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You Just Have To Be Yourself

Randy Waples

Although he’s spent his entire life in the harness racing industry, Randy Waples hasn’t necessarily followed the beaten path.

In 1994, on the verge of his 30th birthday, he still had less than $2.5 million in purse earnings as a driver. Today, he’s earned more money on Canadian soil, than any other driver in the sport - and he’s done it his way. By Dan Fisher

With over $123,000,000 in purse earnings at Canadian tracks alone, he’s by far the all-time leading money-winning driver of races held on Canadian soil. He’s won three O’Brien Awards as Canada’s leading driver, a North America Cup, three Maple Leaf Trots, three Breeders Crowns, two Canadian Pacing Derbys, and so on, and so on. The list is actually staggering. He’s a 1/9 shot for entrance into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame, but when you ask him about himself as a driver and as a person, do you know what he says?

“Do you know why I’m such a big fan of Paul Macdonell? He’s such a classy guy. I’m telling you, I WISH I was like Paul Macdonell... And Roger Mayotte? What a gentleman. I wish I could be Roger Mayotte. But I’m not, man. I’m me.”

When you grow up as the second oldest son of Canadian harness racing icon, Ron Waples, do you want to be a driver from day one?

“Absolutely,” laughs Randy Waples, with a huge smile, and a loud laugh, familiar in tone to most anyone that has spent any amount of time in the Woodbine or Mohawk paddocks in the past twenty-five years. “But I didn’t want to train or anything - I just wanted to drive. I was a catch-driver before there were any catch-drivers. I used to tell all of the guys that worked for my dad, like Cal Campbell and Eric Lock, that I was going to move to California...I was going to surf all day, and drive horses every night. They would all laugh at me and tell me that I’d have to train a stable too, and I’d say ‘Nope, I’m just going to drive.’ There weren’t really any true catch-drivers back then, but I knew that’s what I wanted to do - just drive. Not train. Not bring in hay. I just wanted to drive. Junior [older brother Ron Jr.] always wanted to work work work. Whether it was with the horses, or farming or whatever it was, he always just wanted to work. I just wanted to drive in races.”

But while growing up in the industry he loved, a great work ethic soon developed. From the early days of working on the family farm, to eventually helping train the Waples’ horses, stabled in the backstretches of the Ontario Jockey Club racetracks, for years, Waples has been an early-riser who likes to spend his mornings in the barn.

“For a lot of years I’ve enjoyed getting up early and going to the barn,” the winner of 6,598 career races shares. “I did it with Fred [Hoffman] whenever I could. Maybe not every morning in the summer and fall, when you’re busy racing and traveling, but I would do it whenever possible, and I would, do it every day if I was coming back from being injured and had been off for a while. Or if I’m in a slump, or not getting a lot of drives for whatever reason, I always think it’s the best way to get things going every day. Get out of bed and work hard, and things will turn around for you. It’s not going to turn if you’re just laying around on the couch, that’s for sure. I did it for years with Jeff Gillis, and with Corey Johnson too. I’m doing it right now with Martin Lachance...I go to his barn early, every day, and help him get them all driven...I even do stalls,” he smiles.

There’s no doubt that in his early years, the young man learned a lot about work ethic and horsemanship from his father. But who was the driver that caught his attention in another way?

“When Herve won the Jug with Hot Hitter in ‘79, and came back to the winner’s circle standing straight up in the bike, I would’ve been about fourteen,” he recalls. “Man, I thought that was the coolest thing I ever saw in my life.”

So when Waples himself returned to the winner’s circle, after winning the Canadian Pacing Derby with Strong Clan in 1997, and he stood in the bike a la Herve, was that the first time he attempted that?

