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Horse Racing: Palone becomes seventh to win 9,000 races

Sunday, April 13, 2003

Dave Palone says he felt nothing but relief when he crossed the finish line with his 9,000th career victory April 4 at The Meadows.

 
 
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"Thank God it's over" were the exact words that went through his head.

"I thought it was going to be real tough [to do it that night]," said Palone, who became just the seventh driver in history to reach the 9,000-victory milestone. "I thought it would be tougher than it was. Friday I had a lot of horses I thought might not win if I couldn't get it in the right spot.

"The first race I had the favorite, and sure enough I got him beat."

But two races later, Palone, 41, crossed the finish line a half-length in front of the field with Down By The Bay, and the celebration was on.

Joining him in the winner's circle were his parents, Jean and Butch; his sister, Regina; and his brother, Mike, a Meadows trainer for whom Palone regularly drives.

The Meadows presented Palone with an engraved crystal decanter set and a huge sheet cake, which he wheeled to the paddock to share with fellow horsemen.

Palone's 9,000th win came in an overnight event with a moderate purse, and that is the kind he has won most often over a career that began in 1982. His mounts have won more than $34.7 million, but others in the "9,000 Club" have earned much more driving primarily at the Meadowlands, in East Rutherford, N.J. and on the Grand Circuit. For example, John Campbell, the sport's top money winner, has earned more than $215 million.

"The only thing bad I have to say is I feel I did it in the minor leagues," Palone said. "It's not like Herve Filion, who did it on the East Coast at all the big tracks.

"But I don't think I'll give it back," he added, and then he laughed.

Palone, North American win champion in 1999 and 2000, is not without some big race wins. The two he says probably tie for favorites are his 1999 Adios Pace victory with Washington VC and the 1999 Jugette with Maudlin Hanover. The latter means a lot because the filly was trained by his brother, Mike.

As for the Adios, The Meadows' signature race: "What made it so special was that it got the monkey off my back," he said. "I'd hate to go a whole career and not win the big race at my track. It's like Danny Marino probably would have traded anything for a Super Bowl victory.

"It's tough because most of the 3-year-olds are locked up by [the Adios] in August," he said. "That year I thought my best chance was with a [Joe] Holloway-[trained] horse [Union Guy] but he didn't qualify for the final," Palone said. "Washington VC I didn't even know I was driving until that morning."

Another big victory was the $500,000 Budweiser Beacon Course at the Meadowlands in 1991 with Dontellmenomore. He also was awarded Driver of the Year titles by Harness Tracks of America in 1999 and 2000.

Palone got interested in racing as a teen when his parents were involved with horses. He hung around the trainer's barn then and realized the track was where he wanted to be the rest of his life.

"I wouldn't know what I would do if I got out of it," he said. "I'm not good enough to play on the [PGA] tour. That's the only other thing I enjoy as much as racing. I should say I enjoy racing the good horses."

How long does he think he'll continue driving?

"I don't know. What's it cost to send a kid to college," said Palone, father of 7-year-old Hannah. "I'd like to do it another 10 years, but I don't want to do it forever. I can see myself getting some colts or buying a farm and getting some babies."

Breeders' Cup to Texas

It finally is official: The 2004 Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships are going to Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas, near Dallas. The contract was signed April 2. The eight races, worth $13 million, will be Oct. 30 and televised live by NBC Sports.

Winning like crazy

Some interesting trivia from Harness Racing Communications: For the first time in history, three different drivers have won nine races on one card in the same calendar year. Stephane Brouchard and Tony Morgan did it last month, and Walter Case Jr., did it on April 5.


Pohla Smith can be reached at psmith@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1228.

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