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Hey @Ralphie9 #nickboydrocks

Nick Boyd

Nicholas Boyd will go down in TV history as the trainer who lost Brett Wilson’s money. But hey, Wilson’s got lots anyway. And between the mainstream throw for racing and the general celebrification (yes, we made that up) of the well-dressed social media addict better known as Ralphie, we think the risk was more than worth taking.

By Keith McCalmont

Nicholas Boyd landed on my radar through his constant chirping on twitter. He writes like he talks: brash, brutally honest and always with a little bit of humour.

At Mohawk tonight, layin down traps, big game hunting tonight!! #BOOM

As much as you’d expect a harness trainer/driver and an industry writer to meet at the racetrack, we actually met for the first time (in person, anyway) at a Blue Jays game. Nick is a baseball junkie. He’s constantly Tweeting about his baseball exploits and it took me a lot longer than it should have to sort out that what Nick was actually boasting about were his PlayStation baseball skills – not his own actual athletic ability.

At any rate, through the magic of social media, Nick and I discovered we were sitting a section apart at the ballgame and decided to meet between innings for a beverage. He was probably expecting to meet some old greying fellow with ink-stained fingers and a jacket with elbow patches. Based solely on our digital interaction, I was expecting to meet a teenage nerd.

Imagine my surprise when Nick strides over in the concourse, impeccably dressed, with Seacrest hair and a Hollywood smile to match. Green eyes wide, he launches into a conversation that would go on to eat up a full inning. The thing is, he loves racing, and his opinions flow freely.
“We need a complete overhaul,” he shrugs, tipping his beer towards me before taking a swig. “We need to revamp the game. Re-brand it and cater to the customer while making it viable for trainers, drivers and owners.

“We should be creating standards that both the tracks and horsemen must follow and reviewing things to make sure that they meet and comply with regular business models,” he adds. “We need to make sure that tracks are doing what they need to do to promote business. I feel passionately that if a track cannot produce a handle – live handle and simulcasting included – that is more than their daily purse allowance, they shouldn’t really be racing. That’s not a business model. What business goes to work to lose money?”

That last bit, the part about going to work to lose money, hits hard.

“I think we can make harness racing viable by producing a professional product,” he shrugs. “Small tracks should be simulcasting their signal on all nights and catering to the customer so we look professional and do things professionally.”

I’d call that a homerun.

Born in the tiny town of Newcastle, Ontario, Nick spent his childhood in good company, on a ten acre hobby farm with a jogging track. He always had horses around, and was lucky enough to share the property with his grandparents, who lived at one end of the property while he and his parents enjoyed the other. As early as four, he recalls, he’d ride around the track with his grandfather, and claims to have made his first solo trip at seven.

Although his parents – mom a teacher and dad an office worker – weren’t full-time horsemen, the racing game became something of a bonding experience for the entire family. Nick would be up in the morning to help out with feeding the horses and on race nights, the family would travel to the track together to watch their horses race as Sun Brier Stable.

Perhaps it’s the way of youth, but, initially, Nick wasn’t so gung ho about getting involved in the business of harness racing. Always an avid athlete, Nick was immersed in baseball, hockey and, of course, video games. “It really wasn’t until my mid-teens that I took more interest in the game overall, other than just helping out at the barn,” he admits.

To this day, Nick can’t quite pinpoint the moment when the game took over his life. It wasn’t a particular horse winning, a crazy good wager, or a hero driver tossing a whip into the grandstand. In a way, it was more the overall effect of all the components of the game wearing him down like a well-meant pacer... always on your heels, pestering you to the finish and winning your attention, despite your best attempts to get away. In the end, the game won out, but Nick’s parents made sure their son had other options. “My parents always wanted me to get an education first and after that they’d support me in whatever I did,” says Nick.

As it turns out, Nick likely needed a little less support than most while pursuing an education that eventually saw him earn a bachelor’s degree in Management Economics and Investment Finance. During his second year of university, he bought a horse, Sparetime Ruthie, for $600. She would earn over $44,000 for him, thanks to his diligent horsemanship.

She was a three-year-old who showed horribly slow times, with very slow last quarters, he tells me. She was sickly and unkempt on arrival, but he treated her, qualified her and treated her some more; eventually he got lucky, and she turned out to be, in his words, a pretty game horse. His appreciation for the filly’s efforts became clear when he found her a permanent home once her racing career was over. “I can still go see her,” Nick grins. “She gets all the attention she needs.”

The second time I met Nick, in person, was at the premiere of billionaire Brett Wilson’s new reality escapade, Risky Business.

The premise of the show is simple enough – an investor antes up a sum of money, in this case $20,000, and has to choose between a pair of investment opportunities in the hope of making a return on their money in 30 days or less.

In the episode screening at this launch party, though, it’s our harness racing debutante – Nicholas himself – who makes a splash as one of the suave entrepreneurs.

The intimate Thursday evening reception, at Toronto’s well-loved Royal Ontario Museum, saw Wilson, one of Canada’s wealthiest entrepreneurs and philanthropists (and the former star of CBC’s Dragons’ Den) holding court, surrounded by local socialities, celebrities, and a host of well-wishers.

Nick, with an eye to getting things done directly, works his way into Wilson’s inner circle, throws an arm around one of the richest men in Canada and suggests that now is a good time for his friend, the writer (yes, me), to conduct an interview.

Wilson raises an eyebrow at me with a face that asks, how long do you need?

I flash two fingers on my way over and pepper him with questions in rapid succession as Randy Bachman, yes, that Randy Bachman, is taking care of business, quite literally, on a piano in a back corner of the museum.

“What did I think of him?” asks Wilson, throwing a sideways glance at a beaming Nick. “I thought he understood the horse world and more importantly, I thought he understood the business of racing horses.”

