Day At The Track

“Finn” gives MacKenzie Kiel a memorable victory

09:11 AM 11 May 2019 NZST
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MacKenzie Kiel,Harness racing
MacKenzie Kiel garnered her first training victory on April 24 at Rosecroft Raceway.
Photo courtesy of MacKenzie Kiel

Trenton, NJ — MacKenzie Kiel owns a horse named Going The Distance but calls him Finn. She has an uncle named Edwin Gannon Jr. but calls him Uncle Jay. The one moniker she prefers to keep the same is “winner,” which is what Kiel became for the first time in harness racing on April 24.

The 22-year-old from Maryland garnered her first training victory that day at Rosecroft Raceway when Going The Distance started from post six and went wire-to-wire in winning by two lengths in 1:56. Prior to the win driver John Wagner, a wily veteran with more than 5,300 victories to his credit, plotted with the young trainer before changing tactics when the gate opened.

“I asked him what he thought,” Kiel said. “He said ‘I’ll probably just take back and ride the rail.’ I said ‘OK that’s fine with me.’ Next thing I know I see John leaving and I got really scared. I thought to myself ‘I don’t think this horse is ready to win wire-to-wire,’ but he proved me wrong.”

It was one of those wonderful moments where wrong feels so right.

“I was overwhelmed with joy,” she said as her horse crossed what became known that night as the Finn-ish Line.

“I’m not really sure why I call him that, it just seems to fit him,” Kiel said, adding with a laugh, “It’s kind of like the brand Finn Tack…minus the tack.”

Wagner, who Kiel actually calls John Wagner, has driven Going The Distance in four of his five starts since MacKenzie bought him in March. Prior to his win he finished ninth, second and fourth, and after the victory he garnered another second. It has been a nice upgrade from the first horse Kiel purchased, “who I only had for about three months, and she never won.”

When she bought “Finn,” a 4-year-old pacing gelding, it was all about the personality.

“What I liked most is that he’s spunky,” MacKenzie said. “He acts like he’s going to bite you, but when you get close to him, he loves to be rubbed on and is actually very sweet.”

Going The Distance is the latest in a long line of horses Kiel has developed a nice relationship with. Growing up in Church Hill, Md., she became involved with the animals at a very young age.

“I grew up right next to my granny (Barbara Gannon) and pop pop’s (Edwin Gannon) horse farm,” she said. “My pop pop passed away a few years ago, but my granny and him owned and trained many racehorses, as well as my Uncle Jay (Edwin Gannon Jr.). We also have riding horses, mostly retired Standardbreds.”

Kiel has long been interested in harness racing. Although her parents are not involved in the business, they would take MacKenzie to the track to watch the family’s horses race. During that time she had numerous horses and ponies that she would ride through trails or show.

“I knew I always wanted to do something with horses,” she said. “I just wasn’t sure about the racing part, since there’s so much that goes on with it. I pretty much decided that I wanted to do this career-wise last year.”

Kiel got her trainer’s license late last summer. She trains her own horse, has helped her Uncle Jay at Windswept Farm for the past two years, and works part-time in the afternoons at her mom’s business, Serenity Enhancement Center.


MacKenzie Kiel got her trainer’s license late last summer. Photo courtesy of MacKenzie Kiel.

MacKenzie’s biggest influences have been her grandparents and Uncle Jay, along with her mom (Susan Gannon) and dad (Timmy Kiel).

“Although my parents aren’t involved in the racing aspect, they have always supported me and always watch my horse race when they can,” Kiel said. “My grandparents and my uncle have definitely taught me the most. They’ve been in the business for years, and they are always trying to help me when they can.”

Her uncle’s stable is small, around 10 horses, but it keeps Mackenzie busy enough helping out with those horses while training her Finn, that she has stepped away from showing horses.

Now that she has that first win under her belt, Kiel wants to continue to progress as a trainer and perhaps get a few more Standardbreds to call her own.

“I’m very happy with where I’m at now,” she said. “I still feel like I have a lot to learn. I’d eventually like to have a couple more of my own horses. Right now, one is enough for me.”

Especially when it goes by two names.

 

by Rich Fisher

USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

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