Sunday, 7 February 2016

An interview with...Stuart Mackenzie

Aaaaaand I am back into my sporadic posting routine which means you no longer get an interview every week but you're lucky if you get one every fortnight.  What's better is that in just over 12 hours I am jetting off to sunny Florida (and snowed under New York) so this blog will have to take a back seat until I return.  Upon my return, you can expect all sorts of stories and photos as we will be going racing as much as is possible, and we have a couple of other things planned which are pretty closely linked to harness racing as well.  I can't wait.

Anyway, for now, let me introduce to you the driver known by some as 'The Yank' (a reference totally lost on me), or 'The Stuntman' ( idea).  To me, he's Stuart Mackenzie, son of a man I wholeheartedly respect, Ally; grandson of a woman I wholeheartedly respect, Mig; and generally an all-round good guy who has been nothing but friendly to me since my move to bonny Scotland.  Driving primarily for his father, Stuart enjoyed plenty of success in 2015 at our home track of Corbiewood, and I am sure this will continue in 2016.  More from the man himself...

For anybody who doesn’t know you, how long have you been involved in the sport and where did it all start?
From as long as I can remember the family tell me my grandfather had me at Musselburgh when I was 6 months old, then I was always around Corbiewood.  I probably started jogging at age 8 then my dad bought me Dillys Sweet Robin to start learning to train when I was 12 or so.  I won my first race at 15 years old.

Which is the best horse you’ve driven in your career?
I've got to say Dillys Spring Time, she was my all time favourite.  I only drove her around 10 times but I won my first race on her.  She was so naturally gifted and had the biggest heart of any that I've worked with since.  She won 38 races and was the two-time SHRC Horse of the Year.  Just a star really.

Which horse, past or present that you haven’t driven, would you like to drive and why? 
From watching his videos I would love to have driven Somebeachsomewhere, he was a absolute monster - the best to put his head through a bridle I would say!!  Also really liked Ayr Glory; I raced against him quite a bit in a few classics, he looked a lovely horse to drive.

Who did, or do, you admire as a driver? 
Growing up in Scotland there was lots of good drivers but I always paid attention to the Drysdale brothers, George and William.  They used to drive for my dad a lot before I started.  They were two very different drivers but both were really good.  I still use them for advice back and forward yet!

Which is your favourite track in the UK and Ireland? 
I really enjoy the half mile track racing but it's still got to be Corbiewood for me.

Have you driven outside of the UK and Ireland? If not, where in the world would you choose to have one drive? 
No, I did a couple of six month stays in Canada a while back and it was great experience and a real learning curve for me.  The track I would like to drive on is Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, it looks awesome when I've watched the videos from there.

What would you say has been the biggest change that you have seen in harness racing from when you began competing to now? 
In Scotland it has to be the running rail getting taken out of Corbiewood as the track was too small for it.  I think it made the races a lot safer.

If you could change one thing about the sport as it currently is in the UK, what would it be? 
Over the last 4/5 seasons I think horses have been going back grades too quickly and becoming uncompetitive as we don't have a massive pool of horses, though I'm quite optimistic of the new handicap system coming into play for next season.

Which is your favourite meeting in the UK racing calendar? 
We all love the Appleby, Musselburgh and Tregaron meetings but one of my favourites is Haugh Field's big meeting as I only live about 200 yards away from the track and we usually get all the locals from the village that I live in going.  Plus the after party's always pretty good!
How much do you consider information from a trainer when you drive? 
My main stable that I drive for is Trackside and I share the training duties with my father Ally so I know the horses pretty well.  If I catch outside drives I always ask the trainer about the horses as every little bit of information helps in this game.

Out of all the races you have won, which has been the most memorable?
I won a heat at the new fair with a horse called Ethan, he made a mistake leaving the gate and we must have been 15 lengths off the pace.  Even turning for home we were still last of about 10 and I got up to win in the last stride, 4 deep in the straight and he beat some nice horses that day.  Also up there was my second 2YO Derby win with Most Wanted as we bred him ourselves and we really thought the world of him.

How would you describe your driving style? i.e. pace setter, strong closer, rail hugger? 
Racing in Corbiewood, the front end of the race is pivotal in my opinion as it's a 3/8ths track so it's not always easy to pass.
What are your hobbies/interests outside of racing? 
Spending time with my little girl Erin, also socialising with friends!

If you could visit one place in the world, where would it be and why? 
A good friend of mine emigrated to New Zealand this year so I will be visiting there in the future and will hopefully take in a few race meetings while there.

You’re stranded on a desert island – what five things can’t you live without? 
My daughter, iPhone, unlimited pints of Tenants (lager), steak pie and Only Fools and Horses box set (no TV though Stuart?!)

You’re holding a dinner party for five famous guests (alive or dead) – who would they be and why? 
Del Boy Trotter, Johnny Cash, Eva Mendez, Kevin Bridges and the mad Karoo (uncle Eck) - the mad old guy who used to go to the racing, he was funny!

If you were invisible for a day, what would you do? 
A bank job.
If you won the lottery, what would be the first thing you would spend your winnings on? 
Buy Corbiewood and the field next to it then flatten it, and build a state of the art facility there and secure a future for Scottish harness racing.

What would you name your autobiography? 
My Way.

Which actor would play you in a film about your life? 
Johnny Depp.
When was the last time you got into trouble? 
I would get in trouble if I told that story!

Describe yourself in three words.
Happy go lucky.

Thanks to Stuart for taking the time to answer my questions and give the readers of this blog an insight into his life and mind.

This'll be the last interview for a while due to other commitments on behalf of the BHRC, STAGBI and the SHRC, but rest assured, I will be back to hunt down those drivers who elude me.

Over and out,

#1 Groom 

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