05/14/2014 3:07PM

Giwner: Best drivers in harness racing

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Who is the best driver in the country? If you asked any harness racing fan with some semblance of knowledge for the North American market as a whole, you are likely to hear the names Tim Tetrick, Brian Sears and Yannick Gingras. These men are perennial top five finishers in earnings and top 15 in wins each year.

If we assume that the above trio are beyond reproach as the best (and I’m not making that statement quite yet), what makes them better than some of the best ever in John Campbell or David Miller? Both Hall of Famers, Campbell is the all time leading money winner among drivers and Miller has won north of 11,000 races. Yet, day in and day out, horses driven by Gingras, Tetrick and Sears garner more public attention by far than any horse driven by Campbell or Miller.

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One of the key factors handicappers in harness racing look at is driver changes. A change from Campbell to Gingras is considered a positive in most cases. But why? How can the most accomplished driver in history be a downgrade? How is it that on a Friday in May Campbell is not considered a top driver but on the first Saturday in August he is more desirable?

With that in mind, I have decided to rank my top five drivers in the sport broken down into two categories. The base requirement is that the driver must regularly compete on the broad scale stakes scene. With all due respect to drivers throughout the country, there is a big difference between competing in a $4,000 claimer and driving in the Hambletonian.

For me, no list of top drivers can be cut and dry. I have my “daily” list and my “major race” list. You simply can’t group the two categories. There are some drivers who shine brightest in the big moment while others consistently bring a top effort every day.

Top Drivers – Major Races

1-Brian Sears

2-Tim Tetrick

3-Ron Pierce

4-John Campbell

5-Yannick Gingras

Sears and Tetrick probably deserve to be 1 and 1A, but it wouldn’t be fair to hedge like that. I give Sears the slight edge due to his greater experience and his number of driving titles on multiple-sized tracks. Tetrick is one of the greatest competitors in the sport. He’d carry the horse across the wire if it meant a win.

Few drivers have displayed the penchant for winning when the money is on the line than Ron Pierce. There is a reason he has finished in the top five in earnings 12 of the last 13 years.

What can you say about John Campbell? The man has won the Hambletonian SIX times! At 59 years old he may not be the dominant force every night at the Meadowlands that he once was, but in any one race, he can work out the winning trip as good as any driver.

Yannick Gingras is the only driver on my list without a Hambletonian winner. Will that change in 2014 with top prospect Father Patrick? No driver has picked up his game more in the last few years than Gingras. Regardless of horse he is steering, he is always a driver you want to keep an eye on.

Top Drivers – Daily

1-Gingras

2-Tetrick

3-Pierce

4-Corey Callahan

5-Dave Palone

Gingras is one of three drivers to make both lists. His ability to seemingly get a call in every race makes him the bettor’s best friend. You rarely find a race where Gingras sits fifth along the cones and doesn’t give his horse a chance.

Tetrick simply makes horses go a bit faster. His style is a bit more reserved than Gingras but that doesn’t stop him from brining home winner after winner.

Pierce doesn’t win as many races as the others on this list but he drives with a certain fearless nature that bettors love. He is never afraid to take a shot leaving from the outside or squeeze through a hole that barely exists.

Corey Callahan has seen his star rise quickly. While the least experienced driver in the group, he has displayed the consistent aggressive nature on the track that it takes to be successful. He came to the Meadowlands to face some of the best drivers in the world and has exceeded expectations.

Dave Palone has won more races than any driver in the history of the sport. That alone gives him a spot on my list. Some will argue that he doesn’t face the toughest driver colony in the sport, but wins are wins.

What do you think? Who are your top five in each category?

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Anonymous 3 months ago
Georgie Brennan is still one of the best and second to none...JR
Howard Marks 4 months ago
campbell, o'donnell. lachance, pierce, case
Bob Schoonover More than 1 year ago
David Miller or Campbell are probably just as good as either of the three and I would take Campbell in a big trotting race and Miller in a big pace over anyone. These two are semi selective in what they drive and who they drive for so trying to compare by wins or money isn't equal. Gingras is driving for Burke so that makes him look good. On any track I would take Dave Miller any day. He grew up racing on 1/2 and 5/8 mile tracks, and has had great success everywhere else.
Anthony More than 1 year ago
Jason Bartlett is on his way up the ranks.
Michele Jones More than 1 year ago
Yannick his winning percentage is untouchable and he is not doing this on the b tracks. he is running against the best of the best and proving he is absolutely an amazing Driver! I would not think twice about he would drive my horse no matter what this situation. Green Hornet is the real deal!
Buck Donnally More than 1 year ago
I would take today an old pro like "Cato Manzi". He puts everyone on the edge of their seat when he is a driver contender. Boy oh boy, how I miss him so. Go "Cat " Go.
Chris Larkin More than 1 year ago
Agree that the Angry White Knight is the best. Remember when George Brennan was considered Sears' quasi-equal ? Where is George now ?
Buck Donnally More than 1 year ago
George is eating the crumbs off Sears plate at the Yonkers. But he is still one of the greatest.
thomas More than 1 year ago
Nice list. I, too believe that if I had a horse racing for a million, Sears would get the nod. However, in all my years in the biz and thousands of races that I have watched, Walter Case Jr. is ABSOLUTELY the best driver to hold the lines. Pity he couldn't refrain from kicking horses and domestic assault. That guy consistently made horses go 5 lengths faster. Whether it was a cheap claimer or an open caliber horse, he had the same effect on all of 'em.
Vince Lentini More than 1 year ago
Walter IMHO wasn't as good on the mile track but was the best I ever saw on the 1/2 and 5/8ths
rick 5 months ago
Well said Thomas.  Walter Case Jr was UNBELIEVABLE & the Greatest I've ever seen.
Don Magiera More than 1 year ago
Since I am pretty much a meadowlands exclusive kind of guy, i have to go with Gingras ,,,Tetrick,,, Callahan ,, and campbell