Team Pompano 'Putting The Band Back Together'

Wally Hennessey
Published: April 10, 2023 04:50 pm EDT

David Miller will go back to Ohio as a visitor when he represents Team Pompano in this week’s two-day Northfield/Pompano Driver’s Challenge at MGM Northfield Park, but it won’t be the first time the Buckeye State native has been in that role.

Two decades ago, Miller spent winters racing at The Meadows in western Pennsylvania. During that time, he was on a team from The Meadows that travelled to Northfield and won a Penn-Ohio challenge. He is hoping for the same outcome in this week’s competition, which begins Tuesday.

“We’ve got to get bragging rights,” said Miller. “We’re going to be racing, I’m sure of that.”

Miller, who spent several recent winters at Pompano Park prior to the venue closing last year, will be joined on Team Pompano by the track’s leading driver Wally Hennessey, Joe Chindano Jr., and John MacDonald. They will face a Team Northfield team of Aaron Merriman, Ronnie Wrenn Jr., Billy Davis Jr., and Chris Lems.

For Team Pompano, it is, to steal a line from the movie The Blues Brothers, like putting the band back together.

“That’s what we’re doing,” said Hennessey. “I like my team, I really do. I was very happy that these guys all accepted.

“It’s probably going to seem a little funny to people to see David on Team Pompano when he’s an Ohio native, but when the idea came up, he jumped right on board and I’m glad he did. I had some of the greatest times racing with him. This will be a great experience for all of us.”

Two charities were selected to benefit from the driver’s challenge, being held in partnership with the Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association. Team Pompano will race for the Standardbred Transition Alliance while Team Northfield will race for the American Cancer Society of Cleveland.

“Hopefully, people tune in and the track does well, and the charities do well,” said Hennessey. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Hennessey has won 11,454 races in his career and captured multiple driving titles at Pompano, including the final seven. He was inducted into the U.S. Hall of Fame in 2007 and Canadian Hall of Fame in 2014.

He last visited Northfield Park in 1994, when he competed in two divisions of the Cleveland Classic. A year earlier, he won the Battle of Lake Erie with Cambest at Northfield.

“I did get lucky that one time,” said Hennessey. “And I had a great horse.”

Hennessey, who spent this past winter in Florida training two-year-olds for Trond Smedshammer, hasn’t driven in a race yet this year, although he has made nine recent starts in qualifiers.

“I’m going to be pretty rusty, so I’ve got an excuse,” Hennessey said with a laugh. “I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but this is the first extended period that I never drove in 40-plus years. This [competition] is a good little thing to get me rocking and rolling again. I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a great competition.”

Miller is the only other member of Team Pompano to have raced previously at Northfield. Miller, who is approaching 14,000 lifetime victories, was inducted into the U.S. Hall of Fame in 2014.

Last year, Miller and Hennessey were part of a winning driver’s challenge hosted by Pompano Park that featured a team from the track taking on drivers from around the world.

“Homefield advantage is a big help,” said Miller. “I know it helped us when those guys came to us at Pompano. I just hope for some good draws and that everything goes well. It’ll be fun.”

MacDonald, who has spent this year at Saratoga Casino Hotel, has won 4,382 races as a driver and 914 as a trainer. He competed at Pompano Park for 11 years and was the track’s leading trainer for the 2017-18 meet.

“That’s something that was not easy to do because there were a lot of good trainers down there,” said MacDonald. “That was probably my best year there. That was pretty cool.”

As for the driver’s challenge, MacDonald said, “It’s going to be great to get back together with the guys from Florida. I know a few of the Ohio guys, as well, so it should be fun. I’m sure there’s definitely going to be some trash talking. We’ll all be out there trying to win. It’ll be exciting.”

Chindano, who at the age of 23 is the youngest participant, has won 462 races as a driver and 109 as a trainer. He drove at Pompano for the final three seasons, finishing fifth in the standings in 2020-21 and 2021-22.

“It’s a great feeling to be a part of [the challenge],” said Chindano, who set career highs last year with 152 driving wins and $1.01 million in purses. “It’s a great opportunity and I really appreciate them thinking of me.”

One of Chindano’s biggest thrills came at Pompano in 2021 when he won an Open with his own Skip To My Lou in 1:49.

“That was the fastest I’ve been ever,” said Chindano. “That was a big moment.”

Chindano and his wife, Maggie, moved to Buffalo this year and have a stable of seven horses. Chindano is third in wins among drivers at Buffalo.

“We went from one extreme to the other,” Chindano said with a laugh, referring to wintering in Florida previously.

“We’ll go to Batavia for the summer and see how it shakes out from there. Northfield is only two hours away. I’ve never been to Northfield, so we’re going to try that out this week and see how it goes. That will be a different experience, and it will be fun.”

Both driver’s challenge nights, Tuesday and Wednesday, will feature eight races pitting Team Pompano against Team Northfield. Drivers will earn points based on where they finish in each race (10-7-5-3-1, scratches will net a driver 2 points), and the winning team will be determined by who has the most points at the end of the competition.

Post time is 6 p.m. EDT at Northfield. Free past performances courtesy of TrackMaster will be available for both nights of the driver’s challenge on

(With files from USTA)

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