Dave Palone sets North American record for wins

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WASHINGTON, Pa. (AP) — Dave Palone hopped into the driver's seat entering the eighth race at The Meadows on Thursday thinking his shot at making history would have to wait a bit.

His horse had different plans.

Palone set a North American harness racing record when he piloted Herculotte Hanover to the winner's circle for his 15,181st career victory, breaking the mark held by Herve Filion. The 50-year-old Palone tied the record during the third race then broke it on a filly making her first start.

"There were a thousand things going through my head, like, 'This is actually going to happen right now, I can't believe it,'" said Palone, who won three races later in the card to push his total to 15,184. "She probably is the last horse on the card I thought I could count on."

Then again, maybe it's fitting. Palone built his career around taking any ride that would come along.

"When I started, I would drive anything with four legs and a tail," Palone said. "I just wanted to be in a race."

The Waynesburg, Pa., native began driving in 1982 and earned his first victory in 1983. He's become a dominant force in the sport over the last three decades, capturing nearly 40 percent of the races he drives in while becoming just the third driver in history to surpass 15,000 wins.

Palone credits his success to his physical fitness, though that hasn't prevented him from enduring a series of significant injuries, none more painful than a broken femur sustained during a 2007 accident. He estimated he had "40 to 50" fractures in the leg yet never thought of retiring.

"What else would I do?" Palone said with a laugh.

He has no thoughts of slowing down now. Heinz Wewering of Germany holds the world record for career harness racing wins, with over 16,000 and counting. It's a mark Palone intends to chase as long as his body lets him.

"I'm driving as good as I have at any point in my career," he said.

That's saying something. Palone, who was inducted into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 2010, has been the leading rider at The Meadows for 23 straight years and has won at least 532 races a year over the last two decades.

Filion, 72, was on hand to watch Palone finally track down the record.

"People used to tell me my record never would be broken," Filion said. "But the way they race horses anymore, a lot of races all around the country, I knew that Dave would get there one day."

Palone planned to celebrate quietly with his wife Bethann and their three daughters on Thursday night but has postponed any vacation plans until after a major stakes race at the end of the month. When the break is over he'll be back in the irons the Meadows.

"The most special thing about it is doing it here at my home track," he said. "There hasn't been an owner or a trainer I haven't driven for. They're all a part of this."

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