In 1977, when Standardbred trainer Herman Hylkema allowed 15-year-old Dave Palone to jog one of his father’s horses at hometown Waynesburg (Pennsylvania) Fairgrounds, the youngster was immediately, in his own words, “hooked.” By the time he had finished high school Palone had worked his way up to second trainer for Hylkema. He received his provisional license to drive in 1982 at The Meadows, and two years later the patrons of the track voted him into its drivers’ championship series where he ended up the winner.
During parts of 1985 and 1987-88, Palone tried his luck as a driver-trainer at New Jersey’s Meadowlands, watching and learning from such luminaries as Hall of Famers John Campbell and Bill O’Donnell. Eventually, Palone concluded that he would be happier back home in Pennsylvania and returned to The Meadows to apply the driving skills he had learned.
In 1989 Palone had his breakout year, visiting the winner’s circle 319 times. The following year he won 428 and topped $1 million in annual purse earnings for the first time. In 1991, under Palone’s guidance, colt Dontellmenomore 3,1:55 ($542,823) won the American-National Stakes, Beacon Course Trot, and an elimination of the World Trotting Derby. The following year Palone drove Ultimate Goal 3,1:56.1 ($334,628) to a win in a Breeders Crown elimination at Pompano; and 11-1 shot Come Unwound p,2,1:54.2 ($282,088) to a surprise second place finish behind So Fresh p,3,1:53 ($803,794) in the Breeders Crown at Northfield Park. Palone and Ultimate Goal paired up again for a victory in the Matron Stakes. In 1992 Palone came in first 615 times and began his ongoing streak of 18 consecutive years in which he has won 500 or more races.
Also on Palone’s resume are wins in the 1996 Cleveland Classic with Free Hart p,4,1:53.4 ($185,947), 1996 Messenger Stakes with Go For Grins p,5,1:51.2 ($302,003) and the 1997 Windy City Pace with Arturo p,3,1:51.2f ($1,298,491). In 1999, Palone won the premier race at his home track of The Meadows when he guided Washington VC p,3,1:52.3f ($560,984) to victory in the Adios over eventual Triple Crown winner Blissfull Hall p,3,1:49.2 ($1,468,648). Later that summer he followed up with a Jugette win driving Maudlin Hanover p,3,1:52.2s ($523,508). In 2003 Palone guided Numeric Hanover p,3,1:51 ($495,229) to victories in both the Nadia Lobell and Jugette, and also won the Galt Memorial with Hellava Hush 1:51 ($1,140,974).
On November 7, 2004 Dave Palone joined Herve Filion, Walter Case, Jr. and Cat Manzi to become only the fourth driver in the history of North American harness racing to notch 10,000 career wins. The following year, Palone captured the Little Brown Jug with P-Forty-Seven p,3,1:48.2 ($707,660). In 2006, Palone drove Snowboarder 3,1:55.2 ($151,436) to a win in the Matron Stakes, and guided Go On BB p,4,1:50f ($1,003,523) to victory in the 2007 American-National.
Out of all of the amazing nights Palone has had, the most incredible might have been that of April 21, 2008 at The Meadows, when he became the first driver ever to win 11 races on a single pari-mutuel card; at the same time recording the most 2:00 miles ever on one raceway program (11). In the 2008 Breeders Crown for 3-year-old trotting colts, Palone guiding In Focus 3,1:52.3 ($844,942) to a stunning defeat of Deweycheatumnhowe 3,1:50.4 ($3,155,178). He finished the year with his career-best 885 victories. In 2009 Palone drove Won The West p,5,1:47 ($2,354,116) to a win in the American-National, and set a stakes record of 1:49.4f with Fred And Ginger p,3,1:49.4f ($307,172) in the 2010 Max Hempt Memorial Pace.
For seven straight years (1996-2002) Palone won 600 or more races, including back-to-back seasons of 700 or more (1999-2000). It was during this two-year period that he won his first two national dash-win crowns. He added a third title in 2004 by winning 670 races. Having shared Harness Tracks of America’s Driver of the Year award in 2009 with Jody Jamieson, Palone has now received the honor six times, second only to Herve Filion’s ten. His 13,716 wins place him third all-time in North America behind Filion (15,179) and Cat Manzi (13,756). To date, Palone has earned over $83.5 million in purses, while garnering, since 1989, an ongoing streak of 21 Meadows’ consecutive dash titles.
With his wife Bethann and daughters Hannah, Alana, and Sophie Anne by his side, family man and golf fanatic Dave Palone, now 48, has no plans to retire; far from it, he is now contemplating a charge at becoming the winningest driver of all time. “I’d be proud to tell my grandchildren that,” he says.