Photo by Mark Hall/USTTA.
Already North America’s “winningest” harness racing driver, Dave Palone broke the world record Friday, November 14 at The Meadows Racetrack & Casino in Washington, PA. His 16,754th career win surpassed the mark of 16,753 held by Germany’s Heinz Wewering. The record-breaker came with Missy Tap Tina in the 15th and final race of the day.
Palone, 52, is a native of Waynesburg, PA and a resident of Washington, PA. He is the rare harness horseman who did not learn the sport at the feet of family members. While he rode horses and participated in 4H equine activities, Palone learned the sport as a teenager.
In the winners’ circle presentation, an emotional Palone said he felt his father—Marion “Butch” Palone, who died November 4—“was with me around the final turn.”
Palone expressed regret that the most important influence on his career, his father, wasn’t there to share the moment.
“I would have loved breaking the record while he was here. My dad was everything. I never would have been involved with horses if it weren’t for my dad dragging me here when I was 10 or 11 years old. He and a friend got me my first horses. They took a shot with me, and you could say I learned on their quarter. I owe everything to my dad.”
Congrats from Abroad
Palone accepted videotaped congratulations from Wewering, who joked that he hoped Palone wouldn’t roll up too many wins so that Wewering, who drives a limited schedule these days, might have the opportunity to catch him.
Wewering, 64, trains about two dozen horses, and his wins have come almost exclusively from horses he also trains. He has been German driving champion 29 times and twice won the World Driving Championship.
Palone and Wewering met once, during a driving championship in Sweden, but their interaction was limited. Nevertheless, Palone praised the man he said will be remembered as one of the greatest trainer/drivers in harness racing history.
“My day starts about noon. His day starts at 4 o’clock or 5 o’clock in the morning training horses. And then when he would get done training, he would get in the sulky and drive horses. His work ethic is just unbelievable. I commend him for what he’s done.”
Palone expressed relief at achieving the record and noted that he might not “push myself so hard” now that the chase is over.
“It’s been a long grind, 30 years’ worth of racing,” he said a few days before the record-breaker. “I can’t say it hasn’t been on my mind. It doesn’t get any easier as you get older, competing against these younger guys. I’ve had this in my sights since we broke Herve’s record.” On July 5, 2012, he became the all-time leading driver in North America, passing Herve Filion’s mark of 15,180 wins.
“I’ve turned down a lot of driving opportunities to race in Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, to honor commitments here in the states,” he said. “I’d really like to travel a little and do some of those fun things and maybe wind it down a little bit as far as grinding every day. But I love racing horses — it’s my passion. As long as I’m not costing anybody any money, I’ll stay right at it.”
He thanked his family and the trainers — singling out Ron Burke and Mickey Burke, the patriarch of the Burke family — for providing him with opportunities to drive top horses, and he noted the impact of Hall of Famer John Campbell on his career.
“John has always been a hero to me and the epitome of excellence,” Palone said. “A few times when I went down with injuries, he was the first guy to call me and wish me well and talk me through those injuries.”
Most Wins at Meadows
The vast majority of Palone’s wins have come at his home track, The Meadows, though he has driven occasionally in major stakes races across North America. He has been the leading driver at The Meadows for 25 consecutive years.
Horses he’s driven have won more than $122 million.
He was inducted into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 2010. Palone is a seven-time (1999, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2008, 2009 (tie), 2013) Harness Tracks of America Driver of the Year, a competition which factors in number of wins, purse money and percentage of wins. On four occasions, he has been the leading race-winning driver in North America: 1999, 2000, 2004 and 2012.