These days, Kirby is a driver and trainer in Milford, Del., so he’s either forming a horse’s personality to get on the track, or guiding the horse along once he gets there.
Some 20 years earlier, Kirby was the starting point guard on the Marymount University basketball team in Virginia, which meant he was in charge of the offense and making sure it all ran smooth.
“When I left there I was in the top five in assists,” Kirby said, adding with a laugh, “But I went back there a few years ago. Needless to say, my name has completely disappeared from that record book.”
|Dover Downs photo|
Victor’s not too worried about that, however, considering he is coming off a career year in harness racing. Driving predominantly in Philadelphia and his native state of Delaware, Kirby reached personal highs for driving wins (294), purses ($3.20 million) and starts (2,162). He also won 16 of 102 starts as a trainer.
“It was a great year,” Kirby said. “I don’t really set goals every year. I think a large part of the earnings was attributed to the drives I had at (Harrah’s Philadelphia), which was welcome. I had been going there quite a while and always liked going there. I picked up a lot more power from some of the trainers.
“And I had hit-or-miss days when some of the top guys had other places to be. So it worked out well. And of course I had a good year here at the home base at Harrington and Dover. But I really attribute it to the trainers giving me some good horses.”
Kirby won 122 races at Dover Downs, 109 at Harrington and 54 at Harrah’s Philadelphia.
|Victor Kirby drove Kelsey's Commando to a lifetime best 2:00.1 score in the $100,000 DSBF final on Nov. 25, 2013.|
As for highlights, Kirby said nothing really stands out from last year, but did mention winning two $100,000 finals of the Delaware Standardbred Breeders Fund Stakes with Gary Green’s Kelsey’s Commando. Tyler Raymer had him drive Tirade Hanover several times and they won their elimination for the Empire Breeders Classic, but health issues hindered him in the final.
“I couldn’t really make the commitment to New York, it was too much for me racing down here,” Kirby said. “I didn’t end up driving him after that, but I just really appreciate somebody like that giving me the opportunity to drive a horse like that in a race like that. It was an awesome experience.”
The 41-year-old Kirby has been around horses all his life. His grandfather, long-time trainer and driver Vinal Kirby, started with him as a youngster while growing up in Wilmington, Del. Victor went off to work for other stables before heading to Marymount.
Actually, he was detoured there by his mom, Sharon.
“I had no desire to go to college,” he said. “I started to get a little interest from some small schools, but I said when I got done with high school I was going into horses. My mom said, ‘No, you’re going to get a degree.’
“So, the fact I could play basketball kind of helped, and it turned out to be the best four years of my life. I’m really glad she made me do it. I graduated with a degree in communications.”
Which people seem to find a bit humorous.
“People ask me what the heck I’m doing with that degree,” Kirby said with a laugh. “I say, ‘Well, when I’m talking to horses or people, I’m communicating.’”
Once he graduated from college, he was still living in Virginia and went to work for his friend, John Wagner, at Rosecroft Raceway for five years.
“My grandfather laid the foundation when I was working for him,” Victor said. “And then working for Wagner, he was an unbelievable horseman. He kind of finished it off and I carried it on to what I do today.”
After his stellar 2013 campaign, Kirby reached the top of his profession in 2014 -- for one day, at least. On New Year’s Day, he drove Please Okay, a horse he trains, to victory in the first race of 2014 at Dover Downs. That made Victor the leading driver and trainer in North America.
“Oh man, I guess you could say that was my 15 minutes of fame for the New Year -- just for that night,” he said. “Hopefully that was a sign for how the rest of the year goes.”
Kirby drives the horses he trains, but only deals with between five and seven over the course of the year. He tries to scale back when spring comes in order to focus more on driving.
“We had a good year with the small stable we had,” he said. “We’ve got a nice group of trotters now. That’s all I deal with is trotters.
“Allmar Surprise is a mare that has been a star of my stable for four years (earning $450,300). We had to retire her to breeding. Right now none of them are superstars but all of them are doing well.”
Kirby is currently sitting at 2,861 career driving wins. Despite the success he had last year, he is not assuming things will just keep skyrocketing this year.
“Of course you hope so,” he said. “But I’m not going to bank on that. If it happens it happens. I learned a long time ago you can’t get too up or too down. It’s like a rollercoaster. One day you’re at the top of the hill, the next day you’re down in the dumps. You just have to roll with the rollercoaster.
“Like everybody says, you’re only as good as the horse you drive. I wouldn’t say I’ve ever had the luxury to get full service from a top-notch trainer, but the smaller trainers have given me a chance and I pick up some big drives here and there and try to make the most of it. You just try to be professional about it all, whether it works out or not. Some of them are happy they used you, some of them probably aren’t.”
At the rate he’s going, the happy trainers are likely in the majority these days.