What’s a day in the life of Matt Kakaley like?
It’s pretty basic. I don’t usually do too much. If I have to race double-headers or whatever then I obviously get up pretty early, well pretty early to me is probably nine o’clock. I like to go to the barn and see my parents and just get out and do something. You know I like to golf and stuff but a typical day is just hang around the barn, get some lunch, go back, hang around the house and go to the races.
How important is harness racing to your family?
It’s our life. My parents have six horses at Pocono. You know it’s just our life. My grandma, she has a farm up in Michigan and they don’t have horses there anymore but a few years ago my mom and dad were still there. It was my whole family, everybody on the farm and working together and harness racing is our life.
What was the moment that made you decide you wanted to be a driver?
When I was about twelve or thirteen, we were in Florida at the time and then we came up to Michigan for the summer and my dad took me out and I went a training mile with him one day and I just loved it, then I wanted to be in the barn every day. I wanted to jog horses every day, I wanted to train, I wanted to work with them. It was that one summer when I started really working with them and jogging and training them I really wanted to do this for the rest of my life.
Your dad was a big influence for you?
Definitely. He was my mentor when I was starting out. I started out training with him. When I started driving he was there for every qualifier, he was there for every race when I first started. He doesn’t really get the credit that he’s a good driver, people don’t really know who he is. But he always had the talent to be a top driver in my opinion. He just never really got the chance. I guess I’m going to hopefully show that our family has it.
What have you learned since starting to get more high profile drives in bigger races?
Instead of driving overnights, where people want you to save them for the whole year, in stake races you have to give them aggressive drives in big races. You have to have them on their toes and make sure they’re ready to roll and put them in the right spots to win. You have to make sure you’re in the right spots to win. You have to study the program no matter what in my opinion, but you have to know every horse in the big races. You have to know all of them, you better know all their quirks, what they like, what they don’t like and try to outsmart everybody else.
Do you still get nervous before big races?
I really don’t anymore. Obviously when you’re a kid and it’s your first few opportunities in big races you get pretty nervous but that’s kind of worn off on me. I just want to go out there and do my job and do a good job.
What would you consider the highlight of your career so far?
Probably the Milstein a couple of weeks ago at Northfield (with All Bets Off). That was a great race. The horse I have, I think he gets a little overshadowed by the other three-year-olds because he hasn’t been on the big stage with them as much. But that was probably my best moment.
Do you have a favorite horse so far?
I’ve driven Foiled Again and he’s just an amazing horse. The best horse I’ve been a regular driver on this year is All Bets Off. I’ve had the chance to drive Won The West, Foiled Again, I drove Sweet Lou, you know, I’ve driven a lot of really, really good horses. Foiled Again is obviously the toughest horse ever to live I think. Everybody’s going to put him at the top.
If you could sit behind one horse in history who would it be?
It would be close between either Somebeachsomewhere or Muscle Hill.
Is there anything about you that might surprise fans?
I’m actually deaf in my left ear. I only have one ear that I can hear out of so I don’t think that a lot of people know that.
Has that ever been a problem for you on the track?
You know, I was born with it and I’ve been this way my whole life so I’m kind of used to it. The only thing I really have trouble with is off the track, in the paddock or something I can’t really hear people if they come up on the wrong side. But on the track it’s not usually a problem.
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This interview is part of our new weekly features of faces in the sport, from fans to owners, trainers to grooms.