by Megan Semulka
Goosebumps run down your arms, your heart is beating at a level you didn’t think was possible, and the anticipation is shooting you out of your seat but who can sit at a time like this? Roger Huston is announcing the honorable drivers and prestigious horses as they walk down the track draped in purple. If you haven’t guessed it by now, it’s the Delvin Miller Adios.
Drivers, trainers, horses, and fans from all around venture to Washington, Pennsylvania at the end of July every year to experience the thrill of Adios Day. For the people that eat, breath, and sleep harness racing, it is the race of the summer. Never been to a harness race? Head to the Meadows on July 30th and you will not be disappointed.
The first ever Adios was in 1967. For everyone involved, it was a special beginning to a tradition of harness racing. Roger Huston explains, “This race is so special because of Delvin Miller and his importance in the industry.” The legendary trainer, Delvin Miller, named this race after his beloved sire Adios. Miller gave the face of harness racing such a positive look with his success and love for the sport. He was well-respected all over the globe so the affiliation with him is truly special.
For the fans that do not know much about the history of the Meadows Racetrack, it was originally supposed to be placed in Allegheny County, which is north of where it is now. However, that did not work out. Delvin Miller had a tremendous foresight when considering the placing of the racetrack, so he chose the location with the future of the sport in mind.
Adios, the race’s namesake, was a multiple world champion race horse and is considered by many to have been the greatest Standardbred sire in history. When Miller established the Adios, he knew it would be an important race over the years. The Delvin Miller Adios is coming up on it’s 50th anniversary this year and has had many historic horses, drivers, records, and memorable outcomes. Looking back at the races is best to do with some legends of the Adios. I got a chance to sit down with Roger Huston on the most important Adios races in his eyes and what the race means to him.
The “voice” of harness racing experienced his first Adios in 1976. He remembers that edition of the Adios, a hard fought victory for Armbro Ranger and Joe O’Brien over Keystone Ore and Stanley Dancer, to be the biggest one for him. “It was a battle between two with both winning a division. O’Brien won that year and actually equaled the world record. I would say it is the biggest Adios for me since it was my first time announcing it.”
Another win Huston considers important to the Meadows and the Adios is when Glen Garnsey won in 1978 with Abercrombie. Glen was great friends with Delvin Miller so when he went to the winner’s circle on that hot summer Saturday, was overcome with emotion. Although it was an emotional day for him, he cried happy tears for his great friend Delvin Miller and his great love for harness racing.
Special moments are what keeps this industry going. Nail-biting finishes, emotional wins, and most importantly the moments that we will never forget. In 1979, Herve Filion won the Adios with Hot Hitter defeating the seemingly unbeatable Sonsam, and to show the fans his appreciation and love, he stood up in the sulky going past the grandstand to make for quite the unforgettable moment. Moments like this remind us why we love this sport so much.
For the fans, moments with local drivers and trainers make it even more special than experiencing an Adios win for someone from out of town. Every Adios win is special but for the locals, it means more than you could imagine.
Richard ‘Dickie’ Stillings started at the Meadows a year before the first Adios and eventually became a well-known driver at the track. Winning the Adios in 1986 as the first local driver and trainer with Barberry Spur combined for quite the day. Stillings explained it as, “one of the biggest prestige races I have ever won.” For him, he typically does not get nervous, even if it is a big race like the Adios. He prepares like any other normal race by thinking about how he is going to get the win for 3-4 hours that day. The Washington County legend always looks at the program as he reads over the odds with butterflies in his stomach. “Once you get behind the gate, you know what to do.” Although Dickie does not tend to get nervous, he had a lot of pressure on him that day. The owners of Barberry Spur, Roy Davis and Barberry Farms, invited everyone they knew and were already celebrating before the race even began. He was the favorite and felt confident but did not want to let them down or the after party they had planned may have been pretty awkward. It was truly a magical moment for him and he wishes that every driver could experience something like that. “I wish every driver in the United States could have an opportunity like me for the Adios. A very blessed individual that day.”
Thirteen years later, another Meadows local and favorite, Dave Palone, had quite the David and Goliath Adios win. In 1999, Palone drove “long shot” Washington VC that showed up that day to make it something he would never forget. The original horse he was listed to drive did not qualify in the eliminations, so his thoughts of this race took a complete turn. He experienced his first Adios as a kid in 1976 with his father. Not only the hype of the race, but also the stands filled with fans cheering and shouting made him want to be part of that harness racing atmosphere. Little did he know, he would be winning that race 23 years later. Being a local boy, surrounded by his family, he was part of and brought home the Meadows Racetrack’s greatest prize, right in his backyard. The Palone family, including his wife and children, continue to support and cheer him on with every win he receives. With his biggest supports by his side, the possibilities for Dave Palone are endless.
When the Burke family won the Adios in 2007, it was also a family affair. Mickey Burke Sr.’s brothers from Arizona and California flew in to experience the victorious day, along with his three out of the five children who are involved in harness racing. Although he had five horses in the race, he did not believe he was going to win. “I have been waiting for this for 41 years. I don’t think anything is guaranteed.” Not only did he win big, but it was his 71st birthday as well. May June Character, driven by George Brennan, won the 41st Delvin Miller Adios down the final stretch. After training him, Burke knew he was a “loose wire” so an Adios win was going to be a hit or miss. With a victory at 1:51.1, Burke Sr. knew to not sell this colt short as he had been improving more and more at every start. When Burke’s horse won the race, you would think that it would be the highlight of his day. However, the highlight of his day was racing 46 horses at seven different tracks across the country. The calming sound in his voice proved that this was not a once in a blue moon day for himself or his family. Before Burke Sr.’s full attention was on harness racing, he owned a car dealership until 1982. Until he sold the car dealership, his children would take care of the horses, which helped them get to know their horses pretty well. Mickey Burke Sr. took a risk by selling the dealership, but it was most definitely worth it. With horses racing all over the country everyday, multiple Dan Patch Award winners and Grand Circuit victories, and the all breed season’s earnings record, the Burke family continue to push for what he would describe as “big days” every year at the Delvin Miller Adios.
This year’s Delvin Miller Adios is the 50th and like every year, is featuring some of the best horses around. Post time is 12:00 p.m. with the Adios final at race 12. Join the Meadows Racetrack for a day of races that will you never forget.