John Manzi, the guy who carried the torch for decades, revelled in the moment when 175 well-wishers packed The Fountains at Wallkill Golf Club to honour his lifelong passion and lifetime achievement in harness racing on Sunday evening (Dec. 2).
The banquet was the chapter’s 60th annual event, but after 40 years of running the show, Manzi said he wanted to step aside and let his successors take the ball.
Retired after famously re-inventing harness racing promotions while managing the publicity department at Monticello Raceway for 40 years, Manzi has always said, “I had a great run. It’s better to be a ‘has been’ than a never was!
“I didn’t make a lot of money, but I sure made a lot of great friends and great memories! And we pulled off some crazy promotions, too!” he said with a laugh.
Manzi was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Monticello-Goshen chapter of the United States Harness Writers Association. Manzi has been the fuel that propelled the chapter to become one of the strongest in the association.
“We have had many National USHWA presidents come from our chapter, and we have given tens of thousands of dollars to both the Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame, as well as Goshen Historic Track,” Manzi noted. “We are very proud of that.”
Chris Tully, John Manzi and Shawn Wiles present Moira Fanning with the John Manzi Leadership Award
A souvenir journal with 16 colour pages of iconic photos from Manzi’s famed office walls were like a walk down memory lane. Hall of Famer, and cousin, Cat Manzi, along with his other cousin, Eddie Lohmeyer, also made the trip to surprise the guest of honour. Manzi’s brothers Gary and Gerard were also on hand.
On a Manzi-filled night, the inaugural recipient of the John Manzi Leadership Award was the Hambletonian Society’s COO Moira Fanning. Always an eloquent speaker, and self-appointed Manzi-instigator, Fanning outlined how men like Manzi, Marv Bachrad, Tom Charters and Bill Fidati all gave a former-caretaker many of the opportunities the sport had to offer.
“For me, it was more like a ‘She Too’ movement…illustrating what her mentors thought, ‘If I could do it, she could, too!”
And do it she has, rising to the top echelon of a male-dominated sport, earning a seat on every executive board in the industry.
Other prominent honourees included, Chuck Connor (John Gilmour Good Guy), Peter Gerry (Amy Bull Crist Distinguished Service Award), Salt Hill Farm/Jim & Anne Feeley (Cradle of the Trotter Breeders Award), Jennifer Lappe (Amateur Driver), Debbie Little (Phil Pines), Shane Darish (Rising Star), and Arthur Robinson (Award of Appreciation).
Of course, the local equine practitioners from the Monticello Harness Horsemen’s Association where also honoured. Driver of the Year Mike Merton was on hand to accept his award for most wins, as was Kearstin DeGraw, the Caretaker of the Year from the Gary Messenger Stable. Monticello Raceway’s Horse of the Year was Johnnie DeSimone’s Sentimental Lady.
Proceeds from the generosity of advertisers in the souvenir journal and banquet ticket sales go toward making sizeable donations to both the Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame and Goshen Historic Track, two distinct and separate entities that each received $4,000 from the chapter coffers in 2018.