Getting to Know You with Roderick Balgobin

01:03 PM 10 May 2014 NZST
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"Irish" Joe Hanney celebrate after winning the St Patrick's Day race at Freehold
Photo by Helene Gregory, World Wide Racing Photos
Joe Hanney
Joe Hanney prepares a horse to go out and train

INTERVIEW WITH IRISH JOE HANNEY

Originally hailing from Dublin, Ireland, harness racing driver and trainer 'Irish' Joe Hanney set out to follow his dream of working with harness racing horses, which included a short stay in Canada before settling in the USA.

Joe originally wanted to be a thoroughbred jockey as a youngster. "That's what I was trying to pursue" Joe says. "My genetics didn't really allow that, I got too tall and I was putting on too much weight. And I was told I wasn't going to be able to meet the requirements to be a jockey."

If Joe couldn't be a jockey, the closest thing he was told he could be was an exercise rider. One can understand Joe's belief of not wanting to be stuck behind the scenes as an exercise rider when his dream was to ride in the big races.

Luckily for Joe, his grandfather, Christy Hanney, was a part of the harness racing scene in Ireland as a trainer and helped point Joe in the direction of Standardbreds and the career options the industry offered.

At this point, Joe was introduced to the harness racing world by Christy and Joe's first job was working for Anthony Haughan who is prominent and well known in Ontario harness racing.

"That's where I switched over from Thoroughbreds to harness racing" says Joe. "I got a feel for working in both Thoroughbreds and harness racing. It was a good experience with me to work with Thoroughbreds first as they're a different animal altogether."

"Thoroughbreds are more temperamental and you have to baby them at times" says Joe. "Standardbreds are a little bit easier to manage in that respect. When you go from working with Thoroughbreds who can get hot headed to working with Standardbreds that are easier to handle, I found I could work with the young Standardbreds easily compared to young Thoroughbreds."

"When I first left Ireland, I went to Canada and I lived in Ontario for two years" says Joe. "I worked for a racing stable there that I had worked for back home."

Joe left Ireland bound for Canada when he was 24 and for someone who lived at home with his parents it was quite the life changing and growing event. "I never had to cook or clean or care for myself in that respect. I had to learn all that and it was great for me and it turned me into an adult. It was a culture change, everything changed from different currency to different lingos. There was not one thing the same from where I came from. Everything happened all at once." Joe explains.

"Once I got through that first month of doing everything for myself and having responsibilities of taking care of horses..." says Joe, "...I knew I wanted to stay in Canada or America for the rest of my life."

Was Joe worried about making a living? Absolutely and Joe was firm in finding a way to succeed, never looking for an excuse in fear he did not succeed.

"Some people think they need luck, but luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." Joe states. "You need to be prepared for whatever opportunity comes your way, take it as best you can. If you don't do (well) you do better next time."

Joe is a deep thinker and his philosophy is if you are going to be successful you need to be organized. To be organized involves one to do a lot of thinking and planning.

After Joe's stint in the Ontario racing scene, he went back home to Ireland and quickly there after Joe moved to the United States when he was offered a job by Richard Norman as a Second Trainer.

Joe is currently stabled in New Jersey and primarily races at Freehold Raceway where he's ranked in the top 10 in the driving standings. Aside from Freehold, Joe also races at Yonkers Raceway and Saratoga Raceway in New York.

Something extremely interesting is Joe is the first Irishman to win at the Meadowlands. Joe won his first race, with In Nomine Patri, at the Meadowlands on March 15th, 2013 (only two days before St. Patrick's Day, luck of the Irish indeed).

"To be the first guy to come from your country and Ireland being as small as it is... and to win one there with a horse that I own, trained myself, and drove myself and to be the first Irishman to do that was a great feeling."

The responses Joe received from friends and family in Ireland was astounding and the congratulatory messages Joe received from the horsemen he knew on this side of the pond was more than great.

"The drivers at the Meadowlands are top class" says Joe. "They all knew it was my first win there and they all shook my hand and patted me on the back, saying 'well done' and 'good job'."

` The night before the race, Joe was asked by a reporter what his thoughts were on winning his upcoming race. "I remember telling them, 'it's a Holy week, we got a new pope voted in and St. Patrick's day is coming up an my horse's name is In Nomine Patri which is, in the name of our father, so I have a good feeling I'm going to win.' And I did win."

Outside of harness racing, Joe is an avid Manchester United fan. "I was a soccer enthusiast and I like boxing but with harness racing, it's not a job it's a way of life. It takes up 23 hours of your day. I like going to New York and visiting the Irish bars or down to the beach but really its horses, horses, horses."

"I am pretty hands on and even shoe some of my own horses. I try to do as much as of my own work as I can, you're at the barn 24/7 and if you get a couple hours to go do something you crack a beer with your buddies or spend time with my girlfriend, (Sofia Fredlund)."

Joe owns three horses and trains for other owners and he wants to continue to be hands on as a trainer/driver as he feels it is a good value for the owners. This way the trainer has a better understanding of what's working and not working well with horse.

Albeit if Joe has a driver with excellent communication skills, then he's all for having the best driver lead his horses on the track if he isn't available or is racing at another track. The number one priority is communication in all regards, whether it is driver/trainer or trainer/owner and even driver/owner.

"I've got a good group of friends with me here in America; I've got great people around me." Joe says. Joe is grateful for everyone who has helped him along the way from the folks in Canada to Anthony Haughan who he first worked for back in Ireland.

Peter Grandich is one of Joe's owners that he is very thankful for always having continuous support in him. "He and his wife, Mary have been a great support by always giving me horses to train and always doing the right thing by me. If it wasn't for him I wouldn't be doing as good as I am."

"He even sponsored a race this year at Freehold Raceway which was called the St. Patrick's Day Pace." Joe says. "All the drivers of Irish heritage were able to drive in the race. I drove, Anthony Haughan came down from Canada and I had another buddy of mine fly in from Ireland. George Brennan whose father is of Irish decent and Corey Callahan who has Irish roots were in the lineup."

"I drew post 8 and I won the race by two lengths and I was 60-1." Joe explains with a chuckle. "I lit up the tote board. It was a great feeling to drive with (those) guys and it was at my home track and to win the Irish race that day which was a couple of days before St. Patrick's Day was pretty good."

Roderick Balgobin's column will appear weekly on Harnesslink. You can contact him at rod.balgobin
@supernovasportsclub.com or Twitter: ScSupernova
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