01/10/2013 4:59PM

Harness Racing: Marohn Jr. continues to see his star rise

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Geri Schwarz
Jim Marohn, Jr. has won over 1,950 career races.

Five years ago Jimmy Marohn, Jr. was the recipient of the Monticello-Goshen Chapter USHWA’s Rising Star Award. And to say that he’s living up to that accolade would be an understatement.

This past season Marohn not only won his first driving title at Monticello Raceway but the 29-year-old reinsman was, for the second consecutive season, the driving leader at Tioga Downs.

Marohn finished with 271 wins for his first title at the Mighty M and during the entire 2012 racing season he drove 345 winners, which was his best year to date. Of that total, 68 wins were at Tioga Downs, where he drove mostly on the days when Monticello was dark. Still, his 68 winners earned him the driving title at Tioga and it marked the second consecutive year that the diminutive reinsman won the most races there.

Last year at the Mighty M, Marohn vaulted to the top of the local leaderboard in early March and remained there right to the end of the season in spite of two different challenges from perennial champion Billy Parker Jr.

“I made a couple of runs at him (Marohn, Jr.) this past year and one time I was just four wins behind,” said Parker. “Then one day in December- maybe (the) middle of December--when I was closing in on him I had eight in (drives) that afternoon and  Jimmy only had four, so I thought I’d make up some ground. But it didn’t happen. Jimmy won all four races and I never did catch him.

“He’s a good kid and drives a horse good. And he’s got a good future ahead of him, too.”

While growing up there was never any question in young Jimmy’s mind about what he’d do for a living. After all, his dad, Jimmy Sr., was among the leading drivers at both Yonkers and Roosevelt Raceways.

“I was dad’s biggest fan and knew right from the reel that I wanted to be a driver,” the younger Marohn acknowledged. “Racing was still attracting plenty of fans and I always dreamed of driving horses like my dad.

“I used to go with him to the barns and I really learned the game and all the hard work that goes along with it.”

Marohn, Sr. , himself a winner of 5,338 races and now in the twilight of a great career, is understandably proud of his son and of his sons accomplishments.

“Being in the same business I knew right from the start Jimmy had talent,” the senior Marohn said. “But more importantly he has showed the owners and trainers that he’s talented. And it’s really important for the trainers to be confident in Jimmy when they put him down (to drive).”

One such trainer that has relied on the younger Marohn's talents is Danny Gill. Together they were a one-two punch at the Mighty M this past season and it was the winners that he drove for Gill that, not only kept Marohn on top, but put Gill in a heated race for leading trainer.

On, December 31, the last day of Monticello’s 2012 season, Marohn drove his 118th winner from the Gill barn and that was the one that gave the leading trainer honors to Gill, as he turned back Pete Pellegrino by just a single triumph. And like Marohn, Gill’s honor was his first.

“I really like Jimmy. He’s honest, he’s trustworthy and he’s loyal . . . and he’s a darn good driver,” Gill said assessing Marohn’s attributes. “And since he’s been more aggressive (on the track) he keeps getting better all the time.”

Marohn began his career driving qualifying races at Yonkers Raceway in 2002. In his first pari-mutuel drive at Pocono Downs, he—just barely 20 years old—finished second with 25-1 shot External heat. Then up behind that same pacer at Pocono Downs on August 8, Marohn drove his first winner and returned a $37.60 win mutuel.

That fall it was on to Colonial Downs, where Marohn became an assistant trainer for Billy Popfinger. And Popfinger, like Jimmy’s dad, saw the youngster had talent and ability and knew he was a budding star. Popfinger let young Jimmy drive all his stock there and he even sent him on the road to drive.

The next year (2003) Marohn won the driving title at Colonial Downs and he finished the season with 73 wins. The following season he won 133 races and since then his win totals have been in triple digits with last year’s output of 335 his best thus far.

And at 29-years-of-age Jimmy Marohn, Jr. can boast of four driving titles at three different racetracks and over three different size ovals; Monticello’s half mile; Tioga’s five-eighth’s; Colonial Downs' one turn 1-1/4 miler. 

This past season, being fortunate to win two (driving) titles at two tracks has to be my biggest thrill so far,” Marohn acknowledged. “Going at it every day, traveling from one track to another, was tiring but when you do well it eases some pain.”

The day after he graduated high school, Marohn went to work for Billy Popfinger and to this day he can’t say enough great things about him.

“In my eyes and others too, Billy is an all-out Hall of Famer and while working with him I learned a lot about training and driving,” Marohn said with reverence in his voice.”He taught me to be patient with a young horses and how they like to keep the bit in their mouth. He gave me a tremendous opportunity to drive and because he had confidence in me he even sent me around to different tracks.

“I'm very appreciative to Billy and for all the opportunities he gave me.”

Sure young Jimmy is proud of his accomplishments and of the 1,954 winners he has already driven, but a young man with his talent doesn’t usually stay still and is always looking for better things to come.

“I’d love to crack into the bigger venues,” he said hopefully. “And when I do, I probably won’t be driving as many times as I have been but I’ll be going for more purse money. I’ll have to give it a shot, soon.”