Getting to Know You with Roderick Balgobin

07:24 AM 04 May 2014 NZST
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Andrew Harris, harness racing Andrew Harris, harness racing Harness racing
Andrew Harris jogging one of his horses
Andrew Harris and his youngster daughter Kinsley
Top horsemen at Grand River Raceway (l to r) Corey Giles, Garret Rooney, J Bradley Harris, Andrew Harris, Race Secretary Diane Twasnick, Scott Zeron, Scott Bako and Shane Forward

TRAINER ANDREW HARRIS NOW ON HIS OWN

Andrew Harris is a harness racing trainer who made his move to New Jersey from Canada seven years thanks to Casie Coleman. "I was working for Casie in Canada... she was looking to start an American stable and at the last minute some things changed for her and I went down for about a month." Andrew says.

The stable ran well with Andrew and after 4 days of being back at home, Andrew got the call from Casie asking Andrew if he'd like to make it a full time permanent gig. "I sat on the idea for a day or two and then decided to make the move."

Prior to working for Casie, Andrew worked with his dad, Jack Harris at the family stable. Andrew also worked for trainer Bill Robinson for a year.

At the age of 21, Andrew went to work for Casie making it a permanent move to the USA and in those seven years working for Casie Coleman, Andrew learned quite a bit and not all of it horse related. "I've gained a lot more business sense" says Andrew. "Also I realized in order to have a horse race all year you need to make sure they are ready for the right races. You can't over extend a horse too early in their career so you always have to manage the right races from the start of the year so you can ensure a good horse at the end of the year, where all the money is.

"I used to be in Canada where you race for as much as you could. You race for a $4,500 purse and that's what fed you so you raced as hard as you could for that race." Andrew further explains, "Down here where you have more money on the line, you can manage a horse so it can last all year where you can make pretty good money. That's what I learned the most is how to properly manage a horse."

"If it wasn't for working with Casie, I might not have learned that." Andrew says. While working for Casie, Andrew had the pleasure of having top tier horses pass through his care, such as Sportswriter and Betterthancheddar.

Now Andrew has a stable of his own and all that he's learned up to now will definitely help him in his future endeavors.

"Right now I am working with seven horses" says Andrew. "On paper my best horse would probably be Panesthetic, he just took a mile marker in 1:48.1 at the Meadowlands so that was a pretty big race. I never dreamed I would train a horse that could go that fast. For me, it was ecstatic and for everybody around here it was pretty common. For me I was excited, it was a high for me."

Andrew has a few horses in his care which he admits they are not superstars, but they are hard working blue collar horses that are gritty and deliver checks.

When it comes to having horses winning a share of purse money, Andrew maintains it is all about knowing your horse and what they are capable of. Every trainer sends their horse out to win yet at the same time, expectations should be managed accordingly with every race and the competition. As Andrew noted if a horse is dropping in class and was previous stakes winner or runner up, chances are it may do well against a lower grade. So if your horse is going into that same race, you need to understand who the competition is and what that horse is capable of doing on the track based on all factors.

"You go into a race and hope to have your horse as good as you can have it and at the end of the day you walk away and know you got as much out of your horse possible so long as they are happy, healthy and sound." Andrews says.

Getting to know Andrew is a pleasure. Andrew has a twin brother, J Harris who drives and trains in Ontario. The first time I heard Andrew speak I was positive that I was speaking with J! For the first ten minutes I thought I was on the TV prank comedy show Punk'd, but the Standardbred version!

Andrew is quite approachable like so many in harness racing, simply down to earth, honest and loves horses. If there is ever a chance for Andrew to promote harness racing in a good way, you can certainly count on him to be there.

Andrew would love to have his brother J come down and drive for him, but for Andrew to make that call, he's upfront in saying he has to make the situation ideal for J uprooting from Ontario and changing his life around. "I'd love to get him on the big stage and get him attention that way, that's a goal of mine to able to do that for him." Andrew states. "Right now I have to build a bigger base, get more horses and attract more owners and have a bigger Stature before I can do any of that."

It's awesome to know how much planning Andrew is taking on to one day bring his brother to drive for him at the biggest stage in harness racing.

Andrew and his wife Amanda have two daughters but no, they are not twins. Gracie Lynn is three and Kinsley is six months old.

Family time is important to Andrew; given now that he's racing four to five times a week at Meadowlands, Pocono Downs, Chester's and Yonkers, anytime at home is cherished no matter the length of time. "I am locally situated to all four of those tracks. I am an hour and half from Yonkers, forty-five minutes to Meadowlands, and an hour and ten minutes to Chester and two hours and twenty minutes to Pocono." Andrew says. Having each track within a reasonable driving distance does make life a lot easier and will allow for quality family time.

"Once a week I try to take Amanda to the movies and make it a date night. She gets a break from the kids and I shut my phone off for an hour or two." Andrew says, "Try and escape reality for a moment."

Andrew loves all genres of movies, including foreign films. "I am not partial to any one type of movie; I will go in and watch them all. Even movies with subtitles, I like to see how they are done, the quality (of the movie), sometimes the best movies are the ones unheard of. I keep an open mind before I go into any see movie and I enjoy it."

If you go and visit Andrew, be sure to bring him a cup Timmies. I made the mistake of mentioning I was taking a sip from my cup of Timmies and that's probably what he misses most from Canada. Tim Horton's coffee!!!

One major aspect to harness racing that Andrew pointed out is the way everybody views harness racing on TV screens or on computer screens. There is one main shot that is from the center of the track and it's only that one shot you can view as it zooms in and out.

"Almost all races are displayed in the same format, in 30 years we haven't changed our angles on our cameras." Andrew says. "That's one thing we need to change, it would be nice to see some short of 360 shot where you can watch them coming at you down the lane in a race. Or have it like the Little Brown Jug where there's a video guy on the inside and you can watch them coming around to the half.

"It gets a little bit monotonous when you're watching twelve races and for the average guy who doesn't know much, it all looks the same" says Andrew. "To me it's almost boring to watch races at certain places cause it's the same thing and if you change some angles and bring (fans) into a closer look of the race it makes the horses look more like stars and that could help a lot."

Albeit some tracks offer fans a zoomed in version of the front runners, with picture in picture of the traditional shot. What about what the NFL or NHL does and have different angles to enhance the experience.

Some tracks like The Raceway at Western Fair offers a cool vantage point from the starting car, but could we do more with that idea? Like the NFL, what about having a camera strung on secure wiring that can be controlled to follow the race from above. To keep it simple at first of course, then what about mounted cameras that show the horses coming into each turn, especially the final turn before the stretch. This way fans can observed the horses and drivers getting into final position for the final dash.

"Let's bring fans into the race and give them more of an action feel. I'd love to see the expression on the driver's face." Andrew says. "We need to make Standardbreds stars because they deserve to be stars."

We need to make it more appealing to new and veteran fans alike. Yes it's a drastic change from what is traditional, but for our sport to grow we need to grow first and foremost. If we don't change, how can the sport change?

Roderick Balgobin's column will appear weekly on Harnesslink. You can contact him at rod.balgobin
@supernovasportsclub.com or Twitter: ScSupernova
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