Day At The Track

Getting to know horseman Garrett Rooney

12:20 PM 09 Apr 2014 NZST
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Garrett Rooney, harness racing
Garrett Rooney

The harness racing community is vast and full of tremendous people. Just when you think you've met all of the greatest people possible, you are pleasantly surprised by another decent, down to earth and humble individual. Harness racing has to be one of the classiest sports out of all, including all the major sports.

Garrett Rooney is a humble and respectful person who has been driving horses for the past ten years. Garrett mainly drives at Hanover Raceway, Clinton Raceway and Grand River Raceway through the summer racing season. During the winter months as the majority of tracks close, Garrett spends his time working with horses at the farm. Currently, Garrett is working 6 days a week with Trevor Henry and his stable of horses.

In previous years, during the winter racing season, Garrett would drive more at tracks like Western Fair Raceway. However with all the turmoil caused by the provincial government resulting in fewer horses and less races due to cut backs, Garrett has not been able to drive as much as he would of like to. "You get the top 15 drivers at the track every day; you are going to get shuffled to the back of the bus. Some trainers I worked with had 5 or more horses, now they have one or two and take the winter off."

From a young age, Garrett knew he wanted to drive horses and through high school, whenever he wasn't at class, he was at the farm learning and working hard. Garrett's dad (Merv) was a mechanic and his mom (Brenda) was a bank manager, but lucky for Garrett, his family friends were the Henry's and Richardson's so making the idea of working with horses possible and ideal.

"My dad coached both Trevor Henry and Bruce Richardson in minor league hockey." Garrett says. "Our families have always been close. My grandfather (Bob Morrison) and uncle (Art Morrison) had horses too." Bruce Richardson's dad, Brian drove horses for Garrett's grandfather.

Garrett trained his first horse when he was only 16 and the name of that horse, For Your Approval. "He won 3 or 4 races at Woodbine for me. He was doing alright for us and we didn't buy him for much either. We lost him in a $15,000 claimer, but we only bought him for $2500 so that wasn't too bad."

Garrett's first drive was roughly ten years ago aboard a horse for Trevor Henry at Hanover Raceway, (Hanover, ON). "I qualified the horse and Trevor told me, this can be my first drive. My first win was in Hanover to, the horses name was Second Chances." To win a race with a horse of that name is quite cool. Some of the names Standardbred horses are given are so creative and fun. At times whimsical.

"I started getting into horses when I was around 12 years old. It started out as a summer job and I got more and more into it. Then it became something I wanted to do" explains Garrett. The idea of entering into a different career never crossed Garrett's mind. "I never thought of doing anything else, when I was a kid I'd always go to the races with my parents, and I'd say I want to drive horses for a living... it's something I've always liked and wanted to do."

Garrett's outlook is very positive, he's hoping to train more horses and one day have a stable to call his own. Garrett is currently training a 2-year-old trotter named Federal and hopes to have him race in the Ontario Sire Stakes series. As well, even though Garrett has been driving horses for ten years, he'd like to drive more often where and when he can.

"It's kind of changed, now a driver text and messages trainers for drives, it's more PR work. You can be more aggressive that way to pick up drives. Before you'd just go to the track and pick up qualifiers and make your connections there." Garrett says. "Now you have to be your own agent, but you don't want to step on anyone's toes."

Now that is respect for your colleagues. We all work to be number one in anything we set out to achieve, but knowing where to draw the line is something not everyone understands, but Garrett does.

"My parents always supported me, for sure" says Garrett. "I have two older brothers (Darryl & Brad) and we all played hockey, sometimes we'd all be playing hockey on the same night and there's only two parents and three different places to go to and my mom didn't have a drivers license. They always got us to the rink or wherever we were going."

"Now mom and dad, there isn't a Saturday night in Hanover they do not miss when I'm driving there." Garrett says, "It gives them something to do.... I'm not sure what they would do if I wasn't doing this, I'd think they would get pretty bored."

In his ten years of driving horses, there was one drive that Garrett will never forget. "I'll always remember the one drive I had with this one horse. I kind of got locked in with him along the rail and he was a big strong horse and I couldn't hang on. I was all over the guy in front of me and my arms were pretty well rubber. I couldn't hold him and had to get him out so I jerked him out and interfered and crashed and banged into everyone."

"I will always remember that" says Garrett. "It was a scary feeling and having nowhere to go. No one was hurt and I didn't really hit anybody, kind of more just pushed some guys out of the way so I could get out of the way... that was a real learning moment for me."

Garrett is grateful to Trevor Henry and the entire Henry family for teaching him so much about the sport of harness racing. Bruce Richardson is another person Garrett is grateful for always being there for him. "You learn a lot from those guys and their experiences." Garrett acknowledges.

Asking Garrett what he would do if he could do anything with a week away from horse racing and money was not an issue, Garrett said he would like to visit Las Vegas as he's never been there. Garrett would love to get into some card games while in Vegas. That's one thing Garrett enjoys, playing card games, whether it be poker, euchre, crib or gin, you name the game and he's in.

Hanover Raceway will be opening up for the 2014 season on Saturday June 7th with a post time of 7:15pm. Be sure to see Garrett in action and grab an autograph.

By: Roderick Balgobin Twitter: ScSupernova

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