Day At The Track

One-On-One with trainer Michael Deters

12:03 PM 13 Feb 2014 NZDT
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Prairie Jaguar, harness racing Mike Deters, harness racing Prairie Jaguar, harness racing
Prairie Jaguar and caretaker Tracey O'Leary
Mike Deters
Photo by Skip Smith
Prairie Jaguar posts his seventh straight win at Pompano Park
Photo by Dee Leftwich

We are visiting today with Floridian veteran trainer and horseman Michael Deters.

Michael Deters is currently having incredible success with the best pacing colt he has ever trained and owned in Prairie Jaguar.  During his current streak, Prairie Jaguar has posted four winning miles in 1:50 or faster at Pompano Park, the most ever by any Standardbred in the track's fifty year history. 

Michael ranks annually in the top five trainers at Pompano Park in wins and UDRS training ratings. The lightly raced Prairie Jaguar will be shipping up north soon to take on the some best pacers in harness racing.  His first test will be the Whata Baron stakes at the Meadowlands beginning on April 5th.

One-On-One is done exclusively for by Brian McEvoy

HLINK: Congratulations on having Prairie Jaguar being named Horse of the Month by the USTA for the month of January.  He has won his last 7 starts including a pair of Pompano Park Open victories in January.  How is he holding up?

MD: It is the first time this has ever happened for me and I am pretty tickled.  It would be better if he got a chance to race more often.  For a horse to be real sharp they need to race every week. He is racing every other week. He has been good every start. Prairie is real sharp now. Since he came back from Canada every race has been great.

HLINK: You have now won seven races in a row including four races under 1:50 or less. Last summer Prairie Jaguar was racing in Canada for non-winners of $1,000 in last three starts. That is quite an improvement.  What happened to improve his form so drastically?

MD: When I had the horse a couple of years ago he went in 1:51.2 at Pompano. He came home in :27.1.  It was only his sixth or seven lifetime start. They wanted me to race in the Open Pace.  I didn't think he was ready with only a handful of starts to race in the Open Pace. We sent him to Canada to Laurie Poulin's brother.  He just didn't have any luck racing with the horse. I don't know what to tell you as to what happened to the horse. There is no big secret with this horse.  He is really good.  In all the races in Canada he was never involved in the race. Since he has been back he has really stepped up. Jason Dillander has done a tremendous job driving the horse.  We have fattened him up and made him a happy horse again. A horse has to be happy or they don't want to go. If a horse is happy they will perform for you.

HLINK: Prairie Jaguar has been handicapped with the eight post in the Open Pace. Has Pompano Park limited you to the amount of times you can race and whether you can continue to race in the Open Pace?

MD: I certainly hope I can race twice a month. They have led me to believe I can race twice a month for the time being.

HLINK: A couple of races back Prairie Jaguar won in dominating fashion from the 8 post, near the finish line the track announcer screamed "how good is this horse". Please tell us how good is Prairie Jaguar?

MD: I think he is an uncapped talent.  He has not been challenged yet. I am sure when I get up north he will be tested. As of now, we have not found the bottom. I would be surprised if he can't pace in 1:48.  If I could race him two weeks in a row at Pompano, he would go in 1:48 and change.  I believe the track record is 1:48.4.  If we paced him two weeks in a row, we would own the track record!

HLINK: I understand you are planning to ship the horse up north soon. Are you going to put him in Levy Series at Yonkers, or do you have other plans?

MD: He raced up north last year on a 1/2 mile track and didn't have a lot of success.  He is not going to race on a 1/2 mile track unless I go with him.  I would hate to put him in against the best horses in North American until he can get his feet wet.  The plan right now is to go in a new series at the Meadowlands called the Whata Baron.  It is a series for non-winners of $100,000 lifetime.

HLINK: You will be going up against Wake Up Peter and some other quality pacers.  What do you think of his chances?

MD: My horse is a proven winner.  He has won seven in a row and has the ability to do well.  We will find out when he puts his nose up against the starting gate against the better horses.  He has just been tremendous since he came back from Canada. Every race has been great. 

HLINK: What are you plans after the Whata Baron?

