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You Can Never Reach The Level Of Your Heroes... Or Can You?

Trot Feature - Randy Waples

Randy Waples is a showman - he’s also a great driver who has won more purse money on Canadian soil than any other Standardbred reinsman in history.

What Waples hadn’t done, until now, is fulfill his lifelong dream of following his idols into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall Of Fame. But even though he’s in there now, if you ask him he’ll tell you that he’s still a step below all of those men, as he believes that a person can never truly surpass their heroes. By Dan Fisher.

“When I was about 10 years old my dad and a bunch of other guys were going to Ottawa… I think it might have been around the first year of the [Ontario] sires stakes or something. Anyway, my dad had a few in to go and he asked me if I wanted to fly to Ottawa with them… I had never been on a plane before. So here I am, we’re driving to the plane and we’re in one of those big old cars with the bench front seats… Jack Kopas is driving the car, I’m beside him in the middle and my dad is sitting beside me. In the back seat is Ronnie Feagan, Keith Waples and a legendary horseman from Southwestern Ontario named Morley MacDonald… I think he was Bill Gale’s mentor. I think to myself now - just think about that man. I’m 10 years old, and I don’t know that Morley MacDonald is in the hall of fame but he had a hall of fame career… but think about it, Jack Kopas - hall of fame. Ron Feagan - hall of fame. Ron Waples - hall of fame. Keith Waples - hall of fame. Now, Randy Waples - hall of fame. These guys were my heroes man, and I just have a really hard time seeing myself on the same level as them. You never put yourself in the same league as your heroes, and that’s what these guys have always been to me.

“I actually remember reading in TROT Magazine, around that same time [mid-seventies] that they were creating a Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame, and I remember thinking that Keith [Waples] was already so famous that he had to be a shoe-in. He had already won the Jug [Strike Out - 1972] and the International [Tie Silk - 1962]... he was already famous. He was all over those big boards at Greenwood. There was a book in my public school called Canada’s Greatest Sporting Heroes, and Keith was in it. I remember showing it to all of my friends and telling them that I knew him, that I was related to him. He was a big thing to me, so when he didn’t get in right away, I was like ‘Whoa, how tough is that thing going to be to get into?’

“Then he didn’t even get in the second year. I’m in my teens at this point and I see that it takes a guy like Keith three years to get into this thing. That was crazy to me.

“Then you look at what my dad did. In 1977 I believe, my dad was the first guy to make a million dollars in a year driving horses. That was a big thing. It was in all of the papers and all over TV and everything. Then on top of all the other stuff he accomplishes, the Ralph Hanover stuff all happens in the early eighties, and my dad still doesn’t get in. I’m thinking that this is impossible that he’s not yet in. He’s the greatest driver I’ve ever seen at this point and it took until 1986 for him to get in… again I’m thinking about how impossible it is to actually get into this place.

“That’s probably why I honestly never thought that I’d get in. It’s just a place that I’ve revered my entire life, and a place that I could just never see myself entering.”

Speaking of Ron Waples, when it came to Randy’s father, was it hard being the son of a superstar horseman, or did it make things easier? Was it hard being the son of one of your heroes?

“He was my dad, but he was still ‘Ronnie Waples’ to me too. Just like he was to everyone else. He was the guy that worked his magic out there on the track for everyone to see, and he was a guy that everyone loved. Being his son wasn’t always easy in some ways. Let me put it this way… who is your hero? Whoever it is, if you were lucky enough to know your hero, and even luckier, to work for your hero, would you ever want to disappoint them? Imagine how much it would suck to disappoint your hero. No one wants to disappoint their dad, or their hero - imagine how doubly awful that would be if it was the same person? If your hero had to come down on you for something, like a dad would have to, imagine how that would feel.

“I started working for my father when I was about 13. I lived at Greenwood and worked for him. He was the hottest driver and the hottest commodity of the time. He was winning races at The Meadowlands and at Greenwood… he was even whipping back and forth between Jersey and here. He was worshipped, and he had time for everybody. He was everybody’s friend. He was an entity, the same as Keith, but in a different way because he was younger. He was the man, and he was my man. I wanted to be just like him on the track and I wanted to be just like him off the track. When I got to be about 20 years of age though, I think that I was kind of expected to be just like him, but I didn’t get it then. I was more-or-less one step away from being a hillbilly at that point. I didn’t get all of the subtleties of racing or the politics of it. So I was kind of a wild child and I was in trouble all of the time. I would do some things that I shouldn’t have done and he blasted me for it… and he was right to blast me for it because I deserved it. But he was my hero, so it hurt. I just never wanted to disappoint him. Ronnie Jr, my brother, didn’t want to either. He [Junior] might have actually had more expectations put on him at that time, by the industry, not by our parents, because his name was Ron Waples Jr. I was lucky that my name was only Randy. But Junior was more stoic, like Keith. He was like an oyster, he was a hard guy to crack. I kind of wear my emotions on my sleeve though, and when you get blasted by your hero it sucks. When you let your hero down, it sucks.

“Don’t get me wrong though, we never got pressured by our parents to be successful horsemen or anything. I put all of that pressure on myself. My parents were always really great. The only thing that they ever pressured us on was being honest, being respectful to our elders, and working hard. They always told us if we did that, then good things would come - and they were right. For me, I think I’ve always done all three of those things. No matter what anyone might think or say, I’ve always been honest with people when it comes to racing, buying and selling racehorses... and I’ve always worked hard. The competitive Randy Waples might not have always been the nicest person in the heat of the moment, but that’s a bit different. It’s the competitiveness in us that I think makes some drivers successful.”

