For most people, working on the weekend is nothing to smile about.
For Shawn Gray, it’s nearly impossible to wipe the wide grin off his face.
The longtime harness racing driver, trainer and owner has had remarkable success on the weekend, especially this month.
The Gardiner native entered July as the top-ranked driver at Bangor Raceway for the 2009 season with 54 wins, 28 places (second place) and 18 shows (thirds), and he was the No. 4 driver at Scarborough Downs with 41 wins, 24 places and 19 shows in 152 starts.
And that doesn’t even include his scalding success the last three weeks.
Gray notched his second straight five-victory Saturday at Scarborough last weekend and started the month with a six-win Sunday at Bangor.
Ironically, five was also a particularly significant number for one of Gray’s victorious horses last Saturday. Ryan Berry-owned Blaster Hanover won its fifth straight race.
“There was a stretch there where I was winning 13 or 14 a week out of about 34 or 35 starts,” said the 35-year-old Gray. “What it really boils down to is getting good horses and having them draw good positions.”
That’s not to say it’s all luck of the draw. There is certainly a lot of skill involved as well.
“Well, yeah. I ain’t that lucky,” he said. “I guess I’d say I’ll admit I’m pleasantly surprised. You always hope you do good, but I’m in a pretty good spot so far this year.”
That’s an understatement. At his current pace, Gray’s winning percentage is right around .333 or roughly one win in every three starts.
This is the third-generation driver’s 15th season of racing and as a veteran, his formula for success isn’t overly different than most of his peers.
“The biggest thing is just hard work. Harness racing… it’s sad to say, but you don’t get a chance to do much else if you’re in it besides race horses, drive or whatever,” he said. “There’s not much time for normalcy in your life during the season.
“You literally pretty much have to just live, eat and sleep horses. You have to sacrifice some things to be in this and be successful.”
This being the first season in decades that both of Maine’s commercial tracks are going exclusively with daytime racing schedules, Gray has had to further adjust his day-to-day schedules during the season.
“Actually, I’m not a big fan of day racing. I like racing at night. I have 14 horses I train at my barn and that bothers my training schedule,” he said. “You have to leave earlier to go to the races. Sometimes in the past I had time to take a nap before going to the races, but not now.”
While Gray acknowledges he gets home much earlier at night, he misses the atmosphere of race nights.
“Personally, I like racing at night under the lights and I think the crowds are better, too. With 3 p.m. posts, most people are still at work,” he said. “To me, there’s nothing like racing Saturday nights with a good-sized crowd, but for the most part, I think those days of the big crowds watching live racing are gone.
“It’s not just Maine. There are other states struggling with on-track attendance and even handles. It’s not the same as what it used to be.”
Gracie under pressure
Six-year-old Gracie Gracie ran the fastest mile ever by a mare in Maine Sunday by winning the $6,000 Open Distaff race in 1 minute, 55 seconds at Scarborough Downs. Kevin Switzer drove the daughter of Albert Albert to quarter times of 28 seconds, 57.4 and 1:26.4 to cruise to a comfortable win. The pacer, owned by Sharon Proctor and Fred Ward Jr., of Brunswick, broke the old mark of 1:55.1 turned in by Percee Angus in 2006 and notched her 12th win of the season in the process.