Hoof Beats Magazine

DEC 2017

Official magazine of the U.S. Trotting Association, covering harness racing and the Standardbred horse.

Issue link: https://hoofbeats.epubxp.com/i/904258

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Page 13 of 141

HARDING COURTESY OF USTA ARCHIVES 12 HOOF BEATS DECEMBER 2017 on Those who raced at Pompano Park back in the late 1980s may recall driver-trainer Mike Harding. The Flint, Mich. native, now a youthful 71, has been out of the har- ness racing game for several decades, but his passion for the sport has never wavered. Harding won 199 races and $580,617 in purses as a driver from 1977 to 1982 (he also made 10 starts between 1989-1991), but began his foray into the harness industry dur- ing his years as a star college athlete. Because of his many talents, he's set to be installed in the Flint Sports Hall of Fame this December. "We had an 80-acre farm in Marion, Mich., when I was growing up, but moved back to Flint because of Dad's work," Harding said. "We didn't have anything to do with rac- ing when I was a kid." Harding attended Hillsdale (Mich.) College, where he excelled in varsity basketball, baseball and foot- ball, being named the most valuable player as a quarterback and defensive back. "There's a big county fair in Hillsdale," Harding said. "I became friends with the custodian of our stu- dent union and he asked me to go to the fair with him to watch the races. I thought it was pretty cool and went back the next day. A few days later, we went back and he took me to the barn area and introduced me to some of the trainers. "I learned the business from the ground up, cleaning stalls and bathing horses. The following year, I started jogging horses. I was hooked." Harding graduated as president of his class in 1970, and then played semi-professional football for a couple of years. "When I had finished with foot- ball, I went to work for the Brooks Stable," Harding said. "They had 20 Standardbreds and I got my fair license and drove my first race at the Midland Fair in central Michigan. I had to borrow a set of colors and I had two horses and one harness and one racebike. I won my first race, went back, put the harness on the second horse and went out and won that race too and thought, 'Boy, this is an easy game.'" For those first wins, Harding re- ceived a lead shank and halter. Soon, he was at Pompano Park, working for the legendary George Sholty. "He taught me how to train a horse," Harding said. "I started building my stable up. One night, the race secretary asked me to help fill a race with my horse Sharon Jet. Coming out of a turn, Lew Williams' horse Plaza Bret stumbled and fell in front of me and I was catapulted about 20 feet. I bounced up but a horse hit me and knocked me out and I spent four days in the hospi- tal." Later, Harding directed his efforts to helping the horsemen, serving as the executive director of the Florida Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association for five years. "We doubled our membership during those years and established a political action committee (PAC) fund," Harding said. "I'm proud of what we accomplished during those years." An Easy Game In barns across North America, horsemen are sharing stories about moments that changed their careers. In this segment, titled "Betcha Didn't Know," Hoof Beats will share some of the true ones. Betcha Didn't Know THE OLD COLLEGE TRY: Flint, Mich., native Mike Harding (pictured here with his wife, Jeanne), was in college when he was first introduced to harness racing, but caught "the bug" and went on to become a successful horseman.

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