A nervous publicist looks on and friends and rowdies are clamouring for a moment with Wilson, who, strangely enough, is sporting a full body canvas painter’s suit and a shiny pair of red shoes (reminiscent of the sort you’d expect to pull from the feet of a witch who had conveniently been squished by a house).

“With anything I do,” offers the oddly-garbed Wilson, “it’s to celebrate entrepreneurship and encourage entrepreneurs.”

As for whether or not Nick can make it?

“Can Nick make it?” he laughs. “Absolutely. He’s already made it! It’s just a matter of continuing onward.”

Indeed, the episode screens amidst the remains of dinosaurs later that evening, and the story has an unexpected happy ending. Although Nick loses the game – the investors choose his competition and the horse he claims when Wilson unexpectedly backs him comes up lame – he won a battle for harness racing by convincing the winning investors to channel some of their winnings into his stable. In the end, Nick and his pin-striped Saks Fifth Avenue suit showed a pair of newcomers that harness racing is an investment worth making.

“To be honest, PlayStation probably isn’t even my geekiest hobby,” laughs Nick as he steers his truck home from another less than successful Thursday night with Wilson’s horse – Lets Make Ideal – at Kawartha Downs. “I’m a sucker for stats involving baseball, hockey and football. I do my own ‘Freakonomics’ value for different players just for the fun of it. It’s a ‘Moneyball’ system I tinker around with.”

“He got out of gear today,” he grimaces when I ask him about the break he had on track with the billionaire’s investment tonight. “Going past the half, I was getting towed into a really nice trip behind the horse that finished third. He was going first over and that horse hung tough. I was going to be second over, in prime position, and on the turn the horse in the two-hole came out a bit, and then I had to check him because we were going to touch. When I tried to rush him back into gear, he just rolled off.”

It’s another kick in the face after a slew of bad luck with his seemingly less-than-ideal investment. Regardless, Nick remains a driving force for his sport, in passionate pursuit of a better way to play the game he’s so eager to sell. After all, he is as invested in this sport as any outfit in Ontario. He is a member of COSA and OHHA, and was one of the first to speak out in support of the sustainability plan put forth by Standardbred Canada. As the Operations Manager at the Campbellville Training Centre, home to over 80 racehorses, he knows the sport from the ground up.

And now, with his career on track, Nick is determined to make sure that the arena in which he chooses to conduct his business continues to thrive.

I suggest that maybe we race too much. That there’s so much product the bettors can’t get a handle on how to handicap it, and that the pools aren’t worth the risk anyway. “Absolutely,” he agrees. “We have a serious problem. We need a complete overhaul. Not just on one issue, on every issue.

“We cannot continue to operate on a 1950s model that is severely outdated,” he says. “We have a ridiculous takeout in the game. It’s archaic. It has not changed with the times. Compare it to the takeout that’s offered on poker or any games that are getting gambling dollars now.”

Ultimately, Nick wants harness racing to do more than just meet its fans, and betting public, halfway. “I think our number one priority should be our customer,” he insists. “Without a customer, your product is dead. The majority of our customers are baby boomers and older and that’s only going to last for so long. With poker, they’re in that younger generation, mid-20s to mid-30s, and they enjoy a game they can methodically approach and wager their money on. We can offer that, but we need to look at the customer as a whole, everything from takeout to service to the product we provide.”

“We have our hand way too far in the cookie jar and we need to attract the current bettors,” he says. “We need them to bring their friends and to attract a younger generation of bettors with a product that is worthwhile betting.”

For every statement Nick makes, including those online ones that some find tough to stomach (like: Why does everyone in horse racing who disobeys the rules feel we don’t need policing?? The ORC are law enforcement, we need them!!), you’ve got to give the guy some credit – it’s clear that his heart is aching for the betterment of the game.

He’s as relaxed and confident as they come, and easy enough to approach. Try it for yourself. Jump on his social media bandwagon if you’re not already there, or have a word over the rail the next time you see him at the track.

And as for his own career, Nick continues to take it all in stride. “If you can stay on an even keel, think positive, and not let the negatives effect you too much, and not let the positives effect you too much either, things will be alright,” he laughs. “Tonight, I’m just going to relax and let the night fall as it does.”

Hours later the following message pushes through to my phone from Nick’s Twitter feed and I know he’s all but forgotten the evening’s earlier loss. Breaks Roger Maris record of 61 HRs in a season at Fenway Park lo and behold #legend #MLB11 #BOOM.

2 Comments

November 23, 2011 - 10:33 amGreat story about a great

jarvis rich SAID...

Great story about a great guy. I wish Nick nothing but success. It is nice to see him have his voice heard I just hope someone is listening that can help implement change. I have sat in the shedrow with Nick a few times and had academic conversations about change. He has great ideas on how to marry the old model with a new model to promote success for the entire industry, not just a select few. As we as a collective group (ontario) watched the horse racing industry and partnership collapse around us ie. Quebec, Michigan and see many horseman and drivers cross borders. I believe we as an industry have done little to insulate ourselves from the same fate. I have read many comments regarding change and there are always great "professional Snipers" out there to shoot down any and all ideas but very few ideas of their own. If do not see a problem then you need to to crawl out of the cave. Thank you trot magazine and Nick Boyd for the article. Hopefully in time we can find more like Nick who want to be part of the solution as opposed to part of the problem.

November 17, 2011 - 9:12 amI've got to know Nick a

I've got to know Nick a little bit over the last year and find him to be one of the good guys in the sport. Tells it like it is and loves the game.I believe he's an under rated driver/trainer and think he could do really well in the with some better stock. I wish him nothing but success moving forward.


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