James MacDonald has major racing "roots"

12:00 AM 02 May 2014 NZST
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James MacDonald, harness racing James MacDonald, harness racing James MacDonald, harness racing
James MacDonald with his mom, Gail, and wife Jenna
James MacDonald (front) and brother Anthony - At the 'I Love Canadian Harness Racing' booth
James MacDonald before his toughest race ever!
Harness racing driver James MacDonald comes from quite the racing family. His mom, Gale is the track photographer in Charlottetown, PEI and his dad, Fred, owns broodmares. His brothers Mark MacDonald races in the USA and Anthony is a Woodbine and Mohawk circuit veteran.

There's Curtis who designs simulcasting graphics for various horse tracks throughout North America. "Curtis is a sharp cookie" says James. "Curtis learned a lot of that from my other brother Lloyd." Lloyd is in the same line of work as Curtis and there is Bobby who is a blacksmith in PEI.

With his family deeply involved with horses, James 28 didn't take to horses until he came to Ontario to work for his brother Anthony ten years ago.

James feels no pressure as the younger brother of successful drivers; instead James will make his own footprints in harness racing one step at a time. "You just need to work hard and respect the horse" says James. "Drive every horse accordingly depending on the race and what the situation is. There are lots to think about and I don't expect big things, I think if you work hard and people like your driving then you can catch on."

"When you watch the top drivers in the world, the Tim Tetricks, the John Campbells (and Mark MacDonalds), you have to drive every kind of horse." James adds, "There are three very different styles, there is the front end, first up and off the pace... You need to be good with them all, if you end up in a spot where you are first up you need to be able to keep the horse going. You need to be able to race any horse off the pace and I think that's what all good drivers do very well."

"I try to not have a style and drive the horse as the race comes to me" says James.

Speaking with James, I get the feel he is the 'visionary' type of person who can anticipate what goes on during a race ahead of time. "It doesn't matter how much you study the program or how much you know the horses, anything can happen when the gates open." James says.

Anthony Macdonald considers James a lot like Mark MacDonald when it comes to driving horses. It's very natural and appears effortless.

"Horses will let you know what they are comfortable with" says James. "It's getting a feel for the horse and the more you drive competitive horses you can feel out what a horse is like. You might tell someone a horse doesn't like the front and then it will go out and win on the front. So it's not always full proof that's for sure."

James doesn't train horses but he does have some babies along with a couple of race horses at the barn. "My wife, (Jenna) and I along with Johnny McKinnon have five babies here right now and some race horses.... We break in the babies, Johnny and Jenna do the brunt of the work and I come in and jog them and help them out."

James credits his brother Anthony and Jamie Smith for helping him out when he first arrived in Ontario. "They showed me the ropes and what the do's and don'ts are when training horses" says James. "I actually trained a few for a couple of years. Mark and Anthony are equally helpful, if I do something on the track they think is wrong, they're very helpful. They won't scream or shout, they will show me the right way to do it."

"Also a lot of people, who don't know me, will put me down to drive because they have had good luck with Mark or they had good luck with Anthony." James notes.

A good point James brings up is there are so many good trainers and drivers in the harness racing industry sports fans never get to hear about. People within the horse industry can attest to countless people who deserve praise for their work as trainers or drivers. Unfortunately because they haven't had that break out horse to add a spotlight to their efforts, they go unseen by the general public and that's disappointing.

"This is all I want to do" says James. "I love horses, I love racing horses and I love driving horses. There are so many good drivers... it's a tough game."

What's good for the game is promotion of the sport and James agrees that what Jeff Gural at the Meadowlands is doing can only result in positives for the industry. "I think he's great for the sport. Clearly he's helped out the Meadowlands and built a beautiful new facility, whatever he's doing is working and he's trying. He's putting in the effort that is for sure."

"I think this is a great sport and it deserves a lot of praise." James says. "Jody Jamieson can walk anywhere in Ontario and people won't have a clue who he is. Any top 20 driver in Ontario walking in Prince Edward Island or the Maritimes and everybody knows who you are because it's huge out there (in the Maritimes). The money isn't great but they love the sport down there."

Harness racing offers so much in terms of fan appeal with opportunities to meet drivers and trainers, getting autographs and even going for tours of the paddocks at some race tracks. In what sport does the average fan have the opportunity to go behind the scenes to see how it really is?

To date James has driven in some big races such as the Breeders Crown, Maple Leaf Trot and many Super Finals. "The experience has been great driving against guys like Tetrick and Sears. I haven't been able to win a big one yet. They are all intense and that's when you got to shine." James explains.

When it comes to being on the track with other top drivers, James is keenly observing everything they're doing with their horse. James doesn't choose to pick their brain as a professional courtesy. "They're here to drive and do a job. I would but it's out of respect."

On May 9th at the Raceway at Western Fair, (London, ON) James along with fellow drivers, Alfie Carroll, Jody Jamieson, Scott Coulter, Billy Davis Jr., Trevor Henry, Doug McNair and JR Plante will square off in the 2014 Ontario Regional Driving Championship. The top two drivers of the eight race competition will compete against the top two drivers from the three other regional's taking place in Canada for the National Driving Championship. The National Champion will represent Canada in the World Driving Competition taking place in Australia.

"The top eight (drivers) in wins, in Ontario were selected and I actually ended up 11th because I missed a several of months with a broken leg. I was off three months and was set back because I was having a good start to the year." James explains.

"There were three drivers that opted out, because it is time consuming" explains James. "It's tough to book off drives and you had to be willing to commit and book off time if you won. Since three guys turned it down I was selected."

James broke his leg during a race at Woodbine racetrack. His horse made a break and fell resulting in James' broken leg. Throughout the recovery time James remained positive with the help of his family and friends. "It's such a great industry, I had people pop by the entire time and my friends were always over to see me and my wife was always there."

One thing is for sure, horsemen and women always stand firmly behind one another during difficult times, such as coping with various injuries. Whether or not you're related, if you are a part of the harness racing industry, you are considered family.

By: Roderick Balgobin www.supernovasportsclub.comTwitter: ScSupernova

 

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