"Plenty of bad drivers win on good horses," Napolitano says. "But a bad driver can cost you a race too. I've seen it happen."

It's the middle of March — the lead-out pony is spray-painted with a green shamrock — and the men are assembling for what will be, for many of them, the last night of racing in Pompano for the season. The tracks up North will be opening soon. Tonight is also the final set of races in a three-day, ten-racetrack promotion billed as the "Driver's Championship." The top ten drivers have been randomly assigned to horses and post positions, and they accumulate points over the ten races. At the end, the winning driver will receive a bonus of $8,000 — enough to pique the competitive spirit in even the most jaded among them. Going into the final race, the name atop the standings is Napolitano, but it's not George Jr.

Little brother Anthony is close to the win, but he's slotted to drive a long shot. Several drivers — including the big brother — are close behind.

When the harness track opened, it drew A-list celebrities like Jackie Gleason.
Photo Courtesy of Pompano Park Harness Track Archives
When the harness track opened, it drew A-list celebrities like Jackie Gleason.
Mickey Mantle pictured at the track.
Photo Courtesy of Pompano Park Harness Track Archives
Mickey Mantle pictured at the track.

Wally Hennessey, the hilariously crotchety veteran in second place, jokes that he has the most pressing need for the money, so he should win. "You know I got a fuckin' kid in college, right?" barbs Hennessey, who's been racing here since before most of the young men over in the poker room were even born. "What the fuck would these sons of bitches do with it anyway?"

If the guys seem a little more laid-back today, it may be because the Isle of Capri has just signed a contract with the horsemen promising to continue racing for at least three more years, regardless of what the state Legislature eventually decides. "Tensions are way down," says Yinger. Three years isn't optimal, but it's enough to stop worrying for the moment. In a world where most things haven't changed in decades, nothing seems so certain now.

George Napolitano Jr. hopes that the sport will last at least ten more years. By then, he figures, he can retire if he has to. Napolitano never regrets his chosen career. It's been tough at times, but racing has afforded him a good life. If, by some divine intervention, the sport still exists a generation from now, would he ever want his son driving? "Hell no," he says, though after a moment of thought, he clarifies that he'd be supportive no matter what. "But I really want him to go to college."

In the last race, George Napolitano is never in contention. Anthony, however, drives the 9-to-1 long shot to victory. In the winner's circle, he tells Frank Salive that he'll use the money to redo his kitchen.

"He knows I have a fucking kid in college, right?" Hennessey gripes again.

"He's a cheap bastard too," George Napolitano jokes about his little brother. When Anthony gets back to the barn, though, big brother privately congratulates him.

Then it's immediately back to the grind. There is another race before the night is over. Each brother slides into a sulky, takes the reins, and pulls away into a cloud of dust.

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20 comments
Guest
Guest

The track must have paid for this article. They are clearly business partners. Look at the Beerfest ads all over the page. The New Times Beerfest just happens to be held at Pompano Park.

Frank Fan
Frank Fan

Frank Salive is the greatest thing about this track. Anybody who's ever actually met him knows he is one of the nicest guys ever.

horse143
horse143

wow i really want to learn about this horse racing thing more. :) thanks for posting this article.

Alzeke44
Alzeke44

i worked there  4 decades and they discarded me like old newspaper

John
John

This was a great article, if you know harness racing.  One exception;  Frank Saliva,  the present announcer, as far as accuracy and continuity of his race calls, wouldn't make a pimple on Joe Ricci's ass (the previous announcer).  Since the announcer switch, I haven't played a race at Pompano Park.  It is essential to me to have impeccable race calls. Any track with a half-ass announcer loses my business.

CMG? Really?
CMG? Really?

CMG? There is no page 7 of this article. Harness racing is dying. It loses money and everyone associated knows the end is close. That real estate is very valuable and the only reason they continue a sport that loses millions every year is because they have to in order to keep the slots and poker. Been to the track lately? That could be a hotel that would enrich the entire community without abusing animals for pleasure. Any time an industry is dying, they always talk about the guys who drive the trucks and sell the equipment. Well whatever they put in that space will have drivers and need equipment. Don't you believe we should live in a country where you are free to choose what business you run without the government deciding what archaic sport you have to lose money on?

