Oakfield resident Jack Flanigen vies for milestone win Wednesday night at the Downs
The “Jack Flanigen Milestone Watch” has officially begun. When racing resumes on Wednesday night at Batavia Downs Casino, all eyes will be on Flanigen, who is closing in on 4,000 lifetime wins in the sulky.
The veteran driver, a lifelong resident of Western New York currently sits at 3,992. The 46-year-old Flanigen is a native of the Buffalo suburb of Hamburg and now lives a little more than five miles from the Batavia track, in Oakfield. In two-plus decades of driving he has become Western New York's winningest driver, and now he's closing in on another milestone.
He reached 3,000 victories on Oct. 20, 2007. There are other drivers from the Batavia-Buffalo Raceway circuit -- past and present -- who have won more races. Jeff Gregory of nearby Churchville is the current leader with 6,583 lifetime wins. Jim Morrill Jr., is at 5,432; Hall of Famer Buddy Gilmour 5,381; Ken Holliday 5,092; Ben Webster 4,378; and John Stark Jr. 4,119.
But most of their wins came at other racetracks. For Flanigen it’s been all about Western New York. Well, at least after the very beginning. His first career drive (and win) didn’t come on his hometown circuit but rather at Lake Shore Meadows, in Erie, Pa. He sat behind a horse named Mighty Mite for trainer Jim Crossan. By 1990 Jack was one of the most sought-after drivers on the Western New York harness racing circuit.
During the '90s he drove in 11,899 races and won 2,279 times. His best year was 1996, when he brought home 271 winners. During his career the horses he has driven have earned more than $11 million. His 3,992 wins best WNY legends, Ed McNeight Jr. (3,456), Jim McNeight (3,089) Gaston Guindon (3,080), Dave Vance (2,894) and Gerry Sarama (2,630).
Flanigen was the Downs dash leading reinsman in 2011. He missed the entire 2008 Downs season with concussion suffered on closing night at Buffalo Raceway. This season, during the 2012 summer-fall meet, he is currently fourth in the driver standings with 74 wins.
And to think it wasn't all that long ago that he actually pulled back on his driving career. In 2001, Flanigen began a second career, taking a full-time job with the New York State Department of Transportation as a truck driver.
“I wasn’t sure which way the business was headed; Batavia was closed and Buffalo was racing reduced dates,” Flanigen said. “So I decided I needed to get a job with benefits just in case.”
When purses climbed at Batavia and Buffalo Flanigen gave up driving trucks for the DOT in 2009 to go back driving horses full-time. He also added training to his resume again, something he hasn’t done since 1994.
“I was just looking for another way to supplement my income so I went back training," he said. "I currently have six in my barn.”
Looking back Flanigen said his career has been a bit of a surprise.
“I never dreamt sitting on driver/trainer Franny Bond‘s lap when I was 10-years-old, while he was out jogging horses, that I would have ever come close to his accomplishment."