Gene Riegle was born into a harness racing family on June 3, 1928 at Greenville, Ohio. Darke County is famous for its long tradition of harness racing and his parents Roy (a top trainer) and his mother Delilah raised their son and his brother Dick in the spirit of their love and passion for the sport.
Unfortunately, both of Riegle’s parents were killed in an automobile accident when Gene was just a teenager, and he, along with brother Dick had to assume the training duties, as well as his mother’s color-making business.
Gene began his driving career at age 17 and won his very first start, besting top horseman Sanders Russell in the process at their home base of the Darke County Fair. His first top horse was in 1952 when he piloted and trained the pacer Red Sails. In 1958 his career got a big boost as he piloted Mr Saunders to a two-three finish behind Emily’s Pride in that year’s Hambletonian. His owners at the time were Mr. and Mrs. Rex Larkin for whom he drove Rocket Byrd and Lou Byrd. His other prominent horses at the time included Fly Fly Byrd, Tolson Hanover and Ozzie Hanover.
In the 1970s Riegle conditioned and drove the horses Jay Time and Arnie Almahurst. Jay Time deadheated with Strike Out in the 1972 Adios and was one of the best of his crop that year, while 1973 saw Arnie Almahurst, a fast but hard-to-handle colt, win the Kentucky Futurity for Riegle and catch-driver Joe O’Brien. Carrying the chartreuse and red colors of the Riegle clan those years also were Three Diamonds, a multi-world champion pacing filly; Cami Almahurst a top trotting mare and the exceptional pacing colt Fundamentalist.
Riegle’s top form continued on into the 1980’s. His top trotter of that decade, Op’Art, was known as a world record breaker. In 1986 he set a world record for an aged gelding trotter on a five-eights mile track in 1:57.2 at Scioto Downs with Gene in the sulky. In 1984 at three, Op’Art set a new standard on a half mile track when he trotted in 1:58.3 and in 1985 he trotted in 1:56.1 at The Meadowlands. This rewrote the oldest major record in the books as the 1:56.1 mark was a world record for a four-year-old overcame three operations for broken limbs and Gene remarked that “every time he breaks a bone he comes back breaking a world record.”
Tuscon Hanover was a top Riegle trainee in 1986. The three-year-old colt pacer had earnings of $457,759 and just missed winning the $1 million Meadowlands Pace when he finished second to Laughs by a neck. Riegle also trained Enroute who bankrolled $207,310 and came out victorious in the Roses Are Red Stake at Greenwood. She finished second to Samshu Blue Grass in the $367,041 Breeders Crown final as well. Other top trainees that season included Heaven’s Glow and Moonrock.
In 1988 Riegle drove and trained Swirlabout, a freshman who earned $77,594, and was first in a leg of the Ohio Sire Stakes and in the Ohio State Trot. He also conditioned the 1988 Jugette winner Leah Almahurst, who won the Breeders Crown in 1987. The following year Riegle conditioned a pair of top freshman pacers, a filly named Excited and a colt named Righthand Man. Excited won eight of 14 starts in her freshman campaign, with her biggest victory coming in the American National at Sportsman Park. Righthand Man won six times in 20 starts with earnings of $117,111, with his biggest win coming in the Fox Stake in 1:52.1, defeating A’Nutter Butter and Raven Lunatic.
1990 would prove to be one of Riegle’s finest seasons. He campaigned Nuclear Legacy to a $349,263 winning season. The colt won the $216,775 Lou Babic Memorial, a Garden State Stake division, a Tompkins-Geers division and was second to Junes Baby in the $474,500 Sheppard Final at Yonkers. Riegle also conditioned the No Nukes freshman Silky Stallone in 1990, a six time winner in 22 starts who earned well over $315,000.
But none were better that year than a colt named Artsplace. The son of Abercrombie-Miss Elvira reached a level of greatness at Pompano Park in late November of the year when he won the $605,870 Breeders Crown Freshman Pace in 1:51.1 the fastest mile ever by a two year old over any size of racetrack. He was named Two-Year-Old Pacing Colt of the Year for 1990 and also won the $797,400 Metro Final and the $655,600 Governor’s Cup Final as well. His three-year-old campaign was just as exciting, except that he had to face the exceptional Precious Bunny that season. However, he still won ten of 18 starts, banking nearly $1 million. That year he won the James B Dancer Memorial, the American National Three-Year-Old Colt Pace, the Thomas P Gaines Memorial and a Terrapin division. It seemed only fitting, as well, that Gene would pilot the colt to victory in a $30,100 Tompkins-Geers spilt at his home track of Scioto Downs.
1991 saw Riegle condition the likes of Western Hanover, Caprock, Gamma Ray and Gold Coast. Western Hanover won Two-Year-old Colt Pacer honors that season, banking nearly $700,000 and setting a national season’s mark of 1:54.4 on a half-mile track.
In 1985 the Ohio chapter of the United States Harness Writer’s Association (USHWA) honored Riegle by giving him the Meritorious Award – given to an Ohioan who has distinguished himself in harness racing over a two decade span. His success in 1990 garnered him the Achievement Award by the Ohio chapter of USHWA. He is a member of the Ohio Harness Racing Hall of Fame and the Living Hall of Fame at Goshen, New York.