Goshen, NY --- Jim Grow was introduced to harness racing by watching his father’s horses compete at the New York fairs. Grow now races his own horses at those fairs, but he would like to do more.
He would like to one day be the driver of one of his horses there.
|Jim Grow (left) gets some hands-on instruction from Gareth Dowse.|
Grow, who lives in Helena, N.Y., is among 48 participants from 14 states attending this year’s USTA Driving School, which is being held at the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame in Goshen, Historic Track, and the Mark Ford Training Center in Middletown.
Students receive hands-on experiences at local stables as well as classroom sessions with trainers, drivers and veterinarians. Trainers opening their stables to the group include Ray Schnittker at Historic Track plus Mark Ford, Scott Blackler, Tyler and Amber Buter, Jean Drolet, Rob and Patty Harmon, and Brandon Simpson at the Mark Ford Training Center.
Friday’s classes included a session on veterinary care with Dr. Brian MacNamara and a stable management session with Kelly Ford and Amber Buter.
Driving School will continue through Sunday, when participants can take the written portions of the trainer and driver exams. There also will be an exhibition race at Historic Track featuring several selected students.
Grow, who is a sales representative for an office supply company, has owned horses for a dozen years.
“I’ve been able to jog some myself and I enjoyed it very much,” Grow said. “I’m probably approaching a mid-life crisis and got it in my head that I’d like to drive one of my horses one time in a fair race and maybe a qualifier, just to say that I did.”
Grow, who has two broodmares in addition to racehorses, lives near the Canadian border and often races horses at Ottawa’s Rideau Carleton Raceway in addition to fair and pari-mutuel tracks in New York.
“This (school) is something I’ve always wanted to do,” Grow said. “My boss is tremendous and allows me to have flexible hours and pursue my passion. I thought this would be a chance to get some hands-on experience and take the exam and get a little closer to making (my goal) a reality.”
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Dr. Deborah Sieber, an equine veterinarian from Westchester, N.Y., has won races as a Thoroughbred trainer in Italy. She would like to win harness races as a trainer in the States.
|Dr. Deborah Sieber would like to become a Standardbred trainer.|
“I’d like to (become a trainer); I think maybe I will,” Sieber said. “The question you ask yourself is how do you start, how do you get in? This school is a great way. It’s a great crowd, a great idea.”
Sieber grew up in London before leaving for Italy when she was 18.
“I’d always ridden as a child, but when I went to Italy, I discovered the racetrack,” Sieber said. “I worked in the barn for three years, so I learned from the bottom up. It was great.”
Sieber trained 40 horses at her peak in Italy, including for prominent British owner Robert Sangster. She got away from training when her children were young and returned to England to become a vet. After moving to the U.S., she discovered harness racing through a client that had Standardbreds.
“I just got the bug,” Sieber said. “I’ve always loved anything to do with horses and racing. I went to the (harness racing) museum about three months ago and I stayed for about 3-1/2 hours; I couldn’t leave.
“Racing is my passion. I love it.”
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Philip LaCorte wants to find a career he will love. The 21-year-old Hackensack, N.J., resident thinks he has found it with horses.
LaCorte, a seasonal camp counselor, is attending Driving School with the hopes of eventually becoming a professional driver. He became a fan of harness racing by attending races with his father at Yonkers Raceway and the Meadowlands.
|USTA/Ken Weingartner photos|
|Philip LaCorte hopes to eventually become a professional driver.|
“I’ve always loved horses,” LaCorte said. “It’s hard because my family has never been in the horse business; I have no ties to anything. This is a great experience, really fun. The people are very helpful; I love it here. I’ve been getting to the barn early; I want to be the first one there so people know I’m serious.”
LaCorte knows it will take hard work to make it in harness racing, but was buoyed by meeting former Driving School participant Barry “Breezy” Addison, who followed a similar path and now works at the Mark Ford Training Center and has a driver’s license.
“Hard work is not a problem for me because I love dealing with the horses,” LaCorte said. “I’d rather work for free in a barn and make my name than work in a job I don’t like. I like working with people that have the same interest.
“I fell in love with harness racing. I want to be with the horses.”