Dave Brickell trains and drives his own horses, but Chris Shaw got the first chance to sit behind the then 2-year-old pacing filly Camera Lady in a qualifier last May because Brickell was driving another of his horses. Shaw guided Camera Lady to a 1:58.4 winning mile at The Meadows that day and when he got off the track he told Brickell, "The only person that's going to beat her is you."
Adds Brickell with a laugh, "And that's exactly what happened."
Maybe, but not often. Camera Lady won 15 of 20 starts last year and earned $42,640 for Brickell and co-owner Mitchell York. Her 15 victories were the most by any 2 year old in North American harness racing last year.
"A blind pig finds an acorn every once in a while," said Brickell, who raced Camera Lady primarily on the Pennsylvania fair circuit. "She just wanted to do it; she always wanted to do it. She was eager to please. You could do whatever you wanted with her. She was nice to work around in the barn too."
Brickell bought Camera Lady for $5,000 at the 2015 Goshen Yearling Sale. She is a daughter of stallion Dragon Again out of the mare Ann Van Go. She was Ann Van Go's first foal.
"I've never had a Dragon Again (sired) horse," Brickell said. "Everybody says they're tough. The price was right and she looked good, so I got her. I like to buy first foals, too; a lot of them.
"I take chances on them."
In this case, the chance paid off, although it took a little time to see Camera Lady develop. York, who is Brickell's son-in-law, liked a Crazed-sired trotter named HS Miss Nutcracker the best of three 2-year-olds he owned with Brickell.
"He said the trotter was going to be our No. 1 horse; I said he was writing (Camera Lady) off," Brickell said. "When I broke her and first started going with her, she was kind of flaky. She was nice to be with and work around, but she just shied at everything. But I said I'll take her. She's going to be No. 1; she's going to be our diamond in the rough."
Camera Lady proved to be the best of the bunch, although all three won multiple races and earned at least $16,000. The three were purchased for a total of $17,700.
"I was very fortunate," said Brickell, who lives in Smicksburg, Pa., about 15 miles southwest of Punxsutawney.
Camera Lady won 15 of her first 16 races, with her only setback coming when she stepped up to the top-level of the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes at The Meadows. She finished second in the Pennsylvania Fair championship, beaten by Gemalous, driven by none other than Shaw.
As for Camera Lady's schedule for this season, Brickell said it was "up in the air," although it will include the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes, Stallion Series, and fairs. He also might consider an early-closer at The Meadows.
"I just started back with her, she's been jogging about three weeks now," said Brickell, who has 475 wins as a driver and 314 victories as a trainer. "As soon as the weather starts cooperating she'll start training a little bit. She grew a little bit; she got a little longer and a little stronger.
"If I would let the professional drivers drive, I guess she would be a little quicker, but I haven't given into that urge yet. I like to be able to (drive). I think she'll be a (1):52 or (1):53 pacer. I don't have a problem with that. She'll do fine, I think. But I don't like to make predictions because then you get in trouble."
So Brickell certainly will not predict whether Camera Lady can lead her age group in wins again. But he is going to try to get her there.
"I'll definitely give it a whirl," Brickell said. "That's for sure." (HRC)