"The last four years we've been going at it" says Darren about the competition between him and Ryan Ellis for top driver at Truro Raceway. It's definitely about bragging rights and as Darren says "we give it to each other pretty good." One thing all horsemen enjoy is joking and having fun with one another.
"I enjoy my job and I love getting out of bed each morning and coming to work and a lot of people can't say that" says Darren about his passion for working with horses.
Darren in past years raced in Alberta and in Ontario at Western Fair Raceway and Flamboro Downs. One key race Darren drove in was the Nat Christie in Alberta. "It was pretty cool; I just got there a couple days before I went to work for Meridian Farms. Bill Andrews, he had a couple of horses in it and one of them made the finals, so it was pretty cool to be in it. I thinkwon it that year." Darren says. won the Nat Christie in 2001 by 4 ½ lengths driven by .
Darren is currently the Active Director for Standardbred Canada in the Atlantic region and his goal is to voice the opinions and concerns of his fellow horsemen constructively. Darren is a family man with a two-year-old son Brennan and his wife of three years is Robyn. "We weren't going to have any children, but we decided to have one.... I love spending the afternoons with him. We have this little fella and we are happy with him so we are going to quit at one." Darren says with a chuckle.
To the point, when it comes to horse racing, Darren's most proud of being able to do what he loves for this length of time. He definitely doesn't take his work for granted.
"Once you have a kid your perspective on life changes a bit. Things that used to bother me, like getting parked in a race or a horse going lame... things happen and you move on. I can go home and see my little fella and hangout with him."
"For example I grew up on a dairy farm" explains Darren. "My best friend growing up has a dairy farm and in the afternoon if my little fella wants to go do something we'll go hangout there and do some field work or milk some cows, he enjoys it. That's how I unwind."
With Darren growing up on a dairy farm, he got into horses through his best friend's dad and grandfather, who both had horses. "I kind of took a liking to them and came up through that way, cleaning stalls and jog their horses."Darren explains. "They were friends withwho was an O'Brien award winner for Horsemanship and he's in the barn next to me and I grew up around Phil, watching what he did with young horses and shoeing. I shoe horses for Phil now, probably 18-20 years and I learned so much from him in regards to shoeing and looking for soundness."
"I've had great owners over the years" says Darren. "Good owners, that's the key. You have to have owners that are going to stand behind you." Through the years, Darren has had quite a few horses pass through his care that have gone on to be quite successful, but the biggest name of all would be!
"I got to shoewhen he was here in the Maritimes." Darren says. "That was cool, going on to be the horse he was. I got to say I got to shoe him as a yearling til his 3-year-old year when he left."
"As it turned out now, nobody knew he was going to be the horse he was as a yearling. He is just a nice horse, a little rough to shoe cause he would throw you around a little bit." Darren admits. "Now that he's the sire he turned out to be its pretty cool thinking I got to shoe that horse when he was here."
Darren does have a pair of's shoes left as a keepsake which is pretty awesome, what a piece of horse racing memorabilia to have! Darren plans on getting the shoes chromed and then displayed on a plaque.
Darren likes to keep shoeing simple and not make it complicated as others try to make it. It's about having proper angles and keep the levels right. "Horses are horses and you got to keep it simple" says Darren. "A lot of people get hung up on shoeing in regards to different shoes and fancy shoes... messing with their angles. A lot of it has to do with confirmation of the horse. If the horse has good confirmation, chances are you're not going to mess with the shoeing very often. Just keep it simple and he'll be what he's going to be. God made them that way, that's how they're going to be."
Darren doesn't get hung up on what races he has won or hasn't with the exception of one given that he's a Truro native. "The Exhibition Cup, that's the free for all race of the year. During the Grand Circuit week and it wasn't for a lot of money, maybe $7,500 but I had the longest shot on the board at 99-1 and the horse ended up winning that race." Darren says.
One major aspect to horse racing Darren feels the sport needs is better marketing and more attention. "I always thought the show they had on Monday nights on the Score was a pretty good show. Then they changed it a little to Bet Night Live, I think people like the interaction and interviews with the drivers and trainers talking about their horses. It's not on anymore, probably due to funding."
During the discussion with Darren, they idea of company sponsorship came up such as putting company names on numbers or even if Nike got into the business and designed helmets for drivers. Having the Nike logo on the back or side of helmets would be awesome and the ad revenue can go towards purses or even to drivers. With drivers including Sidney Crosby or Steven Stamkos and sporting shirts in ads and being paid to do so.
What ifhad his race jacket designed by Reebok and in billboard ads you see him sporting the jacket with the Reebok logo and the next big upcoming race featured right beside the logo and which track the race would be taken place?
Even t-shirts with the Under Armour logo and the name of top horses like Foiled Again or Vegas Vacation beside it. That could be a fashion trend that could draw potentially millions of dollars for the horse racing industry. Drivers, trainers, owners and race tracks could all draw in funds in sponsorship revenue. All other sports do it, why not horse racing?
Start with the biggest races and have it trickle down to the point where all tracks and all races can attract news fans through new trends. Kids might want to sport a pair of Nike Shoes that are nicknamed 'The Captain' and have Captaintreacherous' profile on the shoe, or major stake names that he's won designed in the trainer's or driver's colors. Why not? It's different and new, if it hasn't been done up to now, who says it can't work?
"Look at NASCAR and what they do with their sponsorship" says Darren. "It's boring up until the last ten laps but look how much they do."
In the TV show Duck Dynasty, the characters are sporting Under Armour camouflage shirts... if hunting can get that type of sponsorship, why not horse racing. "It's a great show" says Darren. "Why not? It would have to be the right sponsor and they'd have to get some kind of bang for their buck right."
"There's a lot that can be done promotion wise, but I think TV would be the best route." Darren explains. "Ifwon a race on national television and he had Nike on his suit, that's a pretty good plug for Nike."
Or after certain races, the winning driver is filmed drinking Powerade or Gatorade or Chocolate Milk. Drinking Milk would help promote another farming industry as well.
"Jeff Gural at the Meadowlands, he runs it his way but it seems to be working" according to Darren. "He wants people to bet and he's pretty well on the right track I think."
Definitely check out the interview by Standardbred Canada's website featuring Trot Radio host Norm Borg and Meadowlands' owner Jeff Gural, (Episodes 319 and 320). It's a beautiful discussion about open communication and drawing positive attention to the sport.
By, Roderick Balgobin www.supernovasportsclub.com Twitter: ScSupernova