Day At The Track

'It gets under your skin' - Smiley on racing

02:47 AM 25 Jan 2011 NZDT
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Shark Gesture, harness racing Norm Smiley, harness racing Metropolitan McArdle
Shark Gesture coming down the stretch
Norm Smiley holding the trophy - After Shark Gesture won the 2006 Breeders Crown
Michael Burns Photography
Metropolitan - in full flight.
McArdle - winning again.
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Some things in life never change. As a teenager Norm Smiley loved cycling with his friends to the racetrack and listening to all the old grooms tell him and his mates their harness racing stories. He was awestruck by some of the yarns they were spinning - so much so almost half a century later the 70-year-old likes nothing better than getting in amongst the nerve center of racetrack training centres -and listening.

"That's where I became hooked. That's where harness racing got under my skin. It's been under there almost all of my life and once it gets in it's there to stay," the Toronto born standardbred icon told Harnesslink today (Tuesday January 25).

Smiley came to the United States in 1979 and relocated to California before settling in Florida in 1986. He made his living with his brother Gerald in the garment industry before turning to real estate where he was successful buying and constructing commercial buildings.

He's made a name for himself over the decades breeding and owning some really nice horseflesh. Metropolitan, McArdle and Shark Gesture immediately spring to mind.

"I've had some special moments in harness racing over the years but I'll never forget my introduction to the industry.

"At a young age me and a few friends would cycle over to the now non existent Blue Bonnets Raceway in Quebec and just sit and listen to what the old grooms had to say. By gee they had some great stories to tell. That really got me interested and when I was about 15 we would sneak into the racetrack and watch the races. That's how I got started," Smiley said.

He remembers when five of his teenage mates saved and chipped in $300 to buy a $1500 claimer.

"We gave the horse to the groom who worked for Fred Eagan. I think the horse's name was Just Barry. He didn't win much money but I remember one day he paid $25 when he won in Quebec City. From that moment on there was no looking back."

Smiley started racing horses at the Meadowlands in 1976 before leaving his homeland some three years later.

"I had a nice horse named Tiger Almahurst with Hall-of-Famer Joe O'Brien. He was a 1978 Meadow Skipper bay who won 25 races and just over $400,000. That was a lot of money back then.

"More recently I'd say McArdle and Shark Gesture would have been the best me and my brother Gerald have owned. McArdle was fantastic beating Art Major from the 10-hole in the William Haughton Memorial, while Shark Gesture should have been a Dan Patch winner. What he achieved on the racetrack, especially after coming back from injury as a 4-year-old was phenomenal," Smiley said.

McArdle won 28 of his 54 starts just after the turn of the century, and when he retired to stud his bank balance stood at $2.6 million. Metropolitan wasn't bad either winning eight races and $1.3 million from 2003-2006.

Breeders Crown champion Shark Gesture won the most money for the Smileys banking $2.8 million in a career spanning from 2005 until last October.

"I still can't understand, to this day, why Shark Gesture never won the Dan Patch Award. He won more big races than Won The West. Don't get me wrong Won The West was a very nice pacer but I'll never forget the match-race in Indiana when Won The West was on Shark Gesture's back and my fella left him to it winning by 10-3/4 lengths.

"For me that was his most memorable race," Smiley said.

He said Shark Gesture had now been retired to stud again at Kentuckiana Farms in Pennsylvania and as was the case with McArdle in years gone by, negotiations were currently under way for him to be a shuttle stallion 'Down Under'.

"I think he will make a super sire. Three of his babies (colts) are currently in training. They are Coal Black Shark, Shark Dial and If You're Happy. I have a lot of time for all three and am looking forward to watching them race.

"But to be fair my biggest interest in racing is still getting down to the track and talking to the grooms and trainers. I've always loved hearing what they've got to say. Sure I like racing and breeding but not as much as what I do talking to the people who make it all happen down at the training facilities.

"The sport has got right under my skin and now that I'm 70 I'm quite happy about that," Florida-based Smiley stressed.

By Duane RANGER (editor)

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