When harness racing owner/trainer Gary Machiz decided to turn Where To Hanover's lines over to longtime friend Joe King, he did so with some very specific advice. 'I gave him a list of all the mistakes I made over the years,' Machiz said. 'I said 'Don't repeat those, just make new ones.' He not only hasn't made any mistakes, but he made improvements.'
That was in September and marked the end of Machiz's training career, at least for now. And King worked his magic with the 4-year-old trotter Where To Hanover as witnessed by first-place finishes in his three lifetime starts.
"The only credit I'll take is that I was able to show him some things that wouldn't work," Machiz said with a laugh. "I had no advice on what would. He was willing to accept that input and at this point all I'm doing is taking congratulations phone calls."
The horse's first two wins were at Harrah's Philadelphia in December and his latest was in the first round of the Meadowlands Racetrack'sseries last week. Driven by David Miller, Where To Hanover will start from post nine in Thursday's second round.
It has been a long, strange trip for Machiz and Where To Hanover, starting when Machiz bought the horse as a yearling for $30,000 at the Standardbred Horse Sale. The horse was unraced at 2 and appeared ready for his 3-year-old season, especially after a good training mile at White Birch Farm early in the year, but it wasn't to be.
"He really didn't show a lot of signs of making it, but we were very patient with him and got him ready, or what I thought was ready," Machiz said. "He was training down really good; Dave Miller didn't think he was special then, but thought he could be. He went that mile exceptionally well."
Machiz had Where To Hanover fully staked at 3, including in the Hambletonian, because of the promise the horse showed. But it was unfulfilled promise and Machiz continued to work with him. He gave him some mild rest, brought him back, then took him to different vets to try and find out what physical problems he had, but no one came up with anything conclusive.
After starting him back up, Machiz didn't like Where To Hanover's behavior and gelded him.
"I thought that would make him great and it backfired," he said. "He had castration problems and that brought him back even further."
Machiz, who is probably best known for his successes with horses like Arizona Jack and Tyberwood, finally decided to step away from training "at least for the time being, all together."
"I've been friends with Joe King for 20 years," he said. "He's always been my go-to guy for shoeing advice and trotting help. Not only is he the most underrated trotting trainer in the sport, in my opinion, but he does a great job with horses with foot issues. And that was probably the biggest problem and Joe addressed all those problems.
"Joe just kept tinkering with the shoeing until he got them really just right. People have different kind of training styles. Joe is like a craftsman. He makes minor adjustments until he gets it right. He's a relentless perfectionist, it took a little time but he got it right."
Machiz also gives Joe's wife, Lynn, credit for taking care of Where To Hanover.
"She's one of the keys," he said. "I stopped and visited the horse, he was happy, unbelievably taken care of and that's all Lynn's love. No stone is left unturned there. On my best day I couldn't do it better."
When Where To Hanover won his first race at Philly, Machiz watched "in disbelief" and then "was thrilled when he proved it the second time."
"Going up to the Meadowlands he had to prove it to me again and he did it."
Machiz was not only happy with the win, but how Miller drove him.
"Dave taught him a lot in the race," he said. "The horse got a lot out of that mile instead of just airmailing him. As the competition gets stiffer and stiffer you can't do that, nor will it be good for the long term. It was a nice victory on a lot of different levels."
Machiz is understandably more excited about this Thursday's race than he was last Thursday, when it was more of an anxious feeling.
"When I get to watch him this week, it's not that I'm expecting to win because he's a post nine and there are a lot of good horses, but I hope to watch a nice horse race," the owner said. "Last week I was in a fog. I was preparing for whatever, whether good, bad or indifferent."
Interest has grown in Where To Hanover as Machiz has received numerous offers to sell. He has not considered any and says "Time will tell if I'm smart or stupid."
"He's paid in that next series," Machiz said. "Only time, in racing, will tell if he is going to belong in any paid events as his career progresses. As I learned in 30-plus years as a trainer, owner and breeder, what you see today doesn't necessarily mean it's what will happen tomorrow. I've had my major share of victories and disappointments so I know what can happen.
"I'm still way behind financially with Where To Hanover, but I'm a lot better off after the last three races than if you interviewed me three months ago and asked me where I thought I'd be with the horse."
Where To Hanover is pretty much Machiz's only interest right now. It's the last horse he owns and he no longer trains. He still loves Standardbred racing and is a substitute co-host at Yonkers, but doesn't have the drive to be hands-on in the business anymore. He does, however, have some equipment in reserve lest he changes his mind.
"I lost my dad 10 years ago," Machiz said. "When he left, so did my true passion for racing and I've had enough. I still love going to the races, but my only regret I had with this decision is I was about three years late getting to it.
"But it's a habit. I woke up every morning for decades and it just seemed like what I was supposed to do. But I just didn't have that fire in my belly like when it was a real joy to be so involved."
Rest assured, however, when Where To Hanover comes out of the gate Thursday night, that belly will resemble a furnace for a few minutes.
by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent