There isn’t much in the world harness racing that driver Wally Hennessey hasn’t done. The veteran has compiled more than 11,500 wins in his illustrious career which has led him to enshrinement into three different Halls of Fame. The native of Prince Edward Island was inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame there in 2006 before making it into the United States Horse Racing Hall of Fame the following year. Hennessey added a third Hall to his resume when in 2014, he was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame. With close to $78 million in career purses earned, Hennessey ranks among the top drivers in all-time earnings in the sport’s history. A large portion of Wally’s successes came while becoming the winningest driver in the history of Pompano Park in Florida, a track that ceased operations last year. At that point, Hennessey, who had split his time between Pompano and New York for the large part of the last few decades, came north on a full-time basis. He has been a regular at Tioga Downs and of course here at Saratoga Casino Hotel where the veteran reinsman has enjoyed massive success over the course of his incredible career.
The 66 year old Hennessey has thrived wherever he’s competed and now that he’s been a regular at the Spa this season, the classy legend is of course making his presence felt within the local driver colony. On the first Monday back after matinee racing took a hiatus for the summertime, Hennessey’s first drive on the September 11th card came in the afternoon’s second race. Wally sat behind young pacing filly Vegan who overcame post eight to move her record to three-for-three since coming to the Spa in August. Hennessey then guided Saratoga invader Shake Me Loose to victory in her Saratoga debut before piloting for leading trainer Brett Derue who has used Hennessey quite a bit in recent months.
Derue is seeking his first local training title and holds a narrow lead in the standings over Melissa Beckwith who is seeking her tenth championship at the Spa. Derue’s American Tour N is in the midst of a strong season and on Monday, Hennessey sat behind the claiming pacer as he did all summer long. The mare gave Wally his third consecutive win on the card when she parlayed her pocket trip to victory to complete a natural hat trick for Hennessey. From there, Wally was tasked with piloting the track’s defending Horse of the Year. Sea Shadows enjoyed a sensational 2022 campaign which saw her win fourteen times en route to over $128,000 in earnings and a Horse of the Year trophy at Saratoga. The ’23 season has not been as fruitful though for Sea Shadows who was her race’s big favorite on Monday while seeking her first win of the year. Hennessey didn’t waste any time moving the classy distaffer to the front-end and the veteran mare looked like her old self as she scored by almost ten lengths while stopping the timer in 1:53.1. One of the fastest miles of the year for a lady pacer at the Spa and although the win came while competing in the bottom level condition, the effort is sure to turn things around for the John Hallett-trained mare who drew the rail once again in pursuit of a repeat.
Wally Hennessey has done it all in this sport in his career but one thing he’d never done, at least in his time at Saratoga, is win five consecutive races on a card. He attempted to do just that on Monday when sitting behind Jackie Greene trainee Alittlesidehustl N. The five year old mare enjoyed a breakout season at the Spa last year when she compiled almost $120,000 in earnings by competing in large part in the local Fillies and Mares Open. Although her ’23 campaign hasn’t been quite as lucrative, Alittlesidehustl N continues to race against top-flight ladies both here at Saratoga, where she’s spent most of her season, and at Plainridge Park in Massachusetts where Greene often brings members of her stable. After winning in an upper level condition race on August 27th, Alittlesidehustl N found herself back in the Fillies and Mares Open the following week when she finished second with her regular driver Jay Randall at the controls. Last Monday, with Randall piloting at Plainridge, Hennessey got the call to sit behind Alittlesidehustl N who drew post position five in a six-horse Open in which she would wind up being the public’s odds-on betting favorite, perhaps in part due to the fact that the Hall of Famer Hennessey rode a four-race personal win streak into his try in the $15,000 feature. Alittlesidehustl N won the Open for the third time this year when Wally put her on the front end and didn’t look back. A 1:53.2 seasonal-best tying effort from Alittlesidehustl N completed an historic stretch for her driver which saw him win five consecutive races. Wally’s monster matinee wrapped up with a sixth win later in the card, a total that propelled him into fifth place in the driver standings this season. That sixth victory came while once again driving for conditioner Brett Derue.
Although he may have reached the feat in his extensive and decorated career driving at Pompano Park, Hennessey’s accomplishment of piloting five consecutive winners on a program is a streak perhaps never achieved at Saratoga and certainly not in the last two decades. Not by him and not by any other reinsman. The record for wins by a driver on a card at Saratoga is eight which occurred on a chilly afternoon in November of 2008 by the track’s all-time winningest driver Frank Coppola Jr and though Hennessey’s tally of six has been achieved on occasion, his five straight has not. Although the well-traveled Wally has spent much of his time this season at Saratoga, the veteran sulky star continues to pilot at Tioga Downs where he has won their last four driving titles. Just a few days after his historic Monday afternoon at Saratoga, Hennessey returned to Tioga where the native Canadian scored a hat trick before enjoying another successful weekend at the Spa. The Hall of Famer Hennessey continues to win and continues to find ways to make history as the all-world catch-driver’s Monday matinee saw him pilot a pair of winners for the track’s top trainer and the victor of the Filly and Mare Open Pace in addition to sitting behind defending Horse of the Year on a day that was certainly one to be remembered.
Live racing takes place at Saratoga on Saturday evenings starting at 5pm and Sunday and Monday afternoons with first post times set for 12 noon. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!