Woodside Charm prepares for her sophomore campaign
story by Dean A. Hoffman
Amazing. Incredible. Effortless. Astonishing.
Pick any superlative you wish, and it surely applies to Woodside Charm, the champion freshman trotting filly of last season. In fact, perhaps some new adjectives need to be invented to describe her dominance.
The daughter of Chapter Seven –Fireworks Hanover made everything look so ridiculously easy. In her seven starts, owner/trainer/driver Verlin Yoder simply pointed her toward the front end and she did the rest. And did it easily. She rebuffed her rivals as if they were pretenders, not pursuers.
She won all of her races, but those starts weren’t really racing. “Racing” implies competition, but Woodside Charm’s races were merely exhibitions. They played out much like training miles in which she finished under wraps with plenty of gas in the tank. No horse was within a length of her at the wire and her margins were usually much greater.
Woodside Charm isn’t the first 2-year-old trotting filly to astonish harness devotees, but she certainly made a lot of horsemen into true believers with her undefeated and unthreatened season in 2018.
That was last year, of course, and now the pressure is clearly on her to live up to expectations in 2019.
After trainer/driver Mark O’Mara guided Jate Lobell to an unbeaten juvenile season in 1986, he said, “Horses have a way of growing a lot from age 2 to 3.”
What O’Mara meant, of course, is not necessarily growing in size, but more so in stature. Few things feed fantasies faster in horse racing than an unbeaten juvenile. People imagine continued perfection as a sophomore.
That’s a high barrier for any horse to face, but it doesn’t seem to cause Yoder any lost sleep as he anticipates Woodside Charm’s coming season.
He owns her himself and he knows that Woodside Charm will have a large bullseye on her this year. Every trainer and every driver will be aiming to topple her from the unbeaten ranks.
“I’m just an Amish kid who was raised around horses in Indiana,” said the 45-year-old.
Yoder did not begin driving until 2004 when he was past age 30, and then only sparingly. In fact, he’s only driven in more than 100 races in a season twice in his career.
While he still has 2014 International Trot Preview victor Natural Herbie and refers to him as “the stable mascot,” Yoder has a much brighter star in his stable in Woodside Charm.
He acquired the filly from fellow Hoosier Lester Beechy in early 2018, after she had incurred an injury that left four inches of her cannon bone exposed. She was seen regularly by a veterinarian, and the wound eventually calcified over, but remained unsightly, and she was nursed along.
Yoder decided to try her, and wasn’t so sure when she attempted to trot.
“I liked her, but she couldn’t move her hocks at first,” he said. “I figured that there was no way she could make it.”
He had her shod behind with swedge shoes several times, but she was never good with the grab that they provided. He then switched to a less abrasive flat shoe and her gait improved.
“I never injected her hocks,” Yoder said. “I haven’t injected hocks in three years.”
Upfront, she was shod first in German rubber shoes and later switched to aluminums. She began to show progress.
“By mid-January, I thought I might have something,” Yoder said. “By mid-February, I was on the fence. By the middle of March, I knew I had something.”
Yoder found that whenever he asked Woodside Charm for more during a training mile, she an-swered in the affirmative. She was level-headed and Yoder patiently concentrated on teaching her how to race as he trained her in sets. At the 2:25 level, she was handling her assignments easily.
Yoder began making stakes payments. That’s the true test of an owner’s confidence.
It was obvious to Yoder that Woodside Charm had speed. But he never exploited that speed and brought her along slowly. The speed was there. He knew that. He went a lot of double- headers with Woodside Charm, as he does with his other horses.
She was ready to qualify in late June. And what a qualifier it was; she won by 17 lengths in 1:57.4 over a good track at Hoosier Park.
Yoder was not surprised.
“I’d trained her before that in 1:55.4,” he said, so he was sure that a 1:57.4 mile wouldn’t bother her. “I’m different. We go a lot of training miles with our horses.”
Her first pari-mutuel start was at Hoosier Park on July 14 and she cruised by nine lengths in 1:55.4. She went off at 3-2 odds and it was the only time all season she wasn’t less than even-money in the betting.
In that first race, Woodside Charm sat in third through an opening panel in :29.3. A second quarter in :29.4 signaled to Yoder that it was time to give his filly her head and let her trot.
“The grease fire was getting a little hot in the kitchen,” he quipped.
Once Woodside Charm saw daylight, she zoomed through fractions of :28.4 and :27.3 to win by nine lengths.
“That was easy for her,” Yoder said.
The talented filly then shipped to Tioga Downs for a New York Sire Stakes event and won by 3¾ lengths in 1:55.2.
Next stop almost three weeks later was another New York Sire Stakes contest at Vernon Downs. She won in 1:54.3 by 4½ lengths.
“It was an OK mile,” Yoder said. “I wasn’t 100 percent happy with her. I don’t think I had enough grab on her, and that was my fault.”
Her only start on a twice-around track came at Saratoga Casino Hotel on Sept. 13. Yoder prepped her for that race with a training mile in 2:12, last half in 56 seconds.
“I did notice that she was taking the turns a little wide,” he said.
In the race itself, Woodside Charm left from the rail and proved hard to rate as she whirled through splits of :27.3, :55.2 and 1:24.1 before finishing in 1:53.4.
That was simply the fastest mile that any freshman trotter—male or female—ever trotted on a half-mile track.
“The fractions got away from me,” Yoder said.
It was then back to Indiana for the $236,000 Kentuckiana Stallion Management Stake and there she was the easiest kind of winner at 1-5 odds. Her 1:55 effort put her four lengths ahead of her pursuers.
Now the Breeders Crown loomed at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. The filly would enter that year-end championship with five purse starts and a qualifier, fulfilling the schedule that Yoder had mapped out early in the season.
She was nothing short of dazzling in her Breeders Crown elimination. Yoder sent her to the front, took her back, and let her loaf through a second quarter in 30 seconds.
Then she put on her trotting shoes. A final half-mile in :55.3 left her pursuers floundering like hogs on ice. She won by more than a dozen lengths.
There was no real drama left for the $600,000 final. Over a sloppy track, she went to the front and coasted to an easy-does-it win in 1:54.1.
Woodside Charm finished her season unbeaten and unchallenged.
Can she stay unbeaten and unchallenged this year? She will surely face new challenges and it’s a safe bet that Yoder will take things as they occur this year. He understands the vagaries of racing, but you can bet that he would not trade Woodside Charm for any other filly. HB
Dean A. Hoffman is a former executive editor of Hoof Beats. To comment on this story, email us at email@example.com.