By Ken Weingartner, USTA — When Michael Girouard climbs into the sulky for Friday’s first race at The Meadowlands, it will be the Massachusetts native’s first drive at the Big M in 19 years. His next will come much quicker, just several hours later.
Girouard is set to drive two horses from his seven-horse stable Friday at The Meadowlands, sitting behind Furious Beach in the opener and Kick The Dirt Up in the 10th. The two races are among three Meadowlands Amateur Drivers Club events on the card.
“Hopefully, I’ll have a little luck,” said Girouard, who will enter the night with two lifetime starts at the Big M. “No matter what, I’ll definitely have some fun.”
Girouard, a fourth-generation horseman who jogged his first horse at the age of 5, has won 130 races as a driver and 542 as a trainer. He was introduced to the sport by his grandfather, Norman Letendre, while growing up in Spencer, Mass.
“Growing up near my grandfather, I caught the bug at an early age,” Girouard said. “He never had a big stable, but he always had two to five horses of his own that he would train and drive. I always wanted to hang out with him as a kid. He got me hooked.”
Girouard got his first driving win in 1998 at Pompano Park and first training victories the following year at the newly opened Plainridge Park. He scaled back his participation in racing for several years in the mid-2010s to focus on a trucking business but returned fulltime in 2017. Since then, his training stable has won 181 races and $1.23 million in purses.
“I just liked the horses better,” Girouard said about coming back to the sport. “I enjoy working with the horses and being my own boss. The competition is fun too, especially at Plainridge. The purse structure at Plainridge is phenomenal. But I just enjoy being around the horses.”
Girouard, who is stabled in Spencer, saw his stable earn $258,952 last year, falling just shy of his career-best $279,602 set in 2021. However, he had 65 fewer starts in 2023.
“Last year, I cut down to like five horses for most of the year,” Girouard said. “I had a couple decent ones. They’re all cheap horses that I have. The most expensive horse in my barn is $8,300. It puts me at a little bit of a disadvantage, but it’s still fun.
“(Kick The Dirt Up) made almost $80,000 last year. I claimed him for $8,000 (in 2021). I’ve got another horse that’s just started back. My owner paid only $8,200 for him and he made over $90,000. It’s nice. We got lucky and had a couple nice horses.”
As for driving, Girouard has most recently focused primarily on amateur events in Massachusetts and Maine.
“It’s fun to drive in the amateurs, but I never get the itch to drive my own horses every week in regular races,” Girouard said. “But I do enjoy it when I’m out there.”
Girouard had considered trying the amateurs at The Meadowlands for several years, but never thought the time was right until now.
“It just never worked out where I thought the horses were good enough to go down there,” Girouard said. “I’m hoping to race there in the amateurs at least until Plainridge opens (in mid-April). We’ll see how it goes Friday night. If it works out well, and the horses are competitive, I might go there longer.”
Furious Beach will start from post nine in Friday’s first race and is 8-1 on the morning line. Kick The Dirt Up, who is making his seasonal debut, will leave from post two in the 10th and is 12-1.
“With Furious Beach, we’re going to need a little luck from the nine-hole,” Girouard said. “Kick The Dirt Up made a break at Cumberland in December and then got sick and I had to give him some time off. Pound for pound, he’s probably as good as anything in the race, but with it being his first start I don’t really know what to expect.”
Girouard said he recognizes that a number of people will be watching him drive at The Meadowlands, adding with a laugh, “If you screw up, you know your buddies are going to be texting you to bust on you.
“I just wish I had a better post with one of them and the other one was a little tighter, but it is what it is,” he said. “It will be fun. I’m looking forward to it.”
In addition to his two drives, Girouard will send out Collusion Illusion in race three, a conditioned pace for fillies and mares. Matthew Athearn will drive the 5-year-old, who starts from post two and is 5-1 on the morning line.
Racing begins at 6:20 p.m. (EST) at The Meadowlands. For free TrackMaster programs for the Big M, click here.