“No way! Are you kidding me? As a teenager, before I was working at the track with my Dad, we always had 10-12 head around the farm. He’d go to the track early in the morning, and in the summer we’d have to move the ones at home. Some would jog and some would get turned out. So once in a while my Mom would come out of the barn with a load of shit in the wheelbarrow and I’d go by on one, standing straight up on the seat of the cart.” Waples absolutely beams while reliving the memory in his head. “My Mom would just snap,” he laughs. After that I started doing it on my motorcycle. I’d get going down the road, and you could set the choke so just enough gas was getting through to keep it running...I’d stand right up on the bike seat and hold my arms straight out to the sides,” he smiles. He then admits that his mom didn’t know about that little trick.

No doubt there’s always been some daredevil blood running in his veins, and even though things like his Strong Clan celebration, and his Randy-being-Randy attitude didn’t always endear him to everyone in the establishment, he didn’t let that dampen his enthusiasm - he was just going to keep being himself.

But getting to the point where he could win races like the Canadian Pacing Derby hadn’t come easily for the young driver, as even though he was involved in the sport from a very young age, he was a lot older when he finally hit the big-time, than most of his peers were when accomplishing the same.

“My Dad was living and driving in the states, and we had fewer and fewer horses up here in our stable. I basically only ever got drives from my Dad, and a few small stables here-and-there... I didn’t really have any serious clients. At one point I was down to training just five horses, and none of them were worth a quarter. Eventually I got down to only one horse... I owned 10% of her and I was broke. The last cheque that I wrote to Fred The Feedman was for something like $78, and that left me with about $32 in my bank account. So I asked Fred Hoffman if he’d take her - she was a filly, and Fred was doing well, and he was good with mares. I told him that he could bill the other owners for their 90% but that I couldn’t pay for my share. I said I’d come in on qualifying mornings [the busiest mornings] twice a week, and work for free to pay my share of the bills. He agreed, and it went from there. I started by working two mornings a week, and then I eventually started doing some paddocks for him too. I’d ship them over to Flamboro or Buffalo and warm them up also. Paul MacKenzie was driving them and they were doing well, and one day Fred tells me that I may as well just drive them instead - since I was there anyway. I told him ‘no...I’m not driving anymore.’ He kept bringing it up and I kept telling him that I wasn’t interested. Then one day at Flamboro we were racing a mare called First Dawn, and after I warmed her up, Dave Hannah calls me to the paddock office to blow into the breathalyzer. I said ‘What for?’ and he tells me that I’m driving her. I told him I wasn’t, and he told me to look at the program. Fred had put me down on her and never said a word. I only had Merle MacDonald’s suit with me (Billy O’Donnell’s colours), a pair of Adidas running shoes, a helmet and a pair of glasses. So I head into the tack shop to get a whip - my Dad only had two superstitions in the barn my entire life: no black cats in the barn and NO BLACK WHIPS. I look at the wall and all they had were black whips [laughing]. I didn’t think that my luck could get any worse, and then I thought, ‘I’m working for this guy for free, and I’m flat broke - how can things get any worse?’ So I bought the black whip, and went out and drove her, and she came second. It all just snowballed from there. At one point Fred and I had a streak where we went 13-for-13 at Flamboro.”

The year of the First Dawn drive that kick-started the second phase of his career was 1994. Randy Waples was already 29-years-old, and his career purse earnings as a driver were less than $2.5 million. Many of his peers, both then and now, easily have that much money made by the time they’re in their early twenties. It makes what he’s been able to accomplish, career-wise, that much more impressive.

“The OJC circuit was just a really hard place to break in to at that time,” recalls Waples. “You had Doug Brown and Steve Condren, then you had Bill Gale and Dave Wall. You still had Reg [Gassien], and you had Paul MacDonell, Mike Saftic, Trevor Ritchie and Roger Mayotte. There were a ton of good drivers there at that time, and most of them weren’t very old either. But Fred [Hoffman] made all of the difference in the world for me. Fred gave me the one thing I had never had - he gave me confidence. He gave me a career. He’d tell me that it wasn’t me that gave a bad drive, just that the horse was no good. He was always positive, always telling me that things would work out if I stayed at it. Of all the good things that have ever happened to me career-wise, he’s the one that I owe the most. He was just a great guy to be around.”

