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Mohawk: Steve Condren is a true fighter
Hall of Fame driver Steve Condren said winning his first Metro Pace Saturday night at Mohawk Racetrack would be nice, especially at this stage of his career, but he counts being able to drive horses at all as a bonus after his 2011 battle with colon cancer.
“After going through what I went through, just being here is a beautiful thing,” Condren said.
The 58-year-old Milton, Ont. resident will pilot Betting Line for trainer Casie Coleman of Cambridge, Ont. in the C$685,000 stakes race for 2-year-old pacers.
Ken Middleton, Jr., the standardbred race caller for the Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) that includes Mohawk and her sister track, Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, said it is amazing Condren still is driving on Canada’s top loop.
“He’s a survivor,” Middleton said. “This is the toughest circuit anywhere for guys to survive on. Take a look at Doug Brown, Dave Wall. Those guys were kingpins the same time Steve Condren was in his prime. Steve has kind of reinvented himself and he shows up and he’s still here. Why those other guys aren’t still here, I don’t know. They’re talented guys, too.”
Condren worked with Coleman’s stable in Florida over the winter to keep busy and stepped in to drive for her a little over a month ago when her regular driver, Chris Christoforou, suffered a broken collarbone in a race accident July 24 at Mohawk.
“I didn’t really know Steve all that well over the years until he asked me if I wanted him to jog and train some horses just for something to do in the winter in Florida,” Coleman said. “He helped me out a lot this winter. He’s very knowledgeable. Besides being a very, very good driver, he’s very, very good at training one and hanging one up and going really good, proper fractions with training miles. He was, obviously, a big improvement for my barn this year. He told me right from the get-go that he wasn’t looking to get any drives. He just wanted something to do in the winter and he really enjoyed training. After Chris got hurt I was kind of stuck and needed somebody. So, I’ve been using (Condren) and he’s been doing a really good job for me.”
Condren has started 22 times for Coleman in a little more than a month, posting a 6-3-4 record and earnings just a few dollars shy of $100,000.
“Lately, it’s been fun. No complaints, that’s for sure,” Condren said.
One of Condren’s biggest wins so far for Coleman came Aug. 29 when he drove Betting Line to a 1:52 2/5, two-and-a-quarter length victory in the last of three $40,000 Metro Pace eliminations. Betting Line has post two in the Metro final (race seven) that is part of a stakes-rich card that includes the 72nd edition of the Canadian Pacing Derby for older pacers (race eight, $685,000) and the $455,000 final of the Shes A Great Lady for 2-year-old pacing fillies (race 10). First-race post time is 7:05 p.m.
Betting Line, an Ontario-sired son of Bettors Delight out of Heathers Western that was purchased for $60,000 at the 2014 Standardbred Horse Sales Company’s yearling sale in Harrisburg, Pa., has won four of his six starts for Coleman and Ross Warriner’s West Wins Stable, Christine Calhoun of Chatham, Ont. and Mac Nichol of Burlington, Ont.Condren also was driving when Betting Line posted his career-best mile of 1:51 4/5 in an overnight race Aug. 6 at Mohawk.
“He was one of (Coleman’s) better colts all winter down there,” Condren said. “He’s progressing well. This is a big test for him. So far, he’s stepped up to the plate and looks pretty good doing it.”
Considering Condren has spent virtually his entire 38-year career at WEG and has crafted out a specialty driving young horses, it is surprising he has never won the Metro Pace.
“Working with the young horses is something I like to do,” Condren said. “That’s kept me in this business this long.”
“At this time of year, people love Steve Condren on young horses,” Middleton said.
Coleman said Condren, “never hurts one, but, yet, he’s always got them in play… He’s very good with the young ones. Besides how good he drives them and always brings you a horse back for next week, he’s also really good at helping you if you have issues and need to change the equipment. He’s a very smart horseman.”
The Metro Pace is part of a busy weekend for Condren. Friday night, he will drive Deep Impact in the second of two $118,907 Champlain divisions at Mohawk for trainer Brad Maxwell of Guelph, Ont. On Aug. 20, Condren drove the 2-year-old gelded trotter to victory in the $35,600 final of the Define The World stakes at Mohawk. Maxwell and Condren previously teamed up on such stars as Elegantimage (nearly $1 million lifetime) and Pure Ivory (nearly $1.5 million lifetime).
On Saturday, Condren will also drive Reverend Hanover for Coleman in a $25,000 3-year-old conditioned race. Reverend Hanover was a top 2-year-old that has earned more than $275,000 lifetime. Sunday afternoon, Condren will meet fans, sign autographs and drive in the $15,000 Legends Day Trot at Clinton Raceway (www.clintonraceway.com) against seven other Hall of Fame drivers. It will be the second time Condren has appeared at the biannual Legends Day since being inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2011, not long after he was diagnosed with cancer.
Condren drove just a handful of times in 2011, but was in the sulky nearly 200 times in 2012 and has slowly increased his workload each year since. In 2014, he drove over 600 times and earned over $1.5 million, the first time he has topped seven figures since 2010 and the 31st time he’s done it in a career in which he’s won 6,784 races and driven the winners of more than $113 million.
He said his last medical checkup went well, and “everything is going in the right direction still, so far, which is good… I put a lot of effort into keeping in good shape. What I went through, and at my age, you have to be in decent shape to compete out there now. So, I put a big effort into that.”
An avid golfer, Condren said he plays four to six rounds a week. “I’m still walking and carrying as part of my keeping-in-shape routine… That’s a nice walk every day.”
As for his driving career, Condren is big on perspective.
“I’m happy to be around, never mind driving horses,” he said. “I always said to myself that if I start getting in people’s way out there I’ll give it up. So far, I haven’t been doing too much of that.”
(By Dave Briggs--Ontario Horse Racing)