Jacob Bouck has more people in his corner than a heavyweight boxer

The 21-year-old is using that support to live out his harness racing dreams.

by Chris Lomon

Everywhere he looks, Jacob Bouck can find someone in his corner.

His driving and training careers have only just begun, but long before his first victory in the race bike, the native of Edmeston, NY, had already found a wealth of support from far and wide; horse people eager to help the aspiring horseman find his way.

“When I was 7, I went to work with my uncle at Robert Keller’s,” Bouck said. “Doc Keller, who was a vet, taught me a lot. And so have many others. Since then, I’ve loved being around the horses and the business.”

That affinity for racing heightened when he met trainer Michael Miller and his wife Hannah, also a trainer.

Lessons in life and racing were eagerly accepted by Bouck.

“I worked for Michael and Hannah for a long, long time,” Bouck said. “I actually lived with them through fifth to ninth grade. Mike taught me how to shoe and gave me a lot of knowledge about the business. I got my racing colors from Mike, and he let me drive a lot of his horses at the county fairs and at Vernon. When I got my first horse to train last year, he helped me learn the ropes, and gave me a lot of valuable advice. I got my first county fair win with one of Mike’s horses, who he co-owns with his grandfather. I won with that horse at my hometown fair in Morris.”

Last October, Bouck earned his first pari-mutuel victory at Vernon Downs.

And he did it in style.

His pre-race instructions were fairly simple, but the young reinsman had loftier goals in mind ahead of the third race at Vernon, a pace paired him with Road Ready Wes, a bay son of Western Ideal trained and owned by Philip Doyle.

“I was lucky enough to get the chance to drive him, thanks to everyone connected with the horse,” Bouck said. “Phil told me to go out there, try my best and have fun. He said, ‘If you win, that would be great, but do your best to pick up a check.’ I told them, ‘We’re going to win tonight.’”

The tote board, however, suggested a decidedly different outcome.

When the starter car sped away, Road Ready Wes, at 18-1, was the longest shot in the seven-horse field.

“I got away fourth on the rail and the two guys in front of me pulled and I slid up behind the horse that was leading,” Bouck said. “Coming down the lane, the horse drifted out and I came up the rail and we won. It was a new lifetime mark, 1:54.1, for him, which made me very happy.”

Currently, Bouck is working in the barn of trainer Michelle Warner.

His time there, much like his experiences with other operations, has been deeply rewarding.

“This past winter, I went to work for Michelle, and I’ve been here ever since,” he said. “She has given me a lot of opportunity to drive and qualify their horses. They let me drive Usurp Hanover, Bet Big On Blue and I’ve also been lucky enough to take care of Aces Or Better, who is a wicked-nice horse.”

For Bouck, it was yet another pleasant reminder of people who have taken the time to help him move his career along.

“So far, I’ve had a lot of important help from a lot of good people,” he said. “I’ve just had a lot of opportunity and a lot of people who have been there to help me out. Mike Miller has been huge for me. We’ll talk about the races and what I can do better the next time, what I’m doing good at, and things I can improve on. [Trainer] Dale Allen has helped me out as well. He has a nice horse named Little Sammy Chung, who tries every time. When you think this horse is done, he still gives you more effort. Getting those chances to drive and be around nice horses… I can’t say how lucky I’ve been to know people are there for me.”

That list is seemingly always expanding.

“Benny Eggers has let me drive a couple of his horses, Mama Donna and Bak To Magic, at the fairs,” Bouck said. “He entered the horse in a maiden race at Vernon near the end of August and he finished fifth. He raced well. The horse in front of me ran and I had to grab ahold of my horse and settle him back down on the rail and try to go on from there. After I grabbed him, he just didn’t want to do it anymore.”

Bouck was disappointed but not discouraged by the result.

Instead, every race he drives in, win, lose, top-three, or off the board, provides him with a learning experience, something he can use to improve upon.

The 21-year-old also has a detailed game plan in place for his standardbred career, one that includes a long-held goal.

“My long-term goal is to keep racing, train for other people and own a few horses,” he said. “I’d like to race at Vernon and Saratoga. My dream, ever since I was 7, was to go to Indiana and race at Hoosier Park. I hope that can come true one day. Hopefully, one day I can be the leading driver at Vernon or another track and have a successful business.

“In the short term, it’s about continuing to work hard. With Warner Racing Stable there are 38 horses, so there is a lot of work to be done. There’s a lot of feet to pack, horses to jog, brush and groom. But I like the work. The more I work, the happier I am and the more I learn.”

For now, at least until the colder weather and snow comes, Bouck will remain a busy horseman, eager to soak up knowledge from both horses and humans every day he walks into the barn.

While some of those conversations might be one-sided, interacting with the pacers and trotters continues to be a valuable learning tool.

“In the winter, I relax and unwind because we’re not as busy,” Bouck said. “I go hunting in the winter, but through the spring and summer, up until Vernon and Tioga closes, I’m always busy. But I like that and I like being around the horses. I get to know each horse better, so if the occasion ever comes up where I get to drive them, I know them and what makes them tick. I like to go to different tracks, where I can talk with different drivers and horse people.”

And perhaps, maybe without even knowing it, Bouck might find some more people happy to be in his corner.