Getting to Know You with Roderick Balgobin

09:00 PM 08 May 2014 NZST
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Nik Drennan, harness racing
Nik Drennan with RUS rider Therese Faith Lindgren at the Meadowlands
Photo by Vicki Wright

TRAINER NIK DRENNAN ON RACING & TIM HORTONS

Harness racing trainer Nik Drennan, who stables his horses at White Birch Farms in New Jersey, lives and breathes horses. Nik states, "My life revolves around harness racing. I'm not into watching baseball, hockey or football but I will watch the races at night from any track. I even follow the racing in Europe."

"This is not really a job for me; it's more of a lifestyle."Nik says. "I go seven days a week at the barn and on my down time I just like to relax.... That's probably one of my biggest faults is not getting out in the world and meeting more people outside the horse racing business."

Nik would not change anything except if he could have more top quality horses in his barn. He would be delighted with 50 more if possible. "I am healthy, my family is healthy and I am in a good position." Nik says.

Nik averages from 15 - 20 horses in his barn depending on the season and when it comes to choosing a driver, Nik always does his best to match his horse to the driver's racing style and/or technique. There are so many talented drivers; Nik always has plenty of options of who to choose from.

"Getting two and three-year-olds to compete at a top level is what it's all about." Nik continues, "I only had six babies last year and you hope that one or two turn out to be decent race horses."

"You also need to have a mix of older horses in your stable as well. I've had Alexie Mattosie on and off for the last four years and he's been a great race horse who's won a lot of races and he is eight. Now with Take My Picture, it's the same thing, I took him to Sweden last year and he's still racing. He's a preferred and open race horse."

"Racing horses at a top level and competing against guys like Jimmy Takter" is what Nik finds thrilling. In 2013, Nik went to Sweden with Take My Picture to compete in the Elitlopp.

"I was in Sweden for three weeks and I stayed at Stig Johansson's farm and I trained with him every day." Nik says. "These are things I will never forget. We didn't have luck in Sweden but it was a life changing moment just to work with Stig. He's one of the greatest trainers of all time.... I got to work with him for three weeks and learned a lot. Meeting new people and Hall of Famers is what's all about."

The passion Nik exudes for harness racing is unbelievable, as hard as Nik works he is the ultimate fan at the same time. Anyone would be hard pressed to find a better definition or example of someone who is 'die-hard' fan of Standardbred racing.

"The Elitlopp is the equivalent to the Kentucky Derby here" says Nik. "Until you go over (to Sweden) you don't realize the difference, it's night and day compared to here. The coverage of the Elitlopp and the way they treat you is amazing. It's on the radio and on the front page of the newspaper a week before."

"I had thirty guys call me for interviews for newspapers and it's absolutely huge! It's all about the horse over there and the horses even have followers and fans. The fans would come to the track with banners and signs, it was something to see."

For someone who is such a fan and commits everyday of his life to harness racing, to be so shocked and awed by the fans in Sweden it must have been a one of a kind experience!!

"I really hope I get the chance to go back" Nik explains. "The camaraderie there is awesome; there is just not enough betting interest. The sport is thriving but it will never race for a lot of money because there isn't enough wagering."

For the 2014 summer season, Nik is looking forward to watching pacing filly Act Now have a breakout year. "She qualified last week at the Meadowlands.... She raced in the Breeders Crown last year and got a roughed up trip." Nik continues, "It just wasn't her night, but one of these nights it's going to be her night. She deserves to win a big race because she is a top filly."

At White Birch farms Nik gets to see one of the top horses from 2013, Bee A Magician daily.

"Nifty (Richard Norman) is one of my friends and I get to see Bee A Magician. I'm hopeful she has a good year for him." Nik says. "I think she is going to come back and have a tremendous year. I see Arch Madness every day and even though he is ten, he doesn't look to be slowing down at all. He can have just as good of season this year as he did previous years."

"This is why I like to be stabled here in New Jersey" says Nik. "You get to see Bee A Magician and Arch Madness, two of the greatest race horses every day. It's good to see great horses train and see how they look... it helps me further down the road when looking at horses. Just being in the company of good horses and good people really helps a person get better as a trainer."

Nik describes Bee A Magician's presence and how huge she is as a sight to see. "Powerhouse" is the word Nik used to describe Bee A Magician's aura. When seeing top flight horses in person, Nik admits seeing them on television doesn't do these superstars, like Bee A Magician justice.

Being Canadian, I had to ask Nik why he wasn't into hockey. Nik was more into soccer and growing up Nik played on a couple of soccer teams. Once Nik was required to start practicing at night and on weekends, that became an issue because it was cutting into his time at the barn so he said 'Goodbye' to soccer.

"(Horse Racing) is in my blood, and I wanted to be there as much as I could. When I finished high school I didn't go to college or university, I ended up getting two or three of my own horses and helping my dad (John)." Nik says. "There was never any doubt in my mind that this was what I was going to do."

Nik offers some very encouraging thoughts on attracting people to the races. Instead of having $6 or $7 dollar draft beers and having fans pay $4 for a pizza slice, price food to the point where fans will be enticed to come and enjoy racing. "Give stuff away" says Nik. "You want to get people to the races and then have them pay $20 for a terrible meal."

"Maybe start the races a bit earlier." Nik adds that some people cannot attend the races late at night during the week as people need to work the next morning. "We need to cater to the patrons." Nik goes on to point out how the Hambletonian attracts so many fans and the events and specials put on that race day should be more of a regular occurrence.

"A lot of places are stuck in the 1950's and don't want to change anything."

A funny note, (well not to Nik) is how much Nik misses Tim Hortons coffee. "I actually look forward to racing at Tioga, (Nichols, NY) and Vernon, (Vernon, NY) in the summer times because they actually have a Tim Hortons in upstate New York. I stop there on the way to the race track and on the way home from the race track. I tell everybody getting into the truck with me that we are stopping at Tim Hortons whether they like it or not!"

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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