A Ray of Sunshine

Dan Daley Jr. trying to keep pari-mutuel harness racing alive in Florida

story by Jessica Hallett

“Were you raised in a barn?”

Such a quaint question might be mocking the behaviors of an individual. Yet, to many, it’s paired with a sincere affirmation.

Being on the racetrack is somewhat of an alternate universe. A typical day includes jogging, grooming and feeding some number of horses depending on the stable. There are routines that a stable follows every day, week or even month, whether it be a schedule of jogging-training-racing, veterinary work, shoeing, dentistry and so on, but nothing can account for mishaps on the track, loose horses or thrown shoes.

Typical days aside, growing up on the racetrack culminates into a background that provides unique experiences and character traits that last a lifetime.

For Dan Daley Jr., this background resonates with the development of his life into a career of leadership in public service. Today he serves as a state representative in the Florida legislature, representing a district that includes Pompano Park.

Daley was born on Feb. 16, 1990, in Huntington, N.Y. For most of his life, however, he was raised in Coral Springs, Fla., a city just a few miles from Pompano Beach, where Pompano Park is located.

Daley’s parents, Dan and Ann-Mari, are well known horsepeople and among the snowbirds—horsemen that travel the East Coast, south in the winter and north in the summer. In the winter months the Daleys train at the South Florida Training Center, also known as Olympia of West Palm Beach to other equestrians who use the facility. In the summer, Vernon Downs is their landing place.

“I have basically been at the barn since birth,” said Dan Daley Jr. “I was riding in the jog cart in my dad’s lap as a baby. It was the only way I would fall asleep.”

Throughout his childhood, if Daley wasn’t in school, especially on weekends and during vacations, he was at the barn. That meant the barn at Pompano Park in the winter and summers up north, racing at Saratoga, Monticello, Yonkers, Buffalo, Batavia, Meadowlands, Goshen, Northfield and Mohawk.

Daley says he was a typical racetrack kid. While at the barn he would clean stalls, or at least try to persuade someone else to clean his stalls, he joked. Scrubbing buckets and grooming horses and other barn chores were on his daily to-do list as well.

“My favorite was grooming the horses,” he said. “The relationship you can build with these incredible animals as a groom is second to none.”

While working closely with the horses, it can be very hard not to fall in love with each and every one of them. Although Daley has had a few favorites over the years, including RC Destiny and Redneck Reindeer, he recalls his very first favorite horse, Fog Patch.

“Fog Patch used to let me climb under the gate into his stall and cuddle up with him when he was sleeping,” he said.

Daley’s favorite memory of the barn involves dressing up as Santa as a kid. He would walk barn to barn on the Pompano Park backstretch and hand out candy.

He says his favorite harness racing moment was when his dad won the Breeders Crown (the 1999 Two-Year-Old Colt & Gelding Trot, with Master Lavec).

“My family works so incredibly hard, like so many others. To see it pay off like that was a massive accomplishment,” Daley said.

Today, Daley still has a great deal of involvement in harness racing. For the first time, he bought in on two promising trotting colts with his dad at last year’s Lexington Selected Yearling Sale. He also still occasionally helps with jogging horses. He is also the owner of Golden Gro Horse Supplement, a soy-based protein supplement which his parents help distribute in Florida and across the Northeast.

His most important work in harness racing these days, however, is advocating for the sport at the Florida statehouse.

After graduating from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Daley attended Florida State University (FSU) with a plan to pursue a career in the military that he would parlay into a life in public service and politics. He was a first-generation college student on a U.S. Air Force Scholarship at FSU when he was introduced to Ari Abraham Porth, a local state representative.

“Ari gave an 18-year-old college kid the chance of a lifetime,” Daley said.

He was given the opportunity to work in Porth’s office as an intern. Six months later, he was hired as a full-time legislative aide.

“I was working on statewide policy by the time I was 19 years old,” he said. “When Rep. Porth was about to term out of his seat in the State House, I decided to run for local office. I ran an 18-month-long campaign and was elected at (age) 22 to the Coral Springs City Commission.”

Daley was the youngest person to be elected in city history. He served in this role for seven years before winning a special election to Rep. Porth’s former seat in the Florida House of Representatives. In addition to his work as a legislator and his side gigs with Golden Gro and jogging a few horses, the graduate of Nova Southeastern University’s Sheppard Broad College of Law also serves as corporate counsel for a technology consulting company.

“It is hard to believe, but next year will be my 10th year in elected office,” he said. “I view it as an absolute honor and an important responsibility. I get up each day with the opportunity to directly serve others and I take that very seriously. I have been fortunate to accomplish a lot in my almost 10 years, but there is more work to be done.”

Florida’s state capital is in Tallahassee, and Daley describes it as a challenging place to navigate.

“I am fortunate to have developed relationships over the last 12 years that have been helpful in passing legislation and stopping bad legislation, but it is always an uphill battle,” he said.

Daley has also been a key player in the fight to save pari-mutuel harness racing in Florida (see sidebar on next page).

“There has been a handful of folks, including the FSBOA, paying attention in Tallahassee; however, when you are up against someone like Caesar’s (owner of Pompano Park), it needs to be all hands on deck. My hope is that we can re-harness the momentum that we had during the (2021) Special Session to help make harness racing possible in Florida again.

“While we were ultimately unsuccessful in stopping the world’s largest gaming company from ending harness racing in Florida—and putting nearly 10,000 people out of work—I have not given up hope,” he added.

“I also believe it’s about more than just the Legislative Session. The harness racing community, and those who love it, need to be engaged during election time—remember those who were helpful in our fights and those who were not. I had the votes in the House and the Senate to save harness racing in Florida, but one person on the Senate side prevented that vote from taking place. We need to remember that come election time.”

In addition to having an impact on his life, harness racing has also given Daley an empathy for working on behalf of others.

“My father wakes up every day and does what he loves,” he said. “Harness racing is not easy—there are ups and downs, Christmases where there is plenty under the tree and times when you’re struggling to keep the power on, but at the end of the day, you are doing what you love. That is what harness racing is about.

“I look at public service much the same way. Politicians constantly get a bad rap, and sometimes for good reason, but so many of us are working and serving others every day. That is what keeps me going and keeps me engaged— to help the everyday person over the multi-billion-dollar casino company.

“In the fight between David and Goliath, I chose David—and I would do it again.” HB

Jessica Hallett is a freelance writer living in Florida. To comment on this story, email us at readerforum@ustrotting.com.

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