by Chris Lomon
Dennis Walsh would no doubt be proud of his son.
Chris “Crit” Walsh can recall the advice, nearly verbatim, that his late father shared with him throughout their years spent together in horse racing. The words etched in the 32-year-old Pennsylvania horseman’s mind are both comforting and inspirational, helpful and hopeful in their tone.
“A lot has stayed with me. I’ll be doing something and then I’ll think about all the things that my dad told me about life and racing.”
Dennis Walsh won 383 as a driver and 32 races as a trainer.
He also shared much of what he learned throughout his standardbred life with Chris, eager to teach him the ropes and see him go out on his own one day.
“My dad told me to always the turn the page, that each day is a new opportunity, to never get too high or too low. He also taught me to understand that each horse needs to be treated differently, to work with them to bring out the best in them on the racetrack. He also shared that less is more, that you don’t need to overtrain a horse.”
In 2016, the younger Walsh, still working alongside his father, earned his trainer’s license. He recorded a modest of number of starts in his first three years, winning one race from seven showings.
Two years ago, he went 2-1-3 from 11 starts, but stepped away from the sport after his father passed away on October 10, 2019, at the age of 78.
“We worked so closely and so well together,” said Walsh, who also noted horseman Nick Ferriero Sr. as a strong influence on his career. “Looking back, I’m grateful not only for the time we were able to spend together, but for how he helped me in horse racing.”
After taking the 2020 racing season off, Walsh returned to the harness scene, a decision that led to his most memorable year as a trainer.
The Pennsylvania native, born and raised in Laurel Run, a borough in Luzerne County, with a population just under 600, set a slew of career-best numbers in 2021, highlighted by 10 wins from 54 starts, along with $104,949 in earnings.
It was hardly an easy path to reach that level of success.
“I just took all the things that I learned from my father,” said Walsh. “I worked so many years beside him and I made sure I listened to everything he shared with me. After he passed away in 2019, Pocono closed their barn area that season, and then Covid came. So, I took that year off in 2020 to decompress. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure how things would work out for me, having to go to a training facility because I was always stabled at the track. As it turned out, 2021 couldn’t have gone any better for me. It was a heck of year and I’m very fortunate and very blessed to have that happen, especially it being the first year out on my own.”
While he runs a small operation, it was a horse by the name Indigo Art who delivered big results.
Bred by Robert Key, the 8-year-old son of Art Official was claimed for $12,500 by Walsh in May 2021.
Indigo Art wasted no time in delivering for his new connections, rhyming off two straight scores in his next two appearances, both coming at Pocono.
By season’s end, the bay gelding had posted a record of 7-7-5 from 36 starts, the majority of those efforts coming in Walsh’s barn.
The young conditioner is full of praise for the versatile veteran pacer, who posted his 1:50.4 lifetime-best mark at Woodbine Mohawk Park in 2020.
“He’s the best horse I’ve ever trained and owned in my life. He was in some top barns and wasn’t doing that well, so I decided to claim him. I got him and I got him to go up to the highest level of claiming, which was $30,000 to $40,000, handicap, up here. I had him in at $40,000 at the end of the Pocono season. He is, by far, the best horse I’ve ever had. He climbed the ladder. I’m so glad that I still have him. He’s the only one I carried over from the winter.”
Walsh is hopeful he can find other Indigo Art types to add to his stable.
“I’m looking to claim a few more at Pocono. I’m just really looking to build and to learn every single day. I think each horse is different and you try to find your niche in terms of what makes each horse happy. As long as you keep them sound and healthy, and on a decent regimen, I found that’s something that has contributed to success for both myself and the horses.”
When he’s not at the racetrack and when the weather isn’t bitterly cold, you can find Walsh enjoying the great outdoors, a way to step outside, literally and figuratively, the busy life he leads with the horses.
But he also doesn’t mind putting his feet up to catch a football or basketball game.
“I like to do a little bit of everything. I love to be outdoors, although it can be tough to do that during certain points in the winter. I’m also in sports, so I like to sit down and watch a game when I can or watch something on Netflix. Really, it’s about spending time with my mom [Anna, who goes by ‘Weezie’] She’s all I have left. She’s in the horse business as well. That’s how she met my dad. I just really try to spend time with those I’m closest to.”
That list would also include the horses.
Hot summer days or howling winter winds, Walsh cherishes each moment he works with the pacers and trotters he coaches.
“They always put a smile on your face. They are all different, personality wise, but you always have that same happy feeling in helping them be the best they can be.”
Walsh’s goals for 2022 and onwards are simple but deeply meaningful ones.
“My goals this year are really about continuing to build on the successes I’ve had, in particular, what I was able to achieve last year. Most importantly, I just want to become a better person as well as a trainer, every day. I want to learn new things and build up my stable. Generally, I’d like to have about three horses because now, for the most part, I’m doing this on my own.”
He is, however, paying it all forward. Just like his father did for him.
“I have one of my good friends, Drew Jenkins, helping me out and I’m showing him the ropes a little bit, teaching him what I learned from the days I started doing stalls to working on feet and legs, getting horses ready. The most important thing I want to do this year is enjoy the moment. We’re not guaranteed anything, and I just want continue to work hard and be better at what I do.”
Walsh is also eager to embrace the ones under his watchful eye.
“I want to enjoy that time with the horses, ranging from going to the barn in the morning all the way up to race day, and to hopefully have some success along the way.”