If Smash Key was alive now he would be 49. The old boy was no harness racing star of the 1960s but the Brown Key gelding sure did make an impact on one woman's life. Smash Key was the first standardbred that Steger (Illinois) trainer Donna Lee Ozment jogged.
“I was 12 at the time and up until then I had always had saddle horses. No-one in my family had been involved in harness racing. And if it wasn’t for the Champagne County (Illinois) Fair and Mr Marshall Britt’s horse my love affair with the standardbred might have never happened,” Ozment told Harnesslink.
That’s when a local trainer asked her if she wanted to have a drive of Smashed Key. And from that moment Ozment has been totally hooked on harness racing.
“I got into harness racing full-time when I left (Urbana) High School. From the moment I drove that horse back in the 1960s I fell in love with harness racing.
“I still ride Arab endurance horses competitively and for leisure – I have always loved them too, but the standardbred is my favourite. It has to be - they earn my living,” said Ozment, who works a team of 15 horses with three other staff.
Had it not been for Smash Key, Ozment’s sons Tony and Peter Alagna may have never entered the harness racing business either.
Tony is a better than average trainer, also based out of Steger. Since 1998 he has trained 346 winners and won just under $7 million in purses. Last year was his best season winning 125 races and $3.6 million.
Peter is the founder and owner of Elite Harness Racing Inc – the company that manufactures state-of-the-art sulky wheels.
Their mother’s barn is known as ‘Donna Lee Stables’. Since 1992 she has trained 275 wins from 2,428 starters. She has also had 595 placings for $1,793,728.
Her most successful years were last year when she won 27 races and in 2000 when she won $188,314.
She doesn’t dive.
“I’m not very good,” she said.
But she does have a lot of time for her 6-year-old pacing gelding Doubletrouble (1:50).
“He’s not only my favourite horse but he’s also the best I have trained. Even if he was a 1:59 pacer I’d still love him. He’s so beautiful to work with. He’s just a giant teddy bear,”Ozment said.
All up the son of has won 18 of his 103 starts and placed 32 times for $536,313.
“I think his biggest win was at Balmoral Park last year when he went 1:50 (in the Maurello Pace). I just love him,” the 59-year-old said.
Asked what her proudest moment was, Ozment replied:
“Watching my two boys grow up. I am very proud of what they have achieved. They are both involved in harness racing. I was a bad influence on them wasn’t I?”
But if Ozment could have her life over again, it would be working with horses, but not just Standardbreds and Arabs.
“If I was 18 again I’d study to be a vet. I love horses. I’ve been in Illinois longer than dirt and I love working with horses on the land,” she said.
Asked what her interests were outside of harness racing Ozment replied:
“There is a life outside of horses? I used to play sport at school but I’m not involved any more. I’m not much of a watcher I’d rather be a player than a spectator.”
By Duane RANGER (editor)
(1) Donna Lee Ozment loves riding her Arabian horses:
(2) Donna Lee Ozment enjoys all music especially Train and Van Morrison:
B) Van Morrison:
(3) Donna Lee Ozment is a former field hockey player and prefers the outdoor version to ice hockey: