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Harness racing is what Joey Ayotte thinks God put her on this earth to do

by Victoria Howard

When Joey Ayotte was only six weeks old, she got a taste of how thrilling it is to get a picture taken in the winner’s circle with a harness horse. The horse was Speed King N, trained by Dr. John Hayes.

Born in Ontario, Canada, Ayotte’s career in harness racing started when she was only 7 years old. Each day after school, and every weekend, she would go to the barn and help her father, James Ayotte, with his horses. James would wrap his most prized possession, his daughter, in a horse blanket, sit her on his lap and away they went.

“I cherish those memories with my father,” Joey said. “He was the one who got me interested in making the sport a career.”

When Joey was in her 20s, she was a single mother raising two daughters.

“I branched out on my own and developed a stable, racing mostly at the ‘B’ tracks in Ontario, Canada,” she said. “I think I’m a little shy of having made $1 million in trainer’s earnings; and I’m determined one day to surpass the million-dollar mark.

“After Ontario lost the subsidy from the slots I needed a little more stability in my life for my daughters, so I had to get a ‘real’ job. For 10 years I sold construction tires for large machinery, but as you know, once horses and racing gets in your blood, it never leaves. Although my job provided for my family, I terribly missed working with the horses.”

It was Joey’s daughters who talked her into going back and doing what she loved the most; training and racing harness horses.

“I got a job working for Dr. Ian Moore in Florida, riding and training babies,” Joey said. “Ian knows how to get the most from his help and is the most organized trainer I know. Everything runs on a tight schedule; there is no wasted time. I really appreciate working in that type of environment.

Besides Moore, Joey worked for many top trainers such as Tony Alagna, Erv Miller, Pat Hunt, Dave Menary, Kyle and Amy Husted.

“Each trainer taught me something different,” she said. “I took all the valuable information which helped me immensely.”

Her favorite horse, is one of her own.

“That would be my homebred, Corkemup, by Westgate Crown, out of my mare Cajalater,” she said. “Corkemup is a sweet little gelding with a big heart. As a 3-year-old, Corkemup won six in a row for us. That year Corkemup compiled 7 wins, 3 seconds, and 1 third in 11 career starts and earned $56,690.

“I know that in today’s standards one might not find that too impressive, but for dad and I we were over the moon. And the fastest horse I ever took care of was Captain Awesome who got a mark of 1:50.3 as a 2-year-old.”

Joey credits her dad with teaching her the most.

“He was very precise with the stopwatch,” she said. “At the time I didn’t appreciate it, but it’s true; ‘father knows best.’ I discovered this when I went to get my driver’s license and was only one fifth of a second off my projected time. Because of my father I have always paid attention to detail and doing things the right way.”

The most exciting time in Joey’s career to date was when she participated in the Mildred Williams Driving Series.

“The drivers traveled all over Canada and the United States, driving at the different tracks,” she said. “It was so much fun and I took home two trophies while competing. Although I loved driving, I was a better trainer.”

It’s no surprise that a typical day for Joey starts early and in the barn.

“My day — every day — starts by feeding the horses breakfast at 5:30 a.m.” she said. “There is no day off. It’s 365, 24/7, so if you’re in the sport in any capacity, horses and harness racing become your entire life. While the horses are eating their breakfast, I do the daily barn chores. After they’re done the horses are exercised, bathed, and put away.

“After my [horse] therapies are finished in the afternoon, it’s back to the barn to check on the horses, top off their water buckets, feed them, and tuck them into bed between 6:00 and 7:00 —unless we are racing — and then it’s an 18-hour day.”

Currently, Joey is taking care of three horses.

“One is Mrs Madison County; a homebred that belongs to my boyfriend,” Joey said. “She is a very special filly who won her very first lifetime start. She took a mark of 1:57.2, and I believe she has a great racing career ahead of her.”

Joey’s goal is to, one day, have a small stable of her own again.

“I’d love to have some homebreds where I can dream of training a future champion,” she said. “Currently, my boyfriend, Donricus Blackmon, and I are racing our own horses in Kentucky, but this winter I’m hoping to go back and work for Erv Miller. Also, I’m planning on going to school to become a certified equine therapist.

“But, I’m still the happiest while jogging or training. I remember the first time I ever sat behind the gate in a schooling race with a trotter named Cajalater. I had the feeling that it was exactly what God put me on this earth to do, and years later, I still feel that way.”

NOTE: I have received letters asking why I haven’t written about certain horsewomen. I try to honor as many as I possibly can, for each and every woman who works in the business deserves recognition for her work, time, and dedication. You all are Superstars and are equally important. Whether a trainer, veterinarian, owner, or caretaker, each helps to make harness racing the great sport it is. If you would like to nominate someone, please send me a message.

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