Elora, ON — Robert Shepherd is on a big roll at Grand River Raceway. The quiet 34-year-old Prince Edward Island native is second at the Elora track in driver wins and money. He’s also Grand River’s second leading trainer in money and wins when combined with his girlfriend, Isabelle Darveau, who recently took over Shepherd’s stable.
“This year I’m a little more motivated,” Shepherd said. “I had some changes in my life. I kind of got past that and moved on … I’m driving a lot more. Last year, I didn’t drive as much.”
|Iron Horse photo|
|Robert Shepherd is the second leading driver in wins and money at Grand River Raceway|
Shepherd said there’s a lot more to love about Grand River Raceway than being one of its leading horse people.
“Everyone’s happy to be there. Even the people there are excited for racing. It’s a great atmosphere. They want to race,” Shepherd said.
He said Grand River Raceway’s commitment to providing a great fan experience starts at the top with the track’s general manager Dr. Ted Clarke. In August, Dr. Clarke will be inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame as a builder for his work turning Grand River Raceway into one of the best small tracks in the nation.
Shepherd said Dr. Clarke is always present on race nights and helping out where he can.
“Ted’s always part of it, which makes it great because when someone’s running something and you never see them, it makes you feel like he doesn’t care. But you can tell Ted cares, because he’s always there. Every night he’s one of the last guys to leave there,” Shepherd said.
This year, Robert Shepherd surpassed $15 million in career earnings as a driver. He recorded his 2,000th career win in the sulky near the end of 2013.
He said being both a trainer and a driver in an age when most people in the sport focus on one or the other, has given him an advantage.
“I guess training helps my driving because I sit behind a bunch of horses every day. So, I know when they’re good and when they’re not good… You drive them a little more conservatively if they don’t feel right to you,” Shepherd said.
“Lately, it seems to be working out great for me. I end up working out a great trip or something like that from the feel of the horse.”
Shepherd said the greatest Christmas gift he ever received was a set of blue, yellow and white training colors that his mother and father gave him.
“I got the training suit when I started training a couple of my own,” Shepherd said of the family colors that were started by his dad, Harold. “I think I might have been listed as a trainer when I was 19 or 20.”
He said his driving career received a huge boost 10 years ago when he won the 2004 Nat Christie Memorial at Stampede Park in Calgary driving The Bruster.
“When I won the Nat Christie it changed my life in driving,” Shepherd said. “I’d have to say The Bruster started it all.”
Today, Shepherd lives in Cambridge, which is a short trip to one of his favorite places to race. He’s hoping his success at Grand River Raceway will be a springboard to even bigger things.
“I’d love to win an O’Brien Award for the horseman of the year, if I could,” he said.
To hear more of our conversation with Robert Shepherd — including which person he’d like to change places with for a week — check out our weekly podcast, the Harness Racing Report, produced for Grand River Raceway by award-winning journalist Dave Briggs, at https://soundcloud.com/grandriverraceway