Mark MacDonald to 'stick it out' in the U.S.A

07:18 PM 02 May 2012 NZST
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Mark MacDonald has been through it all in his driving career, the good, the bad and the ugly. But he's also endured, undaunted by the past and optimistic about the future. The harness racing reinsman has experienced numerous high-profile moments in the sulky. He produced a career year in 2006 when he notched what was then a single-season Canadian record of 739 wins.

He also captured the $1.5 million Pepsi North America Cup four years later with Sportswriter. The triumph came on the same night he won the Fan Hanover with Western Silk, both for trainer Casie Coleman.

But there have also been tough times.

MacDonald has been involved in a pair of serious on-track accidents. The first came on January 3, 2004 at Western Fair Raceway, the other at Mohawk Racetrack on May 26, 2011.

Both incidents sent him to the sidelines for lengthy periods of time.

MacDonald, who has been a familiar face on the Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) circuit for several years, took time off from November 2011 to February 2012 after he developed intense migraines and bouts of dizziness that prevented him from leaving his home.

As of late January, the two-time O'Brien Award-winning driver was symptom free and eager to return to action.

Having always wanted to give driving a try in the U.S., he figured now was an ideal opportunity. When MacDonald returned to the sulky on February 23, it came at Yonkers Raceway inNew York.

"When I started to feel better, I thought, 'Why not try it now, try something different?'" said the career winner of 4,954 dashes, who also has over $66.8 million in lifetime purse earnings. "I figured it would be a fresh start."

MacDonald knew it wouldn't be an easy transition.

"You never know how things are going to go when you try something new," he noted. "It has been going pretty well. Just getting back driving again has been the toughest thing. I was off almost four months before I started driving down here, so not only was I starting over at a new track, I was coming back from a serious head injury. I had two things to battle there, being the new guy in town and trying to get my sea legs back."

The reinsman is gracious for the support of a prominent New York-based trainer.

"Mark Ford has been really great," said MacDonald, who has become the conditioner's primary driver at Yonkers. "He's helped me a lot and put me on the map. I won one for him the very first night I was here."

In just over two months, MacDonald has had 382 starts, which have produced 26 wins, 40 seconds, 46 third-place finishes, along with $601,350 in purse earnings.

"I am just taking it day by day," he said. "Every day seems to be more positive."

MacDonald had briefly thought about coming back home to Canada for the summer months, but ultimately decided against it.

"I've always liked racing at WEG and especially Mohawk's summer meet," he explained. "It's awesome with the North America Cup and the Grand Circuit races, but to give it a fair shot down here, you kind of got to stick it out. It is hard to do well at a place when you have only been there for a few months. You have to give it a little time."

MacDonald, who is looking forward to competing in the New York Sire Stakes, has also qualified a promising three-year-old pacing colt, Bolt The Duer, for trainer Peter Foley.

The Kentucky Sires Stakes Final winner was six-for-eight with $214,058 in earnings as a freshman and is being pointed towards the $1-million Meadowlands Pace (July 14).

Bolt The Duer, a son of Ponder-Wonderbolt, may also give MacDonald an excuse to return home as the colt remains eligible to the Breeders Crown (October 27) at Woodbine.

The Prince Edward Island native is optimistic he can have a strong summer season. He will also start driving at Tioga Downs on Sundays for their 2012 season.

"It is exciting to be somewhere different," said MacDonald, who has been taking in the sights and sounds of New York City on dark days. "It's a good experience."

He'll look to add some more on familiar ground.

"I'm hoping I get invited to some of the big dances up there in Ontario," he said. "It would be great to see everybody this summer at Mohawk (Opening Day is May 17)."

For now, though, a rejuvenated MacDonald will look to make his mark south of the border.

At the Track with Mark MacDonald -USTA harness racing Hoof Beats

Ashley Mayotte - WEG Communications

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