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You Gotta Have Faith
Friday, January 22, 2016 - by Steve Montemarano

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What are the odds of an undersized homebred with a humdrum pedigree winning a major race? And what if that gelding were to earn $192,500, flaunt an undefeated record, and dominate an Ohio Sire Stakes final?


Photo by the author
Breana Carsey with MJB Got Faith and her father, Brian.

By any standard this would be a fairytale akin to that of steeplechaser National Velvet. But once in a while, dreams come true. 


Breana Carsey, an 11-year-old racehorse owner, achieved this dream with her Ohio-bred trotter named MJB Got Faith. How is that possible? According to Breana, “You just got to have faith.”


Carsey is a brown-haired, blue-eyed middle-schooler from Connersville, Ind. Like many youngsters, she loves horses. But unlike most, she directs her passion toward Standardbred racing.  


“Breana wanted a broodmare since she was 3 or 4 years old,” said Breana’s father, Brian Carsey.


When she was 8, they went horse shopping with a budget of $2,000.


Breana scanned a catalog and selected three broodmares from the November 2012 Speed Sale in Delaware, Ohio. Brian drove to the auction while Breana stayed home and attended school. He carried a catalog, dog-eared with his daughter’s choices, and waited near the auction ring. But something went wrong.


”Two of the broodmares were scratched from the sale,” he said. “The other one sold for $13,000 – outside of our budget.”


Instead he bought a weanling for $700 and concocted a compromise. He would give that horse to Breana. She could prepare it for a yearling sale and learn a business lesson. But when he called Breana with the news, it didn’t go well.


Breana said that she wasn’t happy with her previous broodmare selections. It was bothering her all day in school. She didn’t want the weanling, either. Her dream was to own a mommy horse and raise the foal to become a champion. Breana wasn’t budging.


Breana then selected hip No. 1017, a mare named Imageofasweetgirl. Brian went to investigate, but wasn’t keen on the breeding business.


“I wanted to protect Breana from heartache,” said Brian. But he didn’t want to break a promise, either.


Imageofasweetgirl entered the ring. When the auctioneer’s gavel fell, Brian bought the mare for $1,000 in foal to Trainforthefuture. Her blue-collar race record revealed 71 starts and earnings of $123,280. But only Brian bid. Was she a flop?

Photo by the author
The 'MJB' in MJB Got Faith consists of Mackenzie (far right), Jordan (second from left) and Breana.


While previously bred to good stallions such as Angus Hall, her production record was poor. She delivered four foals with the fastest recording a mark of 2:06.2, hardly inspiring.


Imageofasweetgirl was boarded at a farm near the Carseys’ home. Breana told the farm manager, “When it’s time to have the foal, call me.”

On March 3, 2013, at 2:30 a.m., the phone rang. Breana sprung out of bed “like it was Christmas morning,” said Breana’s mother, Debra.


A plain bay colt was born. Breana nicknamed him “Cupcake” and the foal became her pet.


“He’s super soft,” she said.


The colt was small and Brian decided to sell the foal – and quickly. He wanted to avoid being mired in a money pit.


Contrary forces clashed; a youngster’s love for a horse with her dad’s for-profit checkbook. A seesaw saga that could ruin Breana’s dream.


Without Breana’s knowledge, Brian nominated the colt, now a yearling, to an Ohio sale. The logic consistent with an old adage - it’s better to sell and repent then to keep and repent.


“He probably wouldn’t bring $1,000,” said Brian, 46. But selling wasn’t that simple.


Somehow the paperwork was misplaced and the colt wasn’t entered in the auction. When Breana uncovered her Dad’s scheme she exclaimed, “He’s not for sale!”


The colt was a year and a half old now, He remained nondescript except for a few white hairs on his forehead. It was time for the next step.


The unnamed yearling was ready for initiation to the jog cart. Indiana-based trainer Walter Haynes Jr. got that job. Upon first inspection, Haynes bluntly said that the horse was a midget; Brian cringed at the comment.

But opinions differ on yearling size. John E. Madden, known as the wizard of Hamburg Place, owned champion turn-of-the-century trotters. In 1924 he said, “Many big turnips are hollow.”  

Brian, obsessed with finances, approached Breana about selling her horse. He claims the idea was geared to protect his daughter; however, the plan backfired again. Breana steadfastly replied, “Daddy, don’t sell him. He’s going to be a champion.”

