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Illiniharnessracing / News Article

 

Delong Making A Name For Himself

By J.C. Trevino for Illiniharnessracing.com

 

Twenty one year old Clinton, Wisconsin native John Delong is silently making a name for himself. To a few of you John may just seem like just one more youngster having the American dream. And why wouldn’t anyone that has been following harness racing in Illinois, the last couple of years envision that?

 

Do you agree, that we have been flawed with great young catch drivers like; Tim Tetrick, Pat Berry, Brandon Simpson, Josh Sutton, Ryan Anderson & Tyler Buter for the last decade?  Guys who have perfected their driving skills in the Windy City before parting us and going elsewhere to make a name for themselves.  

 

However, in all fairness asking Delong to try to pinnacle some of those guys mention earlier would absolutely be unfair, although it would be a great accomplishment.  Nonetheless let’s be realistic, it’s really asking a lot from someone to try to top the all-time winnings dash winning driver in a single season. Previous Maywood Park as well as Balmoral Park dash title champions. Guys that have won over 13,000 races along with over 100 million in purses combined.  So do you agree that’s a lot to ask from a youngster?  

 

Really, let’s think about it. If the “who’s- who’s” of harness racing-- presently have a hard time with keeping up with guys like that.  How, is a twenty one year old; that has only been driving professional for just three years going to be able to? That's really asking a lot from him.

 

So let’s be realistic about this and see what John Delong has really done. Along the way he has been getting wisdom and at the same time has been trying to make a name for himself-- in a sport that is so demanding and heartbreaking at times. Even though for those that stick with it,and work hard at it--the rewards can be astonishing.   

 

Delong quietly has won over 348 races in addition 1 million in purses in less then five years. Now that’s appealing for a twenty one year old who was racing in amateur races plus also mainly just racing in county fairs in Wisconsin, Iowa as well as Illinois for the first three years when he first started. In reality almost 99% of all drivers start out that way--racing at fairs.  We do have to remember as a 16 year old in 2005 Delong went 4 for 41 and earned only $12,471 in purses, while only racing twice in the Chicago-land circuit as an amateur. So, in all sincerity this kid has come a long way in such a short period of time.  

 

After amateur races and some fair racing, it wasn’t until 2007 that Delong was seen again competing in the Windy City circuit. Yet again Delong had a ruff way by only winning 1 of 42 as well as only earning $6,231 in purses for his services. On the other hand, getting knowledge while challenging top reins men like Mike Oosting, Dave Magee, Todd Warren, Brent Holland and Dale Hiteman is valuable though (as they say); it will teach you a thing or two that you will need in the future.  

 

And sure enough on the fair circuit and at Prairie Meadows in 2007 a little of that knowledge paid off, as it was a different story for the young “P" driver going 67 for 268 plus earning $147,000 in purses. That year at Prairie Meadows Delong finished second only to veteran reins men Craig Banks with 21 wins to 25 wins.

 

When 2008 came around in the Chicago circuit it was no different for the 19 year old as he only competed 14 times at Maywood Park. Furthermore, only finishing second on one occasion.  Incredibly Delong didn’t even compete at all at Balmoral Park that year.

 

2008 will be a year Minnesotans will always remember as it was the year Running Aces Racetrack opened its doors for business.  Moreover, so will John Delong as that was the break out year for him, it was his first season with one hundred driving wins, along with over $250,000 in purses. On the other hand let’s not forget it was also his first dash title for this young reins man as he won it at Running Aces with 76 wins.  A year that definitely boosted his confidence, and a year that showed other trainer’s beside his father and uncle (William & Jesse Delong) that this kid was okay to drive a horse against anybody.  

 

Some of the early lessons,frustration, and hard-work started to pay off in 2009 as the twenty year old was now preliminary getting more opportunities in the Windy City. Local trainers used him on 475 diverse occasions, rewarding some of them by reaching the winners circle a total of 44 times and earning a total of over $233,000 for them--almost as much as he had won in all of 2008. That year Delong went back to Running Aces and once more had another thriving season there finishing second in the dash title only to Rick Magee.

 

With a successful season at Running Aces along with trying to get established in the Windy City as well as Prairie Meadows only having a short meet, it was best for him not to compete at Prairie Meadows and take a chance of losing some of his potential clients he had worked so hard to get in Chicago. Therefore, Delong skipped the meet, stayed in the Windy City and finished out 2009 with 123 wins along with over $427,000 in purse money won.

 

Several folks might say it didn’t work out for him, as from November 1st until May 11th Delong has only won on 27 of 340 opportunities in the Windy City. However what they seem to forget is the opportunities he has received, like driving horses for top trainers; Bob Phillips, William McEnery, Jim Eaton, Erin Elliott, and many others.

 

And when you start driving for stables like this an opportunity will take place every now and then, and April has been a month in 2010 that this young catch-driver will never forget.  On the 16th he steered Delco Willobee to a stakes victory in the Sportsmaster stakes at Maywood Park, then came back on the 30th and won the Taser Gun Stakes with him again at Maywood. Nonetheless, Delong’s biggest break in April came on the 10th when Todd Warren was committed to drive Sign The Prenup for Perry Smith and Dave Magee was programmed to drive Village Mascot for Bob Phillips. That’s when Jim Eaton gave the 21 year old a chance to drive one of the superior Illinois bred’s around today in Thisbigdogwilfight, which has resulted in two very impressive FFA wins on the 10th & 24th along with a win in the Rambling Willie stakes on May 1st.   

 

        I speculate good horses like Delco Willobee & Thisbigdogwilfight will make someone look
        excellent; nevertheless they will also help somebody make a name for themselves, and yes John
        Delong is making a name for himself in
Illinois.



 
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