Trenton, NJ --- For most of her life, the extent of Shelley Johnson’s photography featured holiday and vacation photos, much like the rest of the world. About 10 years ago, her husband Jeff surprised Shelley with a point-and-shoot camera for Christmas, in hopes that nine months later she would be able to take sharp action photographs at the Little Brown Jug at the Delaware County Fair in Ohio. “I’m not sure what Jeff was thinking,” said Johnson, who lives 35 miles east of Columbus, Ohio. “I had never taken action shots. I took it as a challenge.” Jeff must have known something no one else did, because the challenge has been well met. A decade later, most of the cover photos on Scioto Downs programs are taken by Shelley, who has developed an eye for action and just this week enjoyed shooting another Little Brown Jug. But her efforts in photography go beyond the racetrack. She also shoots photographs for the New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program, which has Standardbred facilities in Ohio and Michigan. “I find great joy shooting photos of Standardbred horses retiring from the track and moving on to other careers,” she said. “New Vocations retrains Standardbred racehorses for various occupations under saddle and places them in new, caring homes. Each month I photograph these great horses going up for adoption. This is my way of promoting harness racing and helping the Standardbred horse adoption program.” While Jeff is the big horseman in the family, he did provide Shelley with a birthday present when he bought her a horse for her birthday named Master Chip in 2005. But it wasn’t like she just had to unwrap the horse at the stable. “I had to do all of my own bidding at the (Ohio Selected Jug) sale,” she said. “I had never been to an auction, let alone bid on anything. It was quite stressful. He didn't do much on the track, but I sure loved him. He has a good home now and enjoys life.” The Johnsons have also partnered with other owners on trotting fillies She’s Not Red and ML Cupcake, who are both broodmares now. They still have ML Cupcake, who was Ohio’s 2-year-old filly Trotter of the Year in 2010. “I can't wait until next spring to see her baby,” Shelley said. They also have a 2-year-old filly trotter, Carolina Charm, who has won four of six starts this season. “The racing was always Jeff's thing,” Shelley noted. “He knows horses, stallions, etc. I only enjoyed watching the races if it was a horse I knew. That's when I started taking pictures. It gave me something to do, and he was able to stay for the entire card without me wanting to go home!” It has led to a long, steady climb for the Ohio retiree who is technically a professional photographer by virtue of her sales, but still considers it a hobby. After receiving that first camera, she experimented on her feathered friends before horses, taking photos of birds at the feeder outside the dining room window. When she and Jeff bought their first horse, Shelley would try to capture him in action at the track. When she shot the Jug, it became a bit tougher as horses trying to win races traveled a lot faster than those being jogged and trained. “I took pictures, but they didn’t really turn out,” she said. Johnson kept plugging away. She took online classes for nature photography and equine photography. Neither dealt with shooting actual race action, but did help in the process. “I learned a lot about headshots and conformation shots in the equine class,” she said. “Also the proper distance to avoid distortion in the photos.” She also put in countless hours practicing at the farm of her friend Doris, who jogged and trained her own horses and taught Shelley a lot about the animals. But all the practice and all the talent in the world can only get a photographer so far without the right equipment. As her interest increased, so too did the quality of Shelley’s cameras. The big turnaround in her photos came several years ago when Jeff bought his wife a professional grade lens. “That’s made a huge difference,” Johnson said. “He even said if he had known the lens would make that much difference, he would have gotten it for me sooner.” She knew she arrived as a photographer when Scioto Downs made her a cover girl two years ago. “At that point,” she said, “I guess I thought, hey, I got this!” The monumental first cover came on June 21, 2012, with a photo of the entire field of a race on the starting gate, and an Ohio Lottery billboard behind them proclaiming “Winners Are Everywhere.” “It felt amazing to see it,” Johnson said. Aside from the program covers, she