In the world of harness racing, there is plenty of excitement and daily thrills to be had at any track. One track tucked away in South West Ontario is Flamboro Downs, (located in Hamilton, Ontario).
"From the starting gate to the finishing line, Flamboro Downs presents a unique and entertaining outing for individuals and groups alike. Parking and admission is always FREE."... Is the promotional phrase used on the Flamboro Downs website.
It is quite unique indeed. At Flamboro Downs there is a decent and very respectable colony of drivers, many who are a breakout horse away from becoming a household name. One name fans of the racing world should get to know is J Harris.
When I asked J Harris what the J stood for, maybe Jay or James? J replied "it stands for J, the letter J". J Harris, yes his first name is the letter J, how cool is that? I have never met anyone with an initial for a first name, perhaps I need to get out more often.
J considers himself a regular guy and when discussing horse racing, you are quick to learn how much respect J has for horses. Many are drawn by the speed and thrill to horse racing or the fact it's a family business, but with J you hear the respect he holds for the animals he works with when he is describing his reasoning for being in the horse racing industry.
"The horses...," answers J when asked about what draws him to the industry, "...they are completely majestic. I love being around them and they just got me. It's their eyes; you can look at them and make a connection. They are muscle machines with grace."
J, a third generation horseman, worked with his father who always kept him busy in and around the family stables as a young person. "I started working with (horses) once I was old enough to get out of bed," J said/ ."He got me out to the barn early." J's father is a successful trainer who J says "had a lot of success with fillies and mares."
With J's dad havingwhen he was young, J was able to be around winning connections from an early age. Back then, J admits he loved being at the winner's circle and being a part of the winning picture.
Almost a decade into his career, J who is 29, admits it has been a slow grind, but that will not hold him back. Last year J won the driver's title at Hanover Raceway, (located in Hanover, Ontario) and hopes to rank among the top 10 in the driver standings at Flamboro Downs.
One of J's fondest memories is his first win, but more so because it was with a family owned horse. "It took me 22 races to get my first win," J explained, "It was a home bred my parents had.... My mom happened to be at the racetrack that night and she balled her eyes out. It was the right horse to win with."
The name of the horse, Maxx Factor.
J is a low key person who prefers to take it easy and unwind at home after the races.
"Lately I've been focusing on racing and going to the gym. I don't go out much and if I do it's to the movies." says J. "I'm big into movies and I rent every new release that comes out. I like action and comedy (movies), but I will take action over comedy. Anything that is a true story I am guaranteed to love."
As for what are J's favorite movies, J lists "Days of Thunder, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Butler, it's an awesome movie. I watched the movie Rush and it was motivational, seeing one guy throw it all away and one guy striving for it all." As for the night life, well that is not who J is and he flat out says, "I'm sick of it, I grew up."
J has raced at Flamboro Downs, Hanover Raceway, Clinton Raceway, Western Fair Raceway, Grand River Raceway, Mohawk and Woodbine Racetrack. "Mainly I focus on Grand River and Flamboro. Flamboro is my home track, I live closest to it and I seem to get a lot of support (at Flamboro), it's been a great track to me. Grand River has a great atmosphere and they do great job with the public. I drive an hour and twenty minutes there (because) it's a great track."
As for what the future holds for J and the horse racing industry in the next 10 years, J bluntly says, "I don't see it. In 5 years time we are going to have to make hard decisions whether to stay in (the industry) or not. I think it's going to dwindle down to less than what people think it will be and I think there is only going to be a select few people who can afford to continue with horse racing in Ontario."
"It's going to be tough for new owners to go to 'B' tracks in Ontario because they are racing for less money. Anyone who wants to race horses at Woodbine will have a great shot. They go for decent money and I think new owners can make it work. I think Woodbine will keep their horse's value up." Other spots J believes the horse industry has room for growth outside of Ontario and Canada is Ohio State and New York State, in particular, Yonkers Raceway due to the influx of money for purses. Outside of driving, J does train horses and the idea of being a full time trainer is quite appealing to him. "If I can find the owners to do it, I would make a successful go at it."
There are plenty of reasons to believe J will be successful regardless of what transpires with the horse racing in the next few years. J is a 'go-getter' who takes whatever may happen in stride and he's not afraid, calm and collected are the two words that come to mind. Good things happen to good people, and it is people, like J, with positive attitudes who persevere through the thick and thin.
If J had a man cave it would be a movie theatre and knowing J's love for movies I am sure there will be plenty of fresh popcorn and comfortable seats. J explains there "will be a (huge) TV and a bar, probably a pool table as well. I think I would want the whole movie (experience). I would want the nice comfy lazy boys and a huge TV for the screen." His backup plan would be owning a Cineplex!
Be sure to check out J Harris and the rest of the drivers at Flamboro Downs. It's a lot of fun with a great group of people.