Photo by the author
Walter Haynes (right) guided the champion gelding through his early lessons.

But experienced opinions die hard. Brian has owned more than 100 Standardbreds and earned 103 wins. Had his sharp awareness of racing’s challenges dulled his perspective? 


The phone rang. It was Haynes with more bad news. Breana’s horse developed a hitch in his giddy-up. It was decided to geld the colt. That helped, but not completely.


Brian kept trying to sell the horse, but there were still no takers. Reality set in and he was stuck.


It was time to nominate the gelding to the races. That could cost $3,000. As a cost-savings measure, Brian suggested the horse only be staked to the fair circuit. But Breana didn’t want that.


“You can’t have a champion if you only race at the fairs,” she said.


It was also time to submit a registered name for the gelding known only as Cupcake. Breana suggested the name MJB Got Faith. The initials represented each child in the family: Mackenzie (23), brother Jordan (17) and Breana (11). The suffix “Got Faith” stemmed from her spiritual outlook.


Brian lamented about naming the horse after family members. He’d never be able to sell him now. Breana said, “Don’t worry, you just got to have faith. He’s going to be a champion.”


Like a dull thud, Haynes gave another uninspiring update. MJB Got Faith was training OK, but didn’t show any speed, and he was still tiny.


MJB Got Faith entered his first qualifier at Hoosier Park on June 6, 2015. He trailed early, moved up two positions, and finished fourth in 2:04.2, 16 lengths behind the winner. It was a pedestrian stroll. The time barely qualified him for the Ohio Sire Stakes by three-fifths of a second.


“Honey, let’s just race at the fairs. The competition will be softer and the staking cheaper,” insisted Brian.


But Breana countered, “No, Daddy, you need to have faith in him.”


At this point, Debra heard enough and calmly spoke up. “Why don’t you just let her do what she wants with the horse?” she said.


The following week the gelding entered another qualifier at Hoosier Park. MJB Got Faith showed improvement by finishing third in 2:03. The final quarter was almost two seconds faster than before. Still, it was slow. But a racing axiom is that time only matters when you’re in prison.


On June 27, 2015, MJB Got Faith qualified yet again and raced in 2:03.3. This time he showed gate speed, but he tired and finished second.


USTA/Mark Hall photo
MJB Got Faith won the $225,000 Ohio Sire Stakes final over rival Kanthaka.

That day Haynes coincidently met Ohio-based trainer Steve Carter. Haynes asked Carter to train the horse for the sire stakes. Carter agreed, but initially had doubts. Few trainers give up on an unraced young horse. MJB Got Faith relocated to train at Carter’s farm.


MJB Got Faith was entered in a $40,000 first leg division of the Ohio Sire Stakes at Scioto Downs on July 4. He was a 10-1 longshot. Brian wasn’t optimistic and the Carsey family watched the race from home.


“He’s going to win,” predicted Breana.


The race didn’t begin well. MJB Got Faith was left behind at the start. Then the gelding’s stride lengthened. He raced unusually wide, but his final quarter of :29.2 closed the gap. He won by a whisker with Tyler Smith in the sulky. The time of 2:00.4 was his best by almost three seconds. It was a $20,000 payday. 


“When he warmed up he wasn’t that good,” said Carter. “But when he got behind the gate, he was all racehorse.”


Brian said, “Honey, we won, but raced in the easier group and we went slow.” His enthusiasm was restrained because a contemporary named Kanthaka won an earlier division in a brisk 1:58.3.


Breana replied, “Why do you always find something negative in winning?”


Brian tried to prepare Breana for future disappointment. Dave Palone, harness racing’s all-time leading driver, drove Kanthaka for a reason.


The second of four Sire Stakes legs was raced at Northfield Park on July 24. MJB Got Faith had a new driver in Peter Wrenn. MJB Got Faith and Kanthaka again drew in separate divisions. Both horses won, yet Kanthaka’ s final time was the faster by almost four seconds.


After the race, Brian received an offer of $30,000 for the gelding. Breana declared, “He’s not for sale for a million dollars.”


A month later, the gelding was in-to-go in the third leg of the sire stakes at Northfield Park. Again the draw kept MJB Got Faith and Kanthaka from facing each other.


Kanthaka won his division in 1:57.1. MJB Got Faith also won, but in a leisurely 2:00. The two horses remained undefeated, but were clearly in different leagues.


