Harness driver Doug McNair reaches 4,000-win plateau at just 32 years old

·4 min read

Harness driver Doug McNair won his very first race, and he's been winning ever since.

On Friday night, McNair registered his 4,000th career victory at Woodbine Mohawk Park — an impressive milestone to reach at just 32 years old. By comparison, fellow Canadian John Campbell — harness racing's all-time leader in earnings at over $299 million — retired in 2017 at age 62.

"It's a nice accomplishment but I think it means I'm getting a little older and that I've also lost a lot of races," McNair said with a chuckle. "We lose a lot more than we win.

"But to have done this at a young age is special. I just hope to keep going for the next 20 years or for as long as we need to. I've had the chance to drive many great horses for great trainers and owners and that definitely helps, for sure."

McNair, from Guelph, Ont., began his driving career in '08 and has surpassed $1 million in earnings in each of his 15 seasons. He's off to a good start this year, ranking second in wins (86) and earnings ($1.3 million) at Woodbine Mohawk Park.

McNair's career high for wins in a year is 518 in 2010, while his top season for earnings is $6.5 million in 2017.

"I always wanted to do this ever since I was a little kid," McNair said. "I started training horses when I was 10 or 12 years old so I think I had a big advantage on some guys because I'd been around (horses) for a while.

"I think my goal is to stay consistent. Just to be up there in the top-five (Mohawk driver standings) every year is tough to do so I'd like to stay consistent and healthy, I think."

McNair recorded his first career victory in February 2008 at age 18. In December 2010, McNair made harness-racing history by becoming the youngest driver to reach 1,000 wins, doing so two weeks shy of his 21st birthday.

American Tyler Smith broke McNair's record in August 2013, registering his 1,000th win over five months before his 21st birthday. McNair registered his 3,000th victory in May 2018, steering 25-1 longshot Jdcyril to victory at Woodbine Mohawk Park.

"I think you're born with it," McNair said referring to a driver's winning mindset. "I've been competitive my whole life.

"No one likes losing but no one dislikes it more than I do and I think it just drives me every day. After the adrenalin wears off, I always go home and watch the replay and I know when I drive bad. I can put it on myself, try and figure out what I did wrong and try to learn from it. But to win you must have good horses, that's the main thing."

Many Canadian drivers have taken to competing in the U.S., something McNair did briefly when the global pandemic shut down harness racing in Ontario. But he's more than content to remain at Woodbine Mohawk Park.

"I love it here," he said. "I'm a 12-minute drive northwest of Mohawk, all back roads with two turns.

"I get to race quality horses and in the summer we can go golfing three, four times a week. I'm not sure if we were racing in the U.S. if we'd be able to do stuff like that. You also get to see your family and friends a lot more racing here."

But McNair is also quick to give Canadian drivers based in the U.S. a serious tip of the cap.

"I give credit to all those guys," he said. "They often race two tracks a day and spend six hours in their cars sometimes.

"That's a regular day for some of those guys and you can't miss a day . . . if you do, there are others standing in line. I just think we have it so good up here."

Especially considering the number of big events that are held annually at the Woodbine Mohawk Park, including the Pepsi North America Cup and Mohawk Million, both $1-million races. And this year, the US$6.7-million Breeders Crown — harness racing's richest competition — will be staged at the venue.

And that could be good news for McNair and other Mohawk-based drivers to secure good horses for the two-night event (Oct. 28-29).

"Hopefully we can find some nice two- or three-year-olds to drive," McNair said. "It's fun to be a part of those races but you also want to be able to compete in them too . . . it's 100 times more fun if you're hitting the board, that's for sure."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 20, 2022.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

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