Now in a transitional period in his long and lucrative career, Randy Waples spoke on a two-part series with COSA TV on his time in the race bike, the horses he's driven and his reaction to receiving one of the highest honours in Canadian harness racing.
"It was like another surprise," Waples said of his nomination into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame. "It was surprise number two or number three, whatever it was."
Randy Waples enters the Hall with the 2021 class, which includes breeder Jim Bullock, broodmare Great Memories, thoroughbred builder Vicki Pappas, champion thoroughbred miler Heart To Heart and thoroughbred veteran Not Too Shy. Once he learned of his induction, the excitement for Waples was long-lasting.
"I didn’t sleep Monday night — that’s when the phone call came because I didn’t sleep, and I went right to Chantal [Mitchell]’s Tuesday," Waples said. "I was there about 5:30 usually — 5:30, a quarter to six, and I worked. I figured by Tuesday I’d be able to sleep, but nah. The sleep wasn’t coming Tuesday either; not very much, there was maybe about two hours of dozing off. Then by Wednesday, I was able to put my head down and go to sleep. It took awhile to wrap my little head around it."
Success for Waples did not come immediately, despite coming from an illustrious harness racing family. The son of Hall of Famer Ron Waples, Randy ground through the early years of his career with high expectations pointed at him and, at one point, barely a dollar to his name.
"The huge turning point was walking into Fred Hoffman’s barn broke," Waples said. "I mean, that’s not usually the best way to show up, but that’s basically what I did. I had 10 percent left of a horse that I was still training that I owned and I just could not afford to pay him the training bill. So I went to Fred’s barn; he’s really good with fillies and he was always really good with me. I asked him if he would mind taking the filly and I would come in twice a week and work off my 10 percent, and he said he would. And it just started to happen.
"I can tell you one of the first horses that I drove for him that kind of got me rolling for him was a filly called First Dawn, and I’ll always remember that there. She won me a bunch of races on the B tracks, and when he brought her back to Woodbine she kept winning for me. I would say First Dawn really got me going. She was the first horse I drove for Fred, and then there was a whole bunch more. Then all a sudden it was Stew Firlotte, Rheal Bourgeois, Kevin McMaster, Doug Berkeley and Bill Robinson. Things all just started to happen."
The growing opportunities for Waples began to balance the young frustration he carried early when coming up under the shadow of his father. Randy agreed that, while the Waples name carries high regard, it also made it difficult for him to get established.
"I think did more damage to the Waples name than the Waples name ever did to me, I can tell you that," Waples said with a laugh. "It’s like a two-edge sword. It really is. If you’re 18 years old and you start driving, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to be compared to other 18-year-old drivers. That didn’t work for me. From the minute I sat in a race bike, I was compared to my father. At that time, he would’ve probably been right around 39, 40 years of age, so I mean right in the prime of his driving career.
"That was a little frustrating, you know what I mean? Being compared to him at such an early age. I didn’t know, I still don’t know half of what he knows. And at that time, I didn’t know a thimble full of what the man knows on the track. It is a name that opens doors. It makes people look at you twice sometimes, and maybe that kind of helped. Maybe that’s what kept me kind of going, was that every once in awhile people would throw me a bone or something because of my last name. I’m not really sure about that. It worked good in a lot of ways, but it also was a bit of a detriment in some ways too."
By 1996 Waples gained a footing as a driver. And as a first-call man for aforementioned barns including those of Fred Hoffman and Rheal Bourgeois, Waples had his first million-dollar season as well as his first season with over 100 victories. His trajectory reached its apex in 2001 with a $10-million year that Waples said had everything go right. Though he never beat that money mark, Waples established himself as a main guy on Canada's biggest circuit.
Most of Waples' career he described as "very lucky", whether it's the situations he fell into or the people he's worked with. Some of that luck aligned when Waples caught the drive of San Pellegrino gelding by the name of San Pail at the end of his three-year-old year.
"I don’t even know how that came about there," Waples said, "just one day I picked up the qualifying sheet and I was down to qualify him. I did know the horse. I didn’t know Rod [Hughes] at all, other than just a couple of times in passing I said to him ‘Geez, your horse raced good tonight.’ Boy, you could tell there was a lot there. There was all kinds there from the very beginning."
San Pail became a magnum opus of sorts for Waples as a driver. Through an eight-year career, fellow CHRHOF inductee San Pail won 52 times from 114 starts and earned $3,102,135 as a result of careful crafting from owner Glenn Van Camp, trainer Rod Hughes and Waples himself.
"When we brought him back as a four-year-old, I sat with Rod; we talked about it. Rod kind of knew too that [with] his style of racing, he was going to chop a lot of miles for tough horses," Waples said. "And it’s a hard year for horses to race as four-year-olds because now you’re in against all the bearcats. We basically reprogrammed his way to drive, and I owe all the credit to Rod and Mr. Van Camp on that because that was a lot of patience. But by November of his four-year-old year, I could do whatever I wanted with that horse and that’s when he became San Pail."
That patient management resulted in three victories in the Maple Leaf Trot, a win in the Nat Ray Invitational (now the John Cashman Jr. Memorial) and — the race many recall when they think of San Pail — his 2011 Breeders Crown victory over European imports Rapide Lebel and Commander Crowe at Woodbine Racetrack.
