Driver Scott Wray is hitting it out of the park

by Matthew Lomon

Trading in a life on the diamond for one on the oval wasn’t initially part of his 10-year plan, but that hasn’t stopped driver Scott Wray from hitting it out of the park.

“Growing up, I wanted to play for the [Toronto] Blue Jays,” Wray said, adding with a laugh, “I played until I was about 23 years old, and it wasn’t until then that I thought, ‘Uh oh, I won’t be doing that.’”

While he will be ready should he one day receive the call from the big club, Wray has since used his time outside the chalked white lines to build a successful career on the Ontario standardbred circuit.

In what is now his 14th professional campaign, the London, ON-based reinsman shared some insights into the process that’s drawn him within 80 scores of 1,000 for his career.

“Horse racing is like any other sport,” he said. “You build a scouting report of all the horses from either doing homework on the side or racing against the horses and drivers. As soon as you see who’s entered in the race, it’ll just click in your mind, ‘This horse can do this, this driver will do this.’

“The really good guys that you drive against have an idea of what will happen for just about every horse or situation, and that’s something you pick up through experience.”

With nearly 8,500 lifetime starts to his name, Wray is well past rookie status. That veteran savvy has done wonders for the winner of 924 races and counting, as he continues to explore new strategic avenues.

“I watch a lot of the replays and read a lot of the programs,” Wray said. “I always think about the baseball players, especially the successful guys who say, ‘I watched this video, I tried this approach.’ I like to think there’s value in doing the little things that can help me get over the top.

“Even the races you aren’t competing in, you still watch closely and see what the horses in that race did because you might not be racing against them that night, but you might be the next time out.”

Wray’s commitment to the film room has certainly paid dividends over the last decade-and-a-half, but perhaps none more than on Aug. 16, 2018, when he received the best birthday present he could have asked for in an Ontario Sires Stakes event.

“I won an OSS Gold event on my birthday with a horse called Sorceress Seelster,” he said. “There were some big-name drivers out there, but we were able to pull through for a big win.

“I watched the replay when I got home and thought ‘That’s really me out there.’ That one meant a lot for sure.”

Also competing in the trot for 3-year-old fillies at Woodbine Mohawk Park were Hall of Famers Ron Waples, Paul MacDonell, and Chris Christoforou.

Sorceress Seelster finished her career with a 4-4-2 line and $255,130 in earnings across 20 starts.

Days like Aug. 16 will always be memorable for Wray, not only because they represent the height of competitive glory, but because they serve as a beacon during the low points of an arduous racing season.

Even for Hall of Fame drivers, dry spells are inevitable in a sport that involves racing 1,000-plus times each year.

What matters, as Wray noted, is finding a way to get back on the bike each time out with a clear mind.

“Sometimes, I get too high or too low and try too hard,” he said. “That’s one thing that I’m trying to work on right now. Obviously, the longer you do it, the more you get used to some failures and dealing with ebbs and flows of the game.”

The driver who has amassed nearly $6 million in total earnings found himself starting down that exact situation not too long ago.

“Last weekend, for example, was a very big lesson for me,” he said. “I went to a lot of different tracks and didn’t win a race. I was kind of down after that, but like I said earlier, that’s a perfect example of what I’m trying to work on. You have to turn the page and visualize next week going better.

“If you try to force the issue, the worse you’re going to do. It’s no different than when you’re on the baseball field.”

For Wray, who still gets a few at-bats in each week as a member of two slow-pitch teams, keeping a level head between races has him on the verge of an impressive achievement.

When the dedicated driver clinches win number 1,000, it will be a full-circle moment for the Wray family.

Scott’s father, Jack Wray, is a lifelong horseman whose passion for the game helped inspire his son’s career choice in 2010.

Although numbers and accolades aren’t among the younger Wray’s top priorities, he will be sure to savor reaching quadruple digits.

“My dad ended up winning over 900 races during his driving days,” Scott said. “That milestone [1,000 driving wins] shouldn’t mean that much to me, but it does and I’m hoping it comes to fruition.”

The elder Wray has secured more than 1,500 victories (916 as a driver, 594 and counting as a trainer) across his still active 46-year career.

Winning 1,000 races takes talent, dedication to your craft, and a deep respect for the game; a tried-and-true recipe Scott knows by heart.

“I’ve rarely missed races that I’ve been booked to race,” he said. “I don’t put fear into the equation. I’ll try anything for the horse, for the person trusting me with their horse, and for myself. Obviously, there’s some discretion there, but I take every race very seriously and try to give the horse and the person that hired me a chance.

“[Driver] Tyler Borth, who’s a good friend of mine, we talk a lot and I always say that you have to be tough. If you go down, you get back up on the bike and give it your best effort.”

All of which leads to a sporting chance every time Scott sits in the sulky.