Shoemaker and Kane, Masters of the Gate

A harness race is now underway at Harrah’s Philadelphia for the exciting 2022 season. When the starting gate kicks in, the “dynamic duo” of Norton Shoemaker and Andy Kean will be ready to lead every race on the track in Chester, Pennsylvania.

Norton Shoemaker (left) and Andy Keane

Norton (known to everyone as “Boot”), and Andy have over 60 years of belt racing experience, and a history in the business dating back to the 1970s.

“I kind of grew up in this field,” Shaw recalls. My father had race horses, and I worked for him. I started racing at Liberty Bell, then started driving at Pocono Downs in 1975. Then in the early ’80s, I had a track record with both the pacer and the trotter. The trot belonged to a Hanover shoe farmer, and his name was Buck Newton, with whom she also took part in the Hambletonian. He finished second in the first half but didn’t do well in the second. The lollipop was Ironstone Hello, owned and trained by Frank Hartline.”

His driving career lasted for what he described as “a long period”, but injuries soon caught up with him. “You broke my back twice and had some other injuries. You broke my shoulder three times. In the end, the doctor told you you better find something else to do! So, I charged the horses for a while, and then they needed someone to start the races at the fairs, so I participated In the races there for two years.”

He and trainer Doreen Gatti worked together and had some training success in the 1980s, including with many of the horses owned by Chuck Bombay.

In 2006, Harrah’s Chester opened, and Shoe was asked if he was interested in joining the track as a start. “I accepted, and I’ve been there ever since!”

Over the years, Shaw has missed riding the bike, but has embraced his new career with enthusiasm, and is thrilled to start racing at Hara. “I don’t miss driving that much now because I’ve started 14 races a day and I’m seeing a lot of great races!” He remains humble and thankful for all the opportunities he has had over the years. In fact, since 2006, he has only missed a day from work, and that was to have leg surgery!

Buck Newton wins at Pocono Downs

The boot studies the races in advance and is prepared with a strategy to start the field before you hit the track. “Races start according to the caliber of your horses. In other words, the NW1 is only going to run 28 mph when you start it, and the passer slot, close to 35 mph. I only judge it by the horses, and when they get to the gate, I keep them all together. And I make sure they don’t get jammed. Then the starting gate follows the horses around, watching carefully, making sure there is no interference during the race.”

Working with young horses on qualifying days, Shaw says it’s interesting to watch them, especially the two-year-olds behind the gate for the first time. “Some of them come immediately to the gate as if they have done so their whole life, but others will run sideways, or try to figure out what that gate is and what they are supposed to do.”

Throughout the busy racing season, which has jumped from 50 race days in the first year to currently 150 race days per season, Shaw is looking forward to the excitement of each race and working closely with starter gate driver Andy Keane.

Andy Kane is also a second generation jockey who inherited his love of horses from his father. “My dad trained horses in the ’60s and ’70s, ran a very large stable with good horses, raced Brandywine and Liberty Bell and Washington Park during the winter, and raced in Chicago,” Andy said. “I went to the Navy in 1968, and when I got out in 1972, I started working for a vet for a year, got my first horse that fall and got off there!”

Andy has worked full time in the company for 11 years and one of his stellar accomplishments is winning the 3-year-old New York Sierra Stakes with a filly named OB Sammykins.

Describe “I went out of business in 1983″. “My daughter-in-law is a coach named Hermann Heitmann, and in 2007 he said they were looking for a gate driver at the new racetrack in Chester, I got Shose’s number and called him, went up to Pocono Downs and drove a bit after qualifying. True story, I said ‘Hey Man, that’s harder than it looks!” I asked him if I had done well enough to get a second chance, and he told me to come back the next week. We’ve been working together ever since!”

Every race day and every race can be different, and the skill and behavior of a calm driver matters. “There are times when you have a really aggressive horse and it pushes the gate really hard and it’s like trying to drive a ski boat behind a really big guy!” He laughed. “The horse is pushing you everywhere, just pay attention. Other than that, it is important to be aware of where the horses are on the track and watch the geese on the track! How do I describe it, I have a great job, and I have to pay attention for 6 minutes, 3 times in the hour!”

Over the years Andy has seen many races and hundreds of top horses, but there are three of them that stand out as his favourites. “Googoo Gaagaa, when he was three, was as impressive as I have ever seen on the track. The other two are Shartin N and Wiggle It Jiggleit. They were just… I can’t find the right adjective to describe how great they are in racing. .They were two statues.”

On select race days over the years, Harrah has featured a promotion giving fans a chance to ride in the gate during the race, which Shaw and Andy both agree will make a lasting impression. “You can’t believe the expressions on their (fans’) faces when the horses come up to the gate! When the horses put their noses right on the gate, people are amazed,” Shaw said.

Andy flatly agrees. “Fans who get this lucky ride at the starting gate classify it as a ‘bucket list’ event,” he said. “They can’t believe how close the horse’s nose is to the driver’s helmet in front of it, or how the drivers pop their earplugs, and maneuver them during the race. Even regular belt-tie fans who witness the gate ride can’t get enough of it! “

Shaw and Andy feel fortunate to see great racing and witness harness racing history daily at Harrah’s Philadelphia, and look forward to leading the races for many more years to come. For these seasoned riders, every day is a new adventure, and they are enjoying the ride.

By Jennifer Starr, for the Horse Racing Association PA

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