This new Harness Racing website is named after Harness Racing legend and my favorite Harness driver ever Billy O'Donnell.
Thanks - Bill Bigler firstname.lastname@example.org
UPDATED: August 14, 2013
2013 LEGENDS DAY AT CLINTON RACEWAY AUGUST 18TH
"This sport has given me much more than I’ve given it, so I always like to make time for events like this."
Bill O’Donnell is one of harness racing’s most successful drivers and will be making his seventh straight appearance at the Central Huron oval’s biggest event of the racing season this Sunday, August 18.
The native of Springhill, Nova Scotia formed one half of racing’s dynamic duo (the other being John Campbell) that terrorized race tracks across North America through the 1980's and is considered one of the sport’s first true ‘catch drivers’.
"As a youngster growing up in the business I didn’t really think about becoming a driver," he recalls. "It was just something that evolved and I was lucky to be at the right place at the right time really with the opening of The Meadowlands in the late 70's. That really changed everything in harness racing and for me personally."
O’Donnell remembers getting hooked on racing early, at the age of 8, while helping his uncle Art Porter at the former Maritime racing mecca of Sackville Downs near Halifax. From that point on he knew that there was nothing else he wanted to do.
That path took him to Ontario at the age of 17 where he went to work for the late Ron Feagan before returning the next summer and working for the iconic Bill Wellwood.
It wasn’t long before O’Donnell headed south of the border to Massachusetts where he landed a job working for fellow Maritimer Jim Doherty in the late 1970's. It was around that time that a new one-mile track was opening in East Rutherford, New Jersey, and little did he know at the time what an important role it would play in his career.
"I remember Joe Defrank (Meadowlands’ Race Secretary at the time) coming to Rockingham and scouting some of the top local guys like Jim (Doherty) and Teddy Wing," he explains. "There was no one happier than me to see those guys go because I vaulted from about sixth in the driver’s colony to first that next season," he jokes.
After honing his skills for the next couple of seasons at other venues like Rosecroft and Saratoga, O’Donnell finally made his first foray to The Meadowlands. By the time that second year rolled around, he was becoming more and more in demand and finally decided to try and make that his new home.
By 1984, he had become well established in the New York/New Jersey area and it was that year that fortune really smiled down on him. The legendary Billy Haughton was pointing a rookie phenom named Nihilator towards the $2 million Woodrow Wilson and made the fateful decision to pull himself off the colt in favour of the younger O’Donnell.
"I couldn’t believe it and I actually said ‘Bill, are you crazy’?" he remembers vividly. "He said candidly that his eyesight wasn’t as good then and that he felt he was just a step behind the younger guys at that point in his career. It was pivotal for me and was probably a catalyst for the catch-driving movement at that time."
Nihilator obliterated the field in the Wilson and went on to a career record of 35 wins from 38 starts and more than $3.2 million in earnings while winning everything in the sport along the way.
By then, O’Donnell was at the top of his game and in huge demand in all of the sport’s biggest races. He would have the chance to sit behind some of the greats including Genghis Khan, Staying Together, Prakas, Napoletano, Troublemaker and Camtastic.
He is just a few dollars shy of $100 million in career purse winnings and has steered the winners of more than 5,700 winners during his distinguished career. These days he splits his time between the horses and serving as President of the Central Ontario Standardbred Association (COSA).
On Sunday, he will get a chance to renew acquaintances with several old friends (and rivals on the racetrack) including Campbell, Doherty, Ray Remmen and Ron Waples.
"Getting to see all those guys again is much fun for me as anything. We were all very competitive when we raced each other but great friends off the track," he says. "The enthusiasm of the fans on this day is always fantastic and I can’t wait for it."
The $15,000 Legends Day Trot and Ontario Sires Stakes action for two-year-olds will be the highlight races of the afternoon at Clinton Raceway.
Fans will have an opportunity to meet this year’s legends and receive autographs starting at 2:30 p.m. There will also be live entertainment and pony rides and face painting for the kids.
The Pineridge Barbecue Chicken dinner is scheduled from 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. (tickets $15 each) and Legends T-shirts will be on sale for just $2. All proceeds, along with those from the silent auction that day, will go to the Clinton Public Hospital Foundation.
TWO UPCOMING STARS HIT MILESTONES
TYLER SMITH and RONNIE WRENN, JR
Tyler Smith becomes youngest driver to reach 1,000 wins
Anderson, IN --- Tyler Smith made harness racing history at Hoosier Park Racing & Casino on Tuesday (Aug. 13) as he became the youngest driver to reach the 1,000-win mark at the age of 20.