has had several photos in magazines by virtue of New Vocations using them. A week ago, Johnson was thrilled to see that one of her photos was used on the Scioto Downs billboard out front. She has discovered that she gets her finest results when not focusing on anything in particular. “I do my best when I just shoot random, with no pressure,” she said. “If I get it, OK. If I don't, OK. I will try to focus on a certain horse in a race if someone wants me to get a picture of their horse. That's hard though. The horse isn't always in view.” And as good as she has become, Johnson still feels the biggest key to her success “is probably just good luck.” “Most of the time I single-shoot the pictures,” she explained. “My camera doesn't shoot enough frames per second to use continuous mode. If I try to shoot in continuous mode and the horse has its foot planted on the track, it usually ends up planted in all of the shots. I like to try for shots with all four off the ground.” As for attempting to choose her favorite photo, Shelley said it’s like trying to pick a favorite child. She notes that when so many photos do not come out, “whenever I get one that I think looks good, I’m happy.” Judging by her success in recent years, Shelley Johnson has had quite a bit of happiness lately. To view Shelly Johnson’s work, check out her website at www.sfjohnsonphotos.com by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent Courtesy of the US Trotting Association Web Newsroom
Trenton, NJ --- When the Career Day recruiters show up at Westfall High School in Ohio during the next two years, Hunter Myers probably won’t need to pay them a visit. He has had his future mapped out for quite a while now. Myers, a 16-year-old rising junior at Westfall, drove his first Standardbred horse at age 5 and immediately fell in love. The Williamsport, Ohio, native is busy on the Ohio fair circuit and got his first win July 11 at the Jackson County Fair in Wellston. He added two more victories later the same day. After going winless in his first seven starts, Hunter entered Monday with nine wins, 11 seconds and 10 thirds in 55 races. His horses have earned $21,313 in purses, and he hopes this is only the start of a nice, long driving career. “I started off driving my first horse at around 5 or 6,” he said. “As soon as I started to grow up I said ‘I’m going to start driving horses. That’s what I want to do.’ “I’ve grown up in it, my dad is in it, my grandpa is in it. My dad owns some horses and trains some horses for his brother, Mark. I’d like to have a couple horses of my own but as I’m growing up driving I want to stick with the driving for a while. But I’d like to have one or two horses to tinker around with.” Myers still remembers his first time behind a horse, which came while he was jogging a horse with his dad, Michael. “We had this one horse, she was a nice trotter and easy,” Hunter recalled. “He took me around until the last two laps and stopped her. He said ‘She’s yours.’ I drove the last two laps and ever since then I’ve been going up. I jogged that horse, he bumped me up to another horse, then another. “My first training trip was in a cart, a 2:40 mile. It was nothing extreme. My first bike training trip was a pacer when I was around 8. I was little nervous to get on the bike for the first time and get behind the horse. You’re sitting in a jog cart and jumping to a bike. There’s a big difference, but I kept my cool and as soon as I turned I said ‘This ain’t bad. It’s like a jog in the park.’” Myers played baseball until the fifth grade and then decided to focus completely on driving. He is smart enough to use each stepping stone as a learning experience, starting with the matinees. He is also humble enough to let a horse show the way when necessary. “The matinees gave me a lot of gate experience,” he said. “I had an old horse, (11-year-old) Singapore Gambler. He was my first matinee horse, he knew what he was doing. “So it gave me the experience of being with a horse down inside of me, grouped up. And my horse more or less trained me. The horse told me, ‘We’re staying right here, and then we’re going back here.’ I could let the horse go.” Once he got his qualifying/fair license, Myers could not wait to start racing at the fairs. And while he did not win in his first seven races, he finished second four times. That led to a mixture of frustration and optimism. “I had to say I’m right up there, and I need a half a second and I’ll be all right,” he said. “At the same time, it bugged me sometimes when I thought about it. I’m right there, a little bit more oomph and he or she should win it. But I was happy with where I was.” It finally came together while driving Uptown Dreamer, a horse his dad is leasing. In looking at the program, Myers thought he might finish second. The horse quickly got to the front and remained there, although a challenge emerged from the outside on the last turn. “I was chasing (Uptown Dreamer) and tapping her, I was yelling at her, trying to get her faster,” Myers said. “I was doing everything in my willpower to get her faster.” Once he got across the line, Hunter said “I was hootin’ and hollerin.’ I had a big old smile on my face. It took a while to get the smile off my face, I was so excited.” He managed to refocus in time to win two more races on the day. “I just knew I couldn’t have a big head when I went back out there,” he said. “I just said ‘Calm down, it’s a new horse, I don’t know what’s going to happen.’ That’s what I did, and sure enough I won again.” As his career starts to build steam, Hunter credits his dad and veteran driver Jack Dailey as two of his biggest influences. “Jack always told me ‘I can’t wait to get you on the track to race against you,’” Myers said. “He’s a big ball of fun out there when you’re racing against him. I always tell Jack if he sees something wrong to tell me. “My dad is the one pulling me up and down these fairs. He’s taking me all over and helping me out. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be here where I’m at.” And he’s exactly where he wants to be -- taking dead aim on a career in harness racing. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent Courtesy of the United States Trotting Association Web Newsroom
Trenton, NJ --- If Sweet Rock were a businessman instead of a harness racing horse, he would probably be Warren Buffett or Bill Gates. He sure doesn’t take long to turn a profit. “You have a horse less than a week and it pays for itself,” said the horse’s new trainer, Wayne Givens. “That’s unbelievable.” This past Saturday, it was time to believe. Purchased by Vicki Givens' Legacy Racing of DE Inc., Reginald Hazzard II and Gary Calloway for $63,000 at the Tattersalls Summer Mixed Sale on July 27, the 3-year-old male pacer was thrown right into the fray on Hambletonian Day. With just one win in 20 lifetime starts, Sweet Rock went off at 92-1 odds and promptly won the $225,000 Anthony Abbatiello SBOA New Jersey Classic at the Meadowlands. Not a bad return on the $63,000 purchase just six days earlier. He had been trained by Larry Remmen, one of the top trainers at the Big M. “At the sale was the first time I saw him,” Wayne Givens said. “I went and looked at him, he seemed like a good solid horse. I went over and talked to Larry, and he said there was nothing wrong. “He was a good bred horse. He looked good in his last start at the Meadowlands and paced at (1:)50 and a piece. He’s only 3 years old and pacing in (1:)50 and he’s a (gelded) son of Rocknroll Hanover.” The fact Remmen had worked with Sweet Rock also made Givens feel pretty secure with the purchase. “They’re good trainers,” he said. “I knew the horse would be in shape and health wise he was probably good. When you buy good horses off good trainers, sometimes all you have to do is get lucky, and that’s kind of what happened. “There were no issues at all when I started to work with him. He was racing fine at the Meadowlands. Hooking up with his harness I already knew what the horse wore. He’s perfect; a nice horse on the track and a nice horse to go out and train. With him it’s all in the trip.” Despite going off as the second biggest longshot in the NJ Classic (Card Shock was 102-1), Givens had faith in the horse. “I can tell you the truth, I was hoping he’d get a check,” the trainer said. “I told my partners it’s not every day you’re in a race for $200,000. “I think the odds were so long because he had just changed hands. The Remmens had him until a few days ago. Plus there were a couple horses in there that people didn’t think anybody could beat. But it worked out perfect.” Givens handed the reins to Brett Miller, who admitted after the race he knew nothing about Sweet Rock. But he managed to take him from behind and worked his way through a crowded stretch as Sweet Rock won by a nose over Beat The Drum in 1:49.4. “Miller did an outstanding job driving him,” Givens said. “I think that’s what the horse needed, was a trip. He needed a real good trip and luck went our way. Things opened up right before the wall and he came on.” Although Givens has no solid plans for the horse, he said his next race will probably be the Tompkins-Geers at Tioga Downs on Aug. 17. He is also eligible for several other races but the trainer said, “I’m not sure about any of them right now. But we’ll show up at Tioga.” By then, Givens will have had more time to work with the horse, although he obviously didn’t need much time to turn a profit. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent
The fact that trainer Nancy Johansson will make her Hambletonian debut against her dad, Hall of Fame trainer Jimmy Takter, is one of the big storylines entering Saturday's race. And while Johansson understands and appreciates the interest, it's not something that's really on her mind. Especially since, hey, there will be other trainers there too! "It's no different to race against him than anybody else," said Johansson, who trains Hambletonian starter Resolve, adding with a laugh. "It's a horserace, there has to be other horses in there. He's one of the top trainers with one of the biggest barns, so I expect him to be there." The two have teamed up for previous Hambletonian success, as Nancy was the caretaker for Takter's 2010 winner, Muscle Massive. She grew up learning the trade under Jimmy, who also won the 1997 Hambletonian with Malabar Man, having said in the past "I tell people that from going to my dad's 'school' I got a PhD in training." But neither wants to mix business with pleasure, especially when it comes to head-to-head competition. "We don't talk about it," Nancy said. "When we have family time, we talk about grandkids or other stuff. "But we're both very competitive. I think deep down inside, if somebody beats him he would want it to be me. But it's really deep down because he really wants to win first himself." And Takter has a good chance this year with favorite Father Patrick, along with two other highly regarded horses in the race - Trixton and Nuncio. This won't be the first time father and daughter pitted their Hambletonian horses against each other. On July 19, Resolve finished second to Nuncio in the Reynolds Stakes. Resolve has won two of seven races this year and hit the board six times. He has four wins in 19 career starts, earning $45,950. The horse is owned by Hans Enggren, who won the 1985 Hambletonian with Prakas. Enggren is looking for another shot at Hambletonian glory, which is why he bought Resolve just a few weeks ago. "He was pretty much purchased with the idea he was going to race in the Hambletonian," Johansson said. "Hans is getting up in age and he wants another go at the Hambletonian. He had seen the horse last year and liked him." Enggren saw him again early in the spring and liked him just as much, if not more, but Resolve was not for sale. When he was put on the market, Hans made his move. "We knew that if he raced good in the Reynolds he was going to the Hambletonian," Johansson said. "I didn't really expect him to race that good, so that was a good surprise. He's been solid all year. "He's a nice horse. I think he's going to mature into a nice older horse. He's not staked to a lot this year, so he's going to have a kind of low-key 3-year-old season." Winning the Hambletonian would certainly turn the key up a notch, and Johansson is happy with drawing the No. 1 post. But she was unhappy to see her dad's top horse get stuck in the difficult 10 hole. "The draw helped us, but I didn't like to see Father Patrick draw bad," Johansson said. "He deserves to win the Hambletonian because he's just such an extremely fine animal. With post 10, anything can happen. "I wouldn't be surprised if things shake out differently than expected, too." One of Takter's trademarks is trying new things with a horse entering a final. Nancy is unsure if that will be necessary with Resolve. "I don't know yet. We'll see," she said. "We changed a lot on the horse already. I think you have to be careful how much you change in a short amount of time. "I feel pretty confident we have him the way we want him. He trained absolutely fantastic (Wednesday) morning. I couldn't ask for a better training session than he had (that) morning. I don't really feel like there is anything we need to take care of. Everything feels very even keel right now. It's a good situation." And, as far as Johansson is concerned, a situation like any other when it comes to the trainers she will be facing in this race. Story by Rich Fisher for the Hambletonian Notes Team Ken Weingartner Harness Racing Communications
