A conversation with Jack Moiseyev.
by Murray Brown
There is a saying that I first heard from Andy Grant in describing Herve Filion, “He must have been born in a feed bucket, because he knows everything there is to know about horses.”
That saying could just as easily have been used to describe Jack Moiseyev.
“Jackie Mo,” as he is often referred, is a third generation horseman.
His grandfather, Max, started in the business with Jack’s father, Sid. They worked together training horses. Then along came Jack.
Even as a toddler, Jack remembers being around horses and feeling as though that was where he belonged.
He took his first drive in a jog cart somewhere around the age of 8.
By the time he was 12, he regularly jogged and trained in the company of his dad and grandfather.
His very first pari-mutuel race was a winning one behind Scotch V.O. at the age of 17 at Brandywine Raceway.
He was at Brandywine because he was too young to drive in his home state of New Jersey, where the minimum driving age was 18.
The next year he became a regular at Freehold, at first driving for his father, but once his talent became evident, he began life as a catch driver.
His first catch driving win was with a horse named Justa Tiger for Gerry Baldachino at the age of 18.
Eventually, he became known as one of a trio of great drivers who came to rule Freehold for decades — the other two being Catello Manzi and Herve Filion.
When The Meadowlands opened, it was only natural Jack would take his whip and colors to ply his trade at the world’s foremost harness racetrack.
It wasn’t instant fame when he first got there, but he more then held his own against arguably the greatest group of drivers ever assembled, including, but not limited to, Hall of Famers Bill O’Donnell, John Campbell, Mike Lachance, Ted Wing, Jim Doherty, Herve Filion, Carmine Abbatiello, Ron Pierce, Stanley Dancer, Bill Haughton Buddy Gilmour, Bernie Lindstedt, Cat Manzi, Ray Remmen, Ron Waples, Jimmy Takter, Tim Tetrick; with occasional stops made by Hall of Famers Tony Abbatiello, Keith Waples, George Sholty, Del Insko, John Simpson Jr, Wally Hennessey, Howard Beissinger Doug Ackerman, Clint Galbraith and Glen Garnsey.
Jack was up to the challenge. With each passing year his numbers improved at his home track Freehold, at The Meadowlands and on the Grand Circuit.
In 1991, he achieved what he calls his “dream year” winning a plethora of classics races including the Hambletonian with Giant Victory and the Meadowlands Pace and Little Brown Jug with Precious Bunny.
All wasn’t sweetness and light through those years, though. He had more than his share of racetrack injuries, some which caused him to miss time driving great horses in important races.
In addition, there were penalties for racing infractions. There was one time where he was penalized for six months.
In 2003, he was in Canada racing while The Meadowlands was closed. He enjoyed it, but his intent was to go back to New Jersey and continue his racing career there. Here we are 17 years later and he is still in Canada.
What precipitated the move? First, he was doing well. He was winning his share of races. Second, and perhaps more important, he met fiancee Joanne Colville with whom he has been together all that time.
He said he also appreciates the less frenetic lifestyle that he found in Canada. He liked the country and its lifestyle so much that in 2015 he became a citizen. He now enjoys dual citizenship and carries two passports.
Here’s part of what I learned while speaking with this legendary driver:
Jack, you’ve won just about every important race there is to win in North America. You have won 9,877 races (19th all time). The horses you’ve driven have earned $128,923,148 (14th all time). You would certainly be in anybody’s all-time list of the greatest 20 drivers ever, maybe even top 10. Why aren’t you in the Hall of Fame?
“Actually, the only really big race that I can think of that I haven’t won is the North America Cup. I feel very confident that I would have won that as well, if I hadn’t got in a bad accident on the track three days before the race. I was scheduled to drive Presidential Ball who eventually did win it.
“Insofar as me not being in the Hall of Fame, I don’t know this for sure, but I’m guessing that it has a lot to do with the trouble I got into in the past. That’s well in the past now. I much regret some of the things I may have done.
“My major problems occurred in 1990. Ironically, I had my career best year the following year in 1991. Maybe the enforced vacation did me some good. My problems are now 30 years in the past. I think I’ve been a very good citizen both on and off the racetrack. I can’t erase the penalties. For the most part they were deserved. This isn’t an excuse for any misbehavior, because ultimately we are responsible for what we do. But I mark down most of any problems I had to being young and foolish. I think I’m way past that stage.
“Just as the penalties cannot be erased from the records, neither can the accomplishments I’ve made on the racetrack. I don’t mean to come across as bragging, because that’s certainly not part of my personality.
If I became honored enough to one day make it into the Hall of Fame, I believe, I would be a long way from being either the worst person or the most accomplished one to become part of that great group.
* Authors Note. It is my intention to nominate Jack Moiseyev to the drivers’ category of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in
You’ve been around and sometimes driven for a multitude of the greatest trainers in the history of our sport. Who were the best?
“There were so many. Undoubtedly, I’ve left out a few.
“When I was first starting, the two that stood out were Stanley Dancer and Billy Haughton. My family and Stanley were very close through the years. We both came from central New Jersey. I learned a lot from just listening to and watching Billy and Stanley. If Stanley had a horse that he thought wasn’t quite good enough to compete at the level that he was used to, but that he thought would make a decent horse to race at Freehold, he would offer it to my dad.
