photos & story by Ken Weingartner
RaLee Wall doesn’t mind a little hard work, especially when it involves horses. And if it also results in winning, all the better.
Wall was among 10 participants in the Harness Horse Youth Foundation’s five-day camp at Gaitway Farms. She also was among three winning drivers in exhibition races on Friday as the camp wrapped up its stay at the central New Jersey training center.
Joining Wall in earning trips to the winner’s circle – where Meadowlands analyst Bob “Hollywood” Heyden conducted interviews with the drivers – were Rylee Lafferty and Sarah Duke. Meadowlands track announcer Ken Warkentin called the action.
Wall guided CD’s Miss M to victory in the second of the three exhibition races, in which the camp participants drove in double-seated carts and were assisted by professional drivers. Wall was assisted in her race by Vinny Ginsburg.
“It was really fun,” said Wall, a 13-year-old who lives in Manasquan. “Missy is really hard to hold back from the starting gate; she really just wants to go. After that, she was relaxed. She knew what she was doing, so that really helped out. I love going fast with Missy.”
Wall attended a two-day HHYF camp last year and was introduced to the program through a one-day camp with her 4-H group in 2013.
“It’s hard work, but it’s fun,” Wall said about working with the horses. “Through all the hard work you get to bond with the horses. Racing is really fun and I really wanted to try that. I love harness racing now. It’s really fun.”
Lafferty, assisted by Rick Pantano, captured her exhibition with Royal Attire, who sprinted from the starting gate and won by open lengths.
“It was nice,” said Lafferty, who is the niece of Standardbred breeder Leo McNamara. “We did a practice race yesterday and I won that, so I was pretty confident that I had it today. My driver told me when I made the first turn I was going to win.”
Lafferty, who participated in a two-day camp last year, hopes to become a professional barrel racer, but is leaving the door open for driving in harness races.
“Never say never,” the 13-year-old Newfield resident said with a grin.
Duke, assisted by Donald Dancer, won her race with LR Trixie to complete the card. LR Trixie went off stride behind the gate, but rallied in the stretch to post the victory.
“I was like, come on baby, do it,” said the 11-year-old Duke, who lives in Jackson. “The race was very exciting. I want to become a veterinarian in the future, but in my free time I would like to become a driver. I want to race.”
Duke’s cousin is married to Gaitway Farms Manager Tim Hundertpfund. She worked previously with horses in 4-H.
“It was really fun,” Duke said. “(The weather) was hot, but it all paid off. All of the horses had their own personalities; they’re race horses, not pets. I would definitely do (the camp) again.”
Other participants in the camp were Alexandra Urbanski of Jackson, Dylan Larkin of Chesterfield, Shawn Hill of Freehold, Jacqueline Tanzi of Howell, Reagan Robinson of Robbinsville, and Heather Causton and Robert Bond, both from Williamstown.
Urbanski was selected from the camp’s participants to drive in an exhibition race at the Meadowlands on Hambletonian Day, Aug. 8. She will be joined in the race by Emily Clemons from the Vernon camp, Hayley Halloran from the Harrington camp, and Katilee Dunn from the Pocono camp.