The record was previously held by Doug McNair, who reached the 1,000-win milestone just two weeks before his 21st birthday. Smith will turn 21 on Jan. 23.
Smith came into Hoosier Park’s 14-race card on Tuesday with 999 career driving victories and needed just one more victory to reach the career milestone and stamp his name in the record books.
|Tyler Smith posted his 1,000th win by steering Dontgetbyme to a 1:53 score.|
He accomplished that feat in race seven, steering Dontgetbyme to a 1:53 romp. Trained by Virgil Morgan, Jr., Dontgetbyme was able to take advantage of an aggressive front end trip to record his sixth win of the season. Owned by Carl Howard and Brian Kohen, Dontgetbyme has amassed $44,798 through 20 seasonal outings.
Smith has been making headlines as a driver since the age of 12 when he became the youngest male driver in harness racing history to record a sub-2:00 race, driving Look Lilly to victory in 1:59.1 in a matinee at the Delaware County Fairgrounds in his home state of Ohio.
The Washington Court House native started driving in 2009 and has since surpassed the $5 million mark in purse earnings and is quickly approaching the $6 million mark. Smith made his presence known in his home state, earning the Peter Haughton Memorial Award, an honor bestowed upon up-and-coming stars in the business, before making the move to Indiana. He has been among the top 10 leading drivers at Hoosier Park Racing & Casino in his last two seasons of racing. Smith is currently second on the leading driver board at Hoosier Park with 144 victories from 953 mounts, just eight behind leading driver Trace Tetrick who has 152 victories.
“I’m glad to have that win over with,” an excited Smith noted in the winner’s circle. “I wanted to get it here at Hoosier Park and I’m really glad I did because they have done such a great job of promoting me. It feels amazing and I am really looking forward to the rest of the year.”
In recent weeks, Smith has spent his time driving at Hoosier Park and The Red Mile, while making a return to Ohio last week to race at the Celina Fair.
|Tyler Smith is joined by family and friends in the Hoosier Park winner’s circle after his milestone triumph.|
Hoosier Park’s Vice President and General Manager, Rick Moore, along with Smith’s friends and family, were in the winner’s circle to congratulate and acknowledge his accomplishment.
“On behalf of Hoosier Park Racing & Casino, I’d like to congratulate Tyler on win number 1,000,” Moore noted. “It has been a pleasure watching him race and watch him make harness racing history here with us. Through his work with our Celebrity Standardbred Driver promotion, his professionalism, and attitude, Tyler is a great ambassador for our sport. We wish Tyler continued success for the remainder of this season and throughout his career. We look forward to watching him win many more races at Hoosier Park Racing & Casino.”
It was a driving double for Smith as he also piloted Live The Extreme to the winner’s circle for trainer Steve Carter in the evening’s ninth race.
Live racing at Hoosier Park Racing & Casino continues on Wednesday (Aug. 14) with a 13-race card. With a daily post time of 5:30 p.m., live racing will follow a Tuesday-Saturday schedule and be conducted through Nov. 9.
1,000 wins for Ronnie Wrenn Jr.
Northfield, OH -- Ronnie Wrenn, Jr. scored the 1,000th win of his driving career while driving Muckmuck Woodchuck in Northfield Park’s second race on Tuesday (Aug. 13).
Wrenn sat the pocket with Muckmuck Woodchuck, tipped in the backstretch and drew off by 11 lengths. The 2:00.3 mile was a new lifetime mark for the 6-year-old trotter, who was heavily favored and returned $3.40 to win.
Wrenn was in the zone on Tuesday. Winning his 1,000th career race was obviously not enough as he continued to return to the winner’s circle all evening.
Wrenn drove eight winners on the 13-race program. In addition to Muckmuck Woodchuck ($3.40) in race two, his winners included Hawk Wild ($4.20) in race one, Mustodian ($2.10) in race four, Go Cowboy Go ($4.00) in race five, Careless Love ($2.80) in race six, DVC Easy Does It ($4.00) in race eight, Parthenon ($4.40) in race nine and JJ’s Doughnut ($3.20) in race 10.
The 26-year-old Wrenn began driving in 2008 and has since garnered 1,006 career victories and is approaching $3.6 million in purse earnings. Wrenn is second in the Northfield Park 2013 driver standings. He has driven 167 winners this year at Northfield. Only Chris Page (189) has driven more Northfield winners than Ronnie Wrenn, Jr.
