For top thoroughbred jockey Flavien Prat, being involved in harness racing is nothing new. The thirty year old Prat is from France where his family has always had standardbreds. Prat’s father and brother are trainers in France where they exclusively race trotters. Flavien moved to the United States in 2015 to further his career as a jockey and fast forward close to a decade and it’s safe to say, the move has worked out pretty well. A winner of numerous riding championships as well as the 2019 Kentucky Derby and 2021 Preakness Stakes, Prat has pretty much done it all already with thoroughbreds. Flavien called the west coast home for years before deciding last year to come to New York to ride full time. In his first full summer at Saratoga, Prat was the second leading rider, continuing his success wherever he’s gone.
In the spring of 2022, local trainer Kevin McDermott, who has ties to the thoroughbred side of racing, asked Hall of Famer John Velazquez, one of the most successful jockeys in history, if he’d be interested if ever jogging a harness horse or getting involved on this side of the game. While Velazquez quickly turned down the offer, he did mention to McDermott that fellow jockey Flavien Prat would definitely be interested. Prat was then introduced to McDermott who brought him to his barn to jog. “Flavien is just a natural athlete,” McDermott told me. “He has this incredible horse sense, whether it’s with a thoroughbred or a standardbred.” Prat would come to the barn during the flat track meet on dark days and has begun to do so with more regularity. “Usually on Mondays and Tuesdays, Flavien comes over and he jogs. Not only does he love it but he’s such a natural,” McDermott praised.
In the springtime, Prat had called Kevin and voiced some interest in buying a horse or horses to have here for the months he’s in town. It so happened that Kevin’s daughter, Mary, was also looking for a horse. Mary joined her father in Saratoga back in December after spending a lot of time coming here after the veteran trainer relocated to the Spa last spring. “I came here every weekend last year to help my dad in the barn and really liked it here,” Mary told me. “I decided this winter to come live here.” The 25 year old Mary McDermott already has quite a history of working with social media. She took a part-time position with the Hambletonian Society when she was finishing up college in New Jersey and after graduating took on a full-time role with them. Upon landing here at Saratoga, Mary took over a role in which she would help with marketing and social media for racing. In that capacity, Mary records and posts videos on such platforms as Twitter, Instagram and Tik Tok often using a GoPro on driver’s helmets to record mid-race action. Mary posts flyers for any promotion going on at the track like the recently concluded Joe Gerrity Jr. Memorial Pace and also reposts pictures taken by track photographer Jessica Hallett.
Having grown up in harness racing, Mary McDermott considers herself the definition of a “horse girl.” She traveled the circuit with her father Kevin when he would race his top-flight horses at any number of tracks throughout the country. “I’ve always loved being at the barn and being around the horses. It’s all I’ve ever known,” Mary explained. “Once I got done with college, I knew I wanted to do something within the business and have always felt strongly about promoting and marketing harness racing.” Mary took a job this year with thoroughbreds at GMP Stables in Schuylerville, a facility that focuses on equine rehabilitation and therapy. While holding down this full-time job, Mary has continued to be active in the promotion of Saratoga Harness racing on social media. In fact, she is in the midst of coordinating one of the biggest promotions the track has seen in quite some time.
When Mary thought about creative ideas on how to market harness racing and maybe create some crossover with the thoroughbreds, her father Kevin said “let’s get Flavien in a race bike.” “He was half joking I think but when he brought it up to Flavien, it took him about two seconds to say ‘Let’s do it!” Mary explained. “I’ve been a part of some charity match races in the past so I mentioned something to (the Saratoga meet’s second leading driver) Brett Beckwith about doing it. He was all about it as well.” Mary got the necessary approval to move forward with the match race plan about a month ago and ever since, she has been nose to the grindstone looking for sponsors and trying to make everything work. Word spread quickly on the thoroughbred side when Flavien was being interviewed on a NYRA telecast recently and discussed it. “From there, it kind of all blew up in a good way,” Mary gleamed. “The excitement is super high on the thoroughbred side for it and it kind of just exploded on Twitter after Flavien talked about it.” Mary says top trainer Chad Brown, who has major ties to harness racing in his career, is on board as a sponsor and major supporter of the event which is set for Saturday August 19th. Last week, Prat was interviewed on a popular podcast called “In The Money” in which he spent a lot of time discussing the match race and harness racing in general. Be on the lookout for the Match Race between Prat and young reinsman Brett Beckwith. It plans to be a big event that should bring a huge crowd out and all for a good cause.
Prat’s interest in owning a horse came to fruition when last month, he and Mary partnered up to privately purchase a pacer named Little Honeybadger. The mare was being trained by a McDermott family friend who suggested that a change of scenery might be good for the horse. Prat and McDermott then made the purchase and unveiled her on Sunday night (July 23) for the first time. In the evening’s finale, with Prat and his daughter and brother on hand, Little Honeybadger went coast-to-coast in her Spa debut. A winning machine as a jockey, Flavien Prat quickly moved his record as an owner to one-for-one with the Sunday score. The eight year old mare looked to repeat when in a claiming pace last Sunday (July 30) evening. At just the age of thirty and while in the prime of his career as a jockey, Prat likely won’t become a harness driver anytime soon but according to Kevin McDermott, don’t be shocked if he dabbles further into harness racing later in life, whether in the U.S. or back in France. “I could see him being a trainer or a driver after he wraps up his career as a jockey. He’s a natural. You see him in a race bike and it looks like he’s been doing it for thirty years,” said Kevin, who mentioned that the smile on Prat’s face was priceless upon winning his debut as an owner. Whatever the future in harness racing is down the road for Prat, he is enjoying his new role as an owner and is looking forward to his match race with Brett Beckwith in a few weeks, one that promises to be as competitive as any race he ever competes in. “This is no set-up I assure you,” Kevin promised. “Both guys wanna win and will be all out to do so.” Whatever the result, it’ll be a race for charitable causes that is sure to create more and more buzz in the coming weeks as the worlds of thoroughbred racing and harness racing come together, thanks in large part to the efforts of Mary McDermott.
Live racing takes place on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings this summer with first post times of 6:45pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!