Freehold, NJ --- July has been a hot month for driver Dave Palone, and it has nothing to do with the sweltering temperatures in recent weeks.
On July 4, Palone was inducted into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame. The next day, he passed Cat Manzi for the No. 2 spot on the all-time list for wins by a North American driver. Then, last weekend, he qualified Fred And Ginger for Saturday’s $1 million Meadowlands Pace by finishing second in his elimination race at Meadowlands Racetrack.
Palone, who entered Monday with 13,812 career victories, will be appearing in his third Meadowlands Pace final. Last year, he guided Schoolkids to a fifth-place finish and in 2006 he drove 80-1 Dave Panlone to sixth.
|Fred And Ginger (#7) was just a neck behind OK Commander in their Meadowlands Pace elimination.|
Fred And Ginger finished second to OK Commander, beaten by a neck, in his Meadowlands Pace elim. The time for the mile was 1:47.4, which would have been the fastest Pace elim in history had not Rock N Roll Heaven won in 1:47.3 earlier on the card.
Palone guided Fred And Ginger from post seven to a spot behind pacesetting OK Commander, who reached the opening quarter-mile in :26 seconds. In doing so, Fred And Ginger displayed a new dimension: Only once in his previous eight starts this year was he that near the leader at the quarter-mile point.
“He showed me another element (Saturday) that he never really had,” Palone said. “He was never real quick off the wings, but I thought if I’d have any chance I’d have to have him revved up and go. He got out of there in :26 (seconds) flat and found himself a spot and relaxed real nice.
“He drove very good. I was happy with him. It showed me he’s got his legs back underneath him and it shows he can go with these horses.”
Fred And Ginger has won four of nine races this season and earned $286,370 for trainer Ron Burke and owners Howard Taylor, Robert Feldman, Edwin Gold, and Jerry Silva. He won the $300,000 Max C. Hempt Memorial Stakes at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs on May 22. He was second to Rock N Roll Heaven in the $220,000 Berry’s Creek at the Meadowlands on May 8.
On June 12, Fred And Ginger paced the fastest mile in the history of The Meadows when he won a division of the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes in 1:48.4. A week later, he went to Canada for the $1.45 million North America Cup at Mohawk Racetrack and finished third in his elimination and sixth in the final.
“I thought he bounced back well, considering the North America Cup really didn’t go as planned,” Palone said. “He went up there sick and was a little flat the first week. In the final, he ended up first over, which really isn’t his game. But he bounced back and showed he’s a tough colt. He went a good trip (Saturday); I just need a good draw.”
Palone, a 48-year-old native of western Pennsylvania, is a six-time winner of the Harness Tracks of America Driver of the Year Award. He has led North America in triumphs three times while finishing in the top eight every year beginning in 1990. He has been the leading driver at The Meadows for more than two decades.
Entering Monday, Palone’s 336 wins this year ranked No. 3 in wins among all drivers in North America. He trails only Herve Filion, with 15,179 career triumphs, on the all-time list for North American drivers.
The journey from Pennsylvania to the Hall of Fame in Goshen, N.Y., 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.
A win in Saturday’s Meadowlands Pace would find a place among Palone’s top accomplishments, along with his victories in the 2008 Breeders Crown with In Focus, 2005 Little Brown Jug with P-Forty-Seven, and 1999 Adios with Washington VC.
“It would be a nice win to have on the resume,” Palone said, “and I couldn’t win it for any better people.”