The 34-year-old Maryland native is in the process of wrapping up his fourth consecutive driving championship at Dover Downs in Delaware and currently leads all North American drivers in wins (170) and money ($1.64 million). When Dover’s meet ends in April he plans on continuing fulltime at the Meadowlands and Harrah’s Philadelphia, but isn’t going to push himself to win the continent’s driving title.
“That’s not really a goal of mine,” he said. “I have a 2-year-old daughter; my wife is due in July. There’s no way I could make a push and drive all over two tracks a day to try to win the dash title. If it ends up that way, yeah, that would be great. It would be cool to say I won the dash title one year but I’m not going to burn myself out doing it.
“If it looks that way late in the year and I’m really close, then maybe I’ll make a push for it. I’ve been in the position the last three years. It’s a matter of volume, and I’m just not willing to do it I guess. I hate to say that. But I get a lot of starts. I’m hoping there will be plenty of travel and opportunity with the Grand Circuit.”
|Corey Callahan is in the process of wrapping up his fourth consecutive driving championship at Dover Downs.|
Callahan is certainly becoming a favorite driver among owners and trainers. Through the first 96 days of the Dover meet, which began in November, his 236 victories were 109 ahead of second-place Ross Wolfenden. So far this year he also has 23 wins at the Meadowlands and five at recently opened Harrah’s Philadelphia.
Corey points to a number of reasons for his strong start.
“I’ve had a lot of good horses to drive and a lot of good people to drive for,” he said. “I switched to the Tornado (sulky). It’s just one of those things. It’s like once you get on a roll everything kind of just starts falling into place. I think it’s a lot of different attributes.”
As for the Tornado sulky, Callahan feels it has helped his mindset and thus, his confidence.
“It tracks very well, it fits just about every horse,” he said. “I don’t have any horses get shifty in it. There’s a wheel guy I got hooked up with, he’s got a new wheel and I put them on, they’re a lot lighter.
“I’m sure a lot of that stuff might be all in our heads as drivers. It certainly can help. The bike and the wheels and everything are a lot lighter. There’s a lot less resistance on the horse. I mean, a lot of that (having confidence) plays into it as well. Obviously my confidence level is pretty high at Dover. I get to drive good horses and a lot of varieties. I even feel pretty confident about those horses that don’t necessarily look to be the best in the race and I’ve had a lot of luck with that.”
Callahan gained plenty of confidence last year when he finished eighth in North America with 519 wins and 13th in purses with $7.39 million. It also became the year where he proved to himself he could compete at the Big M.
“The Meadowlands has been going well this year,” he said. “That’s not an easy track to break into and have some success. Myself, just as other people have in the past, have gone there and at some points kind of found themselves lost on the big track. For a while I felt that way.
“When I went back there last summer, I decided in my career that’s where I wanted to go. I needed to go to the Meadowlands and I had a good meet there. I decided to go back there and go fulltime this year. I’m not going to go up there and conquer the Meadowlands with the (Ron) Burke-Yannick (Gingras) Show going on. But I feel confident there.”
Gaining a foothold at the Meadowlands was a big occurrence for Callahan last year, as was driving Hot Shot Blue Chip to victory in the Credit Winner, taking Ma Chere Hall to a win at the Kindergarten final for 2-year-old filly trotters (in a Vernon Downs track record) and guiding Jerseylicious to a victory in the Sweetheart on Hambletonian Day at the Meadowlands.
But when asked his biggest highlight in 2012 he didn’t hesitate.
|USTA/Ken Weingartner photo|
|Callahan is hoping for big things in 2013 with Googoo Gaagaa.|
“You could probably say it in two words and four syllables -- Googoo Gaagaa,” said Callahan of the world-record-setting trotter trained by Richard Hans that won the Beal Memorial and Colonial stakes. “He’s a phenomenal animal, the best horse I’ve ever driven. I never sat behind anything like that where the speed just comes so easy.
“I really think, and I hope I’m correct when I say this, that I don’t think we’ve seen the best of him. I’m hoping for a big year from him this year.”
Callahan’s first race with Googoo Gaagaa this year is scheduled to be the Maturity at the Meadowlands on May 4.
“He’s staked to pretty much all of the big trots,” Callahan said. “I think it’s going to be an interesting year. There’s going to be a lot of good races this year, I think with all the 3-year-olds coming back (at age 4) you’re going to see some really good racing. It’s like Burke was saying the other night, it’s not going to be a situation where certain horses can dominate because there are so many good horses.”
And while Callahan may not consider himself a dominating driver -- although he certainly dominates at Dover Downs -- he has certainly made a huge impact in just seven years in the sport. Since beginning fulltime in 2006 Corey has 2,957 victories.
All he had to do was overcome some fear issues.
“I didn’t even get in a race bike until I was 19 and I was scared to death then,” Callahan said with a laugh.
As a kid, Callahan would help out the family business during summer breaks from the University of Kentucky. He worked as a groom at night and “did all the grunt work” in the barn during the day.
One day his father asked him to warm up a horse and his response was, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” He managed to get through that ordeal but didn’t put on another set of colors until age 24.
“It was the same thing,” he said. “It was a trotter my dad and I owned together and he was in at Rosecroft. My dad wasn’t feeling well and said ‘Can you warm him up?’ I said the same thing. ‘Really, you want me to go out there?’ It was a trotter, he said just go a full trip in (2):40 and I went in (2):25 -- no idea!”
After getting through that experience, Corey began to re-think getting into harness racing.
“I felt like ‘OK, this isn’t that bad,’” he said. “I don’t know what scared me about it. When I was little I had a couple horses run away with me so I guess I was kind of hesitant.”
A friend soon handed him a condition sheet for the Great Pocomoke Fair in Maryland, telling him it was right up his alley. Corey talked his dad into letting him race, and he won.
“It was a terrible race,” he said with a laugh. “Nobody was on the gate. I dropped my whip at the quarter pole. I won the race in 2:15. It was terrible. But at that point on I guess I got bit by the bug and that was it for me.”
Callahan was working as a headhunter for a professional recruiting firm at the time, and while he was making a decent living, he dreaded going to work on Mondays.
“I said ‘I don’t want to live the rest of my life like this,’” he said. “I worked for my dad, I bought a couple horses, we claimed a couple horses. The next thing you know I got my qualifying license and I’m the leading driver at Dover. It all happened really fast.”
It’s all going well for Callahan except for one thing -- his alma mater went from defending NCAA men’s basketball champion to not making the tournament this year, then losing in the first round of the NIT Tuesday night to Robert Morris.
Callahan was reminded that he did a lot of bragging last year.
“Hey,” he said with a laugh, “I had a lot to brag about.”
When it comes to driving success, he still does.