By Mike Paradise
It seems it wasn’t that long ago that I was offering congratulations to Casey Leonard on reaching 1,000 career winners as a driver. Now just a little less than three years later the 38-year-old Harvard, Illinois native has soared past the 2,000 plateau.
He promptly recorded No. 2001 in the next race with Summer Shandy and later on the card won with Sleazevurgernfries in race seven.
I asked Casey if he was taken back a bit on how fast No. 2,000 did arrive.
“When you drive a lot of horses just by sheer numbers the amount of wining drives get bigger faster,” he replied modestly. “I’m fortunate to drive for the best in Chicago and they have good horses so I do get a lot of good opportunities. Thank God they still have those kinds of owners who are still investing in our industry.”
Actually Casey’s number of drives has declined substantially the last few years corresponding with the extensive nose-diving of harness racing programs contested here in Illinois.
Last year Casey had 1,625 trips postward, down about 300 drives from 2014 and a drop of 865 drives that he had in 2013 when he rang up career best numbers in wins (476) and purses earned ($2.8 million-plus), about a $1 million less than 2015.
However, what has gone up for Casey, and in a substantial manner, is his UDRS (Universal Drivers Rating System) a bit of a complicated USTA mathematical statistic that basically tells you how well a driver is doing, much as a baseball player’s batting average or-base percentage.
Here’s how the UDRS racing system works: Every start for a driver he is charged 9 points. For a win the driver is awarded 9 points. He gets 5 for second and earns 3 for finishing third.
Dividing the sum of the awarded points by the sum of the charged points gives the UDRS in decimal value.
In 2014 and 2015 Casey’s UDRS rating was at .328 and .327, very good numbers nationally. This year he’s at .365, the highest rating for any driver competing in the United States who has between 300 and 499 drives.
Casey’s 2016 record currently stands at 488 drives with 109 wins, 732 seconds and 85 thirds,
“I never thought I’d be in the spot I’m in now”, continued Casey. “If you asked me 15 years ago if I ever would have 2,000 winning drives I would have told you ‘No’.
Not too shabby for a guy who at one time had no intentions of being a cat
It was in 2009 when Casey, a third generation Illinois horseman, made the decision, rather reluctantly, to become full-time harness racing driver. Now a little more than seven years later he’s developed into the most sought after driver by Illinois owners and trainers.
Indeed, “good things can happen to good people.”