A month into his return from hip surgery, driver Tim Tetrick is eyeing two big races Saturday at Meadowlands Racetrack, not to mention another career milestone.
Tetrick, who was last season's Driver of the Year as voted upon by the U.S. Harness Writers Association, will take the lines behind National Debt in Saturday's $60,500 Buddy Gilmour Memorial Series final for 3-year-old male pacers and Ray Hall in the $53,200 Charles Singer Memorial final for trotters.
In addition, the 32-year-old Illinois native is 10 wins from 8,000 lifetime victories. When he reaches that mark, he will become the youngest driver in harness racing history to do so. Walter Case Jr. holds the record, having notched win No. 8,000 at the age of 37 in 1998.
"That's a huge number,” said Tetrick, who became the youngest driver to reach 7,000 wins in May 2012. "I've been very fortunate. I never dreamed something like that could happen when I started out, but I'm glad it did. The main thing is just trying to do the best I can for all the clients that trust me with their horses. I just try to put the horses in the best spot and usually when you put them in the best spot they can do it from there.”
Tetrick, who also was USHWA's Driver of the Year in 2007, 2008 and 2012, ranks No. 25 on the all-time list for wins. He has led the sport in purses for each of the past seven years and ranks No. 7 in career earnings, with $141 million. Only Billy Haughton won more consecutive purse titles, with eight straight from 1952-59.
In December, Tetrick had surgery on his left hip, which sidelined him until Feb. 5. He has won 24 of 163 starts since his return and is getting more comfortable every day.
"When I first came back I felt out of shape; it was like staring something all over again,” said Tetrick, who has suffered from a degenerative hip condition since childhood and had surgery on his right hip in 2008. "I can understand why horses don't win right off the bat.
"It took some time to get my legs back under me, but I feel good now. The muscles are getting stronger and I'm pretty much pain free.”
Tetrick will drive for his biggest purses since his return when he races Saturday night at the Meadowlands.
National Debt won his only start this season, drawing off for a three length win over Dinner At The Met in 1:50.3 in the first leg of the Gilmour Series on Feb. 22. The colt was unbeaten in four starts in Alberta last year, when he was trained and driven by co-owner Kelly Hoerdt.
Hoerdt, who received the 2013 O'Brien Award of Horsemanship, sent the horse to trainer Ron Coyne, Jr. to race at the Meadowlands. The horse is staked to all the major races for 3-year-old pacers.
"He's got a lot of pressure on him now,” Tetrick said about National Debt, "but he impressed me very much. When I qualified him I thought he was a nice colt, but I didn't know he was going to go in 1:50. When he got out there under the lights, he turned it on and he did it real handy. I moved with him at the half and he brushed and crushed. He's got a big motor.”
National Debt, who starts from post one, will be challenged by eight rivals, including Dinner At The Met and Capital Account. The Erv Miller-trained Dinner At The Met has won four of five starts this year and the Jimmy Takter-trained Capital Account has captured three of four races.
Ray Hall, out of the stable of trainer Mark Harder, faces two horses that are unbeaten this year in the Singer. Time To Quit has gone 5-for-5 and Perfect Alliance is 4-for-4. Ray Hall, who has won two of six races, finished second to Perfect Alliance in his two preliminary legs of the Singer.
"My horse has done nothing wrong at this point, he just ran up against the standout of the series,” Tetrick said. "Perfect Alliance is definitely the one to beat, but I like (Ray Hall). Hopefully in the final he can be right there and get a good piece of it.” (HRC)