The Ohio-based horseman has just one regret of a solid career in the sulky.
by Chris Lomon
You don’t rack up over 4,100 wins as a driver/trainer by luck. You also don’t reach such heights without making some serious sacrifices. Kayne Kauffman knows all about that.
Over 25 years after his first season in the sulky, the veteran reinsman from Ohio isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.
A career built on a blue-collar approach has yielded several memorable moments and earned Kauffman a reputation as one of standardbred racing’s most dedicated citizens.
Regrets are few, but one in particular still bothers him at times.
“I’m married and have two kids,” Kauffman said. “It’s hard for a family man to be a family man, as well as a horse trainer and driver. My kids have taken a lot on the chin as far as me not being around. I’ve missed a lot of things I wish I didn’t, but I couldn’t afford to at the time. It’s very trying. Now that my kids are older, you look back and say, ‘Damn.’”
Kauffman launched his career in the race bike in 1994.He competed at Ohio county fairs for the first five years, managing a total of 20 victories before moving to Lebanon Raceway and starting his own stable in 1999-2000 at the age of 20.
He had learned the ropes from Dan Perdue and Dave Brumbaugh (trainers from Greenville in Darke County, OH),respected horsemen who taught him several lessons about the sport, some of which didn’t require any words at all.
“When I was younger, I worked for a couple of guys before I moved away from home. Dan and Nate really helped me to become a good horseman. They worked hard throughout their careers, and by watching and learning from them, it was the only way I knew to approach horse racing. They worked hard, you worked hard, and when I went out on my own, it snowballed from there. You just did what you were taught. Working seven days a week now, it’s just what you do.”
And Kauffman has done it, and continues to do it, very well.
After a lone driving win in four starts and purse earnings of $423 in 1994, he’s gone on to record nearly 3,300 driving wins and almost 900 training triumphs.
As a driver, Kauffman’s first two $1 million seasons came in 2013 and 2014, followed by $2 million-plus campaigns in 2015 and 2018. In 2016 and 2017, he reached the $3 million plateau. He has put up 100-plus win seasons on 14 occasions, and posted over 300 victories in three consecutive years from 2015-2017.
“The biggest highlights would be winning a few Sires Stakes finals, and winning the ($120,500 U.S.) Battle of Lake Erie with A Rocknroll Dance (1:49.1) in 2013, that was huge for a guy like myself – to be in a race like that, for one, and then to actually win it. Guys in the Midwest don’t get a lot of opportunities to drive on the Grand Circuit. That was quite a big feat, for sure.”
Not bad for someone who didn’t have any strong family ties to the standardbred world.
“My grandfather had horses just for something to do. He took them once a year to the fairs. He had them to get him up in the morning and to have something to do. A lot of people had a family name to lean on or grew up in the business, but that was a big challenge… you had to make a name for yourself.”
While that didn’t happen overnight, Kauffman didn’t entertain the notion of throwing in the towel during his early years at the racetrack.
A measure of both persistence and patience has played a significant role in his success story.
“It’s trying at times. You have your ups and downs, but you keep going forward. When you’re younger, losing bothers you a lot more. It stays with you longer. The older you get, you still get upset – don’t get me wrong – but it doesn’t stay with you as long. It doesn’t nag at you nearly as much as it once did. You let it go and it helps you focus on other things.”
Like being a good family man.
“We bought a boat a few years ago, so we look to do a little boating as a family. We always try to take a couple of vacations together each year, whether it’s Florida or somewhere else. My one daughter is a freshman at Ohio State. She’s very highly active in volleyball. The youngest one, she’s 13, and she’s highly active in volleyball too. There have definitely been busy times for my wife in helping them with that part of their lives.”
Kauffman then paused, briefly.
“I look at what my kids have and what they’ve been provided with throughout their lives and I’m very proud of it. They’ve never done without and they’ll never do without.”