Dedrick “Dee” Sanders has a long road ahead but is enjoying every minute of the drive

by Chris Lomon

Dedrick “Dee” Sanders has no idea where his racing future might lie, but he appreciates where it has already taken him.

The young man from Walnut Grove, MS, marvels at the journey that has led him nearly 800 miles from home, and farther than he had imagined.

“It was a rollercoaster,” Sanders said. “I didn’t even know if I was going to do this or if I was even going to get the opportunity. I came in and started working with the horses in [trainer] Todd Luther’s barn. I figured I was going to be a groom, but it all just fell into place. It still doesn’t seem real. I didn’t think I would make it this far.”

Yet, Sanders certainly has, through equal parts hard work and the support of many.

Growing up, he would often tag along with his uncle, Adrian Fortune, when the latter tended to the standardbreds that he owned.

Day by day, Sanders’ fondness for the pacers and trotters grew stronger.

“My uncle had a horse called Alabama Howard who he used to race, and it kind of started from there,” Sanders said. “My uncle was the one who taught me how to jog the horses. I just fell in love with horses and racing.”

Sanders’ mother, Amanda Fortune, saw her son’s burgeoning interest in standardbred racing and was eager to help in any way she could.

She reached out to the Harness Horse Youth Foundation (HHYF), which offers camps in Goshen, NY, and the opportunity to race alongside a driver at The Meadowlands on Hambletonian Day.

After finding out more about the HHYF, Amanda saved enough money to fly Sanders to New York City. She and her other three children made the 18-hour drive from Walnut Grove, MS., to pick up Sanders at the airport and take him to Goshen.

“The HHYF was a great experience,” Sanders said. “From there, I went to The Meadowlands. I got to drive with Tim Tetrick and then I really fell in love with everything. That was in 2019.”

Sanders remembers some of it as if it were yesterday.

“I remember Tim told me that he was going to win the first race,” Sanders said. “We went out before the card started and he had a horse called Backstreet Shadow and he said that he was going to win. And he went out there and won in [1]:47. There were so many people and so many great horses that day. It was unbelievable.”

Sanders, who attended college in Kentucky with the hopes of becoming an equine veterinarian, soon realized that pursuit was not for him.

“It just didn’t work out,” he said. “It wasn’t right for me.”

Horse racing, however, was where his heart and head were.

Sanders created a resume and put it on social media, a post that caught the eye of Luther.

Last January, Sanders joined the Luther stable at Virgil Morgan, Jr.’s Winner Circle Training Center, where he has been ever since.

“It has been great to work with Todd and everyone on the team,” Sanders said. “Todd and Greg have changed my life, and I am very grateful for that. It really is a family environment at the barn. Everyone has been a big cheerleader for me.”

They all had something to shout about on June 17, 2023.

Sanders, in rein to Luther trainee Blazen River N, took to the track at Circleville, a half-mile Ohio oval, for the eighth race on the card.

He put the pacing son of Courage Under Fire—River Belle on the front end in the three-horse race. The pair padded their lead at every pole and cruised home 8 ¼-lengths clear of their closest rival.

Very impressive, even more so considering it was Sanders’ first-ever start.

“I almost broke the track record,” said Sanders, of the 1:57.1 mile. “When I came back, I saw my mom and you could see how happy she was. All I wanted to do was make my mom proud, so it was a great feeling. Todd couldn’t be there that day, but Greg [Luther’s brother, and horse owner] was there, and he is a big cheerleader for me. My family was there, my girlfriend was there; it was a great moment. I have a big winner’s circle picture hanging in my house.”

Having his mother be part of that moment and in the winning photo made the triumph a picture-perfect one.

“When I saw my mom after the race, she said, ‘You did it!’” Sanders said. “I was so happy to see how happy she was. She drove me all over the place, across the country. She takes care of me, she motivates me, and she keeps me going. She does it all. She would do anything for me. She would go through a wall for me. I don’t know anyone like her. I would do anything for her, and I know I would not be here if it wasn’t for her.”

By the end of 2023, Sanders posted three wins, two seconds and a third in seven starts. He posted all his wins and seconds in Ohio’s Terry Holton Youth Driving Series — open to drivers between the ages of 16-21 who hold a Q/F license — and teamed with Larry Karr to take the final at Hollywood Dayton Raceway.

“It’s really up in the air as to what I will do in this industry,” Sanders said. “I still don’t know exactly what that will be. I need to start looking ahead. I want to get my ‘P’ license, but I need to get more qualifiers. I only have one.”

That doesn’t mean he won’t enjoy the drive to an unknown destination, especially when Sanders talks about the equine athletes he gets to work with.

“Somewhere in Verona… I got to qualify him,” he said. “I got to sit behind Ants Marching. Christchurch is in the barn. I love being around great horses. Young guys like me don’t get to be around this caliber of horses.

“I have never been around this many horses. We would have around four or five horses back home and here, there are 50 to 60 right now. They all have their different ways, but they are all so talented.”

The barn has provided Sanders with the ideal learning environment, a rich source of educational lessons.

He’s thankful to those who are guiding him along in his racing journey.

“Virgil [Morgan, Jr.] told me that if I want to be a driver, people have to see my name,” Sanders said. He has given me good advice on how to do it. He tells me that I remind him of himself. Todd said it looks as though I have been driving for years, which is nice to hear. He has been great to me too. I learn something new every day. I don’t know it all, for sure. I listen and observe.”

Sanders likes what he sees.

“In my mind, I am not taking anything for granted because I know this might be my last day,” Sanders said. “There are so many great horses in Ohio that I get to see every morning. Today, I was jogging right beside [multiple stakes winner and earner of nearly $1.9 million] Grace Hill. How great is that?”

As for off-track pursuits and hobbies, Sanders, outside of playing videogames on his PS5, dedicates a fair portion of his free time to pacers and trotters.

It’s his way of horsing around, so to speak.

“Most of the time, I am looking at breeding information; even when I’m away from the racetrack,” he said with a laugh. “It’s all about horses for me. When I go back home to Mississippi, I have the racing on. I look at programs or replays, and then I will look at onGait every two days. I love observing the horses. But when I go home, I do like being around my friends and spending time with all my friends.”

Life, whatever direction it happens to steer him in, is certainly good these days, offered Sanders.

He doesn’t expect that to change any time soon.

“I know I have a long road ahead of me, but I can’t wait to see what it has in store for me,” he said.