O.J. Waddell, the paraplegic who is trying to earn a license to drive in parimutuel harness races in California, finished fourth in a non-betting qualifying race Wednesday night at Los Alamitos, then suggested afterward that the state stewards should soften their rules and accredit him immediately.
Driving Hutt Girl, a 7-year-old mare he claimed for $4,500 last month, Waddell was sitting behind a horse, Road Nuke, that broke stride going into the first turn. Waddell was able to avoid trouble before tucking his horse into a position on the rail going down the backstretch. He then brought Hutt Girl to the outside for the stretch drive and was overhauled by Too Wild To Care for third place in the final strides. Smart Offer, driven by Rod Hennessy, was first in 2:01 1/5 and Fax The Facts finished second. Hutt Girl was beaten by 10 lengths.
"I think I drove like an experienced driver," Waddell said after driving in his first qualifier. "A young driver and there could have been a pileup [when Road Nuke broke stride]. Maybe everybody didn't expect me to be that sharp, but I was."
Fledgling drivers are expected to drive in 12 qualifying races during a six-month span, and the Los Alamitos stewards indicated they would not make an exception for Waddell.