Redemption, Good Karma For MacDonald

Published: July 16, 2020 07:32 pm EDT

Mark MacDonald boasts multiple O’Brien Awards as well as victories in most of harness racing’s most coveted races. He’s also faced his share of recent adversity with a number of serious injuries. As the one-year anniversary of his most recent setback nears, the image of MacDonald crossing the wire first in the 2020 Graduate Final last Saturday at The Meadowlands was meaningful in more ways than one.

MacDonald guided Hurrikane Emperor to an upset victory in the 2020 Graduate, 357 days after being dumped from the racebike before a race at Saratoga. He recently revisited the horrifying moment from 2019.

“I was driving a two-year-old at Saratoga and my horse spooked just before the gate was about to let us go and I hooked wheels with the horse beside me," MacDonald told Trot Insider. “My wheel actually collapsed and I was flown shoulder first into the track. I broke the whole front piece of my shoulder right off."

The reinsman was rushed to hospital for further examination, with surgery a foregone conclusion and a lengthy recovery seeming quite likely.

“It was broken so bad that it was also dislocated so they set it at the hospital and I came home because a friend of mine had set me up with a surgeon, Dr. Tomlinson, who is one of the best surgeons in New York for shoulders -- and I wanted him to look at it," said MacDonald. "He told me it was one of the worst shoulder injuries he’s seen and that my shoulder would need to be partially replaced. They had to remove a lot of bone out of my shoulder and replace it with donor bone. So, now I have donor bone grafted into my shoulder and screws and because it was such a mess there was nothing I could do to help speed up the healing process, I wore a sling and was completely immobilized for three months.”

As hopes of a successful stakes season disappeared within moments, the Prince Edward Island native managed to find a silver lining in the situation.

“Dr. Tomlinson actually fixed an old injury in my shoulder as well that has really helped me a lot now. I had a bit of a notch in the back of my shoulder from an old injury that was tearing at my bicep tendon so when the doctor went in, he completely cleaned the whole shoulder up.”

One year out from that accident, MacDonald feels better and stronger than ever.

“It’s healed now and it actually doesn't bother me at all, they did a really great job. I feel better than I did before the accident but it wasn’t easy to get through -- it was actually the worst injury I’ve had in my life, it hurt so bad, so bad that there is just no way to describe the pain,” recalled MacDonald. "The screws and the plate in my shoulder, it just hurt so, so bad."

MacDonald was nearly ready to get back in the bike and had made a few qualifying appearances in early March when COVID-19 struck and shut down harness racing across North America.

“Before the COVID-19 shutdown I was almost ready to go, I was working with a personal trainer four times a week to get back in shape and get stronger. Then when things shut down, that just gave me even more time to get stronger. The shutdown was difficult to get through; a lot of people were able to go on unemployment but at the time I wasn’t employed because I wasn’t driving, so it was tough.”

But when racing returned and a stronger and fully healed Mark MacDonald was back in the bike, primed, prepped and ready to race. With the support of trainers like Paul Kelley, Ray Schnittker and John McDermott, MacDonald has returned and made regular driving appearances at tracks on the U.S. east coast. His biggest win of the season -- one of the biggest wins for anyone this season -- came last Saturday (July 11) in the $250,000 Graduate Pace Final as he guided the McDermott-trained Hurrikane Emperor to victory in a life's best 1:47.

“Saturday was a great day, I was at the Meadows earlier in the day and won a PA Sires Stakes with a nice two-year-old pacing filly [Let Er Buck for Ray Schnittker] and then to come back and win the Graduate all in the same day makes for an awesome day and it feels great,” said a jubilant MacDonald.

Winning always feels great, but just having the opportunity to compete at the highest level doesn’t go unnoticed by MacDonald.

“When you miss that much time and come back and get these kinds of opportunities, it's not easy to do. It's definitely appreciated and it’s really nice to get those calls and drive these kinds of horses, Saturday was a big shot in the arm for me.”

MacDonald also gave a ton of praise to McDermott for having Hurrikane Emperor ready for such a sparkling effort.

“I really thought I had a good shot going into the race, he’s a great little horse and beat a lot of good horses. John did a great job having him ready and having him on his toes. You can put horses in good spots all you want but if they're not good and not ready then it doesn't matter -- and John had that horse really good and really ready; he fired for me exactly when I needed him to.”

Be it sheer talent that landed MacDonald back at the top of his game, be it hard work or determination, drive and desire to make a comeback, there was perhaps a bit of good karma wrapped up in MacDonald’s recipe for success last Saturday.

“We’re all so busy right now and we’re all flying and rushing around everywhere. On Saturday there were two planes going to the Meadows, because we had to qualify at the Meadowlands first in the morning. Yannick [Gingras] was on an earlier plane and when I pulled into the Teterboro Airport and I got out of my car I saw a car with the door open, I said to myself ‘that looks like Yannick’s car’ -- and it was. I contemplated what I should do to it but I ended up just taking a picture of it and putting it on Twitter and then I closed the door. He was definitely stirred up thinking what I may have done to it,” laughed MacDonald.

Gingras showed he appreciated the gesture and the effort MacDonald has put into his return with a fist bump for his fellow sulkysitter as the duo passed after the wire.

A recipe for success: hard work, a good horse prepared perfectly, and a great drive with a dash of good karma.

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