“I also had a lot of success driving for John Kopas.
“In later years, Brett Pelling, Bill Robinson and Bob McIntosh were outstanding. In recent times, you would have to include such names as Jimmy Takter and Ronnie Burke. Up here in Canada, Richard Moreau always has a top stable and Luc Blais does as good a job as anyone at developing young horses.”
I’ve heard you and some other great drivers having been described as having “great hands” or “soft hands.” I’ve sometimes found it difficult to picture what that means. It’s kind of like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart who said, “I can’t define pornography, but I know it when I see it.” How would you define great and soft hands?
“It’s really a hard thing to define, if, in fact, you can. I guess I probably would say it’s the ability to make a horse go fast and to keep it going without inflicting either physical or mental pain. By mental pain, I mean the ability to allow the horse to maintain its confidence.”
The two drivers I’ve mostly associated you with are Herve Filion and Cat Manzi. What about them?
“I’m guessing that’s probably because we spent so much time together racing at Freehold. I think that the three of us probably learned a lot from driving against each other, for so long and so often. The word great is thrown around so often that it sometimes becomes kind of meaningless. However, when speaking of Herve and Cat, it’s probably an understatement. They were both great drivers, great horsemen and great people.”
Let’s talk about horses. Which is the best one that you’ve ever sat behind?
“That would have to be Precious Bunny. He was a perfect racehorse. He could do everything well. He could leave the gate faster than any horse that ever lived. Everybody who was at the Little Brown Jug the year that he was in it would remember when in about two seconds after leaving the gate, he had three lengths on the field. That was the first time I REALLY asked him to leave. Richie Silverman was inside of me with Die Laughing and I was pretty sure he intended to park me. He never got the chance.
“That race also provided me with the greatest thrill I’ve ever experienced in the sport. I’m generally even keeled. I rarely get too up or too down. But when I crossed the finish line with Precious Bunny, I felt all tingly and choked up. I don’t think I’ve felt that way either before or since.
“If we were talking trotters, the best one would have to be Fools Goal. He was a wonderful horse that always came to race. The fact that he earned about $3 million attests to his greatness.”
You’ve driven for some wonderful owners through the years.
“The two best known were probably Tony Chiaravalle and Peter Heffering. Both of them were great and generous guys. Another one is Dave Lemon. I had Daylon Magician in the Canadian Trotting Derby for him. He was so excited and proud. This was a horse that he had bred and raised. They were racing for a million dollars. Before the race he told me, ‘I never dreamed that I would own a horse that was good enough to be in a race for that kind of money. I’ll tell you what, Jack, if you win the race I’ll double your driver’s commission to 10 per cent.’ We won and a week later he gave me a check for $25,000, that, in addition to the normal driver’s commission of that same amount. In recent years we’ve been pretty close with a great fellow by the name of Mel Luizza. He has been a great friend and owner of mine for well over 30 years.”
After so much success in the United States, what brought you to race and live in Canada?
“None of it was pre-planned. The Meadowlands had closed and I decided to come up here to race for a meet while they were shut. I did fairly well. I met my fiancee Joanne Colville and also decided that I really liked the lifestyle and racing up here. So, one race meet led to another and I decided that this was where I wanted to live. Eventually I also became a Canadian citizen, as well. I now have dual citizenship.”
You gave up driving a couple of years ago. You certainly weren’t as great as you once were, but you were still decent. Why did you stop?
“I suppose it was a little like Sam Bowie said in your interview of him last week. This old body had suffered a lot of pain and it was getting much harder to drive without feeling its effects. The old saying is that Father Time is undefeated. He had caught up with me. The many racetrack wrecks I had been in were taking their toll. Like Mike Lachance said to you in an interview you had with him awhile ago, I didn’t want to go out as just a poor imitation of what I had once been.”
You are still involved, though, as a trainer.
“Yes, we have 14 in training and we’ve had a fairly decent season. I’m up in the morning training and at the track every night that we have something in to race. I fear that I’ve fallen into that fault that most trainers get some time or another. I sometimes second guess my drivers. “Why did he do that?” or “Why didn’t he do that?” I might holler to myself. In general, though, the guys I use to drive my horses do a great job. I doubt that I could do any better. I find it’s sometimes a lot more difficult to watch your horses and drive them from the paddock than to sit behind them in a race.”
What does Jackie Mo do for fun?
“Actually, horses take up most of Joanne’s and my time. Occasionally, I’ll get out on a golf course, but I’m pretty terrible at the game.
“I’m a huge football fan. I love the NFL and am a great New York Giants fan. I watch as many football games as time allows me. If there’s a game on TV, that’s likely where you’ll find me.”
We’ll finish off with COVID-19. How has it affected you?
“Initially, it hurt everyone in racing. But after awhile we adapted to the restrictions and learned to live with them. Actually, I believe that if society as a whole adapted and followed the rules as well as racing and its people have, things all over wouldn’t be near as bad as they became.
“Personally, the travel restrictions hurt. I’d normally get down to New Jersey to visit family and friends a couple of times a year. Of course, that has been out for quite some time.
“Now we have been hit with the final whammy on a terrible 2020. There will be no more racing in Ontario until further notice. I’m hoping that within a short period of time the vaccines will have their desired effects and we’ll get back to something approaching normal.”
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