James Kennedy poised for his first Aces meet

Columbus, MN — Driver/trainer James Kennedy is poised and ready to begin his first full season at Running Aces, which kicks off on Sunday (May 19) and will offer 55 nights of harness racing through Sept. 21.

James Kennedy is poised and ready to begin his first full season at Running Aces. MHRI photo.

The affable 45-year-old has not only been a familiar face at Cal Expo in Sacramento for many years but he has also been among the top drivers out there for many years as well. Now he is ready to expand his horizons a bit and will try his luck in Minnesota for the summer. Kennedy will be training a string of around eight horses in addition to taking as many catch-drive opportunities as he can.

We recently interviewed James about his arrival at Running Aces for the summer, and we got to learn a bit about his background.

Kennedy shared that he grew up in California, immersed in the harness racing world by virtue of the fact that his dad, Earl, was heavily involved in the sport. The senior Kennedy has now been around the game for about 50 years. It has pretty much become a family affair, too, as both James and his brother Mark have become involved in racing. For James though, it didn’t happen right away.

“I didn’t want to jump into racing right out of school, I wanted to go out on my own and figure out what I wanted to do, try things, so that’s what I did.”

Kennedy shared that after 10 years or so, at around age 26, is when he started to come around to the idea of driving and training horses and was ready to try his hand at racing. He started driving in qualifiers in 2005 and then began driving in pari-mutuel races in 2006.

“It took me a while, well over 100 races, before I drove a winner,” he shared.

The records show that he was winless in his first year from 113 starts, but they also show that once he found the winner’s circle, he seemed to remember how to get there.

His second full year in the bike he won 64 races and in his third year he nearly doubled that by winning 119 races and he has been recording well above-average numbers each year ever since.

Kennedy currently shows 1,556 wins and 4,559 top-three finishes from 10,782 races, boasting an overall top-three percentage of well over 40 percent as both a driver and a trainer.

When asked about his stable of horses for the Aces meet, he explained, “Several guys (owners) from California gave me a couple horses each to see what I can do with them, and I have a couple horses for my brother as well, so that’s what I have to work with and I think that if we can find the right spots here and there, we can do some good. I’m just grateful for the opportunities with these horses.”

James also shared that he is excited for the new challenge of taking on the five-eighths-mile track versus the mile track and noted, “I did race a little bit at Tioga in the past, and I’ve had a handful of starts at Aces in the last couple years. I also remember that I did well on the smaller track at Maywood when I was out there one year, so I don’t mind the change at all and I’m looking forward to it.”

Kennedy arrived just over a week ago and is settled in at Aces and ready to go and stated, “Everyone here has been so nice, I cannot even put into words how great it has been so far.”

When asked about his style of preparation for each race, James noted, “For me, I’m not a guy who looks at the program too far in advance, my style is more to wait until race night, take a quick look before the race, and have a couple of ideas like a plan A and a plan B, but I don’t want to overthink it, so I don’t study the races ahead much at all.”

When discussing racing styles James shared that he prefers trotters but seems to always wind up with more pacers so that’s what he’s accustomed to. He also indicated that he seems to get more closer types than speed horses so his style of driving generally shows more closing strategy, but also noted, “I love to drive a reliable speed horse when I can as well.”

We are very happy to welcome James to Running Aces and wish him a successful summer season and continued success in his harness racing career.

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