Randy Waples on what it feels like to drive horses
Veteran driver says it’s like screaming down the 401 on a motorcycle.
ELORA, ON — What’s it like to be going crazy fast behind a 1,000-pound animal, with no seat belt, just two strips of leather as your steering wheel and only millimeters separating you and eight other thundering horses?
Veteran driver Randy Waples says there’s no feeling anything like it.
“It’s the greatest high in the world when you get to line up behind the gate. I’ve never lost it. It’s been 31 years of driving horses now. Every time I go behind the gate I get that same kind of a rush, that adrenaline rush. It’s just fantastic,” Waples said.
“You want to feel what it’s like to be in a horse race? Get on a motorbike and do 100 miles an hour down the 401.”
Randy Waples went to high school in Fergus. When he was young, he used to play in a field in Elora that became the site of Grand River Raceway. Today, he’s one of Canada’s leading harness drivers and a four-time winner of Grand River Raceway’s signature race, the Battle of Waterloo.
At the age of 49, even after more than 6,000 wins and over $100 million in purse earnings, Waples said he still gets pumped when he takes the reins.
“It’s got that dangerous sort of aspect. You know they’re close to you. You know how powerful the animals are. But you really don’t put that into your mind because, basically, the whole time you’re thinking, ‘What should I be doing? Where should I be? Is this one live? Is that one stopping? Can I get out? Do I want to pull now?’ There’s a lot of things that go through your mind where you kind of push the dangerous part in the back of your mind.”
Waples said there’s no better place for fans to get a taste of that adrenaline rush than at Grand River Raceway.
“First of all, you’re up close to the horses. To me, that’s more important than anything,” Waples said. “The other thing is, I think Grand River Raceway has gone out of their way to treat people the way they should be treated. It’s customer first.
“It’s just such a friendly kind of an experience. That’s Elora. Fantastic people.”
Waples is one of the most personable drivers in the game. He invited fans to say hello at Grand River.
“I hope I see you there and if I do, come over to the fence, lean over and say, ‘Hi’ unless you’re an ex-school teacher, then stay away,” he said, laughing.
Waples said horses are simply the greatest animals on earth.
“We’ve been so lucky that God put these animals on the earth… They’re so accommodating,” he said. “Horses went to war with us, they carried the guns… Years ago, when there was no cars, the doctor went to the houses in a horse and a buggy. If that doctor couldn’t get around in that horse and a buggy, a lot of people wouldn’t be here today. We’ve got a horse to thank for it.
“A lot of people don’t know horses have blue eyes. You get up close to them, every one of them have the prettiest blue eyes you’ve ever seen in your life.”
As for the horse that changed his life, Waples didn’t even think for half-a-second before answering.
“San Pail. Absolutely San Pail,” he said of the Breeders Crown and three-time Maple Leaf Trot winner. “People looked at me differently. I was able to compete at the highest level with a very good horse and he made me look good and people just, all of a sudden, looked at me in a different light.
“He’s meant everything to me.”
To hear more of our conversation with Randy Waples — including which three people, living or dead, he’d pick to have dinner with — check out our weekly podcast, the Harness Racing Report, produced for Grand River Raceway by award-winning journalist Dave Briggs, at https://soundcloud.com/grandriverraceway
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PHOTO: Randy Waples following the 2009 Battle Of Waterloo at Grand River Raceway (Iron Horse Photo)