For a kid that only wanted to surf and drive horses, Randy had become a very hard worker. It wasn’t like he was just working those two mornings a week for Hoffman and laying around the rest of the time. Part of the reason that he kept turning down Hoffman’s suggestions that he drive more, was because he had found some work as an actor. Up at 5 am every day that he wasn’t helping Fred in the barn, Waples would head into Toronto, where he was trying to make it to California in a different way. Then, after jobs on shows like Street Legal and Material World, and one-time appearances on Kids In The Hall and The Road To Avonlea, he found out that television, like harness racing, wasn’t always a glorious world.

“They [his agent] called me one day and told me that there was a stand-in opportunity available, and even though I was new to acting and didn’t know what that was, I took it. Turns out that it’s a job where they use you to set up the lighting and stuff. The real actors don’t want to stand around all day while they adjust the cameras and lights, so they get people that are roughly the same size as the cast members to stand-in. You’re the schmuck that just has to stand there all day in their place. So it wasn’t great work, but it was for the CBC, and they fed you well, there was always a ton of good food, and they were good payers at that time. They’d paid you at the end of the month, and I put in a ton of time that month...long days. But it was going to be $2,300 or $2,400, and that was a lot of money back then. So they send it to your agent, and when I went in to collect it from him he was gone - vanished. I never saw a penny of it. That’s just how my luck was going then.”

Waples’ loss with the disappearing agent however, proved to be Canadian harness racing’s gain. Back at the racetrack full-time, and convinced by Hoffman to concentrate on driving, after the success they were having, Randy started to pick up a few more serious stables.

“Rheal Bourgeois was the next guy that started listing me regularly...and then came [Stew] Firlotte. Brownie was the king then, and he was still getting all of Stew’s best stuff, but he was driving for [Bill] Robinson then too...that’s how I got Strong Clan in the Pacing Derby...Brownie was driving Hare Hare for Bill.”

Eventually Waples would even become the main man for the Robinson Stable, driving stalwarts such as Mach Three, Red River Hanover and others to multiple stakes victories. “It was [owner] Tony Delmonte that really helped me get going with Bill,” remembers Waples. “I had been driving a bit for Robinson, but not in a big way, and one day Tony complained to me that I wasn’t always taking his horses. I explained to Tony that it was hard - especially now that I was starting to get some Robinson drives. So Tony called up Bill and told him that he’d move every horse he owned into the Robinson Stable as long as I would be listed on them all… Bill agreed. That was really nice of Tony - it helped me a lot.

But along with becoming a main guy on the WEG Circuit, came some other responsibilities - ones that Waples didn’t always see himself suited for. “I remember when I started doing really good, and Callie Davies and Kathy Wade came to me... they had plans for me to do some things like some interviews, and throwing out the first pitch at a Blue Jays game. But that stuff was never for me. Guys like John Campbell and Paul MacDonell are made to do that stuff. They’re such classy guys. I’m like the Antichrist compared to guys like that. I just wanted to win races, and I wanted to tweak things in the industry a bit. Get us noticed in my own way.”

Unfortunately, Waples’ idea of getting the industry noticed, may have been, in those days, seen by some as a bit over-the-top. There was the aforementioned Strong Clan celebration, a big WWE-style performance on Woodbine’s turf track after winning the Breeders Crown with Liberty Balance, and among other things, a different set of colours that he had made specially for the nights that the WEG product appeared nationwide on The Score television network. In situations like these and others, it seemed to Randy, that scrutiny was coming from all over - when he was only trying to get the sport noticed, and add some life to things.

