by Ellen Harvey, Harness Racing Communications
Freehold, NJ — Two fields of trotters will line up to race at Goshen (NY) Historic Track (www.goshenhistorictrack.com) this Sunday at 1 p.m., with no sulkies or drivers. It’s not a stampede; it’s a race under saddle, with riders atop 14 trotters who will trade their sulkies for a saddle for the day.
Trotters are commonly raced under saddle throughout Europe, as are pacers on the grass in Wales. It is not uncommon for horses to be driven in a race one week and ridden the next. Standardbreds are accustomed to a bit in their mouth and girth around their stomach. They take cues from the bit and typically learn to carry a rider in one training session.
The first under saddle race, number 3 on the card, for a purse of $950, features Hambletonian-winning driver Ray Schnittker climbing in to a saddle rather than a sulky on $1.2 million winner Grain Of Truth, who will make his 254th start, but first under saddle, for Schnittker, who also trains the horse. “This will be his first time under saddle at really high speed, so we’ll see how this goes,” said Schnittker. “He’s jogged under saddle before – never raced.”
Schnittker rides many of his horses, including 2008 Hambletonian winner Deweycheatumnhowe and a possible 2012 Hambletonian starter, top filly Check Me Out. “It’s good for their head. It keeps them from getting sour. It would be just like a person exercising on a treadmill all the time, it’s boring to go around and around and see the same thing all the time. They like something different.”
Also from the Schnittker Stable in race 3 is Cassis (1:52.4, $527,566), with rider Denelle Stratton, whose husband Jordan is a top driver on the New York circuit. Mrs. Stratton is the caretaker of Check Me Out and a rider with over 10 years of experience.
“I’ve been riding horse since I was 13 or 14 and I’m 27 now,” she said. “I’m from Ontario and got out of riding at about 20. I did the show horses, hunter jumpers, the A Circuit in Ontario. I actually have two retired Standardbreds that I ride. I was hemming and hawing, being so busy, but Ray said, ‘C’mon, let’s go,’ so we’re going.
“Cassis and I are new partners. I’ve been riding Grain Of Truth, but Ray said he thinks Cassis and I are a better fit, so I’m OK with that and we are hoping for some racing luck. I have ridden everything – Thoroughbreds, Warmbloods, as my ability progressed. Standardbreds are so honest. You can hand them anything and they just deal with it. They are so level headed, you could not ask for a nicer breed of horse. I hope this opens the eyes of the public that these horses can be repurposed.”
The second division, race 10, has a pair of $500,000 winners, with Lemon Pepper (1:53.2, $596,551) and owner/rider Jennifer Lowrey in post 7, and Dream Kid (1:56.3, $532,553) in post 4 with Jennifer Connor, daughter-in-law of his co-owner, Ronald Cohen.
“I’ve ridden him three times over the last week and turned a mile (trained fast) once,” said Connor, whose father Chuck is a Standardbred trainer. “He raced last night so I haven’t bothered him too much. I broke him to saddle. He got the hang of it right away, the first day I jumped right on him and went to the track. He was perfect.”
Connor has a mélange of experience both with driven and ridden horses. “I grew up riding my entire life and worked for my parents,” she said. “I went to the University of South Carolina and rode on the equestrian team and was captain of the team. I rode hunter jumpers and equitation. I work at Blue Chip Farm now, so it’s both my passions molded together. I’m not as comfortable sitting behind a horse as I am sitting on top of them.”
In addition to the $950 purse for both races, the winning rider will get a gift basket from the Standardbred Pleasure Horse Organization of New Jersey.
The card also includes 10 other traditional races, featuring the $10,000 Mr. and Mrs. Elbridge Gerry Trot for Hall of Fame drivers. Nine drivers are entered to compete including Herve Filion, who holds the North American record for career race wins with 15,180 and Dave Palone, who is 10 away from surpassing that record, as well as John Campbell, Cat Manzi, Ron Pierce, Mike Lachance, Wally Hennessey, Jim Doherty and Jimmy Takter, who will be inducted that evening to the Hall of Fame.