Hennessey Like A Kid In A Candy Store On Legends Day

Dave Landry
Published: June 19, 2024 12:24 pm EDT

The appeal of connecting with harness racing stars at Clinton Raceway's Legends Day event on June 30 isn’t exclusive to fans. Wally Hennessey sees himself as a bit of a kid in the candy store, too.

“I know them all,” he said of his fellow featured drivers and guests, “but I don’t get the chance to spend time with any of them. I left the Maritimes 40 years ago and went straight to the U.S. So, the chance to spend an afternoon with someone like Doug Brown — a true icon — is a real opportunity. And to rub shoulders with Bill O’Donnell and Ron Waples? These are the guys I was trying to emulate in my own career. Their talent and professionalism were a real inspiration to me.”

Legends Day is a biennial event created by the track in 2001 to showcase harness drivers from the Canadian Horse Racing Hall Of Fame. The spectacle serves as a major fundraiser for the Clinton, Ont. community and since its inception, Legends Day has generated more than $330,000 for the local hospital and schools. This year’s recipient is the Clinton Public Hospital Foundation.

In addition to Brown, Hennessey will be joined on the racetrack by Steve Condren, Chris Christoforou, Sylvain Filion, Paul MacDonell, Randy Waples and Carl Jamieson. Additional special guests include Ron Waples, Bill O'Donnell, John Campbell, Trevor Ritchie and Dave Wall. Collectively, the group represents 92,435 winning drives and purse earnings of $1.4 billion.

Hennessey has been involved in the events staged in 2011, 2013 and 2019, when (despite the fact that he has driven more than 4,000 horses since that day) he vividly recalls being the beaten favourite in the Legends Trot.

“They forgot to mention it was a mile race,” he quipped. “I was on top at the three-quarters.”

Enshrined in three Halls of Fame in Prince Edward Island, the United States and Canada, Hennessey is a bona fide legend, but certainly not one of a bygone era. His achievements are prolific and current. 

He’s the winningest of his fellow Legends Day drivers and special guests, with 11,685 victories and counting. At 67, he's still very active in the bike, clocking just under 1,000 starts last year. And in 2022, he drove horses to earnings of $3.1 million — a monetary milestone he last achieved two decades prior.

Just this past weekend at Saratoga, he earned 10 wins.

The winningest driver in the history of Pompano Park, Hennessey, has split his time between Florida and New York for the past few decades. He continues to do so, training babies in the sunny south during winter and heading to New York in May.

Hennessey says to receive the invitation to participate in this event is always a nice surprise.

“The track puts a pile of work into it — that’s obvious to everyone. And the community really responds. For me, to be approached to be a part of what they call Legends Day is really quite humbling. As a driver, it’s a reflection of a body of work that has taken a lifetime to achieve. It’s such an honour to be included in this group of esteemed individuals on a day that does so much good for so many people.”

Fans can access the Legends Day drivers throughout the day in the Hall Of Fame Tent and rub shoulders with them at the OLG Chicken BBQ dinner after the races.

New this year, the track is partnering with the Canadian Horse Racing Hall Of Fame to host an official reunion for inductees of the institution, which was created in 1976.

The race card will also feature eliminations for the Kin Pace. The Bill Galvin Racing Alliance will be onsite to showcase the Drive To Win virtual reality harness driving experience

Fundraising for Legends Day is generated through a number of initiatives, including a large online auction, 50/50 draw, raffles and donations and sponsorships. All donations and sponsorships are sent in their entirety directly to the benefitting organization. All sponsors receive acknowledgement on Clinton Raceway’s website, race broadcast and race program. To participate, contact Michelle Maloney by email at [email protected].

(With files from Clinton Raceway)

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