As a 17-year-old weighing career possibilities, the last thing on Gary Mosher’s mind was becoming one of only seven Maine drivers to win 5,000 harness races.
“God no! I never thought I’d get that many wins,” Mosher said. “My grandfather had a dairy farm and it was either milk cows, or race horses and see if that went anywhere.”
Thirty-two years later, the Smithfield native’s harness racing gamble has paid off much better than even he dared to imagine.
Late last month, Mosher joined the 5,000-win club by guiding appropriately named pacer Madeithappenagain to victory in the seventh race at Scarborough Downs after being in the back of the pack for the first three-quarters of the mile.
“I never thought about it until I got to around 4,800 and I went ahead and raced after thinking about taking this past fall off,” Mosher said. “I’m glad I didn’t. It was pretty special.
“I had a lot of memories and a lot of people come to mind after winning that race.”
Names like grandfather Merle Mosher; Elmer Ballard, who loaned Mosher his driver’s suit and colors because Mosher’s grandfather’s suit was too small for him; horse owners like Jack Kelley, Lawrence Kadish and Erland Danforth, who gave Mosher a chance to race; and longtime friend and racing fan Gerry Damren.
Even the passage of three decades fails to fade the memory of Mosher’s first victory.
“It was 1977 when I was on a horse called Mutiny Brooke in a pace at the Skowhegan Fair,” said the 49-year-old driver, trainer and owner who now has 5,013 victories to his credit.
Most of Mosher’s wins came out of state, after he moved to Long Island, New York and raced at three tracks. He became a standout at Yonkers Raceway in the 1980s. All told, he amassed more than 3,200 victories and $21 million in purse money out of state — most of which came at Yonkers. Actually, a significant number of those wins came behind a horse very familiar to Maine harness fans.
“I think probably driving Lorryland Butler, who was probably the best horse I ever drove, at Roosevelt and Yonkers was probably one of my best racing experiences,” Mosher said.
Despite the large crowds, bright lights and bigger money offered by the New York tracks, Mosher opted to return to his native state in 1994 to settle down with wife Michele, a Skowhegan native he met in high school, and raise a family.
Another big decision was going from racing only to racing and training horses.
“I’d done about everything else and the Sire Stakes program looked like the only way I could live in Maine and survive in the business,” he explained. “Not being all that stupid, I figured I’d better go where the money is.”
That was yet another gamble that paid off handsomely for Mosher. A driver for 32 years, trainer for 15, and now an owner, Mosher co-owns and runs Sidney Training Center — a 22-acre training facility on Drummond Road featuring stables and even a short track — with Mike Cayouette.
His harness racing diversification has turned his first love (racing) into a second.
“Now I’m into the yearlings and love breaking and training them. I’m watching them develop. That’s a real thrill for me,” Mosher explained.
His foray into training and ownership is making it easier for him to think about scaling back his driving, but don’t expect Mosher to stay out of a sulky too long.
“My back is in bad shape and I probably shouldn’t drive,” Mosher said. “I’ll probably back off, but who knows? “
The same competitive drive and work ethic that helped make him so successful in this industry is what makes it so difficult for him to imagine hanging up the reins for good.
“I’ve just had a real passion for it. I still do. That’s what makes it so hard to stop driving,” he said. “You’ve got to like what you’re doing and I love this. I just love the animals themselves.”
Unlike many horsemen, family had little to do with his choice of vocation and he didn’t really have one particular mentor to learn from.
“My grandfather had a couple horses, but it was more a hobby for him. He never drove more than five times a year,” he explained. “Nobody ever really took me under their wing. I just watched people a lot and tried to learn as much as I could.
That’s not to say Mosher isn’t willing to be a mentor. His lucky protégé is Waterville’s Derrick Howes, the son of the sister of Mosher’s sister-in-law.
“Yeah, I know,” Mosher said while laughing at his convoluted connection to Howes. “That’s why I stick to horses. They’re a lot less confusing.”