Born in Rexburg, Idaho on May 9, 1923, Jim Dennis grew up with Standardbreds. His father, Noah, and five uncles trained and drove them. They had the leading race-winning stable in 1916. Jim tasted his first victory at the age of 13, with the horse Barry Shannon. After a three-year stint in the Air Force, Dennis, in 1948, went to work for noted West Coast horseman Maynard M. Shetler, who gave the young driver a start in his career with Patchen Axworthy, a California-bred free-for-all pacer. Mr. Shetler also gave Dennis the hand of his lovely daughter Donna in marriage.
Ozark Chief, in 1956, became Dennis's first two-minute performer, with a win at Roosevelt Raceway, New York. From there, Dennis went on to develop and drive some of the great champions of their day. The Dennis Stables' Adios Vic, who ended the mighty Bret Hanover's 35-race winning streak in 1965, won three races over Bret. No other horse had more than one triumph over the champion. Later that year Dennis and Adios Vic upset Cardigan Bay and Meadow Skipper at Hollywood Park, California, setting a world record at the time of 2:03.1 for the mile and sixteenth race.
In 1973, Dennis had the Pacer of the Year and Harness Horse of the Year with the fast Sir Dalrae. This great pacer began his career as a trotter without success until Dennis introduced him to hopples. Together they went on to rewrite the harness racing record books and smash world and track records, winning thirteen straight sub-2:00 minute stakes races in 1973.
For the last two years of his career, Savoir, the 1975 Harness Horse of the Year was under Dennis's care. It was he who drove Savoir over the million-dollar mark with a win in the American Trotting Classic at Hollywood Park, California. Other fine performers for Dennis have been Golden Go, Mr. Dalrae, Try Scotch and Perfect Freight.
Dennis retired from harness racing in 1992 with 2,677 victories and nearly $13 million in purse earnings. He was highly respected by his fellow horsemen for his honesty, ability and integrity. They would all agree, Jim Dennis was a fine gentleman and a class act. A true superstar of his sport, Dennis was elected into the Living Hall of Fame in 2001. He passed away on February 22, 2004 at his home in Solana Beach, California.
Revised version first published in the Harness Racing Museum's 2002 Souvenir Journal