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Waples Over The Moon To Be Back

Published: June 4, 2020 6:49 pm ET

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Randy Waples boasts a resume that some drivers work their entire careers to only achieve half as much. He's captured three O'Brien Awards, the North America Cup, Canadian Pacing Derby, Metro Pace, multiple Breeders Crowns and Maple Leaf Trots throughout his illustrious career. However, this Friday night when the lights go back on at Woodbine Mohawk Park, Waples will not only be making his first start since the harness racing industry paused due to COVID-19, but his first start of 2020.

Waples has earned more than $131-million in purses throughout his career, while making 6,638 trips to the winner's circle. He recorded 22 straight million-dollar seasons from 1996 to 2017, while just missing the seven-digit threshold in 2018 and 2019. In the past two seasons he's averaged less than 500 starts per year, numbers not seen on that side of his statistics since 1995. His last pari-mutuel start came in late November 2019, but the popular driver was back in the bike during the recent round of qualifiers at Mohawk.

Trot Insider caught up with Waples for an update on his hiatus that was prompted by leg and back issues.

“As soon as I would sit the race bike it was just shooting pains up my leg. It was putting me to the point where I just couldn’t show up anymore to drive -- I just didn’t know when it was going to go off. Even when it was tolerable, an hour later it could just be pain.

“Then there were just lots of times where I’d shower and feel fine and fantastic and everything’s good, but then maybe I’d bend or twist the wrong way quickly or something like that just toweling off and all a sudden, there it is again and you just lose all control of your leg,” noted Waples. “It’s there and you can walk on it, but you can’t feel it and you can’t really control it. So then you've got to hold your legs up on the stirrups and then it just got to the point where I thought it was over. I just didn’t see it ever getting any better. I knew I couldn’t drive that way, so I felt like it was done.”

Putting the pain that he felt in his back and legs into words was much easier than the experience itself.

“I could just touch myself in that area and it would just [cause] brutal, brutal pain. The worst thing about it is that it just feels like your leg is asleep all the time, and every once and awhile all the life will come back to it all at once and it’s just a rush of pain. Like to the point where you’re almost going to vomit -- that’s how hard it just hits you, and that was the thing, like I’d be sitting there waiting to drive in the eighth or something like that, and the pain would hit [me] and it was just devastating.”

Size matters, especially when it comes to fitting a driver into a racebike. And Waples admits he's bigger than most in that respect.

“I guess you just sit a certain way, and I’m a 5’11” driver. So, maybe not as much now because since about 2000 a lot of drivers use their own bikes and while I always use my bike, there are still people that you drive for that want to use their own bike still and they have them set for a guy that is as tall as Trevor Ritchie, or someone around that height. I think after years and years of trying to cram myself into that little space, it just kind of did something to my posture where I was just sitting improperly all the time and then all a sudden all of this pain just appeared.”

As a catch driver, or any horseman for that matter, it can be very difficult to ‘take it easy’ even by doctor's orders.

“The doctor kept telling me to rest it and I’m like ‘Well, I am resting it’ but then he goes ‘You’re not doing that at all?’ and I’m like ‘Yeah, I go in and I only go with two horses. I don’t do anything.’ He said it’s the standing around. You have to be off your back when it’s your back and off your feet. So I quit for a month maybe, I just stopped going in and then it really got better real, real fast and just sporadically once and awhile it was there, but nothing that I couldn’t deal with.

“Then right around the middle of April, it’s gone. Other than that time that I broke like the nine bones and I had six months off, this is the longest I’ve ever not had to really race and not sit behind a lot of horses. It’s really rested me up big time.”

While rest and time are nearly guaranteed to heal anything, Waples also credits the use of laser therapy on his road to recovery.

“I’ve been using a cold laser on it, and that really seems to help it a lot. I noticed a huge difference as soon as I started to use that. The biggest thing [it would do] is take the pain away. I mean the pain would come back after 15 minutes but it was 15 minutes free of pain. I just kept using it and using it and then I started to notice that when I would put the laser near the spot that hurt the worst, all a sudden it wasn’t hurting as bad...I could actually push up against myself with this laser and it wasn’t hurting.”

Though he is now able to give himself a clean bill of health, Waples continued to explain the difficulty in maintaining ‘race shape’ along with the importance of maintaining the health of an active participant.

“When I’m healthy, I don’t drive with my arms -- everything goes through my legs. If I want to move a horse to the inside I don’t necessarily yank on the left line, I just kind of like push with my leg on the bike itself and my arm kind of moves with the bike. Then they’ll come over because they’re very responsive with the bit. So, to me, my legs will always be the most important part of my driving... maybe that’s why people say I’m so good with horses that pull. Then, all of a sudden, my legs didn’t work any more.

“I’m not a big guy. It’s not easy to be 55 years old, 5’11” and weigh 155 pounds, because my body doesn’t want to be 155 pounds anymore. I’m an old man, it wants to put on weight, but I have to keep it down,” stated Waples. “So I’m not an overly strong guy because I never have enough food in me and stuff like that, like I don’t look after myself that way. You look at guys like [Brian] Sears or even a guy like Dougie [McNair] they’re in cracking good shape. It’s incredible the shape that they’re in and that’s why they win a lot of races. I’ve always been a workout fiend, but it’s just in the last few years with my back and that, I just couldn’t do it. I was trying to starve myself to keep my weight down, which I did a good job of that but it always leaves you weak.”

While he paints a picture of a driver facing a struggle to stay fit and competitive, Waples notes he has been able to find a healthier and happier balance as of late.

“The way I am now with the routines in the morning with the horses and then working out in the afternoon I can pretty well eat whatever I want and I don’t put on much weight. I rode for Dr. Ian Moore for 14 days or whatever while he was quarantining and I was jogging nine a day there. Now I’ve been working for Casie [Coleman] and though I’m just waiting for the ball to drop and the pain to come back, I honestly can say it’s as good as can be. Right now, everything is really good and I’m just praying to God it doesn’t come back.”

On that more positive note, even though Waples has driven in nearly 44,000 races in his career, he still gets excited to sit behind a racehorse to feel the adrenaline rush -- a rush he has been craving to feel for months, and a rush he'll be able to experience again on Friday (June 5) when live harness racing returns to Woodbine Mohawk Park.

“I can’t wait. I really can’t wait to get back there and do it. You miss the adrenaline, you miss everything about it -- the electricity as soon as you walk in even if you’re not’s electric, and you miss that sort of stuff. I don’t miss the late nights though, I’m pretty sure I could get away with getting electric in the afternoon or with a twilight post time or something. But, you miss it...even on qualifying days, those baby race days, there’s a little buzz in the air and I miss that.”

Waples has been missed not only on the racetrack but around the WEG driving circuit as well, and despite the pain he has had to overcome his noted sense of humour is still fully intact.

“The other day I was standing outside Bob Young’s barn at First Line Training Centre and Rick Zeron drove in. So I greeted him quite well, I walked out in the middle of the yard in front of the car while he was talking to somebody, pulled my pants down and mooned him.”

In the end, perhaps laughter is indeed the best medicine.

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