MD: Hopefully he can race against the upper echelon. When you are in the northeast there are plenty of places to race. In Florida there is only one place to race.  As far as other stake races, I really don't know yet. To be in the higher up stake races you have to dominate right away. If he is that good, we will educate him this year and next year go in the big stakes. He has minimum starts for a six-year-old horse.  The sky is the limit for him. The horses are going so fast as two or three-year-olds that they don't hold up.

HLINK: Are you going north with Prairie Jaguar or do you plan to put him with another trainer?

MD: That is very much up in the air at the moment. If I don't go now I will be up later to race him in the northeast circuit.

HLINK: You seem to have an attraction to horses sired by Spy Hard.  Your partner Laurie Poulin had Spy Hard as a stallion in Florida.  Spy Hard is a full brother to the great Riyadh.  Do you think that is where Prairie Jaguar gets his speed?

MD: He only sired a handful of horses.  I had two of them.  I had a Spy Hard filly named Prairie Lee.  She made over $45,000 in the Florida Sire Stakes at three.  She won twice at Tioga in 1:51. I sold her as she did not get around Pompano that well.  Prairie Jaguar is a full brother to Riyadh.  I think that helps a lot.  The key to a good horse is a good mare.  The mother is an unraced Auturo horse named Cat Lady.  She only had one other foal named Three Putt Again.  He was a Florida Champion and won in 1:51 as a three-year-old. 

HLINK: You have an outstanding mare in Winbak Heavenly.  Unfortunately you had to chase Summertime Lea all summer.  She was able to win close to $150,000 last year racing in the New York Sire Stakes for three-year-old fillies.

MD: She is not too far off from racing this year.  I trained her in 2:18 the other day.  She should be racing at Pompano by March for a short time.  I will look to send her up to race at Yonkers. 

HLINK: Have you given up the driving part of the business?

MD: I am old and fat (laughter).  I usually only drive the problem children. I will qualify the ones who have trouble getting around.  I leave the driving for the skinny guys who can go fast.

HLINK: Tell us about your partnership with Laurie Poulin.

MD: We have had horses together for about five years. She has a small breeding farm.  The last two years we have done well. We had a few shaky years. The horses have raced well. We have had a couple of nice colts. It is a descent partnership.

HLINK: Do you have any future stars coming up in your stable?

MD: I have a two-year-old brother to Prairie Lee and a two-year-old sister to Prairie Jaguar.  I like them both a lot. They seem like real nice babies. They are both Florida bred's and are doing everything right.  I have two-year-old trotting colt by Conway Hall that has been in 2:18.  I am looking to race him in the New York Sire Stakes.

HLINK: How did you get your start in the business?  Your dad was in the business.

MD: My dad raced at Pompano Park in the late sixties and early seventies.  I went to high school and college in Michigan.  When my father died I decided I could starve better in warm weather than cold weather.  My dad had thirty head at Hillcrest Farm in Florida.  When my dad died I went to work there.  I never had another job other than the horses.

HLINK: You seem to have a lot of great help working for you.  One of your caretakers, Tracey O'Leary, was recently honored by the Florida Chapter of the U.S. Harness Writers Association as "Caretaker of the Month". 

MD: Tracey has been with me for about twenty-five-years.  He does an outstanding job along with Bernie Germain.  My wife Shelly is the nuts and bolts of the operation.  My son Michael is my biggest supporter and helps out also.

HLINK:  You were the President of the Florida Breeders Association around the time Pompano Park got the slots. What happened that they never got any of the slot revenue?

MD: We were assured twelve million dollars a year.  That didn't happen for one year.  The first year we got ten million.  Since then it has gone backward.  The Florida Horsemen got the royal shaft.  They got the goldmine and we got the shaft.  Hopefully something positive will happen with this next legislation session.  If it doesn't the future of harness racing in Florida will be in jeopardy.  We were told for years it was going to happen. We were on the bill to be included in the slot revenue.  Then all of a sudden we were not on the bill.  All of the rest of the racing entities in horse racing in Florida were included and get a percentage of the slot revenue. I am not actively involved any more.  Hopefully things will go our way in Tallahassee starting in March.

HLINK: Regardless of the situation developing in Tallahassee, Mike Deters has an exciting future awaiting him every time that Prairie Jaguar steps on the racetrack.

By Brian McEvoy for

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