Gregg Keidel, a native of Ohio and someone who has contributed much to Buckeye State harness racing in various capacities over the last 35 years, is “returning home” as the race secretary at both of the new Dayton-area racinos that will be filling the traditional racing spot formerly held by venerable Lebanon Raceway: Miami Valley Raceway, a joint venture of Churchill Downs and Delaware North which will soon open the 2014 racing season in southern Ohio, and Dayton Raceway, a “Hollywood Slots”/Penn National venture which will follow Scioto Downs’ traditional summer meet in what is envisaged as an almost year-round circuit.
Most of Keidel’s experience, as those familiar with him know, was picked up in the northeastern part of the state, at what was known then (and still is by many) as Northfield Park in Cleveland. Following his selling a chain of weekly newspapers which he had managed to success at an early age, Keidel got into harness racing as an owner, but it wasn’t long before he was training and driving his own horses, racing at Northfield, Windsor in Ontario, and the county fairs.
Gregg had two early successes in his stable’s black and green colors: the pacer Blastabaroness, a top two-year-old Ohio filly of 1984 who gave Keidel 12 of his 14 victories very early in his sulky career; and a caretaker plucked out of waiterdom from the Northfield clubhouse who would go on to be known to many fans over 6000 victories later, Jim Pantaleano.
Keidel’s newspaper experience led him to supplement his stable’s income by serving as a part time publicist for the track, and when a position in the racing office as assistant to Dennis Haskell opened, Gregg saw a more “stable” life for himself and his family and decamped there fulltime, shortly becoming Northfield racing secretary, a post he would hold for over 20 years as Northfield built itself into one of the hardest-working successes in the sport.
During most of this time, Keidel “kept himself in the stirrups” on the Billings amateur circuit, being named Amateur Driver of the Year in North America in 2001. “I’ve had some of the best experiences in my life from amateur driving,” Gregg states. “I’ve been blessed to make six overseas trips as part of a visiting team of amateurs taking on the host countries, and they certainly have provided quite a few good memories. I’m also proud I notched my 100th win during Jug week in Delaware,” in 2007.
When Running Aces Harness Park opened north of Minneapolis in 2008, Keidel took on the challenge as race office boss during the summer meet, getting a midseason leave of absence from the Cleveland oval, and he combined the two jobs until deciding to focus on Running Aces in 2010, with Florida judging his other source of income (though he also handled the last meet at Toledo Raceway Park last year – mainly from Running Aces!). One of the great aspects for Keidel in his new jobs is that the spring meet at Miami Valley and the fall meet at Dayton Raceway bookend the summer action in Minnesota beautifully.
“I think these new opportunities in Ohio are exciting,” Gregg opines. “The parent companies all come from a racing base, and they understand that you have to promote both the racing and the casino play, whereas elsewhere many of the owners come from straight from the casino world, and the racing is often given a very secondary status.”
The new 5/8-mile track at Miami Valley, nine miles from Lebanon Raceway, will accommodate nine-horse behind the starting gate – and Keidel would be very happy to have some full gates as MVR opens on February 7. “I am being realistic about how many horses we will attract at first,” he said. “There is no barn area here – we had a lot of inquiries from horsemen about stabling, but there just aren’t that many stalls available in the area right now, although some county fairs are talking about refurbishing their barn areas and staying open as training centers all year. Also, we have had some of the most miserable weather in the last few weeks around here (Gregg, it hasn’t been just around you – ed.), and a lot of horsemen are behind schedule in bringing horses back.” Indeed, the day this story was written, qualifying standards of 2:10 for pacers and 2:12 for trotters within 45 days were announced as a temporary measure until trainers get back on their schedules.
If the horses may need a start or two to hit top stride, the same cannot be said about the driving colony. The last three North American driving champions – Ron Wrenn Jr. (2013), Dave Palone (2012), and Dan Noble (2011) – have committed to racing at Miami Valley during opening weekend, and interest in regular racing has been indicated by five other drivers with 3000+ wins: Greg Grismore, Randy Tharps, Tony Hall, Pat Berry ,…
…and remember that Northfield waiter who got his start with the Keidel barn? Yes, count Jim Pantaleano, now 6,150 wins ahead of his former boss, among those likely to be checking out Miami Valley.
For the opening two cards, Friday, Feb. 7 and Saturday, Feb. 8, Miami Valley will draw on Tuesday, Feb. 4. Gregg Keidel and the rest of the Miami Valley team will be hoping for some luck rubbing off on that date – because that day it will have been exactly 50 years since Pompano Park staged its first-ever card. It will be much warmer in Florida than it will be in southwest Ohio, but Pompano certainly has had its share of magic over the years – and Gregg Keidel has been in the horse game long enough to take magic, luck, or anything else that will aid his cause and that of his management.
By Jerry Connors for Harnesslink.com