Cole Olsen answered the call to get his first driving win

by Chris Lomon

The story behind Cole Olsen’s first career driving win is right out of a Hollywood script.

It is by no means a stretch to say the then 17-year-old reinsman felt like he had hit the jackpot on Sept. 3, 2020 at Shenandoah Downs.

Seemingly done for the day, Olsen had shed his driving colors and was ready to head home just before the final race on the card.

And then came a request from driver/trainer William Carter.

“Billy was hurt the race before and needed someone to drive his horse in the last,” said Olsen.

The Maryland-based Olsen had arrived at the Virginia track with seven qualifying starts at Ocean Downs.

His goal was to have at least a handful of drives over the three-day meet to hit 12, which would be enough for him to receive a provisional license when he turned 18 the next month.

Olsen would achieve that goal with a little icing on the cake.

In rein to LL Jackpot, a pacing daughter of Philos Hanover—Wygant Rose who had gone nearly four years without a win, Olsen, who had warmed up the bay mare in the past, lined up behind the starter car for the four-horse dash.

Third at the quarter and rolling before the half, the pair found themselves embroiled in a tete-a-tete with a stubborn rival down the lane.

Another hopeful came calling late as the trio crossed the wire inches apart.

“It was so tight, and I didn’t know if I had won,” said Olsen.

But he had, by a nose.

“My father [trainer Darren Olsen] and grandfather were there,” Cole said. “It just felt so huge to get my first driving win. I hadn’t been driving long at all. I had just started that summer qualifying some horses, so to get that win, especially with how things unfolded, was a great feeling.”

Cole’s good fortunes did not end there.

He’s recorded nearly 70 driving wins since then and 15 more as a trainer.

His best year, win-wise, was 2022, when he posted 27 victories. The following year, he recorded a career-best $207,892 in earnings.

“The more you are out there, the more you are going to learn,” Cole said. “I have also been getting more horses and better horses to drive. I think the combination of all that has led to more success each year.

“When the horses are racing well, it leads to confidence in the race bike. You aren’t on edge. You are out there just driving horses in a very relaxed and confident way. When you are at ease, you tend to drive better.”

A finance major at Maryland’s Salisbury University, Cole, who recently completed his junior year, isn’t just committed to his studies in the classroom.

Now 21, he’s very much a student of horse racing too.

“Mainly, I want to make the right decisions,” Cole said. “If I feel I didn’t drive to the best of my abilities, I like to watch the replays and see what I could have done differently. That helps me going forward because if I find myself in a similar situation again, I’ll know how to approach it.”

Are there any similarities between school and standardbreds?

“The biggest one would be that you have to put your mind into both for you to succeed,” Cole said. “You can’t go through the motions and expect to do well in either.”

One of the biggest lessons Cole has taken away from his time in the sulky is the ability to adapt and call an audible at certain times during a race.

“You can have a mindset, a plan of what you want to do, but ultimately, when that gate folds, anything can happen,” he said. “Your plans can change instantly. Not everything goes to plan. Usually, it doesn’t, so you have to make adjustments on the fly.

“You also need to drive each horse as an individual. The goal is to always give each horse the trip that it needs to succeed.”

As for goals, there is a particular track Cole would jump at the chance to compete at.

“I’d love to get a chance to drive at The Meadowlands,” he said. “We have raced there once before, but it was for the amateur races. I think it would be an awesome experience and I would love to win a race there.”

Cole, who lists Tim Tetrick, Dexter Dunn, and Yannick Gingras as his favorite drivers, would also appreciate the opportunity to get back to Dover Downs.

One of his most memorable highlights came at the Delaware oval.

The victory came with Black Hope, a trotting son of Bar Hopping—Blacksirenpedia, trained and owned by his father.

“Earlier this year, I won an open handicap trot at Dover with Black Hope,” Cole said. “It was my first time driving there. He’s won the open for us twice and I’d like to get him back there and do it again. We got him last fall and he’s been sensational for us. He’s a great horse to drive.”

As is Volley Ball Beach.

Also trained and owned by Darren, the 8-year-old son of Somebeachsomewhere—Alladorable came to the barn in March 2021.

The bay, who has 34 wins and nearly $275,000 in purse earnings, has been as consistent as they come for father and son.

“My barn favorite would be Volley Ball Beach, who we have had for a few years,” Cole said. “I’ve won countless times with him, and he’s been great to us from the moment we got him.”

Having those successes with his father is deeply meaningful for Cole.

“There is nobody else I’d rather do this with and have by my side,” he said. “He’s been a huge supporter of mine every step of the way.

“We have a couple of new horses, and I would like to get them to the winner’s circle a few times this year.”

And if the call ever comes, the one asking him to step in and take the reins with little notice, Cole will be ready to answer the call.

It’s a scenario he’s quite familiar with.

“That first win will always stay with me,” Cole said. “It was a unique moment. I’m just happy it worked out well for everyone.”