Day At The Track

McNair to build off banner 2017 campaign

05:54 AM 15 Feb 2018 NZDT
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Doug McNair, harness racing
Doug McNair received the 2017 O’Brien Award for Canada’s Driver of the Year.
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Doug McNair does not remember the exact moment he knew driving racehorses is what he wanted to do for a living, but he knows it came early. Probably around the time he was 6 or 7 years old and his father, harness racing trainer Gregg McNair, would let Doug hop into the race bike following a training mile and bring the horse back to the barn.

“I’d go on Saturdays down to the farm and watch them,” McNair said. “I’d walk a quarter of a mile up the track and as soon as they got done finishing, dad would jump off and let me drive the horse back in the race bike and he would walk back. That was pretty cool, especially being 7 years old or 6 years old, whatever it was.

“That’s probably when I knew that’s what I wanted to do. That was a lot of fun.”

A little more than two decades later, McNair is still having a lot of fun. Eleven days ago, McNair received the O’Brien Award for Canada’s Driver of the Year. McNair, who was a finalist for the honor in 2013, was the top driver on the WEG circuit. He led all drivers in Canada with C$5.92 million in purses and was third in wins with 318.

In addition, McNair was the regular driver of three O’Brien Award winners -- Stay Hungry, Bettor’s Up, and Sandbetweenurtoes -- captured his first Breeders Crown (with Stay Hungry), won two Ontario Sire Stakes championships (with Western Passage and The Joy Luck Club) and drove Dr J Hanover to the fastest mile in Canadian history, 1:46.4, in June at Mohawk Racetrack.

“It’s a pretty good feeling when they call your name,” the 28-year-old McNair said. “I was nervous. I had a pretty good year, and you never know if you’re going to have a nice year like that again to have a shot at winning an O’Brien. I’m glad I got it.”

McNair started driving in 2008 and has won at least $1 million in purses every year of his career. He was the youngest driver to earn $1 million, at the age of 18, and in 2010 became, at the time, the youngest driver to 1,000 wins. He has won 2,906 races lifetime.

Over the years, McNair has seen himself mature as a driver.

“You just take it race by race,” he said. “You race horses the style they like to race. You try not to get in too much of a hurry. I noticed that (I’m not in as much of a hurry) in the last year and a half, even in overnight races. I see myself not getting in a big hurry off the gate. Sometimes, you have to. Other times, you just slow things down and watch what everyone else is doing and try to make the best choices as it comes.

“Everybody has one or two game plans, but it doesn’t always work out, and you don’t have much time to think. I think I’ve been able to read a race a lot different. Confidence is a big thing, too, for a driver. Even if you get a lot of top drives, you have to have the confidence or you’re not going to win those races. You have to be confident in yourself and know the right choices are coming.”

McNair hopes to build off his 2017 campaign and continue to attract attention, particularly when it comes to Grand Circuit races.

“I’m hopefully going to get a lot of opportunities when guys are bringing live horses up from the States for stakes races,” McNair said. “Hopefully they’ll think of my name. I think (the O’Brien Award) really helps. There are a lot of good drivers. You want to be on the best horse. When you’re winning a lot of races, guys are going to give you a shot. I used to be second and third shot and now you get top shots at it. It makes a big difference.

“I just hope I stay at the same level; that things keep working out. There are going to be a lot of bad days, too, so you just have to stay positive. I just want to keep trying to win a lot of races.”

by Ken Weingartner, USTA Media Relations Manager 

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