All In

Ed Teefey is immersed in all aspects of Illinois harness racing

story by Neil Milbert

If harness racing had a counterpart to the Academy Award for best supporting actor, Ed Teefey would be a prime candidate every year.

For many years the 68-year-old retired banker from a small town in Illinois has been playing many roles in the sport and performing them all with distinction.

Pedigree reader. Announcer. Co-manager of a yearling sale. County fair superintendent of racing. President of an owner-breeder organization. Chairman of a breeders’ committee for a horsemen’s association. Legislative advisor and advocate.

All of the above are on Teefey’s diversified resume. They are an outgrowth of his success as an owner-trainer-driver as a young man and as an owner-breeder as an adult.

As a pedigree reader and announcer, Teefey has carved his niches in the history books. He read the pedigrees of the only three Standardbreds to sell for $1 million or more at public auction: the 2-year-old trotting filly Cameron Hall for $1.1 million at the 2001 Tattersalls December Mixed Sale in Lexington, Ky.; Maverick for $1.1 million at the 2019 Lexington Selected Yearling Sale; and Damien for $1 million at the same sale.

As an announcer, his claim to fame is calling the last four renewals of the World Trotting Derby at the Du Quoin State Fair which were won by Chocolatier, Donato Hanover, Deweycheatumnhowe and Muscle Hill.

In his home state, Teefey is best known for his multi-faceted breeding endeavors.

“Ed has been a tremendous advocate for breeding in the state—from his participation as a breeder and in his advocacy for statutes that affect breeders,” said Tim Norman, the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s Bureau Chief of County Fairs and Horse Racing. “A critical part of the mission of the Department of Agriculture is its role on the breeding side. I talk to Ed at least once a week about how we can improve the breeding program.

“He was an advocate for allowing the semen of Illinois stallions to ship out of state and have those resulting foals eligible for the Illinois-conceived and -foaled program. He has been a proponent for opening up stallion ownership in Illinois (to those from outside the state), which I think would enhance the program.

“Ed started the Illinois Stallion Stakes. Unfortunately, now we have such a small number of stallion owners that we’ve put it on hold for the time being. Now we just call it the Brown County Stakes.”

Teefey has 35 Standardbreds—broodmares, yearlings and racehorses—at his farm outside of Mount Sterling, a hamlet in Brown County.

“I have a couple of hundred acres,” he said. “About half of the acreage is devoted to horses. This is corn and soybean country and I cash-rent the rest. I don’t farm myself.

“Fourteen of the broodmares are in foal and now that I’m retired, I pretty much do the day-to-day operations myself. I’ve also got a partnership interest in some stallions.”

The stallions Teefey is involved with are Captain Trevor, a son of Captaintreacherous;  Revenge Shark, the 2015 Messenger Stakes winner; and Major Bombay, who won the 2011 Woodrow Wilson.

Teefey is the sole owner of the stallion Jet Airway, a recently retired pacer with a bankroll of $758,680 and a lifetime mark of 1:49.2.

“I bought him and retired him after he made all that money,” he said.

Mike Brink trains Teefey’s horses that race in the Midwest while Brent Davis trains those racing elsewhere. Another important person in Teefey’s racing operation is Alan Bowen, who breaks many of the yearlings at the Brown County fairgrounds.

Over the years Teefey also has had many horses with trainer Tony Alagna and before that, with Tony’s mother, Donna Lee.

The most successful of his recent endeavors as a breeder and owner has been a pair of trotters—the Ohio-bred filly Spunky Bottom Girl and her gelded Illinois-bred half-brother, Crooked Creek.

Spunky Bottom Girl recorded 15 triumphs and earned $228,697 from 2017-2020. The daughter of My MVP – Princess Addie was second in the 2018 Ohio Sire Stakes final for her age, gait and sex and was retired after last year’s campaign to join Teefey’s broodmare band.

