Ed James says he has a simple formula for success. Surround yourself with people who know what they’re doing and let them do it.
It certainly proved to be a winning approach with his pacer McWicked, who on Sunday was named harness racing’s 2018 Horse of the Year. As James celebrated in the moments following the announcement, he was quick to deflect attention from himself to those around him.
“I believe it means more to the people that work with me,” the 87-year-old James said. “I don’t do anything. I’m convinced that I can find people smarter than me to do what needs to be done. It’s as simple as it gets. I don’t say a thing. It’s their business, not mine.
“I don’t know anything about horses,” he continued, smiling. “I don’t know a fetlock from a forelock, so what am I trying to do to impress somebody? The only person I’m impressing now is my bank manager.”
Ed James, accepting seasonal honours on behalf of McWicked.
McWicked, who is James’ first Dan Patch Horse of the Year Award winner, also received the same honour in Canada at the O’Brien Awards earlier this month. James pointed to trainers Jim McDonald and Casie Coleman and pedigree advisor Norman Hall, who recommended McWicked to James at the 2013 Standardbred Horse Sale’s Mixed Sale, as the keys to his success.
Honoured for last season’s seven-year-old campaign, McWicked became the oldest pacer in history to receive Horse of the Year. He led the sport in earnings last year, with $1.57 million, and became the oldest horse in 43 years to top the money standings. For the season, McWicked won 12 of 19 races, capping his campaign with a five-race win streak, and hit the board a total of 17 times.
Coleman thought McWicked was poised for a strong finish to the season after he won the Canadian Pacing Derby by 2-1/4 lengths in September.
“He was great all season, but the way he won the Canadian Pacing Derby, I thought we were going to end the year good, really good,” Coleman said. “He doesn’t get tired. I don’t know how many first-over miles he had, it seems like he was always first over, but it didn’t matter. He just kept grinding and grinding and put them away. I was really excited about the season.”
McWicked was a Dan Patch Award winner at age three, then went winless at four and five as he suffered with throat issues that required multiple surgeries. Coleman did not train McWicked at five or at the beginning of his six-year-old season, but when he returned to her stable and finished 2017 by finishing second in the Allerage Open Pace, Breeders Crown and TVG Series championship, it gave the trainer confidence going forward.
“From the time we got him back, (in 2017) he only made about half a million, but he pretty much never missed the top three,” Coleman said. “He wasn’t eligible to a lot of the top races because it went by money won, but he really was fantastic the year before. People just didn’t see it as much because he wasn’t eligible to a lot of the races.
“We didn’t do anything differently. I found his old equipment. Everything worked as a three-year-old for him, so I just put him back to the way we had him before.”
McWicked has been bred to some of James’ mares during the recent offseasons, which Coleman believes may have aided his turnaround.
“I think that might be why he’s so much sharper now, I don’t know,” Coleman said. “He knows he’s a man and you’ve got to stay on your toes with him.
“But he’s a really easy horse. It takes like 45 minutes to jog this horse because he goes like two miles per hour. He talks to everybody on the track or when you walk in the paddock; he’s screaming and roaring. He’s not mean, you just have to know him. He’s just a pleasure to have around.”
And he will stay around, too. The plan is for McWicked, who has won 34 of 93 career races and $3.89 million, to return to action this year at age eight.
Regardless of what happens the rest of the way, James will always remember what McWicked accomplished.
“Sixty years I’ve been doing this,” James said, “and finally I got the brass ring.”