By Ray Weiss for the Daytona Beach News Journal
Wayne Heller looked out at several horses going through their late-morning lesson on a large oval track.
He rarely drops by Spring Garden Ranch in DeLeon Springs these days, even during spring training, when young harness-racing trotters and pacers take their first steps in a professional career.
“I’m no horseman. I have a great staff and don’t micromanage them,” said Heller, 57, who grew up in Miami Beach. “I consider myself as a preservationist.”
The odds were long back in January 2003 that Spring Garden Ranch would survive. The former owners had put the financially struggling, 150-acre facility up for sale, and rumors swirled the property would become a housing development.
Heller, almost on a whim, submitted a bid in an auction and much to his surprise won, ultimately paying $1.5 million for the facility.
He vowed to improve, not dismantle, the two tracks, 18 barns and 650 stalls — and more importantly build upon a rich history and tradition that produced many notable standardbred horses like Pine Chip, Muscles Yankee and Mack Lobell since the track was established in 1949.
“I bought two horses years go because I wanted to feel what they feel,” Heller said of the owners of harness-racing trotters and pacers. “Both made money, but I sold them the next year. It wasn’t for me.”
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