess then followed his 2006 season. In 2007, Burgess trainee Tell All was voted the Pacer of the Year, making Burgess the first trainer to have a trotter be named Horse of the Year followed the next year by a horse that won Pacer of the Year.
Joe Holloway currently owns the world race record for females at 1:47 with Shebestingin, and was the trainer of all-time world record holder Always B Miki (1:46) as a sophomore. Holloway’s Jennas Beach Boy set the world race record for 3-year-olds in 1995 at 1:48.4 at the Red Mile (9/30/95) and then lowered that better than a second at 4 (1:47.3) at the Meadowlands in the Driscoll-Haughton (6/22/96). Holloway, in the span of one week in 1992, dead-heated to victory in the Yonkers Trot with McCluckey and upset in the North America Cup with Safely Kept — scoring at odds of better than 25-1 and rolling right by a horse you might recall — Western Hanover. Silverman’s Glowing Report surpassed $2 million — putting him into the elite category of trainers having a male and female pacer in the $2 million club. (Die Laughing). George Steinbrenner’s name could pop up on Hall Of Fame Night. Holloway trained his only Meadowlands Pace starter — Rods Deal — in 1997 (No check).
Jerry Silverman won the same Triple Crown race a quarter century apart — 1966 Messenger and 1991 Messenger with Romeo Hanover and Die Laughing, respectively.
Only Silverman and Burgess won a Triple Crown with different drivers In 1966, George Sholty and William Myer drove Romeo Hanover and in 2006, George Brennan finished up with Glidemaster in the Yonkers Trot after John Campbell’s leg injury sidelined him after winning the Hambletonian and the Kentucky Futurity. Silverman is the rare trainer to have a colt earn better than $1 million at 2 and 3. Die Laughing pulled off the feat in 1990 and 1991 — and remember that was against the likes of Artsplace and then Precious Bunny.
Linda Toscano set the half-mile world race record in 1999 in Delaware Ohio with Jet Laag — 1:49. Toscano is the only trainer since Stanley Dancer to go 1-2 in the Horse of the Year balloting. Both HOY runnerups were the Hambletonian winner that year. Dancer’s Albatross earned the HOY over Super Bowl in 1972. Toscano’s Chapter Seven defeated Market Share in 2010. Toscano won the last $1.5 million race in the sport for trotters — the 2012 Hambletonian with Market Share. Toscano broke through for all the lady conditioners of the world taking down the 2002 Breeders Crown for older pacing mares with Molly Can Do It. Toscano went 1-2 in the 2004 New Jersey Sires Stakes final for $150,000 — especially impressive considering that in that race was the eventual division champ Timesareachanging and the soon-to-be Meadowlands Pace upsetter Holborn Hanover.
Ted Wing drove and trained many of his horses. He tied the Meadowlands all-age track record of 1:53.4 in 1978 with Kerry Gold, a Down Under horse he also part-owned. The Ted Wing barn had a good one in 2008 when Francam was second on Hambletonian Day in the year’s fastest mile — 1:47.2 by With Anticipation. Three lengths back and individually timed in 1:48, Wing became the first driver 60 or older to go that fast in a race.
What is it about age 62?
Wally Hennessey is the leading driver at Pompano Park at age 62.
John Campbell retired from driving in 2017 at the age of 62
Tommy Haughton turns 62 on Feb. 27. It is the same age when we lost his dad, Billy, in 1986 after a racing accident.
Joe Holloway is a newly-elected Hall Of Famer at age 62.
Mike Lachance won the 2013 Kentucky Futurity with Creatine at age 62 and then won it the next year with My MVP.
Ron Pierce is now 62 and will have been retired for four years as of March.
The favorite in the 1989 Dead Heat Hambletonian was Peace Corps, bred by then 62-year-old Stanley Dancer.
Ron Gurfein was 62 when his prized 2-year-old Cantab Hall began his streak of 10 straight in 2003. He was not only named divisional winner, but was the only 2-year-old trotters so honored as Trotter of the Year.
Chuck Sylvester turned 62 a month after his Chip Chip Hooray gave him his fourth Hambletonian trophy in 2002.
Linda Toscano was 62 when she sent out Walner twice in 2017 — and both his victories stood up as the two fastest sophomore trotting miles of the season. Like Holloway, she’s bound for the Hall of Fame this summer.