Bobby Dubovec enjoys watching his horses race, but he discovered something even better while attending the U.S. Trotting Association’s Driving School.
“There’s nothing cooler than taking your own horse out there,” said Dubovec, a horse owner from Indiana, who got to jog and work with 2-year-old pacer McPlay Boy, a gelding he co-owns with trainer Ron Potter and Claude Barclay. “I didn’t know what to expect. Are they really going to think I want to be a driver? But I wanted to learn how to be more involved. Get the equipment off and not just stand around.
“I don’t want it to be like I’m an owner, I’ll bring the donuts. I always feel like I’m just standing around. I want to help out. This has been awesome.”
The 18th annual USTA Driving School concluded Saturday at the Delaware County Fairgrounds, home of the Little Brown Jug, in central Ohio. Twenty participants attended the three-day program, and not all were there to become drivers and trainers. A number of owners participated in the school, which offered work at fairgrounds-based stables each morning followed by “classroom” sessions with trainers, drivers, veterinarians, nutritionists, and others.
“I’ve been an owner for about five years, but I’ve always been the guy that’s sat just outside the stall, looking in,” said Bret Greiner, from Ohio. “I want to be more hands on. I want to be able to hook the horse up, harness it. My intentions are to get out and jog my horse once a week or so.”
Said Warren Emery, who co-owns horses with trainer Ernie Gaskin in Indiana, as does Dubovec, “I just wanted to learn more about the day-to-day operation of the stable. Right now I go out there and hang out and watch. I feel like I could help out a little bit more, but I don’t know what I’m doing because I really don’t have any horse background at all. I wanted to get an education and learn a little bit so I can participate at a different level. I’d like to be a little more hands on if I can.”
Emery, a biochemist, was a fan of harness racing who decided it might be more fun to own a horse than simply bet on a horse. When he went to his first yearling sale, he was hooked.
“I’m a scientist by training and I can kind of wrap my head around the statistics that are available about the breeding process,” Emery said. “I don’t really know anything about evaluating a horse physically, but I can look at statistics and that sort of thing. That was really a lot of fun to me. It felt a lot like getting ready for the NFL draft, or something like that. I like to play fantasy football, but this is like fantasy horses for real. I just got hooked from that point on.”
Sandy McDavid, an Ohio resident who bought her first horse during the winter, got to jog the horse at the school. Oberlin, a 2-year-old pacing colt, is with trainer Tim Lane at the fairgrounds.
“I already knew that the (Standardbred) breed was a great breed; they’ll do anything for you,” McDavid said. “I never realized how fast you go on the track until I got out there. I’ve been able to jog mine and that’s a whole lot of fun. It’s been great. I’ve learned a lot. The people are so incredibly nice. They share their stories and are so helpful.”
McDavid, who has ridden horses in the past, said she has no intentions of becoming a driver. She is, though, interested in breeding her own horses.
“I’m fine having a trainer; I’m fine having a driver,” McDavid said. “Would I like to jog occasionally? Yeah, because that was really fun. I just want to be more of a part of it. It would be nice if we could get a broodmare and have our own and see it from the start. That’s probably about the extent of it.
“We have two children and they are excited about going to the races. It’s a great family thing to do as well.”
For Dubovec, who played baseball in college, participating in harness racing helps satisfy his competitive nature.
“Not that anybody could do it, but everybody has a chance,” Dubovec said. “You could be as involved or not involved as you want. I could jog them every day. It’s an adrenaline rush.”
Added Greiner, “Just being behind all that horsepower is pretty exciting.”
Getting behind that horsepower on the same track as the Little Brown Jug makes the experience even better.
“Being on that track is like being able to hit golf balls at Augusta National, or something like that,” Emery said. “It was awesome, a great experience.
“I feel like I’ve learned a lot. Even the simple things like learning to properly clean out a stall and harness a horse and bathe a horse. It’s really all exciting to me to know what happens on a day-to-day basis.”
by Ken Weingartner, Harness Racing Communications