by Chris Lomon
His first pari-mutuel track win didn’t require a photo, but that’s not how Case Bateson saw it develop from the driver’s seat.
The 19-year-old horseman from Ohio put the bay 5-year-old pacer Rock N Randy V, in a perfect spot just seconds after the starter car zoomed away from the field on the night of Nov. 1 at Hollywood Dayton Raceway.
Crossing over from post seven, Bateson and the gelding he co-owns with his father, Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association president Steve Bateson, was a half-length in front after an opening panel in :27.1.
Although the duo gave up the lead soon after, the pair was still in a prime spot and were 1 ½-lengths behind the pacesetter, 2-5 favorite Starthimup, after three-quarters. A length behind at the stretch call Rock N Randy V, at 14-1, was rolling under emphatic urging from Bateson.
At the wire, the son of Pet Rock, trained by Jason Brewer, and his pilot were 1 ¼-lengths the best.
There was no wave of the whip, fist pump or celebratory outburst of emotion from Bateson after the finish line.
The reason why?
“I’ve never been really good knowing if I got it or not,” said Bateson. “And I really didn’t know if I got it. I was 85 per cent sure that I held on. A few steps after the wire, [driver] Tyler Smith pulls up and asks me if I won. I told him, ‘I thought I did, but since you’re asking me, I don’t really know.’ I scored way far down the backstretch and waited for Tony Hall (driving the favorite) to pull up in the paddock. When he did, I finally thought, ‘I think I got it.’ I was so zoned-in on that approach of ‘keep driving,’ that it didn’t really sink in.”
That victory, aside from a treasured milestone score, was also meaningful in what it represented, goal-wise, for Bateson.
“Getting that first win at a pari-mutuel track was something I wanted to achieve before the end of the year. And it was so great to come back and see Jason and my dad waiting there. They were ecstatic. It was pretty special to bring the horse back and see them waiting for me.”
The young reinsman, who works in the Brewer barn, couldn’t have scripted it any better.
Well, with perhaps one exception.
“It would have been even better if we would have bet him,” quipped Bateson.
Although he’s just starting out, Bateson sounds very much like a seasoned pro whenever he talks about his career.
One of the big keys to his early success is keeping an open mind when it comes to his work in the sulky.
“I learn something new every single day. I could walk around the paddock and ask the same question to 100 people and potentially get 100 different answers. Advice is not tough to come by and that’s something you really appreciate. I’ve been really, really blessed. God has dealt me a pretty fair hand. I have lot of great people behind me, and they’ve been the wind beneath my sail.”
There’s no doubt the up-and-coming star has charted a course towards a successful career.
A wealth of good advice has helped him navigate the ups-and-downs in his rookie campaign.
“I think the one thing that really stands out for me is that you need to turn the page in this sport and in this particular role. You can’t let things bother you too much. Obviously, that’s way easier said than done – you’re going to lose more than you win – but I think about that approach often. Being able to shake off a bad result is so important. You just keep reminding yourself that you can go out and chase the outcome you want.
“Another bit of advice that I think is a big key is to be patient. Success will come when it comes – don’t try to rush it along and get worried about when that will happen.”
Win or lose, Bateson, post-race, makes sure to bring back a good attitude when he speaks with the connections of the horse he just drove.
Keeping that bright outlook is a must-have, he said.
“Be positive. People like when a driver pulls up and is positive. If you come back and you don’t have that positive approach – there’s no need to be negative in this sport. There’s too much of that already.”
That mindset extends to his life outside of the racetrack, whether it’s with family and friends, or when he’s watching race replays.
A critical eye is tempered by an open mind when it comes to his craft.
Bateson is still very much a student, albeit in this instance, a pupil of the standardbred industry.
Although he enjoys spending his time hanging out with his friends away from the racetrack, there is always homework to be done, namely, preparations for the next day of racing.
And when he does sit down to study, Bateson isn’t just looking at video replays of the horses he’ll be driving.
In order to give himself the best odds of besting the competition, he likes to familiarize himself with the pacers or trotters who should provide the toughest test.
So, whenever class is in session, Bateson takes copious notes, both on paper and stored in his mind.
“I watch a ton of replays. I watch a lot of replays on the horse I’m going to drive and then I’ll typically pick out three or four horses that I think are really tough factors in the race and I’ll watch all their replays, just to see the different styles that they race and who’s driving them, things like that.”
Although his career is just taking off, the teenager is very much a numbers man, a humble horseman with big hopes for his career in the race bike.
“I am a big numbers guy. This summer, I said if I could get five wins by the end of the year, I thought that would be pretty special. So, I turn the page and then I set new goals.”
And while he might look unflappable in the minutes leading up to a race, there is, he admitted, a nervous energy that overtakes him as the clock ticks down to post time.
“I’m always more nervous before I go to the gate. Once I’m on the gate, I’m fine. And when you’re on your way, whatever you plan you might have going into the race, that can change in a second. You look left, you look right, and then you adapt to what you see. It’s all about knowing where you’re at and going from there.”
Even in the moments when he might not always know what he’s achieved.