Florida 2022

Sunshine Meadows Training Center

Our first morning in Florida was spent at Sunshine Meadows Training Center. We Dana Parham, who took us to the training track where Standardbreds were having morning workouts. Dana answered questions and introduced our group to trainers and owners who stabled their horses at Sunshine Meadows. Later, all the RTIP students took turns riding in a jog cart behind a standardbred pacer or trotter.

After workouts, we got a confirmation clinic from trainer Tony Alagna, who also talked to us about the different aspects of training standardbreds. He shared the different tack and sulky they use. He explained the therapies trainers use to keep the horses happy and healthy, including a cold water chamber. We even had a “meet and greet” with his top racer, Hot Mess Express.

Our group went on to chat with Brent MacGrath, the trainer of Somebeachsomewhere and met a son of the champion pacer. — Hailey Shiffer

Networking Lunch with Dana

Dana Parham invited our group to his home for a networking BBQ with people we met earlier that day. It was a buffet-style lunch with hamburgers, hot dogs, salads, and drinks aplenty. Dana's team gave us folders with information about all the people at the lunch to help us mingle with the individuals that would be the most helpful in our future careers.

Sam Bowie with students

Sam Bowie with RTIP students Eric DeCoster, Kamryn Koutras, and MaryRuth Hodsden

During the BBQ we rotated tables, and everyone met a variety of industry people. We met famous harness racing trainer Tony Alagna, former NBA star Sam Bowie, and the owners of Pacing legend Somebeachsomewhere. The trainers, vets, owners, and breeders shared amazing stories about the harness industry from many perspectives. They all had unique takes on Standardbreds as compared to the Thoroughbred industry. Many wished that Thoroughbred racing would be more willing to adapt to changing times.

All of the guests were eager to speak to us and were very willing to help us kick off a career in the harness world if we decided to take that route. Many of us walked away from that lunch with new ideas and career aspirations. We all walked away with a new appreciation for harness racing and new ideas to better the sport of racing. — MaryRuth Hodsden

Palm Beach Downs and Palm Meadows Training Center

On our second day in South Florida, we spent the morning at two South Florida training centers. First, we went to Palm Beach Downs, a private training facility that most notably is utilized by RTIP alum; Todd Pletcher. During our time there, we were fortunate enough to watch the army of Todd Pletcher trainees go through their morning routines while Todd answered any questions we had. Todd was kind enough to share his training schedule setlist for the morning and allowed us to meet two special horses!

Trainer Todd Pletcher poses with students

He first introduced us to Life is Good, the 2021 Pegasus World Cup champion, followed by Malathaat, the 2021 champion three-year-old filly. I know everybody appreciated the insight Todd provided to us and for the time he was willing to spend with us despite his busy schedule.

Next, we journeyed about 20 minutes away to Palm Meadows Training Center, another private facility operated by 1/ST Racing and Gulfstream Park. This is where many horsemen who race at Gulfstream Park stable their horses for the more spacious, peaceful setting it provides. Mike Petro, the general manager, and a former trainer gave us a golf cart tour around the vast complex.

We started at the newest barns on the property, some of the nicest racing stables I think any of us had seen. Mike explained how these newly built barns were so beneficial to the horsemen. Mike then took us to the training tracks on-site and even allowed us to walk and feel the surface. We also stopped by the stable of Matthew O’Connor, yet another RTIP alum, who was kind enough to let us meet his first career-graded stakes winner, Clear Vision.

In addition, we met the 2020 Preakness Stakes third-place finisher, Jesus’ Team! Our final stop was to watch some stakes-level horses work out over the Palm Meadows turf training track.

It was a privilege to gain insight into how these facilities operated and how much of an asset they are to South Florida horsemen. We appreciate the time each of our hosts gave us in answering our questions and telling their stories. — Eric Decoster

A Day at the Races: Gulfstream 

Our last afternoon in Florida was spent on a day of races. After a morning visit with Todd Pletcher and his trainees, we headed to the famed Gulfstream Park. We had a group game planned to test our handicapping skills. We could pick one horse per race and would receive points if the horse finished in the money. 5 points for a win, 3 points for second, and 2 points for third. Before the start of the races, our team was treated to a tour of the track by trainer Bill Badgett Jr., former trainer of Go For Wand. 

Gulfstream Park is a beautiful track with a great history of hosting the Pegasus World Cup. It was a bucket list visit for a lot of us. 

After the tour, we were featured on TVG to talk about the Race Track Industry Program. Hailey Shiffer, Eric DeCoster, Jiselle Lugo, and Michael Sandulli were our spokespeople for the interview. After the interview, we settled into our seats with our programs and finalized our picks.

Additionally, we met with track announcer Pete Aiello, an RTIP Alumni. He told us about how the RTIP allowed him to follow his dreams of being a track announcer and the importance of the phrase “it's not whom you know, it's who knows you”. Then we got to watch him call a live race. As the day winded down we all went trackside for the last few races. We were accompanied by a beautiful sunset. After an exciting day of handicapping, the contest ended in a tie, we decided that the tiebreaker would be handicapping a Harness race at Pompano Park, which was our last stop. — MaryRuth Hodsden

 A Night of Harness Racing

The final evening of the 2022 Florida Field Trip was spent at Pompano Park to enjoy standardbred harness racing. We were greeted by track announcer Gabe Prewitt who gave us a track tour. He took us outside the receiving barn and explained the ins and out of how a harness track runs. He introduced us to top harness driver Wally Hennessey, who was happy to answer our questions. Wally also told us we were welcome in the Winner’s Circle if he won a race. We got to immediately take him up on his offer as he ended up kicking off the night with a win! 

Gabe also arranged for us to go up to the announcer’s stand in the old grandstand and watch him call a race. We also got to take turns riding in the starting gate car. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. — Hailey Shiffer