MONTICELLO, N.Y. — Billy “Zeke” Parker Jr. learned his skills as a harness racing driver at tracks across Maine.
The Sanford native started his career in Maine in the 1960s and raced regularly at Scarborough Downs, Bangor Raceway and Lewiston Raceway. He also enjoyed success at Foxboro Raceway in Massachusetts.
In 1984, he moved to New York to continue his career, primarily at Monticello Raceway.
Now, Parker is on the verge of reaching a rare milestone in harness racing. Coming off two wins Thursday at Monticello, Parker is only 13 victories away from reaching 11,000 for his career.
According to a Monticello Raceway press release, only six other drivers have driven 11,000 winners in the history of the sport.
Parker, an 18-time track champion, has been in the sulky for 109 wins thus far in 2013, accounting for winnings in excess of $350,000.
“I believe I’m driving as good as I always have,” Parker said in the release, “but I’m just not getting the amount of live drives as I used to in the past.”
He has spent the last dozen years racing almost exclusively at Monticello, where he has logged more than 8,500 of his career victories.
Parker spent two years driving at both Monticello and Yonkers Raceway, but focused his efforts on Monticello after his wife became ill.
“My wife T.J. had cancer, and she was slowly and painfully dying,” Parker recalled. “I had to be with her as much as possible. She was my rock and when I lost her, my life was in turmoil.
“We had two young boys and when she died, they had no mother. It was hard, and I couldn’t be running up and down the highway (to Yonkers), so I stayed put here at Monticello.”
Parker also achieved considerable success as a driver in training races. In 1977, with the assistance of computers, the United States Trotting Association began registering driver and trainer wins on its Driver/Trainer Performance Report.
Parker, who still trains a small stable of horses, was more active in that regard prior to the turn of the century. He has recorded 1223 training victories.
Bruce Aldrich Jr., the season leader at the “Mighty M,” said he followed Parker when he was a youngster growing up in Brattleboro, Vt., located near the old Hinsdale (N.H) Raceway where he began his career.
“Zeke is an outstanding driver, and he could get more out of a horse than almost anybody,” Aldrich said.
“When I was kid and growing up in New England, I idolized him. He not only was a leading driver, he was also a top trainer, and in his early days he always had a big stable,” he added.
“He’s been racing horses for parts of five decades, and he has always been a complete horseman.”