When the Monticello-Goshen Chapter USHWA holds its 52nd annual Awards Banquet at Monticello Casino & Raceway on the evening of Sunday, October 24, the local scribes will honour Moira Fanning with the Phil Pines Award.
As strange as it may seem, but back in the 1950s and 1960s women on a racetrack were taboo -- especially on the backstretch. But thankfully times have changed. Today women are getting their due, not only on the racetrack, but in areas of management, promotion and publicity.
Enter Moira Fanning, arguably one of the most prolific women in the sport today.
Once a groom for Hall of Fame trainers Howard Beissinger and Bill Haughton, and now a key figure in presentation of the world-renowned Hambletonian and its Breeders Crown classics, Fanning has been the strong right arm of Hambletonian president Tom Charters for 24 years and a major executive in her own right in the sport.
Although she rose in the ranks through publicity and a remarkable record of responsive service, she also has handled track accounting and virtually all other duties trackside. Popular and known wherever harness horses race, it is the standardbred industry’s good fortune that Fanning is so completely involved.
Fanning currently serves as director of publicity for the Hambletonian Society, the owner of the Hambletonian, Hambletonian Oaks, the Breeders Crown and the administrator of nearly 130 stakes.
Fanning, nee Sullivan, is originally from Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, where she grew up on what she called a “quasi-farm” with three sisters and a brother, and with horses and a lot of animals.
Initially, her life revolved around saddle horses, show horses and thoroughbreds and by her own admission at that time she didn’t really have high regard for standardbreds.
A trip to Liberty Bell Park back in 1974 changed her life. She took a caretaker job which was supposed to last just through the summer to help earn money for college. But her love for the animals she rubbed kept her attention and she was with the harness horses for years afterwards.
A stint with Ray Vaughn-Thomas at the Meadowlands in 1979 changed her life again. She met Tom Fanning, who loved horses nearly as much as Moira did and together they lead a nomadic life traveling from track to track, not only on the east coast, but in the mid-west and California, too.
However, the misfortune of a car accident, where she broke her shoulder, forced Moira to switch from the backstretch to the frontside.
“Marvin Bachrad offered me a job at Brandywine, I think for $30 a day,” she recalled. “Because my brother Tim lived nearby in nearby Phoenixville I could live with him and drive to Brandywine every day.”
She later worked for Bill Fidati in the public relations office at Garden State Park, and while there she also worked in accounting.
“They (Garden State) had the Breeders Crown there that year (1986) and it was there where I met Tom Charters,” she recalled.
And it was through correspondence with Charters that he offered her a job.
So Moira became an assistant to Charters and not long afterward she and the other Tom in her life tied the knot.
In her capacity with the Hambletonian Society she travelled the U.S and Canada not only promoting the upscale Breeders Crown races but also promoting the sport of harness racing.
Because of her close friendship with the late Bruce Stearns, Fanning became heavily involved with USHWA, where she ascended to the rank of president. And under her leadership, USHWA thrived and turned the corner towards profitability.
“If Moira was involved in a project you know it was always first class,” noted longtime friend and former racing colleague, Barry Lefkowitz. “And I know that when she ran the harness writers' banquets they were the best we ever had.”
Over the years, Fanning received many awards, including USHWA’n of the Year and the Golden Pen Award, but arguably the most prestigious came in 2009 when she was presented with the Harness Tracks of America’s Distinguished Service Award.
Everyone in harness racing knows that Moira Fanning is a dynamo; she’s knowledgeable; she’s hard working and she has great leadership qualities. And she’s no 'yes-man.'
Though she will be presented with the Monticello Goshen Chapter's Phil Pines Award for her contributions to harness racing, the most prestigious of all awards, the Communicators Hall of Fame, is not far down the road.
Moira and Tom Fanning live in Jackson, NJ with their two daughters, Veronica, 18 and Caroline 15.