Last year Crooked Creek had a 15-race schedule highlighted by eight wins and three seconds before being sold by Teefey and leaving Illinois. One of the gelding’s second-place finishes was as the beaten 9-10 favorite in the $109,000 Erwin Dygert Memorial Trot for 3-year-old colts and geldings, his last start before being sold.

The Erwin Dygert is one of the 11 races on Hawthorne Race Course’s Night of Champions, the Illinois harness racing program’s main event for Illinois-conceived and -foaled horses.

Many of the horses competing on the Night of Champions were acquired at the Illinois Classic Yearling Sale in Springfield that Teefey manages with Hall of Fame member Carl Becker, one of his mentors during his early years in the sport who subsequently became a close associate and collaborator.

Another of Teefey’s roles is serving on the board of the Brown County Fair in Mount Sterling, a position he has held since 1976. The fair has two distinctions: dating back to 1872, it is the oldest continuously running county fair in Illinois and, until COVID-19 came along, it was the only county fair in the state offering pari-mutuel wagering.

Teefey is the superintendent of racing and race secretary.

This year the fair will conduct racing on Aug. 7 and 8 but, because of the relatively light handle in prior years and the state’s budget crisis that impacts staffing, it’s doubtful there will be wagering.

“It probably would be an option if we could get three or more fairs,” Teefey said. “People like to bet there, but they don’t bet a lot of money. They bet on the pretty horse or on the horse that has the same name as their granddaughter.

“I used it more as a promotional tool; it increases the enthusiasm. I’ve gotten a few owners out of it.”

Until the Illinois Standardbred Owners and Breeders’ Association (ISOBA) disbanded about 10 years ago, Teefey was active in the organization and served as its president for many years. Then, he became chairman of the Breeders’ Committee of the Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association (IHHA).

In his work with ISOBA and now the IHHA, he has had input on racing legislation that comes before the General Assembly in Springfield.

“He knows the ropes around the capitol; he’s very valuable,” said Dr. Ken (Doc) Walker, whose Walker Standardbreds is one of the state’s foremost breeding establishments.

“Because of his family’s involvement with politics, Ed has brought to the table a keen knowledge of politics and people of both parties,” Becker said. “Ed is a very perceptive fellow. He is always thinking a few jumps ahead of political happenings.”

Teefey has served as Brown County’s Democratic Party chairman for 15 years and his father, Dan, and grandfather, also named Ed, were members of the Illinois House of Representatives.

Dan was instrumental in the passage of Illinois landmark racing legislation in the mid-1970s and is a member of the IHHA Hall of Fame.

Teefey is a lifelong resident of Mount Sterling, where his father owned a feed and grain store. When his father and a couple of local businessmen bought a piece of a harness horse, he began hanging out at the Brown County fairgrounds.

“There was a gentleman named Bob Monckton who trained a few horses at the fairgrounds and lived in a tack room,” Teefey said. “He owned Docs Jerry, who was the Illinois Horse of the Year in 1970.

“Bob let me jog horses and I jogged about every day after school and on weekends. I got my license when I was 16 and I drove at the county fairs.”

After high school, Teefey went to Illinois State University in Normal before transferring to Western Illinois University in Macomb.

“I transferred because it was closer to Quad City Downs,” he said. “It was about an hour south of the track and I could paddock horses there. People from Mount Sterling would be going up Route 67 to Quad City Downs and they’d pick me up. They’d drop me off on their way home and I’d go to class.

“I was a lot more interested in following the horses than school, but eventually I graduated and went to law school at Lewis University. Eventually the law school was sold to Northern Illinois University and I wound up getting my law diploma from there.

“During the summer of my college days, I trained and drove a couple of horses at the county fairs. Thanks to Carl Becker, who had more announcing jobs at my fairs than he could handle, I started announcing at the county fairs. I gave up driving to announce.”

Following Teefey’s first year of law school, his father died of a heart attack at age 52 on the tarmac at Quad City Downs.

When Teefey returned to law school, he arrived with a beat-up old truck and a horse trailer with a four-legged passenger.

