Lebanon native Chris Shaw recently recorded his 1,000 career victory in the sport of harness racing.
Harness racing, like any other sport, requires specialized skillsets and talents. Harness racers require not just the equestrian skills you might find in a jockey, but also an understanding of physical racing dynamics. In this case, the vehicles are the two-wheeled sulkies that carry the drivers.
“Harness racing requires a combination of both the mind and the body,” said Shaw in an interview with LebTown.
“Harness racing is like going to a car race,” Shaw added. “Everyone’s trying to win.”
Different classes of horses are raced separately to keep things as competitive as possible.
“You want it to be exciting. I’m a harness driver, but I like to go to the thoroughbred tracks. It’s exciting to me because it’s like any other race.”
On Nov. 23 at The Meadows race track, Shaw, a resident of nearby Washington, PA, piloted Pass The Vape to victory in the $16,200 Open Handicap Trot, the Meadows’ feature race of the day, to reach the milestone. Shaw and Pass The Vape overtook favorite Lady’s Dude in mid-stretch and finished the race in a time of 1:54.
“It was the first race of the day. It was an open trot,” said Shaw, 34. “I had picked up a horse I had never driven before. It was all set up for me, but I didn’t expect to get it that race. I was going up against the best horse on the ground that day.
“It was a big deal to me,” added Shaw. “It was also a joy to get here at The Meadows. There are a lot of great drivers here, and you learn a lot driving with Hall of Famers. A thousand is a lot of races. I’m not sure how many guys even have a thousand wins. People have told me how big of an accomplishment it is. I’m still excited about it.”
Not only is 1,000 wins a testament to Shaw’s prowess as a harness racer, it’s also a tribute to his hard work, his attitude and his passion for the sport. While Shaw has been racing for 16 years now, a majority of his victories have come over the past few years – mainly at The Meadows and at fair tracks in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
During his career, Shaw has made more than 9,600 race starts and the horses he has driven have earned over $7.7 million in purse money. Shaw’s cut of the winnings is five percent.
“I don’t know if there’s any secret,” said Shaw of his success. “It’s hard work and keeping your head up. A lot of people have told me that I’m always smiling. You can do bad in one race and still smile. You can’t get down on yourself. It’s just do what you do. Noting comes easy.
“Each trip is different,” Shaw continued. “You have to compete. Every time you go on the race track, it can play out a different way. I love it. It’s exciting. It’s an adrenaline rush and I like to win.”
Shaw’s initial harness racing win came at the age of 18, at the Lycoming County Fair in Hughesville, PA. At that time, the 2004 graduate of Lebanon High School had no way of knowing his career would lead him down the path that it has.
“After I graduated, I worked third shift at Sherwin-Williams (in Fredericksburg),” said Shaw. “My parents owned a farm on the back side of Palmyra and my dad had horses there. I did horses after school and I didn’t start driving full-time as a career until five years ago. I had a couple of horses and I trained them too.
“I played a little basketball in junior high, but I didn’t play my freshman year because I got a job,” continued Shaw. “My dad had horses growing up, and I raced mainly at fairs in the summer. But my brother (Jason) really got into it, and he ran with it. As a kid, I liked it all along. It just gets in you. It’s addicting. But I owe a lot of the success to my brother. There’s where all the opportunities to drive came from. Now, I drive for him a lot. A lot of my chances come from him.”
Ultimately, Jason Shaw moved to Washington, PA, and Chris Shaw followed. That was 13 years ago – and time sure flies when you’re having fun.
“It was more of I did it because I liked it,” said Shaw of what turned out to be a career move. “It was enjoyable, but I never thought I could make a living out of it. When I was working at my regular job, I’d take vacation days to go drive. Then I quit my job and moved out here. There’s an old saying in harness racing, ‘There’s not much difference between the top and the bottom.’
“What I really enjoy about it is figuring out from week to week how to do better,” Shaw added. “It’s very mind-boggling. There are so many different scenarios. The one big thing is not only knowing your horse, but all the horses in a race. I’d say 75 percent of racing is knowing what every horse is going to do. It’s not only the horse you’re driving.”
The 5-10, 165-pound Shaw has already begun work on his next thousand wins. At his age in the world of harness racing, he’s relatively young, and there seems to be no ceiling on the things he can accomplish in the sport.
“I just want to keep winning races,” said Shaw. “I want to take the day as it is, just keep going, just stay healthy. That’s the biggest thing. The horses themselves, that’s what you do it for. The money is an even bigger bonus. At the end of the day, I’m doing what I love. I quit a steady job to do what I love – driving.”
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