Already harness racing’s “winningest” driver, Dave Palone took another historic step into uncharted territory Tuesday (November 19) at The Meadows when he collected career victory 19,000. The milestone mile came with Southwind Warsaw in race 10.
By way of comparison, Russell Baze, the all-time wins leader in Thoroughbred racing, notched 12,842 victories.
Palone was met in the winners’ circle by his mother, Jean; his wife, Bethann; his daughters Hanna, Alana and Sophie; his brother Mike Palone, a longtime Meadows-based trainer who, appropriately enough, was the conditioner of Southwind Warsaw; Kim Hankins, executive director of the Meadows Standardbred Owners Association (MSOA), and other family, friends and fans.
As the historic event neared, Palone indicated he could feel his emotions rising.
“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” he said. “Everybody’s been getting excited about it, and that’s getting me kind of excited. It’s been fun.”
Palone, who began driving in 1982, has achieved a career full of highlights that have rewritten the sport’s record books. On July 5, 2012, he scored career win 15,181 to break Herve Filion’s longstanding North American record — and was greeted in the winners’ circle by the gracious Filion.
On Nov. 14, 2014, he became the “winningest” driver on the planet when career victory 16,754 vaulted him past Germany’s Heinz Wewering, who sent a pre-recorded congratulatory message.
He was inducted into the Harness Hall of Fame on July 4, 2010. If he wraps up the 2019 driving title at The Meadows — he’s comfortably ahead — it will be his 30th consecutive season as the track’s top dog.
At 57, Palone has begun to cut back some. Of his more than 73,000 career starts, 2,827 came in 2008, his most prolific season. (That year also marked his highest single-season UDR, .446). In 2019, he’s logged 1,614 starts as of mid-November.
“I don’t envy those guys who bounce around two tracks every day,” he says. “I’m enjoying things a lot more not driving full cards. It’s more important for me right now to be at my kids’ events. There comes a time when you have to decide which way you want to go. When you get to my point in life, family is more important.”
Earlier in his career, Palone dabbled in training; he has 34 wins in 100 training starts, but his most recent start as a trainer occurred in 2000. He doesn’t see himself transitioning to full-time training but can envision a day where he’s involved.
“At some point, I’d like to help a trainer by working with babies. Trainers work way too hard for me. They’re working with their horses seven days a week; I’m putting in two minutes. For all the work trainers are putting in, they deserve my best effort.”
For now, he plans to enjoy following the career of Hanna, who works as a caretaker for Ron Burke — “it’s special seeing her passion for horses” — and drive for as long as he can.
“I keep driving, I show up for work every day, and I’m grateful for the opportunity. I enjoy racing horses as much as I ever did and want to keep at it, but Father Time is undefeated.”