Happy Birthday, Ray Remmen

by Bob Heyden

Double Hall of Famer Ray Remmen celebrated his birthday on May 28. In those now 77 years, “The Chief” has touched or influenced many, in any/all facets of the industry. I caught up with a few of Remmen’s contemporaries — most of who violated my “two to three sentences please directive” — to see what they had to say to and about the birthday boy.

Roger Huston: “The MRN [Meadows Racing Network] was simulcasting a show prior to the Adios (1990) and included in my commentary was the reason Beach Towel lost his previous race. I commented that Ray had sent him forward, then backed off and then sent him forward again before the quarter. The horse didn’t know what to do after that. The next week at The Meadowlands, Ray approached me and told me that since my comments they weren’t going to the Adios. I was depressed that my comments were the reason he wouldn’t come. Ray of course had no intention of skipping the Adios which he won handily.”

Robin Burns: “I remember when we were at Hollywood Park. Pres Jenuine asked me if I wanted two box seats for the Dodgers-Pirates playoff game. Ray was the first person I saw. He said, ‘Give me a minute.’ He dropped everything, told the help to take care of things, and went home and changed. We had a great time. Dodger dogs and beer. Thanks Ray and Happy Birthday.”

Bonnie Butler: “An extraordinarily-talented horseman who greatly contributed to the success of The Meadowlands, particularly in the early years. He is known as a gentleman in the sport, and his success with numerous high-profile horses made him, and his family, assets to the sport. Ray’s affable manner, sense of humor and smile all added to the equation.”

Patti Harmon: “He’s all class and I love him.”

Rob Harmon: “Happy Birthday to one of the best in the business. The Remmens are iconic.”

Kim Hankins:  “I have known him for over 30 years. He’s one of the great horsemen of our time and all class. One of the last great trainer/drivers.”

Ginny Whipple Berkner: “I met Ray the year [The Meadowlands] opened in 1976. He and [brother] Larry [Remmen] were like bookends. A very funny duet. Of course, Ray winning the very first Hambletonian [at The Meadowlands] comes to mind. Happy Birthday Ray. Cheers to another year around the sun. I wish “B” [husband George Berkner, who passed away seven years ago] could be here to tell you the same.”

Brian Brown: “One of the finest most upstanding human beings you’ll ever find. I’m proud to say that I know Ray Remmen.”

Pat Lachance: “Great horseman and classy guy.”

Rod Allen: “Ray had the best Hambo parties on the backstretch. Happy 77th!”

Brad McNinch: “He is the epitome of integrity, class and horsemanship. When you think of The Meadowlands and when it was at its peak of success, you have to think of Ray Remmen as one of the leaders of the pack.”

Ellen Harvey: “In any organization it is important for the lead person to set a good example, to act and react in the way that you want those who follow you to do. Ray is the ultimate example of setting the tone for a professional and successful stable. He is professional, courteous and always a pleasure to deal with. I think he should have as much cake as he wants and everybody else will follow.”

David Smith: “Ray is the definition of class when you talk about harness racing. The consummate professional, that you couldn’t find anybody to have a bad word about him. The last of the great trainer/drivers.”

Joann Looney King: “Kind, generous and always pleasant to people, and on top of that, he’s a great horseman. Definitely a credit to the horse business.”

Paul Macchia: “A true gentleman who was very media friendly. Open and honest about a horse’s fitness and condition, and he never offered any excuses if his horse was a favorite and didn’t win. Respected by his peers in the driver colony. I remember one time I overheard a couple of horsemen talking about rigging. ‘That’s a tough one, ask Remmen.’”

George Napolitano: “Yes sir a class act. When I went to The Meadowlands for my first year he had a very powerful stable and it continued for years. What a great trainer he was.”

Andrea Pietrzak: “I remember my time at Sportsman’s Park. Interviewing Ray was like taking a master course in harness racing. His knowledge and experience were second to none. He was also a very open and personable professional who kept the Prairie creed of ‘Hard work begets success.’”

