by Chris Lomon
Ryan DesRoche is the man with the plans.
When it comes to mapping out his career in the race bike, the 24-year-old reinsman from Prince Edward Island has found the blueprint for success.
Before he launched his standardbred driving career, DesRoche took a realistic approach to his life on the racetrack, putting in motion a five-year roadmap that would ultimately decide if he would stay in the sport or find another calling.
He sports a big smile when speaking of the outcome.
“I’m happy with how things have progressed, but obviously, I want to keep reaching higher and get better with myself and the results. That’s what I always focus on.”
Raised in a standardbred family, where he learned the racing ropes from his grandfather and father, DesRoche’s first race in the PEI Matinee program came when he was 10. Six years after that milestone, he earned his trainer’s license, which was followed by attaining his driver’s license two years later.
In his first year of record, in 2016, he posted 12 wins along with $21,701 in purse earnings while competing in his native Prince Edward Island.
The driving force, pun intended, noted DesRoche, was to get better each year, not only in number, but also in skill.
A two-week summer vacation to Ontario nearly four years ago proved to be a one-way ticket, as the young horseman made the decision to ply his trade outside of his home province.
In typical fashion, DesRoche put plenty of thought into the idea, eager to test the Ontario waters, but not willing to look too far down the road.
As it turned out, it proved to be a winning move, one that put more eyes on his abilities, and in turn, drawing more interest from trainers.
His first Ontario win came at Flamboro Downs with Bravado Seelster, a gelded son of Rock N Roll Heaven trained and owned by Christina Soundy.
The Seelster Farms-bred veteran won by 1 ¾ lengths in 1:57.3 on Dec. 9, 2018, pulling off a 17-1 upset on a frigid night at the half-mile oval.
“Around the last turn, I had all kinds of horse. I had room at the head of the lane, moved him over and we went on from there. It was a pretty good feeling.”
The duo repeated that success one week later. This time, however, it was a much closer finish.
“We won by a head, but it felt like a nose. As long as you hit the wire first, it doesn’t matter how much you win by.”
The winning efforts also gave DesRoche a boost in confidence.
“At first it was tough, making that move to Ontario. You go from all of your friends and family, people and places that you are familiar with, to meeting new people and chasing new opportunities. But, there are a lot of people here who are from the East Coast, so that made it a lot easier. Once you get to know people, you feel more comfortable and relaxed. I’ve been lucky with having a lot of supportive people.”
In 2019, over 449 driving starts, he posted 27 wins, 33 seconds and 53 thirds, accompanied by earnings of $189,107.
Two years ago, he produced 20 wins in a season, for himself and the industry, that was hampered by the COVID-19. A major highlight from that 2020 came in August drove a pair of Dustin Jones’ pupils in Grassroots action at Georgian Downs. He teamed with trotting filly Protostar for a winner’s circle trip and was third with Peppas Angel. The victory was DesRoche’s first Ontario Sires Stakes crown.
He also won a Prospect Series race at Woodbine Mohawk with Muscles Aplenty, a Joe Shaw trainee.
“You have to be confident, not cocky, when you have success. You appreciate those wins, but if anything, it pushes you to want more of those moments. You need to remind yourself what it took to earn those wins and what it will take to get to the next level.”
It was 2021, however, that saw DesRoche stamp himself as one of the country’s top young talents.
Along with the career-high 50 wins and $413,131 in purse earnings, there were plenty of lessons learned from each mile traveled.
“I think the biggest thing I had to learn was patience. You have to drive horses to their strengths and do what will bring out the best in them. Some are better on the front, some are better covered up. You have to know the horses and what trip they like. You don’t want to put them in bad spots. Once you get to know the horse, you can figure out better trips for them. That said, you also have to know that there is more than just a ‘Plan A.’ You have to be able to adapt to different situations and change things on the fly. A horse can break stride, or one leaves that you didn’t expect too… there are so many unknowns that can happen as soon as you’re off the gate.”
One thing that is a constant, however, is his support base back in Prince Edward Island.
“I get texts and calls all the time from back home. People are watching the races and that’s great. They want to see people do well and you definitely feel that.”
It’s one big piece of the motivation puzzle for DesRoche, who works for trainer/driver Travis Cullen in the mornings.
And yes, he does have a gameplan for 2022.
“I’d like to do better than I did last year, to be honest. I’d like to double wins and maybe hit $1 million in purses on the year. But I don’t really set end goals. I set small ones along the way and if I accomplish them, I set new ones after that.”
There isn’t much time for off-track pursuits, at least not now, but DesRoche isn’t complaining.
“If you’re busy, I guess that means you’re doing something right.”
And, for the pride of Prince Edward Island, it also means he’s doing something well.
“I truly love what I do. There can be tough times and tough nights where things don’t go as you expected, but there is always something to look forward to. A new day means new opportunities and a chance to see the results you are striving for. When you’re at the barn, you are able to really see so much, things that can really help you. I like that atmosphere and I appreciate that chance to learn as much as I can.”
An ideal situation for the young man with a winning plan.