New-York Historical Society's Bill Shannon Dictionary of New York Sports

Category Archives: Harness racing

Del Insko

Del Insko (Harness racing.  Born, Amboy, MN, July 10, 1931.)  Del Insko was the dominant harness driver in the New York area in the 1960s and early 1970s, when Yonkers and Roosevelt Raceways were the dominant tracks in the sport.  Delmer M. Insko shifted to the New York circuit in 1962.  For a dozen years before that, he had been a major driver in the Chicago area.  But much of what Insko achieved was accomplished during his great years in New York, including the night in 1966 when he steered Speedy Rodney through a 1:58.3 mile at Yonkers to set a track record that stood for 18 years.  In 1975, Insko achieved an unparalled feat when he swept through Roosevelt’s International Trotting Series, winning all three races with Savoir.  No other driver had ever accomplished this triple.  Five years later, he turned in what he later called his biggest thrill in racing, his win in the $2 million Woodrow Wilson Pace at the Meadowlands with Land Grant.  Insko started driving in 1950 in the Chicago area and by 1960 became the youngest driver ever to win a North American Dash-winning championship.  From 1960-69, Insko placed first or second in victories six times.  He was an extremely active driver during his New York years, making 1,370 starts in 1965 and more than 1,400 in 11 of the next 12 years.  He started 1,707 times in 1971 with 234 wins. In 1969, Insko had a career-best 306 wins (second in the country) and had 200 or more victories nine straight years through 1973.

Billy Haughton

Billy Haughton (Harness racing.  Born, Gloversville, NY, Nov. 2, 1923; died, Valhalla, NY, July 15, 1986.)  William D. Haughton was, for over 30 years, a leading figure in harness racing, and his unfortunate death was the result of a driving accident at Yonkers Raceway.  During his career, Haughton was the winning driver in 4,910 races worth some $40,200,000 in purses.  Both totals were the fourth-best all-time at the end of his career.  Haughton won four Hambletonians, five Little Brown Jugs and seven Messenger Stakes, giving him 16 victories in the three premier races.  Among the famed horses he handled were Green Speed, Handle with Care, Keystone Pioneer, Rum Customer, Trenton Times and Burgomeister.  On July 5, 1986, Haughton was driving a pacer at Yonkers when he became involved in an accident, sustaining serious head injuries.  He died ten days later.  Haughton had been the leading money-winning driver in the nation for 12 years from 1953-68, including seven straight years from 1953-59.

Gerry Mastellone

Gerry Mastellone (Harness racing. Born, New York, NY, Dec. 5, 1927; died, Yonkers, NY, Feb. 26, 1993.) Considered the best standard-bred handicapper of his time, Gerald Mastellone made selections for the World-Telegram for over a decade. In 1966, with his paper shut down by a prolonged strike after its merger into the World Journal Tribune combine, Mastellone began working for tip sheets at the local harness tracks (“The Green Street” at Yonkers and “The Orange Trotter” at Roosevelt). He died in the press box at Yonkers Raceway after watching workouts on a Friday morning.

Cat Manzi

Cat Manzi (Harness racing. Born, Monticello, NY, June 27, 1950.) Scion of a harness racing family, Catello Manzi won the 2005 North American driving title with 727 victories. Along the way, Manzi became only the second driver ever to earn his 11,000th career victory. Herve Filion has over 15,000. Manzi’s greatest season made him the oldest driver, at 55, to ever win the championship. In 2006, he won the $1 million Meadowlands Pace for the first time and captured several other major events, mainly riding behind Artistic Fella. Manzi has been a dominant driver at Freehold, leading the lists there 17 times. His late father, Al, was active in the sport, as are several brothers, uncles, and cousins. By 2007, Manzi ranked in the top four at the Meadowlands in both wins and career earnings. Earlier in his career, he drove Artsplace, the 1992 Horse of the Year, Pacific Fella, Beat the Wheel, and other top horses. From its opening in 1976, Manzi won at least once every year at the Meadowlands, finishing 2007 with 3,406 wins there without ever being the leading driver.  In Dec. 2010, Manzi won his 14,000th race, trailing, at that point, only Filion and Dave Palone.

Bill O’Donnell

Bill O’Donnell (Harness racing.  Born, Spring Hill, Nova Scotia, May 4, 1948.)  Honing his talent as a harness driver in New England and at the Saratoga (N.Y.) harness track, William A. O’Donnell came into national prominence at the Meadowlands racetrack.  O’Donnell vied with John Campbell to dominate the Big M in the 1980s with three driving titles (and five second-place finishes) in that decade.  He is third in all-time money won with almost $95 million and left his mark on two of the sport’s biggest events in 1985 with victories in the Hambletonian with Prakas and The Meadowlands Pace with Nihilator. – M.F.

Mike LaChance

Mike LaChance (Harness racing. Born, St. Augustin, P.Q., Dec. 12, 1950.) Coming from a small cattle farm in Quebec, Michel Lachance became a leading driver at Yonkers, Roosevelt, and the Meadowlands racetracks. Lachance arrived in New York in 1982 and soon supplanted Carmine Abbatiello as the king of the New York half-mile tracks. He erased Abbatiello’s single-season marks in 1984 by becoming the first driver to win 200 races in one year at both Yonkers and Roosevelt. Lachance shifted to the Meadowlands in 1988 and ranked in the top five at the sport’s leading track for 15 straight seasons. Lachance teamed with trained Ron Gurfein to win three Hambletonians with Victory Dream (1994), Continentalvictory (1996), and Self Possessed (1999). In 2003, he won a fourth Hambletonian with Amigo Hall. Lachance was inducted into harness racing’s living Hall of Fame in 1995. – M.F.

