Democrat Photo by Nathan Mayberg
THE MANZI FAMILY was in good spirits the Monticello-Goshen Chapter of the United States Harness Writers Association (USHWA) annual gala Sunday evening at the Raleigh Hotel in Fallsburg. Hall of Fame driver Catello Cat Manzi, center, was honored at the event. Appearing in the photo with Catello are, from left to right, cousin Vincent Manzi, brother Gary, brother Gerard, brother Steven, sister Susan and cousin John, who served as the emcee at the event.
To Honor Own
By Nathan Mayberg
FALLSBURG October 29, 2004 The driver with the third most wins in North American harness horse racing history, returned home to Sullivan County on Sunday evening to be honored by the Monticello-Goshen chapter of the United States Harness Writers Association (USHWA).
Catello (Cat) Manzi, a native of Mongaup Valley, continues to be one of the most dominant drivers of all-time. In 2001, he was inducted into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame, which is located in Goshen.
Manzi was honored at the USHWAs annual dinner at the Raleigh Hotel. The event was hosted by Cats cousin, the former driver John Manzi. The late owner of the Raleigh Hotel, Mannie Halbert, who also used to own harness racing horses, was remembered with a moment of silence at the dinner.
Catello Manzi has amassed over 10,000 wins during his career, which spans over 35 years. He began his career at Monticello Raceway. He is not far behind Walter Case on the all-time list. If he maintains his current pace, he would move up to second on the list by 2006.
His horses have earned over $100,467,000 in purse money. This year alone, Manzis horses have garnered $6.3 million from about 500 wins. He earned his most lucrative win this year with a victory in the North American Cup, held at Woodbine in Canada. The horse, Mantacular, a 3-year-old colt, brought home a $1.6 million purse. Manzi expects to ride him again at the Matron and Progress Pace at Dover Downs.
Some of his other great wins include the Breeders Crown, Yonkers Trot, Wilsons Pace and the Kentucky Futurity for Fillies.
However, Catello Manzi has never won the most famous American harness race, the Hambletonian. He said it would be nice to win that prestigious race, but he is not concerned about it. He would treat such a victory as a bonus.
Manzi is based at the Meadowlands Raceway in New Jersey, which is known as the most prestigious harness track in the world. When the track is closed, or moves to thoroughbred racing, he races at Harrington, Dover Downs and Freehold. He has returned to Monticello Raceway on occasion for big stakes races, and plans to return in the future.
At the age of 54, Manzi said he doesnt know how long he will continue to race, but he said it currently feels right.
Lafit Pincay, one of the winningest jockeys in thoroughbred racing, was driving at the age of 56 until an accident last year ended his career. In hockey, Hall of Famer Gordie Howe played into his 50s. Baseball Hall of Famer Satchel Paige also pitched after turning 50.
Horse racing has been a family affair for the Manzi family for over 50 years. Both Johns and Catellos parents owned, trained, and drove horses. Both raised their families in Mongaup Valley. Richard Junior and Gary Manzi also drove horses.
As a child, Catello, also known as Dick to his family, used to help train his familys horses. He called horses a way of life while growing up. There were always horses in the familys backyard, and, eventually, on their own farm.
The Liberty High School graduate said he continues to learn more about horses each day. Each has their own personality, like any other animal or human being.
Catello Manzi attended Orange County Community College for a couple years, but he noted that his heart wasnt in it.
He continued driving at Monticello Raceway, where he would go on to win numerous driving titles, until he switched his operation to the Meadowlands when it opened in the late 1970s.
In the beginning of his career, like most drivers, Cat trained or owned his own horses. However, that began to change in the 1970s, when trainers started to use certain drivers.
He said he was the recipient of a lot of luck. He believed he shared an advantage over other drivers, because he grew up around horses.
It came natural, Cat said of driving.
The key, naturally, is to have quick horses. However, he spoke of a certain communication he has with the horse, which allows them to relax and not be hindered.
John Manzi, who now helps run publicity for Might M Gaming at Monticello Raceway, was a driver himself. He competed from 1962 to 1974 throughout New York State.
He said he was tremendously proud of his cousin. He said that times have changed for harness racing. Sports fans can watch an array of sports on television now, and can bet on the races through simulcasting. That has made crowds at harness tracks throughout the country drop, although betting has increased in recent years.
John Manzi recalled the glory days of Monticello Raceway, when 5,000 people would attend the races each night. At Yonkers Raceway, 25,000 used to pack the track each night. The races were covered by beat reporters for newspapers.
You were a celebrity, he said.
He believed the game was improving, particularly for those at Monticello Raceway, where purses have improved since the introduction of the video lottery terminals. However, John Manzi believed the industry could do a better job marketing. Cat agreed that the sport could use better representation.
Its a colorful, beautiful sport, Catello Manzi said.
He also thought that Monticello Raceway was improving.
It was a great place, he commented. There is no reason it cant be a great place again. Its nice to go back there it is home.
Manzi is on top of his game now more than ever. He recorded 15 wins over a recent two-day span. His eight wins on one card on one of those days was the first time he had ever reached that milestone.
So what does Catello Manzi like most about the sport?
Winning, he replied.