When asked if he heard from the judges after the Strong Clan race, he sits right up in his chair and howls, “DID I EVER! (laughing heartily). They weren’t real happy with me. Now I can’t honestly remember if I got fined for it, but I can tell you that after the Liberty Balance, Breeders Crown performance, the Director of Racing showed up right in Fred’s barn and told me that if I ever did something like that again, that I would NEVER race at their tracks again. I just didn’t see what harm it did? And the suit with the different colours and the flames on it...I only wore it when we were on The Score. You know, I just thought that someone who was watching that was new to it, might notice that the suit was different, and think it was cool or something. But one day the ORC judges called me up and said I couldn’t wear it anymore...that I had to wear the same suit every night. I told them there was nothing in the rules saying that, and they told me to check again. They actually changed the rule, just so I couldn’t wear it. I wasn’t going to give up my Dad’s colours just for that - they mean a lot to me. So I had to stop wearing the suit with the flames. And now they’ve changed the rule again, because owners like Lindy Farms and Diamond Creek want to have their own colours...which I think is great. But they didn’t want me doing it.

“One day, years later, I was talking to Hugh Mitchell, when he was running WEG, and he and I were butting heads about something...I don’t think he liked me a lot back then, but when I see him at London now he always comes over and says ‘hi.’ We get along fine now. I know that he had a job to do, and he was just doing it. His job was to make sure that everything ran smoothly there, and my job was to f#&k everything up,” Waples smirks. “But I asked Hugh, ‘What would be so bad if a guy like Robin Williams could drive a horse? If someone with some personality, who didn’t mind making himself look a bit silly, could also entertain the fans and make them laugh in other ways at the same time...what could possibly be bad about that?’ I just never saw the downside to it. I always thought that if ten people were watching harness racing, and you could add an eleventh, why wouldn’t you? Like Simon Allard at the Gold Cup and Saucer this year. Now I have to admit that I never had the balls that guy has...but I never saw the bad that it did for racing. I still don’t see any bad in it. He entertained people and he got people talking. And he definitely has a bigger set of go-nads than me...after my horse crosses the wire I’d consider just about anything, but that guy did it before. I know it’s not for everyone, but everyone has to be who they are. I LOVE a Ron Pierce interview for example - you never know what he’s going to say to make you laugh. And I loved when he waved to a guy as he went by him at The Red Mile. But I also LOVE a John Campbell interview... it’s just different, but it’s still great. Like Alfie Carroll and Scottie Young. Alfie is a throwback, like a Bud Fritz. He just does his job and never says a word...and that’s great. But Youngie will come back to the winner’s circle and he’s bopping around and yelling and laughing and hugging and kissing people, and that’s great too.”

All-in-all, Waples knows, and acknowledges, that he’s had it pretty good. “I’ve never worked for a trainer that wasn’t absolutely fantastic to me. There may have been a few owners and drivers, but I can’t think of a trainer that wasn’t great to work for. Fred and Rheal, Pat Hunt, Bill, Kevin McMaster... Bob McIntosh was just amazing. When Bob first hired me he told me upfront that it was to ‘babysit the stable until Condren got back from Florida.’ But even when Steve did get back, Bob would always keep me down all year on a few pretty decent ones anyway, and then for a few years I got to be the main guy, and I won an N.A. Cup with Thinking Out Loud. But they were all great...Berkeley, and Dr. John Hayes and Brad Maxwell...I know I’m missing a bunch here but they were all great people. And the Hughes family were absolutely the best. Imagine driving the greatest trotter on the planet for those years, in San Pail, and there being ZERO pressure - ever. Make a break and finish last, or just give him a piss-poor drive, and you never had to worry. You come back and they’re totally thrilled. No pressure - NONE. If you don’t win it was always, ‘that’s ok, we’ll get them next time.’ What amazing people. Winning the Breeders Crown for them, at Woodbine, beating those horses from Europe, in front of that crowd...that will always be my number one professional moment.”

