Veteran trainer Herb Holland is happy to be a member of harness racing’s dream team.
The 59-year-old, whose career in the business goes back to the early years of the Meadowlands, is part owner of a horse, Sir John F., that is owned by brothers John and Jim Fielding and Christina Takter, whose husband, Jimmy, trains the two-year-old Donato Hanover colt. Sir John F is entered in this year’s Breeders Crown in the Two-Year-Old Colt & Gelding Trot, only the third time Holland has had a horse in harness racing’s championship event.
Holland trained Light Beam, which raced in the 1988 Breeders Crown in the Two-Year-Old Filly Pace and did not hit the board. He also was affiliated with onetime world-record holder Sweet Michelle, who raced in the 1994 Breeders Crown Open Mare Pace and finished third.
Holland purchased Sir John F for $45,000 at the Lexington Select Sale, and a mere 15 minutes later he was approached by Jim Fielding about buying a share in the colt. Subsequently, Kevin McKinlay, who has had horses with the Fieldings, bought a share. The horse was subsequently sent to Takter, who liked the horse so much when he began training the colt that he wanted to buy a share.
“As soon as he qualified him, he said ‘tell your partners I want in,’” Holland said.
So Holland has gone from owning 100% of the horse to now owning 22.5%, but the upside is that he is now associated with Takter, one of the top trainers of the modern era, and the Fieldings, among the top owners in the business. Takter and the Fieldings have outstanding success in the Breeders Crown. Takter leads all trainers with 21 wins. John Fielding is second to Brittany Farms in wins and earnings among owners. Jim Fielding has also had success, winning four of 21 races in which he is named as an owner.
Holland said selling off interests in the horse was the right thing to do.
“Would he have still raced in the Breeders Crown? I think so,” Holland said. “The ownership group is good. I’ve got a good relationship with Jimmy Takter. I’m happy to have John and Jim and Kevin McKinlay and Jimmy involved with him. It’s old hat to Jimmy racing in the Breeders Crown, and for John it’s nothing new. It’s nice when you’re part of a big race and you have a chance to get some money.
“Jimmy is pretty down to earth. If he doesn’t like the horse, he doesn’t mince his words. He tells you straight up. He liked the colt early on. We did have some bad luck with him. He was getting a little warm behind the gate with us. Jimmy raced him one time and realized what the issues were and he attacked it and everything has gone forward since then. We’re hoping for better things ahead.”
As an aside, Holland was training in the United States when Jimmy Takter came over from Sweden back in 1982.
“He’s the trainer (of the horse), so it’s not quite the same as when you’re actually the trainer, but as an owner it’s always exciting to be in those big races,” Holland said. “When he’s in Takter’s barn, the benefits you get are he’s probably the foremost trotting trainer in North America. If I take a colt to race it myself I may not get the driver I wish. He usually gets the top drivers, and you get his experience in the Breeders Crown and the big races. With one horse it’s not financially feasible to race them all over the U.S.
“When they approached me I thought it might be a good business opportunity to get involved with them. I didn’t really want to give up any part of my ownership, but if you’re going to be on board, you’re on board so I was willing to let a bit of mine go and everyone followed suit. I was happy with the partnership. It worked out well for everybody.
“When Takter bids on them, you don’t get them,” he added. “I don’t know who was the underbidder, but (Takter and the Fieldings) weren’t involved on it.”
Holland changed the name of the colt from Estok Hanover, which he didn’t particularly like, to Sir John F.
“When I got to train him down, I thought he was a pretty nice colt, so I changed his name and told John,” he said. “I told him a good horse deserves a good name.”
John Fielding had some concerns that naming a horse after him could backfire because that type of thing can sometimes be a curse.
“I’m not a believer in black magic, folklore,” Holland said. “I believe it is what it is. If it’s a good horse it will be a good horse. I don’t think naming one after anyone jinxes it. I was praying he would turn out as well as I was hoping he would and win some big races for John and us. But you never know for sure. I thought he was a nice colt and that’s why I did it. John is an icon in the industry, and if you’re going to knight someone in our industry as an owner, you’d certainly knight John.
“I’ve raced lots of horses, and even though I haven’t been to that many Breeders Crowns it’s exciting to be involved with a horse like this. When it’s part of an ownership and I’m not in the paddock warming him up and doing the day-to-day things with him, it’s a little bit different. But it’s still good.”
The horse has raced nine times so far and has a win and two seconds and earnings of $28,090. He raced fifth in his elimination race.
Sir John F starts from post six in the $600,000 Breeders Crown Two-Year-Old Colt Trot and drew a morning line of 20-1 against the superstar colt Walner. He does pick up the services of Yannick Gingras, who ranks seventh in the all-time Crown driver standings. The two-year-old colt trot race is carded as the sixth race with a slated post time of 8:40 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 29 at the Meadowlands Racetrack.
Who knows, Sir John F might turn into Mr. Holland’s opus.