Nearly 50 years ago, a twenty-something young man was playing in a band and enjoying the “rock star” lifestyle when his father took him aside and suggested that, since he wasn’t doing anything during the day, he should learn how to take care of the horses that they owned. Today, at the age of 70, horseman Jim McGettigan is still enjoying a long career in the harness racing business as a trainer, and an announcer on the Pennsylvania Fair Circuit.
His father’s entry into harness racing sounds like something out of a movie. “My dad always liked horse racing, and he got that from his father, from them going to the track. Then he and a few of his friends were at a ‘going away’ party, and after a few drinks, they decided to all throw in some money and they bought two horses. That’s where the name ‘Going Away Stables’ came from,” he explained. “At the time, I was playing guitar in a band at night, and my dad told me to go out to Roosevelt Raceway where they had a groom school. Lou Miller and Joanne Foster had a barn there and they had some some retired horses. So he told me to go learn how to take care of horses.”
After a few months, his dad sent him up to Pocono Downs where he had a few horses with Artie Unger and Billy Fitzgerald. “He told me ‘It’s a great place for the summer’, so I went up there, and that was the end of that! That’s how the ball got rolling!” he laughed.
Over the winters, when Pocono switched over to thoroughbred racing, Billy and Jim took the horses to Delaware. Eventually, Jim took over two of his dad’s horses and went out on his own. He also notched some driving wins along the way. “I drove for quite a while, probably about ten years or so. I still drive once in a while, once in a blue moon. I was driving, and I didn’t think I was doing too bad, but I broke
(Rich Murawski/The Progress Photo)
my wrist and I was on the shelf for a while. I had to use catch drivers, and my horses were doing a lot better with them than they were with me, so I got the message,” he laughed.
He’s extremely appreciative of the racing on the PA Fair Circuit. “There’s a lot of good horses out there. Your young horse has a good shot to learn a lot about the racing game. At the parimutuel tracks, you’re racing in NW1, (non-winners of 1 race), and you get out of there and all of a sudden you’re in deep water. If you get out of NW2, all of a sudden you’re in open company. At the fairs, you can learn a lot before you have to deal with the next level.”
Jim has been calling races at fairs in Pennsylvania for over 40 years, and that started with a board game and a bar full of patrons. “Somebody gave me one of those vibrating board games, like the football ones, but this one was a thoroughbred racing one. I was tending bar, and I used to bring it with me, and when we got a lot of people at the bar, I’d name the horses after the people and I’d fire it up and call the race! Somebody actually thought I called races, so they asked me to fill in at Smethport at the fair, and that was the first one I did.”
A few years later, Rich Sharbaugh, the announcer at Pocono Downs at the time, asked if he could fill in for him when he couldn’t get away during the busy Grand Circuit weeks, and he picked up the Hughesville and Troy Fairs. Rich’s brother Eric was calling York, Port Royal and Gratz, but decided to give up the latter two, and Jim added a few more to his schedule. “The race secretary at Clearfield heard me, and offered that fair to me, and then before you know it, I got Bloomsburg and York.”
This racing season Jim is excited about his three-year-old trotter Tricky Dick, who has been staked for the prestigious Earl Beal Jr. Memorial Trot at the Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono on August 21st. The Winning Mister-Pictures Of Millie gelding had a great two-year-old season. “He’s a good looking horse, and his mother (Pictures Of Millie) was a stone-cold killer. So I figured he might be ‘the one’. He’s getting better; he’s not as good as the good ones out there, but we’re going to take a shot with him. I’m not sure he will end up in the final, but they have a number of Consolations, so he might end up somewhere,” he said emphatically.
He also has a full sister to Tricky Dick in his barn named Bucket Head. The two-year-old filly recently raced at Pocono finishing 5th. “She’s a little bigger than him and better gaited,” he said, “but she’s got a lot to learn, so we’ll see what happens.”
Jim is enjoying his longevity in the business, and has no plans to slow down any time soon. “I’m going to keep going until I can’t any more. My dad told me that. He said ‘you might as well get used to the idea of working until the day you die, otherwise you’ll end up being a rookie retiree just when you’re getting good at what you’re doing’. And I’ve lived by his words.”
Cover photo by Curtis Salonick
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