Freehold’s Manzi is newest harness racing hall of famer Freehold driver heads the 2002 inductees

Staff Writer

By tim morris

Freehold’s Manzi is newest harness racing hall of famer
Freehold driver heads
the 2002 inductees

Growing up on his father’s horse farm near Monticello, N.Y., Catello Manzi flirted with the idea of becoming a teacher. He actually went to community college in Orange, N.Y., with the idea of pursuing teaching as a career.

However, the calling of harness racing was too strong for Manzi, and he followed in the footsteps of his father, Al Manzi, and uncle, John Manzi.

Thirty-three years later, with more than 9,000 career wins, third best all-time in standardbred racing history, Manzi has no regrets about that decision.

"Harness racing is a way of life to me," he said. "I feel at home with horses. Driving is fun, and I love the competition on a racetrack."

But in a very real sense, Manzi has become a teacher. He earned his degree driving at racetracks throughout the country. His classroom is the racetrack, Freehold Raceway and the Meadowlands, where he daily teaches veterans and youngsters the art of harness driving as they watch him win one race after another at their expense.

His mastery of the sport has taken him to a level he never imagined when he first started driving in 1968, and last week the Harness Racing Hall of Fame made it official that he is one of the sport’s greats, finally opening its doors to Catello ‘Cat’ Manzi.

"This is the best thing that has ever happened to me," said Manzi. "It’s a great thrill.

"It’s something that I thought about but never really believed could happen," he added. "I’m very proud."

Manzi knew he was nominated for the hall of fame, but with induction ceremonies not until next year, he had put it out of his mind until a letter arrived in the mail.

"Just being nominated was the best thing that could happen to me," he said. "I had forgotten all about it until they sent me a letter notifying me of my selection. I was surprised."

The 51-year-old Manzi, who makes Freehold his home and Freehold Raceway and the Meadowlands his home racetracks, ranked third all-time in wins with 9,121 as of Oct. 8, the day the 2002 hall of fame inductees were announced. He trails only Herve Filion (14,783) and Walter Case (9,958) in career wins. The $82,833,840 in purse earnings he has accumulated in his career is sixth all-time.

Among his more than 9,000 wins are two Triple Crown victories. Manzi has won the Cane Pace with Scoot To Power (1996) and the Yonkers Trot driving Bullville Victory (1994).

The magnitude of his 9,000-plus wins hasn’t yet registered with Manzi, who still goes about his racing every day.

"It’s amazing to me. I really don’t understand it," he said.

Freehold Raceway has been Manzi’s favorite venue. He has won 14 track championships there and is in contention for this year’s fall/winter meet and a possible 15th crown.

Now that he is a hall of famer, don’t expect Manzi to slow down.

"I still enjoy driving," he said. "There’s no need to stop."

No doubt by the time of the hall of fame inductions next July, Manzi will have upped his career win total considerably.

Other members of the 2002 class are driver/trainer Jim Dennis, 78, of Solana Beach, Calif., and trainer/driver/farm manager Harry Harvey, 77, of Columbus. The U.S. Harness Writers Association (USHWA) corner of the hall of fame will welcome the late Curt Greene and the writers’ corner will also induct Ed Palladino.

Garden Stater Harvey won the Hambletonian, the sport’s biggest race, in 1953 with Helicopter. He is the man who developed, trained and drove the legendary pacer Albatross as a 2-year-old.

Dennis has been based in California for several decades, but that didn’t stop him from having an impact on the East Coast. He was a top driver/trainer at both Yonkers and Roosevelt raceways in New York, as well as Hollywood Park in California. His most famous produced was Sire Dalrae, the 1973 Harness Horse of the Year.

Greene wrote on pedigrees for Hoof Beats, was director of the Classic Series and held management positions at The Red Mile and Tattersalls Sale. He died in 2000.

Palladino, former sports editor for the Kingston (N.Y.) Daily Freeman and the Times-Union of Albany (N.Y.), was also a past president of the USHWA.

The 2002 class will be inducted into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame in Goshen, N.Y., on July 7.

Manzi visited the hall of fame several times as a youngster in New York state. This time when he visits the historic site, it will be as a member.