Richard Gayton has trained his share of winning horses during the past 16 years, but on Thursday he will do something he’s never done before.
Gayton will drive his trotter Highest Hill in the second of Thursday’s two $6,000 North American Amateur Drivers Association events at Yonkers Raceway. It will be Gayton’s first time in an amateur series race, and his first time competing in a race with a purse.
All of Gayton’s previous 26 races were either qualifiers or non-purse matinees, primarily at Monticello Raceway and Goshen Historic Track.
“I’m excited,” said Gayton, who will celebrate his 64th birthday the day before the race. “Nobody could get along with (Highest Hill), but he listens to me. I put him in the amateurs so I could race him. The fat guy is going to sit in the bike and see if he can get him to go and behave himself.”
And what is Gayton’s expectation for the race?
“I’m going to win,” he said.
“Actually, I’m going to go have fun,” Gayton said. “If the horse behaves himself, we should have a smile on our face at the end of the day.”
There is no wagering on Thursday’s two NAADA races. Highest Hill, a 9-year-old gelding who spent nearly three years away from the races before returning to action last summer, will start from post six in a six-horse field.
“He was sitting out in the field being miserable,” Gayton said about Highest Hill, a son of Giant Hit-Emmeline Smoke and full brother to 2003 New York Sire Stakes 3-year-old filly champion Miss Gibbons. “It took me two years to get him where I got him right now. He was 350 pounds overweight when I brought him back and it took me over a year to get the weight off him. He’s in fighting shape now.
“If this horse decides to have the light come on, (Miss Gibbons) trotted in (1):53.2 back when that was a big number. He’s a nice made horse; he just had a bit of an attitude problem. Now he’s a pussycat. I put my grandkids on him and you can do anything you want with him.”
Highest Hill, like Miss Gibbons, was bred by Howard Gill, a veterinarian who helped get Gayton started in harness racing. Gayton’s previous love was drag racing.
“I went from 800 horsepower to one,” said Gayton, who owns an auto body repair shop in addition to training horses. “In 2000 I threw the towel in on that. I had enough running all over the country. So I started playing with horses.”
Gayton has won 73 races as a trainer and posted a win rate of nearly 13 percent in his career. He co-owns Highest Hill with Majestic View Farms International. He is based at Pine Bush Training Facility.
“I’ve got pieces of five horses,” Gayton said. “I mostly have trotting horses. They seem to race better out of the field. I swim them a little bit and some we have a girl that rides them. We try to keep them happy and they seem to do the job.”
Highest Hill has won seven of 49 career races and earned $35,910 in purses. Since returning to action in 2016 the gelding has won four of 20 starts and banked $14,056. He won a matinee at Goshen with Gayton in the sulky in his first trip back to the races last June.
Gayton hopes for another winning experience with the trotter Thursday.
“I’m going to do the best I can,” Gayton said. “We’ll find out.”
by Ken Weingartner, Harness Racing Communications