by Chris Lomon
If the shoes fit, you can thank Preston Shaw.
Busy might not even be the best word to describe a typical day in the life of a horseman that counts driving, training and shoeing as his standardbred racing roles.
But for the jack-of-all-trades, the demanding workload is hardly unwelcome. In fact, it’s just what he prefers.
“I’m not a person that can handle spare time very well. If I’m sitting around, I just want to go do something. I love what I do and that’s what makes me the happiest,” Shaw said.
A native of Airdrie, AB, Shaw’s passion for racing comes naturally.
His father, Doug, also a driver/trainer/farrier, and his grandmother, Marie Stone, who was in the race bike into her late 60s, have each made significant contributions to Canadian harness racing.
Nearly 10 years ago, Preston launched his training career, winning one race and posting five top-three finishes from 20 starts in 2012.
He recorded his first training victory – at the age of 18 – on Nov. 16 of that year at Northlands Park when pacer Psymadre, a pacing son of D M Dilinger (ON), rallied to win a three-way photo over Best For Blues and K B Hercules in 2:00.2.
Bred by Maximracingstableinc, Psymadre returned $33.50 for the victory.
In 2015, Shaw added driving to his repertoire, winning 15 races in his rookie race bike campaign.At season’s end, he was honored as the Rising Star recipient in Alberta.
Nearly two years ago, he moved his tack to Ontario.
While it took time to build up his barn and farrier work, business is booming for Preston these days.
Catch driving, training a stable, and shoeing dozens of horses each week when racing is in high gear, the 26-year-old has settled in comfortably in his relatively new surroundings.
“It’s about all I can handle,” he said of his three racing gigs and a busy schedule helped considerably by his girlfriend, Emily Leak. “I do a lot of different things, but I have a lot of good people around me. Emily is a big reason I’m able to do what I do. She does 80 per cent of the barn work, which gives me the time to train and drive. She’s a big part of us having a barn. She owns two of the four horses we have. I also have a friend of mine, Colton Griffin, who came from Alberta, and he’s learning to shoe. He’s helped me a lot. The two of us shoe every day.”
Preston said he sees the shoeing side of his career as a huge benefit to his other roles.
“There are lots of reasons shoeing has helped me as a driver and a trainer. It helps in all aspects because if I can watch how that horse – not necessarily one that I’m shoeing – is doing something out of sync, maybe cross-firing, hitting a knee, or this or that, it means I’ve seen them do it at high speed, and it helps me when I’m shoeing. I think there’s an advantage with training because we usually buy horses that have some type of issue. That’s what I base my horses off of – having something to fix. That helps my training.”
He takes great pride in being able to correct foot issues and seeing the subsequent results on the racetrack.
Fortunately for Preston, he had the ideal mentor to learn from.
“That’s how my dad was. He was a driver, trainer and did shoeing, too. I watched my dad and how he went about everything. I do more shoeing than he did, but it’s something that I’ve really worked hard on over time. It’s great for a lot of reasons, including the ability to have a steady income. On a slow week, I’ll shoe 30 horses, and on a good week, it’s around 50. I shod quite a bit in Alberta and B.C., maybe about 80 or 90 a month, but now since I’ve come to Ontario, and people have got to know me, business has really taken off.”
While it can be admittedly hectic at times, Preston has worked diligently to perfect the art of time management.
Getting to that point, however, wasn’t without its share of hits and misses.
Having a team he can count on, he noted, has been the difference maker.
“I’d say time management and getting out of bed were the two biggest challenges I had to conquer,” he said with a laugh. “Once I get going, I’m unstoppable, but getting out of bed on certain days, that can be a little tough. On a race day, I have to have a certain amount of horses shod before I go to the track. If I’m catch driving, it’s an hour from my place [Cambridge, ON] to London. It’s all about time management. It’s something that I’ve been able to do well at, especially here. If you slack during the week, you don’t get a day off. Luckily, I have Emily and Colton, who make what I do possible. They are a big part of what I do. Having help – and good help – is a huge plus.”
Preston’s on-track goals for 2021 aren’t unlike any other horseperson’s wish list.
When he looks at his stat line at the end of the year, he’ll be hoping to see increases over his 2020 season.
Last year, he won 10 races, along with 20 top-three finishes from 48 training starts. He posted 26 victories and 59 top-three results from 201 starts in the sulky.
“More wins as a trainer and more wins as a driver, that’s what I would see as a successful year. With the shoeing part, it’s just about me staying healthy, and keeping my clients happy.”
A strong year at the races would also mean a few more horseshoes to work on.
“If I were to have a good 2021, that would hopefully mean the opportunity to add a few horses to our barn, perhaps some higher quality stock. I’m enjoying every part of what I do, and even though it can get busy at certain times, I’m happy with that, for sure. Having lots of work is what I like.”
A perfect fit, Preston Shaw might say.