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Family Man

Bob McClure

Over the past couple of years, a lot has changed in the life of driver Bob McClure. But as his name rises up the standings on Canada’s top racing circuit, it’s at home where he finds his greatest joy. By Chris Lomon

Every night for the past two years, mid-way through the race card, Bob McClure picks up the phone and starts typing. The exchanges start and end quicker than a standardbred mile, but never fail to bring a smile to his face.

“It’s like clockwork for me,” McClure begins. “No matter how many horses I’m driving, no matter how it’s going out on the racetrack, I find a way to grab my phone. I don’t have a lot time, but that’s not what’s important.”

What is important is why he does it.

Fatherhood, McClure admits, has made him a changed man.

“It’s definitely affected every aspect of my life and on and off the racetrack,” the 27-year-old says, speaking of his two-year-old son Ryder. “I would say all of it in a good way. I get to spend all day at home with him. I’m lucky to have that opportunity. A lot of fathers don’t have that chance, so I’m grateful.

“What I do every single night – I don’t think there’s one night since he was born that I haven’t done it – is that I text my girlfriend Jody [Howard] and ask how Ryder and her are doing. I’ll ask if he’s still awake or if he’s sleeping – things like that. I get an update halfway through the card. You just want to know the people you care about are okay.”

It wasn’t always that way for the reinsman who won a Canadian-best 506 races in 2017, a number that topped his closest pursuer by 126 wins.

“I hate to say it, but I was a selfish person and I did what I wanted to do,” he offers.

Now, family is top of mind.

“The second Ryder was born, anything I needed went on the back burner,” says McClure. “Every night instead of leaving the racetrack thinking what else you can do, you just want to get home. I love being home with family rather than being out doing other stuff. The odd time I’ll go out to dinner with some friends after the races at Flamboro, but that’s the extent of my social life.

“I just make sure he doesn’t go without anything,” he continues. “I’m lucky to have a job that can provide him with everything he needs. It doesn’t matter what obstacles come, as long as he’s happy and healthy, then everything is going to be okay.”

A change in lifestyle hasn’t meant a change to McClure’s competitive side.

“It definitely hasn’t,” he says with a laugh. “There’s nothing better than winning races.”

And McClure certainly knows how to do that.

McClure won his first race at Flamboro Downs, on March 6, 2009, with a horse by the name of Muchacho Grande. He would win 10 races in total that year, and 40 races in 2010. By 2014, McClure was winning 214 races and followed that up with a 340-win season in 2015.

In 2016, he was Canada’s dash leader, winning a head-turning 576 races, which was more victories than he had, the two years prior, combined. He notched driving titles at Flamboro Downs, Georgian Downs, and Grand River Raceway. He also amassed $3 million for the first time in his career en route to an O'Brien Award nomination as a finalist for Driver of the Year.

McClure’s milestone season was highlighted by a driving quintuple on September 19, 2016 at Mohawk, on a night where several WEG regulars competed in Ontario Sires Stakes events at Grand River.

It wasn’t so long ago that one of the top ‘B’ track drivers shot down any thoughts of setting his sights on the WEG circuit.

Things have changed.

“There are a number of factors,” McClure begins. “When I was racing on the ‘B’ tracks, I had to race every night. Once you’re doing it, it’s okay because you know you’re not getting the night off. But I started getting to the point where I did wants nights off, so you can stay home. You miss things like being able to give your son a bath, put him to bed and just spend time together. I didn’t want to miss out on that any more and I knew it was an easier schedule with WEG. I was getting physically exhausted as well. You’re driving 60-70 horses a week. That can take a toll on anybody.

“Also, (trainer) Dean Nixon had a really big stable building,” he continues. “They were good horses. I think he had around 17 at the time. I told him I was going to take Fridays to go to Woodbine, which would be an easier night. He told me if I did, he would put me down to drive. Dean said if I came down, I could have the whole barn. That made it a lot easier. If you’re going to go there, I think you need a good-sized stable to drive for. I went there and the first couple of weeks, we had a lot of luck. I guess the rest is history. I’ve been picking up some good work.”

The move to the WEG stage wasn’t the only big decision recently made by McClure, who lives in Ennotville -- about 10 minutes southeast of Elora, Ont. Another of note came off the racetrack.

“Before Ryder was born, I was investing in real estate – buying, renovating and selling,” McClure notes. “I did okay doing that. I used to spend all day renovating the farm, then go race at night, and do it all over again the next day. When he was born, I didn’t want to be working all day. I wanted to spend that time with him. So I took a different approach and started investing in private mortgages. It’s been better because I can still invest in real estate, but my time with Ryder isn’t taken away.”

It all adds up to a more contented life for the nephew of standardbred driver Jim McClure, who won 4,140 career races, and $17.8 million in purses during a long career.

The younger McClure credits his uncle, his dad Lormer, his grandparents John and Betty McClure, and his entire family for a lot of his success.

“I worked for Dave Smith right out of high school,” he relates, “but he was the only one. Other than that I learned and got help from family - my grandfather always made sure that there were some horses around for me to drive. And I’ve learned a lot about driving from the other drivers around me. I really respect the driver that has had great longevity. Guys like Scott Coulter, Paul MacKenzie and Steve Byron - especially Steve. His manor of dealing with people is second to none. And every year people continue to turn to him to drive stakes races.

When asked if driving horses for a living was always in the cards, the young man who has already won more than 2,000 times says, “I don’t know if I always knew that I’d drive. I actually worked full-time framing houses from 2013-2015, but when things picked up with the driving I committed to it. But it was always, 100% what I wanted to do most - ever since I was little, and I was racing ponies on the family farm with my cousin Ryan,” he laughs.

So now it’s driving full-time, at the highest level. And a rare poor night in the sulky is put into perspective more quickly than it has been in years past.

“When it comes to a bad evening, I wouldn’t say it hung over me, but you would think about it a fair bit throughout the night,” says McClure. “A bad night doesn’t affect me at all. It all comes out in the wash. A bad night is pretty minor when you look at the big picture. I wake up, I hang out with Ryder – nothing really matters as to what happened the night before.”

Instead, McClure opts to see his career through a “looking ahead” lens.

“I do set goals,” he offers. “I don’t set them at the start of the year. Halfway through a year or halfway through a season, I set them. I didn’t win as many races last year, but I wanted to make sure I got to 500 (wins) and make sure I got to $3 million in purses again. I did that. I set goals on the fly. Obviously, the wins aren’t going to come as much as they used to, but maybe I’ll set a money goal.”

He doesn’t have to look far for inspiration.

He met his partner Jody one night when driving a horse for trainer Mark Herlihy. “She was paddocking the horse for Mark and she invited me to a birthday party she was having. Well, eight years later we have a child together and we couldn’t be happier.”

Yes, life is good.

“Just the other night, I came home from the racetrack and everyone was asleep,” McClure recalls. “When I get in, I watch the replays of the races. I just sit there, crack a beer and watch the replays. When I’m watching them, sometimes I just have to pinch myself. I feel so lucky. We have a nice house for our family. Jody and I have each other and Ryder. It just couldn’t be better. I’m so happy that things have worked out this way.”

And with that, McClure is ready to hit the road and head out to Woodbine.

“Six drives tonight,” he notes.

No need to ask where he’ll be heading after the final one.

1 Comment

April 1, 2018 - 2:19 amVery proud to have been a

Tom Kelly SAID...

Very proud to have been a good friend.

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