Brian urged Breana to sell. “You have an amazing opportunity,” he told her. “You’ll make more money selling than racing.”


Breana said, “We’re not selling, Daddy. He’s going to make more money than you think.”


USTA/Mark Hall photo
Breana was the center of attention in the winner's circle after the OSS final.

In the fourth sire stakes leg at Scioto Downs, the rivals amazingly drew into separate divisions again. Carter told the Carseys, “You’ve had a good run, but this may not be your night.”


“MJB goes only as fast as he needs to,” Breana said. “He’s not a showoff.”


In the paddock, Breana kissed her horse on his face. Wrenn said, “See you in the winner’s circle in a few minutes.”


At the start, MJB Got Faith lacked speed, but finished in :29.2 to win his division in a sparkling 1:57.2. His four-race earnings increased to $80,000.


Later that night, Kanthaka strangely left the gate slowly. For the first time, he raced from off the pace. He settled into sixth, raced wide, and won in 1:57.1. The effort was exhausting and Kanthaka was desperate to reach the finish line.  


The stage was set for a showdown in the Sept. 12 Ohio Sire Stakes final at Scioto Downs. This was now Brian’s best chance to sell MJB Got Faith.


The Carseys digested their good fortune, but before they got comfortable, the phone rang.


“Someone’s interested in buying your horse,” said Brian. He handed the phone to Breana. She listened, but ultimately turned down a $150,000 offer.


The caller told Breana she could buy a farm with the money. What if the horse got hurt in the meantime? Breana still refused to sell. She hung up the phone and went to her room crying.


The day arrived for the $225,000 sire stakes final for 2-year-old colt and gelding trotters. The match-up between the speedy Kanthaka and the workmanlike MJB Got Faith appeared lopsided.


“You’ve proved daddy wrong so far,” Brian told his daughter. “I’m proud of you. You’ve been blessed to this point, but you’ll be lucky to get third.”


Breana said, “Every day I wake up, I’m blessed. If he finishes last, I will still be proud of him, but he’s going to win. You’ll see.”


Kanthaka was favored with MJB Got Faith as the second betting choice. An anxious Carter told Wrenn in the paddock, “Don’t worry, at least MJB won’t break stride.”


At the start, Kanthaka left the gate quickly—but MJB Got Faith left swiftly, too – and with his neck bowed. His gait had a distinct swagger.


Kanthaka set the fractions with MJB Got Faith in close pursuit. With a quarter mile to race, Palone popped the earplugs on Kanthaka and they scooted away. But Palone’s work was more furious than normal.


In a slingshot move, MJB Got Faith surged to the lead. Wrenn sat motionless. His whip flicked, but it wouldn’t have harmed a fly. MJB Got Faith’s final quarter of :29.1 was four-fifths of a second faster than his rival. They did it. They won. Breana had her champion racehorse.


Breana and Brian hugged and jumped in the grandstand as the gelding jogged back to the winner’s circle, ears pricked, for a picture.


“MJB’s attitude is second to none,” said Wrenn. “His gait got better the faster he went.


“Breana is a beautiful young lady; she has a lot of class. That’s the type of people we want in the harness industry.”


In an improbable year, MJB Got Faith became the best of the 219 Ohio-bred 2-year-old trotting colts in his crop.


Breana decided her champion needed a break and chose not to race him at the prestigious Delaware County Fair. MJB Got Faith was turned out to pasture to rest for his 3-year-old season.


As for the future, Breana wants to wait and see. Maybe MJB Got Faith will race again. Maybe he won’t. She just wants to enjoy her horse.


“I’ve always wanted a farm,” she said. “Then MJB will come home, and be home, forever.”


But Breana’s goal of buying a farm took a backseat to helping others. She’s donated 50 percent of the purse money to charities - including the Christian Harness Horsemen’s Association. Breana helped in-need families too. The specifics are private.


“There’s no glory in mentioning people who are having a rough time,” she said.


“Even at her young age, Breana learned that she can make a difference,” said Debra.


Breana respectfully added, “My mom always believed in me. The MJB experience has helped my dad believe more than he did.”


As for Breana it’s a marvel she’s here at all. When Debra was pregnant she sensed her unborn baby wasn’t breathing. The doctor said Breana’s survival was a miracle because the umbilical cord was in a complete knot - restricting the flow of blood and oxygen.


“She’s been a fighter from the start,” said Debra.


Breana, like MJB Got Faith, beat the odds.

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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.