Day At The Track

Christian Lind's focus is now on driving

08:18 AM 18 Nov 2016 NZDT
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Christian Lind
Christian Lind won five races in 2016, including a 1:52.1 score at Lexington's Red Mile with 5-year-old pacer Beat The Drum

Trenton, NJ --- Christian Lind was long uncertain about being a harness racing driver, but it took just one race to convince him the sulky is the place to be.

Winning a debut race out of post nine will do that for a guy.

The son of trainer Staffan Lind, all but one of Christian’s 32 rookie drives came with his dad’s horses. The first was on July 19 at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, when Lind and 3-year-old female pacer Rock Me Baby started from the nine hole and triumphed at odds of 15-1.

Welcome to the show, kid.

Feeling no pressure because of the draw, the 25-year-old Lind’s hopes were to just make a good showing, maybe work his way up toward the front.

“I was sort of thinking OK, maybe finish in the top four or something, then move on to the next one,” he said.

Instead, he ended up savoring that one. We’ll let Christian tell the tale.

“I left a little bit and saw that everybody was leaving on the inside, I sort of just drifted,” he said. “I ended up fifth through the first turn. On the backside I pulled my horse and the horse in front of me pulled out in front of me and I just rode off that until the stretch.

“I pulled three wide at end of the turn and just went by them down the stretch. She felt amazing.”

A pleasant surprise?

“Yeah, especially out of post nine,” Lind said. “I was just elated at that point; I didn’t see it going that way necessarily. I was very happy but very surprised.”

He also had an awakening about what he wanted to do with his life.

“Before that first start I was kind of wishy-washy -- is this something I want to do or not?” Lind said. “It’s a lot of pressure, especially racing for my dad. I want his horses to do good.

“But I sort of proved to myself I could do it just by winning that first race. I thought after that, maybe I have a chance of doing this full-time and I was looking forward to racing after that.”

Lind was not done surprising himself. During a late-October night at Pocono, three drivers each won twice in the first six races -- George Napolitano Jr. (8,138 lifetime wins), Marcus Miller (2,610 wins) and Lind, who entered the night with three wins. He stood tall with the big boys, driving his dad’s trotter, Promise Delivered, and pacer, Mr D’s Dragon, to victories.

Lind finished his first season with a 15.6 percent win rate, garnering five victories in 32 starts. Four were at Pocono and one at Lexington’s Red Mile. He also had five seconds and one third.

“I thought I knew how to drive horses, but to win a race, that’s a little different,” Lind said. “Before I started I felt I probably had a good chance, but when you get in there you see it’s tough enough to finish first, second or third. So yeah, I was surprised that I got a few wins.”

For a while it seemed unlikely Christian would follow in the footsteps of his dad, who bought his first horse with the money he and some buddies won in Sweden’s V65 (akin to the Pick-6). Growing up in Vasteras, an hour west of Stockholm, Christian was a soccer player.

The family moved to Florida when he was 9 and by then Staffan’s profession was harness racing. Christian continued to play soccer in high school but issues with heel spurs made it nearly impossible to walk after games, so he gave up the sport.

Upon graduation, his family needed help at their stable so Christian volunteered his services. He planned on working there only as needed but, before he knew it, Lind was still working there and began training horses.

“In the beginning it was a little trying on me to wake up every morning right after high school to come help in the barn and all that stuff,” Lind said. “But starting to drive and train horses you really do fall in love with it. I thought I should help out until they got more help but it just turned into me sticking around.”

The family goes back and forth from Florida to their Celebrity Farms Stable in Goshen, N.Y. In Florida, where they will be until April, they are stabled at the Palema Trotting Center.

This year, something clicked inside of Christian.

“He’s been working with us since he left high school and he’s trained a lot of horses, but it wasn’t until this year that he really wanted to start to drive,” Staffan said. “So far he’s been doing real good.”

Lind had qualified more than 10 horses at Pocono and got his license in early July, a week before his first race. He got his training license around the same time but right now he is focusing on driving.

“I’d been training horses since I started, and I’d spent a couple years in the bike where I’m comfortable enough with it,” Christian said. “It’s a big difference (racing) but I feel like I got used to the actual driving of the horses very early on.”

Leading up to his first race, Lind said he got tremendous encouragement from his dad, who was stoking his confidence.

“He was telling me I could do it and he was giving me a lot of encouragement,” Christian said. “He’s been a tremendous help. Ever since we started doing this, he’s worked super hard and sort of instilled in me to also work hard. He’s especially doing it now that I want to do this.”

Staffan has been extremely impressed by his son.

“He is very calm and cool; he never gets too excited,” said the dad. “So far he’s been handling the horses good and putting them in position in the races.”

One of the main things Staffan would like to see is his son to start driving for other trainers besides himself.

“He had some opportunities to drive for Tony Alagna out in Kentucky and hopefully he can pick up some more drives,” Lind said. “If he had the opportunity I’d tell him to drive for someone else if he could. It’s the way you broaden your horizons and get contacts. He can always drive my horses whenever he wants to, but if he can get an opportunity he should take it.”

Christian understands his dad’s thinking and realizes he is just looking out for his best interests. He knows that the more trainers he drives for, the more drives he will get.

“Instead of two drives a night, it will be more than that, I’ll get more used to it and hopefully turn it into a career,” Lind said. “He’s just thinking of the opportunities it would give me. Of course, if he needs me, I’ll drive for him.”

Lind is uncertain about training, as he feels it’s stressful. He wouldn’t mind owning a horse, saying “It’s always a little more fun when you’re driving a horse you have a stake in.”

The bottom line is, after wavering about being in harness racing, Lind’s complete focus is now on being a driver. And he will probably be a little more aggressive after a lot of near misses.

“I got a bunch of fourths this year,” he said, referring to six fourth-place efforts. “It’s a little bit frustrating but you just get used to it.

“In the beginning you just sort of get into the rhythm how other people drive and you fit yourself into that. You don’t want to be in the way and you’re just trying to get by.”

He also got five firsts, which were enough to make him yearn for the sulky.

Come to think of it, one win was enough to do that.

by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

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