He hopes his luck is on full display in Saturday's $1 million Hambletonian at Meadowlands Racetrack. Mazza owns JJ Alex, who will start from post two at morning line odds of 50-1 in the Hambletonian. The colt, trained and driven by Francisco Del Cid, is winless this year and has one victory in 15 career starts. Like everyone else, JJ Alex will be chasing Father Patrick, one of three Jimmy Takter-trained horses in the race. Father Patrick has won 15 straight starts and is the 4-5 morning line favorite despite starting from the unenviable No. 10 post. Mazza bought JJ Alex privately on Aug. 2, 2013 and exactly one year later, the horse is competing on the sport's biggest stage. Could that be a sign? Probably not, but Mazza thought it was a chance worth taking. "I ain't going to be here forever; this might be my last shot for the Hambletonian," he said. "We got the right draw, we got the right driver on him, we got the right trainer. It's a win-win situation. He added with a laugh, "So I'll see you in the winner's circle." Bold talk since JJ Alex has yet to find the winner's circle in 2014. But he has finished in the money five times with two seconds and three thirds. His final tune-up before the Hambo was a third-place finish in a $32,455 division of the Arden Downs Stakes at the Meadows July 26. "We trained him good before going to The Meadows," Del Cid said. "We were going to train him and based on that training mile make a decision [on whether to enter the Hambletonian]. We were hoping for a better result in the race, but it unfolded a different way and I got pinned in. "But we were satisfied. We came to the conclusion that we were going to enter the horse and give it a try." Del Cid, a former exercise rider for high-profile Thoroughbred trainer D. Wayne Lukas, began working in harness racing in the late 1980s. "I switched to this and I liked it," said the native Guatemalan, now living in central New Jersey. "I'm not afraid of the odds," he added. "I never thought I was going to be in the Hambletonian when I came here. When I switched to this [harness racing] business, that was my goal - to be here one day." Del Cid trained his own small table for several years before joining the Trond Smedshammer Stable. In 2008 he went back out on his own and he and Mazza will now look to shock the world. To Mazza, it wouldn't be a mind-blowing shock. As far as he was concerned, when he first laid eyes on the horse it was Hambletonian at first sight. "As soon as we saw him we wanted to keep him for the Hambletonian," the owner said. "We raced him a couple times as a 2-year-old and we decided to put him in this big race this year." Mazza made his first purchase - Kehms Scooter - in 1991 at a sale at the Meadowlands. Rather than build a stable for a racehorse, he found a racehorse to fill a stable. "I was building a farm in Upper Freehold and a trainer came by and asked what was going on," Mazza said. "I told him I was building a horse barn for my kids. He asked if I wanted to get in the racehorse business. "I said I'd never thought of it, but maybe I would consider it. He told me there was a sale at the Meadowlands and asked if I wanted to come. I told him to pick me up on Saturday and I'd go with him." Mazza promptly spent $10,000 or $20,000 - he can't recall - on Kehms Scooter and was on his way. "He won his first race and it got me hooked," Mazza said. "If it wasn't for that, I might not be here. I try to enjoy it. "It was about time for me to try the Hambletonian. Maybe I'll get lucky. I've been a lucky guy, a fortunate guy, all my life. Maybe my luck will come through on Saturday." In other words, Mazza will stake his luck against all odds. by Rich Fisher, for the Hambletonian Society
Aperfectyankee's season so far has been less than flawless, but that has not dampened trainer Jim Oscarsson's opinion of his stakes-winning trotter as he heads into Saturday's $500,000 Colonial for 3-year-olds at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. The Colonial is part of Super Stakes Saturday at Pocono Downs, which also includes the $500,000 Battle of the Brandywine for 3-year-old pacers and the $350,000 Valley Forge for 3-year-old filly pacers. Aperfectyankee has won three of seven races this year and earned $179,451 for Oscarsson, who also owns and drives the colt. All of his victories this season have come on the Pennsylvania circuit, with two triumphs in divisions of the sire stakes and another in a division of the Pennsylvania All Stars. He is coming off a fourth-place finish in the $1 million Hambletonian on Aug. 3 at the Meadowlands. The nine-horse Colonial field features seven horses from the Hambletonian final, including winner Royalty For Life, runner-up Smilin Eli and third-place