Hall of Fame

 



walter hennessey

Year of Induction: 
2007
Year of Birth: 
1956
DriverTrainer: 
Yes
Driver: 
Yes
Election Into Living Hall of Fame: 
2006
Biography: 

Walter "Wally" Hennessey, a Prince Edward Island native, comes from a family with a long history in harness racing. Born October 4, 1956, he is one of the nine children of Joe and Shirley Hennessey. His father Joe, considered to be one of the finest horsemen in the sport, and his grandfather Wal encouraged Wally to become interested in Standardbreds at an early age. He and his brothers often were involved with mucking out stalls and jogging horses at their father's stable in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. When he decided to continue the family tradition by choosing a career in harness racing, Wally became part of a third-generation of Hennessey horsemen.

By the time he was in his early twenties, Hennessey was running his own public stable in Saint John, New Brunswick, which was to become his base of operations for a number of years until his move to Florida. Initially his statistics were not earth shattering, but at the age of 25 he began to re-write the record books in the Maritimes. He posted new standards for wins during three consecutive years starting in 1981 when he became the youngest winner of the Maritime driving championship with 136 victories. In 1982 he had 186 first-place finishes, and in 1983 he broke the all-time Maritime driving record when he surpassed the old record of 208. Hennessey also set a new Maritime record in 1982 with total earnings of $181,145. His 1982 UDR of .394 (500 or more starts) and 1983 UDR of .376 (500 or more starts) were the fifth best in North America.

It was during this time that Hennessey gained attention on the national stage by winning the 1983 Canadian Ice Racing Classic. Just a few short years later he made the decision to move to the U.S. and subsequently settled in Pompano, Florida and Saratoga, New York. This move afforded him the ability to compete as a catch-driver in the Sire Stakes in New York and surrounding states and then to return to Florida for the winter months.

After Hennessey arrived in the U.S., his first big win came in the 1992 season when he drove America's Pastime to victory in the $778,800 Woodrow Wilson Final at the Meadowlands. The Jate Lobell colt reached the finish line in 1:51.4, equaling the world record for a freshman pacing colt on a mile track. One of his most outstanding accomplishments occurred on June 13, 1992 at Buffalo Raceway when he won seven New York Sire Stakes events, including a track-record six races in a row. He captured five of the six divisions for three-year-old pacing colts and geldings as well as two of the four divisions for three-year-old filly pacers.

Over the course of a career that has spanned four decades, Hennessey has driven many notable horses including Cambest, with whom he won the 1993 Battle of Lake Erie in the track-record-setting time of 1:52.3, Running Sea, whom he piloted to a 1996 Kentucky Futurity victory, and Take Chances, whom he drove to victory in that futurity the following year. In 2004 he won the $150,000 New York Sire Stakes Final at Yonkers in 1:59.3 with the two-year-old pacing filly Belle Reve. Among the other major races won were the 2005 and 2006 Red Bow Tie with Hearty Fellow and the 2005 Gold Cup and Saucer with Driven To Win in the record-breaking time of 1:51.2.

Hennessey is most recognized for his role as the principal driver of the great mare Moni Maker, who was named Horse of the Year in 1998 and 1999, Trotter of the Year in 1998, 1999 and 2000 and four-time Trotting Mare of the Year (1997-2000). In 1996 she won 19 of her 20 starts (18 straight) with earnings of $675,574. These wins included the $300,000 Hambletonian Oaks, the $169,000 Matron Stakes and the $144,000 New York Sire Stakes Championship. The following year Hennessey reined Moni Maker to victory in the $324,000 Classic Oaks at Mohawk and the $312,000 Nat Ray at the Meadowlands, the latter in 1:52.2, the fastest trotting mile that year at the New Jersey mile oval. Their victory together in the 1998 Elitlopp at Solvalla might be considered their crowning glory, but they also won the 1998 Breeders Crown and the 1998 Nat Ray. They won their third Nat Ray in 2000. When Moni Maker retired that year, she was the richest Standardbred in history with earnings of $5.589 million.

Hennessey also holds the distinction of being only the 27th driver in history to win 6,000 races, including the four Breeders Crowns won with Running Sea ('96), My Dolly ('97), Catch As Catch Can ('97), and Moni Maker ('98). He is approaching the 7,000 mark of races won in addition to being one of the leading money-winning drivers of all-time with earnings of $46,000,000 in purses.

Hennessey's driving ability has always impressed people as has his friendly and outgoing nature. He is known as one of the most consistent drivers in the sport and continues to be one of the top drivers today. In 2006 he piloted 303 winners, and it was the 18th straight year that he had won more than 200 races. For many years Hennessey was the "King of the New York Sire Stakes," a title that he did not relinquish until recently, when he opted to stay in the Florida sunshine year-round.

Hennessey's achievements in the sport of harness racing continue to be memorable. In 2006 he was inducted into the PEI Sports Hall of Fame, and he is also a member of the Florida Sports Hall of Fame. Hennessey currently lives with his wife Barbara and their daughter Kristy in Florida, where he continues to race and maintain a stable with his brother Dan.