03/02/2017 12:32AM

Harness: Pantaleano notches career win 7,000 at The Meadows

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Not many busboys in the clubhouse dining room will go on to win 7,000 harness races, yet that’s just the unique career path Jim Pantaleano has taken. He got career win 7,000 Wednesday at The Meadows when he piloted PL Intimidator to victory in the eighth race.

“I just go to work — I enjoy it quite a bit — and don’t think about the numbers that much,” said Pantaleano, whose mounts have earned more than $48.4 million. “It just kind of sneaks up on you.”

Pantaleano was a student at Walsh Jesuit High School in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, when he began working in the clubhouse at nearby Northfield Park and determined that he would become a driver.

“It looked very interesting,” he said, “and I thought I would give it a try. A lot of people go to the races and think driving would be neat, so I’m probably not much different in that regard. But I actually ended up doing it”

After a fling at Muskingum College (now Muskingum University) — “I took two years off from life, you might say,” said the driver — Pantaleano visited Northfield’s barn area and made the rounds of stables, looking for any work he could find. A sympathetic trainer, Mel Turcotte, hired him as a groom, but that didn’t help him get drives.

“I got some catch drives,” he recalls, “on horses that usually were unruly.”

With seed money to which his father and a family friend contributed, Pantaleano claimed for $3,000 a horse that became the foundation for his own stable. He enjoyed success in Ohio, abandoned training when he relocated to Freehold and Yonkers in 2004 and settled at The Meadows a few years ago.

These days, many of Pantaleano’s assignments come from his wife, trainer Christen Pantaleano, whom her husband describes as “a brilliant woman.”

“She wasn’t involved with horses but took a liking to them,” he said. “She taught herself everything she needed to know.”

Driving for your spouse, he said, is both “good and bad.”

“When her horse races good, she’s happy, so then I’m really happy. When her horse doesn’t perform well, she very rarely blames the driver, but she’s passionate about her work, and she’ll get very upset when her horses don’t perform the way she would like.”

For the future, Pantaleano doesn’t plan any major changes.

“I really got lucky landing at The Meadows at this stage of my career,” he said. “I enjoy afternoon racing. I enjoy helping my wife with her stable. My goals really are to stay healthy and earn enough money to take care of my family and do the things we enjoy doing together.”

-edited release (Evan Pattak for The Meadows)