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Irish Trainer Enjoying Greener Pastures

Published: March 28, 2012 6:41 pm ET

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Feegee may have the luck o’ the Irish on her side in Friday’s kick off of the Spring Survivor Series at the Meadowlands Racetrack.

The Conway Hall filly, trained by 29-year-old Dublin, Ireland native Joe Hanney, has drawn Post 6 in the first of two $12,500 divisions, carded as Races 2 and 4. Hall of Famer Ron Pierce picked up the assignment.

Despite his roots in harness racing, Hanney originally aspired to be a thoroughbred jockey.

“Back in Ireland I actually trained to be a rider until genetics kicked in with my weight and height,” Hanney said. “So, I got back into harness racing, grooming and driving horses. My grandfather was a renowned standardbred trainer who was very good with problem horses. We have a small industry back home. They race from April to October on the grass and half-mile tracks.”

With the sport in decline in his home country, Hanney sought greener pastures across the Atlantic.

“I emigrated from Ireland in 2007, and went to Canada first,” he said. “I had worked for Liam Wallace, then 'Nifty' Norman invited me to come to New Jersey. I was with 'Nifty' for a year, and then Joe Holloway for a couple of years. Initially, I knew Anthony Haughan, who had come over to Ontario with some success, and it just seemed like a good idea to give it a try at the time. I was 23 and single, and thankfully things have worked out.

“I have a stable at White Birch Farm [in Englishtown, New Jersey], and right now with my girlfriend, Liisa Vatanen, we train 15 horses. Liisa worked for Trond Smedshammer and cared for a really good trotter named Sand Vic (1:51.2, $2,117,382). She also worked with Tony Alagna. So, together we’ve been pretty fortunate to be involved with a lot of successful people.”

Originally a $16,000 yearling purchase at Harrisburg, Feegee moved into the Hanney Stable this season. Feegee started her sophomore campaign in the Syrinx Hanover Series with a pair of fourths, and then finished a close a second in the $37,000 final.

“Feegee is owned by some people from Finland,” he said referring to Multi Racing Stable’s Anssi Suominen. “She was trained by Bernie Noren last year. Bernie moved to Canada and this filly was at a turnout farm here in New Jersey. We were friends with a girl that worked there, the owners were looking for a trainer, and she pointed this horse in our direction.

“Feegee has really worked out well for us so far. She’s not a very big filly, yet turns her speed okay. She had a couple of minor issues last year but - knock on wood - she’s been problem-free for us. After winning her qualifier at the Meadowlands, she finished fourth in both Syrinx Hanover divisions, but only got beat about a length each time. So, I was a little surprised she wasn’t one of the favourites in that final. She ended up second. I guess being the underdog is a good thing sometimes.

“We’re trying to keep her sound and sharp on the big track, and eventually we’re hoping to try her in New York Sires Stakes on the smaller tracks," he added. "I’m sure she’s going to make some noise for us there.”

Hanney also sends out In Nomine Patri from Post 9 in the ninth race. The four-year-old gelding by Credit Winner, owned by Hanney’s girlfriend, Liisa Vatanen, makes a drop in class and picks up driver Jim Morrill Jr.

“We bought him at last year’s January Mixed Sale for $38,000. We saw quite a bit of potential in him. At the time, he was a three-year-old with not a lot of starts, and we liked his look. He’s got some gait speed, and if he gets away near the back he doesn’t have a great kick come home. Again, he can leave and likes to be on the front. If he’s driven that way he can pick up a nice cheque almost every time.”

Eiler Hopes To Keep Momentum Going

Philadelphia police officer Owen Eiler Jr. will send out a pair of starters, including Markz Moose in the Spring Survivor Series, on Friday night at the Meadowlands Racetrack.

The 49-year-old trainer had an early season success with Super Bowl Series champion Dontevenknowmymame. He will try to keep that momentum going with Markz Moose in the first bracket of the Spring Survivor for three-year-old trotters.

Markz Moose, a gelding by Classic Photo, drew Post 3 with Dave Miller driving in the second of two $12,500 divisions, carded as Races 2 and 4.

“Howard and Josh Kaufman bought him at the January Mixed Sale for $15,000,” Eiler recalled. “I just happened to be there with my Super Bowl Series success. They also bought Paris Kentucky at that sale and I actually liked that one better.”

Markz Moose finished third in his first start for Eiler at Harrah’s Chester before unleashing a 1:55.1 lifetime best at the Pennsylvania oval on March 22.

“Ron Pierce was impressed with him after that mile,” Eiler noted. “He was just sitting there and had time to spare. We really haven’t done anything with the horse, just some tender loving care. He’s a maturing three-year-old. I believe he’s eligible to the Dexter Cup and few other events in New Jersey. Hopefully, we have a few profitable months ahead of us. We’re in a tough division.”

Eiler also has his own Ahlbback Yankee in Race 12. Leaving from the rail, the four-year-old mare by Electric Yankee ships into a class-drop situation.

“I bought her from the same guy I purchased Dontevenknowmymame from, Scott Cox,” he said. “He was trying to sell her privately and I kept putting off buying her. Then, he put her in the Delaware, Ohio Mixed Sale, and I paid $6,700 or $6,800.”

Allbback Yankee sports a $14,000 claiming tag on Friday.

“She raced well two starts back at Chester when she rallied for third,” he said. “They just sprinted away from her last week. She’s a little lazy but, if you make her work, she’ll go. I’m hoping the bigger track is going to help her, and she’s not facing a very tough field. I figured I’d give her shot.”

Eiler obtained his trainer’s license only a little over a year ago upon the urging of his children, yet has actually been racing at the Meadowlands for a number of years.

“I’ve been around there for awhile,” he said. “I’ve had horses with Eddie Sager and Frank Petrelli. I really like racing at the Meadowlands. I just wish it was a little bit closer. Traffic on the Turnpike can come to a standstill.”

(With files from Meadowlands Racetrack)

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