Jim Carr, who most know as the owner of the very talented (now at stud) pacer Big Jim, is not your ordinary, average, every day horse owner. The Hamilton businessman does things in a way that is not like many others. His decisions, his loyalty, his ‘being Big Jim’ is something refreshing and completely different.
Back when Big Jim was being Big Jim – winning races and becoming a really nice horse – the whispers about the choice of driver were everywhere. No matter if you were on social media, at pre-Breeders Crown parties, in the grandstand, or on shedrows, you’d hear “why is this guy using Phil Hudon with so many top drivers available?”
It’s crazy right? Sure if you look at statistics the top drivers are not separated by much, but they are held to a high bar in racing, where everyone who has a good horse wants to take every edge possible, whether it is real or perceived. It’s just the way things are done. Using Phil when John or Brian or Yannick are nearby? That’s horse racing sacrilege; or so we’re told.
Not for Jim Carr. One simple moment trumped that in a hurry. As told to Keith McCalmont in a Trot magazine article, that one act that carried so much weight with Carr was driver Phil Hudon shaking his hand for the chance to drive his two year old, who had not even made a start.
- “I’m almost in tears talking about this because I like him [Phil] so much,” says Carr. “It meant a lot to me because that’s unheard of in this industry. I don’t think any other driver would do that and maybe even he doesn’t do that with every horse but he saw me around the paddock because I’m around there all the time. He came up and shook my hand and said, ‘Thank you.’ He hadn’t even driven him yet. He was just thankful for the opportunity.”
As time went on, Big Jim (and the human Big Jim and Phil) won races, culminating in the Breeders Crown. Even then there were whispers.
“I had an owner at the Breeders Crown party ask me, ‘Why Phil Hudon when you could have anybody else to drive this horse?’ and I said to him, ‘What’s he done wrong?’” recalls Carr. “He’s had one second, one third and only one bad race. He’s won nearly everything with the horse, how much better can you get?”
As Big Jim’s three year old season moved on, and the horse suffered a couple of losses (probably due to physical issues) the pressure mounted to make a switch. But that switch never happened. Big Jim danced with the one who brung him. Phil drove him in every start.
This loyalty and love of the sport does not end there. Most may remember the story at the Meadowlands where a young family of fans got a nice surprise.
“It’s like kismet,” Tim Nagle said. “We bet on Big Jim and Big Jim won and all of a sudden Mr. Carr came out and swept us into the winner’s circle. It was really wonderful. We didn’t know him from Adam when he invited us to go in the winner’s circle. It was like, ‘Wow.’ No one does stuff like that. It’s fantastic.”
A week or so later, Jim was back. Before the races, he visited with the family at their home, brought hats for the kids and enjoyed lunch at a local eatery.
This is not something you see every day. But it seems to be just the way it is; as the kids might say, “this is how he rolls”.
I was perusing the harness racing trade websites this week and I saw a Trot Insider piece on last year’s speedball and Oliver Wendall Holmes winner, Panther Hanover. Big Jim Carr updated everyone on his (lack of) a season so far.
“Friday [trainer James 'Friday' Dean] had been in 1:57 with him this winter in Florida and he was ready to qualify, but shortly after we sent him to New Jersey to trainer Bruce Saunders he started to go off a little bit,” said Carr. “We had an MRI done on his leg and found out what the problem was and shut him down and let it cure. I just didn’t want to inject him, so I said to shut him down and let’s try to get it fixed right.”
Hmmm. “Let’s get it fixed right”. In a day and age of slot purses, vet work, supplements, using anything legal to get an edge, and trying to get the most out of a horse now, we’re talking about ‘fixing things right’. How many owners of a great horse do you know with the patience to do that?
Maybe thinking long-term is just in his nature.
I remember when the Racing Development and Sustainability Plan (RDSP) was being talked about in Ontario several years ago. The Plan, which would take 5% of slot money from purses to be used for customer development, marketing, fairs, signal distribution, digital media and more, was being heavily debated. Most horsemen groups were balking and some racetracks were too. Jim Carr, a businessman who believes you spend money to make money, was all for it and told anyone who wanted to listen he was.
About half way through the debate, he said in his usual matter of fact fashion that he’d get the ball rolling by pledging 5% of his horse’s earnings right now. Forget about tomorrow, the infighting, the debate, and all the rest. Let’s get it done.