Hockey and Horses are Brad Maxwell’s Life

By Perry Lefko

Given that he’s only been training back full time for four years after leaving the sport to pursue a career as an assistant coach in the Ontario Hockey League, trainer Brad Maxwell is doing quite well.

The onetime conditioner of standout horses such as Elegantimage, Pure Ivory, Windsong Espoir and Beastmaster, to name a few of the good ones he had before exiting harness racing to concentrate on coaching, has a modest stable of nine horses. Among them is two-year-old pacing colt sensation Control The Moment, who increased his career record to seven wins in as many starts and upped his career earnings to $440,687 with an authoritative outing in the $685,000 Metro Pace last Saturday at Mohawk Racetrack.

The son of Well Said won by 2¼ lengths in a time of 1:49 4/5, which was only two-fifths off the stakes record. He won with a three-wide move up the backstretch under the direction of driver Randy Waples, who was full of praise for the horse afterward. Control The Moment is entered Saturday night at Mohawk to race in a division of the Champlain Stakes. Maxwell said the colt will race in Lexington after that and then will return home for the Breeders Crown at Woodbine Racetrack.

Maxwell’s evolution from training horses to coaching hockey players began when his sons, Brandon and Ryan, were playing minor hockey. Maxwell, a former Junior A player with the Kitchener Rangers, didn’t like the coaching his sons were receiving.

“I would bitch about coaches and stuff the whole time, and my wife said ‘instead of bitching, why don’t you do something about it?’ Why don’t you just give somebody a hand?’ So I did,” Maxwell told Harness Racing Update.

He became a coach of note with the Cambridge Hawks Minor Midget Triple A team, which had eight members selected in the 2007 Ontario Hockey League Draft, including defenceman Ryan Ellis, taken second overall. Ellis developed into a first-round draft pick of the Nashville Predators. Brandon, a goalie, was also on the team and in later years was a sixth-round draft pick of the Colorado Avalanche. He now plays in Czechoslovakia.

Maxwell’s work caught the attention of Dave Barr, head coach of the Guelph Storm, and he was offered a job as an assistant coach for the 2007-08 season. Maxwell was training horses at the time, including Windsong Espoir, who won nine of 10 races as a juvenile and almost $700,000 in 2007, and Pure Ivory, who won more than $1.4 million in her career.

Faced with the decision of continuing to train or leave to take a full-time job as an assistant with Guelph – some of his clients didn’t like him doing both – he opted to exit the horse racing industry. He turned his horses over to his son Ryan during the 2008 season and gradually divested himself of his racing stock.

“It was just something I wanted to do,” he said. “I’m only going to go around once and I wanted to coach hockey, so I did. I really loved doing that.”

Among the players he coached were Drew Doughty, now a star defenceman with the Los Angeles Kings), Jeff Skinner and Ryan Murphy (Carolina) and Gabriel Landeskog (Colorado). In the summers, Maxwell coached a travelling squad of players, some of whom included Matt Duchene (Colorado), Peter Holland (Toronto) and Kyle Clifford (Los Angeles). After four years and numerous changes with the Storm’s hockey operations, Maxwell found himself unemployed. He wanted to scout full-time, but there weren’t any opportunities.

“If I was in demand for hockey, that would be one thing, but there’s a lot of guys that want to be part of a hockey team,” he said. “You have no idea. When a guy gets fired from a hockey team, 25 calls are made that minute to a general manager. It’s no different than this game.

“When I came back (to training horses), I had a hard time, because (owners) had the thought I would go back to hockey.”

He re-established a connection with owner Doug Millard, whom he had success training Elegantimage, who won almost $1 million in her career. Maxwell purchased an unraced two-year-old filly trotter, Dancehall Mistress, for $80,000 in Michigan on behalf of Millard. Glenn Tarver and Dr. David Goodrow each bought quarter shares off of Millard. The filly earned about $400,000 for the group before sold privately last October.

Throughout his career, Maxwell has tended to buy horses with a ceiling under $100,000. Control The Moment, who was offered at the Lexington Select Yearling Sale, fit into his budget. He was out of a mare, Lifesliltreasure, Maxell had trained at one time. The colt sold for a modest $47,000.

“I thought he would go for more than he did, but I don’t write a price down,” he said. “I was just hoping I could get him bought.”

He sold quarter interests to Howard Taylor, who liked Well Said as a sire, Edwin Gold and Ben Mudry.

Maxwell said that of all the horses he has trained in his career, Control The Moment is by far the best. Maxwell became aware of how good the colt was when he trained him with the hard-knocking six-year-old pacer Ellis Park, who is a high-level condition horse.

“He was going head to head with him down the lane and that takes a lot of horse to do that,” Maxwell said. “Ryan got off the bike that day and said, ‘Holy crap, Dad, I think he’s the best one we ever had.’ It was just before I was going to qualify him. I don’t get too excited about training them down because they all seem to train fairly well. I’m a laid-back trainer. I put a lot of miles into them. I don’t pressure them ever, so I don’t really know what bottom is until I start training them a little harder.”

Maxwell said the DreamMaker Series, which had two legs and a final, helped the colt develop, followed by the Nassagaweya. But facing the top two-year-olds in training in North America, Control The Moment was put to the test.

“I knew he could go fast, it’s just how far he can carry his speed,” Maxwell said. “That was a pretty good mile the other night, he was parked three deep at the half when he cleared and just kept rolling along.”

Driver Randy Waples remarked after the race: “He’s a very, very unbelievably nice animal. It seems like he’s got a huge set of lungs to him. He does not get tired.”

There have been expressions of interest from people wanting to buy the colt, but Maxwell has no plans to sell at the moment.

“I did that when I was younger, but I’m 57 now and I enjoy having this horse,” he said. “It’s a pleasure to have. He does everything right and I want to have a good horse, too. If you just get blessed and have that one chance at one I’m not just going to sell him to somebody.”

As an aside, after the race and following the winner’s circle photos, Maxwell bolted to the paddock with Control The Moment, eschewing interviews. He wanted to take the colt to the test barn and cool him out afterward. He also had a horse racing later in the card.

As a “hands-on” horseman, Maxwell is more concerned about his horses than basking in the limelight.

“I don’t get anything out of it,” he said. “I like the horse to get all the credit because we just help them get there. It’s all about the horses.”

Much the same as it was with the hockey players he coached.

“It had really nothing to do with us at the end,” he said. “It was all about those kids. They were good. It’s the same with these horses. I got lucky buying this colt. Generally I don’t buy pacers, although I’m going buy some now, but this guy here I just took a look at him because I trained the mare and she was a good mare, and I liked the farm this colt was raised at. But now it has nothing to do with me; it has everything to do with this horse. He’s just as good horse.

“There’s not a lot of difference between coaching junior hockey and doing what I’m doing here, and the hours are about the same. I’m not kidding you. I didn’t realize how many hours these guys in hockey put into it. It’s morning until night every day.”

Similar to training horses. It’s a job that doesn’t always offer a lot of glory, even less so when you’re not actively looking for it.