Monticello, NY — John Manzi, the guy who carried the torch for decades, reveled in the moment when 175 well-wishers packed The Fountains at Wallkill Golf Club to honor his lifelong passion and lifetime achievement in harness racing on Sunday evening (Dec. 2).
The banquet was the chapter’s 60th annual event, but after 40 years of running the show, Manzi said he wanted to step aside and let his successors run with the ball.
Retired after famously re-inventing harness racing promotions while managing the publicity department at Monticello Raceway for 40 years, Manzi has always said, “I had a great run. It’s better to be a ‘has been’ than a never was!”
“I didn’t make a lot of money, but I sure made a lot of great friends and great memories! And we pulled off some crazy promotions too!” he said with a laugh.
Manzi was the Monticello-Goshen Chapter of the United States Harness Writers Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award winner and has been the fuel that propelled the chapter to become one of the strongest in the association.
“We have had many National USHWA presidents come from our chapter, and we have given tens of thousands of dollars to both the Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame, as well as Goshen Historic Track,” Manzi noted. “We are very proud of that.”
A souvenir journal with 16 color pages of iconic photos from Manzi’s famed office walls was like a walk down memory lane. Hall of Famer and cousin Cat Manzi, along with his other cousin, Eddie Lohmeyer, also made the trip to surprise the guest of honor. Manzi’s brothers Gary and Gerard were also on hand.
On a Manzi-filled night, the inaugural recipient of the John Manzi Leadership Award was the Hambletonian Society’s COO Moira Fanning. Always an eloquent speaker, and self-appointed Manzi-instigator, Fanning outlined how men like Manzi, Marv Bachrad, Tom Charters and Bill Fidati all gave a former caretaker many of the opportunities the sport had to offer.
“For me, it was more like a ‘She Too’ movement…illustrating what my mentors thought, ‘If I could do it, she could too!”
And do it she has, rising to the top echelon of a male-dominated sport, earning a seat on every executive board in the industry.
Other prominent honorees included Chuck Connor (John Gilmour Good Guy), Peter Gerry (Amy Bull Crist Distinguished Service Award), Salt Hill Farm/Jim & Anne Feeley (Cradle of the Trotter Breeders Award), Jennifer Lappe (Amateur Driver), Debbie Little (Phil Pines), Shane Darish (Rising Star), and Arthur Robinson (Award of Appreciation).
Of course the local equine practitioners from the Monticello Harness Horsemen’s Association where also honored. Driver of the Year Mike Merton was on hand to accept his award for most wins, as was Kearstin DeGraw, the Caretaker of the Year from the Gary Messenger Stable. Monticello Raceway’s Horse of the Year was Johnnie DeSimone’s Sentimental Lady.
Proceeds from the generosity of advertisers in the souvenir journal and banquet ticket sales go toward making donations to both the Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame and Goshen Historic Track, two distinct and separate entities that each received $4,000 from the chapter coffers in 2018.