Day At The Track

A ‘sweet’ first win for Jessica Smith

10:48 AM 16 Jul 2019 NZST
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Sweet Style,Harness racing
Jessica Smith won her first start as a trainer with Sweet Style at Harrah’s Hoosier Park.
Linscott photography

Trenton, NJ — Jessica Smith attended last year’s Standardbred Horse Sale in Harrisburg by herself for the first time. She was given a friendly reminder by husband Randy to purchase a trotter or pacing colt, since the Smiths already had several pacing fillies.

So, of course, she brought home a pacing filly.

“It was the first year my husband wasn’t with us picking out horses,” Jessica said. “I looked at all the babies myself. She really stuck out to me. When I first saw her, I was like, ‘Wow, oh my God.’ Just the look about her, she wasn’t too big, she wasn’t too small.”

She was, however, a pacing filly named Sweet Style.

“I kind of got a little bit of crap when I got her,” Smith said with a laugh. “My husband told me to come home with a trotter or a pacing colt. We already had a bunch of pacing fillies and I came home with a pacing filly sooo. . .”

So, the $13,000 buy has turned out to be a pretty nice purchase if two races are any indication.

On June 26, Smith’s first start as a trainer was Sweet Style’s first start behind the gate. It was an evening of sweet debuts as Mike Oosting drove the 2-year-old to a come-from-behind victory in 1:56 at Harrah’s Hoosier Park. Randy was not at the race but phoned in pre-race instructions to Oosting.

“He had driven her in the qualifier, he kind of gave Mike a heads up on where she was at as far as experience wise,” Smith said. “She had one qualifier and we schooled her before.

“With that he sent her off the gate, she got away real good out of the six hole. He got her in a hole, she paced along with the fillies that were leading, coming up the stretch he popped the hole. Trace Tetrick (driving Western Sierra) had a few lengths on her at the head of the stretch and she dug in and won by a neck. It was close, I didn’t even know at first that I had even won until it popped up on the screen. That was pretty exhilarating.”

As it should have been, considering the circumstances surrounding the race, along with the fact that Smith absolutely loves Sweet Style, a Sweet Lou filly out of 2005 O’Brien Award winner Style. It got even better when the two made their second start together July 9, as Sweet Style won in 1:55.2.

“She’s got some class in her pedigree,” Smith said. “I’m just a complete fan of Sweet Lous; I’d definitely buy another one. The work ethic, the attitude (of Sweet Style) is just amazing. She’s very tough on the track and she’s just a very, very nice filly.”

And it didn’t take long for Randy to become a fan.

“My husband and I have worked with her all winter,” Smith said. “We were taking things very slowly, trying to be very cautious so she doesn’t get injured or anything like that. Once we started training her down he was very happy for sure.”

Just as Jessica is happy in her new career, which took root 10 years ago when she first met Randy. Prior to that, Standardbreds had always been an interest for Smith growing up in Maine.

Her family owned several acres and Jessica grew up riding event horses in shows. While she enjoyed doing that, what really got her blood moving was when her mom took Smith to nearby Lewiston Raceway to watch harness racing and she fell in love with a horse.

“I asked my mom about claimers, and she’s like ‘Yeah if you have the money, you put the money down and you claim the horse,’” Smith recalled. “I said ‘Well can you claim this one for me?’ I was probably 7 or 8 and I wanted a racehorse. I used to try to get her to claim that horse. It’s just one of those things that sticks with you.”

Not surprisingly, her mom didn’t think claiming a horse for an 8-year-old was a good idea, and the dream drifted into hibernation. Jessica went to college and became a certified operating room nurse, and also continued to ride show horses. In 2009 she met Randy, a lifelong horseman who trained and drove Standardbreds. With horses as a common interest, the two started dating and Jessica’s urge to be part of the business resurfaced.

She began helping Randy out and in 2016, the couple moved to Ohio in order to race year-round. Jessica got a per diem job at a hospital where she could select limited hours in order to help out more in the barn. Randy’s daughter Kristina — who also recently got her first training win — eventually left her dad to go out on her own. Jessica left nursing to begin working the stables full-time a year ago. It was basically a case of protecting her investments, as well as looking after her two children, ages 6 and 9.

“When you own the horses, you don’t have a steady paycheck coming in and you’re more invested in trying to do well and making sure your horses are getting the right care,” Smith said. “You want to know that the overall barn management stuff is being taken care of.”

Jessica got her trainer’s license last September and her driving license soon after. She finished third in her lone driving start so far, as her opportunities are limited due to managing the barn while Randy is away.

The stable, under the moniker of Randy Smith Racing, is located at the Greene County Fairgrounds in Xenia, Ohio. It contains 13 racing horses, three broodmares, two babies and a yearling. And while being a trainer might seem light years away from being a nurse, Jessica feels there are some common aspects.

“I think that a lot of it is time management for both of them,” she said. “You’re trying to get through your day, making sure your I’s are dotted, you’re T’s are crossed. There’s a lot of similarities in handling an operating room and managing a barn.”

But surely there is more pressure when someone’s life is in your hands?

“Yes and no,” Smith said. “When you’re training a horse, you have to make sure they’re trained properly. You’re really putting that driver’s life in your hands and the other drivers on the track. You’ve got to make sure the horse is safe, that you’re rigged right. You need to pay attention to what you’re doing and know your horse.

“The biggest thing is knowing your horses, where to put them, where to classify them. My husband and I talk about all the horses, get the team together and plan where is the best fit for this horse this week; and honestly where the best place we can make money. We don’t have owners, it’s on us. We don’t have an income coming in other than what we’re making.”

Which is one of the big differences between nursing and training.

“It’s definitely stressful when you don’t have a guaranteed paycheck coming in,” Smith said. “That can be completely stressful. As a nurse I know the hours I put in I’m getting paid for.”

The bright side, of course, is that Jessica loves her life in the barn.

“Most definitely,” she said.

 

by Rich Fisher

USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

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