Usually people come to Las Vegas to make their dreams come true (or at least find the means to make them come true). Once in a while, though, the city simply provides the inspiration and opportunity to go after a dream.
Such is the case in one particular inspirational, "you’re-never-too-old" story.
When my brother Ken was an insurance agent here in the late 1980s and early ’90s, we’d spend a Friday night once or twice a month in a sports book somewhere watching our favorite sport ”” harness racing. In between tearing up losing tickets, we’d chew the fat about the days when we were in our late teens/early 20s and worked for several harness drivers, actually helping condition (train) horses back in the New York-New Jersey area at race tracks like Freehold, Monticello and Goshen.
While grabbing a snack right after watching one night’s racing card, he began to realize time was running out to chase any dreams he might still have. So, in the winter of 2000, my 45-year sibling, decided to once again reach for that unreachable star we both wanted to go for over 25 years ago!
He moved to California and re-involved himself in harness racing. Not as a spectator, but as an owner, trainer, and driver. All of which encompass emotional and physical demands that most 25-year olds would find tough, let alone a 45-year old.
The USTA (United States Trotting Association) in Ohio, turned him on to Alan Horowitz, general manager of Capitol Racing, which manages the harness racing meets at the Cal-Expo track in Sacramento. Horowitz subsequently introduced him to one of the track’s top drivers and trainers, Rocky Stidham, who took him under his wing and allowed him to stable any horses he acquired in the Stidham stalls.
The middle-aged, out of shape, slightly overweight insurance salesman busted his chops to get back to his fightin’ weight and strength and went through the trials and tribulations of attaining a "Q" (qualifying) license to race in non-betting, time qualifying races.
He bested some of the best harness drivers in California several times and won five of his first 13 races, winning not just the races, but the respect of his fellow horsemen and track personnel, who have been in the sport most of their lives. They know, firsthand, what an incredible accomplishment they were witnessing being achieved by someone at an age when most athletes are retired.
Ken has now earned his trainers license and "P" (provisional) license and has been driving in actual pari-mutuel (betting) races for the past five months. He owns four horses, though he is still looking for his first victory to go with six seconds and several third-place finishes.
Several months ago (before he had secured either of his licenses to drive in any races) my wife and I took many pictures to bring back to Vegas, so my Mom could see him on the track actually in the sulky (racing bike). For three weeks, she beamed every time she looked at them. Unfortunately, that’s all the time she had before she lost her battle with cancer on August 23.
Touts, horseman and players all over Vegas know what we mean when we speak of waiting for that one big score. After over 25 years, Ken finally made his, even though there was no money involved!
Now, re-inspired by what he saw on the big screen in Vegas sports books, a middle-aged former insurance agent is making his harness racing dream, a reality.
I guess it’s forgivable that the only Willie Loman my kid brother knows anything about”¦ was a racehorse. After all, in this case, the death of a salesman was actually the birth of a harness driver.