Things are moving fast for harness racing trainer/driver Dan Roland of Grinnell, Iowa, both on the track and off. On Oct. 12, Roland and wife Jeralene welcomed their third child, Briar, who was born four weeks early. On the track, the horses are moving fast for Roland, who may be having the best season of his 25-year career.
He leads the nation in the USTA's rating system for drivers with under 300 starts, having won 54 of 132 races for a rating of .565, while Gary Liles of Libertyville is second at .494.
And Roland is second in the rating for the nation's leading trainer, with 46 wins in 104 starts and a rating of.585. Liles is fourth at .510.
Roland, 41, is part of one of Iowa's most historic racing families, with aunt and uncle Roger and Judy Roland, his cousins Royal and Duane Roland, and nephew Nick among those active in the sport. He said his success as a driver is an offshoot of his horses racing so well.
"I'm a trainer that's driving, not a driver that's training," he said. "That's what it comes down to. Nick is a much better driver. If you take me off and put him on, the horse is going to go faster, but I know how to train the trotters."
Nevertheless, he said he'd be thrilled to win the driving title.
"I wouldn't think I'll ever finish first again in the nation in anything the rest of my life, so it's an exciting thing," Roland said.
Roland had a good rating in 2010, but didn't have the minimum 120 starts needed to qualify for the Universal Drivers Rating System. He has done so this year after driving more for other trainers.
"Once I knew I was getting close to being on this list and getting close to 120 drives, I started looking for a couple extra ones," Roland said. "For the most part, I don't usually look for extra drives, because I want to take care of my horses."
Two of the standouts among Roland's horses have been Mama Made Me Blue and I Want Fabulous, who turned in the fastest trots of Prairie Meadows' meet while winning their elimination heats for their stakes races on the Oct. 22 Champions Night.
I Want Fabulous went 2:00.3 in her trial for the Brooklyn Jet trot for 3-year-old fillies, winning for the 11th time in 16 starts this year. Then Mama Made Me Blue bettered that with a trot of 1:58.1 in the Jodevin Trot elimination for 3-year-old colts. He is also 11-for-16 this year and 2-for-2 at Prairie Meadows.
Roland said Mama Made Me Blue has thrived on Prairie Meadows' one-mile oval.
"He's so much better on this big track," Roland said. "He's so big that he has trouble on those little county fair tracks. He's so much better up here on a mile track. The hobbles help steady him and we can let them out five inches longer here than we can in the fairs. They tire him out in the fairs."
He said the closing night stakes races are important to Iowa breeders.
"It's the culmination of a year," Roland said. "We've all been racing against each other and traveling together since June. We spend every weekend together all summer long. Our horses in Iowa have gotten so much better. There are states with more purse money that have horses winning that aren't as good as the horses here."
by Dan Johnson, for Prairie Meadows