All wins combined, Wrenn is currently the third winningest driver in North America, posting 395 wins so far in 2013. Only Corey Callahan (428) and David Palone (423) have more wins this year than Ronnie Wrenn, Jr.
Wrenn left his Worthington, Ohio, home on Tuesday
with 998 wins to his credit. When the races began he went right to work winning
both halves of the Daily Double.
Wrenn is a 2005 graduate of Hartland High School in Hartland, Mich., and played center field for and graduated from Mott Community College in Flint.
Although Ronnie Wrenn, Jr. comes from a horse racing family, he did not take an interest and become involved at an early age.
|JJ Zamaiko photo|
|Ronnie Wrenn, Jr. won his 1,000th career race Aug. 13 aboard Muckmuck Woodchuck at Northfield Park.|
“I was 19 or 20 when I jogged my first horse. I was
always really busy with sports and stuff,” said Wrenn. “I didn’t really have
time for it.
“I was just sitting at the table working on stuff from school on my computer one night and looked up and told my dad I wanted to be a driver. He looked at me like I was crazy. But I was old enough that he really didn’t have a lot of say, and so far it has worked out.”
Wrenn began driving in 2008 and won his first race that year aboard Artful Power in a $1,400 Billings race at a Michigan fair. Since then he has amassed nearly $3.6 million in purse earnings.
“It was hard breaking in at first. I guess I got lucky
to be put on some good horses and things just took off,” offered Wrenn, “My
parents and grandparents have really helped me a lot as well as countless other
Wrenn recalls his fastest win as being 1:50 with Rockin Finish. The win came just three days ago and is the new track record at Scioto Downs. Ronnie’s richest win was for a purse of $42,786 in a Michigan Sires Stakes at Hazel Park.
Wrenn rates the best horse he has ever driven as Betterluvnexttime.
“She just broke the track record at Scioto,” said Wrenn,
“I have been put up on some really fast horses and have broke two track records
Wrenn's favorite horses he has driven with regularity are Rock Bottom and Designer Dreams. “Those are family horses. My grandma bought them and my dad trains them,” explained Wrenn. “Those were the better ones I drove when I first got started. I won several races with them and they made me look good.”
Wrenn has moved from Michigan to the Buckeye State and plans to continue driving in Ohio.
“I see Ohio being a top place to race in the near
future,” said Wrenn. “I see myself driving primarily at Northfield and Scioto. I
really like driving at Northfield. I think that a half fits my driving style.”
Ronnie credits several people as having large influences on his career. Along with his father and uncles, “My mom is my biggest fan and has been more supportive than anyone could even imagine.”
Wrenn says his ultimate dream race to win would be the Little Brown Jug, “but I would take the feature races at Northfield too. I am a big fan of the Cleveland Classic and Battle of Lake Erie,” said Wrenn.
Wrenn is currently the third winningest driver in North America in 2013. Only Corey Callahan and David Palone have more wins this year.
“It would really be something to win a national driving
title,” offered Wrenn, “I don’t know if I can this year, but I am now starting
to drive seven days a week. I am only 39 wins away from leading.
“I just like to win races. As unbelievable as this sounds, the purse really doesn’t matter to me. Whether its a 150 per start or an Open, it just feels good to win and make people happy.”
2013 HAMBLETONIAN DAY @ THE MEADOWLANDS
August 4, 2013
ROYALTY FOR LIFE winning the Hambletonian
I always enjoy seeing someone new winning the big races (trainer George Ducharme). His horse gave him some headaches earlier this season (making breaks), but it was great to see his owners stand behind him.
Driver Brian Sears definitely made his presence known at the Meadowlands during the past month. Congratulations to Brian on his Hambletonian & Hambletonian Oaks win.
Good to see driver John Campbell win the last race ever in the original grandstand at the Meadowlands with Dapper Dude of the Robert McIntosh stable.
Outrider does great job, judges do awful job!
July 20, 2013
The video below is from the 12th race, July 19th, 2013 at Hoosier Park. The outrider does a fantastic job to grab Trace Tetrick's horse (with a broken line). But, if you watch the whole race, drivers were taking up and being interfered with by the horse of Tetrick's. Should have been declared "no contest!"
The video below are predictions of when and where world records will be broken
After seeing the results of today's (July 13th) qualifiers at the Meadowlands, I'm guessing MARKET SHARE is ready to attempt to break the 1:50 barrier. If he doesn't break it at the Meadowlands this summer, we'll definitely see an attempt at Lexington's Red Mile.
