02/26/2015 11:07PM

Pandolfo: Dube, Callahan staying hot in winter

Derick Giwner
Corey Callahan leads North America in earnings so far in 2015.

It's been a cold winter, but nothing can cool off two of the hottest harness drivers in the sport. Dan Dube, driving exclusively at Yonkers Raceway, and Corey Callahan (Dover/Meadowlands), sit one-two on the earnings leaderboard nearly two months into the 2015 season.

Dube has been dominating at Yonkers, winning 64 races and earning $767,230 (through Feb. 25). The Quebec native picked up career win 8,000 behind Clem on Thursday night at Yonkers.

"What's really helped me this year is that physically I'm in top shape," said Dube. "Less than two years ago I had a broken back. I had surgery and it took a while to get strong. But now I feel great."

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Dube has been very successful on the new French PMU simulcast races which go at the distance of a mile and a quarter, something he favors.

"I like the mile and a quarter races,” said Dube. “You can't go as fast early and I think it gives horses a better chance to win from off the pace. Also, it's easier to leave from an outside post. In the one mile races, the turn comes up right away, it’s very tough to leave. I think it makes for more exciting racing."

Not only does Corey Callahan lead the nation in earnings at $1,087,124, he also sits second in wins with 129, just 7 behind Aaron Merriman. In addition to Dover and the Meadowlands, Callahan expects to add Harrah's Philadelphia to the rotation when it opens in March.

You can’t be much hotter than Callahan, won 15 races in two days at Dover Downs, and 24 races in just four days last week. The 36-year-old driver took a few minutes to discuss his career development and racing in general.

Pandy: When I watched you the first few years, I thought you had talent, but you were a bit indecisive. For instance, you'd leave and tuck instead of going to the top, or you'd try to flush cover instead of going first over. But then it all came together for you.

Callahan: It's a learning process. There were times when I was over-thinking the race. You know, you study the program and you try to figure out who's going to do what, but then the race starts and it's entirely different than what you expected.

Pandy: John Campbell had said that no matter what you think about the race beforehand, you still have to be ready to make a decision as the gate opens.

Callahan: That's exactly right. As I got more experience, I learned to be more instinctive. And a lot of it has to do with confidence. Drivers are sort of like horses in a way. When we're doing well, we're confident, and that leads to better results.

Another thing that's helped me is that I'm not being as loyal to some of the trainers, especially at Dover. This year, I told the trainers that I was going to take the horse that I thought had the best chance of winning, and that makes a big difference. I can take the horse with the better post, or the horse with better gate speed. The trainers don't always like that, everyone tends to think they have the best horse. But I think they understand that to be a top catch driver, you have to go with the best horse. Naturally, there are still going to be times, with certain horses, where I'm going to stick with the horse no matter what. Sometimes you just have to stay loyal to the trainer.

Pandy: Has it been tough out there in this cold winter?

Callahan: Oh, yeah. Let me tell you, the drivers can't wait for warmer weather. At the Meadowlands, they do a good job of moving the races along on cold nights, but at Dover we're out there pretty long before the race starts. I use a couple of pairs of gloves and sometimes I have a hand warmer tucked under the back.

What amazes me are some of the big miles the horses go in this cold weather. If I go jogging on a cold day, my legs feel stiff. But these standardbred horses are rugged. The weather doesn't seem to bother them.

Pandy: How is it driving at the Meadowlands?

Callahan: I love it. I love competing against Yannick (Gingras), Tim Tetrick, (John) Campbell, and all these great drivers. When I win there, it’s very gratifying.  This year Brett Miller's here and doing great. It's fun and personally I feel that if you want to get a chance to drive the top stakes horses, you have to drive at the Meadowlands. That's just the way it is.

The Meadowlands is interesting, too, because you never know what to expect as far as how the track plays. Last week there were a couple of nights when the wind was calm, and I thought the speed may hold up better, but it didn't.

Pandy: I think the track management likes it that way. If the Meadowlands developed a speed bias, I'd imagine that Gural would tell the track superintendent to try and stop it.

Callahan: You're probably right. There's no question that when closers can win it makes for more exciting racing. At the Meadowlands, you still have a chance even if your horse isn't close up early.

Pandy: You mentioned Brett Miller. I always wondered if leaning back in the bike helps cut the wind to make more speed. But Brett Miller's horses finish like gang busters and he leans forward and rocks and kind of loose lines them. He's like a throw back to years ago. His style reminds me of Buddy Gilmour.

Callahan: I know what you mean. When I was starting, I tried to emulate guys like Tetrick and Gingras, who lean back and keep a tight rein. When I try to loose line a horse it doesn't seem to work for me. But it certainly does for Brett Miller, he's a talented driver.

Pandy: When you see veterans like Ron Pierce and John Campbell still driving great despite being at this a long time, does it make you feel good about your future?

Callahan: In one way, yes, as a young driver you see that and it gives you hope that you can have a long career. But I do worry about the future of the sport. I've been able to drive some horses in Europe and Australia, and harness racing is much more popular there. In Australia, the daily newspapers still cover harness racing as a major sport.

To find out more about Pandy’s handicapping theories check out his www.trotpicks.com or www.handicappingwinners.com websites, his free picks at handicapping.ustrotting.com/pandycapping.cfm or write to Bob Pandolfo, 3386 Creek Road, Northampton, PA 18067.