01/13/2017 11:04AM

Zoccali: Marohn deserves an opportunity to drive top horses

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Vicki Wright
Jim Marohn Jr. is producing a strong R.O.I. for his backers.

When asked who the best drivers are in the sport of harness racing, just about every racing insider or fan rattles off the same names.  We hear John Campbell, Yannick Gingras, Tim Tetrick, Brian Sears, David Miller and so forth.  In addition to these drivers, all sporting different records on their resumes, they are also thought of as the best because they are the drivers everyone sees when the big money is on the line.

Harness racing is different than other sports though.  In baseball, if you can hit the ball 450 feet, it’s recognized by most, if not all, and you are considered a premier player.  In football, if you can throw for 4,500 yards, run for 1,500 yards or catch 100 passes, again, people recognize your ability.  It doesn’t matter who owns the team you play for.  He signs your paycheck, but the rest is up to you.  In harness racing, ability not only needs to be recognized, but drivers need to be given the opportunity to drive for the best stables in order to really gain the notoriety they deserve.

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When you hear the name Yannick Gingras, you think of trainers Ron Burke and Jimmy Takter.  Now, that is not to say that Gingras is considered as good as he is just because he drives for these two powerhouse stables.  In fact, Gingras amassed nearly the same amount in earnings for 2016 as he did in 2015, while Burke and Takter accrued $6.2 Million less in 2016 than 2015.  That tells you all you need to know about Gingras’ ability.  Granted, Burke and Takter (among others) gave Gingras the opportunities and of course, he made the most of it.  But unlike baseball, where once you step on a Major League diamond everyone has the chance to prove themselves, two harness drivers stepping on the track at the same time may not have the same opportunities.  After all, one could be driving for the most powerful stable in the country while the other is driving for a trainer with three horses.

Enter Jim Marohn Jr.  Marohn has been around much longer than people realize; he has been driving for 15 years. An owner of over 3,500 wins, Marohn has hit his best stride in the last two years, setting new personal highs in both wins and earnings each of those two seasons. 

Presently, Marohn is fourth in the driver standings at The Meadowlands, having won 27 races so far this meet.  In addition, he is one of only three drivers in the top 10 with a positive return on investment. In fact, his R.O.I. is by far, the best of any driver with at least three wins at 38%.  In other words, if you bet Marohn in all 214 races he has driven in, you would be showing a profit and a sizable one at that.  Marohn’s win percentage rate is 13%, which isn’t bad, but it is difficult to be winning at 13% and still show a positive return on investment, because after all, 87% of the time, Marohn is not winning the race.  This goes to show that Marohn is still driving many “longshots.”  For a comparison, Joe Bongirono wins at a similar 12% of the time and his return on investment is -53%.  In other words, if you bet on Bongiorno in every race, you have lost half your money so far.  Yannick Gingras, who has won at a 22% clip shows a return on investment of -36%.  How are these huge differences possible?  When Marohn gets the opportunity to drive a favorite, he wins more than he loses (13 for 23) and he also cashes big on horses that are not given much chance by the bettors.  Case in point, Mister Truth at 98-1, and eight other double-digit winners on the meet.

Marohn only drives favorites 12% of the time (25 of his 214 drives). Gingras is driving favorites 22% of the time (20 of his 90 drives).  Marohn is doing more with less.  That has been his story throughout the season.  That’s not to say Marohn is only driving for small stables.  He has gotten plenty of power with guys like Rob Harmon, or Daniel Gill in New York.  Marohn has certainly been making the most of his opportunities the past two seasons, even though they haven’t necessarily been as immense as the opportunities other drivers have been given.  It’s time for some of the bigger stables to recognize Marohn’s ability to get the most out of his horses and give him a chance to prove that on the biggest stage. 

Marohn got his start many years ago working for Bill Popfinger, traveling up and down the east coast doing quite a bit of work at Rockingham Park and Colonial Downs, even back then making the most of his opportunities.  He is a four-time driving champion at Tioga Downs and is now making his mark at both The Meadowlands and Pocono Downs.

Hopefully with many of the big-name drivers taking time off this winter, Marohn will be given the opportunity to drive for some of the bigger stables, inflating his numbers even more and perhaps opening the eyes of trainers and owners that can give him the chance to drive some Grand Circuit horses.  My advice to a trainer out there with stakes-caliber horses is strike while the iron is hot and give Marohn the opportunity before somebody else does.  The guy can drive.