|Eric was Michigan's Driver of the Year in 2010|
Conceived by a teacher, Eric has been around horses for most of his life. Growing up in the state of Michigan, his dad owned low conditioned horses that raced at Hazel Park, Northville and Sports Creek. Today, he has migrated from car country, to Illinois and now the Keystone State. Eric, who is very lenient when it comes to catching drives, is the first call man for the Ken Rucker stable at Pocono Downs. He is currently ninth in the driver standings, with 19 wins out of 210 starts and earnings of $279,635 this meet. But you will figure out that his stats are miniscule in the big picture that Eric views.
The Racing Inquirer: What I want to know is how did you get involved into the sport?
Eric Carlson: My dad had horses, that’s basically how it started. He was a school teacher but he had a couple of hobby horses, then I qualified $1,500 Claimers and they were pretty good, they made some money and I just kind of caught the bug you know.
TRI: So, this was at like Northville and all in Michigan right?
EC: Yeah. Northville, Hazel Park, where ever.
TRI: So I see that you started at Northville and Hazel and all those tracks and when did you get involved?
EC: I had horses and I trained horses for a long time and I graduated college and got some pretty good, decent jobs and bought some of my own horses. I trained them and drove them as well and I did pretty well with my own, which were just average horses you know, mid-level, conditioned claimers you know, mostly cheap. I did pretty well with them and you know, I started catch-driving more and more and I guess that’s how I got to where I’m at.
TRI: When did you decide to stop training and become a catch-driver?
EC: It was probably about three years ago. I had an opportunity to drive a horse in the race that was better than the horse that I owned. I sold a couple here and there and emptied out. The driving kind of picked up and took off from there.
TRI: With the problem that Michigan is purse-wise, like there top level race is the Invitational for $10,000, I can see that you moved to Balmoral in 2011 and how were you able to pick up drives?
|Eric driving Zall Good to a victory in the Orange & Blue at|
EC: I had a couple connections and I got hooked up with a guy named Perry Smith and Perry does pretty well there in Chicago. He said come on out here and I’ll put you on all of my horses. I did that and picked up drives from people there; things went really well. I did well and met up with another guy named Ken Rucker and he said do you want to come out to Pocono, Pennsylvania and drive my horses. I said yeah and it kind of went from there, meet people and driving. I seem to make them happy when I drive for them. I try to get the best out of my horse with every drive and so far, nobody seems to be unhappy with everything that’s going.
TRI: I see with Balmoral and how their purses have increased very well, you still wanted to come out East. Other than the connections, what else influenced your decision?
EC: Just opportunity, you know the opportunity towards the east coast is great as there are more tracks and the purses are better. Trainers are better, horses are better, tracks are better. Chicago is not bad, its good racing, the purses are pretty good over there right now, but you’re still limited. Racing in one state, versus the east coast. There is just much more opportunity out on the east coast.
TRI: Even though you were fifth in the standings (and he still is) at Balmoral Park, does it matter how much you win?
EC: No, I don’t even think about winning, I never did and I just hope whatever horse I’m driving, I just hope I hit the board; try to figure out how to get the most out of whatever I can in the race. I focus on whatever I’m on in the moment and if it totals up to some pretty good numbers or whatever that’s great.
TRI: So what you’re saying is that you don’t care about your standing, but you just care about making the owners and trainers happy, basically.
EC: Well, that’s it, you got to make your owners and trainers happy and then, you’ll do fine in the standings. But if they’re not happy, then your not going to have any work. So yeah, you just do the best you can with whatever you’re driving and try to make whoever your driving for happy. Try to take care of the horse and get the most that you can out of the horse without hurting it.
TRI: Do you have any tactics for when you’re driving in a race?
EC: It depends, its all relative to what you’re driving and what you’re against. What your post is, what class and it depends. If you have to gas hard, that makes sense or if you have to layoff the pace, it makes more sense. Every race is different, you’ll have to alternate or change your tactics every race. You may have a game plan, but you may have to make changes. I think that’s a part of what makes a good driver is that they don’t necessarily have a fixed plan, but you just have to be able to go with the flow and modify your tactics. Usually, I hope I make pretty good decisions while doing that.