CMG
CMG

If you want to fact check articles about harness racing, go to www.ustrotting.com where you can find out all information about harness racing driver wins/dollars won/horse earnings, etc. They have all statistical information and show the world and track records and provide up-to-date articles in their news area. Also, there were no bills in Tallahassee this year trying to remove harness racing requirements, or any horse racing requirements, from casinos as stated on page 7 of this article. There was a greyhound and jai alai bill, but nothing dealing with horse racing of any type. You can check out the website for the Florida House and Senate for that. Not sure who edits this stuff, but maybe try a Google search next time. Harness racing continues to have a multi-million dollar economic impact in the state of Florida with drivers, trainers, owners, breeders, training centers, feed stores, veterinarians, tack and supply stores, tractor/equipment retailers and service companies contributing to Florida's economy everyday. There's a lot more to the entire industry than you can see from spending a few hours in a race paddock.      

Walter
Walter

Michael, these horses do not gallop or go 40mph. Harness horses must either trot or pace during the mile. They also peak at about 35mph. Harness racing is a great and true American sport, with a majority of owners, trainers and drivers being born in th USA.  

Awargunisbliss
Awargunisbliss

 not sure who edited this article but you twice mention napolitano as the winningest driver in year with "Napolitano finished the year with 754 victories in about 8,000 races, besting the all-time single-season record by 20 wins, ensuring his place among the great drivers throughout history." The most wins by a driver in a year is Tim Tetrick with 1,189. It happened in 2007...http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Tetr...

Mitch863
Mitch863

the same with Jai alai, dog track and condo's. I watched Roosevelt Raceway fall to super crooked government and a drop from 40 thousand on a Saturday night to a few hundred. Bye Bye memories 

Dave Rand
Dave Rand

"Are you aware that harness racing is one of the largest spectator sports in the world?" Yeah, not in Florida, buddy. Track has 5 more years, tops. You should be happy any reporters in the US even care about this sport anymore.

Ddm
Ddm

Gladiators?  Chariots?  Are you aware that harness racing is one of the largest spectator sports in the world?  If you wrote an uninformed piece of garbage like this in France or Italy you would get 15 minutes of fame as an idiot!   If you were trying to make your writing stylized or intentionally esoteric, you missed the mark.  This was just so poor -- I finished reading it for the sheer amusement. 

Guest
Guest

I love George Nap Jr! Great story!

Guest
Guest

Wow.  Mr. Mooney, you just about did it all here!  You wrote factual inaccuracies, outright false statements, and loads of mis-information.  Did you, Ms. Funcheon, or anyone else at your newspaper bother to fact check??  Sheeze...what a paper you have there.  But it is typical of the way your paper routinely treats its readers.

Guest
Guest

Extended metaphor for journalism and newspapers there, Mooney?

Mark F.
Mark F.

I've been a fan of harness for 25 years and watched as the sport has crumbled and tracks have closed. I want to thank the author for a beautiful portrait of this last generation of great horsemen. There is something noble and dignified about strapping on the helmet and doing your job the right way night after night.

bajno1
bajno1

Something the reporter doesn't realize is that while there are only 200 people at the track, there are hundreds if not thousands of people playing Pompano's races via computer or simulcast locations.  The sport is more popular than the reporter paints.  That being said, the sport does need to make changes to stay relevant. 

Howie
Howie

 The horses don't gallop at 40 mph. Galloping is not permitted in harness racing. They either trot or pace.

Deirdra Funcheon
Deirdra Funcheon

 Oops. Funny, the writer originally had "trot" in there but I thought "trotting" sounded slow for 40 mph so I changed it to "gallop." Oops! Didn't realize they were technically different terms.  Thanks for clarifying.  -- Editor

Howie
Howie

Yeah, "funny" because putting factually incorrect statements into a story is hilarious especially when you're writing about people's livlihoods. Three pages later the story explains the difference between sprinting and trotting, but I guess the editors there don't read much either.

 
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