“I had a horse, Suitcase Sal, but I had no money,” he said. “After I registered for my classes, I went to Aurora Downs and went barn to barn to find somebody to help me out. Eventually Bob and Marge Decker took me in at their training center in Elgin. I jogged and trained my horse there and helped them when I could.

“I spent a lot of time at Maywood Park. Dwight Banks befriended me, so I moved Suitcase Sal to Maywood. She got pretty decent and became a useful $12,000-$15,000 claimer who pretty much paid my second and third year at law school. After Washington Park burned down, we raced one year at Arlington Park.”

Teefey became friendly with the late harness racing icon Stan Bergstein, who at the time worked as the head of both the USTA and Harness Tracks of America (HTA) out of a Chicago office and resided in Hinsdale, where he had a bookstore open to the public.

“The other association I developed in those times was with Doc and (wife) Pat Walker, who then were living in St. Charles,” Teefey said. “They started letting me do the public address work for their yearling sale. These were the first pedigrees I’d ever done.”

“He took on the challenge and did a super job,” said Walker, a former USTA director. “He was a whippersnapper then. Now, he’s an old pro.”

It wasn’t long before Bergstein and Becker got Teefey more involved in pedigree reading. One sale led to another and today Teefey can say he has worked at nearly every Standardbred sale in the country.

“I’ve known Ed since he was a kid,” Becker said. “I had worked with his father on some legislation prior to knowing Ed. Because of that relationship, I had a special interest in him. It developed into us becoming close friends.

“I worked various sales that had needs for a pedigree reader when there was a conflict, and I would recommend Ed to management at places I could not go because he was a friend. I knew he could do the job and he went on to forge a working relationship with those companies.

“Ed and I share a lot of thoughts on harness racing. We’ve worked together on quite a few things. I’ve never been as involved in Chicago racing as Ed, but because of him I’ve kept current on what’s going on there.”

While Teefey knows his way around the racetrack and has immersed himself in harness racing, it can never be said that he has a one-track mind.

After receiving his law degree from Northern Illinois University, Teefey passed the Illinois bar exam in 1978. He practiced law for several years before he began working in the trust department at the Farmers State Bank and Trust Company in his hometown.

“I was an estate planner for a couple of years,” Teefey said. “In the mid-1980s when we had the banking crisis, my lawyering skills were more important to the bank than my estate planning skill.

“In 1986, I became the bank’s president and remained president until I retired in 2019. I’m still chairman of the board.”

Looking back on his parallel careers in the fields of banking and horse racing, Teefey takes pride in the work he has done and the friends he has made.

“Carl Becker opened a lot of doors for me,” he said.

In recounting his Standardbred success story, Teefey also cites the help he has received from many others. The long list includes Doc and Pat Walker; Stan Bergstein; Tony Alagna and his mother, Donna Lee; the late Phil Langley, former USTA President and director of racing at Sportsman’s Park, Balmoral Park and Maywood Park; the late John Cisna, co-founder and past president of ISOBA; David Reid, head of Preferred Equine, one of America’s largest Standardbred bloodstock agencies; and Bob Boni, manager of Northwood Bloodstock Agency.

Looking ahead, Teefey is deeply concerned with the problems confronting Illinois racing in the wake of the February announcement that Churchill Downs, Inc., plans to sell Arlington Park after the summer meet. That will leave Hawthorne as the only Thoroughbred and Standardbred track in the Chicago metropolitan area and create a time-sharing dilemma.

“We’re going to be desperate for that second track that was authorized for any one of six townships in Chicago’s southern suburbs in 2019,” Teefey said. “We live pretty much at the whim of our state legislature. That’s why the breeding game is so important—because of the agricultural jobs it produces. Everything we can do to expand is critical to the survival of the sport.” HB

Neil Milbert is a freelance writer living in Illinois. To comment on this story, email us at readerforum@ustrotting.com.

271 More posts in Hoof Beats Magazine category
Recommended for you
Horse Care: Delving into Dry Lots

Proper construction can make them a valuable area of the farm by Hope Ellis-Ashburn Two...