Logan Gillis truly is living his dream. In just his first full year of driving and training standardbreds Gillis is showing tremendous potential - something he hopes continues when harness racing returns to Century Mile on Friday.
“It’s been going really well. Better than I expected,” said Gillis, 32, who has won 46 of 343 drives this year. Not bad at all considering that just two years ago he had just one horse - a bottom claimer named Kootenay Lager that he used as his “learning” horse.
“I always wanted to drive growing up in Cape Breton. My grandfather, Donald, drove. My dad, Rod, stilll drives. I’ve got an uncle, Danny, who drives and who is very good. And I’ve got cousins that drive. “I come from a big harness racing family.”
But until two years ago Logan - although driving was always his dream growing up - didn’t stay with harness racing opting instead to work as a pipe fitter for 10 years in Fort McMurray, Alberta. “The money was good,” said Logan explaining his reason why he waited so long to follow in his family’s footprints.
But it all changed two years ago when the job he was working on at Fort McMurray came to an end because of Covid. “I went to the track in Balzac, outside of Calgary, to help out Dave Kelly who I knew from Nova Scotia,” Gillis said of Kelly, one of Western Canada’s top trainers and drivers.
“I never left. I guess you could say I took a chance. I had a trade. I never really thought harness racing was my future.”
It’s a chance that is paying off for Logan, who finished second - at long odds - in last year’s Western Canada Pacing Derby with Mamas Son Byrne. “That was the first really good horse that I got to drive.”
“Logan is a real up and comer,” said Fred Gillis, executive director of the Alberta Standardbred Horsemen's Association and no relation to Logan.
“He’s been getting a lot of drives whereas when he first started out he was only getting one or two drives a day. “The more he wins the more horses he gets to drive. He’s really starting to blossom.”
Fred said there is a lot of reasons why Logan is doing well outside of simply having a lot of talent. “He carries himself well. He’s very personable. Very professional. And very courteous. And his barn looks good. I’m sure he will be under consideration for the Rising Star award.”
Logan, who now has eight horses in his barn, said that he learns something every time he gets behind a horse. “The more I drive the more comfortable I get. My timing gets better and I get smoother. I’ve learned that the less I move the better it is for the horse. When you watch the great drivers you see how little they move. They let the animal do what they are going to do. I’ve been trying my best to do the same.”
Logan’s potential was evident in his very first drive: September 12, 2020 when he drove Kootenay Lager, a horse he had just bought from Rod Hennessy for $4,000, to victory. Leaving from post seven, Logan found a hole in fourth place. Staying there until just past the three-quarter pole, Kootenay Lager - owned by his girl friend of six years, Megan Macpherson - immediately shot into a three-length lead and coasted home a four-length winner.
It was quite a debut. More winning drives quickly followed. “I think I’ve won 18 races with Kootenay Lager,” said Logan “That horse taught me a lot. Mostly it taught me what not to do.”
Among Logan’s wins this year were two stakes races both with trainer Kelly Crump’s Tin Can Timmy. He won the Shooting Star on October 1 and then the October 29 Rocky Mountain - pulling early and then leading the rest of the way.
“Those wins were really nice; a very good feeling,” said Logan, who has won 17 races for Crump this year. But the ace in Logan’s barn is clearly Stash The Cookies. A six-year-old mare that Logan took over in June for owner Derek Gilbert, Stash The Cookies has 21 career victories for earnings of just over $227,000.
Seven of those wins against Open Mares have come with Logan training and driving. From July 9 to August 13 Stash the Cookies won five of her six starts - with the only loss in that streak coming when she finished second by a nose to Senga Nightmare.
“Stash the Cookies is very special,” said Logan. “From July to August she was as good as any horse can be. She wants to be a race horse. She wants to do it.”
“When Derek offered me the chance to train and drive Stash The Cookies I couldn’t say ‘Absolutely’ fast enough. Derek took a chance with me and I’m sure glad he did. It took me a few starts for me to figure her out. But I learned that you just have to let her do her own thing. If she wants to sprint she sprints. If she wants to go to the back she does that. I learned that you just have to let her do her own thing. With her, you’re just a passenger. She’s a bit of a bully. It’s her way or the highway. She tells you what you want to do. Not the other way around.”
“She’s the boss,” said Logan, who plans on racing Stash The Cookies on Friday’s opening card which begins at 6:15 p.m. “I believe she’s the best aged mare on the grounds. She lost her last start by a small margin to Divine Art but I think that was just because the front end was not the place to be that day.”
“Despite the close loss I was very pleased with the way she raced.” A three-year-old filly, Divine Art has won nine races in a row including the $91,000 Gord and Ila Rumpel stake and the $56,000 Marquis.
“It’s been a long time since we raced at Century Mile. Other than the weather, I’m really looking forward to racing on a mile track again,” said Logan. “You have more time to think out there and things usually play out the way they should.”
STOCK REPORT - A 16-day meet which runs until February 4, the winter meet at Century Mile is highlighted by the Canadian Driving Championship on Thursday November 24 and two $100,000 stakes: the Century Casino Filly Pace and the Western Canada Pacing Derby both on December 3.
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