Driver Billy Mann on going from horses to cars and back again

by Chris Lomon

Other than horsepower, what could driving standardbreds and selling cars possibly have in common? More than you might think, according to Billy Mann.

It was in the late 2000s when the horseman from Martinsburg, WV decided to take a break from the standardbred world.

Instead of being in the driver’s seat, Mann’s new career as a car salesman had him putting other people in the driver’s seat.

“It was definitely a good experience, to an extent. I sold cars for a year. It was definitely different because outside of the horses, I really hadn’t done anything else. It was nice to see a different side of the working world. Ultimately, it wasn’t really what I wanted to do. Getting back into the horse business is what I wanted to do.”

So, that’s precisely what he did.

Mann, who returned to the standardbred scene in 2010, found a couple of parallels between the two careers.

“Oddly enough, and people might not realize it, but I think it all comes down to work ethic. Even with selling cars – although it’s not nearly as physical as driving and training a horse – you definitely have to work hard to make it a success. With selling cars, you have to put in a lot of hours so that you can capitalize on every opportunity. I’d say it’s about as close to the horse business in that particular way.”

By 2011, Mann, who has also raced at Freehold Raceway, Pocono Downs and Harrah’s Philadelphia, had reestablished himself as a capable driver and trainer.

Six years later, he enjoyed his best season as a driver since 2008, with more than $300,000 in purse earnings.

He also became more of a regular presence at The Meadowlands.

Mann took advantage of his connection with trainer Al Annunziata, piloting New Zealand imports such as Tullow N, Iammrbrightside N, Betabcool N and Texas Terror N. He also recorded wins with Annunziata’s IYQ YQR and his former trainee, Mr Big Load.

A son of Yankee Skyscraper [IL], Mr Big Load, now 9, has 31 career wins from 220 starts.

Mann first partnered the bay in November, 2016.

One of their most memorable scores came one June 21, 2017, at Harrah’s Philadelphia. Sent off at 27-1, Mr Big Load went gate-to-wire for a one-length score in 1:52.

“Any time you cross the wire first, whether it’s by a nose or open lengths, it’s a great feeling. It never gets old.”

As of June 3, Mann has notched 819 driving victories, tacking on 368 more wins as a trainer, to go along with over $8.3 million in career earnings. His best season to date was in 2000, when he set a slew of personal-best marks, including 156 driving wins and 77 training victories.

Not bad for someone who initially thought of pursuing a life in thoroughbred racing.

“Growing up, I was always around show horses,” said Mann, who began working around the horses at the age of 13 and after graduating from high school began driving at Rosecroft Raceway in Maryland. “With harness racing, it’s more where I can do things with myself. When I was younger, I was a little bit more looking into thoroughbreds, but you have to be a certain size to be a jockey.

“When I was a kid, the guy who moved into a farm near our house trained standardbreds. I kind of got into that. The first couple of times I went training miles, I was hooked from that.”

As for what brought him to this point in his horse racing life, Mann offered up a pair of reasons.

He’s also honest when it comes to assessing some of the missteps he’s made along the way.

“Basically, a lot of hard work and a lot of luck. I’ve had quite a few opportunities, some that I should have capitalized on a lot better than others. Some of those I probably squandered a little bit. There have been some opportunities that I’ve been very fortunate to come across, and there are others where, to be honest, I’ve screwed it up. I’ve had good ideas and intentions, but bad results, where things don’t always work out. But ever since I started, I try to learn from basically everyone I come in contact with. Whether it’s a right idea or a wrong one, you have to learn one way or another.”

One thing Mann has endeavored to learn over the years is finding a game plan on how to unwind away from the racetrack.

Easier said than done, he inferred, followed by a chuckle.

“There’s plenty I’d probably like to do, but it’s tough to find time to do anything. I like doing thing outdoors when I get the chance. Even just relaxing at home is nice, too. I have a small stable [three he trains, one he owns], so I do a few other things to earn extra income, shoeing and shipping, things like that. Sometimes, being at home is a nice change.”

The most fulfilling part of his life is where he’s always felt most at home.

Open-length win or off-the-board finish, Mann is happiest when he’s around the horses.

Especially ones like Kellie Cameleon.

Owned by Warren Racing Stable [Scott Warren] the son of Cameleon, bred by Mac Lilley Stable, won 60 of his 243 career starts, finishing in the top three 123 times.

Mann had plenty of experience both driving and training the pacer.

“He was great. Scott, who is the race secretary at the Meadowlands, he owned her. He was a pretty good horse for me. That is definitely one of the highlights for me. Horses that are consistent, who show up to race every week — they are a little hard to come by. But when you do find the right one, it’s a big thrill. You really enjoy it when you have that kind of horsepower in your hands.”

Something that Mann knows all about.