While many top sports figures announce after major victories in their careers that they are now going to Disney, such is not the case for Hall of Fame harness racing driver Wally Hennessey.
On Wednesday, August 6, Hennessey will be inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in Ontario, which will be one of the greatest moments of his harness racing career. But no way is Hennessey going afterwards to Disney World.
The very next day Wally Hennessey will be heading overseas to drive in the Vincent Delaney Memorial weekend at Portmarnock Trotting Track in Dublin, Ireland.
“This will be a like a dream-come-true week for me,” Hennessey said. “Getting inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame is such an honor and one of the biggest highlights of my career. Then the very next day to fly over to Ireland and see where the Hennessey clan first originated from will be the icing on the cake.”
Hennessey accepted an invitation from James and Derek Delaney of Dublin. They have been in the harness racing business for years, along with their younger brother Vincent. Tragically, Vincent, 27, died in 2011, but his memory lives on due to a memorial weekend of harness racing developed two years ago by his brothers.
The two brothers worked hard on the Delaney Memorial, a two-year-old pacing event with elimination races on Saturday, August 9 and the final on Sunday, August 10. Their efforts paid off as Ladbrokes came on as the premier sponsor from the start and now the two-day event has become the richest stakes race in all of Ireland and the United Kingdom. All because the two brothers wanted to something special in memory of their lost brother.
Total purses for the Delaney Memorial will be more than 50,000 euros ($68,000 US) and the final will go for 25,750 euros ($35,000) US. Fillies will race in separate elimination divisions on Saturday and then draw for the inside positions in the mixed final on Sunday. A record total of 52 two-year-olds have remained eligible for the race series at Portmarnock.
“We really wanted to raise the profile of our brother’s race,” said James Delaney. “And since racing in America is much more popular then here in Ireland, we came up with the idea of inviting the top harness racing announcer in North America, Roger Huston. Our friends in the USA make contact with Roger and he accepted the invitation and is now coming over. That was great news to everyone involved with racing in Ireland and the UK.
“Then my brother and I said to ourselves,” James explained, “How can we make it even more exciting? And we came up with the idea of inviting a top driver of Irish decent. We went back to our friend in the USA, Steve Wolf, who helped us get Roger Huston to come over and he said there is none better for your race than Wally Hennessey. Within a few days Wally agreed to come over and we could not be happier about it. Especially since he will be driving our horses over the two-day race meet.”
Hennessey is no stranger, of course, to racing overseas. He had vast experience back in 1998, traveling to Europe to drive the world champion Moni Maker and winning the prestigious Elitloppet.
According to the United States Trotting Association, Hennessey has 8,587 career wins and nearly $60 million in purse earnings by the horses he has driven. In addition to his induction August 6 to the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame, Hennessey was also inducted into the Florida Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 1996, Saratoga, NY Hall of Fame in 2000, the P.E.I. Sports Hall of Fame in 2005 and the US Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame in 2007.
“I guess you can say I was born into harness racing,” Hennessey explained. “My mom went to the hospital to have me and my dad was driving at Moncton, New Brunswick and the track announcer congratulated him on having a baby boy during the post parade for his next race. That was quite a surprise for him. The announcer said he hoped the boy would follow in his footsteps.
“But in my family, having babies was just about expected,” Hennessey chuckled. “I have four sisters and four brothers. We were a pretty big family.
“It was my great grandfather,” Hennessey said, “who came from Ireland to Prince Edward Island back in the late 1800’s. He married a women from England and they came over to Canada. It was my grandfather, Walter, whom I am named after, that first started to get into harness racing. He trucked coal with a horse and wagon on the island and also had race horses. Sadly he passed away before I was a year old so I never got to meet or know him.
“My father (Joe) loved harness racing and did it all his life,” Hennessey explained. “He was very well respected in the Maritimes and he taught myself and my brothers. My brother Jody has over 2,000 wins driving, Dan has been training our stable and working with me for a long time, then there was me and also my younger brother Gordy, and he has over 1,000 wins as a driver. My other brother John did not have that much interest in horses and he became a lawyer.”
Hennessey now spends his winters driving at Pompano Park in Florida and the summer at Saratoga Raceway.
“This will be a great break from my routine,” Hennessey said. “I will be able to do some sightseeing of the homeland of my ancestors, get to drive horses in another country, meet other horsemen and women who love the sport as much as I do and also get to enjoy my favorite pastime, playing golf.
“I also understand that James and Derek Delaney currently have what may be the fastest two-year-old filly in all of Ireland and the United Kingdom,” Hennessey added, “Wouldn’t that be a thrill if I could win their brother’s memorial for them.
“James and Derek have really gone all out for this race weekend,” Hennessey said. They have organized a silent auction that will be going online with a UFO race bike being shipped from the USA from Ron Burke that was used on Foiled Again and other stars from his stable. They have a silent auction with racing colors from top US drivers, a stallion auction, a big dinner the Friday night after Roger Huston and I arrive. What a super weekend this will be.”
It seems that the Delaney Memorial is attracting interest throughout the harness racing world and that the Delaney brothers apparently have another surprise or two down the road that will only enhance the race weekend in August. Stay tuned to Harnesslink for more!
By Steve Wolf, for Harnesslink.com