With a charge through the Lightning Lane, Dave Palone became the winningest driver in North American harness racing history Thursday at The Meadows with career victory 15,181, vaulting him past the legendary Herve Filion to the top spot.
Herculotte Hanover gives Palone his 15,181st career win. (Chris Gooden photo)
Palone achieved the Magic Mile in race eight with Herculottte Hanover, a two-year-old Andover Hall - Her Culese filly in her first career start for trainer Jim Arledge, Jr. and owners Up Front Racing and Joe Sbrocco, but not before surviving an inquiry for a possible pylon violation. He earned victory 15,180 in race three.
“There were a thousand things going through my head, like, ‘This is actually going to happen right now, I can’t believe it,’” Palone said. “She probably is the last horse on the card I thought I could count on because it was her first start.
“What could be better than this? I have the most beautiful family in the world; they support me in what I do. I love my girls. It meant so much to do it right here.
"I’ve been so blessed with good horses and so lucky with my health that I was able to bounce back when I did get hurt. A lot of things have to go right, and they did. I just feel blessed.”
Herve Filion was among the many in the winner's circle to congratulation Palone. (Chris Gooden photo)
Palone was joined in the winners’ circle by the gracious Filion, 72, whose reign at the top of the career win list lasted 31 years.
“People used to tell me my record never would be broken,” Filion said. “But the way they race horses anymore, a lot of races all around the country, I knew that Dave would get there one day. I feel good about it. Dave’s a good guy, a good driver. He’ll be an ambassador for the industry.”
Palone embraces his daughters Sophie (left) and Alana after the record setting victory. (Chris Gooden photo)
Filion joined Palone and his family, wife Bethann and daughters Hannah, Alana and Sophie, to turn the final number on the countdown board.
“I look out at the crowd and see so many faces I know, I can’t thank them all right now, but I will later. Every one of them had a part in this,” Palone said “To have Herve here means so much. In soccer, there’s Pele. In harness racing, there’s Herve. That’s all you have to say.”
In winners’ circle ceremonies following the race, Mike Jeannot, president of Meadows Racing, Kim Hankins, executive director of the Meadows Standardbred Owners Association, and Phil Lanlgley, president of the United States Trotting Association, offered their congratulations and presented Palone with a representation of a bronze bust of Palone the organizations are producing.
“I look forward to seeing you in the winner's circle in the years ahead,” Jeannot said.
Jeannot also announced The Meadows has designated Wednesday, July 25 “Dave Palone Night,” a celebration during Grand Circuit Week.
A native of Waynesburg, PA, Palone, 50, was following typical teenage pursuits, playing in a rock band, setting pins at the local bowling alley, when his father, Butch, an automobile dealer, purchased some Standardbreds and sent them to the late Herman Hylkema to train. Young Dave persuaded Hylkema to allow him to jog Butch’s horses, and a career was born.
Palone and Filion change the sign to relect Palone’s new record number. (Chris Gooden photo)
Palone wasn’t an instant hit. He lost all 14 starts his first year before breaking his maiden at The Meadows with Reds Folly on March 15, 1983. Since then, he’s been as successful and consistent as they come, compiling a career UDR of .399. He’s a six-time winner of the Harness Tracks of America's Driver of the Year Award, and he was inducted into the Harness Hall of Fame July 4, 2010.
Palone acknowledged that the pressure of the chase had begun to affect him.
“I’ve been dreaming this number for so long, to get it over with is great,” he said. “I’m pretty burned out right now, but I have some big races on my plate, and we’re on to those now.”
Langley called the milestone victory “a step on the way to 20,000,” but Palone indicated he’s through with statistics.
“I don’t ever want to think about numbers again for as long as I live,” he said. “If my numbers gets beat, that’s great. That means harness racing is doing terrific."