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A Look at Two Great Harness Drivers Who Went on to Become Jockeys

Harness racing and horse racing aren’t too dissimilar when you sit down and think about it. The general concept is the same: as a jockey, you try to do everything to guide your horse to victory.

A number of leading figures have made the switch from harness racing to the more conventional horse racing and vice versa. It is major events such as the Hambletonian, once regarded as one of the most prestigious events in horse-related sport, that helps to attract a new clientele into the business.

Source: Harness Racing FanZone via Facebook

Throughout history, we’ve had harness drivers come and go; some moving on to become a jockey at the highest level and others going into training. Some have even left the industry and tried their hand at something different.

But with the following two men, Nathaniel D. Ray and Yannick Gingras, their reasons for moving on were completely different. Fuelled by a desire for horse racing and the opportunity to bolster their financial position, these two stars of the harness-driving game will be forever remembered as all-time greats.

Nathaniel D. Ray

Winner of the inaugural Hambletonian event back in 1926, Nathaniel D. Ray deserves his spot in the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.

That race saw his stock in the industry soar to staggering levels, earning him a pay check of $4,581 for that victory. It was a great race to win – the total purse awarded to the winning owner was $73,451; the richest Hambletonian for the next four decades.


Nat Ray went on to enjoy a very successful racing career as a jockey, riding four winners in the American Grand National Steeplechase; cementing his spot as a horse racing legend on the continent.

The British version, held at Aintree racecourse on an annual basis, eluded his grasp though – he opted against making the switch across the Atlantic Ocean. He is sadly no longer around but if he was, he would love to be riding ante-post favourite Blaklion, 10/1 at William Hill, in this year’s renewal.

Yannick Gingras

The 2014 Harness Driver of the Year announced his desire to become a jockey just over a year ago and while he is still yet to complete the transition away from harness racing, he has shown enough quality to suggest that he can compete at a professional level.

As of January 1, 2018, Gingras was set to start his apprenticeship and who knows – he could become a fully fledged rider in the coming months. His greatest achievements will almost certainly be linked to those harness racing victories, though.


At 37 years old, the decision to change to horse racing was a tough one but motivated by financial gain. The earning potential as a jockey is greater than that of a harness driver; with jockeys keeping 10% of the winnings compared to 5% for harness drivers in North America.

You could argue that harness driving is more rewarding but it would be unfair to criticise Gingras for wanting to take on a new challenge. To put it into perspective, Thoroughbred Daily News estimated Gingras’ annual earnings at $850,000 compared to Javier Castello’s hefty $2.6 million purse.