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Trainer Casie Coleman is a tough cookie with a soft heart

by Victoria Howard

Since the onset of harness racing, certain women have made an impact: as trainers, drivers, veterinarians, caretakers, etc.

Undoubtedly, one of the most noted would be the late, great, Bea Farber aka/Queen Bea, who could outdrive most male drivers. When she retired in 1995, she had earnings of $9,094,683. (Remember, this was almost 30 years ago).

Yes, Bea Farber most certainly will be remembered by all as one of the sport’s all-time female superstars.

Farber set the way for women to shine in what was once considered a man’s sport. But that didn’t deter these gutsy, ambitious and innovative women; some who have even been inducted into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame.

For example, Casie Coleman, who was inducted into the Cambridge (Ontario) Sports Hall of Fame.

Though it hasn’t been all smooth sailing, Coleman has defied the odds many times and in many ways.

Born in Sannich, British Columbia to Phil and Linda Coleman, Casie discovered her first ‘true love’ at a very early age for as soon as her little legs could move, she hit the ground running. Or shall I say, ‘pacing.’

“I was basically born and raised in a barn,” Casie said with a laugh. “In fact, my day care was in the shed row.

“My dad was always a standardbred horseman and mom came from the thoroughbred side. They met in California when the meet was switching from thoroughbreds to standardbreds and after becoming a team, together they trained horses at Fraser Downs in Surrey, BC.”

Casie not only inherited her dad’s passion for the business, but also followed one of her idols, Bea Farber.

“It’s funny but I always wanted to be a driver like Bea, not a trainer,” Casie said. “I thought training was boring and loved to drive, so initially I pursued that.”

But fate would change her course in life when Casie was involved in a horrific accident.

“In 2000 I was burnt while mixing an alcohol-based liniment to warm my horses’ hooves, when it ignited,” she said. “Twenty-two per cent of my body required skin grafting; and I suffered third-degree burns to my legs and right arm, along with first-degree burns to my face and neck. I spent three months in the ICU at Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria.

“When I was well enough, I moved east and got some catch drives, but not many. It was at that point I decided to become a trainer. I thought ‘it can’t be too hard’ for I’ve been around horses my entire life, so I went the claiming route to begin with.”

Lucky to be here today giving this interview — perhaps blessed would be a better word — Casie is enjoying semi-retirement at an early age.

“I began catch paddocking at BC and Alberta,” she said. “Once my dad didn’t need my help, I tried to find a job in Ontario, but nobody would hire me, so I decided to go on my own.

“I [started when] I was 21-years-old with one horse, Keeper Flying, and the rest is history.”

Casie didn’t waste time making a name in Ontario and quickly moved up the ladder. In fact, when she was only 35-years-old, she was inducted into the Cambridge Sports Hall of Fame; a well-earned and much deserved accomplishment.

Besides working for her father, Casie worked for Bill Davis, Todd Beelby, John Zaharra and Travis Umphreys.

“I learned the most working for my father for he taught me everything from the ground up, but Bill Davis was also a razor-sharp trainer,” she said. “The thing I remember the most and carried with me throughout my career was ‘to keep my ears and eyes open and my mouth shut!’ [except] to always ask questions, no matter how dumb they might be, because this is the best way to learn.”

Casie looks up to many people in the sport, but at the top of the list would be David Miller.

“From the first time I met David he was already a world-class driver,” she said. “When I first met David, I was an unknown trying to compete against the big boys. Miller always took time to talk to me and would congratulate me when my horses did well.

“David is a very humble, down to earth guy and an amazing driver. He is one of the only ones who doesn’t find excuses and admits if he messes up.”

Throughout her career Casie has purchased, raised, and developed numerous champions. Her first was American Ideal.

“I claimed the horse Lucky Killean for $40,000 for my owner Mac Nichol,” she said. “Lucky went on to make over $1 million and it was because he did so well that Mac sent me American Ideal in his 2-year-old season. American Ideal was the first horse I travelled to the States with and my first to be a stallion.”

American Ideal would certainly be a hard act to follow, but thankfully many more champions followed, including one that would be her fastest.

“That would be McWicked getting his mark of 1:46.2 at The Red Mile in Lexington, and American Ideal coming back in his 3-year-old year to win in 1:47,” Casie said. “He had such amazing, wicked speed.”

Casie has been extremely successful at picking out great yearlings and definitely has things she looks for.

“I’m a conformation gal,” she said. “I like to own a piece of all my horses and don’t pay the big dollars for amazing pedigree, so I search for a weaker pedigree in a great looking horse. As far as what I don’t like; I don’t like horses with small, beady eyes, small nostrils, toes out too much, no back end and has a bad attitude.”

Casie has accomplished many great things in her career, such as winning the North America Cup (twice), being the first female in the sport to enter a horse in two million-dollar races in one season, winning two Fan Hanovers, one Adios, two Ben Franklins, three Ontario Sires Stakes Super Finals, one She’s A Great Lady, three Little Brown Jugs, two Jugettes, and developing many great sires.

She was also a guest speaker at Truro Raceway’s awards banquet.

Besides being one of the sports best conditioners, Casie is also known as one of the most generous and compassionate trainers in harness racing; doling out hefty Christmas bonuses to her stable staff, sponsoring a lavish dinner, and sharing her success. In fact, at one time Casie bought a racehorse for her staff and gave all the winnings to her team at Christmas.

As far as champion racehorses Casie has developed, trained, and made 15 millionaires, including: American Ideal, Betting Line, Sportswriter, Western Silk, Vegas Vacation, Better Than Cheddar, McWicked, Art Colony, Chancey Lady, Our Lucky Killean, Vegas Vacation and Michaels Power.

And every Saturday if you visit Sunshine Meadows in Delray Beach, FL, where Casie stables during the winter, you can smell the aroma of steak, hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, which she does almost on a weekly basis for her team.

Helping Casie train and break her horses during the winter are Ray Dominico, Deshawn Minor and Louis Russo, as well as their team mascot, Casie’s adorable dog, Chubby.

She bought seven yearlings at the sales this year: Pleasantly Pink, Wicked Cravings, Imperfect Circle, Devil’s Wish, Nice Buns, Au Jus Hanover and McWinner.

Her future plans in the business include trying to make some more champions.

“I do things a little different than I used to. I break the babies in the winter at Sunshine Meadow now, then send them to [other] trainers.

“Kentucky has become the place to race and the future there looks bright for horsemen. I love the tracks there and the money is great. If you’re in the game, Kentucky is the best place to be. My plans for the future are to continue to break and train in the winter at South Florida until Sunshine Meadows eventually closes, then we will see.

“Maybe I’ll help select babies for those who need my help, but one thing I know is I’m never leaving Florida. I feel truly blessed to be doing what I love to do, make money, and live every day in paradise.”

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