Buddy Gilmour

Buddy Gilmour (Harness racing.  Born, Lucan, Ontario, July 23, 1932; died, Fort Erie, Ontario, May 23, 2011.)  In 1986, William D. (Buddy) Gilmour won two of the four million-dollar events in harness racing in a span of eight days, sweeping the Woodrow Wilson Pace with Cullen Hanover after winning the Meadowlands Pace with Laughs.  But winning the big event was nothing new for Buddy Gilmour even though the feat attracted the attention of many people who did not usually follow his sport. Gilmour, whose driving carrer began in 1952, drove 5,381 winners worth more than $44 million.  During over 40 years in the sulky, Gilmour made 11,402 starts and won most of the major races in harness racing including the Bronx Filly Pace, the Dexter Cup, the George Morton Levy Final and Molly Pitcher.  In 1959, his 165 winners ranked No. 1 in the sport during a stretch of 12 straight years when he was in the top 10 drivers each year.  Gilmour’s personal best totals were 320 in 1973 and 305 in 1971 and his 265 in 1981.  He has driven such fine horses as On The Road Again, Matt’s Scooter, Follow My Star, Napoletano and Dignatarian into the winner’s circle in major races.  Gilmour, one of four driving brothers, broke into racing in his native Ontario.  Before moving out on his own in the early 1950s, he worked for legendary Canadian horseman Clint Hodgins. That it was a wise choice is attested by his career victory total and his earnings figures.

Herve Filion

Herve Filion (Harness racing.  Born, Angers, P.Q., Feb. 1, 1940.)  Herve Filion’s story began in the farm country of Quebec, where his father began racing harness horses as a hobby when Herve was nine. Herve entered his first race when he was 12 (finishing second) and at age 13 won his first race at Riguard, Quebec.  By 1961, Filion was racing in the U.S.  After several years of success on the Philadelphia-Delaware Valley circuit, he came to New York in 1970.  Over the next 20 years, he established himself as one of the all-time greats.  Filion won the Harness Tracks of America “Driver of the Year” Award 10 times in the first 22 years it was presented.  No driver ever won the award more than three times during that period.  He was also one of the busiest drivers in the sport, frequently driving both afternoon and evening cards when possible.  Filion often hopped from Freehold’s daytime card to Yonkers, The Meadowlands or Roosevelt for night meetings.  In 1971, he drove 3,001 races and won 637.  In 1988, he had 4,356 drives and 798 wins.  In 1989, he won 814 times.  Filion was the nation’s leading driver 16 times, and has more than 14,000 wins.  He cracked the $5 million mark in winnings in 1988 and 1989 and his career winnings total more than $70 million.  Filion was suspended for over five years when he was implicated in a race-fixing scandal at Yonkers Raceway in 1995, but eventually pleaded guilty only to failing to report New York state income tax.  Though denied reinstatement in New York and New Jersey, Filion was reinstated in other states and resumed driving on a limited basis in 2002.

Stanley Dancer

Stanley Dancer (Harness racing.  Born, Edinburg, NJ, July 25, 1927; died, Pompano Beach, FL, Sept. 8, 2005.)  During his lifetime, Stanley Dancer was described as “harness racing’s living legend,” and there was much merit behind the title.  In a career that started in 1945, Dancer won more than 3,700 times and became one of the sport’s most distinguished trainers and breeders.  From his driving debut at Freehold (N.J.), Dancer advanced to Roosevelt Raceway, when, on June 11, 1947, he won in the second race of the evening on his first drive.  Dancer was the leading money-winning driver in 1961, 1962, 1964, and 1966 and was chosen the H.T.A. Driver of the Year in 1968.  His winning horses captured purses worth over $27 million.  Among his major achievements were the winning of four Hambletonians on the likes of such famous horses as Nevele Pride, a Triple Crown winner and three-time Horse of the Year; and Triple Crown winners Most Happy Fella and Super Bowl.  He also drove such fabled horses as Albatross, Cardigan Bay, Su Mac Lad and Henry T. Adios.

John Chapman

John Chapman (Harness racing.  Born, Toronto, Ont., Nov. 25, 1928; died, Westbury, LI, May 2, 1980.)  In a career that began in 1947, John Chapman became one of the most popular of the catch drivers during the “golden age” of trotting at Yonkers and Roosevelt Raceways.  Chapman drove 3,915 winners and his horses earned $21,359,746.  He had his best year in 1969, with 197 winners and $1,063,138 in earnings.  Chapman drove his biggest individual race victory Aug. 25, 1973, when he steered Delmonica Hanover home by a nose in the $150,000 International Trot at Roosevelt.

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The Bill Shannon Biographical Dictionary of New York Sports is an open database of sports biographies maintained by Jordan Sprechman and Marty Appel. We welcome public and scholarly contributions and suggestions.

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A prolific author, wire service sports reporter, long time Major League Baseball official scorer, football statistician, sports museum founder, theatrical agency owner and public ... read more

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