Speaking of that success, what are the names of the horses, and what might be some of the fondest memories that stand out to Randy Waples that he reflects on after learning of his induction into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall Of Fame?

“I was lucky that I got to drive a horse like No Sex Please for my brother at a young age. That’s definitely a spot where my family name helped.

“All of the San Pail wins were memorable. The three Maple Leafs Trots were big but that Breeders Crown win at Woodbine, over those top European horses, was huge. I’ve never heard a crowd at Woodbine that loud and I’ll never forget that. That night might always rank as number one in my memories.

“Winning the North America Cup with Thinking Out Loud is another one. Winning that race for a Hall-of-Famer like Bob McIntosh was incredible. That was his only North America Cup too, so being the guy that could help him get it makes it even more special.

“The first big one, winning the Canadian Pacing Derby with Strong Clan, was another one that stands out. So does the night that I won the three big ones at Mohawk with Control The Moment [Metro], State Treasurer [Canadian Pacing Derby] and LA Delight [Shes A Great Lady]. I think what that night did, I mean other than being good financially (laughs), was that it proved to myself and others that I was a good, big-money driver. I mean, yes, I had three favourites, but we all know that favourites don’t always win the big ones. Those races were all close together that night [7th, 8th & 10th] and it’s not easy staying level-headed through that. You win one big one, I think that the Metro came first, and you want to celebrate, but you have to keep a level head. It would be like walking up the 15th hole at The Masters with a 5-shot lead… you can’t celebrate too soon. Those big classic races were like that to me too - like winning a major in golf - I always wanted to get my name on as many as those as I could. Not for the money… I mean, that matters, no one can say it doesn’t, but mainly because those are some of our biggest races. I had never won a Metro or a Shes A Great Lady before that night, so it definitely ranks right up there,” Waples shares. “Winning those three races on one night, for three different trainers, will always be a highlight.

“The four Battle Of Waterloo victories stand out to me too. I went to high school in that area, in Fergus, and next to the Metro it’s pretty much Canada’s biggest race for two-year-old colt pacers… winning those has meant a lot to me too.

“You know, I remember jogging horses on my parents’ track in 1977 and dreaming about being in the hall of fame. But I never saw much success until ‘97, a few years after going to work for Fred Hoffman - for free! Fred played a huge role in my success. There was a huge gap in there where it just seemed impossible to me that it would ever happen. Maybe in 2005 or so, somebody brought it up or something, but that was almost 30 years after I first dreamt about it… before anyone ever mentioned to me that they thought it could happen. I still thought it was impossible.

“I don’t want to sound like I’m whining or anything, but I guess I’ve just never seen myself as a person with good luck, or the kind of person that sees things go their way a lot. I’d never be the guy to pull the arm of a slot machine and see a bunch of quarters drop out, or the kind to buy a lottery ticket that was actually a winner. I mean, I know that I’m not the only driver to ever get into a fight in the paddock,” Waples chuckles, “but I’m pretty certain that I’m the only one that had to paint fence for it,” referring to an incident from many years ago at Flamboro Downs when the young driver was punished for said happening by having to paint the fences at the Dundas oval.

In the end however, no matter how he views himself, the kid that grew up in the shadows of a father and a second cousin that would probably both sit on Canada’s Mount Rushmore of Standardbred horsemen, did eventually find his own way - a way that landed him in the same place as both of those men, as well as with most of his other horse racing idols. Randy Waples is now a member of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall Of Fame.

“I know that I keep going back to this but all those guys in the hall are my heroes. Even a guy like Paul [Macdonell] who is pretty much the same age as me, but we’re worlds apart in personality… he’s the guy that I wish I could be off of the track. Paul and all of those guys… I wish they could take a magic wand and transfer something about each one of them into me, and it would not only make me a better driver but a better person. Guys like Dave Wall and Brownie… these are the guys I’ve worshipped growing up, and now they’re saying to me that ‘you’re in there too’. Even some guys that aren’t in there yet… Little Greek [Chris Christoforou]... the day he turns 50, if they don’t escort him right in there, then something is wrong. He’s a better driver than I ever was. To me, Larry Walker should be in the hall of fame and so should guys like Garth Gordon and John Burns. If Garth Gordon ever stuck his hand out to congratulate me on my induction I’d be so humbled… because I think he’s above me. He’s such a great horseman. People have no idea.

“I mean I’ve loved my career and I’m proud of it and everything else. I still want to be out there driving, and I know that I still have some good left in me if someone were to want my services, but either way I’m very proud and humbled that there are some people out there who think my career has been worthy of this. I just don’t know if a person can ever be truly worthy of their heroes.

“I don’t think I’m the only one that feels like this though. Look at Wayne Gretzky - every time they told him he was the greatest he’d deny it and say that his hero, Gordie Howe, was the greatest. I just don’t think you can be above your heroes.”

When reminded that he truly is hall of fame worthy now, as judged by his peers, and that he is more than likely somebody else’s hero too, Randy retorted, “Ya, there’s probably one person out there… my mother. There’s my one.”

Congratulations Randy!

This feature originally appeared in the June issue of TROT Magazine. Subscribe to TROT today by clicking the banner below.

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