Rene Sheward is still buzzing from creating her own slice of Little Brown Jug harness racing history at the Delaware County Fairgrounds last Thursday (September 20). That's the day the Indiana native became the first woman in the 67-year history of the coveted Ohio race to become an associate judge.
She said it was a job she would never forget this year's Jug just like she will never forget the day she was offered the job a couple of months ago.
“I couldn’t believe it when general manager Tom Wright offered me the job. It’s a job any judge in the country would want. And to do it in front of more than 48,000 people - wow!” Sheward told Harnesslink.
The 57-year-old grew up working with her father Ray's horses at their Portland, Indiana farm, and later found herself as an assistant trainer.
In 2000 Sheward said she was looking for a change but still wanted to remain in the industry.
That’s when she went from training horses to becoming a racing official.
“I wanted to make a name for myself outside training and in 2002 Tom Aldrich, then general manager at Northfield Park gave me a chance to become an associate judge.
“I took to it immediately,” Sheward said.
Then in 2008 she became the presiding judge at Raceway Park, Toledo, and in 2009 became presiding judge at Lebanon Raceway – working summers and winters sat those tracks respectively.
After that she then joined Tim and Rich at Hoosier Park and Indiana Downs as an associate judge.
Sheward said it had been a shock going from a paddock judge to an associate judge on one of harness racing’s biggest days.
“I really enjoyed being paddock judge. I liked getting to see the horses up close. But it’s been an amazing ride. I would never have thought I would have been an associate judge on Little Brown Jug Day.
“As I was doing my job it brought back a lot of Jug memories of yesteryear. It made me think of great drivers like Billy Haughton and Stanley dancer and horses like.
“I had to pinch myself. I couldn’t believe I had climbed the ladder so fast. It was an absolute honor,” Sheward said.
Schmitz spoke of Sheward’s rise to fame:
“Renee is now the first-ever female associate judge for the Delaware, Ohio County Fair. She is one of three women judges working at pari-mutuel tracks, and is the first to work in Ohio in the capacity of a presiding judge.
“No woman has ever worked the Little Brown Jug which says a lot about her qualities since it is the premium harness pacing event.”
He said Sheward was a stern and efficient paddock regulator who kept her paddock in order.
“It made sense that she was going to be an outstanding presiding associate judge because she has a keen eye for judging races, knowledge of the rules, and the backbone to en to enforce the rules of racing,” Schmitz added.
Sheward grew up attending county fairs in Indiana and Illinois with her father and brother Donald.
“In the 1980s I took a few of dad’s racehorses to Chicago. I also worked for trainers Tommy Harmer, Lavern Hostetler and Doug Hamilton at Maywood Park, Balmoral Park and Sportsman’s Park.”
She then went to Northfield Park as an assistant trainer before she sought a lifestyle change.
“I worked with some nice horses including the very good pacer. I distinctly remember him because he bit me,” she said.
Sheward said she still had plenty of goals.
“I am trying to work something out on the East Coast but won’t know the outcome for 10 days. I will keep you posted,” she said.
For the record the Associate Judge at the Indiana Horse racing Commission studied at the University of Arizona.
She also attended Pennville High School in Indiana.
By Duane RANGER (editor)
(1) Michael's Power and Scott Zeron win the 67th edition of the Little Brown Jug raced at the Delaware County Fairgrounds on Thursday September 20, 2012:
2) Renee Sheward thought of driving greats like Stanley Dancer and Billy Haughton and top pacer , while she was working on Little Brown Jug Day:
Stanley Dancer tribute:
(3) Billy Haughton at his best:
(4) The Stanley Dancer driven :