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Kuebler hangs up his blue boots
Saturday, January 26, 2008 - by Mark Ratzky, for Cal-Expo

Sacramento, CA --- Rick Kuebler plans to hang up his whip -- and those famous blue boots -- at the conclusion of Saturday night’s program at Cal-Expo Raceway, and it’s no coincidence that his next victory in the sulky will be number 4,284 in his career.
“That’s how many wins Joe O’Brien had when he retired,” Kuebler explained. “He was an idol of mine, and I told myself that if I was ever fortunate enough to get close, I would retire when I got to that number.”
Rick got hooked on harness racing when he was 15 years old, when his father, Howie, brought him out to see the trotters and pacers. Not only did he see the horses, but he also became a huge Joe O’Brien fan in the process, not realizing that he would have the chance to drive against this legendary horseman down the road.
“I was very enthusiastic about getting into the sport, but I didn’t have any connections, so my parents actually bought my first two horses. Eventually, my brother Fred got involved and put together a group of friends and family that became the My Hero Racing Stable, which was named after my parents’ submarine sandwich shop.”
It was in the mid-70s that Rick got his first chance to drive against his idol, O’Brien, and he made the most of it.
“At the time, Joe was driving sparingly as he was in the latter stages of his career,” Rick related. “I’ll never forget the first time I drove in a race with him. During the score-down before the race I came alongside and said, ‘I haven’t seen you around here, are you any good?’ He looked over and smiled and said ‘I’m all right.’ I smiled back and said ‘Just stay out of my way’.
“I've always liked the idea of pulling up along side Joe once again, and then retiring. I always felt that by attaining that, if someone down the road realized I was a harness driver and asked me if I was any good, I could honestly tell them ‘I was all right.’ ”
With Howie, Fred, and mother Elise in his corner, Rick was soon a force to reckon with in the Hollywood Park, Sacramento and Los Alamitos driver colonies.
For the record, the recently turned 54-year-old Rick Kuebler came into this weekend with 4,283 wins and having driven the winners of close to $20 million. As for the great horses and memorable races, they go on and on.
courtesy of Cal-Expo Raceway
Rick Keubler, seen driving Courageous Red, drew wide and effusive praise upon his retirement from driving
“I would have to say that Courageous Red was one of my very favorites, and certainly one of the best Cal-breds of all-time. There was also a terrific mare named Doodlin, the game Guts, and of course the very popular Hi Ho Silverheels. They all gave me a lot of wonderful memories.”
And the one race that sticks out for Kuebler?
“Definitely my first win, which came right here at Sacramento in 1973 with Alex Wejover. To go from a fan as a teenager to winning a race was an amazing feeling. It doesn’t get better than that.”
This March, Kuebler will be inducted into the California Harness Horsemen’s Association Hall of Fame, along with owner Lloyd Arnold and the outstanding horses I’m Dam Goog and Denali.
Rick is also quick to point out that he couldn’t have reached this point without the support of his mom and dad, his brother Fred, and of course his wife, Terry, and their daughter, Kacey.
“My wife and daughter, because of the nature of the business, had to put up with a lot of nights where dad wasn’t home, but they were always there for me.”
What they're saying about Rick Kuebler
Jim Perez: “I’ve been watching Rick since I was a kid. He reminds me of Bob Gordon because they both loved the competition. He’s driven a lot of horses for me over the years, and when you had Rick Kuebler you always knew you were going to get 110 percent. He was a true warrior.”
Gary Budahn: “The number one thing with Rick has always been his integrity. As far as his style, whether he was driving Doodlin for us back in the day, or Amazing Glide more recently, he was always relaxed and never put the horse into a bad spot.”
Fred Kuebler: “Rick’s accomplishment on the track, although great, pale in comparison to his class and devotion to the sport over the last 35-plus years. He has set the bar high for the next generation of harness drivers. I’m proud to be his brother, and we’ll miss those blue boots.”
“Doc” Creech: “I want to thank Rick for all the advice he gave me when I was learning how to drive. He was always willing to share his experience with me and that meant a lot. I also want him to know how much I respect his driving skills, his professionalism and his dedication to the sport. He will be missed.”
Lou Pena: “A great guy. I’ll never forget the way he dominated the room over that five-eighths track at Los Alamitos. He had that quarter move down to a science. He’s also very good at volleyball, but I can always beat him.”
Robin Clements: “Rick is a true horseman and ever the professional. He always has a smile on his face, ever an optimist, has a quick wit and sense of humor, and is always willing to help a fellow horseman when down. He is a major entity to California harness racing, and will be a loss to our sport.”
James Kennedy: “Rick has been a good friend and given me lots of encouragement. I wish him the best of luck.”
Jim Wilkinson, Jr.: “He’s driven for me for over 15 years and he’s always been the consummate professional. He’s a stand-up guy, and I think one of his secrets is that he’s always loved what he was doing. It doesn’t matter if he was driving California Dream or a $3,000 claimer, he always gave his best.”
Dave Elliot: “I’ve always known Rick to be the consummate gentleman, always ready to assist and help out when needed. When using Rick to drive my horses I was always confident of his abilities to get the most out of them.”