finisher Corky. "I'm not disappointed with him, but I know he's better than he's showed," Oscarsson said about Aperfectyankee, who won last year's $387,250 Peter Haughton Memorial by a neck over Corky. "I think with better race luck he can be right there with them at the finish. "I think he's going to win some races this year. It would be nice (to win the Colonial). I think he deserves that." Aperfectyankee entered the Hambletonian off back-to-back wins and finished third in his elimination before ending up fourth in the same-day final. He started the final from post seven and was as many as 11 lengths behind leader and eventual winner Royalty For Life in the early goings. He finished 3-3/4 lengths back on a track that favored trotters on the lead; all three Hambletonian elims and the final were won in wire-to-wire fashion. "(The Colonial) is going to be tough; it's pretty much the same as the Hambletonian," Oscarsson said. "Except this time we've got a better post. I think he can go with them. It's going to be a fun race." Last year, Aperfectyankee won three of seven starts and earned $310,035. In addition to winning the Haughton, he won a division of the Tompkins-Geers and was second to 2-year-old champion Wheeling N Dealin in a division of the Champlain Stakes. He saw his season come to an end after a sixth-place finish in his elimination for the William Wellwood Memorial in September. Oscarsson decided to turn out the colt because of allergies. "When we brought him back to train during the winter he was good and he's been healthy," Oscarsson said. "He's a nice horse. He's perfect to handle, perfect to drive. You can do whatever you want with him." Following is the field for the Colonial with listed drivers and trainers (and morning line odds): 1. Picture This, Charlie Norris, Norris (20-1); 2. Aperfectyankee, Jim Oscarsson, Oscarsson (12-1); 3. Fico, George Napolitano Jr., Staffan Lind (15-1); 4. Smilin Eli, Tim Tetrick, David Smith (3-1); 5. Spider Blue Chip, Ron Pierce, Chuck Sylvester (4-1); 6. Corky, David Miller, Jimmy Takter (5-1); 7. High Bridge, Yannick Gingras, Takter (6-1); 8. Royalty For Life, Brian Sears, George Ducharme (5-2); 9. Dontyouforgetit, Takter, Takter (10-1). by Ken Weingartner
Robin Schadt would make a good baseball manager, but for the time being she's content being a pretty astute harness racing trainer. In a 162-game Major League season, a skipper must be patient if his team is struggling early in the season. He has to hang in there, tinker, and trust that his troops get the job done.
Trenton, NJ --- If Murphy's Law means whatever can go wrong will go wrong, 2012 was the year of Gutnick's Law -- whatever can go right will go right. Harness racing owner Richard Gutnick looks back on last year and still thinks he is dreaming.
Leave it to a horse named Word Power to inspire a play on words. The 3-year-old harness racing colt pacer has gone quickly from a dark horse to a winning horse this season. Yes, yes, feel free to groan, but it's true.
Coming off a campaign in which he was the 3-year-old Colt Pacer of the Year, Heston Blue Chip was conspicuously absent in the early stages of this season. It turns out that the horse was having a reaction to his ulcer medicine, although it took owner Ken Jacobs and harness racing trainer Linda Toscano a while to discover that little problem.
The only thing as good as Maven's finish last year is her start this year. The harness racing 4-year-old ended 2012 with two straight wins, taking the American-National Stakes and Breeders Crown.
It's safe to say Rich Gillock will be paying pretty close attention to the Currier & Ives Stakes on Friday night at The Meadows. The harness racing trainer has one horse in each of the three divisions, and all three are eligible to the Hambletonian.
Seth Rosenfeld, harness racing principal of Birnam Wood Farms, is a lifelong Yankee fan who is getting the same production from 4-year-old male pacer Sweet Lou as the Bronx Bombers got from Sweet Lou's namesake, Lou Piniella, back in the 1970s.
Harness racing owner John Fielding feels the 'success pendulum' may be swinging upward again for Uncle Peter. He hopes to see proof of that from his 4-year-old trotter in Sunday's $250,000 Maxie Lee Memorial at Harrah's Philadelphia.
Since he’s not Doctor Doolittle, harness racing owner Howard Schneidler feels there is no real science to buying a horse.
The mare Q And A gave harness racing owner John Mortberg his first Meadowlands triumph in 2004. She never had another victory but is still producing wins for Mortberg. Or at least winning horses.