Day At The Track

Monaco plans to keep on "driving"

10:10 AM 05 Mar 2021 NZDT
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Marianna Monaco, harness racing
Marianna Monaco winning at Goshen Historic Track
Geri Schwartz photo

Whether driving a golf ball or driving a harness racing horse, Marianna Monaco knows the thrill of victory.

The 25-year-old New Yorker has won a total of eight races as an amateur driver and her share of tournaments as an amateur golfer.

In 2017, Monaco captured the New York State Women's Amateur golf championship one year after being the event's runner-up. The past two years, she has won the Women's Dutchess County Amateur.

On the racetrack, Monaco got her first win in 2018 in a matinee at Goshen Historic Track. The victory came on her 23rd birthday. She notched her first pari-mutuel triumph last year in the GSY Amateur Series at The Meadowands and finished the season with six wins.

Earlier this week, she won a Billings Amateur Series race at Yonkers. It was her first victory at The Hilltop, which is where Monaco and her family spent many nights enjoying the races over the years. As a child, Monaco imagined herself competing at Yonkers and accumulated a collection of whips and other items that numbered in the hundreds.

"Growing up there, it was always a dream," said Monaco, a Yonkers native. "Getting a win there was a surreal experience. I was once that kid on the other side of the fence driving my imaginary horse across the wire. It was a thrill."

On Friday, Monaco will be back in the GSY Series at The Meadowlands. She is starting from post one with Deerfield Beach and is 10-1 on the morning line.

"Hopefully, the race will set up nicely for him and we can come a good last quarter and we should be fine in there," Monaco said.

Monaco began jogging horses at a young age. Her father, Nick, owned horses and she had other family members in the business. Her involvement around the barn increased over the years until other sports began to occupy her time. It was fast-pitch travel softball at first, but a trip with her dad to a driving range changed her focus.

"The pro asked my dad how long I'd been playing," Monaco said. "My dad said, 'She plays softball, she doesn't play golf.' The pro said, 'There's talent there.' My dad said there wasn't much after college for softball and asked if I wanted to keep playing. From that point on, I was going for golf lessons and practicing. It just stuck with me."

Monaco got a full scholarship to play golf at Newberry College, where she was the South Atlantic Conference Freshman of the Year and, as a sophomore, the SAC Player of the Year. She transferred to the University of South Carolina for her final two years and graduated in 2017 with a degree in criminal justice.

After finishing her collegiate career, Monaco stepped back from playing golf regularly. That's when driving entered the picture.

"It's something I wanted to do," Monaco said. "I just wanted to win a race. I thought I would get that first win and I would be satisfied. But I wasn't. As soon as I got off the bike, I told my dad I wished there was another race because I wanted to get back in the bike again. It's just been something I've kept after."

Monaco intends to play more golf this year, possibly with an eye toward turning pro. But she also plans to keep driving on.

"I think the driving is more for fun, but as soon as I get off the bike I watch replays to see what I could have done better," Monaco said. "In golf, you can shoot 65 but you can look at the scorecard and say you left a couple shots out there. It's the same with driving; you can win a race, but it's always a learning process. I think that's why I enjoy it a lot.

"Most importantly, if a trainer I'm driving for thinks I could have done something differently, I want them to speak up and tell me. That way I can learn from that and go forward. I appreciate that. They're trying to help me learn and be a better driver."

In addition to driving, Monaco owns three horses. She trains one of them herself.

"I enjoy the atmosphere, being around the animals," Monaco said. "It's something different every day. You see the same horses, but they have different attitudes day to day. I don't think you ever get tired of it. I look forward to seeing them. As much as you make them happy, you're just as happy to walk through the door and see them."

by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA 

 

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