Ed Hensley: “A very good guy to drive with. He knows every horse he drives, and as a result he gets the very best from them because he knows how they should be driven.”
Walter and Patty Petersen: “You always could count on an honest drive with Rick Kuebler. We wish him the best of luck.”
Wendi Wiener: “Always a friend, always a gentleman and I was never afraid to ask Rick to drive a horse of mine. Enjoy your well earned retirement, we will miss you on the track -- and best of luck.”
Gene Vallandingham: “A great guy, a great horseman, and a great driver. It was always a pleasure to drive with him. When Rick would come back from a catch-drive he would always have something helpful to tell the trainer. He is also a gentleman on and off the track, and great family man.
Bob Johnson: “Rick is a great guy and an honest driver who always got the most out of the horses he was driving.”
Steve Hyman: “I thought he retired five years ago. Seriously, Rick Kuebler is a good guy and it’s always been a pleasure to drive with him.”
Rick Plano: “It’s been a pleasure to drive with Rick, because he’s highly competitive, but he’s also very courteous. It’s a lot easier to compete with drivers who know what they’re doing, and he’s certainly one of those.”
Keith Willey: “A real class act. He diligently prepares for each race, constantly studying the program. The drivers’ room will not be the same without him.”
Steve Lake: “As a bettor, I always knew with Rick Kuebler I was getting my money’s worth on his drives. The race I will always remember most with Rick was a recent one (this past Nov. 29), where he brought in a horse I had used on top in my winning Superfecta, namely Quick On My Feet, a 46-1 shot.”
Frank Sherren: “It was always a pleasure to drive with Rick, and I wish him the very best in his retirement.”
Rocky Stidham: “He’s a class act. He’s smart, he’s sharp and he’s a great horseman. We’re going to miss ole’ Blue Boots.”
Roger Stein: “People will debate for years where his driving skills rank amongst his peers, but I can tell you this for certain: as a son, a brother, a father, and a friend, Rick Kuebler has no peers.”
Steve Desomer: “Rick is a very competitive driver, with gentlemanly qualities not often found in a such a highly competitive business. He will be missed by all, and most certainly by me.”
Jim Lackey: “He was highly skilled from the start, and a class act all the way. I wish him all the best.”
Alan Kirschenbaum: “On the track, he’s a great person to race with. He loves horses and understands the value of position in a race. He’s always been my type of driver, giving his horses a chance to win and getting the most out of them without abuse. He will be missed out here.”
Steve Chambers: “Rick has been a great catch-driver for my horses over the years. He put a lifetime mark on a horse I claimed from him, named Great Crusader, and was nothing but complimentary. He always comes to his next drive in the paddock with a smile and good questions. Inquisitive and aggressive -- a top guy in the bike.”
Tom Wine II: “Rick is a great all-around horseman, and very good with all different types of horses.”
Chris Hernandez: “What can I say? Rick has driven my horses for over 25 years. When I first started out, he would always take the time to help me correct issues with the horses to make them better. When I first started driving, I won my first four races, and Rick was there to coach me before and after each one. Through the many years as a wonderful friend and driver, I want to congratulate Rick on reaching his goal for retirement, and to thank him for all he has done for me and my family. I wish him the very best.”
Chris Schick: “He always came prepared, had read the program and was the consummate professional. He was great for the fans, because he always gave them the best chance to win, and he was great for the owners and trainers, because he did it without abusing the horse.”
John McKeon: “Rick is one of the smartest, most expert drivers I’ve ever raced against, and savvy enough to get along with every type of horse.”
Gilbert Herrera: “A good driver and a good person. I usually get to the track early, and so does Rick, and over the past few years we got to be very good friends. I’ll miss him not being here.”
Special congratulations from Press Row
Scott Ehrlich: “How admirable is it that Rick has chosen to tie, but not pass the amount of driving wins of his idol, Joe O’Brien. To exemplify that type of respect for a person who meant so much to you, even to the point that it puts an end, be it a winning end, to something you love, shows total class.
“To add to that, I’ve been fortunate in my work at Cal-Expo to interview Rick on many occasions when he has won the featured race. I could always count on Rick, in his well-spoken way, to provide all the right words and comments, which in turn made it easy for me to write about the story. Good luck Rick in your retirement as a driver. Here’s hoping we see you in the business in some other fashion -- we need more like you!”
Mark Ratzky: “I echo everything that Scott said. I have known Rick Kuebler for over 30 years, and he has always been one of my favorite interviews.
“In addition to being a fine driver, he has also been a tireless crusader for harness racing in California, doing anything he can to help further the sport. Best of luck, Rick.”
Dick Feinberg: “I’ve worked with Rick since he burst on the scene in the 1970s. When I handled PR and publicity, Rick was my go to guy -- articulate, knowledgeable, entertaining, and always available. His record on the track speaks for itself, and as an owner, Rick drove for me from time to time. As a general manager, it would be great to have 15 Rick Kueblers in the room -- it would make the job a lot easier.”