by Ken Weingartner
When Kate Swanberg bought trotter My Last Wish for $200 — and got a used jog cart thrown into the deal — a little more than a decade ago, it changed her life. And that is exactly what Swanberg, then in her mid-40s, desired. After years of watching harness racing, Swanberg was ready to leave her computer programming job and participate.
“I’m a late bloomer,” Swanberg said with a laugh. “I’d always followed the horses. I just took the plunge. It’s something I always wanted to do. I figured in my mid-40s that if I didn’t do it then I’d never get to do it. The software business was changing and becoming more cookie-cutter and less creative, less fun. It got to the point where the lure of harness racing became greater than the joy of computer software. It just seemed like the right time.”
Two years after her purchase, Swanberg began training horses on her own. My Last Wish was her entire racing stable at that time, competing at Pompano Park where Swanberg was then based. My Last Wish was tough to get going, but with Linda Kakaley training her at first followed by Swanberg, the mare won seven races and earned $31,208 at ages 5 and 6.
“When I got her, she wouldn’t trot,” Swanberg said. “It took about a year, but we got her to the races. She ended up being a nice trotting mare. She won in (1):56.2. It was a perfect first horse experience for me. It kind of spoils you.”
|Photo courtesy of Kate Swanberg|
|Kate Swanberg notched her first lifetime driving win on July 26 at the Boonville Fair with Waitinonawish.|
My Last Wish retired in 2010, but continues to have an impact on Swanberg’s life. Last month, My Last Wish’s only racing foal, Waitinonawish, won at Boonville on the New York Sire Stakes fair circuit. Swanberg drove the 3-year-old filly to victory, notching her first lifetime driving triumph in the process.
“I really didn’t have any desire to drive my horses and my cousin kind of talked me into getting my driver’s license a few years ago,” said Swanberg, who spends the summers now based at Saratoga and the winters in Florida. “It was pleasurable; it was satisfying. I’ve sat behind a lot of horses, just never drove in a lot of races. It was kind of like accomplishing another goal. It felt really, really good.”
Swanberg grew up in Braintree, Mass., and was introduced to harness racing through an aunt and frequent trips to Foxboro Raceway. She got a chemistry degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and worked in the chemistry and computer software fields prior to making the jump to training horses.
Since going on her own in 2008, Swanberg has trained the winners of 29 races and $194,369.
“I enjoy being with the horses,” Swanberg said. “Probably my favorite thing is watching babies progress. I’m what they tell you not to do; I tend to fall in love with them. Fortunately I’ve been lucky. I think I have enough of a level head to realize that sometimes they have to move on, but they’re all special to me.”
Many of the horses to come through Swanberg’s stable have been owned by either Swanberg or her 93-year-old father Arthur.
“He’d come to the barns on Saturdays when I was in Florida,” Swanberg said. “It’s something nice to do together. He’s always been there to morally support me. That’s probably his biggest role, to be there when I needed him.”
Swanberg has no big plans for the future. She plans to continue driving on a limited basis, with young horses at the fairs, and train a small stable.
“I’m a realist,” Swanberg said. “I’m 57 years old; I’ll be 58 in a couple weeks. If I drive once or twice a week I’m not going to be as sharp or as competitive as the guys that do it every night. As much as I hate handing the lines over, it’s a good thing. Plus we have such a good drivers’ colony up here it’s tough to make a bad choice. The horses that aren’t ready for the racetrack I’ll take to the fairs.
“I have two racehorses and I’ve got a yearling coming in, so that’s my immediate future. My desire was never to have a big stable. I think the most I’ve ever had at one time is seven. If I can get six horses, a couple of my own and four pay horses, that would be nirvana to me. I don’t have visions of grandeur; I just enjoy what I do.”