“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” wrote Shakespeare.
In today’s sports lingo, that means “everyone wants to beat the champ.”
That’s certainly the case when Mount Vernon native Chris Page drives in harness races at Scioto Downs near Columbus.
Page was the champion driver at Scioto in 2009 and he’s defending that title this year. The other drivers love to beat a horse that Page drives because they know they’re beating the track’s best. With two months left in the season, Page is once again the leading driver at Scioto Downs and is favored to win the title again.
In fact, the 26-year-old Page is one of the hottest young harness drivers in the United States. He is expected to compete in many races at the upcoming Knox County Fair.
The fairgrounds is where Page got his start with horses. He spent countless hours there helping his uncle, Roger Hall, starting when he was just a youngster. The love of racing runs in Chris Page’s blood.
“Uncle Roger is a hobby horseman,” he says. “He’s got a few broodmares. My cousins Tom and Erik are into racing, too. Erik is a mailman, but he trains horses.”
The Halls always had a few horses at the Knox County fairgrounds.
“I used to go out there every Saturday,” recalls Page, who still lives in Mount Vernon. “Then in the summers I’d be out there every day and go off to the races with them.”
In middle school, he played quarterback on the football team, but gave up the sport later because summer practices interfered with his time with the horses.
Many men in his family have been machinists and Page went to the Knox County Career Center with thoughts of pursuing that trade, but the love of horses won out. He studied equine science after high school and then served as an assistant to an equine veterinarian working at tracks.
“I learned a lot about lameness in horses and how to fix leg problems working with the vet,” Page says.
His real goal, however, was to become a successful driver. He watched video replays of races endlessly, and picked up pointers.
“I’d watch races from the Meadowlands track in New Jersey,” he said. “They have the best horses, best drivers, best trainers, and I’d follow my favorite driver, John Campbell, to see how he drove. He’s a real class act.”
Page picked his role model well. Campbell, now 55, has won every major event in harness racing, many of them several times. He’s won more than 10,000 races and horses he’s driven have earned more than $270 million.
Page’s mother knows the ups and downs of racing and advised her son to keep horses as a hobby instead of a livelihood, but once he started driving his talents became apparent.
Page won his first race at the Champaign County Fair in Urbana in 2001, driving Titanic Fella to victory by a nose.
His breakthrough year was 2006 when he won 85 times in 750 races. His talent was beginning to be noticed by other horsemen in the Buckeye State and they were calling upon Chris to drive their best horses.
Last year Page drove 1,737 races and took 351 trips to the winner’s circle, almost one per day. Horses he drove earned more than $1.4 million. It was his best year by far and he achieved a Universal Driving Rating (comparable to a batting average in baseball) of .326.
Page’s style of driving is aggressive, often because he’s driving the favorite in a race and feels that he must give the horse a chance to win. You seldom see a horse driven by Chris Page lagging far back in the field; he wants to be mixing it up with leaders whenever possible.
“I just want to do my very best for the trainer, the guy who spends all week with this horse, paying the vet bills, the shoeing bills,” says Page. “I want to put the horse in a position to win if it’s good enough to win.”
He realizes, of course, that each horse is different and must be driven according to its abilities. Some horses he races more conservatively.
Sitting in the sulky, the slender six-footer leans back to become more aerodynamic so that horse doesn’t have so much wind resistance.
Page drives himself as hard as he drives his horses. His schedule doesn’t allow much time for rest. Particularly during the summer, he’s on the go constantly, racing at Scioto Downs and Ohio county fairs. He then moves to other tracks when Scioto is closed.
“I think someone checked and even I was amazed at how many different tracks I’ve raced at,” says Page. “I’m running all the time and miss out on a lot of family activities because those usually take place on Friday or Saturday nights when I’m racing horses. I’d like to get established at one place where I can race year-round.”
He may, in fact, have to relocate to a track outside his native Buckeye State. Ohio racing has been hurt in recent years because neighboring states have raised purses and attracted better horses.
Page has driven horses for purses as high as $300,000 on more than one occasion at a track in Kentucky.
While Chris Page is constantly on the go these summer days, probably the best place to find him is in the winner’s circle wherever he’s racing. Wherever he goes, Chris Page sure doesn’t need a GPS to find the winner’s circle.