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A Closer Look At An Unsung Veteran

Published: December 28, 2017 12:15 pm ET

Last Comment: December 28, 2017 6:25 pm ET | 6 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

Lara Vronick, a communications professional that works outside of the racing industry, recently took a trip to the paddock at Rideau Carleton Raceway. While there, Vronick spoke with horseman Darcy Clancy about his 14-year-old Standardbred Thundering Bay, a winner of 26 of his 144 career starts that has finished on the board 66 times. Thundering Bay is one of 62 fourteen-year-old Standardbreds in North America that will officially be retired after the calendar flips to 2018. Scores of racing’s ‘senior citizens’ do not have their stories told, even though they exemplify the durability, toughness, and workhorse qualities that harness horses have become known for. Thundering Bay’s story, written by Vronick, appears below.


With 2018 marking his 15th year, the Clancy’s will retire their lifelong contender, Thundering Bay.

The Rideau Carleton Raceway paddock is a bit intimidating on race day if you’re a newcomer. There’s a lot going on. Horses are getting suited up to race, each with their own routine, or getting bathed after their contest, while their drivers gear up for the next one. It’s loud. Everyone seems to know everyone, so besides the horses and the various announcements coming through the loud speaker, there is a constant buzz of conversation.

This is where I met Darcy Clancy. He was prepping his 14-year-old gelding Thundering Bay for what would be one of his final races. “If he gets another win he’ll be done after that,” said Clancy, “but I figure another couple starts.”

While other stalls had three or four people working, Clancy was by himself that night. Sometimes, he said, he brought a groom along. I wondered if this was a subconscious decision, knowing he only had a couple more left in him, perhaps he wanted to keep these final starts with his longest-running horse to himself.

Fourteen years is a long time to spend caring for, training and driving one horse. Sixty-two Standardbreds that are currently racing in North America will officially retire when the calendar flips to January 1, 2018. The amazing part of Thundering Bay’s story is that he has been raised, trained and driven by only one man for his entire life.

Clancy has been driving Thundering Bay since his first start in 2008. The bay was five years old at the time, which some consider a late bloomer. "When he first started training him we thought he was decent," said Clancy, "but it was when he had his first start we knew he was good."

Clancy and his father, Walter, who bred Thundering Bay’s dam, Cams Crystal, to Albert Albert, knew they had something special in Thundering Bay early on, but could have never predicted it would last as long as it did.

I wondered if this was a Clancy-family strategy: Keep a horse racing with the same trainer/driver for its whole life and you’ll get to know the animal pretty well, and vice-versa.

Thundering Bay and Darcy Clancy, pictured in the paddock at Rideau Carleton Raceway (Photo courtesy Lara Vronick)

Of course, it isn’t that easy, and Darcy assured me there was a little bit of luck that kept Thundering Bay going as long as he did. “Well, he’s got a racing heart,” said Darcy. Modesty is a trait found in many of the horseman I’ve met.

He recalled Thundering Bay trying to tear past the other contenders on the way to the barn, as if to say, ‘Got ’em!’ much after the race had been decided.

His ‘racing heart’ was also what kept him going after some health trouble in his 2013 season. A sore hock took him out of action for almost two years – something Clancy wasn’t sure Thundering Bay would come back from. “We didn’t know if he’d come sound,” Darcy explained. “He still liked to run and play, but he was uncomfortable.”

Darcy recalled other broad indications of his horse’s character, but also specific glimpses that stood out as markers for both Darcy and Thundering Bay’s success.

The gelding’s 2011 season, in particular, featured a few stand out moments, including Darcy’s favourite time he ever lost. “He was parked to the three-quarter pole first up, he finally did clear and he just got beat at the wire in :52.2.” said Darcy.

“Most horses parked that long, about five-eighths pole, they hit the wall and give just up,” Darcy explained. “His next start he drew the inside of everybody and nobody tried him.”

These moments that Darcy can easily recall, even years later, are a sure sign of not only temperament and natural ability, but also the comfort level that exists between the two.

As January 1 approaches, Darcy and Thundering Bay will make their way home to Odessa from Rideau Carleton Raceway for the final time together. Darcy has a cart for Thundering Bay to pull his kids around for fun, and will still jog him at the stable’s training track for as long as his racing heart still beats.

December 28, 2017 - 6:25 pmCongratulations to both of

Robyn Lawlor SAID...

Congratulations to both of you. What a wonderful career Thundering bay has had. He still has lots to offer and as a neighbour, I look forward to seeing him enjoying his retirement. Great work Darcy!!!

December 28, 2017 - 3:19 pmIt is wonderful to hear

It is wonderful to hear stories such as this one as it says something about these great horses as well as their connections. They become a part of the family and have a special place in everyone's heart. On behalf of the connections of Pacific Oak another of these fine horses that will retire on January 1st, we wish you and Thundering Bay all the best in retirement and hope that there are many fine memories still to come.

December 28, 2017 - 2:47 pmHAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU, YOUR



December 28, 2017 - 2:45 pmVery nice story. It's too bad

Very nice story. It's too bad horses have to retire at 14. Usually the ones that do make it that far are still healthy enough to race a couple of more years. Maybe 16 would be a better age of retirement for horses like Thundering Bay & others like him. Provided they are healthy & sound enough to do so.

December 28, 2017 - 1:16 pmGood for you Darcy

sam taylor SAID...

Good for you Darcy

December 28, 2017 - 1:14 pmNot many horsemen can say

Not many horsemen can say they raised, trained and drove a horse all his racing career. What a great story of a little horse that did and a trainer who let him. Congratulations Thundering Bay on all your successes and your determination to race. Congratulations to Darcy for your great achievements with Thundering Bay. A life time friend you both will have. Lorraine

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