Woogen, who will have two horses he bred and owns competing in Landmark Stakes at Goshen Historic Track in New York on Friday and will be driving there in amateur races on Saturday, was introduced to harness racing as a teenager in the Bronx when he was offered a job selling handicapping sheets outside Yonkers Raceway.
The offer came from a police officer who spotted Woogen and his friends playing basketball in the school yard.
“I was probably the youngest and smallest kid, but fairly aggressive, and I told him I could do whatever he wanted,” Woogen said. “His moonlighting job was printing his own handicap sheet called the Top Trotter. I sold them for 25 cents and also sold programs for 75 cents. I got $5 a night.
“I started reading the programs and taking an occasional bus up there to Yonkers Raceway and watched the races. I really liked it. When I was old enough, I got working papers and worked a little bit in the stable area on the weekends. If I hadn’t been playing basketball that day, I wouldn’t know anything about horses. It was kind of a quirk of fate.”
That quirk of fate has led Woogen, who now is a gastroenterologist living in Virginia, around the world. He began driving in races, even winning a collegiate event held at Roosevelt Raceway while representing Columbia University as a sophomore.
He gave up driving to pursue his medical career, but returned to the track 17 years ago to compete as an amateur, often in the Billings Series, where he is known as the “Driving Doctor.” He has won 127 races as an amateur and competed in Germany, Finland, Italy, Spain, Russia, Estonia, and New Zealand.
“It’s been a really nice hobby,” Woogen said. “It’s been a lot of fun; I really enjoy it.”
On Friday, Woogen will send out KJ Brenda in the $11,547 Landmark Stakes for 3-year-old female trotters and K J Ben in the $12,520 Landmark Stakes for 2-year-old pacers. Both horses are trained by Gary Messenger.
Last year, KJ Brenda -- the “K J” is for Woogen’s fiancée Kathy Jean and Brenda is Messenger’s wife -- finished second in the Kentucky Sire Stakes championship. She has won two of 10 career races, hit the board a total of eight times, and earned $80,821.
“She came back this year and her first couple starts she bled and we had to put her on Lasix and she’s been getting better,” Woogen said. “We’re excited about her chances to go down to Kentucky and get some of that sire stakes money.”
K J Ben, named in honor of Kathy Jean’s first grandson, Benjamin, is making his debut after winning a qualifier at Ocean Downs in 2:00.1.
“We’re excited about his prospects,” Woogen said.
Jim Taggart Jr. is listed to drive KJ Brenda and Jason Bartlett is listed on K J Ben.
So why doesn’t Woogen drive those horses in the stakes?
“There’s a reason why I’m in the amateur races,” Woogen said, laughing. “It’s a lot of fun and I think I can hold my own against the amateurs, but it’s a little tougher to drive against the professionals. I’ll leave that up to the professionals. I’m just excited that we have some horses that might do a little bit of good this year.”
Friday’s nine-race Landmark Stakes card is part of the Grand Circuit visit to Historic Track. Saturday features the New York Sire Stakes Excelsior Series and Billings Amateur Drivers Series. Sunday is Hall of Fame Day, which includes a race featuring drivers in the Harness Racing Hall of Fame along with 2014 inductee David Miller.
Post time each day is 1 p.m. for the first race.
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Landmark Stakes at Goshen open Grand Circuit weekend