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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

EXCITEMENT IN RETIREMENT

By Ken Weingartner, USTA Media — Kevin Hankins is retired from his most recent career, but as busy as ever thanks to remaining active in his first.

Hankins was a teenager when he got started in harness racing 50 years ago and embarked on a career driving and training before shifting to other fulltime occupations, such as working for the U.S. Postal Service, from which he retired in 2019.

But Hankins never completely put harness racing on hold, and since retiring has enjoyed filling his days by working with horses again. This past weekend, Hankins even picked up a driving victory at Harrah’s Philadelphia, giving him his first trip to the winner’s circle since — cue the Prince soundtrack — 1999.

“A lot of people when they retire don’t do much,” said Hankins, a 67-year-old lifelong resident of southern New Jersey. “This gives me something to do, and it’s something I like. I like being around the horses, and I like the people. There is a lot of camaraderie.”

Hankins’ introduction to horses came by racing ponies in South Jersey at the age of 10 or 11.

“My dad did it as a hobby and I, of course, followed right along with him,” Hankins said. “Some of the people crossed over (to Standardbreds) and asked if I wanted to jog a horse. I did and thought it was fun, so I moved to the horses.

“I was racing in matinees when I was 14 and won my first pari-mutuel race in 1975 at Harrington with a horse named Ed Gamble. I think I went wire-to-wire in 2:10.”

Hankins eventually had his own stable, which numbered as high as 15 horses and featured primarily claimers. He competed regularly in the Delaware Valley, most notably at Brandywine and Liberty Bell. When those tracks closed, he pursued other jobs.

“Times changed and I moved on, but I never really got out of it,” Hankins said. “I’ve always kept a hand in it. I always had a horse that I raced.”

Hankins continued to drive occasionally but reached double digits in starts only once in the past 20 years. His start last week was his first of 2022. He won with Beach Boogie, who is owned and trained by Mark Akins

“It felt good; it really felt good,” Hankins said. “I’m grateful I got the opportunity to drive the horse. I thought he had a good chance. He was down in class, and he’s been a nice horse. When I knew I had the race won, it was a lot of fun. It was real exciting.

“A lot of my friends came out to the winner’s circle. I know everybody at the track, and everybody was congratulating me. Some of the newer people didn’t even know I drove. It was kind of emotional, really.”

Hankins’ win was the 300th of his career and his friends arrived in the winner’s circle with a handmade cardboard sign to commemorate the accomplishment. Later in the day, driver Andy McCarthy got his 3,000th victory, which led to an additional zero being spray painted onto the sign and it being used in McCarthy’s winner’s circle photo.

“We’ve got to share the sign,” Hankins said, laughing.

Whether Hankins adds to his win total remains to be seen, but he will continue to enjoy an active retirement of jogging horses in the mornings and warming up horses at the racetrack in the afternoons.

“I know a lot of the stables that bring horses and they’re kind of dependent on me now,” Hankins said. “It would be tough to give it up now. I’m staying pretty busy.”

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