Not giving up the reins Galbraith still at the top of his game at age 72

Posted: Friday, August 21, 2009

By Alanna Stage batavianews.com

Ten years after the death of his beloved Niatross, harness racing driver and Hall of Famer Clint Galbraith still has his eyes peeled for the next big winner.

At 72, Galbraith, a native of Ontario, Canada, has spent his entire adult life around his four-legged friends and doesn't have any plans to quit his 17-hour days any time soon.

"I don't fish and I don't golf," joked Galbraith. "I still love animals and I still like to get one more good horse. It's something that's in your blood. I've just got to do it."

Galbraith currently races at Batavia Downs several times a week and also has a 3-year-old sire, KashNCredit, participating in the New York Sire Stakes. KashNCredit had a disappointing 2008 as a 2-year-old, but has earned $45,000 thus far in 2009.

Galbraith starts working the horses at around 7 a.m., and on race nights like tonight, won't get done until midnight.

After two races tonight, Galbraith heads to Saratoga for a sire stakes race. The quick turnaround means another long day for Galbraith.

Galbraith began driving horses at the age of 18. At one time, he had as many as 100 horses, along with groomers and trainers. Today, Galbraith and his small staff care for and train 24 horses at his home stable, Rodney Farms, in Scottsville. The farm was built by Galbraith's wife Barbara's father.

The pair has been married for 35 years. They have two children, a daughter Lucretia, who is a rider, and a son, Patrick, who also works at Rodney Farms.

"I work harder now than I did when I had 100 horses, because I had everything I could need and everything was in order," Galbraith said. "I was spoiled."

It was during this heyday that Niatross, a world champion and the first horse to make more than $2 million, came into greatness. The horse's excellent breeding gave Galbraith high hopes, but knew that breeding alone a champion did not make.

"When you raise your own foals, you have to take them whether you like it or not," said Galbraith. "This horse was always special, but like other athletes, he looked great when he was young, but not everyone makes the professionals.

"Over the years, I had trained hundreds of 2-year-olds, but everything he showed me, I liked. The true test is when he starts to set records."

In total, Niatross set 15 world records as a 2- and 3-year-old. In Lexington time trial, the colt shattered the previous mile record of 1:51 set by Steady Star in 1:49.1. Niatross finished his two-year career with 37 victories (in 39 races), earning $2, 019, 213.

His driver has not done too shabby either. Galbraith has amassed more than 3,000 wins as a driver and has earned Hall of Fame bids in both the United States (1988) and Canada (1998).

The biggest change Galbraith has seen in the racing is the increasing number of catch drivers. When he began in the sport, the drivers were the owners and trainers of the horses. Today, like jockeys in thoroughbred racing, catch drivers, according to Galbraith, tend to drive the horses hard, getting the most out of one race, rather than worrying about the longevity of the animal.

"There was just a different quality of horsemen," said Galbraith, sighting previous competitors like Levi Harner (1985 Harness Racing Hall of Fame inductee) and Buddy Gilmour (1988 Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame inductee).

"It's a different industry now. I enjoy training my own horses, 'cause I know what I have," Galbraith said. "Sometimes, a catch driver tends to get into your horse more than you would because they want that five percent (of the purse). I get 100 percent, so I want a horse to be able to race again next week."

The changing culture of the paddocks reflects the changing nature of fans. While interest in harness racing is waning in this country, Galbraith sees the additional attractions of the race track, like video gaming machines and food service, as a good way to draw "a younger crowd."

"I've got a guy (working) here that just simply loves to go to Batavia (Downs) for the fish fry," Galbraith said with a laugh.