Hightstown, NJ — Six years ago, Johnathan Ahle was working in a restaurant when co-worker Sarah Vallee mentioned that her father, harness racing trainer/driver Shaun Vallee, was looking for help at his stable. Ahle had never touched a horse, and knew next to nothing about the sport, but he decided to pursue the opportunity.
Six months later, he left the restaurant job and began working at the stable on a fulltime basis. Now, the 24-year-old Ahle is training a couple horses and driving occasionally on the New Jersey circuit.
“When I was a kid, I was always money hungry, just looking for work,” Ahle said. “When Sarah said Shaun needed help, I thought, why not?
“Pretty soon after I started working for him, I was intrigued with the whole business; racing and training and taking care of the horses. I started out helping around the barn, doing the feed tubs and stalls and stuff like that, and one thing led to the next. I started jogging, then that led to training, and eventually everything played out to where I am now.”
On Friday, Ahle will compete in all four of the GSY Series events for amateur drivers at The Meadowlands. He will drive two 3-1 morning-line favorites, Macintosh N for Vallee in the fourth race and Bruce’s Magic for trainer Bruce Lauer in the 10th race. Ahle is the trainer of his remaining two starters, Galactic Galleon N (8-1 in the third) and Midnight Lightning (5-1 in the eighth).
“The amateur series is good for someone like me because it’s tough to get drives when you’re young and no one knows you,” Ahle said. “Driving is fun because no race is ever the same. You learn something different from every race, or at least I do because I’m still new. I just try to get a little better, a little smarter, every time.”
Ahle has one win and seven additional top-three finishes in 23 starts as a driver. He got his win in October with Vallee-trained Bungalow Bill N in a conditioned race for pacers at Freehold Raceway. Bungalow Bill N won by a neck as the 4-5 favorite.
“That was definitely exciting,” Ahle said. “It was expected of me to win, so there was a little bit of pressure, but that just made it even more exciting. To get the first one under your belt is a good feeling. It’s a little weight off you.”
Ahle, who has five wins as a trainer, has no specific plans for his future. And that’s the way he prefers it.
“So far, I’ve never really had anything planned out, it’s kind of just all fallen into place,” Ahle said. “Maybe I’ll get more drives, maybe I’ll train more horses. We’ll see where it goes. I like opportunity. Whatever opportunities come my way, that’s my future, I suppose.
“I’m definitely an outside type of person, not one to be cooped up behind a desk or anything like that. I enjoy being around the horses. I enjoy everything about racing, there is so much to learn, and it seems like you learn something new every day. But just being around the horses is enjoyable enough.”
Friday’s 12-race card at The Meadowlands begins at 6:20 p.m. (EST). Free full-card TrackMaster past performances for The Meadowlands are available by visiting the track’s website here.