"He Was The First Really Classy Horse That I Had"

Jack Darling may have reached the pinnacle of his training career in 2022, with the success that he had with Horse of the Year Bulldog Hanover. For Jack, however, he thinks of his career more like a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs, and there’s one little-known horse, from long ago, that he truly credits with getting him through some of those tough, early years. By Melissa Keith.

(Justin Fisher Photo)

Jack Darling knows plenty about classy horses, with his lengthy training career leading up to last year’s pinnacle: World Champion 2022 O’Brien/Dan Patch Horse of the Year Bulldog Hanover p,1:45.4 ($2,789,271).  The Cambridge, Ontario horseman however, says his harness racing career hasn’t been a gradual rise to prominence, as much as it’s been a roller coaster ride of highs and lows.

“I just think back to when I first got in the business. I was like 20-years-old when I claimed my first horse for about $2,000… I just think about how exciting it was. It was just as exciting back then, when you started racing a $2,000 claimer, as it is racing a horse like Bulldog Hanover, really. 

“I think back to being at Western Fair Raceway and claiming a horse for $1,700… he won a couple of races and was claimed. I claimed another one for $2,500 and then I worked my way up.

Trot Magazine cover from June 2023, the Hall of Fame issue

“At one point I actually got my driver’s license and started driving. There again, it was the excitement part of it.”

One pacing horse in particular delivered more than his share of highs and lows for Darling beginning in 1976.

“I had probably driven three times in my life when I bought a horse named Terry Herbert. I bought him from Bill Herbert, directly. It was big money for me at the time; I think I paid about $13,000 for him. He was a three-year-old and had been racing in a stakes series at London. He didn’t make the final, but I bought him anyway. 

“As it turned out, he did end up drawing into the final. Somebody was scratched, so he drew in. I had the horse for like five days, and I jumped up behind him and went behind the gate. The purse for the stake final was like $8,700, a big purse at the time.

“I went to the front, and won the race by about eight or ten lengths and paid like $75 to win. It just didn’t make any sense. I don’t know how that happened. My whole family was there. It was quite a win, way back then.”

The Replica Herbert–Tami Herbert colt was only getting started. Further twists of fate left an indelible impression on Darling. 

“I think he won a couple more races after that, then he got colic, really bad. He almost died. I had to take him to [the University of] Guelph and he had surgery. He had about 15 feet of his intestine taken out. He was out at the clinic for a month and came back all skin and bones, like a Holstein cow. He came back for me though and he got to be a really good Preferred horse. I took him over to Buffalo and Batavia, and he was the best horse over there for quite a while. And at Windsor.

“After that, he actually broke a bone in his leg in a race. He won the race - I was driving. We just got past the wire, about ten feet, and he came to a stop and lifted his hind leg up in the air. If he’d have put the foot down again, the leg just would’ve snapped in two. Anyway, he just stood there. He didn’t put it down. We got him off the track, took him to the clinic, and had four screws put in his leg.

“And once again, he actually came back from that. He was a good Open horse for another year.”

Terry Herbert raced for seven straight seasons (1976–1982) during Darling’s peak driving days, which tapered off after 1984. The newly-elected (Class of ‘22) Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame trainer explained that he eventually stopped driving on his own terms, unrelated to any particular horse. 

“I loved driving. I drove at Western Fair and at Windsor, and three years over at Buffalo and Batavia. I actually won a few drivers’ championships for the leading-percentage driver. I did okay, but I think I was in my early thirties when I just decided that I’d had enough and I wanted to start using the top catch-drivers.

“I thoroughly enjoyed it when I drove though, but one day I just decided ‘I’ve had enough, I don’t need any more’ and I just retired from that part of it.”

Jack’s last recorded drive was in a 2003 qualifier behind ‘The Volcano’ at Windsor Raceway, three decades after Terry Herbert was foaled in Lambeth, Ontario.  Darling laughed as he recalled the conditions attached to his original purchase of the homebred pacer: 

“When I bought the horse from Bill Herbert, he said, ‘Jack, he didn’t make the final of that stake, but if he happens to draw in and you do any good, I’d expect you could maybe give me some more money’. Anyway, he won the race. A few days after, I went and gave him half the purse. Of course he thought that was a great thing.

“Anyway, from that day on he wouldn’t sell a horse to anybody except me. When somebody tried to buy his horse, he would say, ‘No, I’m going to sell it to Jack Darling!’

“I bought a couple more from him afterwards, but nothing as good as Terry Herbert.”

Darling was unsure of exactly how many wins he shared with Terry Herbert. “It would just be a wild guess, but he won a bunch of races. He probably won at least half his races that I raced him,” he told TROT. “At the end, he just wasn’t as good so we just retired him… I gave him to people who just kept him for a pleasure horse - a pet, really.” 

Terry Herbert (p,1:57.2 -‘78; $74,458) died in December 1986. 

“Highs and lows, you know,” said Darling. “Like I said, when he won that stakes race it was so big, and then a month later I’m trucking him down to the clinic. I think it was three o’clock in the morning and we’re taking him to Guelph to have surgery. The night he broke the bone he won the [Windsor] Preferred or Open, whatever it was at the time, and then, boom - you’ve got a broken leg. But somehow he came back from that too.”

Darling, whose list of career accomplishments is too long to list, but includes a 1997 North America Cup title with Gothic Dream, says he was thrilled by Bulldog Hanover’s recent election to the Canadian Hall of Fame (Class of ‘23) in the stallion’s first appearance on the ballot: “It makes you feel good that the people were so impressed with that horse. It makes you feel good that people appreciated him as much as I did.”

Still, looking back over his own career, it’s Terry Herbert who will always be Jack Darling’s most memorable horse. “Oh, no doubt about it,” he confirmed. “When I think back, he’s the one that comes to mind, and what we went through with him. He was the first really classy horse that I had.”

 This feature originally appeared in the June issue of TROT Magazine. Subscribe to TROT today by clicking the banner below.