And when asked about his peers, the other drivers, Waples fondly recalls the guys he learned with and from. “When Greek [Chris Christoforou] and I were starting, we were blessed to be driving with such a talented bunch. I was, and still am, the kind of guy that asks a bunch of questions, and most of them were good to me, but the best two were always Bill Gale and Dave Wall. You could learn a lot from just watching Brownie and Condren, but Bill and Wally, and Ricky [Zeron] too, would always take time to talk to me and answer my questions. And I could even wig-out and make a total jackass out of myself or something, and Gale and Wally were the two that would never hold it against me. In fact, I swear to you, that Dave Wall is the only person that I’ve driven against a lot, that I’ve never had words with - ever. But the whole group were great...guys like Paul and Roger and Trevor Ritchie...I always got along great with Trevor too.”

So what’s next for Randy Waples? Coming off of an admittedly horrible year, where he hasn’t been able to stay healthy, and has only had just over 500 drives as of mid-December, the personable Waples stays upbeat and positive. “I still have a ton of compete in me, and I hope that people realize that. The past few years I’ve had the worst luck when it comes to staying healthy, but none of it has happened at the track for people to see, so you just hope that people don’t doubt your desire. I’ve battled a bad back on-and-off...there were times I couldn’t even get out of bed. I got really sick with the flu once, for about two weeks...I even had pneumonia, and that had me out for an extended time. Then I was going to get the chance to drive L A Delight again, for Nancy Johansson, and I was really excited for that, and I rolled over on my ankle so bad that I couldn’t even walk. It’s been a lot of bad luck. But I can still win races and I want to be out there doing just that. So what do you do? You get out of bed at 5 o’clock every morning and you go in to Martin Lachance’s barn, and you work hard. You clean stalls, and jog horses, and you hope that things turn for you. And because of that, I had picked up some drives that I wouldn’t of had... and then I get kicked in the knee by a two-year-old.” (At the time of the interview Waples couldn’t bend his knee and could barely walk). “In the past week, since getting kicked and being on the shelf, four or five of the horses I had been driving have dropped down in class and all won...and I missed out on all of them. It’s just more bad luck...but I was only on those horses to begin with because I’ve been going to the barn every morning, so I’m confident that I’ll get through this. I just have to keep working hard.

“I’ll tell you what,” states Waples, “When Stevie Yzerman started getting a bit older and was battling injuries, he didn’t whine about wanting more ice-time. He knew he wasn’t playing good, so he worked hard to stay healthy, and he earned his ice-time back. He didn’t blame somebody for it - that’s just life. And those are the kind of guys that I admire. You don’t throw daggers and whine and blame everyone else...what do you do? You start to go in to Martin Lachance’s barn every morning and you work hard in the hopes that it will help you win at least one more race.

“My Dad gave me some advice a long time ago, when I was a kid. He said ‘I honestly don’t care if you dig ditches for a living, but if you do, make sure you work really hard, and always dig them a little bit deeper and a little bit wider than the guy beside you does. Work hard to be the best at it.’ And I’ve always tried to do that with driving. I don’t text guys and ask them for drives - some guys do it, but that’s not me. I get out of bed in the morning, and I put my head down and I work hard, to try and win more than anyone else. And if I’ve been able to do that...if I’ve been able to win one more race than the guy beside me has, I’m not going to apologize to anybody for it.”

4 Comments

March 6, 2019 - 1:19 pmThank you Murray & Carolyn

Dan Fisher SAID...

Thank you Murray & Carolyn :)

March 4, 2019 - 8:48 amA wonderful story, worthy of

murray brown SAID...

A wonderful story, worthy of Hervey nomination.

January 31, 2019 - 3:37 pmWhat an excellent write up.

Carolyn Rae SAID...

What an excellent write up. And, so in keeping with Randy being Randy, very entertaining!

January 31, 2019 - 10:48 amRandy your attitude is of the

Randy your attitude is of the best, those drives will come, your one of the best, GOOD LUCK in the coming year, and on ward.


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