Doug McNair is a special kind of harness racing driver. Not only did he become the youngest reinsman in history to win $1 million in stakes in his first season of driving (2008), and then be the first to get to 1,000 wins (2010) - but the gifted 21-year-old also recently became the youngest driver to notch up $10 million in career purses.
Not bad for a reinsman who has only been plying his trade professionally for three-and-a-half seasons!
But note the word ‘professionally’. The Windsor-born Canadian jogged his first horse when he was six, trained his first standardbred when he was eight and drove at fairs when he was 12.
“I might only be in my early 20s but driving is something I have been doing all my life. Both of my parents and both sets of my grandparents have been involved in harness racing, so I guess it was something I was always destined to do,” McNair told Harnesslink.
McNair is the son of respected Guelph (Ontario) trainer Gregg. They live together, but unlike his two siblings, McNair junior opted for a harness racing career instead of going to University.
“Both Amy (23) and Scott (19) are at University but I couldn’t wait to leave school (Wellington Centre, Fergus) to become a driver. It’s all I ever wanted to do. I thought it was worth a try and if I wasn’t any good at it perhaps then I would have tried something else.
“But I have seemed to have gone alright so far. I think I have a talent for driving, but it’s something you always have to work on and my aim is to just keep getting better,” McNair said.
To say he is a good driver is like saying Rory McIlroy is a fair golfer.
McNair is exceptional!
In his three-plus seasons he has driven 110 (2008), 384 (2009), 518 (2010) and 175 (2011) winners respectively. This also includes 2,156 place-getters from 6,226 drives.
Each of those years he has won $1.11 million, $3.17 million, $4.81 million and $1.37 million giving him a collected purse of $10,506,030 – a tally many drivers never achieve in a lifetime let alone three-and-a-half years.
McNair has crammed in so much in such a short time. His world record breaking 1,000th winner came behind Greystone The Gold at Western Fair Raceway on December 14 last year, while on October 26 at the same track he registered seven winners on the program.
Then he toppled the $10 million mark in 2011.
I owe a lot to Dad. He has been the biggest influence on my career and lets me drive all of his horses. I’ve always been there around the barn ever since I was born and had it not been for Dad’s influence none of this probably would have ever happened. I’m just so grateful to him and all the other trainers and owners who put me on their horses. “They believe in me and I believe in my abilities,” McNair said.
McNair spends six days a week driving at Mohawk and Grand River Raceway. The latter track is just five minutes from his home.
“Sunday is my only day off. I drive once a week at Grand River and the rest of the time I’m at Mohawk either competing in races or driving at Qualifiers,” he said.
And speaking of Qualifiers, Harnesslink asked him if there were any young pacers or trotters that he was excited about at this stage of the stakes season.
“It’s a bit too early to say just yet but in a month or so I will have a better idea of what horses will make it in stakes races. I was at the Qualifiers today driving some young ones and a couple went well.
“I have high hopes for a Todd Cantelon trained2-year-old named Shore Light. He goes pretty well and I’d especially like to see him do well for Todd. He’s a Thornton (Ontario) based trainer and is the same age as me.
“It would be great if two young horsemen could have success with a horse like that,” McNair said.
He said the best horse he had driven was the McNair senior trained Aracache Hanover, but he did have a soft spot for Trail Boss, also trained by his father.
“I won my biggest race on Aracache Hanover – that was the Confederation Cup at Flamboro Downs last season and it was worth about $547,000. But it was Trail Boss that got me started. I won my first big race behind him in the $300,000 Battle Of Waterloo Final at Grand River Raceway in my first season of driving.”
Outside harness racing McNair said he loved playing hockey and snow-mobiling.
“I also like to go boating - especially where the girls are,” joked McNair, who is single.
Asked who his driving idols were when he was growing up he replied:
“I have always been a big fan of John Campbell and I also like Brian Sears a lot. They are both legends of the sport.”
McNair may not have their experience but at 21 he is already achieved record breaking greatness in the sport. With such a solid foundation he is undoubtedly on the path to one day being one of Canada’s greatest reinsmen.
By Duane RANGER (editor)
(1) Doug McNair – 1,000 wins:
(2) Aracache Hanover – 2010 Confederation Cup Final:
(3) Doug McNair – Athlete:
(4) Doug McNair and Trail Boss winning the Battle Of Waterloo Final in 2008:
(5) Doug McNair tribute video:
(6) Doug McNair – In The Sulky (December 2010):