01/15/2013 11:55AM

Harness Racing: Inside look at driver/trainer Joe Hanney

USTA Photo
Joe Hanney started his own stable in 2011.

Joe Hanney figures if he can make it here, he can make it anywhere.

Hanney, a 30-year-old native of Dublin, Ireland, first came to North America in 2007 and after a year in Canada eventually settled in the U.S. to further his career in harness racing. Better known as “Irish” Joe Hanney, he worked for Nifty Norman for a year and spent two campaigns with Joe Holloway before opening his own training stable in the fall of 2011.

Last year, Hanney’s stable won 15 times in 111 starts and earned $133,699. He also started driving horses last spring and has won 19 of 122 races and $73,783. So far, most of his drives have come at Freehold Raceway, but Hanney plans to make his Meadowlands debut later this week.

Hanney, who is based in central New Jersey, recently took time to speak with Harness Racing Communications’ Ken Weingartner about his past, present and future in harness racing.

HRC: How did you become interested in harness racing?

JH: We have a small industry back home. It’s kind of more of an expensive hobby than anything. But we have a lot of die-hard fans and some grass tracks and hard tracks that we race on around Scotland, Wales, England and Ireland. My grandfather was a trainer a long time ago and I’d go to the track with him. I got my first start working for Mariner Stud in Newcastle County, Dublin, which were close friends of the family. The name of the owner was Anthony Haughan Sr. and his son has had some success racing in Canada.

Initially I wanted to be a jockey. But genetics kind of kicked in and I was a little bit too big, a little bit too heavy. I went to the harness racing side and worked as a groom for a long time. I’m just working hard.

HRC: What led to you wanting to come to the States?

JH: I was single and I wasn’t really going anywhere back home. It just seemed like the right move at the right time. I left and went to Canada and liked it up there but America is where everyone wants to be, really. It doesn’t get any bigger or better than this. This is where all the top drivers and all the top trainers are. If you can compete here, you can compete anywhere. That’s what I’m trying to do.

HRC: Was it difficult to get started?

JH: When you come from another country and you have no friends here, or no family here, or no background in racing, it’s kind of hard for someone to give you a shot or give you a horse to train or drive. Really, I just had to start from scratch and work my way up from the bottom. I worked for Richard Norman for a year and then I worked for Joe Holloway for two years. I learned a lot at both places in a short space of time. They’re good guys and have had a lot of success in the business, so I got a good education from those guys.

HRC: How did you decide to start your own stable?

JH: The idea was always to try to be a trainer. I think in the back of everyone’s mind at some stage is to be a driver, or at least give it a shot, but training was mainly what I had as my goal. I started picking up a few horses of my own with my partner and things kind of got going good. The horses started racing good and I made a couple of good business deals with horses I bought and sold and that kind of put me in a position where I could take a chance and open my own stable. The name of the stable is American Dream Racing Stable.

HRC: How many horses do you have now?

JH: I’ve got 15 horses. It’s pretty busy, but I like to be busy; I like the work. Fifteen is a comfortable number, but if people want to give you quality horses it’s hard to turn them away. I’ve got no problem upsizing if people want to bring quality into the barn.

HRC: What’s it going to be like to drive at the Meadowlands?

JH: It’s a goal of mine. I don’t want to just say I drove there; I’d like to say I was compatible there. I’m not trying to break in there, or anything like that, but I have horses of my own that I think I need to drive there. But I’m definitely looking forward to going under the lights of the Big M; everybody wants to do that who drives a horse.

HRC: Probably not too many guys from Dublin have driven there.

JH: I think I’ll be the first, actually. I’m the first to compete there and win there (as a trainer). I think it was 2010. I had a horse Roburascal and he set a new lifetime mark; Yannick Gingras drove him. It was a pretty good feeling.

I wasn’t really looking to be a driver. I mean, I like to have my license to use it, but Nik Drennan and some friends of mine here asked me to drive qualifiers, so I started driving. Then I got put up on some pari-mutuel starts and started doing good for him. People must have liked what they saw because they started listing me on horses as well. That’s kind of where everything took off.

HRC: What do you most enjoy about the sport?

JH: I enjoy being hands-on as much as I can. I enjoy being on the track in the morning time. Everything, really. It’s not really a job; it’s more of a way of life. It’s not really like work. You’re meeting new people all the time, new contacts. I like going to Freehold and sitting in the drivers’ room, talking to Cat Manzi, stuff like that. They’re good people. Even here on the farm I’ve got good people looking after me, if I need help or advice.

HRC: What do you like to do when you’re not working or racing?

JH: Just socialize really. I probably like having a beer. (Laughs.) I like going to New York City now and again, go to some Irish bars there. Other than that, really, it’s just working and driving. That takes up a lot of my time.


Nathan More than 1 year ago
what a great story. we need guys like him. hard work and honesty. something new for the big m