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Honoring 'The Catman'
Tuesday, October 28, 2014 - by John Manzi

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Monticello, NY --- How many harness drivers have been saluted by racetracks where they competed upon their retirement from driving? Few, if any, but Catello (Cat) Manzi was. And not by one, but two, and the biggest ones in the game, The Meadowlands last summer and Yonkers Raceway on Oct. 18.

Both racetracks responded wonderfully by inviting Cat’s family and his close friends to the salute at each, replete with dinner and cocktails for the entire group. And at each venue a portion of the facility was set aside for “The Catman” and his well-wishers.

Mayra Escamilla photo
Cat’s family and friends surround driver Matt Kakaley after he won the “Cat Manzi Pace” with Pancetta in 1:52.2. Cat can be seen left of the driver while his wife Ellen (holding flowers) is right of the driver.

I, of course, went to both racetracks as did many from our family. Track management at both tracks really outdid themselves by offering all the amenities without charge.

And at both venues the salute was highlighted with the feature race on the card named in Cat’s honor and they had him sign autographs on pictures they supplied for the attending fans in front of the winner's circle after the race presentation.

I know Mr. Tim Rooney at Yonkers and Mr. Jeff Gural at the Meadowlands were appreciative of Cat’s tenure at both racing facilities. And they put their money where their heart is. Take it from me, not many would do that, but class always shows.

I’m not sure that many know that Cat was born in Monticello on June 27, 1950, eight years to the day before Monticello Raceway had its inaugural program.

Cat grew up in nearby Liberty (N.Y.) and comes from a long line of harness horsemen. His dad, Al, and uncles, John Sr. and Dick, became involved in the Standardbred business in the spring of 1951 and the family’s second generation, which included Cat, his brother, Steve, and cousins, Ed Lohmeyer, Richard Manzi Jr. and yours truly, all started racing at Monticello Raceway.

Cat drove his first race at the Mighty M in the fall of 1968 and by 1972 he became the dominant force on the driving scene there. On the warm summer night of August 21, 1973, he won six races in six drives on one card, a world record at that time.

After dominating the driving colony at the Mighty M in the mid-1970s, in the fall of 1976 Cat decided to try his luck at the new mile track that opened in the swamplands in East Rutherford, N.J., which became known as The Meadowlands. And from its inception “the Big M” was, and continues to be, the premier racing facility in North America.

Cat has been the regular pilot behind a number of record setters, including 1992 Horse of the Year Artsplace, Beat The Wheel, Pacific Fella and Hit Parade, to name a few.

Over the years “the Catman,” as he’s referred to by his legion of fans, has also won driving titles at Liberty Bell Park, Garden State Park, Yonkers Raceway and Freehold Raceway, where he garnered an incredible 18 driving titles.

He has also won a countless amount of “Classic Races” including the Yonkers Trot (three times), the World Trotting Derby, the Cane Pace, the Driscoll Final, the Niatross, the Lady Maud, the Woodrow Wilson, the Dexter Cup, the Hambletonian Oaks, the Breeders Crown, the U.S Pacing Championship (twice), the William Haughton Memorial, three Hudson Filly Trots, the Sheppard Pace and the North America Cup.

His career reached a pinnacle in 2002 when he was inducted into harness racing’s Living Hall of Fame, the only Monticello native to receive such an honor.

For the record, Cat didn’t retire completely -- he retired from driving -- but he still trains, currently for the Cancelliere brothers. He finished with outstanding career totals of 14,812 driving victories and purses of $158,560,663.

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