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Happily Ever Takter
Wednesday, June 13, 2012 - Jason Turner

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The thing that has made harness racing one of the most compelling sports in America, for more than a century, is the stories—stories of underdogs and overachievers, stories of hard workers and hard-fought victories, stories about little guys, long odds and extraordinary achievements.

One such story finds a Swedish teenager who crossed the Atlantic to pursue a career in harness racing, only to become one of its most prolific trainers.

This year the Harness Racing Hall of Fame proudly welcomes Jimmy Takter into its elite ranks. Takter has conditioned numerous champions, including Gleam, Kadabra, Malabar Man and the incomparable Moni Maker, on his way to earning numerous titles and irrevocably positioning himself squarely among the sport’s all-time great harness horsemen.

 
Photo by Ed Keys
Takter took over the training of Moni Maker 1:52.1 ($5,589,256) after her 3-year-old season, training the mare to two consecutive Horse of the Year titles

Takter first traveled to the United States in 1978 to work for the legendary Continental Farms Stable. He was just a teenager, but had already spent several years working with his father, Bo William Takter, a successful Swedish trainer who also had connections in America.

“I thought it was a great opportunity,” said Takter. “I was 17 years old and my father was a very good friend of Hakan [Wallner]. I worked with a lot of great horsemen, like Berndt [Lindstedt] and Hakan, Billy Haughton and Stanley Dancer. It was a great experience for me.”

After two years at Continental, Takter returned home to Sweden to marry his childhood sweetheart, Christina, and to plan his next move. He dreamed of returning to the U.S. and after discussing the idea with his father, Takter once again traversed the Atlantic with high hopes.

“My father and I spoke about it,” Takter said. “We were planning to open a stable over here. He wasn’t able to come, but I was very anxious to go back. I was totally in love with the United States since the first time I came here.”

Upon his return Takter began working as a second trainer for Soren Nordin.

“I worked for Soren for two years,” he said. “I had a wonderful time. He was one of the biggest legends in Europe and an extremely gifted horseman. I learned a lot from him.

“But after a few years I didn’t really know what I should do. I felt like it was time for me to leave, but I was a little confused about if I should go back home or stay here. Luckily I had two cheap claimers that did pretty well for me.”

In 1984, Takter left Nordin and founded what would eventually become a harness powerhouse, Takter Stable, made possible largely through the success of a pacer named Witsend’s Apollo. Relative to the caliber of champions Takter is known for today, Witsend’s Apollo is akin to a Gremlin in a garage full of Cadillacs, but he was a hard-working and consistent performer, earning $58,758 and 19 wins from 55 starts during a critical two-year period.

“He was a very important horse,” Takter said. “He came along at the right time and he supported our family for a couple of years and he meant a lot to my wife and me. A horse like that gave me the ability to develop as a trainer.”

Although Takter had been a driver in Europe for many years, his first U.S. win came while sitting behind Baltic Speed in a New Jersey Sire Stakes race. The victory was remarkably anticlimactic for Takter who had already won numerous races back home and best remembers the occasion for its surprising lack of fanfare and a nearly empty grandstand.

“It was very unusual. That would never happen in Europe,” he said.

Given that he is best known as a Hall of Fame trainer, Takter is surprisingly adept at driving, too. Since his inaugural victory in 1983 he has averaged more than 120 driving starts per year, and while he is not likely to threaten such catch-drivers as Tim Tetrick or Dan Noble, he’s clearly no slouch in the sulky. Takter has nearly 700 wins and more than $17 million in purses to his credit.

“Back in those days most trainers drove their own horses,” Takter said. “I’ve always thought I was a decent driver. I enjoyed it quite a bit and I always thought I could have gotten better if I’d been able to do it longer.”

In the 1990s, “Seinfeld” ruled the airwaves, Third Eye Blind ruled the radio waves and the Takter Stable ruled the Grand Circuit. Takter conditioned many of the day’s top trotters including, Mr Lavec 3, 1:54.3 ($947,321), Kramer Boy 3, 1:52.4 ($598,009), and the 1994 Three-Year-Old Trotting Filly of the Year, Gleam 3, 1:55.3 ($587,858).

