Per Engblom prepares to fill some big shoes
story by Ken Weingartner
Several days prior to his retirement, Jimmy Takter was standing in the aisle of his stable while horses were being organized for a morning workout. Leading the activity was second trainer Per Engblom, who, following Takter’s departure at the end of November, would drop the “second” from his title.
“What kind of horseman is Per?” Takter was asked. “We will find out,” Takter replied, smiling playfully.
The 38-year-old Engblom, with support from Takter, launched his own stable in December fol-lowing a six-year period as Takter’s top assistant. It was Engblom’s second stint with Takter; he had worked for him in the early 2000s before operating training stables in Sweden and Italy.
“It feels good,” said Engblom, who started with 40 horses, including two dozen 2-year-olds. “Of course, having Jimmy’s support is huge. He pushed a lot of good horses my way and hopefully I can do something good with them. We’ve got a lot of great owners and they bought a lot of good horses, pedigree-wise. I couldn’t have a better situation to start out. It’s time to step up to the plate.”
Takter was already a member of the Harness Racing Hall of Fame when Engblom returned to work for him in 2013, but during the past six years, Takter’s stable enjoyed nearly unparalleled success. Takter’s accomplishments during that span included 19 Breeders Crown trophies (a total that would be the record for the entirety of the 35-year series), 15 Dan Patch Award honorees (including 2016 Horse of the Year Always B Miki), a record five consecutive Hambletonian Oaks victories, two Hambletonian wins, and $61.3 million in purses (second to only Ron Burke).
“Jimmy is maybe the all-time greatest,” Engblom said. “[When he retired], he was as good as he’d ever been. It’s been a joy to work with him and it’s truly been an honor to work with such nice horses.”
Takter had this to say about Engblom.
“He’s been a super right-hand man. He made my life easier. He made sure everything was orga-nized and had the stable ready for me. It let me do my thing; I didn’t have to deal with too much other stuff. We worked together so many years, he knew how I am. He understood me.”
Going from right-hand man to The Man, though, is a transition. Engblom hopes his previous experiences running stables in Europe combined with the lessons he learned from Takter will accelerate the process and produce winning results.
“The daily work, I’ve been organizing that for the past six years,” Engblom said. “That’s not going to change much. We’re just going to try to keep rolling as good as we can. Of course, then it comes to decision-making. I have to step up a little bit. But Jimmy always had a lot of confidence in me.
“When I was in Sweden, I had 60 horses, and when I was in Italy, I had 100 horses. I’ve done it before, but I feel more prepared, more ready, this time out. I’m seven years older now, too. I’m 38 years old; I’m not 25 like when I started out back home. I feel like I’m pretty ready.”
Engblom grew up in Mantorp, Sweden, which is also Takter’s birthplace. Both men began their ca-reers at the local racetrack, which was started by a group that included Engblom’s grandfather, Bengt Engblom. Engblom’s father, Raoul, also is a trainer, still with a small stable at the age of 65.
“Racing is in my blood,” Engblom said. “I studied business for a couple years and was going to go to university, but then I got [over here]. I didn’t plan to stay here that long. I was going to take a year and travel and go back to school after. But that didn’t happen.”
Engblom was 19 when he came to the States for the first time. His sister, Pernilla, worked for Takter and the stable was in need of additional help. Engblom worked as a groom for two years before assisting with training for another three years. He then returned home to Sweden, where he was the private trainer for Stall Tilly, and later worked in Italy before starting his own public stable.
At the beginning of 2012, Engblom and his wife, Helene, decided to move to the U.S. with their then 4-year-old son, Tom, who was ready to start school. Engblom worked for a year with trainer Tony Alagna before returning to the Takter Stable, where Helene joined him.
“I’m not going to complain; I did very good back home, but I always kind of wanted to come back,” Engblom said. “The lifestyle fit me. I love racing young horses and Sweden is more older racehorses. Racing is fun too. I love to go and race, but what I always liked is developing yearlings into racehorses. We figured if we were going to make a move and try something, it was best before Tom started school. So that’s why we moved when we moved.”
The year with Alagna was valuable in helping Engblom gain more experience with pacers. When he worked for Takter the first time, Takter had only just started to incorporate pacers into his stable, led by Dan Patch Award-winning filly Cabrini Hanover in 2004.
“That was the last year I was here,” Engblom said. “I was in Canada with her when she won the She’s A Great Lady. The year I worked for Tony, I learned a lot. He had a lot of pacers. That was really helpful with how to set them up and shoeing wise and rigging wise. We had some good success here with Jimmy too. Of course, trotters are what I grew up with, but for me, a good horse is a good horse. If it’s a trotter or a pacer doesn’t matter.”
Engblom, who stands 6-foot-5, which he calls “more trainer-sized,” has always focused on condi-tioning horses with little interest in driving.
“I drove a couple races when I was a kid, but I was always more into the training,” he said. “It fits me good. I didn’t really enjoy driving. I get too frustrated when it doesn’t go my way. I don’t have the patience for driving. I don’t mind standing on the side. I can have some distance from it and try to analyze instead of being angry.”
What does Engblom watch during a race?
“I mostly look at the horse to see how the horse is performing,” he said. “I try to look at it from a trainer’s standpoint and not a driver’s standpoint. I know we use the top guys in the business. I try not to say he should have done that, or this. I always try to look at the horse and see if his gait is good, is he carrying his head the right way, is the stamina there, is the speed there, can we do something to improve it.
“That’s what I look for. It’s hard sometimes, especially when you think you have a good shot in the race. But we’ve always got to try to analyze and improve our work.”
And as December began and ushered in a new era at Takter’s Millennium Farm, where Engblom remained with his stable, the work was underway. In addition to his 2-year-olds, Engblom inherited a group of 3-year-olds from Takter, including stakes winners Blood Money and Super Schissel. Takter’s daughter, Nancy Johansson, who trained 2014 Horse of the Year JK She’salady, is also stabled at the training center. She took over 10 horses trained previously by her father, but was focused on her own operation, which in 2018 produced top stakes-winners Captain Crunch and Kissin In The Sand.
“It’s going to be a different thing for him, when you’ve got to make the decisions, but I think he will do all right,” Takter said about Engblom. “I’m confident; otherwise, I wouldn’t have backed him up. If I didn’t see the ability, I would not do it. Then I would say continue being a right-hand man. But I think he has the right determination. That’s important. He’s going to start out with a super barn, great horses, and I think he’s going to do very well.
“We need new young people in this sport. Both him and Nancy are young. Nancy has already established herself. I’m very comfortable that Per will do the same.”
Starting on familiar ground will help.
“I’ve been working at this farm for 10 years total; it’s home,” Engblom said. “Aside from the owners and horses Jimmy pushed my way, that’s huge. That will help us keep rolling because I don’t have to change much. I always try to stay organized and have a plan and try to follow the plan. That’s how I always did things. I’m going to try to set up my plan and keep working in the same path and I hope it’s going to pay off.
“I will try to make up some goals that will be realistic but still push myself. The biggest goal is to do as well as we can with each horse. We’ve got to try to achieve some numbers, of course, to put my own name on the map so I can build something for the future. That is the whole plan.” HB
Ken Weingartner is the USTA Media Relations Manager. To comment on this story, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.