by Chris Lomon
When it comes to his look and approach in standardbred racing, everything is black and white for Declan Donoway.
The colors he eventually chose to wear on the racetrack were the result of homework and simple logic, a decision that in many ways aligns with his view of his life in the sulky.
“I think the biggest reason was that I had never really seen anyone with colors like that,” said Donoway. “I couldn’t really think of any other colors that no one else had. Looking out at the track, you’d stand there and say, ‘Alright, he’s got those colors and that guy has those colors.’ There are so many colors out there, but I hadn’t seen anyone that just had black and white. So, that’s what I decided to go with.”
While Donoway isn’t a household name yet, there’s no doubt the young reinsman from Salisbury, MD is on the fast track to success.
His talents in the race bike were evident from an early age, well before the day of Feb. 25, 2018.
That was the date of his first pari-mutuel win, one that came at Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington, MD.
Sitting behind 11-year-old pacer Hrubys N Luck, a savvy veteran trained by his step-father, Brian Malone, Donoway delivered in his milestone race.
And he delivered big-time.
Or, as Donoway sees it, Hrubys N Luck did.
Sent off at 1-5, the son of Sir Luck (ON), bred by C and I Siegel Racing Stable (NY), rhymed off an opening-quarter mile in a brisk :26.3.
Sensing the veteran pacer was travelling at an unsustainable clip, Donoway guided his charge through a half timed in :56.2 and three-quarters in 1:25.2.
Ahead by three lengths at the stretch call, the pair widened their advantage with ease down the lane, crossing the wire 6 ¼ lengths ahead of their nearest rival.
The final time over a fast track was 1:54.3.
Not a bad way to get your career off the gate.
“I was just so happy that it happened,” said Donoway. “I was lucky that I had such a good horse to be with for my first race. It’s pretty easy to win when the horse does most of the work. I still remember it clearly, more than any other race I’ve driven in. I guess what stands out about the race itself was when I asked him to go and he just took off. And then we came back to the winner’s circle and my whole family was there. They had big smiles on their faces and I think they were just as excited as I was. So to experience that moment with them was something I won’t ever forget.”
An easy first win didn’t cause Donoway’s ego to swell.
Well before that drive, he realized there would be plenty of ups and downs to contend with.
“I think you appreciate that you need to be patient to be successful in racing. You can’t overdrive horses – you just have to be smart about what you do on the racetrack. You can’t get too high or too low. You could be behind a horse that should win and it doesn’t happen, or it could be the other way around. You want to have success, but you also need to listen and to learn. So, that’s where being patient is a huge factor in your career. If you keep working hard, getting better at what you do, and listen to good advice, it makes all the difference in the world. And every race is different. You need to forget the last one and focus on the next one.”
When he’s not at the racetrack or in the barn, Donoway, time permitting, enjoys the opportunity to cast a line at local fishing spots.
Not that he gets much chance to indulge in one of his favorite pastimes or another top hobby, duck hunting.
Although he didn’t have as much time to fish this summer as he usually does, Donoway did manage to land an impressive catch.
“Normally when I’m not racing, I’m in the barn working,” he said with a laugh. “But I did get some fishing in. I did catch a decently-sized big one this summer.”
Understandably, netting wins and with that, more opportunities, is his main focal point these days.
In 2018, Donoway won 32 races, upping his win total to 48 the next year. This season, a campaign that has been heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, he’s recorded 18 wins and 80 top-three finishes.
He has found, in every way, his true calling.
“I’m very fortunate to be doing this for my career. I think I knew I wanted to do this after I jogged my first horse. I was about 12. Then – I think I was 14 at the time – I had my first drive at the fairs. If I didn’t know already it’s what I wanted to do, I definitely knew after that first race. It’s the greatest feeling in the world. I remember after that first fair race I just wanted to keep driving. It was tough when I had to wait for the fair to come around the next year. I had to wait a while, and almost every day I wished I was out there driving.”
Donoway hasn’t looked back since those days.
He’s hoping to add some more memorable drives before this year comes to a close, and to up his game even more in 2021.
“Just winning is the biggest thrill for me. I’m always happy when I win. It never gets old. I like it when I pick up more drives. My biggest goal is to make a career out of a driving. That’s what I’m focused on. In the long term, I want to compete at other tracks outside of Maryland, some of the big tracks in the northeast. When I look at a program and see I’m in for a lot of races on a card that brings a big smile to my face. I just look at the program and see the opportunity to win races.”
It’s the ideal reminder – right there in black and white – of what Donoway strives for every day he’s in the race bike.