by Garnet Barnsdale
There wasn’t anything special about The Loan Ranger’s third-place finish in an $11,000 conditioned race at Mohawk Park on Monday evening – unless you were driver Mike Saftic.
When Saftic crossed the wire 9 1/4 lengths behind the winner, he reached an earnings milestone of $100 million in earnings in a driving career that has spanned close to 38 years. The 56-year-old Sudbury ON native said he never dreamed he could reach a mark like this when he started out in his hometown decades ago.
“$100 million… no,” he began. “In Sudbury if you made it to $1 million earned in a year, that was big.” Saftic, who was inducted into the Sudbury Sports Hall of Fame in 2016, has been a regular on the Woodbine/Mohawk circuit for three decades. He remembered that his first season earning more than $1 million came in 1989. “I was 28 or so,” he said. “At that time, though, guys didn’t get started until they were in there late 20s or 30s. It seems like now, the kids are rockin’ at 22 or 23.”
Saftic, who has won 5,284 races, fondly recalled some of the horses that contributed to the earnings milestone. “Soft Light was one of the first good horses that I drove,” he said. “He went to the Meadowlands and won a leg of the Presidential Series and he won the Monctonian back then. I also won my first race at The Meadowlands with him.”
Armbro Cruiser – who like Soft Light was trained by Garth Gordon — was also mentioned as one of the better ones Saftic drove. Then there was superstar mare Ellamony. “That’s the best horse I ever drove,” he said of the 53-time winner who earned more than $1.5 million in her stellar 73-race career. “She was the best open pacing mare for years. She was tops in North America. I won a Breeders Crown with her.”
Saftic said the reaction from his peers was “unbelievable” when he reached the milestone. “I got more texts that I ever have,” he said
Doug McNair, fresh off his win in the National Driver’s Championship on Wednesday night had some kind words for Saftic. “That’s a big feat for any driver,” McNair said. “He’s drove a lot for my dad and he’s one of my good friends. I was happy to see him get that milestone.”
Reinsman Phil Hudon also chimed in. “Mike is good guy, and just like most of us in the drivers’ room, he likes to joke around with everyone,” Hudon said. “He gets along with everyone. He’s had a great career and he always showed up, no matter if he had 50-1 shots or 1-5.”
So how much more is in the cards for Saftic – who has compiled 29 consecutive seasons of earning at least $1 million?
“About $100 bucks I think I got left,” he said, laughing. “I think about it all the time, but I don’t know what I’m going to do. A lot of the guys will take the winter off. I’ve never done it or had a break; I didn’t want one. But I might just go a little easier this winter. Guys like Steve Condren and Trevor Ritchie, they started taking the winters off. You come back and your fresh, and you’re a new face again, you know.”