By John Manzi, Raceway Wrap
SULLIVAN COUNTY January 25, 2002 When the United States Harness Writers Association announced last summer that Cat Manzi was nominated to Harness Racings Hall of Fame, a sportswriter from an out-of-county daily newspaper local was among the first to contact Manzi about the honor to report it to his readership.
One might think it strange that someone other than a writer from the Freehold, NJ-area might think that Manzis nomination may be of local interest. But think again.
Cat Manzi is a native of Sullivan County, graduated from Liberty High School and began his illustrious driving career at Monticello Raceway.
That sportswriter contacted Manzi by cell phone when the now Hall of Fame driver was enroute to Harrington Raceway after a day in the sulky at Freehold Raceway, a town in which Manzi now calls home. Racing at two tracks in one day has been a regular occurrence for Manzi during his 33-year career.
Come July 7, 2002, Manzi will be enshrined into Harness Racings Hall of Fame in Goshen along with four other deserving candidates.
Its something I never would have expected to happen when I first began racing, Manzi told the sportswriter. Its hard to explain the feeling (I have about the induction) but its a great honor.
For those close to the industry Manzis induction comes as no surprise.
His outstanding accomplishments are recorded for posterity in the sports record books.
Since 1988 thats 14 consecutive years Manzi has been ranked in the top twenty in seasonal driving victories. And add to that the years of 1980 and 1982 when the Catman also had national ranking.
His most productive seasons were in 1989 and in 1990 when he reined 687 and 641 victories respectively, which ranked him second in North America. With 401 winners last year 16th best Manzi began the 2002 season as the sports third winningest driver with 9,236 career victories.
And his purses of nearly $85-million are sixth-best all-time.
During the decade of the 1990s Cat Manzi drove more races (over 30,000) than any other reinsman and there are a scant few Classic Races that he has not won.
Some of his more memorable victories came behind: Winkys Gill in the Breeders Crown and in the Hambletonian Oaks; Harmonious in the World Trotting Derby; Bullville Victory in the Yonkers Trot; Syrinx Hanover in the Goldsmith Maid; Scoot To Power in the Cane Pace; Riyadh and Trump Casino in the U.S. Championship; Mybrowneyedgirl in the the Three Diamonds; Fast Photo in the Valley Victory; Harmonious and David Raymond in the Zweig Memorial; Pacific Fella in the Driscoll and the Dan Patch; and Whitefish Falls in the Woodrow Wilson.
During the 1992 season Manzi piloted Artsplace to a then world record of 1:49:3 and a few years later, in 1994, he drove Beat The Wheel to a then world trotting record of 1:51:4.
Talent is something that Cat Manzi never lacked.
Almost from the time he began driving he knew how to get to the winners circle. Over the years he won driving titles at Monticello Raceway, Liberty Bell Park, Garden State Park and Freehold Raceway where he will be chasing his 14th championship this year. And of course, since its inception in 1976, Manzi has been among the winningest drivers (over 2500 victories) at the worlds harness racing showplace, The Meadowlands.
But Manzis incredible career was nearly cut short at Freehold Raceway on May 29, 1999 when a serious driving accident almost took his life.
But with a strong will and many months of rehabilitation he returned to the sulky just as sharp as ever winning driving titles at Freehold Raceway in 2000 and 2001 and ranking in the top ten at the Meadowlands both seasons.
Again in 2002 Manzi is continuing his winning ways, leading all other reinsmen at his home track in Freehold, NJ. And he currently ranks in the top ten in driving victories on the national scene.