He just wants to learn how to drive a harness racing horse.
And through the generous offer of trainer Mark Ford and his wife Kelly, Krone has gotten the opportunity to do just that at the Mark Ford Training Center in Middletown, N.Y. this summer. The Fords have allowed Krone to drive in a double cart while helping out around the barn in a variety of ways, giving him a hands-on experience most harness racing fans would kill for.
|Photo courtesy of Ellis Krone|
|Ellis Krone has spent the summer helping out at the Mark Ford Training Center in New York.|
“I want to learn how to drive a horse,” the Staten Island native said. “Not professionally, because I think at 53 it might have passed me by. But I feel I’m competent enough to be an amateur driver.
“I understand risk-reward. I’m not a daredevil. But I’m not afraid of horses. Speed doesn’t bother me.”
Krone’s invitation to the Fords came pretty much by accident.
He was hoping to attend the U.S. Trotting Association’s four-day driving school this past May, which is conducted at the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame, Goshen Historic Track and the Mark Ford Training Center. Participants get hands-on experience at local stables, as well as classroom sessions with trainers, drivers and veterinarians.
A harness racing fan since age 11, Krone started watching races at Monticello, shifted over to Yonkers and is now a regular at the Meadowlands.
“I’ve been going to those races all my life,” he said. “At this stage of my life I thought ‘How do you get to learn how to drive?’ Did all these guys just grow up on farms? There’s gotta be a way to learn, so I started searching around and saw the driving school.”
Krone, a truck driver in New York City who does not work in the summers, contacted the USTA in late May and was connected with Jessica Schroeder, who unfortunately had to tell Ellis that the school was already completed. Schroeder was then nice enough to tell Kelly Ford of Krone’s interest.
“Out of the clear blue, Kelly called and said ‘If you want to show up here, we’ll show you around, show you a few things,” the affable Krone said. “My brother-in-law lives up in Monroe which isn’t far from there. I knew I could stay with him, so I decided to go up.”
Thus, Krone became a regular at the training center for two to three days a week, doing a variety of things such as mopping out the stalls, sweeping up, cleaning around the stables and helping give horses some medications.
“I also harness up the horse, put the hobbles on the horse,” Ellis said.
He wanted it made perfectly clear that he is not being made to clean the stables, he offers to do it.
“I’m not going up there and they’re just saying ‘Clean the stalls,’” Krone said. “That’s my prerogative to help out the groomsmen. It’s the most tedious part of the job, cleaning out the stall, bringing in the old hay and manure where it’s dumped and getting all the shavings. But it’s the most critical part of what the groom does and I want to try and help him out if I can.
“I mean, it was so nice of the Fords to bring me up there that I would offer to do anything to help out. And when I do those things, it’s not like they’re looking to get free labor. If I didn’t do it, the groom would do it anyway.”
Krone enjoys working with the horses and sometimes seeing what they can do in races. His favorite part, of course, is being able to jog the horses when he gets in a double cart with another driver.
“Kelly was a little worried about me being able to go up there and being able to jog,” Ellis said. “They have to be careful with the horses they give me. Some don’t like to be on the track with certain people, they only want to be out there with people they know.
“Some of these horses are worth $25,000 to $30,000 so they don’t want to take chances with those kind of horses and you can’t blame them for that. They usually give me horses that are a little more gentle that don’t get spooked by the machinery. They let me hold the reins and I’m learning how to drive.”
Krone is even starting to learn some of the nuances.
“I try to be very in tune to what the horse is doing,” he said. “Sometimes they pull to the right or left. It’s amazing how they respond to the slightest movement of hand when you’re driving them.
“Sometimes they jog sloppy. It’s like they’re trying to skip as opposed to trying to run fast. In a race, once they get going, they get going and run smooth.”
Ellis has thoroughly enjoyed the experience this summer, and even went out and bought a helmet. He will be going back to work in September but is still thinking of heading up to the training center on Saturdays to help out.
He says if the Fords will have him back next summer he would love to go. He has an outgoing personality that enables him to get along with everyone, which endears him to the training center employees.
“The Fords are just tremendous,” Krone said. “They were so worried about what they could do for me and I told them don’t worry about it, I’ll fit in.
“This has been great. It’s like a baseball fantasy camp except it’s a harness racing fantasy camp. It’s a hobby, but you gotta get involved.”
He has done just that -- and not too badly for a city boy.