“This really is special, knowing that only one other guy has reached 15,000,” said Palone, who began the day with 14,996 wins. “It’s a nice number to reach, and it happened a little quicker than I thought it would. Now that it’s out of the way, the next thing is to go for the record, I guess.”
Palone was congratulated in the winners’ circle by the very man who holds that North American record of 15,180 wins, the man who has been No. 1 since 1971. In a display of graciousness and class, Herve Filion said he’s pulling for Palone to get 15,181.
“Regardless of what you do in life, you can’t do it by yourself. You need your competition,” Filion said. “Dave’s always been a strong competitor. Drivers are like a family, and only two have won 15,000. That’s not something you see every year. Dave deserves all the attention he gets because it’s not easy, believe me. I’ve been there. You have to drive a lot of horses, and you need Lady Luck on your side.
“I wanted to be here today because promotion means a lot to harness racing. If Dave breaks my record, and I hope he does, I hope someone comes along and beats his record. That would mean the industry is good and strong.”
In a tribute to Filion, Palone stood on the sulky when bringing Boos Boy to the winners’ circle, just as Filion did with Hot Hitter after capturing the 1979 Adios. Palone said Filion’s support means “everything” to him.
“Just to be mentioned in the same breath as Herve is an accomplishment right there,” Palone said. “He’s a legend, the epitome of a winner. He’s the first guy who drove double-headers, knocking out six or eight wins a day. And I loved the way he raced horses; he never seemed to abuse them. He would get the job done and save horse for next week.”
A native of Waynesburg, PA who has called The Meadows his home track throughout his career, Palone, 50, was inducted to the Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 2011. He was the North American dash champion in 1999, 2000, and 2004, and he has collected at least 532 wins every year since 1992. He was won or shared the Harness Tracks of America’s Driver of the Year Award six times.
His 15,000th win triggers Palone’s final assault on Filion’s mark. If he keeps winning at his current clip, he’ll be poised to break the record in July. Palone says he won’t be focusing on the quest — for now.
“I don’t think I’ll drive any differently until the count gets down to around 10,” he said. “It always seems to be tougher when you start getting close. I don’t know whether you put extra pressure on yourself, or overdrive, or your competition tightens the screws. We’ll worry about it when we get a little closer.”
As for his goals beyond 15,181, Palone indicated those are the same as they’ve always been.
“I don’t want to change anything,” he said. “I just enjoy winning races, and I enjoy winning stakes races more than I ever did. If I weren’t racing, what would I do? Hang out with Dickie Stillings and hit bad golf shots? Racing a lot of horses keeps you young. Racing horses and being competitive is something I’ll do as long as I’m good at it.” (The Meadows)