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A Conversation With George Dennis

Published: March 10, 2011 10:35 am ET

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George Dennis is something of a homebody. That doesn’t mean he’s spending his time lying on the couch watching TV all day. No, Dennis is quite busy. It’s just that he prefers to spend much of his time racing at Harrington Raceway and Dover Downs, which are both within 20 minutes from his house in Wyoming, Delaware.

Last year, Dennis was credited with 1,979 races as a driver and 603 starts as a trainer. There were only three other people credited with at least 1,000 drives and 600 training starts, and none of that group surpassed 1,520 drives. And since the start of 2000, Dennis has averaged 1,742 drives and 535 training starts.

Dennis is approaching 4,000 career wins as a driver. He entered Wednesday needing 18 victories to reach that level. He recently took a few moments to talk with Harness Racing Communications’ Ken Weingartner.

HRC: You’re coming up on 4,000 wins, so that must be nice. GD: Anytime you get to the next little milestone it’s always nice.

HRC: Well, let’s start with the present. How do you think things are going this year? GD: They’re going all right. I’ve had a few sick ones here in February, but overall it’s started pretty solid.

HRC: You’ve been very consistent in terms of wins and money. You always seem to be around $1.9 million mark. GD: I race the same circuit in Delaware because I’ve got a bigger stable and I can’t leave the stable that much. It’s hard for me to get away. I kind of stick to the one area.

HRC: Do you enjoy that? GD: Yeah, I enjoy the stable. I always have anywhere from four to eight colts every fall that I break and train down. I like training the young ones down and seeing if they’ll turn into anything, hopefully. I don’t like riding up and down the road. I did that before slots came to Delaware. I got spoiled, I guess you could say. I’m kind of right in the middle (between Dover and Harrington) and it works out nice.

HRC: You’ve been between 500 and 600 training starts the last 10 years or so. GD: I generally have between 25 and 35 (horses), give or take. I’ve got some good owners that have been with me for quite a few years. I own parts or half of about everything I have. They’ve been pretty loyal to me. They’ve had some success, and that’s about all you can ask for.

HRC: What do you enjoy more, the training or the driving? GD: The driving is a lot easier, that’s for sure. (Laughs.) It’s a lot less bills and a lot less headaches. But I really enjoy both. The stable hurts my catch driving a little bit because I’m always racing 18 or 20. I’m racing one to three or four a night from the barn, so that cuts down on my catch drives. But trainers are pretty good about putting me back on their horses the next time if I’ve got one in the same class. I’ve been fortunate with that.

HRC: There probably aren’t a lot of guys that are driving close to 2,000 races and also training around 600 starters. GD: Even in Delaware, there are very few trainer-catch drivers, I guess you could say. It’s busy days and long days a lot of the time, but what are you going to do? I enjoy having my horses and seeing them be successful. I enjoy that part of it rather than just having the catch driving. Financially, it’s better to have some of your own horses, for sure.

HRC: How did you get started in racing? GD: I grew up in it. I got my license when I was 16. I didn’t really start catch driving until I was 18 or 19. The first couple years I just kind of drove my father’s horses and got a few catch drives here and there.

HRC: Have you been in Delaware your whole life? GD: Yep. Born and raised. I was raised right behind Harrington Raceway.

HRC: So there was never any doubt this was going to be your career? GD: I always liked baseball and stuff in school, but once I got my driver’s license I was skipping baseball practice to go drive my father’s horses. Once you get the bug and do a little good, you think this is easy. (Laughs.) And some days it is. And some days it’s not.

HRC: Did you play baseball all through high school? GD: Yeah. I didn’t play after high school.

HRC: Where did you play? GD: I played third base or outfield.

HRC: Were you good? GD: I was decent. I could hold my own. Not everybody can play third base. Third base is a pretty hot spot. I enjoyed it. One of the guys that still has some horses with me was my Little League baseball coach. That’s kind of neat.

HRC: Is there any skill as a third baseman that translates to being a trainer or driver? GD: You’ve got to make quick decisions, just like you do on the racetrack. You’ve got split-second decisions whether to pull out or not pull out. Sometimes you’re right and sometimes you’re wrong. I play a lot of golf, too, so that helps my hand-eye coordination up in the summertime. That’s my hobby now.

HRC: How good are you at golf? GD: I’m down to a six handicap. I’d rather be a 12. It’s more fun as a 12. (Laughs.) When you get down in those single digits it’s a lot more work. It’s a lot tougher. You can’t miss a shot. If you’re a 10 or 12, you can miss a shot here and there. Once you get in the single digits there’s not much you can do wrong.

HRC: When do you have time to golf with training and driving? GD: Harrington is shut down for about six weeks in the summer, usually from the first of July until the middle of August. So during that time I just race five or six at Chester. I’ve got some free time then. The break comes at a nice time for us. I’d rather have it during the summertime when you can do something.

HRC: So what do you see for your future? GD: Hopefully another 10 to 15 years in this and then maybe I’ll have enough (money) saved up to retire. You’ve got to try to put some away every chance in this business. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’d rather not drive after I’m 55, anyway. I’m 40 now.

HRC: What’s been your biggest thrill so far? GD: One thing that was kind of neat was my 3,000th win was with a trotting filly (Go Sassy Go) I was training that was racing in a $100,000 Delaware stakes race. That worked out at a nice time, I thought. I think I won four or five that day and she just happened to be the one that was 3,000 and she was going for $100,000. It was neat to be a horse from the barn and have it come in that kind of race.

HRC: Any $100,000 races coming up soon that you can get 4,000 in? GD: No. The sire stakes don’t come up until April. Hopefully I’ll have it by then.

HRC: Yeah, you don’t want to push that off. GD: I’d rather get it over with. It seems like when you get close, you get that little bad luck where you can’t win a race. You can’t worry about that stuff. The more you worry about it, the harder it seems to get. Then it seems when you do it, you win three or four that night. You just go right on past it. It’s funny how it works.


This story courtesy of Harness Racing Communications, a division of the U.S. Trotting Association. For more information, visit ustrotting.com.

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