Trenton, NJ — Getting his first win was a thrill for Justin Gould but getting his second was almost imperative.
Such is the life of a 17-year-old twin.
Win No. 1 came June 28 behind Charchar at What Cheer in the Iowa Sire Stakes for 2-year-old filly pacers. Back at What Cheer 12 days later, it was sibling rivalry day as Justin battled his twin brother James and came out victorious with Snap Streak.
And while the first win was a milestone, the second one gave him family bragging rights, for at least one day.
“That race went great,” Justin said. “It was a cool race; me and James got first and second pretty handy. There was a lot of talk between James and I, so I’m glad I didn’t get beat because I never would have heard the end of it.”
As it was, James had to hear about it for a while.
“He hasn’t brought it up for a few days now,” James said with a laugh. “He did let me hear about it for about a week! That was the first time we drove against each other. I am definitely excited to beat him the next time.”
The victories ended a modest drought of 13 career starts without a win for Justin, including his first five races this season.
“I don’t really mind not winning,” Justin said. “I just like driving in races, unless the horse is supposed to win; then it hurts a little to lose.”
He had no such pain in the sire stakes, winning the race comfortably in 2:06.1.
“She drew the five hole, and at What Cheer you can’t get to the five hole until you get into the turn,” Gould noted. “So, I started a little back off the gate. I ducked her a little early because that is how I drove her the week prior at West Liberty, and she raced great.
“I got away third behind two decent fillies and I knew I needed to pull by the five-eighths but I got boxed in before the half. Luckily, the pocket horse pulled and gave me the pocket spot. Going into the last turn I was boxed in with nowhere to go, however the leader was drifting out so I knew there would be room up the inside and I went for it.”
The big moment came before nearly his entire family.
“As I crossed the finish line I kind of already had taken it in because I knew I was a winner at the head of the stretch,” he said. “It made it a million times better that it was my horse and her first win as well.
“And it was pretty cool since James had his first win a few weeks earlier.”
James’ momentous occasion came on June 6 at the Taylor County Fair in Bedford. James drove 5-year-old pacing mare Red N Hotallover to victory for trainer Edmund Krapp.
“I had post position four and just floated away and got a good spot sitting third on the rail,” James recalled. “I didn’t pull until right about the five-eighths and cleared to the top about the three-quarters. I ended up winning by like 20 lengths, so I knew I was a winner for a while before the wire.”
That didn’t stop the emotions from nearly costing him a chance to pose for the camera.
“I was pretty excited crossing the wire,” he said. “I even forgot to stop for the win picture.”
It was the eighth start of James’ career, so although he lost his first head-to-head match with Justin, he at least has bragging rights of beating him out for the first career win.
Despite their on-track rivalry, the brothers are tight.
“We spend a lot of time together working and hanging out,” James said.
Justin, for now, appears to be more intent on carving out a future in harness racing. His first drive came just over a year ago, in the same race that he edged his brother in this year.
“I never thought it would come,” Justin said. “Casey Larson was the first person to finally put me down on a horse and I thought it was a sure win. Looking back, it should have been because I was driving a 3-year-old against 2-year-olds. So, I went straight to the front, but I just fell asleep the second half and got passed down the stretch and got second.”
It was another lesson learned in what has already been a lengthy career.
Getting some early wins has been a boost to Justin’s confidence, but he takes a mature attitude in realizing just because he got a few quick firsts, there is no guarantee others will come easily.
“Now that I have won,” he said, “I feel like it’s more possible to win for some reason, even though it’s not any more likely.”
The Gould brothers have been around the sport long enough to know how hard it is. Their grandfather left the business after suffering a heart attack, but their mother, Stevie Gould, and her brother, Mark Mintun, have a stable at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds. Justin has long been involved in the day-to-day operations.
“I feed, clean stalls, jog, train and everything in between,” Justin said. “I knew I wanted to drive from the first time I was around the horses. I always used to take turns pulling around the race bike while James whips the shaft.”
James also does his share, saying, “I’d say we do just about the same thing around the barn.”
At age 11, the brothers began working for Humboldt trainer Adam Hauser, and Justin credits Hauser and Mintun for being two of his biggest influences.
“I learn new things every day from my uncle Mark; from shoeing tips and tricks to going over a horse to see where they are lame,” Justin said. “I worked with (Hauser) until I was 13 and learned a whole lot from him. From training trips and rigging to the most important thing in my opinion — if you’re going to have 30 horses it’s an all-day type of job!”
At the Goulds’ age, those days are interrupted by high school, and they still have one more year to go until graduation.
“It’s not awful but it’s definitely not easy getting done before dark,” Justin said. “We chose to work after school so at 3:30 we go to the barn and jog all the horses then feed whenever we get done.”
After graduation, Justin knows exactly what he will do, and feels he has a nice head start in the business he loves so much.
“I can’t wait to be done with high school and start training other people’s horses since I will have time to be there all day,” he said. “I would think I’m pretty far ahead for my age, but I haven’t really been around big tracks to know if there are going to be people my age in the industry. I would love to have this as a career even though everyone tells me to have a back-up plan just in case.”
James is not quite as gung-ho, saying, “I hope to do it as more of a hobby, and just help Justin out with both training and driving.”
Justin would like to train a stable of around 15 horses, but his main goal is to become a catch driver. He is looking to drive at Running Aces to get a feel for pari-mutuel racing “before I get too ahead of myself.”
“I just know,” he added, “there is no better feeling then sitting behind a thousand-pound animal moving 35 miles per hour. Looking around you behind the gate is such a crazy feeling, all the people I grew up watching; and now I am one of them.”