Day At The Track

McGwire Sowers is off to flying start in 2018

05:27 AM 13 Apr 2018 NZST
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McGwire Sowers, harness racing
McGwire Sowers won five races on opening day at Scarborough Downs.
Scarborough Downs Photo

Trenton, NJ --- McGwire Sowers showed at an early age that he knew how to make something out of nothing on a racetrack. Driving his first harness racing matinee at Cornish Trotting Park in Maine, Sowers was 12 years old and drew the two-hole in a five-horse field.

“It didn’t go very good,” he recalled. “I got behind the gate and the horse got quite rammy, and it was kind of overwhelming for me; I didn’t know how to handle it. I was kind of scared. Before that I had never been behind a starting car.”

So, a wild guess here. It was a fifth-place finish?

“Oh yeah,” Sowers said with a laugh.

But instead of falling apart and just mailing it in, the pre-teen decided to take a positive from it.

“I took him back and just got a feel for it,” he said. “Just to see how it felt to drive in a race.”

It is that sort of wherewithal that has launched the now 18-year-old Sowers to a solid rookie campaign in his first pari-mutuel season. His first win at a pari-mutuel track came March 11 at Maryland’s Rosecroft Raceway, but it was opening day at Scarborough Downs on March 31 that was downright amazing.

Sowers won not just one race, but five, including four in a row starting in the third race. Gwire, as his friends call him -- except for Jason Bartlett, who tagged him Big Mac -- drove Falcon’s Luke to a winning time of 1:57.1 to get the big day started.

“I had the five hole and I looked over behind the gate, nobody was getting after their horse to leave, so I lucked out and went right to the lead,” Sowers said. “I rated him a good mile and stepped on the gas down the backside and it was game on.”

That was followed by victories behind Jus’ Like A Virgin, Keystone Camaro, and Bliss And Luck. He capped the day by taking Northern Ideal first across the line in the finale. On the 10-race card, Sowers owned half the wins.

All five came behind horses trained by his dad, Bo, who runs Bo Sowers Stable in Windsor, Maine.

“I was a little worried at the start of Scarborough, putting him in a spot of driving our whole barn of 30 horses,” Bo said. “We talked about it and he said, ‘Let me do it the first weekend and I will prove to you dad.’ Which he did.”

Once again, Gwire showed his maturity. Just as he didn’t get too low in his first fair start, he never got too high on his big day.

“I was really surprised; I was doing a lot better than I thought I would,” Gwire said. “After I won the third one, I kept turning the page, race after race. I kept looking for the next one. I didn’t keep dwelling on the last win.

“It was real emotional. The biggest thing was my family was there from Canada. I wanted to be able to put on a show for them and it turned out to be a great day.”

It did not stop there. He has won five more races since then, and continues to make pop smile.

“I am very proud of him and his accomplishments so far,” Bo said. “I really did not put much thought to his talent until last year when Heath Campbell, another very good driver and trainer, said to me, ‘The kid has a good set of hands.’

“Winning five on opening day was a surprise. I thought he had a couple of chances but not five. He held his composure well as the first two drives were a bust. It couldn’t have happened on a better day with his top supporters, uncle Rich, his aunt Atheline and uncle Larry showing up from Canada.”

Sowers grew up in Woodstock, New Brunswick, but found his love of Standardbreds in Maine. When he was 7, his father had a decision to make.

“My father used to be a truck driver, and in 2007 it was either be a trucker or go fulltime into racing,” Sowers said. “He made the right choice.”

Gwire began making summer trips to his dad’s barn around age 8.

“I would always go sit in there on my dad’s lap and he’d say, ‘We’ll see what we can do,’” Gwire recalled. “I jogged a few horses with him at first, on his lap. Finally I had a horse easy enough to jog myself. He waited for everyone else to jog theirs; he helped me off and that’s the way it went. I fell in love with it. Just sitting behind the horse, moving along. I just loved it.”

Bo could immediately see potential.

“When we started training together he was competitive from the start and could create speed from a very young age,” he said.

Sowers remained in Canada to finish his schooling, but soon began spending summers in Maine to be around the horses. In his first training trip he went 2:15 at age 11.

After getting his Q/F license (for matinees, fairs and qualifiers) he won eight of 60 races in 2016 and 25 of 163 last year. Interestingly, Sowers got his first Q/F win with Terem Up Louie (Aug. 20, 2016 at Skowhegan) and got his first pari-mutuel win with the same horse at Rosecroft in March.

The past two years were not easy at the start and finish of seasons, as Sowers had to make six-hour round trips each weekend.

“It was three hours to where the stables were in Maine,” he said. “I would leave school early on a Friday afternoon, at lunch time; and try to be there 10 minutes before the race. I would race Friday, Saturday and Sunday and then make the trip back Sunday night to get back to school.”

Needless to say, it was a grind.

“I loved the racing part, but the traveling part, it got a little tiring,” he said. “It burned you out pretty quick. At one point I actually thought about going to school in Maine. Then I thought, nah, I want to finish with my friends and the people I went to school with all my life.”

His work ethic isn’t too shabby either. Prior to getting his P license, Sowers would work in a tire shop before heading over to the stables, saying “I got to know all the ins and outs of changing a tire.”

While still in school, he played ice hockey from grades 5 through 11, but gave it up as a senior in order to focus on racing.

“I was a defenseman; I had a lot of sore parts on the body from taking that puck off of me,” he said. “I was a hundred times more sore after a hockey game than I am after a night of racing.”

In order to save himself from another weekend commute this spring, Sowers took a bunch of courses that enabled him to earn his high school degree in December, which has freed him to completely focus on his driving career.

Gwire is obviously encouraged by his start and hopes to make it his career. He is not, however, going after it at all costs.

“I never went through the thought process of going to college,” he said. “I’m doing good right now, I’m not thinking about it. But if I can’t start driving at some of the bigger tracks, if I don’t start driving places like Yonkers and the Meadowlands, I’m going to think about college. I would take online courses; I wouldn’t be into the whole going to classes.

“I’m thinking I’ll do it for maybe a year or two just to see how it’s going. You always have to have a Plan B, so college would be my Plan B if the driving thing doesn’t work out. I may try to do both at the same time, but I would have to see.”

At the moment, however, things are working out just fine.

“I’m more than happy,” Gwire said. “I didn’t expect it to go this way right at first. I thought I would have to work my way up to do as well as I’ve been doing.”

And he is impressing the folks who count the most.

“My owners are all standing behind him especially Irwin Kaplan with Mo Coo Inc.,” Bo noted. “I really don’t know what else I can say other than I’m very happy and proud of him.”

That sounds like the perfect thing to say.

by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent 

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