by Carol Hodes for SBOANJ
Manalapan, NJ — Helene Gregory has been in the winner’s circle many times as the wife of a leading harness driver and as track photographer at Freehold Raceway.
The difference on Hambletonian Day [August 4, 2012] was that she was the winner, guiding Master Pine to victory in a Racing Under Saddle [RUS] Trot at the Meadowlands Racetrack.
The non-wagering exhibition race, tucked between the fourth and fifth races, boasted a purse of $15,000 and a field of 10. Unlike the 15 other races on the card, in this event the horses wore saddles and carried riders instead of drivers in sulkies.
Gregory, who lives in East Windsor, NJ, prevailed in a photo finish at the end of the mile as Master Pine finished a head in front of Take My Picture, ridden by Therese Lindgren.
“After watching the replay of the RUS race, I am still at a loss for words,” said Gregory on Sunday morning. “My old, handsome, classy Master Pine got the job done, with a whisker.”
Her mount, Master Pine, is a 9-year-old Master Lavec gelding owned by Mark Moger of New Hope, PA and Albert Delia Jr. of Newtown, PA.
“I want to thank Andy and [trainer] Julie Miller for the opportunity to work with him every day and to get the ride in this race, and, of course, his owners,” she said.
“Also thanks to Rob Pennington, super groom number one,” she added. “I could not have done it without you!”
The 1:57.1 mile was the fastest by a trotting horse racing under saddle. The overall world record for trotting under saddle is 1:54.1, set on October 6, 2000 at the Red Mile when Hall of Fame jockey Julie Krone rode the two-time Horse of the Year Moni Maker in a time trial with prompters.
“All the riders did a great job, and I also thank the trainers and owners for believing in RUS and supporting the riders with horses,” Gregory noted. “I have to thank [New Meadowlands LLC Chairman] Jeff Gural for putting up with me, and all the work that led up to the race, and everyone working with us at the Big M.”
Gregory, who was the driving force behind the organization of the event, was especially grateful to the sponsors of the race: Walnut Hall Farm, Blue Chip Farms, Winbak Farm and Big D’s.
The other riders were Leigh Nichol, Emma Pettersson, Karen Isbell, Maria Andersson, Therese Lindgren, Tina Duer, Susanne Kovacic, Jennifer Connor and Malin Beraas.
“I’m sure I am forgetting someone, but thank you to everyone involved,” said Gregory, who wears the green-white-yellow colors of her husband, Jeff Gregory, whom she married on October 14, 2000. “
Gregory, who will turn 44 on September 19, is from Malmo, Sweden, which, she says, is five minutes from Jagersro, the third biggest racetrack in Sweden. Jagersro races both thoroughbreds and standardbreds.
“I never took a liking to thoroughbreds,” she explained. “I rode standardbreds my whole life.”
Riding retired standardbreds in dressage is one thing. Racing under saddle, or the French word monte, is another.
“I started working on RUS a little after the exhibition race at Yonkers last fall,” she noted. “I went to Sweden in January and bought a race saddle there, without even knowing if I would get it going. But it was my intentions all along. I have had a lot of people telling me to give it up because it was a lot of work and sometimes I was worn out from it, but I am a very stubborn soul and my motto is ‘if there is a will, there is a way.’”
Under saddle racing is popular in Europe but is new to North America.
“As I walked back to the paddock, I had tons of people asking how come they were not allowed to bet,” she said. “And Jeff Gural and everyone at the Big M loved it.”
“Before the race, all I wanted was for the day to be over,” Gregory noted. “I was so mentally wiped from the work and stress.”
A day later, she is making plans for the next event which will be on Friday, August 17, closing night at the Meadowlands.