Trenton, NJ — Kiara Morgan’s biggest problem wasn’t winning her first race, but what to do after she won.
“I pulled around and I was like ‘I don’t even know what to do. Where’s the winner’s circle? Where do I go?’ Morgan said. “So, I finally pulled around and got our picture and it was cool. I was happy.”
This all occurred July 17 at the Washington Court House Fair in Ohio, when the daughter of renowned trainer Virgil Morgan Jr. drove Action Metro Max to victory. It was only her third start and she had taken second in her first two. It didn’t take long to get her second win, which came later in the day with Tail Gunner Hall.
Morgan wasn’t too surprised at winning the second, but taking first with Action Metro Max was a bit unexpected.
“Max was a little bit lazier and you have to get after him,” she said. “The second one, he’s just a little bit classier of a horse. He’s older too but he wants to race, whereas Metro Max is more of a surprise. But Tail Gunner is really good.”
Which might say something about Morgan’s driving skills in that she brought Actin Metro Max from behind and got him to win easily.
“He’s 9, so as you would imagine he’s pretty laid back, he’s not going to do anything more than he has to,” Kiara noted. “He wasn’t real quick off the gate. I got away fourth or fifth, it wasn’t a big field and I was pretty far back there.
“A little bit after the half, someone right in front of me kind of pulled out to pull up a little bit. I was pulling out at the same exact time. They pulled back in and I went around him. I had qualified that horse at Scioto, I really think after he realized it was a half-mile track instead of a mile, he liked it. He literally just took off. After I pulled him he just said ‘Hey wait a minute’ and he just took off.”
From there, Morgan could smell the victory.
“I got up next to the person leading,” she said. “I kind of grabbed him up a little, by that time we were almost up to the three-quarter pole and I just let it go. He was real good. After I pulled away, he was just cruising. I was kind of grabbing him up a little because I don’t really like to win by that much, I don’t like to blow him out more than I have to. I remember I got done I was kind of like ‘I didn’t mean to win by that much, but I didn’t want to walk him either.’ I just kind of grabbed him up and let him go at a comfortable pace and he was ahead by quite a bit.”
And just like that, the newbie was the winner.
“Before last year I’d been in a jog cart a handful of times growing up helping my dad,” she said. “Other than that, it’s all really new to me. So, it all happened quick.”
It was an eventful day for the 20-year-old, who only began working with dad in December. Virgil Morgan Jr. is No. 2 in training history with 6,411 wins, trailing only Ron Burke. He is No. 8 in purses with $56 million.
Despite Virgil’s success and notoriety in Ohio, Kiara wasn’t immediately sold on the harness racing game. But she got her first horse at age 7.
“I always had a huge passion,” she said. “I’d ridden and shown horses my whole life, so I’ve always been around them, but I’ve always been riding and showing them and going to all kind of shows and stuff. I would come out maybe in the summer, my dad would jog with me and my brother (Trey). His training center is 12 minutes from the house and I’d maybe been there a handful of times.”
By last November, however, she began to feel the urge to see what harness racing was all about. Virgil was reluctant at first but when he got a few more horses he relented in December.
“I just started jogging, gradually he would put me on the training sheets,” Kiara said. “Every day I got more experience. It happened really quick. The reason I decided to try to get my license was we had heard about the (Ladies Driving Series); I thought that would be cool with all girls. I qualified a few and now I’m doing the lady pace thing. That’s where that all started.”
Once again, Morgan was back in the world of racing. Only this time, someone else was doing the running.
As a student at Grove City High School, Kiara was a standout on a formidable track and field team that was Southwest Ohio’s top team during her time there. She ran the 100, 200 and 400 and had success, but is modest about it.
“I’m not going to say too much about that,” she said. “I won some races, but I don’t remember the specifics.”
Kiara just knew she was having fun, because she was competing.
“I’ve always loved to race,” she said. “I remember being a little kid, we’d get all the neighborhood kids together, and my dad would literally have a race around the house. Ever since I was little I liked to race. Track became a big part of my life in high school.”
Upon graduation she attended Columbus State College and this summer she transferred to Fortis College in order to study radiology. While she would love to make a career of harness racing, Virgil has made her understand she needs something to fall back on just in case.
But rest assured, racing is in her blood at the moment. When asked to equate the thrill of running a 400-meter event or driving a horse on a fairgrounds track, Kiara said there’s no comparison. She came to that realization after her Ladies Driving Series debut race at the Wilmington (Clinton County) Fair on July 9.
“When I got off the track from my first race, I didn’t win, I got beat by a neck,” she said. “Those girls are extremely competitive. I remember I got off the track and I was so happy. It’s like a high you don’t get from anything else. I was parked the whole mile and I still came out and I was smiling from ear to ear. It’s a feeling like really no other I ever felt before. You’re controlling an animal, you’ve got to make decisions in split seconds and stuff. It’s really a different feeling.”
As much as she loves it, Morgan knows she has to get that college degree in order to have security.
“I’m going to be honest, I don’t really like school and I have to force myself to do it,” she said. “I thought about not doing it before and just trying to do the horses. But school’s really important to my dad so I always have a safety net. It takes a lot to be extremely successful with the horses, I want to have a fallback, a definite career income.
“But racing pulls my heart a lot. Everyone’s always like “Aww you’ll find something that you want to do, what you love.’ I tell them ‘I know exactly what I want to do!’ I’ve known this all while I was growing up, but it’s just the fact you never really know how successful you’re going to be. I don’t want to jump into horses and end up having nothing.”
So instead of diving into the pool, she is wading into it slowly. Her mindset is that she will see where driving takes her, but always have an alternate plan. In the meantime, Morgan has one of the best tutors a girl can find in her father.
“Oh gosh, everything I know, it all comes from him,” she said. “He says every time I go on the track just learn something new. Obviously I’m going to make a lot of mistakes. He says every time you’re out there, learn from my mistakes, learn something new especially. Me and my brother claimed one ourselves, I’m learning all about what to do to help the horse itself. He’s always telling me to watch the grooms and ask questions. We have the greatest help in the world, they’ve all made an impact on me and are teaching me new things.”
And while Virgil is a little cautious about throwing his girl right into the fire, that hasn’t stopped him from enjoying her early successes in the sulky.
“It’s funny, after my first win somebody said ‘How many pictures are you going to get,’” Kiara said. “My dad never gets pictures of himself, but he got four win pictures that day just to make sure everybody had one.”
Thank goodness she found out where to go.