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Thursday Thoughts: Q&A with Harness Trainer Kevin McMaster

by Al Cimaglia

April 12, 2018

Canadian harness trainer Kevin McMaster won 1009 races at Woodbine and that was more than any conditioner in the history of the racetrack. McMaster has experienced highs and lows in an industry that has suffered a drop-off in popularity over the past 20 years. There's little doubt McMaster would be considered a world-class standardbred trainer and his highs were more prominent than most. Recently we had an enjoyable chat as McMaster has an interesting view of the past and the current state of harness racing.

Kevin, it must have brought back many memories when you were honored last Saturday as the winningest trainer in the 24-year history of Woodbine. What stands out as being the most memorable?

Racing Pans Pacific Flight in the North American Cup, winning six races in one night, being leading trainer four years in a row at Woodbine stands out. Also, being honored with the O'Brien Award as Canada's top trainer will always be special in my heart.

You had six consecutive 100-win seasons from 1999-2005, plus three consecutive 200-win seasons from 1999-2001. That's a tremendous accomplishment. How many horses were you training at that time?

I was training 78 horses.

Which horse was your best and your favorite?

My favorite and fastest was Smithsonian, who went in 1:48.4 and the best horse was Pans Pacific Flight. Smithsonian was $27,000 claimer and ended up being a free-for-all pacer. Pans Pacific Flight ended up not only making over a $1,000,000, but he also became a stud.

You joined on as one of the trainers for thestable.ca last year. I understand you were out of the game before then. What were you doing and what made you come back into the business?

I was only out of the game for two months, but I continued to jog horses during the day and couriered at night. Anthony MacDonald had approached me early spring 2017 and asked me if I would be interested in becoming a part of his team to train horses for his stable. At first, I declined his offer as I was steering towards retiring completely from the horse industry. However, I felt it was too soon to depart from this industry and I started to reconsider Anthony's offer, as it appeared to be an exciting new venture. So, I contacted Anthony and over dinner we struck up a deal and I have not looked back.

Have the methods to train harness horses changed much from your heyday at Woodbine?

Most horses are individuals and cannot be trained the same. However, the methods are still the same. Some horses require more training than others, but that knowledge comes with experience as you learn how to read a horse. My observation now is that more horses are able to take less training, could be because of the change of breeding.

You mentioned horses taking less training now and differences in breeding, could you explain further.

I find now you don't need to train horses hard in between races to tighten them up. Horses now are bred for speed, somewhat like thoroughbreds. Generally, I don't think they need as much training as 20 years ago.

If there was one thing you could change about the current state of harness racing what would it be?

The one thing that I would change is the negative publicity. Harness racing can be a family fun night and throughout my career that has been evident as I raced at various race tracks.

Are you more optimistic about the business after seeing the growth of fractional ownership at thestable.ca over the last couple of years?

Absolutely, harness racing is gearing towards entertainment, and the fractional ownership at thestable.ca is allowing the public to be a part of this wonderful sport. Also, the atmosphere of so many smiling faces in the winner's circle is something that I have never experienced in all my years of racing.

Thanks Kevin and Good Luck in the future!

Check me out on Twitter, @AlCimaglia.