O'Donnell to drive in Hazel Park's Connors
|July 11, 2013|
In a race named for a Hall of Fame race secretary it seems only fitting that a Hall of Fame driver participate, and that's exactly what will happen in Friday night's $100,000 William Connors Memorial for 3-year-old colt trotters at Hazel Park Raceway.
Bill O'Donnell, inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991, four years after Connors was enshrined in Goshen, N.Y., will drive Torino Seelster in the Connors Memorial. The race comes just five days after O'Donnell climbed into the sulky for the first time in nearly two years at this year's Hall of Fame festivities. In the $10,000 Mr. and Mrs. Elbridge Gerry Memorial Trot, O'Donnell showed no signs of rust as he bested a field of seven other Hall of Fame drivers.
Now 65, O'Donnell, who currently serves as president of the Central Ontario Standardbred Association, won his last pari-mutuel race on Nov. 25, 2010, at Woodbine Racetrack. O'Donnell only drove 11 times in 2011, including on Sept. 4 at Clinton Raceway in Ontario, which was his last start in a pari-mutuel contest.
Although he drew post one, O'Donnell will have his work cut out for him with Torino Seelster. The trotter finished last in the Connors prep and has just a third-place finish to show for only six career starts, with $2,115 in earnings. The son of Yankee Glide is trained by Ted MacDonnell, who shares ownership with Jeff Ruch as Northorn Stable and Noblock Racing Stable.
"I guess all the good drivers were taken,” O'Donnell said with a laugh when asked by harnessracing.com about his "comeback” race in the Connors. "Ronnie (Wrenn Jr.) couldn't come back and Jeff (Ruch) called me last night and asked if I'd go. I had to upgrade my license here from owner to driver…so I'm OK, and I'll just go over and apply for one when I get to Michigan.”
This isn't the first Connors Memorial that O'Donnell has driven in. In 2000 he drove One Sole Survivor and Sidney's Cadet in the eliminations for trainer Arild Eggen, failing to advance to the final with the former and winning with the latter. Sidney's Cadet came back and finished fourth the next week in the final.
O'Donnell, who has 5,742 wins and $98.5 million in purse earnings, has had previous success at Hazel Park, including a win in the 1998 Breeders Crown 3-Year-Old Filly Pace with Sweet Reflection.
Bill O'Donnell "still has it"
Sunday, July 7, 2013 - by Ellen Harvey, HRC
Goshen, NY --- “You still got it, kid,” said John Campbell to Bill O’Donnell as the latter walked in to the winners circle after taking top spot (2:00.3) in the $10,000 Mr. and Mrs. Elbridge Gerry Memorial Trot for Hall of Fame drivers on Sunday at Goshen Historic Track.
The field of nine drivers, including the newest member of the Hall of Fame, Dick Stillings, competed, with Bill O’Donnell, driving Whatever Lolawants, crossing the wire after overtaking Wally Hennessey and Sweet Joe just past the three quarters (1:28.2).
O’Donnell had the lead when the field turned for home and didn’t give it up. Whatever Lolawants is trained by Martin Noonan and owned by Noonan Harness Racing, Inc.
Dick Stllings was second with Adonis B and Majestic Jo and Dave Palone were third.
“This (Goshen) is what racing was, lots of people at the races,” said O’Donnell. “They go because they’re fans, look at this grandstand today. This is fine; I’d like to race every race like this.”
O’Donnell was a late addition to the race, replacing Mike Lachance and he wore the colors of Ray Schnittker as his were at home. “That’s why I quit driving in the first place, because they quit asking me,” he laughed.
“It was a bunch of old guys today, but this is a good mare. The trainer says she leaves good, she’s not very good once she gets to the front and when she went to the front she didn’t want to go, but she was better than them today.”
Here are some videos to enjoy
The video below is of CAMBEST and Bill O'Donnell time trialing in Harness Racings fastest time ever 1:46.1. In August it will be 20 years ago!
Here's one of my favorite races ever, the 1982 World Cup. It was designed to bring the down under sensation San Simeon to the United States. There was two legs of the series. If memory serves me right, the first leg was for $125,000 and was won by BEATCHA. This is the second leg for $150,000 and the winner was GENGHIS KHAN and Bill O'Donnell in World Record time 1:53.1.
Below are two Youtube videos that feature the great NIHILATOR driven in the majority of his races by Bill O'Donnell. The first is from 1985's Meadowslands Pace. The second is a short documentary on NIHILATOR.
Bill O'Donnell has numerous highlights in his career, but the videos below may be his most famous.
Leading drivers and trainers opinions of top 5 drivers ever.