Kevin Mcdermott has spent his entire career in harness racing. It’s the only thing he’s ever wanted to do. Growing up just a few minutes from the Meadowlands, Mcdermott’s parents brought him to the races all the time at a young age and he was hooked. He became pen pals with racing legends Herve Filion and Jim Doherty before eventually going to work for them in the stables, for free, in the mid 1980’s. There, he obviously gained a massive amount of knowledge and experience before going out on his own as a trainer in the early 90’s. Based in New Jersey for the majority of his career, Mcdermott trained off of a farm and became a fixture at the Meadowlands, the place where he grew up, for decades.
With a few exceptions, Kevin Mcdermott has spent the entirety of his thirty-plus year career with New Jersey as his home base and has secured the vast majority of his now well over 1,600 training victories in Jersey. Mcdermott has had some incredibly special horses over the course of his time as a conditioner but none more so than Hypnotic Blue Chip.
Mcdermott’s biggest owner Francis Azur purchased Hypnotic Blue Chip at the conclusion of his three year old campaign following two successful seasons in the New York Sire Stakes. The superstar went on to win the 2009 Empire Breeders Classic, ‘10 Battle of Lake Erie and the ’11 Spring Pacing Championship. Maybe most impressively, though, Hypnotic Blue Chip scored an eye-popping 1:47.2 victory in his division of the US Pacing Championship at the Meadowlands on Hambletonian day in 2010, a race in which he set a world record for the fastest mile by a four year old horse.
In his historic ’10 campaign, the standout piled up over $788,000 in earnings and led Mcdermott to the richest season of his illustrious career. When Hypnotic Blue Chip retired in 2014, he did so with a career bankroll of just shy of $1.8 million.
A few months ago, Kevin Mcdermott was shipping back late night from a race at the Meadowlands and sort of had an epiphany. He was ready for a change. Saratoga is a place that Kevin had been coming every summer since he was three years old. A big fan of thoroughbred racing, he loves it here. It’s home away from home. Business has slowed a bit for Mcdermott in the last few years and with eight horses in his stable, he figured this was the perfect time to make a change.
“I’ve been doing this for over thirty years and was ready for something different,” the veteran conditioner told me. “I reached out to some people and after having several conversations, I decided to go for it and now I’m here.”
“My daughter Mary, who works as an assistant to the legendary John Campbell on the Hambletonian Society in Jersey, runs my social media. Through my Instagram account, Randy Zane reached out and asked me if I’d take some horses for him.”
Zane is a long time standardbred owner from Canada who has raced horses at Saratoga off and on with a few different trainers. Mcdermott had a few discussions on the phone with Zane and even though the two haven’t met face-to-face, they became a team back in April when Mcdermott made the move to Saratoga. “It all happened really fast,” Mcdermott admitted. “He’s had some success at Saratoga in the past and wanted to send a few horses down to race here so that’s what he did.”
No doubt the standout of the group of horses Kevin Mcdermott now trains for Zane is Reign Of Honor. The six year old trotter is no stranger to the Spa having won the Open Trot twice here last summer while under the guidance of his previous trainer. Late last month, Reign Of Honor shipped down from Canada and joined Mcdermott’s stable.
“He’s a good one,” his new trainer gleamed. “I’ve had some fast trotters and he’s right up near the top of the ones I’ve trained. He’s got a serious motor.”
Reign Of Honor scored victories in his first two races upon under Mcdermott before jumping up into Winners Over competition on June 5th. In that start, Reign Of Honor was the 1-5 betting favorite and raced like an odds-on favorite. He went coast-to-coast to move his local record to three-for-three in ’22 which punched his ticket into the Open.
Following a week off, Reign Of Honor made his official return to the Spa Open and drew post five with Shawn Gray piloting him for the first time. The competition was stiff and included Dewey Arnold, an absolute winning machine and Open star at the Spa and Remember Titans who has won eight times this year including six in just the past two months.
Things weren’t looking good for Reign Of Honor who got away towards the back of the pack with all but one rival to pass at the three-quarter pole. Gray then unleashed the new Mcdermott acquisition who came flying four-wide around the final turn before motoring home to put the swoop to the group in 1:55.4. Rattling off four straight wins since joining Mcdermott’s barn, Reign Of Honor is a horse to watch throughout the summer as he is quickly re-establishing himself as one of the fastest trotters at the Spa.
Before Reign Of Honor came to town, it was a young pacer that was the Mcdermott stable’s star. Lannister Hanover was purchased as a baby by Mcdermott who had trained his sister and two of his brothers. As a two year old last year, the youngster hit the board in all five of his starts including one in which he scored in an Excelsior ‘A’ race contested here at Saratoga. After a bit of a slow start to his sophomore campaign, Lannister Hanover came charging hard from post eight in the JP Morel Series Final this spring to finish second at odds of 43-1.
He then went on to win back-to-back starts here at the Spa before springing a mild upset in an Excelsior event on June 12 in which he set a lifetime mark of 1:53. He followed up the win with a second-place finish in another Excelsior try at Vernon Downs.
“He could be a serious horse. He’s got the potential to be something special when he figures it out. He’s got some familial tendencies which have hampered him a bit but he’s getting there. Wally Hennessey was a big help with Lannister. He really helped teach him how to be a race horse. He deserves a lot of credit,” Mcdermott explained. As far as his future plans, Mcdermott is a bit uncertain but there are a few things he spoke of confidently.
“I love it here. I love the people here. Coming here has genuinely been the best decision I’ve ever made. “I have no desire to ship. I’ve been shipping for years and honestly, I’m cooked,” he admitted. As far as what he does in his spare time in a “new” location….” I’m a track rat. I do everything on my own. I feed and water my horses myself every day and night. I want to see who eats and who doesn’t. I’m a little crazy like that,” he joked.
“I’ve dedicated myself to work completely. I’m there at 5:30 or so in the morning and stay all day. The only time I’m not going to be at my barn is when I’m at the flat track this summer.” On weekends, Kevin gets a taste of home though as his daughter Mary has been coming up to stay with him and work at the barn which he says is not only a great help but is valuable family time. Kevin Mcdermott came into last weekend with a .350 training average since coming to town led by ten wins in his 39 starts. Whether or not he’s here for the long term remains to be seen but Kevin Mcdermott is enjoying success and just as importantly enjoying his time at Saratoga.
Live racing takes place on Friday and Saturday evenings at 5PM and on Sunday and Monday afternoons with first post times set for 12 Noon. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!