Story by Chris Lomon / @ChrisLomon
Photos by Dawn MacInnis / @DawnMac17
What makes for a successful year in the mind of rising Standardbred star Austin Sorrie? When everything is twice as nice as the year before. Literally.
He hasn’t been in the sulky nearly as long as most of the drivers he faces each night, but the teenage reinsman from Montague, PEI, has shown he can hold his own against the competition.
It’s one of the reasons why the soft-spoken Sorrie thinks big before the calendar turns to January 1 each year.
“I always want to double my number of wins from the year before,” started the 20-year-old. “I had 32 wins down home in 2018, so I wanted to get to at least 64 last year. When I started out, I thought it was going to tough to reach that. Once I got past it, I just kept on going.”
He hasn’t slowed down, on or off the racetrack, since then.
A finalist for the 2019 Rising Star Award – the honour went to Dave Kelly at this year’s O’Brien Awards in Mississauga, ON – Sorrie has been turning heads and garnering rave reviews since he made the move to the Ontario horse racing circuit in January 2019.
He had already made a name for himself in the Maritimes, winning those 32 races in his rookie campaign in 2018. His first victory came at Red Shores (Charlottetown) with his own Thebestofme (2:02:1) in May of that year.
“Moving to Ontario, it really helped a lot,” said Sorrie, who at the age of 14 drove Onehotvett to a 1:57.2 triumph in The Kilted Race, Pinette Raceway’s signature race. “It was something I had to do if I was going to continue driving horses. Everything just kind of took off and it’s worked out.”
Even more than he had imagined.
“It’s been way better than I thought it would. Being here for a year and a bit now, to be nominated for an O’Brien Award, the drives I’m getting from people – it’s pretty cool.”
On December 7, he netted his first win at Woodbine Mohawk Park, teaming with Bugsy Maguire (1:52.2) for the milestone score.
Driving mostly at Western Fair and Flamboro, he’s earned the trust of numerous trainers.
“I think it’s because I’ve gone out there and given their horse the best shot to do well. You’re not getting caught in all of the time, and you’re not getting parked all the time. The bottom line is that you are winning them races.”
To date, Sorrie, whose driver colours are blue, yellow and white (his father, Wade, who wears blue and yellow, has over 400 combined wins as a driver and trainer), has racked up 19 wins on the year.
Well on pace to surpass last year’s win and purse earnings totals, he’s not letting any of the adulation go to his head.
He uses the faith trainers have shown in him as a motivational tool each time he lines his horse up behind the starting gate.
“You show up every day of the week and whether it’s one drive or 10, you work hard and give your best. If you have a bad night, well, you have to get over it because the next night you have new horses to drive and new opportunities to win. You can’t go into any race with the attitude of, ‘My horse has no shot.’ You go in there with the same mindset of wanting to be successful. Sometimes that ends up being a win, sometimes it ends up being that you pick up a cheque. The bottom line is you go out there and give your top effort.”
Horsepeople have taken notice. So, too, have others.
A friend of mine, in racing, mentioned a short time ago that Austin looks so 'chill' in the bike and that's exactly what he appears to be - very calm and cool sitting behind the horses,” said Western Fair race caller Shannon “Sugar Doyle. “He's got this natural ability and the horses want to try for him.
“I like his style. Rarely do I see him in 'panic mode' during a horse race. He's usually well-placed and can stickhandle through traffic if needed. It's that natural ability he has and it likely comes from being around the horses his whole life.”
A busy life on the racetrack leaves little Sorrie time for non-racing pursuits.
His favourite pastime isn’t actually a pastime at all.
“For down time, you want to get naps in as fast as you can, for as long as you can, because you can get really tired. You don’t know when you’re going to get the one. Other than that, it’s really all about the racing.”
Which suits Sorrie just fine.
He has other pursuits to focus on, specifically, chasing the number 160.
“At the end of this year, on December 31, if I look back and say that I good year, that would mean I had double the wins I had in 2019. Now, I just have to go out and do it again.”
The odds are definitely in Sorrie’s favour.
“It's not an easy task, as a new driver, to show up here in Ontario and fit right in,” said Doyle. “Austin has done that and I think we're going to see him do some great things going forward.”