In 1996, Takter produced two more champions—2-Year-Old Trotting Filly of the Year Armbro Prowess 2,1:56.2 ($431,109) and 2-Year-Old Trotting Colt of the Year Malabar Man 3,1:53.1 ($2,143,903). He was also awarded with his first Trainer of the Year title.

And he was only just getting started.

Malabar Man followed his exemplary 2-year-old campaign with an even more impressive sophomore effort. He won 11 out of 14 starts that year, including victories in the American-National, Hambletonian, and the Breeders Crown, and his earnings—$1,679,862, made him the richest Standardbred in North America in 1997. Malabar Man’s efforts did not go unnoticed, and he was named 3-Year-Old Trotting Colt of the Year and Horse of the Year by the United States Harness Writers Association.

“I thought he was one of the best, and I still think he’s one of the best,” said Mal Burroughs, a longtime colleague of Takter’s who bred, broke and drove Malabar Man. “His work ethic is second to none. A lot of trainers play golf in the afternoon; Jimmy is working with horses.

“Let’s face it—without him we certainly would not have been able to win the Hambletonian. He trained me a little bit, too. He was certainly very instrumental in my being able to drive. He had confidence in me, so I was able to have confidence in myself. That went a long way.”

 
Photo by Mark Hall
Jogging Pampered Princess 3,1:53 ($1,648,362) at his Millennium Farm in New Jersey in 2007

When it rains, it pours, and as the last decade of the 20th century came to a close Jimmy Takter was in desperate need of an umbrella—due in large part to a Speedy Crown filly out of Nan’s Catch, who went on to become one of the richest and most successful trotters of all time.

In 1998, following a 4-year-old campaign that included a mark of 1:52.2—the fastest mile of 1997—and a Trotting Mare of the Year title, Moni Maker continued to assert her dominance, in the United States and abroad. In Sweden, she won the prestigious Elitlopp in a world record 1:53.3f, and captured several major stakes races in Italy and Denmark.

 

Thirteen of Moni Maker’s 17 starts that year took place overseas, but she made the most of her four domestic appearances, winning three and earning more than $400,000 in the process. At the end of the season she was awarded with her second Trotting Mare of the Year title and her first Horse of the Year title.

 

“Jimmy ran a first-class operation,” said Moni Maker’s co-owner, David Reid. “Being of Swedish decent impacted our decision to have him train Moni Maker, because in the back of our mind we were thinking about a European campaign. With all his ties in Europe Jimmy was a natural fit.”

 

“She was a great traveler and she was able to adapt to everything,” Takter said regarding Moni Maker’s European success. "I don’t think she ever gave me a bad blood test; she never missed a meal, never had a bad day.”

 

In 1999, at the age of 6, Moni Maker picked up right where she left off. She won the Prix d’Amerique, the Prix de France and her second consecutive Premio Tor Di Valle. At home she earned $527,475 by capturing key races including the American-National and the Trotting Classic. She finished the year with totals of 21 starts, 14 wins and earnings of $1,494,972—good for her second straight Horse of the Year title, second straight Trotter of the Year title and third straight Trotting Mare of the Year award. Not surprisingly, Takter also won Trainer of the Year—his third in a row.

 

“We’re talking about the horse of the century,” Takter said. “I don’t think we’ll ever see a better one. I didn’t develop her; I got her during her 3-year-old season. But I was very fortunate to be able to work with her. It was such a great honor being her trainer. I think I did a great job babysitting her, but I don’t want to take too much credit for her success.”

 

In 2000, Moni Maker had an extraordinary curtain call, winning her fourth consecutive divisional title on the strength of victories in the Trot Mondial and Nat Ray, along with setting the under-saddle world record when she trotted in 1:54.1 with Hall of Fame jockey Julie Crone up.

