When Jimmy Takter left Sweden three decades ago for a career in harness racing in the U.S., he dreamed of finding success in the sport's biggest races. As he prepares for his induction Sunday in the Harness Racing Hall of Fame, his motivation remains unchanged.
"I'm still very hungry,” said the 51-year-old Takter, a three-time Trainer of the Year Award winner whose stable has produced 13 different horses to claim divisional honors, collecting a total of 28 trophies. "I love the big races and you have to have that craving for success. "Even if you've won a race two or three times, maybe the fourth time could be even more exciting. You get really excited going into those big races and when the horse does well you feel very proud.”
Takter could have enjoyed a comfortable career in Sweden, where his father, Bo, was already established as one of the sport's top trainers. But after getting a taste of racing in the U.S. as a teenager during a 10-month stint with the powerful Continental Farms Stable, Takter decided at the age of 22 to leave his homeland for good.
The decision was not easy. Takter and his wife, Christina, had a 1-year-old girl, Nancy, and Takter knew he was unlikely to see his family in Sweden very often. Nonetheless, he made the move.
"It was exciting for me to see the United States,” said Takter, who became a U.S. citizen in 2000. "The harness racing was so different compared to our country. It was a big decision to start all over, but I loved the United States; it was something special. It was a big sacrifice for my wife and me, but I'm glad I did it. It's a special country.”
Takter rose to prominence in 1997 when Malabar Man won the Hambletonian, the sport's premier race for trotters, and was named Horse of the Year.
Malabar Man was followed by the trotting mare Moni Maker, who was Horse of the Year in 1998 and 1999 and is North American harness racing's all-time leader in purse earnings with $5.58 million. She was an international star thanks to victories in major races in Europe, including the Prix d'Amerique and Elitlopp.
Other standouts trained by Takter include Kadabra, who was Trotter of the Year in 2002, and See You At Peelers, Pampered Princess and Passionate Glide. In 2010, Takter won his second Hambletonian, with Muscle Massive. In addition, his stable has won 12 Breeders Crown races and is the leading money-winner in the year-end series, with $6.06 million in purses.
Although originally known for his prowess with trotters, Takter has made his mark with pacers in recent years. He won the 2006 Little Brown Jug with Mr Feelgood and in 2009 he became the only trainer since 1992 to win a Pacing Triple Crown race (Vintage Master in the Cane Pace) and Trotting Triple Crown race (Judge Joe in the Yonkers Trot) in the same year.
Takter's American Jewel, a 3-year-old filly pacer, is currently the sport's No. 1-ranked horse in the weekly Hambletonian Society/Breeders Crown poll.
"Every year you think, ‘I'm never going to get another horse like this,' and then here comes another one that is maybe even better,” Takter said. "I've been extremely fortunate to have support from the greatest owners; they gave me the best horses to work with and we've been able to do a good job.”
Good enough to land Takter in the Hall of Fame. He will be inducted Sunday, along with writers Moira Fanning and Jean Emerson, during ceremonies at the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame in Goshen, N.Y.
"It's hard work, but it's not just me,” Takter said. "It's my family, the horses, my owners; a lot of other people have played a big part in this success. It's a great thing. It's something I'm very proud of and I'm honored to be joining a group of people (in the Hall of Fame) that accomplished a lot. It's something you dream about, to be classified in the same group of the people who are there already. I'm very honored by it.” (Harness Racing Communications)