by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent
Clay Craib is turning into the self-made harness racing man.
“When I say my last name is Craib, everyone’s like ‘Where were you raised at?’” he said. “I say I was raised in Anderson (Indiana) but I wasn’t raised in this business. I’m kind of making my own name for myself.”
Unlike so many other drivers and trainers in the sport, the 21-year-old didn’t have a father, or grandfather, or uncle or cousin or mother or sister who had any ties to harness racing. He’s a guy who just loved horses as a kid and always wanted to race Standardbreds.
His dream is slowly coming to fruition.
On Nov. 17, Craib got his first driving win with Pan Full Of Money at Hollywood Dayton Raceway. It was his first success in 33 attempts after getting several thirds.
“I was stuck there on third for a little while and couldn’t get past it,” he said. “But it kept building my confidence up, that’s for sure. Each time I got done racing a horse, I would go back and watch and see where I messed up. I would see if I should have moved him a little later or sooner for the stretch drive. I try to watch and learn by all my mistakes, basically.
“I learned where to get away and where not to be. In my last start I was a little too aggressive.”
Craib has been aggressively pursuing this career since boyhood, although the closest he got to the track was when his parents took him to Hoosier Park.
“When I was 6, 7 years old I remember running up and down the fence when the horses were coming across the wire,” he said. “One night, it was the very last race of the night. I just happened to ask Andy Miller for his whip, and he threw it over the winner’s circle. I still have it!”
Craib did not live on a farm, but grew up within an area that had plenty of Standardbred farms and he would visit them frequently as he got older.
“I would just ride horses,” he said. “Barrel horses, rodeo horses, stuff like that. I just always liked horses. I was working with them, I was young still and I wasn’t training them at the time. I just kind of started out doing leg wraps, and cleaning stalls and stuff like that. I guess they saw I had a desire and wanted to do it and just gave me a little more leeway.”
When he was still in high school (he was home schooled), trainer Walter Haynes invited Craib to work with him during the summer. Haynes was impressed by the youngster’s dedication and the two eventually bought a horse together that they raced at county fairs.
“He asked me if I was a gambling man,” Craib said. “I said ‘Sure’ so we bought a horse. He said ‘I’ll start showing you some stuff and see if you can do it.’ That’s how it all started. I wasn’t getting a paycheck, but I helped him with his horses and he didn’t charge me stall rent or feed bill or anything like that.”
The horse — Bens Beach Boy — was a 2-year-old pacer bought from trainer Steve Carter. Craib jogged and trained him, Haynes drove him and “he was actually the first horse that made me some money.”
Several more owners started letting Craib take care of their horses and at a certain point he decided, “Well heck, if I could do it for them, I could do it for myself.”
Owner Marlin Fry also liked Craib and allowed him to jog his first horse, Norma Rockwell, who is now the mother of Indiana Sire Stakes winner Nora Rockwell.
Craib then became friendly with owner Jerry Schwartz, who he had bought a yearling from. Schwartz was impressed with the job Clay did with the horse, and started sending him more to train.
“That took time out of working for other trainers,” Craib said. “I felt ‘Well, here’s the real world. Time to put on the big boy boots.’”
Craib got his training license and driver’s license in 2015. He started driving in some qualifiers near the end of the Hoosier Park meet, but not as many as he wanted.
“It kind of took me a little while,” he said. “And then a couple people asked me if I wanted to qualify some horses for them. I did, and I just took my time and tried to do my best at it.”
This past season Craib drove the four horses he trained — two of which he owns. He finally experienced “a feeling I never had before” when Pan Full Of Money came through.
“I just wanted to get a good trip,” he said. “The bunch she was with, it looked like she had a good shot. I really didn’t want to get locked in, but we got to the half and the guy came over first up and I couldn’t move so I just kind of sat chilly and rode it out. A little before the three-quarter pole there was a little opening that opened up, I just swung her three deep and she did the rest, I was just the passenger.”
Craib will continue to train his horses and hopes to continue racing in Ohio. It has been a slow, steady process and he’s encouraged by how it’s going.
“It’s hard to find an owner you can train for at my age, not being raised in the sport,” he said. “Honestly, I figured I’d still be working for someone instead of being on my own and doing it myself. I’m definitely happy with how it’s going.”