"First off, going out onto the track and hearing the crowd — I never heard a crowd like that when I was going out into the post parade," Waples said of the 2011 Breeders Crown. "I think I might’ve even took my helmet off and tipped it or something. It’s like anybody east of Toronto was down here, from Oshawa, Pickering, all the way to Dunsford where Rod was from. He was good that night and everything seemed good. I watched the European horses score out...they looked sharp.
"I kind of had an idea of the way it was going to go. I knew Paul [MacDonell] was probably going to leave hard with Define The World because that was his whole game. I didn’t really want to get into a speed duel with him. I was more worried about what those two European horses were going to do. I was more than willing to land third, and I did move down to the rail and took a quick look over my shoulder. When I saw them still out there and starting to drift down, I knew basically what was going to happen: they were either going to move to the front, the two of them together, or they were going to sit on the outside of me.
"The beauty of a horse like San Pail is like you’re driving a Lamborghini in against V8s — and that’s nothing against the rest of them, honestly," Waples also said. "I have nothing against any horse that he raced against, but you have to realize this was a lot of power. He was so good at that time. You can make different decisions in a very quick time when you’re sitting with that much power."
Along with San Pail, Waples noted some of the other top horses he appreciated driving including Real Desire, Mach Three, Control The Moment, Dreamfair Vogel and Thinking Out Loud. With Thinking Out Loud, Waples scored one of the most memorable North America Cup victories in the history of the event with a textbook off-the-pace rally to snag his first victory in the classic while also handing trainer Bob McIntosh his first North America Cup title.
"That’s about as good as it gets," Waples said. "It just doesn’t get any better than the Thinking Out Loud race. The horse raced phenomenal. He had some of his little traits about him there. Once in awhile there, he’d just take a hold of the bit and just decide he was going to go forward. There wasn’t a whole lot you could do about it. He was a little different that way, but man was he tough. He would rank in the top three of the toughest horses I had ever raced in my life. It was an amazing night, to win Canada’s biggest race.
"But I keep leaning over to the right of the page of the program because I won that race for Bob McIntosh, and that’s another hero [from] growing up and," Waples also said. "I think he bought Lustras Big Guy off my dad around ’81 or ’82, and I was around there then; like I remember that. Bob’s always been a presence in my life, and I’ve watched—obviously, spending all this time in this business — Bob McIntosh, then all a sudden you find yourself driving for him. Then all a sudden you’re winning a race that he hasn’t won yet. So it was a first for him and a first for me. It was just a huge, huge thrill again. Team McIntosh — Bob, Nicky, Patty — they had that horse so good that night it was scary. It’s just something I’ll always remember for the rest of my life."
Waples made many memories through his career, and through severe injury could not walk away from the horses when he made a comeback to the bike in 2020. But now Waples no longer works the long nights of many of his peers and young drivers for whom he shared a lot of praise.
"I’m pumped on the racing," Waples said. "I told Billy McLinchey[of Woodbine Mohawk Park] a long time ago that I’d never seen a group of young drivers ever at that place than what they’ve got now. You can go back to the Condren-Brown age or whatever when they were all young, and my dad left for New Jersey and that opened the door for a lot of young talent around there then. I hate thinking that Sylvain Filion and Chris Christoforou are a veteran because I’m older than both of them, but those are your sort of veterans. You’ve still got Paul [MacDonell] out there and you’ve got Rick Zeron and guys like that. But you’ve got Dougie [McNair], Bob [McClure], Trevor [Henry]. You’ve got all these young faces that came in; all young guys that are going to be around for a long time. I think racing’s great. I think this [the coronavirus] will all be put behind us in a short time, I hope, and we can move on."
For the most part, Randy has exchanged the catch-driving routine for daily barn work and training these days with trainer Chantal Mitchell, who operates a stable of both overnight racehorses and younger horses. Approaching the twilight of his catch-driving career, Waples noted that in one way or another, his eventual retirement would still involve horses and the shore.
"Best case scenario, I would end up moving to Cal-Expo," Waples said. "Either one way or the other; either I want to go west or I want to go east. I want to spend some time near the ocean, so I would either move to Cal-Expo or move to the Maritimes and try to race out there. I really don’t want to get away from the racing because I just enjoy the horses too much. That’s the biggest thing about keeping me doing this [is that] I have a hard time being away from the horses. I don’t think there will ever be a day when I shut it down unless I simply can’t do it. But right now, I enjoy looking after horses and that kind of stuff. Stuff that I couldn’t really do before because I couldn’t be there in the morning all the time. But now I can and it’s like being a kid again. It’s nice."
When it comes to the legacy he hopes to leave behind, Randy said that whatever legacy he did leave behind — if any — is just Randy.
"People are going to take away what they’re going to take away," Waples said. "There was a time in my life that it used to bother me when people didn’t like me, but I can’t really say it bothers me anymore. A guy put it in perspective when I first started to do good there, he’s a good friend of mine and he told me one time ‘Randy, not everybody’s going to like you.’ That basically opened up my eyes. However a person chooses to think of me, then that’s the way they’re going to think about me. I am who I am, and Randy’s Randy. Some people are cool with that and other people aren’t good with it. I hope if I can spend a few more years in this business, I hope I can leave it not doing any damage to anybody or anything. If I can do that, I guess they couldn’t dislike me too much."
The two-part COSA TV Series on Randy Waples is available below: