Freehold, NJ --- Dave Palone’s first trip to the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame on Sunday will be memorable. When Palone enters the Hall of Fame, it will be because he is entering the Hall of Fame.
The 48-year-old Pennsylvania native, and third-winningest driver in North American harness racing history, will be inducted into the sport’s Hall of Fame, located in Goshen, New York, during ceremonies Sunday evening. Palone is a six-time winner of the Harness Tracks of America Driver of the Year Award and has 13,776 victories (and counting) to his credit. He has led North America in triumphs three times while finishing in the top eight every year beginning in 1990.
Palone, who has been the leading driver at The Meadows, near Pittsburgh, for more than two decades, entered this year having won at least 532 races in 18 consecutive seasons. He ranks third in North America this year, with 300 wins.
“I’m very excited,” Palone said Monday. “I still can’t believe it. It’s going to be my first trip to Goshen, to either the racetrack or the Hall of Fame. I’ve got family and friends going up and I’m just really looking forward to it.”
|USTA/Ed Keys photo|
|Dave Palone has won 13,776 races on his way to being enshrined in the Hall of Fame.|
The journey from western Pennsylvania to Goshen began when Palone’s father, Butch, took him to the Adios Stakes at The Meadows in 1976. A year later, he was jogging horses for trainer Herman Hylkema at the Waynesburg Fairgrounds, and by the time he graduated high school he was Hylkema’s second trainer. In 1983, he won his first race with Red’s Folly and never looked back.
“I’ve thought of so many memories lately; things that wouldn’t mean a lot to anyone else but mean so much to me,” Palone said. “There are so many people you want to thank, and you don’t want to forget anybody. This week is really starting to bring me back to some of the things in my past, like how I got started and people who meant a lot to my success over the years.
“So many people have influenced me along the way; whether it was learning general horsemanship or having faith in me at a young point in my career, or supporting me after my injuries.
“There are so many things I’ve reflected on that could have gone the other way. I’ve been so fortunate and so blessed.”
Palone was sidelined seven weeks with a broken leg in 2007 as the result of a racing accident. He returned to action better than ever, sharing the HTA Driver of the Year Award each of the past two years and finishing no worse than fourth in the North American driver standings. In 2008, he won a Breeders Crown (with In Focus) and established career highs with 885 wins, $10 million in purses (which he surpassed with $10.7 million in 2009) and a .446 Universal Driver Rating.
“After the last accident, they weren’t even sure if I’d be able to walk again,” Palone said. “Just so many things have gone right.”
He learned “never to take anything for granted.”
“I think it’s made me come to the track more prepared,” he said. “Anyone that knows me knows I’m a very competitive person. I just don’t accept mediocrity. I expect a lot out of myself. I’ve been given a lot of good opportunities, and I feel with the opportunities I get, I need to produce. I won’t accept anything but winning races.”
Hall of Fame announcer Roger Huston, who also calls The Meadows his home track, will introduce Palone for induction Sunday.
“To be able to have Roger make that speech is going to mean a lot to me because he’s meant a lot to me during my career,” Palone said. “I’m looking forward to being there with my family. I’m very proud of my family and I can’t wait to show them off. I’m looking forward to seeing some of the Hall of Famers there and all the good people I have to thank for this induction.
“It’s a great honor. Sunday is going to be an exciting day. I can’t wait for it and want to take it all in.”
PALONE ON THE AIR: Palone will be a guest on the “Horse Talk” radio show on radio station WTBQ (1110 AM) on Saturday. Palone will come on the air at about 8:15 a.m. and talk about his career, which started with the chance to sit behind a horse at the age of 15; a very late start compared to other top drivers. Palone can also be heard via streaming audio on www.wtbq.com.