Tim Tetrick on 10,000 wins and other burning issues

Last week, the 35-year-old became the youngest driver to reach 10,000 wins. But he was just as interested in talking about racing rules as he was the major milestone.

by Brett Sturman

Last week, Tim Tetrick became both the youngest and fastest driver in harness racing history to break the 10,000-win plateau. Only the 12th driver to ever reach the rare milestone, the Illinois native accomplished the feat at the age of 35, a mere 19 years after nothing his first driving victory in 1998.

Tetrick reached the remarkable milestone in the Friday finale at Harrah’s Chester.

For someone with more than 10,000 wins, 18 Breeders Crowns, 5 Meadowlands Paces and countless other $1 million dollar races including two North America Cups, one would think that some of those wins stand out as most memorable. But Tetrick recalls a race at the earliest point in his career.

“I’d have to say that one of my most memorable moments is when I first got started driving in pari-mutuel races and I was at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds when I was 18. I was driving, and I’m looking across and I see John Campbell on one side and Mike Lachance on the other. I actually beat them all that day and that was one of my favorites,” said Tetrick.

“And then you’ve got to put Market Share in there also as one of my most memorable with the Hambletonian; that was very cool.”

A horse that I mentioned to Tetrick as one that I recalled from earlier in his remarkable run was Southwind Tempo.

“She was important because she was kind of my first main horse. I picked her up out of Delaware and she put my name right out there. She helped me go to the Meadowlands and win some of the big stakes races.”

Despite the 10,000 wins including almost every major race there is, one race has proven elusive to Tetrick. “I’d love to win the Little Brown Jug. It’s a special race and of course I’d love to win it but I’d also love to get my second Hambletonian. I really thought I had a shot this year with Walner but it didn’t work out. Those Jug and Hambletonian types of horse are very hard to find.

In addition to the Jug and a second Hambletonian, what else does Tetrick have his sights set on? “My next biggest thing would be to get to $200 million in career purses. That would be a cool thing to get to that; there haven’t been too many people that have done that,” said Tetrick. Currently his career earnings stand at just over $187 million, which places him fifth all time and only $3 million behind Mike Lachance for fourth.

In a way, it’s surprising to see Tetrick still going as strong as he is considering the multiple hip surgeries he’s had going back to 2008. But Tetrick has managed himself well in recent years.

“I feel healthy right now and I’ve kind of slowed down a little bit I guess; I’m not doing as quite as many doubleheaders,” he said. “But I’m still traveling around all over the country to race horses. Some people take it for granted; they think that we have the greatest life in the world. But we do have to put in a lot of time. Drivers always have to be at the track; we can’t be at home and we’re always racing.”

Tetrick has long since been a strong proponent for promotion of the sport, and today’s he’s become an innovator of sorts in terms of driver promotion. He has his own Tetrick Racing gear and apparel and it’s something that could benefit the industry as a whole if others followed suit.

“Everyone should do it; I think they all should do it including the Meadowlands. You know, it doesn’t cost that much to get the clothing line started. They should have Gingras hats and Campbell hats and you could sell them at the door. It’s self-promotion a little bit but we’ve sold to 22 or 23 different countries. We’re always getting orders for hats and shirts and people like them and I see them out wherever I go. I see them at the track and you look over and see people with a Phillies hat and a Tetrick Racing hat; it’s pretty cool.”

One of the Tetrick Racing slogans that you’ll see on the apparel is the hashtag #getyourleanon, which references Tetrick’s affinity for leaning back in the race bike. Tetrick makes no bones about his feelings towards certain rules, including leaning and whipping.

Tetrick isn’t a fan of being told how he must sit in a sulky, such as not being able to lean back. He equates the sulky to his office chair and just as most of us aren’t told how we must sit in our chairs, he feels drivers shouldn’t be told to sit in a way that differs from a driving style that has proven to be effective.

The driver is even more passionate when it comes to the topic of whipping. “I’m not a big fan of the way they’ve dealt with the whipping rule. I’m not a big believer of whipping on the horse but saying that you can’t take both the lines and put them in one hand is not safe, in my opinion. I don’t want to see horses get hurt or anything but I don’t like having to look like we’re tossing salads out there.

“And we still hit them just the same, it just looks different. We tell the public that we’re not hitting them because we have both hands in both lines but if you watch Canada, you watch Chester, we’re still hitting them. We’re not one handing them per se, but we’re still one handing them just with lines in our hands. When I was young people always taught me to keep the bits in their (the horses) mouth, but when you got both hands and you’re trying to chase one, the lines go loose. It’s impossible to keep chasing that horse.”

All that said, Tetrick clearly feels that any rule changes need to be consistent across the board. “We definitely need to have universal rules. The state of NY, NJ and PA all have three different sets of rules. It’s not just with medications, but for drivers, trainers, cutoff times, etc. Even the ownership licensing process should be so much easier. It should be made as simpler and not harder for people to be able to get in and race horses.”

Through all the success, Tetrick remains surprised as anyone as to how he racked up so many wins so quickly. “You know, I’m just very thankful, the stars lined up for me. I’ve had talent around me and I’ve tried to surround myself with good horses and good business people that have supported my decisions on the track and I’m happy that my driving has worked out for a lot of people.”

“I thought it was a pretty big accomplishment for a guy from southern Illinois who grew up on the county fair circuit to be the 12th guy to ever win 10,000 races, it’s been a pretty awesome feat.”