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Drivers deal with danger on the track

August 4, 2011

Driver Trent Bates, of Celina, tries to keep 3-year-old colt Kel Forever calm after a crash at the start of the fourth race Wednesday night at the Auglaize County Fair. (Staff photo/John S. Hullinger)

Any sport involving speed has an inherent risk of danger to it.
Throw in large, powerful, and almost completely unpredictable live animals and you take it to another level.
Fair goers taking in the harness racing program Wednesday night at the Auglaize County Fair saw first-hand how quickly things can go wrong.
As a field of five horses lined up behind the gate for the start of the fourth race in the program, the outside horse, Kel Forever, reared up.
The 3-year-old colt fell over, dumping the sulky and driver Trent Bates, of Celina, to the track.
“He just got going and got a little riled behind the gate, got mad, got tangled up and fell down.,” Bates said.
After several minutes, horse and driver both headed back to the stables slightly worse for the wear. But fortunately neither had serious injuries.
Bates’ said his shoulder was a little sore. And Kel Forever, owned by Peggy Warren, of Rawson, suffered some scrapes on his right chest and forearm.
It was just another day at the office for Bates, who says he has taken more spills than he can remember in his racing career.
“Too many. Nothing too serious. I broke my arm once. But that was probably the most serious. Bumps and bruises mostly,” he said.
“If you can get up and don’t get hurt, it’s not a bad spill.”
Speeds in harness racing average between 25-30 mph. While that is considerably less than say, driving a race car, harness racing has its own unique set of dangers.
Bates said drivers need to be careful but shouldn’t focus too much on the danger.
“I don’t think I’m smart enough to get scared,” he said. “That’s what my dad always said. If you’re scared, you shouldn’t be out there.
“You think about it. But if you think about it too much, you don’t even go out.”
Once a horse is out of control, there is little the driver can do except hang on and, as Bates put it, “Fall soft.”
“If you can roll, roll,” he said.
Unlike auto racing, where a driver is generally safe once his car has come to a stop, a harness driver is still dealing with a live animal that is now in a highly agitated state.
“If you can get up, try to keep the horse down and get help,” Bates said. “You don’t want him up running around if you can help it. Don’t let him get loose.
“If they get loose, they could hurt themselves pretty bad, tear the equipment up or hurt other people. If you can keep them from getting loose, that’s the main thing.”

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