An unexpected plus from the revitalization of harness racing in the state of Ohio: sharp Buckeye-based trainers, realizing that there is now money to be made, start advertising, looking for new owners – thereby giving the coffers of the trade press a little extra jingle!
Dee Hotton, who is based at the Wooster OH fairgrounds, recently advertised that she is looking for new owners for whom to train their horses for campaigning in the state – but she has always been a bit “ahead of the curve,” though. (How many trainers do you know who have had their own website for years, and who use the word “behooves” – and before noon, no less?)
Hotton was born on Long Island (or “Lon Gisland,” as the natives pronounce it) to a father who was a rabid fan of the trotters and pacers at Roosevelt and Yonkers. When her father was transferred by his business to Ohio when Dee was two, the family went along, and in the newly-adopted state the father undoubtedly found plenty of choices to scratch his harness racing itch – while his daughter “had decided by junior high that she was going to work with horses for her livelihood.”
Graduating early from high school and from the Wooster branch campus of Ohio State University’s program for learning all ends of standardbred care, Hotton went into the care of the sulky set at a young age. Dee was a harness “natural” across the board, too, driving in matinees at 15 and fair purse races at 16, and she carries a lifetime .292 UDR despite fewer than 500 career trips behind the gate! And August 9 of this year will mark the TENTH ANNIVERSARY of Dee last losing a purse race while in the sulky – OK, be a spoilsport and point out that she’s only driven once since 8-9-04.
“And I wasn’t even supposed to drive that one,” Hotton recalled with a chuckle. “Don McKirgan had been driving my horse for me, but he decided he had a chance to make more money with the horses he was listed on at another fair, and mine didn’t look like much, so I decided I’d just drive him myself.” 6-1 in a 3-horse field, Hotton sent her charge right to the top and held on by ¾ of a length in her first drive in eight years. (Note: Any good story about Ohio fair racing is 50-50 to have McKirgan somewhere in it.)
Despite this sulky success, Hotton is now devoting herself strictly to the training side, though she says, “I’m glad I did do some driving, because now I know exactly the sort of things to tell my drivers, and I might also have a little more credibility to them, having been a driver myself.”
There is no doubting Hotton’s credibility on the training side, with a career UTR of .322 (she’s been over .300 in 14 of the last 17 years), and many talented horses benefitting from her tutelage. One star, however, might have taught Hotton, now the master conditioner, more about training than anyone else.
Magnificent Mel, a 1976 son of Little Brown Jug winner Melvin’s Woe, raced when he was two, and was still on the track when he was 14, accumulating 81 wins and over $200,000 in earnings. If you know of Melvin’s Woe, you know how hard the Joe O’Brien stable had to work to keep the big-hearted racehorse something close to racehorse sound, and he passed on this last-named trait – plus his speed and huge heart -- to his son. “With Magnificent Mel, we had to do a little of almost everything over the course of his career – I worked him back from bowed tendons, had him stand in ice boots, used all kinds of therapy, and even used interval training back what it was an innovation,” Hotton remembers. “Working with that horse was the best education I could have, and he was a great horse – he went a 2:00 mile at Northfield in 1988, when he was 12, the first time a horse that old had broken 2:00 there.”
Focusing on the Ohio Sire Stakes program in recent years, Hotton’s best horses have been a duo who were nice horses that unfortunately raced in a two-year period where there was a dominant OhSS performer in their class: “Glory Bound always had to go up against Dunkster, and Buckeye Man was in the same year as Sing Jesse Sing.” Seeing as Dunkster and Sing Jesse Sing won about $1.400,000 between them, Hotton did some good schoolin’ to have horses who were second to the others’ caliber.
“I’m looking for owners who want to race in Ohio, because I think with the slots money it’s a very good time to maximize the possible upside of horse ownership,” Dee continue. “I’ve been partners with owners on horses, and if I had a new owner who would have a little more confidence if the trainer owned a part of the horse, I’d certainly consider that option depending on the situation.
“I’ve raced overnight horses, but right now I’m focusing on stakes horses, two- and three-year-olds, with the improvement in money that is coming to the Ohio Sire Stakes,” she added, and indeed Hotton was contacted for this piece in her winter training headquarters of Pinehurst NC, preparing, she hopes, some of 2014’s Ohio stakes stars. If Dee Hotton’s abilities and focus sound right for you and your horses, visit her website at www.deehottonstable.com.
by Jerry Connors for Harnesslink.com