One-On-One with harness racing’s Chris Oakes

04:34 AM 07 Dec 2013 NZDT
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Chris Oakes with $355,000 yearling Bodacious
Photo by Brian McEvoy
Indoor swimming pool at Chris Oakes farm
Photo by Brian McEvoy
Economy Terror gets groomed after her swim
Photo by Brian McEvoy
Horses jog in indoor exercise ring at Chris Oakes farm
Photo by Brian McEvoy
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We are visiting today with Chris Oakes who was recently crowned the leading trainer as far as wins go and also capturing the Universal Training Rating (UTR) for the second straight year at the just completed Pocono Downs meet. 

We made the trip to his impressive farm in Wilkes Barre, PA, just minutes from Pocono Downs.  We toured the farm and sat down for an interview about his thoughts on his past year of racing.  We also got to visit with the great pacing mare Economy Terror and the recently purchased filly yearling Bodacious.  Bodacious was the sales topper at the Harrisburg sale. The full sister to Beach Body was sold for a price of $355,000. 

One-On-One is done exclusively by Brian McEvoy for Harnesslink.

HLINK:  Congratulations on a great year of racing and winning UTR Training Title for the second straight year at the just completed meet at Pocono Downs. How do you rate the season?

CO:  We had an excellent year this year. I set goals every single year. We actually achieved every single goal this year.  One of the goals is to win the UTR Title at Pocono, and we did that.  Another goal was to make $2 million for the stable.  We are right now at about $2.2 to $2.3 million for the year.  The third goal was to win a Breeders Crown title at my home track (Pocono Downs).  We did that though that was a funny kind of situation.

HLINK:  You are based at your farm near Pocono Downs for three years now.  Most of your stable is Pennsylvania breds.  This is obviously a great place for you to have your home base.  Tell us a little about your farm and the convenience of being based here.

CO:  This is a great set up here.  I am roughly about 7 minutes from Pocono Downs.  We have big beautiful fields here for the horses to run and to freshen up during their down time.  We have a swimming pool for the horses to swim all year inside the barn.  We also have a indoor exerciser.  We keep 16 stalls here. We keep rotating them around.  After they race they come back out here for 2-3 days and get freshened up.  A lot of guys are shipping in from New York and New Jersey. My ships are about five minutes which is a great advantage.

HLINK:  You had three great 3-year-old filly trotters in Frau Blucher, Classic Martine, and Lady Broadway.  Classic Martine was added to your barn in late May.  Tell us about these outstanding trotters and their future.

CO:  We sold Lady Broadway at the Harrisburg Sale.  She was the weakest of those three.  She was a very good filly but did not measure up to Frau Blucher and Classic Martine.  Frau Blucher and Classic Martine are now in North Carolina getting freshened up.  We are going to bring them back next year and race them in the open trots for the mares. That is going to be a task in itself seeing that Bee A Magician will be coming back, and Maven is a great mare.  When you race those 4-year-olds against the older mares it is a tough transition.  They are both great fillies and they're healthy.  I believe they will come back and make very good money next year. 

HLINK:  Unfortunately you had to race against Bee A Magician all year.

CO: That wasn't fun (laughing).  My hats off to her.  She is an absolute champion and deserves to be the Horse Of The Year.

HLINK:  Beach Body had a promising year as a 2-year-old filly.  She came up at a little short at the end of the year.  What are your feelings on her and your plans for next year?

CO:  I really like her a lot.  She is a great big filly.  This should be an advantage for her next year.  She is also down there in North Carolina getting rest and relaxation.  We expect her to come back healthy and have a big next year.

HLINK:  Economy Terror has had a long year and is still racing.  I heard she had some tying up problems this year.  What is up with this great mare and is she getting a rest?

CO:  Right now we are contemplating whether to go on with her racing next year as a 5-year-old.  We are also thinking of sending her to the breeding shed.  I think we will make that decision in the next couple of weeks.  She had some tying up and breathing issues.  It was a lot of little things that nag these horses as they get a little older.  She has made between $1.5 and $1.6 million. She has been a great horse for us.

HLINK:  The Hauser Brothers and Conrad Zurich have been owners of many of your horses.  Give us some info on your relationship with these owners,

CO:  We got horses with Tim Hauser starting about four years ago.  He has about 20 horses with me right now.  He is a great owner and a super friend of mine. We share a passion for racing.  His goal is to win a Hambletonian and I would love to assist in that goal.  I got Conrad's horses this past year.  He stepped up big time at Harrisburg this year and purchased Bodacious for $355,000.  He is another great owner that I have enjoyed working for.

HLINK:  You made a huge splash at the Harrisburg sale when you purchased Bodacious for $355,000.  She is a full sister to Beach Body.  Tell us about the purchase and what you liked about her.

CO:  We loved her.  We actually went to the farm she was raised at to look at her. Conrad and his wife, Linda, came along.  We like what we saw.  I was pretty sure he was going to be a big bidder on that filly.  I didn't realize the bidding was going to get that high.  He was seating right next to me as the bidding was going along.  I was glad he was sitting right next to me.  I was going to have heart attack at around $300,000, but he told me to stay calm and keep putting my hand in the air. 

HLINK:  You also purchased Mclkenry for $82,000.  Tell us about him and other purchases you made at the sales this year.

CO:  Mclkenry is a McArdle colt. I am not a big fan of McArdle.  They are nice horses but you don't see a lot of them win a Breeders Crown.  This horse I just happen to stumble upon.  He is an absolute stunner.  $82,000 was a lot of money for him, but he is an absolutely beautiful colt.  We bought a Somebeachsomewhere colt out at Hanover for $72,000.  We bought a bunch out at Kentucky.  We have 30 horses at the training center at White Haven.  We get all our babies broke and going behind the cart there.  We have a colt over there named Pastalaplooza, out of Art Major that we are very high on. Brickstone is another nice colt by Bettor's Delight.  There are so many.

HLINK:  Your wife Susan also owns some horses with you.  Is she tough on you?  What advice does she give you?

CO:  She is very tough on me, brutal (laughing).  She is easy going.  She enjoys the horses.  We are trying to make this a family environment.  My son is 15 and my daughter is 13.  They are starting to get interested and enjoy the horses. 

HLINK:  The Meadowlands had it grand opening this month.  What are your thoughts on the new place and what Jeff Gural has done for racing?

CO:  Most of my horses are now turned out.  My stable for the most part is shutdown.  I did race one there Saturday night.  The place is absolutely beautiful and he is excellent for this business. I think he has done a great job over there. We have some horse that will be eligible for their upcoming series.  I am concentrating on my babies now.

HLINK:  I see you use several drivers on your horses.  What are your thoughts on how you pick your drivers for your horses?

CO:  Right now Ron Pierce and I have a great relationship.  We work well together.  We have had a lot of success together.  Ron drives a majority of them now.  Georgie Napolitano  drives a lot of the claiming horses at Pocono.  Ron is driving most of my young horses.  There are so many good drivers around.  It is not a big issue now.  The driver colony is so deep.  You are getting a good driver no matter what. 

HLINK:  You are going on a well earned vacation.  Where are you heading and when will you be back racing?

CO:  We are going to Florida over Xmas with the family.  We will be full throttle come March when Pocono resumes racing.  It is a good break for the horses.  They can't go year round with the level of racing and the speeds we race at now.  They need their rest and are getting it. 

By Brian McEvoy for Harnesslink.com

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