TRI: Have you ever persuaded Ken Rucker to try at another track like Yonkers or the Meadowlands?
EC: Truthfully, no. Ken Rucker and like a lot of these guys out here they’ve raced everywhere and they know what their stock is, they know what they have, they know what they are best to race. I don’t really offer too many suggestions to trainers or where they should go with their horses. The only time I suggest anything to a trainer is equipment wise or lameness or how the horse raced. Where they want to go with their horses is completely their business. It’s not a rare occasion that you may have a suggestion but mostly, trainers like Ken, these guys are keen and they know where their horses belong and they don’t need my help.
TRI: When you’re driving in a post parade, is there anything that bettors can look for to see if a 30 or 40-1 shot, perhaps an 8-1 shot too, is ready and prime for a race even though his past performances may not show the exact same thing?
EC: Truthfully, not a lot. The only thing that I sometimes notice is if a horse is really hot in the post parade, it doesn’t always translate into the race. If a horse is hot, by that, I mean that they are anxious, ready and wanting to go usually means that they want to race. It means that they will usually try to get into the race somehow and sometimes it can backfire and sometimes it may work out. Usually if a horse is kind of hot, it usually means they’re excited to race. It’s up to the driver and the trip, but usually it means they’re ready to go. Behind the post, sometimes the horse is a little lazy or acts a little off in the post parade, if he’s kind of dead scoring down; as a gambler, if I went out and saw a horse scoring dead, I would be more tempted to throw one of those horses out than something that’s kind of hot and ready to roll.
TRI: Other than Ken Rucker, is there any trainer you’ve been trying to catch drives?
EC: Not really, you know I just try, talk to people and sometimes offer my services to some people. But I just work hard and be friendly, you do the best you can and I’ve been lucky that some of these really good trainers are throwing me some good horses here and there and things seem to be picking up, so I’ve been doing some pretty decent work and making them happy. I’m just appreciative that these trainers are throwing me good drives. I just keep trying to do the best I can. I drive to win, I try to get the highest placing I can with whatever I have. One thing that most people know about me when they put me up to drive a horse is I’m going to try and get all I can without hurting the horse. I’m trying to do well.
TRI: Is it possible that we can see Eric Carlson training again in Pennsylvania?
EC: Its possible. I’ve had a few people call me and they want to send me a horse or two. It is definitely possible, I’d probably take lower level horses to take something. I’ve had a couple of opportunities to train an Open horse here and there, but I don’t really want a stable because I’m not trying to go back into training so much. I like driving and I like having the opportunity and if I have a stable of my own again, I am obligated to drive my horse, which kind of limits my opportunity because I can’t drive for other people. I enjoy driving and I’m going to stick with that and if I pick up a horse or two here or there, its possible definitely. I’m definitely sticking more towards the driving side of it.
TRI: Your still in your 30s and approaching the midst of your career, is it possible that you’d be able to meet up with the top drivers at the Meadowlands?
EC: I guess I would say its possible, but I’m just going to try; I’m not going to even look towards that. To me, its just mostly trying to do the best I can with what I’ve got and where I’m. You can’t just get there, you have to climb the ladder and do the best you can here at Pocono and if you do well there, you might get an Invitation to drive a horse here or there. I guess anything is possible. I don’t look towards that like I said, I don’t look towards standings or anything like that. I just look at whatever I’m driving tonight and try and do good with that, then look forward to tomorrow night. If in two or three years I land somewhere else down the road, that’s terrific. If not, I’ll do the best I can with where I’m at and that’s all I can really do. I am really privileged to do what I do. I’ve trained and I’ve always been a fan of the equine athlete. So I guess I’m pretty much here and I’m very privileged.
TRI: What is a bigger influence in the race, the driver or the horse?
EC: It’s definitely the horse it is the overriding factor. I don’t care who’s driving the horse. If you’re 20-1, it doesn’t matter. If you don’t have enough horsepower to be there, then you won’t. Drivers are very important to, but the main thing is that you have to have horsepower. That’s how its been and its going to always be that way. It doesn’t matter who’s driving; if you don’t have power, you won’t be there no matter what.