 

No horse since (regardless of stable affiliation), has held a candle to Moni Maker’s accomplishment or prestige, but that didn’t stop Takter from developing a new crop of champions in subsequent years. In 2002, he conditioned the Primrose Lane colt Kadabra, whose victories in the Breeders Crown and American-National, plus $1,215,496 in earnings, helped propel him to a Trotter of the Year title, the fifth time the Takter Stable conditioned that champion.

 

Shortly thereafter, it seemed that Takter’s charges were setting speed marks left and right. First came Tom Ridge, who in 2004 won the second heat of the World Trotting Derby at Du Quoin in 1:50.2—then the fastest time ever recorded by a trotter. And just hours later, making her fourth career start, Cabrini Hanover became the first 2-year-old pacing filly to record a 1:51 mile at Woodbine Racetrack.

 
Photo by Mark Hall
Takter turned his talents to pacers, winning the 2006 Little Brown Jug with Mr Feelgood p,1:49 ($1,259,599)


The Takter Stable has been in operation for more than 25 years now, and the Takter name has become synonymous with harness racing success. His recent champions include 2006 Little Brown Jug winner Mr Feelgood, 2010 Hambletonian winner Muscle Massive and See You At Peelers, who recorded 22 consecutive wins at 2 and 3.

 

“I would say that my longevity in the horse business is due in large part to Jimmy and Christina and just being a part of that team,” said owner John Fielding, who co-owns See You At Peelers. It’s a great atmosphere. It just adds a lot of fun to the business part of the horse business.”

 

There have been few trainers in the history of harness racing who have been as successful as Takter. His charges have won more Dan Patch divisional championships (20) than any other trainer. He has more than 1,000 wins and $60 million in earnings to his credit (plus an additional 672 and $17 million-plus as a driver), and he’s been named the Glen Garnsey Trainer of the Year three times.

 

“I think Jimmy’s the best trainer that I know,” said Takter’s longtime business partner, Perry Soderberg. “We’ve known each other for almost 30 years. As a trainer he’s very inventive, always thinking outside the box, always trying to improve. He’s very talented and extremely hard working.

 

“We worked together at the Nordin stable in the early ‘80s and even then he had a lot of determination. He has a lot of talent and he’s improved every year. You can’t just sit back and do the same things over and over again. Everything is changing and he’s always changing, trying to look ahead.”

 

Despite all his accomplishments, however, Takter is every bit as driven as he was when he started out nearly 30 years ago. His passion for developing young horses and an innovative disposition ensure that each day is fresh and challenging, while his work ethic keeps him enjoyably insatiable.

 

“I want to come up with a horse that is so outstanding,” he said. “One horse that’s just so much better than anything that’s ever come before. There’s such a fine line between winning and losing. It’s very tough to dominate the sport these days.

 

“I take a lot of pride in my consistency. I don’t think I’ve had a bad year in 20 years. Anybody can get lucky with a great horse, but to do it every year—it’s not lucky anymore.”

Most successful CEOs will tell you that the key to building a great company is surrounding yourself with great people—a lesson not wasted on Takter, who is renowned for having a strong team of supporters in his corner, many of whom also share his last name.

 

“He put together a team of experts, at the top of their game,” said Burroughs. “The groom, blacksmiths, second trainers, every one of them was top-notch, and, of course, Jimmy is the quarterback.”

 
Photo by Mark Hall
Takter jogs a set with his son, Jimmy Jr. (left) and son-in-law, Marcus Johansson


“I’ve had a good time, and I’ve had great support from my family, especially my wife,” Takter said. “She has been with me from the start. We started dating when she was 14 and I was 17. She has been a great support to me and I have to thank her for that.

“I have my son (Jimmy Jr.) with me now. I think he has tremendous ability to be a top driver and I really enjoy spending a lot of time with him. [Farrier] Conny Svensson has done a great job for me. Perry Soderberg has helped me for years. My daughters, Nancy and Tiffany—it’s a team effort. I’m the one being inducted into the Hall of Fame, but I wouldn’t be here without all of them.”


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The views contained in this column are that of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association.