Jerry Glantz: “I met Ray several times when I was selling horses as an agent and he was the consummate gentleman. Professional and honest. I always admired his horsemanship and the barn he and his brother ran. A credit to the game. There are very few like Ray remaining in our game. Happy Birthday!”

John Kopas: “All I can say is that he is the consummate horseman and a truly fine person. Ray is quite witty and has the art of sarcasm perfected.”

Brad Grant: “Ray is the rare person who is a true gentleman and a character by nature.”

Mark MacDonald: “One of the greatest ever. I mean Beach Towel was the original ‘Beach.’ Everyone forgets what a great horse he was and all the big races Ray won with that guy.”

John Campbell: “My friend for over 50 years and one of my best ones. The consummate and professional horseman, trainer and driver. Somebody I not only respected but somebody who I learned from when I was starting and throughout my career. Nothing but respect for the career that Ray and Larry had and how they conducted their business. His Hall of Fame induction says it all. We stay in touch to this day and have dinner periodically. It’s a friendship I treasure and will always continue.”

Jackie Wing: “Ray is kind and thoughtful. He is a great father. He always spent time with his daughters and grandkids.”

Hector Clouthier: “It is rather significant that Ray Remmen is turning 77. Sevens are cherished as emblematic of good luck. The horse racing industry can count itself lucky to have Ray in our midst. To put it plainly Ray is a ‘quiet ‘ superstar. His journey from a sparsely populated province [Saskatchewan] in Western Canada to being a major player at The Meadowlands is a thing of legend. His Hall of Fame career has seen him win both the Hambletonian and the Little Brown Jug and that was the era of drivers/trainers and Ray was all of that in both those historic wins. To be candid, Ray would always say he was supported in his training duties by his younger brother Larry who in his own right was a superb trainer. Ray has an engaging smile that is both engaging and impish. Do not take that as a sign of his being nonchalant; he was a fierce competitor on the track. Ray epitomizes everything that is good and decent about horse racing. It gives me great pleasure to wish my longtime friend Happy Birthday!”

Dave Palone: “Ray was just a terrific horseman. His resume speaks for itself. I think people are going to remember the Hambo and Beach Towel. But I think, if I remember correctly, that when I was up there [in the mid to late 1980s] they became the first stable at the track to win 1,000 races when it meant something. Believe me I was on that track every morning and you were not going to outwork him or Larry, two great guys.”

Jimmy Cruise, Jr.: “A great horseman and gentleman. Happy Birthday Ray!”

Jacqueline Ingrassia: “Here’s wishing Ray Remmen the Happiest of Birthdays. A great horseman with unmatched integrity.”

Last, but far from least, Howard Perlmutter: “I was fortunate to have seen Ray, and his brothers Larry and Gord, in his and their heyday. They attracted some of the finest owners in the industry because their talent may have been exceeded by honesty, class, soft spokenness and humility. Some outfits may have been known as ‘Mr. Saturday Night’ but Ray and Larry were ‘Mr. Every Night’ for well over a decade amidst the most competitive driver/trainer combinations ever assembled at The Big M. I will never forget Ray’s win with his first Hambo starter Shiaway St Pat, his dominance with great trotting mare Duchess Faye, and naturally with Seth Rosenfeld’s Beach Towel capturing the Pace parked every step outlasting the charges of Jake And Elwood and Scoot Outa Reach. My memories of Ray will always be numerous, be it when Ray and Larry took over from Howard Beissinger with Halcyon, as well as driving really nice horses such as Alaskan Strike, Serpico Hanover, Mighty Sail, Casanova King, English Tutor, Paulsboro, Hug A Bear or even Tire Man for longtime owner John Lichtenberger. Ray never needed to pick up any catch drives, but he was certainly in the right place, right time in the 1985 Woodrow Wilson driving Lee Broglio’s Grade One, who nosed out the well-meant Michael Jonathan in a downright thriller. Honestly there are way too many moments and horses when it comes to Ray. It’s certain he will always have his place firmly etched in Meadowlands lore.”

In conclusion, I don’t know if Ray Remmen is the most well-liked or the most respected person in the industry. I do know he’s, at the very least, tied for first.