by Victoria M. Howard
A horsewoman by the name of Ann-Mari Fedun Daley does a little bit of everything to help enhance the sport of harness racing. She helps her husband, trainer/driver Dan Daley run their stable; photographs horses for owners and fans; promotes their nutritional equine business Golden Gro, and is the mother to trainer Jamie Michelle and son Daniel who just happens to be the state representative for seat 97 in Florida.
She is also a proud grandmother to Morgan who loves to ride, Gage who loves to play hockey, and MacKenzie who is 3.
Unlike other youngsters who grew up mucking stalls in the barn for their parents, Ann-Mari was a late comer, but once she got her feet wet, she went all in.
“I really didn’t get involved in the horse business until I met Dan at Monticello Racetrack 30 years ago. My father was working at Monticello and my Uncle was one of the judges there,” she said.
Dan has been a horseman since the age of 15, starting out racing in Saratoga, NY.
Throughout the years he has had some very nice horses, (mainly racing on the New York circuit) such as CJ Secret, Diamond Goal, RC Royalty, Royal Shyster, Zanna Royal and Master Lavec.
An all around horseman, Dan rode from New York to California in the Great American Horse Race when he was 17. He has also played polo, jumped, barrel raced and was involved in cow-sorting.
When hearing the name Dan Daley most people associate that as the owner/trainer/driver of the great trotter Master Lavec.
“It was 1999 and only Dan’s second year at breaking 2-year-olds,” said Ann-Mari. “We got Master Lavec who turned out to be the best colt in the country that year. He earned over a half-million dollars and took a mark of 1:56.4 as a freshman. (And this was over 20 years ago, when this time really meant something).
“After his career as a racehorse ended, Master Lavec stood stud in Ohio and now stands in Maryland. Master Lavec is the son of champion Mr Lavec (3, 1:54.3 $1,985,998).”
Today, Ann-Mari is busy promoting the product Golden Gro, an equine product that she first discovered in the year 1997 when they bought a horse named Reddfox.
“Dan bought Reddfox as a 2-year-old and wanted to keep him on the same feed and supplements. That’s when we discovered Golden Gro. My son, Daniel, started selling the product Golden Gro and today he is the owner of the company. I really love this product, and so do the horses. It is great for all ages as it helps maintain weight, gives them a great coat and great looking shoulder and behind. Overall, they look and feel great.”
Being involved for over 35 years in the business, the Daleys have seen many changes. They have been there for the good times and the not-so-good times. Racing mostly in Pompano Park Racetrack during the winter, they were some of the lucky ones who experienced what it was like to break, train and race horses at The Winter Capital of the World.
“You couldn’t get a seat in the evenings at Pompano during the winter months. Now it barely gets a hundred fans. Dan was there when the training side was open across from the grandstand. Those were the days. Any morning you would see the greats, Dancer, Haughton, Popfinger and Sholty jogging their babies. It really breaks my heart that our sport is dying off quickly. Rumor has it that Pompano Park may only be here another year or two, unless we get a miracle,” Ann-Mari said.
Sadly, the handle and attendance at racetracks have declined for several reasons such as the casinos and off-track betting.
Ann-Mari said it’s easy to point a finger at everyone: like the management, horsemen and the casinos.
“Mainly, I think the decline started with the change in our society, like at the end of the movie Dirty Dancing: today children don’t want to tag along with their parents — they want to go on vacation with their friends.
“When you’re involved in harness racing it’s a lot of work; whether you’re a driver, trainer, or groom. Today, most people don’t want to work hard to make money. That goes for betting, too. It takes a whole lot of work studying the program, watching the horses warm up, and score down. In the game of 5-card poker, it’s over before the post parade! The love of gambling on the horse is a thing of the past. So with the gamblers betting less, management made changes that hurt the horsemen, and this is the result.
“Thank God there are still some tracks that are owned and run by horse lovers such as Tioga Downs, The Meadowlands, Vernon Downs, Buffalo Racetrack, and The Red Mile which are all run by horse lovers.”
“The horsemen also need to work together and clean up our sport. We need to offer the fans and bettors a better product where they would want to come and watch.
“And the management, why are we fighting with them instead of working together to get the sport back to where it once was?
“As far as women in the business: I’m so glad for this column for it highlights the many gals who dedicate their lives to the sport. There are so many female trainers, drivers, grooms and owners who love harness racing and do what they can to make it better. Unfortunately, up until now, the little gal in the business never got any recognition unless they did something wrong. There are so many women who are married to harness racing and dedicate their lives to it, and yet no one knows or even hears about them. The sport may be dying off but thankfully there are still a lot of die-hard horse lovers who help in keeping it afloat.”