by Chris Lomon
A narrow loss in her Ladies Driving Series driving debut turned out to be Kiara Morgan’s gain.
All that separated the young harness driver from making her first career start a winning one was a long neck.
It was last July when Morgan, daughter of legendary standardbred trainer Virgil Morgan Jr., finished a game second at Wilmington (Clinton County) Fair, a race that saw her and her horse parked the entire mile, with neither one giving up or giving in.
Yes, she would have preferred to go one better. But the result didn’t make her hang her head in defeat.
Instead, Morgan sported a wide smile.
Just as she’s done in her nearly 90 drives since then, with each race – win, top three, or off the board – in her words, providing a teachable moment.
“I started off and qualified a few at Scioto. At home at the farm where we train, it’s a 5/8ths track, so I was able to be more comfortable leading up to my first drive. Having experience at the fairs, the farm and on the racetrack – everything you do helps you learn more about the horses and yourself. The more you drive, the more you gain that invaluable experience and confidence.”
Eight days after the curtain raiser on her life in the sulky, Morgan did manage to go one better, this time at the Washington Court Horse Fair in Ohio, when she drove Action Metro Max to victory.
It was her third start after finishing second in both her previous outings. Her second win came later that day with Tail Gunner Hall.
What could she possibly learn about her career in just over a week? As it turns out, a lot more than she could have ever anticipated.
“A lot comes back to you, even early on in your career. You realize you have to take everything race-to-race. You never go into any race thinking you know what the outcome will be, which is how I treated things from my first race to the next one, and then beyond that. I think the one thing that I learned right from the start is to have patience when I’m driving. You can’t be in a hurry out there.
“Another thing that I learned about driving is from when I train every day with my dad. I always have my watch in my hand. I had that from the get-go. I started off doing just basic 2:40 miles, and then 2:30, and down the ladder. I still remember I came in from the track one day and I hit a 2:35 mile right on the dot, and I showed my dad. I was excited. I really like the training aspect of racing. I’m glad I have my dad to show me that the training miles, most importantly, the slower miles, are what’s most important.”
Although she’s in the early stages of her career, there have been highlights, impressive ones, during that short time on the track.
“There have been a couple of things that stick out,” said Morgan. “This June, I won my first normal conditioned race at Scioto… it wasn’t an amateur race. I think that was pretty cool, since Scioto is our home track. I’ve been going there since I was a little kid. The horse [Princess Giovanni], she did it pretty easily. That was probably the biggest accomplishment. It was a good feeling. I didn’t go into it expecting to win, but I got a good trip. I also got to drive at Delaware last year. I’ve raced at Scioto, Northfield… Delaware has been one of the more exciting tracks.”
Another memorable moment came last September at the Red Mile when Morgan won the Billings Trot with Inukchuk Chuck, a gelded son of Muscles Yankee.
Sent off as the 4-5 favorite, the bay, bred by White Light Farms and the Camel Club Stable, rallied to eke out a nose win.
“Winning the amateur trot at the Red Mile… I won the race in back-to-back weeks,” said Morgan, who teamed with Inukchuk Chuck to win again on Oct. 4. “Even though that was a year ago – I had only had a couple of drives – that was a big deal for me. I had never been paired with him before. I got to the track, hopped in the bike and didn’t really know what to expect. Obviously, the Red Mile is a lot different than driving on a 5/8ths track. It was a change, but it worked out well. It’s a great memory.”
And, as she’s always done, Morgan’s attention to every detail of her craft, big and small, has kept her grounded as she aspires for bigger successes.
Her toughest critic happens to be herself.
“The more you mess up – even from just the last year of driving – I kick myself. A little mistake can make a world of difference as to where you end up at the finish. It could be the difference between first or second. I just take everything as it comes. Every mistake, it’s a learning experience. I just have to keep moving forward.”
Morgan also keeps an open mind whenever her pacer or trotter takes to the track.
Studying each horse, both hers and the others she faces each race, is a given.
Being confident in calling an audible at any point in the race, she said, is just as important.
“I know have gone into races with a game plan, but in a split second, that game plan is completely messed up. You have to be prepared for anything. You have to have an open book when you line up behind the gate. I always remember what my dad tells me in that I should learn from my mistakes, move on, and focus on the next race.”
Morgan also picked up something else from her father, but not in terms of words of wisdom.
Consider it somewhat of a family fashion statement.
“When I first decided I was going to get my driving colors, I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll go with pink or purple.’ Then I thought, ‘I’ll just stick to my dad’s colors.’ Everything we have, like saddlepads, is that royal blue. So, I just figured I’d stick with that. I thought about pink or purple for a split second, but I decided on royal blue.”
The younger Morgan also decided to keep one of her favorite hobbies away from the standardbred racetracks.
So, when she’s not in the sulky for pari-mutuel or training miles, she can be found spending time with a different breed of horse.
“I’ve always ridden and showed Quarter Horses growing up. That’s what I love to do, ride and show. I have a yearling Paint colt right now that I’m going to break to ride here soon. I know it’s still something to do with horses, but I just love working with the babies.”
Beyond that pursuit, Morgan enjoys spending time with her 2-year-old son, Jaxon, who can often be seen around the barn.
“It’s tough to do things independently, but I honestly I love doing things with him, and involving him around the horses whenever I can. It’s great to be able to share my love for horses with him.”