Imagine a story in which a young woman, just out of college, convinces her father to buy a harness racing horse that, literally, nobody wants. He is smallish and stands a little crooked; an acceptable colt, but unremarkable. The horse becomes her graduation gift.
Despite perceived shortcomings, the horse -- named after the breeder's 12-year-old son who is confined to a wheelchair because of muscular dystrophy -- makes it to the races. And he starts to win. The young woman receives an offer to sell the colt, but turns it down. She senses something larger than life is happening.
At the end of the year, her faith is rewarded. The horse wins the big race and is crowned a champion. Beyond any financial gain, which is substantial, he brings immeasurable joy to not only the young woman and her father, who trained the colt, but also to the breeder and his family.
Would you believe it? Could you believe it?
Even if it were true?
It is true. It is the story of Jammin Joshua, who was purchased for $900 at the Indiana Select Sale and became an Indiana Sire Stakes champion. He won six of 11 races, finished among the top three 10 times, and earned $209,622 for owner Emily Gaskin, who received the colt as a gift from her father, Ernie.
Jammin Joshua's triumphs included three legs in the Indiana Sire Stakes series and the $200,000 sire stakes final at Indiana Downs last month.
"I couldn't have dreamed this in a million years," the 24-year-old Emily Gaskin said. "It's been a blessing beyond anything I could ever tell you. I can't even find the words to describe what this has done for me and my family and my dad -- everything."
Jammin Joshua, a pacing colt by the sire, was the third foal out of the mare My Girl Maddie. The Gaskins also owned the two horses that preceded Jammin Joshua. The first, My Man Watts, was purchased for $13,500 and showed promise, but had to be euthanized because of a rare spinal disease. The second, My Man Tricks, was soon discovered to be blind in one eye and partially blind in the other. He was returned to breeder David Wayne Yoder, who refunded the $2,500 sales price.
"I was glad I did that," said Yoder, who works in an RV factory in addition to breeding several horses every year. "I tried to make it right with them. They didn't hold a grudge against me."
The Gaskins hoped to buy several horses at the 2010 Indiana Select Sale, but every prospect on their wish list exceeded their budget. They ended up with Jammin Joshua, making the only bid on the horse, but only after Emily twisted her father's arm.
Jammin Joshua turned out to be the only horse the Gaskins purchased that day. He also was the only horse Yoder sent to the sale last year.
Ernie Gaskin gave the horse to his daughter primarily because of her strong belief that everything would work out favorably with the colt. As Jammin Joshua trained toward his first start, it started to become apparent Emily had a chance to be correct.
Jammin Joshua paced evenly in his first qualifier, finishing fourth in 2:03.2 at Hoosier Park. He won his next qualifier in 2:01.2, despite being sick, and then finished second in his career debut in early July. He was sixth at the three-quarter mark, but finished with a :26.4 final quarter-mile to hit the wire in 1:56.1.
"Right then, I knew that I had a nice horse," Emily said. "I didn't know how nice, but I knew I had something. It just evolved from there."
On July 27, Jammin Joshua made his second start, this time at Indiana Downs. He won in 1:55. At that point, Emily Gaskin turned down the chance to sell Jammin Joshua.
"I seriously considered it," she said. "I didn't want people to look at me as some little horse-crazy girl who didn't want to sell her horse. Everyone told me to sell. But my dad said, ‘Emily this is so much bigger than you and I. This is a one-in-a-million kind of thing.' It never happens. I've been around this long enough to know you don't pay $900 for a horse and he makes it to the races. You have to respect it.
"After he was second in his first race, he paid for himself. It's not like the horse owed me anything. This was a chance to show you can buy into something like Josh; a dream to have a horse that is great. That's what you have here. We took a chance on buying him, so why not take a chance on keeping him? That's what we did and we never looked back.
"It also was kind of cool how excited we were and how much (Jammin Joshua) refreshed my dad. Here he finally had a nice colt in his barn. It was nice to see him excited again. I would rather see my dad win and get the recognition than sell him to someone and say I had that horse."
The only anxious moment came when Jammin Joshua finished fifth in the $200,000 Indiana Sire Stakes final in September at Indiana Downs. He was first at the three-quarter mark, but came home in :29.1. After the race, the horse was scoped and found to have bled. He was put on Lasix for his subsequent starts.
"It was the first time I saw him get tired and not finish the mile (strong)," Emily said. "(Driver Sam Widger) always says he doesn't know where the wire is; he just wants to fight everybody.
"We decided if we put him on Lasix and it seems too hard on him we'd just quit with him and put him up. But he came back a different horse. He was strong."
Jammin Joshua won three of his final four starts of the year, including the sire stakes final in October.
"I was excited he ended the year on such a strong note," Emily said. "He's turned out now and I'm hoping he fills out a little bit. I'm looking forward to see how he grows up. He's always taken good care of himself. We put him away on a good note so I hope it continues.
"It's definitely going to make coming down to the barn this winter when it's like 13 degrees out a lot easier knowing he's down here."
The Gaskins, who live in Anderson, Indiana, might stake Jammin Joshua to more than the Indiana Sire Stakes next year, but will try to stay close to home. They also purchased his half-brother Mr Dave for $13,000 at the Hoosier Sale last month.
"I'm excited for next year," Emily said. "I just want Josh to be sound and race his best. We'll look for some different things, but it won't be anything extravagant."
The Yoders, too, are looking forward to next year. Joshua, who keeps a photo of Jammin Joshua attached to his wheelchair, is one of David and Becky Yoder's three children; the others are Kara and Aaron, who also has muscular dystrophy. Kara and Aaron previously had horses named in their honor.
"I had more fun selling one for $900 and seeing him doing good like this than if I'd got $25,000 for him," Yoder said. "I just enjoy to see him race.
"The boys are really into sports; both are die-hard Colts fans. The horse racing falls into that. I think this was neat for Joshua. It's been an amazing year."
Emily Gaskin was unaware of the origin of Jammin Joshua's name until the Hoosier Sale last month. Emily met Joshua at the sale.
"He's just the neatest kid," she said. "It's all pretty cool. It's amazing how it all worked out."
Amazing -- and true.
by Ken Weingartner, Harness Racing Communications