Hightstown, NJ — Driver Joey Putnam and his family’s homebred trotter Simply Swan both had strong finishes to 2021 on their way to career-best seasons, and Putnam hopes their momentum carries through to this year.
Simply Swan closed last year with five consecutive wins, one at Harrah’s Hoosier Park followed by four in the Open at Oak Grove Racing and Gaming, to complete the campaign with eight victories in 22 starts and $93,145. He hit the board a total of 20 times.
Last week, the 5-year-old son of Swan For All-Simply Class won the Open at Hawthorne Racecourse. On Sunday, he returns to the Open at Hawthorne, where he is the 3-2 morning-line favorite.
“He’s been great,” Putnam said about Simply Swan, who was bred by Putnam’s father Joe and Novi Trot and is owned by the breeders’ J P Racing. “He had a really nice fall meet at Oak Grove and brought the winning into 2022. He’s just a real nice horse to be around in the barn, jogging, training, and driving. He’s just got a nice way about himself.”
Putnam, who turned 24 earlier this month, ended last year with 169 wins and $2 million in purses, both career highs. His earnings were double his previous best, set in 2020.
He finished third in victories at Oak Grove with 23, only three behind leader Christian Lind, and posted a 25-percent win rate at the Kentucky oval. He won 110 times at Hoosier Park, good for seventh in the standings there, and picked up 22 victories at the Indiana fairs, which tied for fifth on the circuit.
In December, Putnam was named one of three finalists for the U.S. Harness Writers Association’s Rising Star Award, which ultimately went to Todd McCarthy.
“Last year was huge,” Putnam said. “I’m just real thankful for the opportunities that came. Hopefully, I can stay on track to last year and repeat it or maybe beat it by a few. It will be tough to beat. I had a little luck in some nice money races, drove a few nice horses. If the opportunities keep coming, we’re going to be working hard. That’s always the goal.
“It was real nice to be mentioned (for Rising Star),” he added. “We’ll keep working hard and maybe we can get that award one of these days.”
Among Putnam’s top wins last year were Indiana Sire Stakes championships with 2-year-old male pacer Dalby Hanover for trainer Britney Dillon and with older female pacer Rockin Nola for his dad. Rockin Nola, a four-time Indiana champion with $764,557 in earnings, is owned by J P Racing and Suttons Bay Racing.
Rockin Nola is preparing to return in 2022 for her 6-year-old season.
“She will be back ready for Hoosier Park and hopefully firing on all cylinders again,” Putnam said. “The young girls are trying to sneak up on her, but she’s pretty tough. Until she loses it, she will be racing for a while. She likes her work, and we just appreciate her. She doesn’t owe us anything. We just have fun with her.”
Putnam followed his dad, the winner of more than 3,000 races as a driver and 1,300 as a trainer, into harness racing. In addition to driving, Putnam helps with the family’s 45-horse stable and manages a horse shipping business he owns. It makes for a busy schedule, but Putnam remains focused on honing his skills.
“In order to learn and get better, you’ve got to race,” Putnam said. “You can watch as many races as you want, but you have to be doing it hands on. I’m finding my way and doing better with situational stuff. I don’t get stressed out whether I’m racing for big money or in overnights, it’s all the same. I just try to put the horse in a good spot.
“I’m real excited to see how our barn turns out and what other opportunities come. I’m appreciative of what I get.”