by Chris Lomon
Whether it’s coming from the clouds or falling from the sky, Matt Krueger always makes the most of every opportunity that comes his way.
It’s been more than nine years since he was fired from his nearly 20-year job at the Ford Motor Company in Kansas City, a life-changing situation that forced Krueger to seek a new career.
After considering his options, he opted for horsepower, but not the kind he’d grown accustomed to as a car worker.
Courtesy Matt Krueger Whether skydiving or horseback riding, Matt Krueger loves the adrenaline rush.
“My family has been in horse racing all my life, so when I got fired I had something to do. I went out and bought a set of colors and a road bike and went to Balmoral Park. My grandfather [veteran horseman John Finn] had just passed away in 2011 and he was my idol so i took his colors. He had always been in the business and I watched his every move. When he died I kinda got the bug and when the opportunity arose I jumped on it.
Krueger’s leap of faith has paid off.
Not that the journey to where he is now was easy. Far from even.
He smiles when he thinks back to some of the early times in his life on the track.
“It’s pretty funny. I showed up at Balmoral with my colors and a bike, and basically I just started begging for qualifying rides. It was heavy. Homer Hochstetler needed a second trainer, so he hired me. As a result, he started putting me on some of his horses. I did well with his stable – I ended up riding his whole stable that year – and you know what it’s like, when you’re chasing good horses, you win races. It went like wildfire.”
Krueger’s first pari-mutuel win is certainly a unique story.
A combination of determination and dedication helped him earn his first trip to the winner’s circle.
“I was in the paddock judge’s office in Balmoral and I had one ride that night. I just sat there in case someone booked. A driver called off that evening and a trainer came into the office. The paddock judge asked him if he needed a driver. I sat there and said, ‘I don’t have one in that race.’ So the lord said, ‘Sure, put him on the horse.’”
As he rode past the infield carrying board in the postal parade that evening (Aug. 5, 2012), Krueger looked at the odds next to his horse’s number.
He was taken aback by what he saw.
“I kind of do a double-take and realize I’m 1-5 with this horse, Katies Song Girl. The lord didn’t know me from dirt. So, we’re 1-5, we win the race and we go to the winner’s circle. The announcer said, ‘Congratulations Matt Krueger on your first pari-mutuel win.’ The trainer looks at me, his eyes popping out, and has this look that said, ‘This is your first pari-mutuel win?’ It was just coincidence and luck to fall in my first win. ”
That same year, Krueger’s cousin, Lyle Scurlock, had a 3-year-old colt, LB’s Allamericanjoy.
There was an immediate click between the driver and the pacer. Krueger rode six of the gelding’s seven wins in the season.
“He had some issues, but Lyle gave me a chance and it worked really well. That horse gave me my first 1:50 mile and he opened a lot of doors for me. I firmly believe that a driver is as good as it gets horse he rides If you’re not chasing a good horse you won’t be a success You can be the best driver but if you’re on a bad horse you won’t hit the board and you won’t be on the radar. But if you get a good horse, it opens the door to opportunities with other trainers.”
There have been a few bumps in the road since then, but Krueger has endured and put in solid numbers both as a driver and a trainer.
He is currently in Florida, a place he knows well.
“Last year was my first year committed to Hoosier Park and it was a pretty good year for me. So, that’s the plan. If they open in March, I’ll be back when they start qualifying and announce my name again. This is my sixth year coming to South Florida. The first four years I came to race in Pompano, and that’s where I met [trainer] Tony Alagna. He asked me what I was doing during the day because he needed a trainer. So I started training babies for Tony. I did that for four years, and for the past two years, [trainer] Travis Alexander asked me to help him, so I’m training his babies for him.”
Krueger also nurtures his competitive nature during his time in the Sunshine State.
When not on the greens, he occasionally takes to the blue sky.
“I’ve always been an adrenaline junkie. I started racing motocross. I never felt pressure or intimidation, or any fear factor. I am a very competitive person. I’ve been involved in sports all my school days, so competitiveness and drive are not something I had to learn. When I have time here in Florida, I play golf. I also like skydiving. It’s the same with driving, that adrenaline rush. Someone entrusts me with the work of the whole week for two minutes. They put their livelihood in my hands. The kick I get from the responsibility that comes with that is great.”
The feeling the thrill-seeker gets from harness racing when he jumps out of a plane is a mixture of bliss and serenity.
“Well, the free fall is one thing, but when that parachute opens and you’re soaring 5,000 feet above the ground, it’s like everything is standing still. It’s so peaceful. Seeing the world from that point of view is great.”
That’s exactly how Krueger feels when he’s in the sulky.
The man who calls Manteno, IL home, has racked up 400 career victories and has come a long way since making the jump into harness racing.
He is in no way slowing down his pursuit of more racing success.
“When I first started working with Tony, he asked me to come work with him in New Jersey, and I did, which opened a lot of doors for me. He used me to ride great horses. As a result, I started riding a few Sires Stakes horses for him and then I went to Lexington for home. As a result, I’ve ridden for a lot of great trainers, people like Linda Toscano, Brian Brown and George Ducharme – when doors open like this, you want to make the most of it.”
No doubt Krueger has done just that.