Day At The Track

Racing Reflections with Kevin Cummings

09:23 AM 09 Apr 2021 NZST
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Kevin Cummings, harness racing Foiled Again, harness racing
Kevin Cummings
Batavia Downs Photo
The great Foiled Again and driver Kevin Cummings
Paul White Photo

Harness racing driver Kevin Cummings was around the age of 8 when he began jogging horses with his dad, trainer John Cummings Sr. Not surprisingly, as Kevin Cummings approaches win No. 4,000 in his driving career, he counts his father as the most important influence on his life.

John Cummings Sr., who passed away in 2019, won more than 700 races as a trainer. Among his top horses was Arm And A Leg, who in 2009 was named western New York's Horse of the Year by the Upstate New York chapter of the U.S. Harness Writers Association.

"He was an inspiration," Cummings said. "He was a hard worker. You try to remember all the tips he gave you, what you saw and how he would do things. He was a good horseman. There are horsemen and there are trainers, in my opinion. He was a horseman, for sure.

"We went to the barn with him every day. We got to jogging and training at a young age, but he didn't just throw you in the cart. He made you earn that cart first. You had to work and learn the discipline at the other end."

Cummings is one of four boys in the family, and the others - John Jr., Tony, and Todd - also have all won races as both drivers and trainers. In fact, Cummings' first win came in 1989 behind a horse named Orlando Otto, who was trained by Tony.

"That was special," Cummings said. "It was my second drive. I remember I drove two for him that night. I won with Orlando Otto and the other one I had the seven hole and finished second. He paid $77 to place. That was a good night. That was a lot of fun."

Of all the horses to pass through the family's stable, two of Cummings' favorites were Windjammer Munk and Arm And A Leg. Windjammer Munk, who raced from 1979 to 1987, was one of the earliest horses in his dad's stable.

"He was probably the family pet," Cummings said. "He was a little horse, but he was tough. He would race. We kept him his whole life.

"Arm And A Leg was a real special horse for us. I drove him in the open every week and he got assigned the outside because he was better than the rest. He never had it easy, but he liked it. He was a gutsy horse, and he didn't like to not do good. That would probably be the horse I remember the most. He was just a good horse."

Other top moments for Cummings include two wins in the Robert J. Kane Memorial Pace at Batavia Downs. The first came with a local horse, Michael Scores, in 2006. He got the second victory in 2016 with Foiled Again, the richest horse in harness racing history.

A year later, Cummings won again with Foiled Again, this time in the George "Duke" Dranichak Memorial Invitational. It was Foiled Again's 96th lifetime triumph. He finished his Hall of Fame career with 109 wins, the eighth most for a pacer in history.

"That was a big thing for me, to drive the richest horse ever," Cummings said. "He was a real easy horse to drive, just push-button. He was a special horse, you could tell. He just wanted it. I was two-for-two with him, but he did good for everybody."

The 50-year-old Cummings trains a small stable of horses in addition to driving. He has been the winningest driver at Buffalo Raceway six times and at Batavia on four occasions. This year, he is third in the standings at Buffalo.

"I'm having a pretty good year," Cummings said. "My horses are doing good, my stable, and I'm doing pretty good driving too right now. I can't complain."

He is looking forward to getting win 4,000. Entering Thursday, he had 3,993 victories.

"It means a lot," Cumming said. "Every thousand you get is a thousand more that you didn't have. It's a good milestone. I'd like to get to (5,000) but I don't know if it will happen. It's tough here because we only race a couple days a week. It doesn't accumulate as quickly."

And just like that young kid who accompanied his dad to the barn all those years ago, Cummings still looks forward to getting to work with the horses.

"You can't beat it," Cummings said. "You think about other things you could be doing, and you appreciate what you have. I've got it pretty good. I think that's what keeps me going."

by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA 

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